Wednesday, December 1, 2010

culinary cultural identity crisis

Lechon, a.k.a. Killing Me Softly

I'm having an identity crisis, one of those multi-cultural identity crises that you see in all those immigrant coming-of-age movies. You know the ones. In the first five minutes of these movies, the culturally confused teenager rejects his mother culture in order to fit in with the cultural homogeneity of his white friends. Later on, of course, the kid develops a new interest in his mother culture when said white friends realize that cultural variety is cool.

My relationship with Filipino food is hitting a rough patch. Things were going great for a really long time. I was quite happy for many years with chicken adobo as my signature dish. Then something hot and spicy came along, and it became a game to see how hot we could get. Filipino food was never like that. A part of me died that day, mostly tastebuds.

And then foodie culture led me further astray. Sharing recipes, cooking without aprons. Everyone seemed to be doing it and enjoying it, too. Interestingly, now there were grades of how vanilla you could get: French, organic, Tahitian. Who knew?

Naturally, I went through a veggie-curious phase, too. I gotta admit, though, I'm a lot better at it now than when I was in college. After all, I married a veggie--a foodie veggie--and it's great! I could easily subsist on Indian food and veggie burritos now. I'm not purely veggie, but I'm definitely a lot less carnivorous than I used to be.

My occasionally carnivorous stomach was in for a rude awakening a couple weeks ago when we went to Patio Filipino for a friend's birthday dinner. We had the Patio Platter (fried lumpia, fried chicharron bulaklak, fried calamari, fried shrimp), pancit canton, lechon, longanisa, beef mechado, and white rice. So that's an entire meal of deep-fry, mixed meats with noodles, crisped pork skin, pork sausage, beef stew, and carbs. I seriously needed a ginger tea to calm the storm swells of stomach acid. The next day I whipped together some saag aloo with lentils; spinach makes for a happy colon. I felt dirty for three or four days and all but vowed never to eat Filipino food again.

My parents would have loved Patio Filipino. They have had a hard time accommodating the vegetarianism. The day before Thanksgiving, just a few days after the fried meat onslaught, we went to their house for dinner. They cooked what they consider to pass as a satisfying vegetarian dish: take whatever vegetables and mushrooms they have in the fridge, turn them into a egg-white omelette cooked in a slick of oil, and serve it with sweet chili sauce and rice.

Ugh, I just felt barfy for a second there.

My parents can't keep feeding fat to my husband. Every time that they have eaten dinner at our house, I have demonstrated that there are things other than meat, soy sauce, and vinegar that contribute flavor to dishes. They come away from my meals feeling sated, and not feeling that something (i.e., meat) is missing. They almost had a veggie epiphany when they tasted my chanterelles à la crème. Almost, because although they said, "Wow, this tastes like meat!" they continued by saying, "We can make this into an omelette!"


It's time to stage an intervention. I'm going to hijack my parents' kitchen, armed with a bucket of lentils, a jar of Goan vindaloo masala, a jar of tamarind concentrate, and a baggie of kaffir lime leaves. Yes. I will hold their hands through the process of soaking lentils, frying the spices, and currying the vegetables. It's tasty, well-balanced, and healthful. If that weren't reason enough to go veggie-curious every once in a while, here's one reason that will go straight to my parents' flea-market-loving thrifty hearts: IT'S CHEAP.

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