First thing’s first, “Ma Sarap” is the Tagalog term for “That’s delicious!” It was one of the first Tagalog phrases I ever learned. And quite possibly started my love for food! Anyway, here’s a little food memory of mine that is well-rooted with my love of food and my love of serving food to friends and family. I hope you enjoy!
My family’s heritage is very important to me, and what better way to celebrate that heritage by visiting relatives in the Philippines? Granted, the only downside is the 19-hour flight to Manila International Airport (and this includes the 4-hour flight from Tokyo). Now as much as I love my family, I was not at all looking forward to this trip. I knew that where we were going wasn’t the most comfortable of places; no air conditioning and no answer to the waves and waves of mosquitoes that Mother Nature saw fit to throw at us. Still, family is family and besides that, there was one major thing that spurred me on: the promise of authentic Filipino cuisine made with authentic Filipino ingredients. Now, don’t get me wrong, my mom makes a pretty darn good interpretation at home, but it’s really not the same. The flavor profiles between the Philippines and the United States are completely different and it’s for that reason why I was so excited to brave the bugs and heat that day. Little did I know that I was in for a real treat.
So, after the long flight and the long drive to get to the house where dinner was being served (2 hours from the airport, not counting traffic) we arrived and so did the mosquitoes, sadly. Thankfully, the bugs didn’t deter me from the absolutely amazing sight that waited for me: an entire table filled with all sorts of delicious-smelling food. It was absolutely fantastic. There was Lechon (a whole pig that’s been slow-cooked over coals for the whole day), Pancit (Filipino version of Chinese Stir-Fry), Lumpia (which is essentially a Spring Roll, but with veggies, pork and rice that’s been deep-fried) and lots and lots of the Filipino staple: rice. It all smelled so delicious, I couldn’t wait to dig into all that food. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait very long. Soon my aunt came out with the plates and utensils and we all proceeded to dig in. Right away I could taste the difference between my mom’s version of these dishes and the authentic dishes cooked in the Philippines. It’s two completely different flavor profiles and I must say (no offense to my mom) the original is so much better, although much more spicy. There were dishes there that I did not try, mainly because I was turned off by the smell. Balut is one dish I did not try that my dad and uncles absolutely love. It’s a chicken egg with the embryo still inside it. The smell can only be described as “pungent.” Perhaps one day I’ll work up the courage to try it, but for now, no thank you.
This memory is one of my strongest of the Philippines and it’s due to many factors: family, togetherness, my heritage and, of course, the food. It’s not often I go to the Philippines to visit my relatives, but when I do visit, I’m sure to take advantage of every minute I’m there. My family always celebrates with a large feast like the one I just described and it’s a fantastic way to experience the growing and diverse melting-pot that is Filipino cuisine. It’s stayed with me for so long (about 7 years now) because of the combination of food and family. It’s that feeling of togetherness that family always brings, coupled with the comfort of sharing a large meal with the ones you love. Food is always important to me, as well as family. It’s part of my Filipino upbringing and it’s going to stay with me for a long time; that kind of love and passion for others is what’s going to transfer over to my food and, hopefully, will transfer over to anyone who tries my food.