Week 9 – Ube Waffles

Years ago, I wanted to make from-scratch ube pancakes. At the time, people were finding any way to incorporate sweet potato, and I imagined that I could make a dish by recreating my favorite sweet breakfast with the purple, Filipino yam. I’m not sure what I was thinking since I’m the world’s worst pancake-maker to begin with—it was a huge failure.

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Ube Pancakes–gummy, burnt, and tinted blue for some reason. December 29, 2012.

Though it wasn’t yet on my radar, that same year a modern, Filipino restaurant in the East Village of New York City opened, and on their menu they featured a twist on the Southern classic, fried chicken and waffles. I didn’t know it then, but over the next 5 years places all over the world would serve similar takes on ube waffles as well. The idea is so simple, yet genius for those of us who grew up loving ube in classic Filipino dishes.

I recently had a conversation with a Filipino-born chef based in the U.S. about the repercussions of such a dish. She often wonders what hybrid foods like ube waffles means for the foodscape of Philippine cuisine. Will the next generation of Fil-Ams grow up appreciating sapin-sapin or the classic ube halaya in the way that they deserve, when dishes like ube waffles and donuts are thrust into the limelight?

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Week 8 – Making My Peace With Geography

The best burrito in America can be found in a small tortilleria in East Los Angeles. “The best” is relative, but in any case La Azteca’s walls are draped in its past accolades and framed features from various publications spanning the past 70 years they’ve been open. I made it a point to visit this special place at least a handful of times after I found out about it, and I can attest that it lives up to the hype.

I grew up eating California-style Mexican food, and even though I moved to a large and diverse city—arguably the food capital of the world—one thing I had to come to terms with was the fact that I would no longer have the access and excess of great and affordable Mexican food as I do back in Los Angeles.

I may grow to love halal carts in the same way if I stay in New York long enough, but there is not much more one can do but appreciate and hold dear, the places here serving up quality Mexican food that reminds me of home.

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The chile relleno is a mildly sweet pepper stuffed with savory cheese, then battered and fried. It’s then layered with complex salsas and creamy beans, and finally wrapped in the magic that is a homemade flour tortilla. From La Azteca Tortilleria.

Week 7 – Corned Beef & Cabbage

Growing up, I remember Mom occasionally cooking corned beef and cabbage around St. Paddy’s Day. I saw it for the first time around 8 years old and was confused seeing its color. It looked almost identical to nilaga she’d make with beef ribs, cabbage, potatoes, and the occasional carrot or yam. Mom convinced me it was thoroughly cooked and safe to eat, and from then on I’d indulge and enjoy.

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Nilaga I made on St. Paddy’s Day 2017

It was only until I got older that I found out that Irish people don’t really eat corned beef, or satisfy other stereotypes that American culture portrays in celebration of St. Patrick. When thinking about “cultural appropriation” in mainstream culture, I often gravitate towards stories of other brown people, but whenever this time of year comes around, I’m dumbfounded seeing how we make caricatures out of Irish heritage.

Instead of green beer and corned beef, epicures can help steer culture in the right direction by paying respect to Patrick (and Ireland) by perhaps, in reflection over a bowl of lamb stew and a pint of red ale.

Week 6 – The Opposite of “Ethnic”

I hate the term “ethnic food.” In American society, what is the opposite of ethnic? When walking down the “international” food aisle at your local grocery store, what “ethnic food” really means is food not associated with white people. When we say “ethnic,” it makes the conversation about “us” and “the other,” while simultaneously speaking from a place of condescension. Shouldn’t we also refer to French or Italian food as ethnic if this weren’t true?

I made salmon rolls for a project in my Japanese class when I was 14. This week I spent so much money on Indian-delivery in the span of two days that I forced myself to make aloo gobi and naan. Other than that, I don’t remember ever attempting to cook “ethnic food,” and for the most part have felt intimidated to try. How could I make a truly delicious dish when I have so little knowledge of a culture? When we fail to understand the people who make the food, I just don’t think we have any business in their kitchen.

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My Aloo Gobi & Naan, after learning about North Indian cuisine over the span of a 3-minute Google Search.

 

WEEK 5 – WHAT’S IN A NAME

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Spicy vegan soyrizo — made Filipino corned beef-style, and served with egg whites and brown rice as a healthier substitute to a traditional Cornsilog breakfast.

It’s a simple yet satisfying dish. Corned beef carries a significant cultural relevance on a multinational level. The memories, or possibly stereotypical images evoked are as diverse as the people associated with it. As a Filipino, I wonder how this sodium-packed can of processed foodstuff can bring so much comfort to those of us far from home.

