I may have created a monster. My wife is from Samar, and people from her province, who speak Waray, and have had many conflicts against colonizing outsiders, have the reputation as fierce warriors. Oh, I told myself, that’s all in the past… until I introduced her to the world of food. Now, true to her heritage, she has become Rachel, the Waray Cooking Warrior.
I am constantly amazed at the way she throws herself into things. For a while she’ll be sort of lazy and laid back and then she discovers a new interest. I’ve learned to get out of the way. In the past, it’s taken the form of jigsaw puzzles, or writing poetry or reading vampire novels. When she latches on to something, she won’t let go. She’ll read an entire series of Vampire Romances until 5 or 6 in the mornings, or won’t sleep until the final part of the “2000 Piece Eiffel Tower Puzzle” is in place on the dining room table. In the past, men used to be sent to the corner store in the middle of the night to get diapers or milk for the baby. I am sent to get blanched almonds, meringue powder, and confectioner’s sugar. At our house, the oven is always “On.”
When I met my wife she hadn’t traveled anywhere except for a few places in her own province and a 30-hour bus ride to an area in Manila where she had been was working for a few months at a small restaurant with her sister. This is where we met. She’d never been on an airplane or before Manila, seen a building taller than 3 stories. So, her exposure to places and cultures and different foods was minimal. She knew how to make rice without a rice cooker, how to boil fish; make adobo and how to cook “Kang Kong” or simple vegetables. Since being together, nearly 7 years now, Rachel and I have been to 16 different countries in Asia and Europe, a result of my work and the fact that we like to travel. We like to eat at restaurants, here in Cebu and certainly overseas. And now, when Rachel tries a new dish, she always wants to know how to cook it.
It started with my school lunches and then special occasions where she and our helper Marilyn would get together, “chika chika” for a few hours and make these elaborate meals. They were always great. We would invite a bunch of people because as you all know, food and eating is often a social thing as well as an “eating thing.” My pants sizes kept changing. I had to watch it. Most of us know this is an endless battle. My wife was getting to be a better cook and she was experimenting. YouTube helped a lot and I have become used to hearing some female “YouTube Voice” saying, “Hi guys. Today we’re going to make Peruvian Lamb Meatballs,” while Rachel writes down ingredients and I’m doing stuff on my computer in the other room. Living in the city is helpful in all this. We have a local grocery and department store, Rustan’s, that has lots of the necessary elements for all this cooking. And the Metro Grocery at Ayala Mall has many unique and foreign foods, and of course, everything in the way of Filipino foods.
Rachel makes a killer prawn pasta (which I love) and will whip up a Bicol Express or make Sinagang with a moment’s notice. We now have spices I can’t pronounce and a couple of cupboards filled with cooking pans.
Living in Japan exposed her to all kinds of ways of cooking fish, seafood and Ramen noodles. Thai and Vietnamese food opened up other new worlds. When we travel we go to lots of restaurants. The jigsaw puzzles went in the closet. Now Rachel spends a lot of time “Researching.”
My son tells me there’s a guy who has a Facebook page that only has photos of people “taking photos” of their food. I laughed at that. So if I’m boring you with Happy Land Facebook-type photos, you know… ” Here we are happy happy eating with our friends…here we are happy happy eating with my mom; here we are happy happy eating with Adolf Hitler.” I apologize. Facebook is sort of like that. No one is ever depressed on Facebook, except for stories about other people. I’m digressing…
After Japan we spent a year in Europe: we were mostly in Vienna but traveled to Greece, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Slovakia, Hungary, The Czech Republic and France. Rachel’s eyes kept getting bigger. We went to markets.
She started making salads and putting little pieces of parsley on top of my food. We bought some nice silverware and plates and started using different forks. More often than not, there’s a tablecloth on the table. “Presentation,” she tells me. “It’s key!” And, she’s brought it all home with her to Cebu. Her family doesn’t like any of this food. They don’t understand “salad” and for them, it’s pretty much rice and some dried fish. I can see the disappointment in Rachel’s eyes, when she tries to get them to taste something she’s cooked, but she’ll keep trying; she doesn’t give up easily and she’s experimenting with her own takes on Filipino-based foods, ham and cheese lumpia for example, which her brother-in-law says he loves.
Cooking Schools, you know, schools of “Culinary Arts” are really expensive. We checked. But we did find one here in Cebu City, The MOST Institute that has weekend only classes and though it’s not cheap, it’s very reasonable compared to the other cooking schools. There are campuses in Quezon City and Pampanga too. So now Rachel takes Culinary Arts on Saturdays and Baking and Pastries on Sundays. The 6-month courses earn Tesda 2 certificates, which is also good in case you want to work in the cooking world. Rachel is reading a lot and watching even more videos and the house always smells different. The other students have elected her “president” which puts her in charge or organizing ingredients for cooking assignments and other communication matters.
On any given day, she has two or three new “Cooking Friends” over to work on projects. They keep saying, “Hey Robert…come over here and taste this,” so I am the beneficiary of much of it. But I really have to watch it. The calories I mean.
It’s good for my wife. Newfound friends, new interests, and ways to expand her universe, and so I am all for it. I am proud of her and her Waray Warrior ways. And, to the degree I can afford it, the ways she embraces swallows and jumps into her new interests.
This evening though, as we walked through Ayala Mall back to the car with three or four bags of new ingredients, Rachel stopped in front of a new store’s window.
“Hey look at these shoes. They’re really cute?”