Amy’s feast

Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was published in the November 1, 2010 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 to S1/5.

The invitation said: “To celebrate Amy Besa’s birthday, let us get together to embrace old and new friends, to express gratitude at her Mom’s vibrant life at 95 and to savor the culinary treasures of the Philippines.

The event’s theme was flavorful, enough to entice invited friends as well as gate-crashers and all food lovers to celebrate the feast:  “Sariling Atin: Old recipes, old cooking techniques, old cooking equipment.”  The menu was an attempt to represent the finest culinary traditions in the Philippines.  To name some: Surigao’s coconut milk-flavored deep sea crabs,  Bacolod’s chicken binacol cooked in bamboo tubes, Capiz’s chicken tinola, Pampanga’s burong babi, the familiar Bicol express, and Zambales’s santol preserves for the ice cream.

It was of course impossible to have all Philippine regions represented for this occasion. (For example, I’m a fan of Tausug food, which was not on the menu).  Yet, Amy’s feast was a sample of home cooking throughout the country, using fresh, healthful if not organic, and native ingredients.

The recipes, the techniques, and the equipment may be old, but the idea of Sariling Atin was innovative and the dining experience was refreshing.  For urbanites, especially, we rarely relish native cooking, using uling, claypots and artisanal, organic ingredients.   Amy’s Sariling Atin is not easy to replicate, for the preparation requires patience, hard work, love, and commitment.  Yet that’s the way it should be. Amy and her collaborators have shown the way, and we hope their efforts will result in a revival of local cooking.

Moreover, Pinoy cooking does not only cater to natives.  Amy and her spouse Romy Dorotan have made it their mission to introduce and promote Filipino cuisine globally. Sariling Atin showcased the excellence of non-commercialized regional Filipino cooking. It was a private gathering, but in the internet age, it was likewise a vicarious experience for the world to explore.

Amy’s feast was a sequel to Amy and Romy’s Memories of Philippine Kitchens (2006).  This should not simply be seen as a coffee-table book, which in some lavish home settings is intended mainly for décor.  It is in fact a well-researched, well-documented publication that offers serious and enjoyable reading.

Here, Amy and Romy presented to the world the distinctiveness of Philippine food and cooking. Moreover, to quote Amy, it was a “desire to document traditions, to bring Philippine food into the twenty-first century, while preserving the strong foundation of our past.”

Amy indeed possesses basic values like preserving tradition, being nostalgic about home, and being close to family—her love for her mom is so deep—which are associated with conservatism.  Yet she is far from being a conservative. She is a product of the radical 1960s. She engaged in youthful activism and, together with Romy, immersed herself in the in the anti-Marcos dictatorship movement in the US.??Her activism and her love for country have not wavered a bit since then.

This activism or nationalism has taken a new shape—that of championing Philippine cuisine internationally.  Amy and Romy’s restaurant in Brooklyn, Purple Yam (halayang ube in Filipino), introduces to cosmopolitan New York the spirit of Pinoy cuisine and culture.  It is innovative and trailblazing Pinoy cuisine, attuned to the 21st century and adapted to a universal audience.

What essentially are adobo and the kare kare take a new twist. The adobo is pleasantly on the dry side, and the kare kare’s viscosity is appealing to the senses. Purple Yam is a fusion of what is Pinoy, what is Southeast Asian, and what is global.  It is the culinary brand from Amy and Romy that integrates the traditional and the modern methods, the national, regional and the global tastes.  It is the best example of blending nationalism and globalization.

To Amy, we return the compliment: Mabuhay at makibaka!

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