Filipino corned beef came into popularity during the same time Spam, evaporated milk, hot dogs, and ketchup did during American occupation of the Philippines. Canned goods were a luxury, though now it’s become quite clear how harmful these foods are with growing rates of diet-related diseases among various Filipino populations.

I’m stuck in both worlds with sometimes clashing, sometimes complimentary identities. It seems that the food I’m cooking or eating becomes a doorway into reflection of my past, present, and future selves. I can’t change the fact that smelling it simmering away on the stove is heavy with nostalgia. What I do have power over is deciding to sit at the table where it’s served.

Week 3 – A Memory of Salud

Some of my first memories of food were shaped during a family vacation in the Philippines when I was 6. One sunny afternoon at my grandparents’ home, I was outside watching the chicks and ducklings play when I saw my grandmother walk outside in her quiet demeanor.

Without thinking, Lola Salud gripped a chicken by its shoulders and walked towards the house. She squatted on the step that led into the kitchen where a saucer and small knife was placed. After comfortably ringing the chicken’s neck, she gently drained its blood. My mom said they’d use it to make a sauce.

What seemed to be only a few hours later, we ate deep fried chicken with steamy white rice, and ketchup. I remember thinking that it was the best chicken I’d eaten in my whole six-and-a-half years of life. Til this day, it seems I still remember that afternoon, continuously attempting to chase or recreate that same feeling of completeness.

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Week 2 – Learned Traditions

One of my Instagram followers commented, “Happy Birthday! I know you’ll be eating pancit for long life.”

I smiled, my face lit with the glow of my iPhone. Turning it away, I lay in bed thinking of the coincidence. My family never made the tradition of eating noodles on our birthdays, but I’d already made plans to pick up a carton at a spot in East Village. Maybe some adobo too.

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Vegetarian Pancit Palabok — best served with vegan chicharon, sliced egg, and homegrown kalamansi.

Three years ago I implemented noodle-eating at New Year’s when I celebrated by myself in a crowded Chinese restaurant in Downtown DC. I sat at a small table decorated with a red carnation and ordered lo-mein thinking of my mom. Two years later, I made pancit-palabok for the first time. A unique recipe for my vegetarian sister and niece–100% vegan aside from the garnish of sliced, perfectly soft-boiled eggs.

Growing up, pancit wasn’t specifically a celebratory food, but it was the only thing I wanted this birthday. Hope for long life, yes–but more so, memory of family, a taste of home.

Week 1 / Assignment 1 – My Debut

Mostly eating without borders, meditating on my many identities has hijacked any sort of enjoyment that food, cooking, and dining potentially may have brought into my life.

Though not entirely true, there has been a fine line between bitter and sweet regarding the boundaries of culturally appropriating food. I do believe in the enrichment of our communities and society when we eat more globally and allow for representation.

This is my attempt to reconcile my proud Philippine heritage with my American, 90s-kid sensibilities.

Through the eyes of a brown and aging millennial, I wish to reflect on the cultural imperialism in today’s ever-changing food spaces.

Colonizing ingredients, ‘Columbus-ing’ brown and black food, and adopting and adapting white food — I hope not to fill the role of your local h-angry Asian woman, but instead break bread with equal parts humor, love, and gluttony. Kain tayo~

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My sister and I in my parents’ garden. Glendale, CA, 1993.

 

 

 

Let’s Continue

I am American.

I was raised middle class.

I am able-bodied and healthy.

I am Christian.

I am heterosexual.

I am cisgender.

I am light-skinned.

I speak perfect English.

I work and have some disposable income.

I have health care.

I have a four-year college degree, and I’m still pursuing higher education.

I have substantial knowledge of social sciences and world systems.

I have access to resources if I need more knowledge and information.

I have traveled to other countries, regions, states, cities, and small towns.

I have lived in three large and diverse cities/suburbs, and I currently live in a large metropolitan city.

I have loving, supportive, and communicative immediate family members and friends.

I have very quiet, hidden, or no Trump supporters on my social media accounts.

Before breaking down from my personal frustrations over the 2016 Presidential Election results, I needed to recognize the list above. These are my privileges living in America today. I think it’s important that we each recognize our own individual privileges before having a complete mental and emotional collapse, whether you are one of my radically liberal friends, predictably Democrat, exhaustingly Libertarian, or a closeted Conservative. I also consider being Filipino, Asian, and a woman a privilege, although these are also groups who have been historically oppressed in American and world history in general. But let’s continue.

