Let me tell you a story. This story is about my uncle. Well we have to really give him a name. It would be disrespectful for me to address him in pronouns or “psst” or “hoy” or “sya”. We Filipinos are a respectful lot. So his name is Richard. Quite a royalty actually. He is the mestizo in the family. Everybody calls him “Kano” because he has this “white-man” feature.
Now here’s where the story really starts.
When Richard eats; he puts one feet up on the seat, rests one elbow on his knee, grabs food by his bare hands (including meat in sauces), stuffs his face like there is no tomorrow, and starts blabbering about this and that while his mouth is full. Almost everyone loves him because of that. They say Richard’s way of eating is so inviting that you want to eat with him. He is just so happy when he’s on the table.
Well not really everyone. My ever so prim and proper aunties sometimes would call him a pig.
Now let me tell you about his brother, my father. My Pa is in the service. (I would love to tell you the story of how dirty cops went spraying our house with hundreds of bullets when he was doing internal investigations but that can wait.) So let’s talk about some of the important etiquette that I learned from him. He says in a militaristic tone and rhythm and in whispers too, “you heb to adjus widjur sitwesyon when you are eating. Ip you are out in da wild. You heb to cook in your mital plet. You heb to eat in your mital plet. When you was your mital plet do nut trow da water, you drink it… To sorbayb”. Or you die… (Then he shoots Ilaga with his homemade German Luger. Finally after weeks of waiting between 9pm to 12pm, we got the dirty, fat rat.)
He gives that advice all the time. And in front of our prim and proper aunties, he too is called a pig.
Now let me enumerate:
1. Most Filipinos eat with their hands. And sometimes even with soups. Yep, either sip from the plate or the bowl.
2. Fork and spoon is common on the Filipino table. But for the indulgent, it’s thumb and spoon.
3. We love to suck stuff. Crab claws, prawn heads, fish eyes, chicken bones, spinal columns, snails.. almost anything that has a hole or hidden brain-like substance, we suck them all.
I am sensing that you want me to stop. So I will.
Filipinos do not have any dining inhibitions. We fondle food like it’s a one night stand.
Or did not have any until the westerners came. They taught us manners and right conduct while on the table. If you ask me though, they taught us how to be stiff. How to stop ourselves gorging what is gorgeous. To be “civil” on something that we can be intimate with. Do I need to explain further? Or shall I ask you about the time that you were on all ten fingers on some steak that you picked up from the smoking grill. Or how about that burger that you happily devoured and didn’t really care as the juice and sauce oozed from your pinky to your wrist.
But Filipinos have long been independent of that cage, that limit, that line, those shackles that stop us from having hungry union with our food. Because we know how to eat. Yes we do.
And for you people who are in the food jungle that is the Philippines – You heb to adjas to sorbayb.
We shoot rats.
Ziggy writes about Filipino Food at www.myfilipinokitchen.com. He also writes about food and technology for Australia's leading Telecommunications Corporation - Telstra, in their blog - www.exchange.telstra.com. He advocates Filipino Food blogs and helps aspiring Filipino Food bloggers. Ask him a recipe of a Filipino dish and he'll be happy to make one for you.