“An Identity under Question”
From: Zialcita, Fernando. 2005 Authentic Though Not Exotic, Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.
ENJOYING A FOREIGN DISH means more than ingesting food; it is an acknowledgment that the Other has a value worth welcoming into one’s being. During the last decades of the twentieth century, the cuisines of Thailand, Vietnam, Bali, and Singapore gained international acceptance and prestige. So have other expressions of their culture. As recently as the 1960s, Southeast Asian arts were classified as either “Farther Indian” or “Chinese”; these labels have since been dropped and the unique features of each style appreciated. May we expect that the same respect will eventually be accorded our Filipino arts, specifically those created in the Christianized, Hispanized lowlands?
In the realm of taste, as in other realms, such respect is closer now than before, but still remote. Part of the problem is presentation. Ordinary Filipino restaurants, both here and abroad, do not make their offerings visually attractive. As even Filipinos complain, “Everything looks brown!” And, because our restaurateurs skimp, they will not serve the sawsawan [dipping sauce] in a saucer but instead stock it in a bottle on the table. But as serious, as this lack of concern for the customer, is the question of self-respect. While Filipinos love their cuisine, when asked about its characteristics, some answer, “There really is no Filipino cooking. It’s Spanish, it’s Chinese.” Or worse, according to a Filipina who runs a Thai restaurant, “Kare-kare like the rest is bastardized cooking.”
Some Filipinos’ tendency to denigrate, without basis, their major cultural symbols shows in other realms, and works against us.