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History of Filipino Food, Malay Influence

26 April 2010 10 Comments
Let me tell you a story:

But before that, I’d like to ask this question. If aliens stepped on earth and upon landing they declare something in their own language which, in our limited technology, is indecipherable, how would we react? How would the world welcome them without a common language? How would you as an individual react to what is supposed to be sci-fi but is real in green flesh and blood? What if what they are saying is, we will destroy your world in a week, just wait with joy as you will see your suffering cease forever…. and we have no idea about it.  What if they indeed come in peace?

Now here’s the story:

At around, 11th – 12th century, Genghis Khan nearly conquered half of the world, Monarchies have crowned their nth kings, the Angkor Wat in Cambodia was built, the Knights Templar were founded, Japan had its Shogunates instituted, Mass Production had its machines running, Fire and Plague Insurance had their first policies written in Iceland… while our black ancients, the natives of the Philippines, sat back, relaxed, got fat, and watched the waves run for the shore (mind you, there isn’t a huge difference from that time to now that’s why going home in the Philippines is a siesta from the get-go). But one day, as  the tribe chief Marikudo and the brothers were lounging at the beach, listening to bamboos play chill-out music, Balangays (Malay Seacrafts) made shape on the horizon.  The feeling that overwhelmed the tribe according to accounts would that be of Troy against a thousand ships as that was the first time they have seen sea crafts this big, although it would not be more than twenty Balangays. Ten Malay tribes arrived from Borneo with their long swords and shield-bearing wives. The leader was the wise Datu Puti (that name is now a famous Filipino brand of vinegar and soy sauce) who in all his wisdom avoided war and uttered the famous words that is now a staple in Hollywood and on any ethnocentric settlements – “We come in peace”. Now I don’t know if  team Marikudo understood what he said but some accounts said they started fleeing until Datu Puti flashed them with a huge Golden Salakot, a very long gold necklace that kissed the ground, a golden basin (don’t ask me why) and other jewelry jackpots. With a complex series of hand gestures it was understood that they wanted to buy the coastal areas. The deal was sealed when the golden necklace landed on Marikudo’s wife’s neck.

This rough sketch is from Jebbie Barrios, a Filipino Animator who has worked in various international projects. This linear drawing is a product of his free time and supposed to be discarded col-erase red pencils.

The Aetas settled in the mountains (they are still there up to this day) and the Malayan tribes divided the whole island among the first three families and the rest of the Datus went further north and settled in what is known to be the captial of the Philippines – Manila. And they lived happily ever after… well around 300 years until the Spanish came with guns and cannons.

Now here’s another story:

The Malays brought along a wealth of culinary influence in the timeline of the history of Filipino food. If you have read the previous installment of this series, food would just either be salty or sour or cannibalistic if you think more adventurously… so a lot of changes to the palate as the brown people found their way to the black man’s plate and vice versa. Here are the three main influences that the Datus brought with them:

Bagoong or Shrimp Paste. Bagoong is made up either of small shrimps or fish that is dried and fermented with salt to a paste and is widely used as a flavor-booster or a condiment for meat dishes and an essential ingredient to Filipino vegetable dishes. It is salty, it is stinky but ultimately it is the blandness killer. Just add a teaspoon of bagoong to any of your fried, steamed or sautéed vege or meat and voila, and you will see them bouncing on your pot. Here are some of the dishes that have become a temple of Bagoong:

  • Dinengdeng, Pinakbet and Kinilnat. These 3 vegetable dishes are blessed with bagoong as it boosts the nutty flavor of vegetables.
  • Binagoongang Baboy. That is pork stewed in shrimp paste. The best thing about bagoong is if you add the exact amount of it to pork, it compliments the meat.
  • Kare-kare. This one is more of a nutty-satay kind of dish which should be cooked bland because you need to it eat with bagoong. Any kare-kare without bagoong is, I don’t mean to be condescending, but a man without balls. Even a minute amount of bagoong on Kare-kare will make you a “Lance Armstrong.” But then of course you don’t want to be an owner of a lonely testes.
  • Green Mangoes. This, I think is the reason why God let man made some edible stinky-salty stuff out of shrimp carcasses. Raw, hard, sour, punching green mangoes should be eaten only and with bagoong. If you haven’t tried it, you won’t go to heaven. Every being who is allergic to shrimp paste will go to remediation.

Gata or Coco Milk. I have no idea if Aetas utilized this before the Malays arrived but I am pretty sure that coco milk has been used by Malays for various dishes, maybe for dinosaur stew or something. Coco milk has a distinct savory taste of its own that is irreplaceable even with S-26. The coconut, second only to mangoes in the fruit ladder is so loved by Filipinos they decided to mint it in their 2 peso coin. Apparently, 2 pesos was removed from the monetary list when the recent government experienced diarrhea in the economy… they blamed coco milk for it. Aside from few weak-gutted humans who disco in the toilet after chugging a shot of coco milk, this ingredient Pops with a capital P. Coco milk should only be added a couple of minutes before taking the pot off the flame because if you let it sit in a bubbling pot for more than 10 minutes, you are making coco oil. Congratulations Dexter, you can now oil up your robo-monkey. Here are a few Filipino dishes that are breastfed by Cocos Nucifera.

  • Ginataang somethings. That means this and that meat or vegetable with Coco milk. The most famous is Ginataang Tilapia (a  freshwater fish famous in South East Asia) stewed in coco milk. Another one is Ginataang Sitaw which is sautéed string beans, squash and ground pork finished with coco milk.
  • Laing and Pinangat. Pinangat is gingered pork belly sliced into small cubes, wrapped in taro leaves and either steamed or stewed and finished with cream of coco milk. Laing on the other hand is when you sauté small slices of pork belly with taro leaves and finish it with cream of coco milk. This is one thing that is not in the annals of history – Filipinos have that partly Maori culture. And I do not mean that part of us that wants to go hunting and spearing (that is drowned by eating too many rice) all the time, what I mean is, we love eating Taro leaves. Not only that, Filipinos look like Maoris… that is if you haven’t seen a Mexican before. On the next article, we’ll talk about coco milk and cream of coco milk as this article is getting too long.
  • Coco Milk Desserts. Latik which is coco milk shocked in hellish high heat until it becomes a coco milk crumble. Sansaw – a refreshing drink of caramel and coco milk (I promise, this website will reek of it in the future). And Ginataang Halo-halo which is a steaming hot mumbo-jumbo of root crops and fruits, starch balls,  tapioca and of course coco milk. Look! You’re drooling!

Rice as a staple, and along with that, more organized farming. Need I elaborate further?

And with that the records (that were not accounted for) in the history of Filipino food took on a different color (I think I need to say that).

Now going back to the question that I asked before I told the story:

How in the world do people with various languages communicate to each other without a common language? How did the native Filipinos understand the Malays’ “We come in peace” spiel? I cannot virtually and visually imagine how two different people settle a negotiation without a lingua franca. Let me try my best though. Imagine us face to face. Me, as the brown god Datu Puti and you, the black brother Marikudo. I open both of my arms from the center outward slowly while moving my head from left to right looking all over the coastal areas. I point to you and point to the mountains and then I show you the treasures that I bring. What would you do?


Continue on to History of Filipino Food, Chinese Influence

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