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On Mangos & Melancholy

“…but when you live in this deeper level of communion or love or grace or whatever you want to call it, there is a heaviness to that – ‘Is the rest of the world seeing what I’m seeing?  Why are they so caught up in the trivialities, and why are they making each other suffer so much?’   …[my] most wonderful moments were also my saddest.  Your very fact of enjoying grace and love carries with it a dark side that ‘I didn’t deserve to know this…I didn’t earn this’.  This taught me…that opposites do not contradict one another.  In fact, they complement and deepen one another”.

- From the “On Being” podcast by Krista Tippet in an interview with Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM Cap.

On Mangos

The word “Mango” comes from the Dravidian-Tamil maanguy, “highest fruit” and is native to South Asia where it then spread to East Asia around 500 BC.  The yellow heart-shaped stone fruit held deep significance to its birthplace’s cultural and spiritual practices and was even adopted by Chairman Mao of China as a symbol for his “love of the people”.  As much as we Filipinos love it, calling it our unofficial national fruit and making a pack of the dried variety a must for any would-be OFW’s survival kit when leaving the Motherland, it didn’t arrive on our shores until the 15th century.  From then, it only took another 100 years to reach Africa and Latin America via colonial invasion where its sweetness is still enjoyed today.  
India today still holds the Mango crown, producing almost half of all the world’s mango. I grew up unaware of the variety and was always told the islands of the Philippines, especially those of Guimaras where my family once vacationed to, held the best and sweetest Mangos.  I suppose there’s some truth to that seeing as the Carabao Mango of the Philippines (from which the more popular Ataulfo Mango of Mexico descended from) was crowned the sweetest in the world in the Guinness Book of Records ’95 and was purportedly served in the White House and Buckingham Palace. 

Image result for fruit pickers fernando amorsolo
“Fruit Pickers Harvesting Under the Mango Tree” – Fernando Amorsolo (1939)

My “best”, and simultaneously most stomach-churning, memory of the Carabao Mango comes back in bits and pieces, fading like the green leather couch in my guakong’s sala, cracked with age and sticky with mid-morning humidity.  I was binge watching cartoons as was customary for any young, lazy child like me who wasn’t athletically endowed enough to play street basketball outside.  

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Out of Left Field: Kaliwa DC’s Take on the (Un)expectedly (Un)necessary

“Pork Skin Chicharron?  Shrimp Cracker?” I asked, picking up the white, puffy Kropek-lookalike perched atop the thick cut tartare.  “No.  Beef Tendons.”  Chef Paolo said matter-of-factly from behind the chef’s counter.  “Braised till tender, pressed till set, cut, dehydrated overnight, then fried till puffy”.

Yukhoe

Yukhoe (Beef Tartare).

Surprised, I bit into it, the chip gave a satisfying crunch which contrasted against the buttery meat made even richer by a light enveloping of just-punctured quail egg yolk.  Had he not told me, I would definitely have guessed that the crisps perched on the Yukhoe were Shrimp Crackers.  Why go through all that trouble for something liable to be misidentified (especially by diners like me who opt for the house’s recommendations and are wont to forget every component written on the menu)?  Hardly had I finished the thought when the onslaught of dishes began.

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Persian Spice Lamb Shank on Cardamom Rice with smear of Mint Yogurt Sauce
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Meals Remembered: The Expediter

Monday, March 5, 2018 // The Green Table, Chelsea Market, New York City

(*The following was heard during a collaboration dinner between Cynthia Glanzberg of OneTea and Mary Cleaver’s The Green Table (now known as Cleaver Counter). Photo Credits: Cynthia Glanzberg).


“Oh I do a lot of things,” she said with a laugh, taking a sip the tea-infused cocktail in her hand.  “I like telling people, when asked what I do, that I’m an Expediter”.  I conjured up images of a fierce kitchen warrior, hair tied into a tight bun, sleeved in immaculate chef’s whites, barking at a brigade of line cooks poaching eggs and searing meat in unison.  Or perhaps one of a head nurse, hair still tied in a tight bun, dressed in austere nurse’s whites, bringing calm confidence to patients and doctors alike.  She was indeed dressed in white, though more elegant than grim, wavy hair falling over wide, bell sleeves as she took another sip.  She had an easygoing nature judging by her laugh but it wasn’t hard to imagine a certain firmness emanating from her if the situation called for it.

