manila eats: the tom parker-bowles affair

I suppose most of you have read Daphne Oseña Paez‘s blog entry about Tom Parker-Bowles’ Esquire feature on Filipino food/Manila. I’ve not seen the hardcopy yet, but I’m definitely hitting the newsagents later to grab one.

Photo grabbed from Daphne Oseña Paez‘s blog

When you’re a Manila-born foreigner in London and you see the circled (in red) text on the cover of a well-known glossy, alarm bells would ring in your head. If you judge the book (or magazine) by its cover, the choice of preposition makes you a) wonder if it’s a typo; b) pray it’s not another jab at being funny about common misconceptions about the Philippines by someone who’s ‘not in the know or c) hope the article may be some sort of redemption song or a testament that Filo food is quite special.

So… TP-B speaks of his Manila visit. The first page made me cringe a little when I read about his well-traveled mates describing the capital as a ‘fucking armpit’ (in fairness, one said that the Philippine proper – aka anything out of Manila – is ‘sublime’). Similar to some documentaries produced and shown here in the UK, the first part was a telling of dark tales and myths about the capital’s perverted slums, chaotic politics and then some. Surprisingly, I wasn’t as mad as I prolly would’ve been years ago when I first moved here. Reality is, there’s harsh truth in what was said (albeit slightly magnified and not entirely immutable); reality is, a lot of Westerners aren’t well-informed about the Philippines. Case in point: a former classmate from uni once infamously said, ‘Oh so you’re from Manila? I’d love to visit Africa one day…‘ Geographical ignorance, my friends, says a lot. Another case in point: a former housemate on our first meeting said ‘Oh where in the Philippines are you from? Don’t tell me Manila. My Filipina colleague said it’s a horrible horrible city. And I saw a feature on the Beeb that people live in cemeteries!‘ If that wasn’t a classic *facepalm* moment, then I don’t know what is.

That’s the unfortunate thing; not every Filipino living abroad share the sentiment that Manila is not an ugly place. Some  Filos I’ve met abroad say they will never go back to the abyss of hardship, the lack of good governance, the ‘pollution’ of all sorts. Some are scared and some are too rooted to their new cultures to remember. My tita, who has been a UK citizen for more than 30 years, has not been back since a holiday in 1998. She fondly speaks of her homeland and how someday she’d want to come back, but when I ask her if she would like to come for a holiday any time soon, she would joke about ‘people carrying guns around‘ and chronic electrical breakdown. Bless her, I know it’s a joke… but still.

Beyond that abyss of hardship is the beauty of a man waking up early in the morning to fend for his family. Beyond that lack of good governance is the power of people who are unafraid to voice out their concerns and to challenge the system. Beyond the ‘pollution’ is the emergence of environmental crusaders who are asking to be heard. Oh well. I guess the Manila they see/remember is different from the Manila I love, imperfections and all that.


So TP-B writes about his gastronomic experience in the country. His first tryst with kare-kare and dinuguan didn’t exactly scream love at first bite but he enjoys the former, the second time around. He was seduced enough by the temptress that is sisig and sounded as if he’s had copious amounts of good old sizzling love.  He wrote of what seemed to be an amazingly informative and inspirational lunch at THE Claude Tayag‘s home and one can’t help but wish to have been there too. He wrote of a dinner hosted by Pinoy chef and restaurateur Gaita Fores and his heavenly bout with sinigang and lechon. By this time I was salivating and craving for food I grew up eating. Right there and then I wanted to go home to have proper adobo!!! The biggest surprise about this article though, was his sheer eloquence in describing the Philippine contender for Fear Factor – balut. I am left wondering whether he liked it THAT much to recommend it to the Duchess of Cornwall and stepdaddy Charles.

TP-B’s piece reminded of Anthony Bourdain’s Philippine feature for No Reservations and how he happily embraced our food with much gusto to even proclaim the country as top of the heirarchy when it comes to cooked piggies. I hope we learn from features like these. Yes, we adapt well to other cuisines – which makes ours the poster child of ‘fusion’ cuisine. Yes, we should fight for our gastronomic heritage and yes, there is a need to market Pinoy food. We have such a rich food culture and I strongly believe that our play with flavour is more exciting than other cuisines. So many talented chefs and so many passionate foodies around who are capable of taking this challenge on and placing our flag on the food map of the world.

Overall, the article was a great piece on the culinary landscape of the Philippines. It may have a sad start but, like most misconceptions, redeemed itself in a way I pray – and believe – Manila will.

‘Manila’s one hell of a capital city. It hums, throbs, buzzes and whirrs. Overlooked and underappreciated, it’s the plucky survivor. You just have to look beyond the obvious, scratch away the generalisations & long-held cant. Just like the food. Visit Manila with those in the know. You can’t fail.’
– Tom Parker-Bowles, Esquire UK


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