MANILA -- How much do we really know about Philippine cuisine?
That’s one of the questions food writer Angelo Comsti tried to answer in his newest cookbook, "Also Filipino: 75 Regional Dishes I Never Had Growing Up."
Comsti’s lastest gastronomic read is a nod to lesser-known dishes from various regions of the country. Growing up, he shared that what he thought of as Filipino cuisine was largely limited to the food that was served at his home -- adobo, kaldereta, and kare-kare.
He was surprised by how much of a culinary gold mine the Philippines is after traveling to 22 regions over the course of four years of in-depth research for this book. The result is a treasure trove of 75 recipes, many of which might be new discoveries to most people.
Also included are interesting variations of beloved classics -- yes, there’s such a thing as adobong dilaw and also an adobong puti!
Comsti gathered recipes from as far north as Batanes to as down south as Tawi-Tawi. In between the pages one can find an impressive array of dishes both familiar -- like different iterations of laing and ginataan -- and almost foreign, like the intriguing bibingkang abnoy from Laguna, which is made from rotten duck eggs; a traditional Maranaw dish called chicken piaparan; and luñis, an Ivatan favorite.
Speaking to ABS-CBN News during the book launch at the Garden Ballroom of EDSA Shangri-La Hotel last Saturday, November 30, Comsti talked about the long journey leading to "Also Filipino."
“It was a total of four years. Even before I was approached for the book, I’ve been recording na talaga recipes whenever I travel to different provinces. Last year, I was asked to do a book for this publisher (RPD Publications). I proposed this concept, and they liked it,” he said.
When asked which of the 75 recipes was the most surprising discovery, Comsti responded with a laugh, “Oh no, that’s hard kasi for me everything is a discovery because I never had them growing up. Some of the things that got my interest were the different kinds of laing in Bicol, the turon that Ate Tessie has been cooking for a long time. She is the only one who’s doing it. It’s triangulo valencia, there’s something like biko inside the turon. And the Maranaw dishes.”
Comsti admitted that his knowledge of Philippine cuisine is “very basic, very limited.” That’s why he came up with the idea for this book.
“By getting to know more of our dishes, the whole Philippine cuisine, not just what we grew up with, we get to appreciate the cuisine even more. Lalo na if you include the stories of the people, like how they’ve been making these recipes, or how they grew up eating the dishes, parang it makes you fall in love with the dishes. I hope everyone can enjoy them,” he said.
He is amazed at the sheer diversity of dishes, and was surprised by how intimate and unique each of the recipes is. Comsti especially mentioned the kinalas which he really liked because of the concept that it started with tricycle drivers. “Magpapakulo lang sila and after their morning shift kain na. Parang it’s a sense of community among people. And it’s really good, like ramen. It’s one of the dishes that really surprised me,” he said.
Indeed, more than just a compilation of recipes, "Also Filipino" is also a heartwarming compendium of stories of people and their relationship with food --- how their experiences and worldviews have shaped the dishes they created, and also in turn, how the dishes have shaped their lives.
Five recipes from "Also Filipino" were served during the launch. There was the tinumis, which is similar to dinuguan from Bulacan, where instead of vinegar they put tamarind juice. Another dish was calandracas from Cavite, which is traditionally brought to wakes. The mourners bring ingredients as abuloy (offering for the dead), they throw it in a pot and eat it at the end of the wake.
Other dishes from the book that were served were the ginataang pinipig from Bulacan, the bingka from Iloilo, and the kinalas of Camarines Sur.
It’s Comsti’s hope that his cookbook would inspire Filipinos to want to know more about the country’s rich culinary heritage, the very same curiosity which inspired him to come up with "Also Filipino," and the very same curiosity that made him appreciate Philippine cuisine more.
"Also Filipino: 75 Regional Dishes I Never Had Growing Up" is published by RPD Publications.