 

 

Kanoka Rose Cocktail - Prohibition Distillery Vodka infused with Kanoka Assam Black Tea garnished with dried Rose Petals

Kanoka Rose Cocktail – Prohibition Distillery Vodka infused w/ Kanoka Assam Black Tea

“Let me tell you a story.  Some time ago, I had applied for a credit card at a bank but was denied because I didn’t have a regular office ‘job’.  They said that as a homemaker, I didn’t quite meet their salary requirements”.  She paused as the waitress reached between us to clear the bowls and glasses to make room for a plate of Persian-style braised lamb shank atop a bed of white rice and mint-yogurt sauce, the faint whiff of cardamom floating past us.  “Well, that wasn’t going to work now was it?” she continued with a smirk.  “So I went home, and listed out all the jobs I do on a daily basis and went back the next day.” “Therapist, Mother, Caretaker, Cleaner, Cook, Dishwasher…Sexual Partner.  Expediter.  I do all these things.  How much value would you say these carry?  Isn’t that worth something?” she recounted asking the banker.  “And that…is how I got my credit card approved!” she said with a hearty laugh nudging the lady to her right “Evelyn here got hers that way too!”.

Flatlay photo of rustic green, wooden table with plates of food and diners around it.

The Green Table

“You know, Men should really pay their Wives [if they’re Homemakers] for their daily work.  It’s not an easy job taking care of the house!  And we’re not quite there yet.  But I think we’ll get there soon”.  Had we not downed our cocktails only moments earlier, we probably would have toasted to that.

 

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The New Filipino Kitchen: A Story that Almost Wasn’t

It was about a week before my 2016 birthday when I got an e-mail from a certain Ms. Jacqueline Chio-Lauri with the subject line: “2nd Try: An Invite to a Filipino Food Anthology”:

NFK e-mail 1

A Message almost Lost…

That second e-mail – apparently I missed the first – listed Filipin@ contributors-to-be who represented a whole slew of countries.  It’s been more than two years since that e-mail which at the time, was met with skepticism.  As if anyone would actually think the writings in my ill-designed, rarely updated food blog could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Cris Comerford’s, the White House Executive Chef who was named as one of the contributors among other critically-acclaimed heavy hitters.  Ha!

Faint memories of a similar situation arose, however, in which an interview offer at the company I work for today sat in my Spam Folder and a “2nd Try” e-mail was all that stood between me and near Death-by-Accounting-Job.  I shuddered at the thought, submitted my recipe, and didn’t think much of it for a while since there was probably a chance mine wouldn’t make the cut.  But it did.

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The World on a Plate: Approaches to Localizing Global Food

(*Quotes lightly edited for clarity.)

Search for “food trends” on Google and you’ll find a dizzying number of articles opining on what’s gastronomically en vogue and what’s foodie faux pas.  Some focus on single ingredients (from Kale to Quinoa), others spotlight changes in how we partake in dining (from Food Trucks to the Fourth Meal), while many name entire cultures (from Japan to the Philippines).  It’s this last bit that I’m going to be sinking my teeth into in this post.

Food is Business and people understandably fixate on trends as they have the power to shift bank accounts.  Take as evidence attendance to the Summer Fancy Food Show.  With over 34,000 attendees, it’s one of the most well-known food conferences attuned to trends at a global level and the multi-day event can be overwhelming.

Articles were written summarizing the top trends from the Show and many contained all the requisites: Single Ingredients (Cauliflower), Categories (Carbonated Beverages), and Cultures (West Africa).  Play a game of “Which item doesn’t belong?” though and many will point out that this last one – the trendification/simplification of mistakenly monolithic cultures – doesn’t seem to sit well in the stomach.  The treatment of cuisines from faraway lands – often developing countries – as food trends to last a few seasons is as American as Pizza and for someone watching all the recent fanfare around Filipino Food, cultural trendification can fuel both pride and discomfort at the same time.  Is there a right way to “localize” global cuisine?  That’s the question I wanted to explore when I had the opportunity moderate a panel in collaboration with Advancement for Rural Kids, an organization focused on solving rural poverty in the Philippines, and Milan-based Seeds&Chips, a world-renowned Food Innovation Summit, during this year’s Show.

Featuring people I looked up to, we spoke about approaches to localizing global food in a setting that has traditionally focused on the delivery logistics, marketing, and production of global food.  Indeed our panelists came from diverse backgrounds and featured a microbiologist turned Natto (Japanese fermented soybeans) dealer, a traveling pop-up chef, a food historian-chef-writer, a pasta-maker, and a video journalist.  We sought to not only get a broad range of voices on an equally broad topic, but also showcase work that often gets lost in conversations couched in massive supply chains, razor thin margins, and the latest consumer trends.

We wanted to explore ways in which global cuisines and flavors can be brought to local tables without losing the original spirit, adversely affecting other communities, and still appealing to the consumer (this is the Fancy Food Show after all!).  Here are five things I learned from the panel (full video link):

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