The Good Life
with Eli F.J. Tajanlangit
Don’t get me wrong. While I am batting for the use of our local food sources, I am not in any way suggesting we shun the ones coming from other shores and cultures. I don’t think it is even feasible to isolate our food culture from the rest of the world, given the momentum of globalization and the fall of the walls, whether economic, social or cultural, that divide us.
What I am trying to say is, let us give our own fruits, vegetables, seafood and livestock the attention and importance that they deserve, to give as much or even more importance to the santol and atis as we give apples and pears, to use kalamansi more often than we use lemons.
The problem is, with globalization, we have opened the floodgates for imported goods to the country and we have not really prepared our own food producers – the farmers and manufacturers – for it. We have not given them a fighting chance to push their okra and string beans if not on top, then at least side by side the broccoli and cauliflower, which we hail as the healthiest cruciferous veggie. They’re healthy yes, but have we also examined the nutritional value of our tugabang and patola?
And so now, we are learning the many uses of lemons – oh, what a versatile fruit it is – and we are consuming more and more of it over good old kalamansi. We go gaga over peaches, when the mango has more texture and juicy goodness. We are learning to eat Angus and Wagyu in an unprecedented scale, forgetting we once had Kanla-on beef – whatever happened to that anyway?
Again, I am not saying we ban these imported beef, but hey, we have Aling Auring’s San Andres tapa don’t we, and it is sublime in its own way. And while we are at it, I remember the carabeef tapa done in the kitchens of the Montillas, the one that they cut from fresh livestock in a certain way, marinate, air- and sun-dry, pound, sear in heat, and then pound. I still have to see beef glorified this way, and this never fails to draw second, even third, servings in buffet tables.
Talking of our ways with beef, I’d bet on the kansi anytime, simmered in slow and low heat, soured by the inimitable fruity tartness of the batwan, the broth the liquefied goodness of bones, meat, tendons and cartilages. I’m sure other cultures have their version of the beef stew, but kansi is distinctly ours, simple and virginal in the sense that its flavors come not from magical ingredients but mostly from the beef and its parts.
What I wish, and I hope you also agree, is for us to define our own distinct flavors, developed from what is just around us because after all is said and done, it is what we have, and what we do with them that in the end will help us feed ourselves and develop our nation.
Nation-building? Big words, you might say. After all, we are only talking about food. But food is our own culture and history on our plates, what we are, what we have, and what we do with them. Too, as I’ve often say, it should be apparent to all of us that the food that we serve on our dining tables are directly related to the priorities of our farms.
I wouldn’t be surprised if, somewhere in the Alangilan-Granada area, a farmer has expanded the lemon-grass “plantation” he has in his backyard so he can harvest lots of them come October. You see, one of the restaurant operators along Lacson Street had stumbled upon him a few years back and bought all the lemon grass in his yard, sacks full of them, because the city markets had ran out of the aromatic grass and they needed a lot for the lechon they were serving during the Electric MassKara.
That may be a dramatic example, but it can happen on a sweeping scale when we all turn to our local sources for food. Once demand rises, I am sure our farmers will take the cue and follow.*
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