‘Cabeza de Jabali’By Ambeth R. Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
When people ask where I get the material for this column, I often smile and say that I make it all up. After all, one constipated academic sneered at my appointment at the UP Creative Writing Center, saying that I actually wrote fiction and passed it off as fact. I did not waste my time on a critic who was neither “creative” nor a “writer.” He was one among a handful who dismissed this column as “tsismis” or “trivia,” but if we go all the way back to Herodotus, who is considered one of the fathers of history as an art and as a profession, you will find gossip and trivia there. Gregorio Zaide and Teodoro Agoncillo wrote popular history and I wonder if they were criticized, too.
History for me has always been about connections, about finding the links between different pieces of information that lead to a bit of insight or at least an engaging narrative. There is a place for unreadable academic history, and a place for storytelling. I draw my narratives from decades of reading, from many bits of information gathered over a lifetime. When I engage my students in a conversation, I realize that the world has become a lesser place because people have lost their appreciation for useless information.
I don’t know where it all started, but I do remember curling up in bed with volumes of the “Art Linkletter Illustrated Children’s Encyclopedia” and marvelling at everything it contained. Why was science and history so terrifying in school yet so easy to learn from these books? From childhood I learned to connect the dots, and this developed into a cross-referencing system in my head that connects names to faces, connects stories to events. Going over my files recently, I reviewed interviews I have given over the years, and the one that stood out was on food and history. Here is a sampling:
Q: It’s 1943, and Lola just came back from the rations office. What’s in her bayong?
A: A skinny chicken, tired-looking sayote, gnarled luya, some rice.
Q: What was a likely meryenda in the Rizal house? A breakfast in the Aguinaldo house? Dinner in the (other hero of your choice) house?
A: Rizal himself says he had sardinas secas for breakfast. That’s literally “dried sardines” that every Pinoy knows as tuyo. Emilio Aguinaldo, pursued by the enemy in the Cordilleras at the turn of the 20th century, had buttered kamote and coffee for breakfast. Aguinaldo was so deprived he wished aloud that after the revolution he and his friends would go on a grand European tour with a hefty sum for pocket money. Dinner? Preserved in the T.H. Pardo de Tavera collection in Ateneo’s Rizal Library is the cookbook of Juliana Gorricho, the ill-fated mother-in-law of Juan Luna, who listed not only her recipes but also the stellar guests who dined in her Paris home: Juan Luna, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, Marcelo H. del Pilar and Jose Rizal, and more.
Q: If you liken Imelda Marcos to a dessert, what would she be?
A: A fabulous croque-en-bouche like the “croquembucheng caraniuan” that appeared on the cover of Pasteleria at reposteria francesa at española, aclat na ganap na naglalaman ng maraming palacad sa pag-gaua ng lahat ng mga bagay-bagay na matamis at mga pasteles ni P.R. Macosta; Isinalin sa uicang tagalog ni Crispulo Trinidad, Professor sa Latinidad, 1919.
Q: What makes Philippine cuisine so distinct? Why do you think it hasn’t broken into the world food scene yet?
A: Philippine food has been in the United States for the longest time but is only served at home and in carinderias unlike other Asian cuisine: Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Thai that have better presentation, looks healthier and are served in restaurants. Most Westerners will not eat bagoong or dinuguan. They won’t even look at the oily adobo we remember from childhood. Filipinos have a long and rich culinary culture that just needs to be repackaged and aggressively marketed. The Thais studied their cuisine, standardized its taste, colors, flavors and branded it worldwide. Everyone knows what a green curry or tom yum should be, but how do you cope with 7,000 adobos? There are as many adobos as there are languages, regions and cultures in our archipelagic country.
Q: Any favorites from the past that you wish would make a comeback?
A: Cabeza de jabali or boar’s head is mentioned in the same breath as rabo de toro or oxtail stew, and is still served, though infrequently, in Kapampangan homes. Gene Gonzalez thinks the cabeza de jabali was boar’s head in aspic.
Q: If you could select the national dish for the Philippines, what would it be and why?
A: We have a National Hero: Rizal; National Language: Filipino; a National Tree: Narra; but the other “nation al” things like dance, animal, flower, etc. were probably invented by National Bookstore to peddle as postcards and posters for schoolchildren. Of course, you know that Socorro Ramos, who built National Bookstore, got the name off her cash register! The National Dish should be adobo hands down. I just hope the colonial-minded would stop saying it was a Spanish import. Adobo was already in the islands long before Magellan was born! Adobo comes from the Spanish verb “adobar” (to marinate), so when the Spanish were served their first taste of Pinoy food they described the food as marinated and labelled it adobo. Too bad nobody thought of recording what our ancestors called our marinated national dish.
Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
More from this Column:
Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=36532