In search of food paradise 



We haven’t taken the hour-long journey to Hen Long in nearby Surrey for quite a while, hence, missing how with a thick body-rope of Filipinos and other Asians, we would furiously navigate the knotty sprawl of bins and baskets that overflow with what seem like gems to our wistful, nay, greedy eyes, as friends had assured us—they who, we’d bump into, with a ‘high five,’ and a high-pitched, “Nandito ka rin!”

Akin to a pilgrimage, as Rose promised, I think it’s how Hen Long felt like—the oh-so-missed palengke we’ve all grown up with, which drew us paradise-like. Indeed, as home recedes farther, longing for food made from Saturday rituals of trudging say, to Sta Mesa’s wet market sharpens, like my sister, who would go straight to her suki for fresh-caught tilapia from Bulacan and just-that-morning gathered tahong from Cavite. And so, with innate primal sensory senses, she had tracked down not substitutes but the real thing before I got here to Vancouver.


I thought I had the upper hand in sourcing what would bring out something like genuine dishes from home, having visited and stayed those years, when I dared to enroll in writing courses at New York University’s Continuing Education programs and apprenticed with an editorial outfit for children’s supplementary reading workbooks. I discovered then, substitutions for say, tinolang manok with zucchini in place of murang papaya and hardy Italian spinach for dahong sili; in the absence of gabi for thickening, I used tofu for sinigang na ulo ng salmon, again with Italian spinach, finding nowhere in the neighborhood produce stores, talbos or pechay.


During Lent, searching for fish other than cod fillet, I had imagined I would find catfish, served as blackened fillet in restaurants, but like most fish here in North America, by the time it gets to the shelves, it’s unrecognizable filleted sans whiskers and skin. Diligent poking though among frozen bags had rewarded me with catfish nuggets, and of the best part—its belly, out of which I used to cook adobo that would last through the fasting season.


None of that for my sister, who, like most Filipinos, would not compromise the taste she remembers. Hence, we would train up to far north Surrey and walk a half-mile from the station to Hen Long market. What joy, indeed, to find fresh saluyot and malunggay leaves for dinengdeng (Ilocano abraw), thin eggplants and small ampalaya for pakbet, sometimes though limp and already brownish in the tips, sayote tops, as well, Manila clams and even paros or unnok among Ilocanos, and cuts for dinuguan with, of course, the essential dugo, pinapaitan, including the greenish papait juice.


But here’s the rub: Such bliss proves costly and why not, as one store manager in the small produce store a block away from home to whom I had complained about the $4 per pound mango from Cebu blurted out, “It was flown on a Boeing 747!” A thin bunch of malunggay leaves, for another, neatly bagged in transparent plastic, still green to the eye—but which when taken out would fall like confetti—costs almost enough to buy a kilo of rice in Manila. Sayote tops because of their limited shelf life would be as pricey as a kilo of beef from a karnehan in Quiapo.


Was it BC Premiere Christy Clark’s visit to Manila, which brought about an inundation of Philippine food in Vancouver, perhaps? We haven’t gone to Hen Long for a while (now housed in its own spanking grand plaza), it’s at T&T, a giant Asian grocery and produce market irresistibly located at our train stop close to home, where we’ve found the same eden; why wouldn’t we drop by almost daily even just to browse shelves with Saranggani bangus and tilapia cheeks, frozen gabi, saba, patani, kinudkod na kamoteng kahoy, laman ng buko, Pampanga tocino, Ilocano longganisa even Magic Melt ensaymada, Selecta and Magnolia ice cream.


Sure, haven’t we, as Filipinos, long adapted to other cuisines, not to mention what’s Hispanic and Chinese in our food, introduced to Italian and even French dining, as well as not too long ago, Japanese and Middle Eastern? I remember the burgers we loved as university students at the corner of Avenida and Claro M. Recto, but soon came McDonald’s. Long before the pizza chain conquest of Manila, D’Mark’s served what seemed closest to what we now bite into. Still, deep in our nests, the yearning for food with which we were brought up continues to rumble through our dreams.


