Pass the ApronPass the Apron
By Philip Dominguez Mercurio
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Another cold December night and I am with only pot and pan.
Or maybe just pot, this time around.
Into it, the cold tap waters from the dams of Tennessee were aptly applied, nearly rounding up to the pot’s very rim, as a coiled furnace gleaming hot red was added from below. Moments later, the dried noodles were thrown in; its soaked self sinking into the very waters that it bathe in.
Along with that, came the packaged seasoning, adding a dash of color and an aroma only those familiar with this operation would know only to well.
Alas, two eggs were suffice enough for the finishing touch; cracked and opened over the bubbling waters below. With frequent stirring, enough time would have elapsed and the words, Tapos na would be raved with outward glee.
My mommy came to the kitchen for a look see. Noting the simmering broth boil, her face had neither the hint of interest nor the look of hungry anticipation stemming from it. Rather, she hugged me and ended with a simple if not logical statement: “Let’s go to IHOP.”
Hmmm… I guess Top Ramen isn’t good enough these days.
In the void which spans between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, one is left with only one choice once the Christmas leftovers you brought home from that last party have been wasted: cooking yourself.
Of course, if that only recourse doesn’t work out, then one has to resort to other emergency choices like going to places like IHOP at eleven thirty in the evening for a late night rendezvous with a couple of pancakes and some aging syrup.
As we enter the 21st century, Asian kids with a knack for the oven have waned enough that folks like me have even felt its effects.
Take this fact into account for example: Almost all my girl friends either have no experience in the kitchen or even worst, refuse to ply into one.
When posed with the very question of cooking for oneself, one of them instinctively exclaimed, “I refuse to cook!”; her steadfast gaze resembling that of Lucy Liu making her refusal sound more like an ultimatum than anything else.
Another girl just giggled at the thought, as if the idea never crossed her mind. I even explained to another one who happens to be a chemistry major, that cooking is just like doing chemistry, in that it requires mixing of certain substances under similar contraptions like a Bunsen burner for a certain amount of minutes.
She didn’t buy the argument though; rather contented with being the one just washing the dishes instead. O well… chemistry majors can be so dull.
Now for my Chinese and Vietnamese friends, taking a step back from the furnace of life doesn’t necessary mean the end to their culturally enhanced eating habits. I mean for years, Chinese restaurants, from mere buffets to high-class dim sum shacks have abounded so much so that you could smell the MSG from miles away.
And every Vietnamese restaurant you come across from those on Clement to here in Nashville seems to be carbon copies of each other from the store names to the very menus they handily use.
Unfortunately, for Filipinos like me, globalization hasn’t resulted in the acquisition of Filipino restaurants at almost every corner in the continental United States.
You’d be lucky to stumble upon one and sometimes you may find a Thai or even Mongolian bistro faster than some place holding our own food, which is sad considering the fact that I’ve never met a Mongolian before, even in a city as diverse as San Francisco.
For Filipino America, much of the new generation has now become dependent on those who have immigrated here recently for the best Filipino cuisine the Philippines has to offer. Go to Jolibee all you want but let me tell you, nothing beats the freshly made home cooking that your parents may come up with. No wonder why I’m actually happy when being at the airport for the flight back home to Nashville... I’m thinking about all the kare kare and nilaga and other specialized Filipino food my daddy is about to cook for me.
With that said, it shouldn’t surprise you then what importance Filipino food has on our very culture. Its very integration into our culture is as such that you can’t possibly talk about our culture without at least hinting at some aspect of our cuisine.
Cooking it has become something not only for the sake of our general consumption but also functions as a point of socialization for all Filipinos, where one could sit back, relax and pass around a 50 pack of lumpias and a bag of chicharon while gleefully talking about the latest tsismis that goes around.
Such integration could also be seen in many of Filipino jokes which seem to always encompass some aspect of our food, however vile or stinky the joke may be. Hey look, if I’m not mistaken, every one of my column pieces has dealt with Filipino food on some level.
So if Filipino food, in all its greasy glory, is somehow taken away, what are we left with? No more high blood-pressure perhaps but along with that no more socialization and most of the happy-go-lucky jokes.
Therefore, one could conclude that the very preservation of our culture rest on if we, the new generation, continue to cook our traditional food in the kitchen. Dependence on those from home could only go so far for once newer generations emerge into a Filipino-food less home; it’s more likely that these kids would grow up attaching lechon and balut to the realm of folklore and superstition or see it as something more likely to appear on Fear Factor than on their very own dining table.
How would you expect your kids to be running around the house, opening all the windows and closing all the doors frantically, if you are either unwilling or have no ability to cook the very tuyo that would have made that all possible.
That and many other wonderful experiences would have been sadly missed by our future progeny.
Fortunately, some of us have tried to pick up the apron when given the chance. For example, in my case, it’s actually not the time consuming part which hinders me from picking up the wok and stir frying a sweet plate of ginisa; it’s more or less just plain laziness which beckons me away from it. Perhaps I should reconsider putting away the Double Dash Super Mario Kart and picking up the spatula more often. It’d do me some good.
It was another day, another place and I was heading for the kitchen where another bubbling pot awaited me.
This time, Michelle Leary (who could quite possibly be the finest hostess ever since Monica of Friends) was the cook extraordinaire that day and was logically using her talent to entertain her guests, who at that time, consisted of only me. When she went by my side, I couldn’t help but congratulate her on her accomplishment.
Of course, being the sweet girl she is, she bashfully declined my praise believing that being this accommodating was to be expected of her.
Maybe next time, I’d advise her to add some cut up hot dogs to make her spaghetti more Filipino … but why spoil an already good thing.
The point is … we’re learning … and soon, kids from the Philippines won’t be the only ones closing all the doors in their homes. - PDM