MANILA, Philippines – This weekend at the SMX Convention Center, Madrid Fusión Manila is bringing together the best chefs from the Philippines and Spain. It is an event that aims to facilitate the sharing of insights, the showcasing of the best and finest ingredients, the expanding of networks, the treating of tastebuds, the teaching of the latest techniques to hit the global culinary scene, and the continuation of our efforts at elevating Filipino cuisine to the world stage.
This couldn’t have come at a better time. Just this week, The Washington Post declared that Filipino food has finally arrived — a landmark event that hopefully won’t be drowned out by the flooding of #PinoyPride hashtags. (It’s one thing to genuinely love our sisig and crispy pata, and for this reason be glad that others can now share in a truly good thing that we have created — and another to pant eagerly at yet another opportunity for foreigners to click our “Like” button.)
“What took so long?” the article’s author, Tim Carman, asked, citing how other Asian cuisines were able to penetrate mainstream American dining rooms much earlier. The culprit, it turns out, isn’t our food’s lack of presentability, as previously thought. For example, the brown goop that was kare-kare, as soulful as we knew it to be, didn’t look inviting to the uninitiated — but then again neither did Indian curry, dear people who love to look for excuses. And as Filipino restaurateurs in the US have discovered, even the homiest of meals can be aesthetically plated to face discriminating customers.
Instead, one of the main reasons Carman found was “hiya,” or Filipino immigrants’ shame, whether about the exotic stink of their food, or simply thinking it wasn’t good enough to stand out among all the other choices on the market — the ironic yin to our #PinoyPride’s yang. Another delaying obstacle pointed out by Carman was our ability as a people to blend into any country we flew into. Centuries of colonization under different masters have turned us into these hybrids who can adapt seamlessly to any environment, from our taken-for-granted ability to speak English to how we apparently don’t need to build our own version of Chinatown overseas. The downside of this is that it makes it much more difficult for us to stand out. Indeed, many have harped repeatedly about our supposed lack of national identity —a very relevant point, because culture is always inseparable from food.
NEITHER NATIONALIST NOR FOODIE
Now, this author is neither a nationalist nor a foodie. I think that who we are today is who we are today, and that you can’t revert to who you used to be — no matter how strongly you may disagree with the way you’ve been altered. You can only take what you currently have and find ways to move on and move deeper from there.
And while it may be an unpopular opinion, I actually like being a mutt. It’s not an inherently bad thing. On the pro side, when you’re already a mixture of so many influences, it sets the stage for an eagerness to absorb even more. People have credited our (allegedly) booming economy and development for the sudden sprouting of new restaurants all over Manila, but not much has been said about our openness to try new things — of our receptiveness as a market to whatever good that the world has to offer. This can be looked at in contrast with countries whose restaurant scenes are still largely homogenous and based on their original culture. And while I think it’s great that their identity remains to be so easy to pin down in the age of globalization, at the same time I can’t help cocking my head to the side and wondering, “But isn’t cultural purity boring? Not to mention limiting?”
In the gastronomical arena, it goes without saying that chefs play a crucial role in easing new tastes onto the palettes of diners — whether to introduce them to something entirely different, to really flesh out the virtues of dishes that have become all too familiar, or to find the spaces where the two may intersect. These are people who roam the world in pursuit of ways to transform the way we experience our food, and Madrid Fusión Manila pulled out all the stops to invite the very best to participate in the much-anticipated encounter.
The three-day event will be headlined by Philippine-based chefs, Juan Carlos de Terry, Margarita Forés, Jose Luis Gonzalez, Myrna Dizon-Segismundo, Fernando Aracama, Claude Tayag, J. Gamboa, Pepe Lopez, Chele Gonzalez, Rob Pengson, and Bruce Ricketts. Fresh off the plane from Spain are chefs Andoni Luis Aduriz, Elena Arzak, Quique Dacosta, Ramón Freixa, Francis Paniego, Paco Roncero, Mario Sandoval, and Paco Torreblanca. They also added a couple of Asian chefs into the mix — Taiwan-born André Chiang, and Chef Alvin Leung, known for his “X-treme Chinese” cuisine.
It’s always a melting pot party with us, and I can’t say I hate it. We just need to balance this out by constantly reminding ourselves that we have something to contribute, too, and that we should definitely see to it — not so much for our own #PinoyPride sakes, but simply for the joy of sharing the things that make us happy as a people.
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For more details on Madrid Fusión Manila, visit www.madridfusionmanila.com.