Three weeks ago on a deep bin at T&T, along with Mexican papayas and Chinese pomelos, there gleamed big guayabano packs, to my slight dismay from Thailand; anyhow, though priced like two sushi dinners, my sister bought one for me, and frozen saba for her. On reaching home, we chewed on our memories, wordless in thought. And then, somehow reality sneaked in unbidden with a string of reklamo: The guayabano tasted too bread-y, and the saba not maligat. We stopped there and fell into what felt obvious—how is it ever possible to implant home in another hemisphere, anyway?


2012 in review (Thank you again to filipineses friends, followers, and visitors!)
December 31, 2012, 12:24 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 5,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 8 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
December 24, 2012, 6:32 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , ,

greeting 2012ed

                                   May the joys of the season

                        spangle your days the whole year

           through and on. May your wishes be like               

dewdrops on your mornings from hereon. With

                    songs of angels for you and yours. . .


           Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Thank you for your following and continued support

Naimbag a Pascuayo ken Naragsak a Baro nga Tawen  Kadakayo Amin

Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon sa Inyong Lahat

Filipinos, who are they: a brief narrative history




Filipinos trace their beginnings to waves of migration that happened in the Indo-Pacific, the last of which were Indo-Malay influx into the northern coastlines. Earlier though, geological events that resulted in the changes of land masses, as well as the appearance and disappearance of land bridges also form part of their origins. Anthropological studies show that small mountain-dwelling tribes akin to the aborigines of Australia called aetas in the Philippines

are believed to have found their way to the northern mountain ranges through the land bridges.



But by the time the Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan discovered the archipelago by accident, having taken an uncharted route in his search for spices, the Filipinos have had established a culture made up of kingships ruled by datus. Down south however, the islands that used to be part of the Madjapahit Empire, which was a powerful sultanate, stood apart with their predominantly Muslim culture.

Magellan landed in 1521 in one of the islands mid-south, called Limasawa where he planted the Cross and celebrated the first holy mass. Colonization and conversion hardly advanced with him as a battle of resistance led by a chieftain, Lapu-lapu, felled him on the seashore while trying to get back to his boat. It took another fifty years for the conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi to re-establish Spanish rule and to confirm the naming of the islands after Felipe II (King Philip), then the reigning monarchy. This, he did in Manila on the ashes of a vanquished native fort Datu Sulayman ruled by the banks of the Pasig River


Intramuros, Walled City of Manila


On a piece of land that jutted on the mouth of the river, the Spaniards built Intramuros, a medieval walled city, declaring Manila the capital of the islands in 1571. In here arose the seat of the colonial government, of religion and learning. Inside what is barely 7 kilometers of walls, there were 16 churches including a cathedral, several gothic shrines, and some small chapels inside of convents and schools. Secular orders founded schools and seminaries, building them in Intramuros. The oldest university in Asia

, known to be older than Harvard, founded by the Dominicans and one of the earliest colleges run by the Jesuits exist to this day. Only two of the churches—one, being the Manila Cathedral and the other, the San Agustin Church and Convent of the Agustinians—have survived earthquakes, fires and bombings during World War II.

Colonial Rule


Spain ruled the islands through Mexico

. As with most colonial rule, the Spanish government was known to be oppressive. Life for native Filipinos remained economically stagnant except for those favored by the Spaniards. An elite class called the principalia that owned most of the farms, which were awarded by local Spanish officials, emerged. From most of these families, were born the landlords who owned large tracts of lands until the 1970s and for whom all of the townspeople, sometimes, served as chattels. This privileged class remains for the most part the ruling elite, most of them having converted landholdings into corporations.

While agricultural economy hardly advanced in Spanish times, farming developed to a certain extent with some kind of boost which came by way of new decrees on land ownership in the mid-18th century—an attempt by the colonial regime to increase production and hasten the conversion of the Chinese immigrants. This gave rise to a landed middle class. From this class would emerge an intelligentsia schooled in Europe and who brought back home ideas of freedom that swept France in the late 18th century. Jose Rizal, the Philippines

’ national hero executed at the Luneta, a Spanish promenade along the walls facing the bay, was one of them.


