What is Filipino food? To most people, it’s a group that contains adobo, sisig, and halo-halo. But as Filipinos know, it is more than that. There is food that is characterized by region, by province, by town.
“(Filipino food style) was pioneered by my colleague in Ateneo, Doreen Fernandez and others,” says Dr. Fernando Zialcita of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology of Ateneo de Manila. “In the late 70s-early 80s, other things came into the picture like regional styles… Now people are also going beyond regional to what Ige (Ramos) calls the hyperlocal.”
According to the Lexicon of Food, hyperlocal food production is “food grown, processed, and consumed at the neighborhood level of a community.”
“Talagang local na local,” Dr. Zialcita says. “(For example), within Tagalog cooking, there is also Caviteño and Batangueño.”
He delves deeper, narrowing the category even more: When we talk about Manila food, can we talk not just about the general food of the area, but about food per district?
Quiapo Case Study
We are in the Nakpil House, a post-colonial manison-turned-museum. Dr. Zialcita is giving an impromptu talk for the gathered members of the Culinary Historians of the Philippines. The Nakpils are a prominent Filipino family, one of the many whose ancestral homes line Quiapo’s streets. Other prominent family names from Quiapo include Ocampo, Legarda, Araneta, Zaragoza, Paterno, and Tuazon.
Dr. Zialcita, who is a Nakpil on his mother’s side, talks about Quiapo cuisine. First, he distinguishes between “food served in restaurants, food served in houses, and food served in both restaurants and houses” as an area’s cuisine in general. An example of food served in both homes and restaurants would be chicken inasal in Bacolod. “Whether you’re being treated in a house or in a restaurant, inasal is popular all over,” he says.
Most of what people think of as Quiapo cuisine , Zialcita says, is mostly from restaurants in the area. Most, but not all. “… like pansit mami, that’s from Ma Mon Luk from Quezon Avenue, or Globe Lumpia from Globe restaurant. And lately of course, we have discovered Maranao food,” he says. “Therefore, when we talk about district cooking, we’re really talking about restaurants and home cooking. Now it would also be nice if you have cooking that is both restaurant and home.”
“But there’s also another dimension,” Zialcita continues, “which is family recipes.”
One of the Nakpil House’s most famous residents was Gregoria de Jesus (fondly known as Lola Goria), Emilio Aguinaldo’s widow who married into the Nakpil family after the revolution.
“Actually, Gregoria de Jesus wasn’t only active in the revolution. She was also very active in the kitchen. She loved cooking. Her brother-in-law Ariston Bautista knew this quite well, so he would bring her recipes from good restaurants in town. He would ask her to smell them so she could tell how they were made. Apparently, in those days, which is still true in Pampanga until now, people can tell you the components of a dish by just smelling the food,” Zialcita says. “During these fabulous banquets, she would be in the kitchen supervising the cooks. At the same time, she would also spy because she would bring chefs from well-known restaurants and she would spy on them to see how they did it. But she came out with her own recipes.”
One of her favorite recipes was pinatisang alimango. “She would split the alimango, put a little patis, take out the aligue and saute the alimango in its own fat.”
Another one was sinantolang bangus, her version of sinigang. “It’s bangus cooked in santol. Masarap at maasim. I like it served with a little dulong on the side.”
There are other recipes, not necessarily from Lola Goria, that the Nakpils have preserved. “There was also an ice cream for which this house is famous called the mantecado ice cream. It was carabao milk with eggs and as everything is being churned in the ice cream maker, the women will pour in boiling coffee to give it aroma. Gilda Fernando likes to recall that in her writings,” Dr. Zialcita says. “For me, that’s another aspect of Quiapo—home recipes, which I think should be gathered and popularized.”
While some recipes have been lost to time, “There are also the recipes of the Aranetas, who used to live here, like the famous Jewel Salad, which I don’t think anybody knows how to make (anymore), but you can ask them,” Zialcita says, others continue to be served in the family to this day.
One such dish was Kabesa de Jabali is a Spanish dish using boar’s head, sliced thin and served cold. The version we were served was an old Nakpil recipe. “Kabesa de Jabali is a favorite of the house. We would serve that on New Year’s Day. For Christmas, it was hamon,” Dr. Zialcita says.
We were served other dishes that originated from or become associated with Quiapo.
Open sandwiches topped with Excelente Ham, a Chinese-style ham brand whose Echague (C.Palanca) store has made the brand synonymous with Quipao. Same with Globe Lumpia, fresh spring rolls with sweet sauce that, for many Quiapo Church devotees, are a Friday tradition.
Rice Pater is a Muslim dish made up of steamed rice topped with shredded beef, chicken, or fish wrapped in banana leaves. It’s called pater in Maranao and pastil in Magindanao. We were also served two versions budi, or fish eggs, cooked in turmeric.
We also had steamed sugpo, or prawn; lanka or jackfruit salad, a hearty, savory side dish; and kinilaw, or ceviche, raw fish slowly cooking in its own sauce of vinegar, chilies, ginger, and coconut milk.
“I don’t think you can speak of a particular ‘Quiapo’ taste… It just happens to be a conjunction of different food—maybe home cooking, maybe restaurant food,” Dr. Zialcita explains. “It’s not like, for example, when you talk about Negrense food, which is served both at home and in the restaurant… you can say Negrense food tends to be sweet—it’s part of the whole ecosystem of the area. Dito wala namang ganoon.”