Questions from the Motherland

“But that’s not reeaalllly Filipino food though isn’t it?”.  Definitely an if-I-had-a-penny question if I’ve ever heard one mentioned.  Talking about the cultural aspects of food is so difficult that I’m constantly tempted to drop the label and just call it…”food”; pure, unadulterated, homogeneous, boring, it-just-is, food.  Of course that’s just as irresponsible as creating imaginary divisions by arguing what makes a food Filipino (or *gasp* “authentic”) enough but it’s tempting nonetheless.  But what IS Filipino food anyway?  Who gets to decide and mandate the confines by which it’s labeled by?  Is there some tome or someone’s lola I can just go to and get a final say?

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Seafood, crab fat rice, native chicken – Breakthrough Restaurant, Iloilo

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The Madwoman: SALO Launch Feast

(Note: For more information on Yana and her SALO Project where she travels across America hosting pop-up dinners, check out her IndieGoGo campaign here and consider donating!   Photos taken by author and Johnny Thanphachanh).

(Update 2/17/2014: Due to an oversight (and lack of sleep), I had failed to mention that Yana will not be travelling alone.  Accompanied by her trusty ninja chimpanzee (I kid), she will also be joined by Cassandra Sicre, who will be documenting the whole quest.  In addition, SALO will be throwin’ down in collaboration with Noah Karesh and the team at Feastly, an online marketplace that connects passionate cooks with adventurous eaters.  I apologize for any misrepresentation!)

(Photo credit: Sam Polcer).

(Photo credit: Sam Polcer).

Yana Gilbuena is a madwoman.  With her half-shaved head and dyed hair, she would’ve looked perfectly fine rocking leather jeans and shredding an electric guitar as she did wearing an apron and brandishing a butcher’s knife.  The rhythmic whacking of the knife on the chopping board was punctuated by the team of chefs singing along to the Beyonce album blasting in the background.  Two hours till dinner service and I had yet to see one semi-completed dish in the largely empty art studio (Court Tree Collective in Brooklyn) she had rented.

The Space.

Before…

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Just crisped pork belly and ears.

Just crisped pork belly and ears.

The Brooklyn air outside was crisp, the polar vortex giving us a temporary respite for the weekend, but inside, it was a different story.  As dinner preparations prepared for the event coming up, pork belly was going through the final stages of roasting after being boiled not too long ago for the typical pulutan (the Tagalog word describing food eaten during marathon drinking sessions) dish of Sisig, a crispy, meaty heap of pig ears and belly mixed with spicy chillis and topped with a raw egg.  Sisig done in a few hours for twenty people while simultaneously cooking Kare-kare?  Yana Gilbuena is a madwoman.

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How a Priest Made a Believer (in Ilonggo Pizza) Out of Me

The truck slowly turned behind the stone church and onto a dark, dusty road.  Past a few closed hardware shops lit by single lights, a fishing pond reflecting the nearby glow of the city’s infant nightclubs, and the occasional sari-sari store decked with industrial-size speakers blasting some obscure, bass heavy tempo.

Lines like these would have been (in my rather unpolished writing) passable introductions to crime thrillers or some Zimmern-esque travelogue about to detail the search for some grotesque delicacy enjoyed by a dying tribe in the mountains.  But that’s a story reserved for another post.  Instead, we were headed to the rather unassumingly named, “Chicago-Style”, a small pizzeria marked by an equally unassuming neon sign.  It’s the type of place one wouldn’t hesitate driving past in search for the more popular Shakey’s or Pizza Hut or would only turn to in times of need.

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But in that little building away from the busy city center, lies perhaps the most authentic Chicago-style pizza one could find in Iloilo and perhaps the entire Panay island.  But having been repeatedly grossed out by other oft-raved about establishments like Afrique’s with their adulterated Italian fare mixed with condensed milk to suit the local palate, I felt more skepticism than appetite.

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