Spanish colonial towns and lifestyle


The church and state were not separate under Spanish rule. Towns were founded simultaneously as a ‘visita’ and a municipality. A ‘visita’ identifies the town first as a parish so much so that the axis of all Philippine towns is the church, a plaza and the municipal hall. The Agustinian and Dominican missionaries did most of the conversion and the town planning, using catechism to teach reading and church rituals to evangelize. Most of those brick churches were built—where they stand to this day—on grounds sacred to the natives. Labor for those churches was extracted from the natives though in Intramuros, the Spaniards hired the Chinese who sailed in.

The missionaries also converted native rituals of harvesting, fishing, and honoring the dead into religious feasts. Depending on the livelihood of the towns, the Spaniards chose a patron saint to be honored during these feasts. The natives were then encouraged to offer their produce to God through the intercession of such a saint. The feasts, called fiesta, were spectacles of religious processions, and community dancing and singing. Families gathered with especial dishes; their homes were decked with their produce made into craft objects. Such feasts are celebrated to this day.

The Philippine Revolution


American colonization happened with hardly any resistance. The Philippines had just gained independence from Spain in the 1898 Revolution. It turned out that Emilio Aguinaldo, one of the insurrectionists who won among the other revolutionary leaders had secretly sought American assistance in Hongkong; the US was engaged in the Spanish-American War then being waged in Cuba. Two years later, the Americans took over the islands after the Battle of Manila Bay described by historians as nothing more than a mock fight. A revolution broke out shortly after the establishment of the regime but it was short lived. In Mindanao

, however, the Muslims, then identified as Moros, put up a strong resistance that lasted for thirteen years when American troops partly defeated them.

American Rule


America ruled the islands as a colony from 1900 until 1934, when it granted the Philippines a self-governing status as a Commonwealth. Where public health and education almost came to a standstill during the Spanish times, the US

government introduced a series of reforms including efficient systems to deliver health services and prevent illnesses. More than inroads to health, they reformed public instruction,building a network of schools in all towns, and state universities. In consonance with their role to train the Filipinos for democracy, they also instituted English as the medium of instruction.

Among the most significant reforms in government rule the Americans initiated was the separation of the church and state. A number of religious landholdings were taken over and distributed to tenants. It was also during this regime when a schism led by nationalists in the clergy happened in the Catholic Church; they founded and established the Philippine Independent Church or Aglipayan church named after their leader. With the coming of the Americans, Protestant churches started to abound.

Philippine Independence


Four years later than promised by the law that granted it commonwealth status, the Philippines gained its independence on July 4, 1946

, shortly after World War II, a fierce war the Filipinos fought alongside the Americans against the Japanese. But rehabilitation was never complete—to this day, the government is still learning how to make independence and democracy work. The country has been plagued by economic stagnation and widespread poverty, thus, also of insurgency such as that of the Communist-led parties as well as the Muslim ‘separation-ist’ movement, and too, frequent protests in the countryside and the cities all aimed at overthrowing the government.


Martial Law and onward


The world-renown Marcos regime gave the country a semblance of political stability. Under martial law that lasted from 1972 to 1981, the Philippines emerged as a leader in Southeast Asia

in terms of industrial growth. But in truth, the masses grew more poverty-stricken and the gap between the rich and poor widened. In 1986, Marcos was overthrown in a most unique revolution led by oppositionists and the Catholic Church. Known as a ‘peaceful revolution’, it was waged with prayer vigils.

Miracles: Only Hope for Filipinos


A return to civilian rule, however, has not succeeded in an improved economy that must ideally seep down to the masses. To this day, the government is plagued by political unrest, a weak economy, and widespread poverty. Yet, Filipinos, as it is their nature, have demonstrated a most uncanny flexibility and a fierce spirit of survival. Most of all, as evidenced by religious gatherings, they continue to witness their faith in God’s providence—migration for one, for which they pray, petition and if granted, consider it not only as a blessing but a miracle.

Copyright 2007 by Alegria Imperial, unpublished essay, 2007