You may feel ready to fight. I do too. That being said, I plan to fight the battles that lay themselves at my feet, instead of actively seeking them. I don’t say this to denounce protesting. I am a strong believer in our right to protest, and seeing the coverage of the peaceful protest in Los Angeles last Saturday on Wilshire truly filled my heart with pride for my amazing home and birthplace. I will say, that as I lay in bed early Wednesday morning after the election, I quietly sobbed and wished for nothing more than to be home in Long Beach, on my couch, with my family.

I want to first encourage those of you who are grieving over the newly elected candidates to first, take care of yourselves, which is why I mention to choose these battles thoughtfully. We are all each individual people first, and it has been easy to get lost in the swarm of angry posts flooding our respective news-feeds; to drown in disgust and frustration. Secondly, I need you all to acknowledge the role that different types of news and media have played to heighten divisiveness this election season. Each of us would benefit to step away from our phones and computer screens, to self-reflect, and come up with a list of personal priorities for the work ahead. But self-love and self-care first, because you have value as a leader or change-maker in your community. On the days immediately following Tuesday’s election, I could not bear to look and read the frustrations coming from social media accounts—news coverage about a woman in a hijab being doused with gasoline; or the viral video of children in school chanting “Build That Wall!” to their brown or black classmates in a school cafeteria; or the post about a 10-year-old girl being grabbed by her vagina by a classmate. I could not bear to look, so I shut off my phone and went on with my week because work and class were calling. And I guess that is a privilege too.

I will say, though, we should not feel ashamed of our privileges, and instead, use them as leverage in understanding how to be useful for others who do not have the same. This said, I want to take the time to address the people who are telling their Facebook friends to “stop complaining” or “quit crying” or saying that “protesting is pointless.” I respect different political views, and if you voted for a third party, I do not condemn you. We live in America, and the beauty of that is we each have the freedom to take part in our political process however way we choose. With that being said, you urging people to stop complaining about the election results adds just as much nonsense that has come out of this mess of an election season. You truly show your ignorance and basic lack of understanding for other Americans’ daily struggles and life struggles. You are more concerned with being heard over your friends, that you instead choose to discredit the thousands of traumatizing and even physically violent hate crimes that have spiked across our country in the last two weeks. You have no idea what others go through, even when they scream it at the top of their lungs. Take the time to acknowledge the privileges you are afforded in your community and in our general society—and share it with your buddies because most of you who are saying these things are rich, white males (and I’ll say it, hysterically all former water polo players). Yeah.

So what now? As more news comes in about actual White Nationalists being part of the new presidential administration, it’s difficult to say what the next steps are for the average person just trying to get through their workday. I also say, “the average person” with a grain of salt, seeing as though they are average people who have now been called out and harassed by radicalized right-wingers, islamophobes, anti-Semites, sexual predators, homophobes, and those good ol’ fashioned, unyielding racists. This will continue to affect Americans (no matter where you live), so I am calling every liberal friend, every third-party voter, and everyone who voted for a Republican ticket and reads this, to contribute to peacemaking in your communities: in your workplace, at your school, or in a religious organization with which you’re associated. We each have to prepare ourselves to stand up to violence and oppressive actions; to know how to diffuse potentially violent situations that may unfold before us.

I am lucky to know a lot of people who do community work—who are educators, work for the government, work in some type of public service, or spend time volunteering. The brunt of the work ahead will be on our shoulders, and I stand with you and support you and love you for contributing to justice and peace in our very broken world. Some of you may know that I was initially a Bernie supporter, and internally struggled for the last several months about who I would allow my conscience to vote for. After it was settled that Donald won the election, aside from the original numbness, fear, and sadness that overwhelmed me, there was also a moment of empowerment that overcame me as well. Hillary is a career politician who understands the endless complexities of the system and office for which she was campaigning, and she should have had this one in the bag. But she didn’t. The other ticket won because people showed up for their candidate. And without going too deep into the electoral college conversation, what should have been a no-brainer choice between a law-school educated, lifelong government leader and an inarticulate hotel manager and internet troll—no matter what your politics—the victor won because he emboldened his followers and they showed up for him. There is such a thing called People Power, and I choose that over everything. I will fight for my love of people whose only wish is justice in an unjust world. I will fight for that every day and in any way that I can; as a graduate student, as a non-profit worker, as a millennial, as a consumer, as a Seventh-day Adventist, as a woman of color, as a Californian, as a 100% born-and-bred American.

To those who think differently than me, you are not my enemy. But I have peace knowing that I would lay down my life tomorrow if it meant standing up for what I believe in. To those who agree with my ideas, I don’t say this to ask you all to be martyrs as we continue to fight for marginalized people. I say this because I also wish you peace. 

We will not be silent. We have power in numbers. We can take care of each other. We must relentlessly stand up for what is right.