Essence of Claude
MANILA, Philippines - Travelers may visit a new city and appreciate its
history, architecture and sites, but they cannot claim to know a people
until they have appreciated their cuisine. Food and culture are so
intertwined that the characteristics of a people are readily uncovered
by the quirks in their eating habits. The American cowboy culture is
reflected in their passion for a good steak; the Singaporean penchant
for cleanliness is apparent in their squeaky clean hawkers; the Japanese
emphasis on discipline is exemplified even in the way they prepare and
present their sushi, sashimi, Wagyu beef, etc., while the Chinese
practice of feng shui is evident not only in the arrangement and decor
of their homes but also in the way they serve and slice their fish and
eat their noodles. Filipinos? We are a barrel of quirks that to describe
our eating habits would take an entire book!
So artist/food writer
Claude Tayag has done just that. His book "Food Tour" (Anvil Publishing)
is a journey through the Philippines that explores the culinary cultures
of Pampanga, Manila, Ormoc (Leyte), Davao, and the rest of the country.
In easy-going journal style, he captures with uncanny precision the
endearing qualities of our people as reflected in our cooking and eating
habits. By injecting his unique brand of humor, which he can't seem to
help, Tayag elevates our quirks from petty to poignant, boldly owning up
to the cultural truths of our people. Every Filipino, and anyone who
knows a Filipino, will be able to relate to the author's experiences as
narrated in this journal.
The truth is that "Food
Tour" had me at hello. The first story, "He Said, She Said," already
found me laughing and relating to Tayag's family's traditions in Angeles
City, Pampanga, which he boldly contrasted with the culinary traditions
of the family of his wife, who hails from the same province but from a
different town, Mabalacat.
"Nobody, but nobody,
eats bangus belly in that house. But on my mother's table, it's World
War III if someone dares take the entire belly for himself or herself;
we always cut the bangus crosswise so everybody gets a more or less
equal share of the yummy belly fat."
Like the man, I could
not believe that his wife's family leaves their bangus belly untouched.
In my own household, the belly is a treasured part of the fish, even
more prized than the head, that devouring that entire portion for
oneself is an act regarded not just as uncivilized but downright wrong!
The banter between the
two (a rebuttal from the missus is found on the next page) on which is
the better delicacy, burong isda (fermented rice with fish) or balo-balo
(fermented rice with shrimp) is an amusing debate that allows us a peek
not only into the cultural differences of different provinces, but more
interestingly, into the life of this legendary artist and writer and the
woman who is clearly the inspiration for his success. Tayag's perennial
infatuation with his wife, who is mentioned in practically every story,
is not only evident but glaring, and although initially you simply
wonder who this "darleng" is because of his comments ("I call my darleng
my 'laptop sexytary'"), in the end you find yourself won over by how
smitten he is by her and charmed by her own witty comments, tidbits of
which are scattered throughout the book.
Indeed, Tayag's plain
language exposes his own personality, revealing not only a passionate
but a learned culinary master with a quiet integrity, who has no
patience for showy know-it-alls. In "Which Came First, the Wine or the
Food?" he makes fun of the snooty ambiance and brings it down to street
level: "Just to show off, I was so tempted to say the Kilikanoon does
resemble a bouquet of kilikili (armpit) to me, with a grassy hint on the
Tayag's capacity for
creative writing is also reflected in other articles, such as "Look
Who's Talking," where I doubled up in laughter as I read the marketing
pitches among the pig, the duck and the lamb that cried to him on a
buffet table, the lamb probably winning with this pitch: "Oh Claude,
dear, do not bother with that gander and the swine. Both are no good.
Look at them, they are both Chinese and yet they fight over you, instead
of sharing you. I am meek and humble so I cannot tell you how good I am,
especially if taken with freshly baked naan bread straight from the
tandoori oven. We lambs believe 'self-praise is a disgrace.'"
The success of this
book lies in the fact that Tayag runs the gamut from silly to serious,
with articles that are as academically-inclined as they are amusing. His
story on the Manila Peninsula's chocolate buffet includes a brief
history of chocolate, which is not only a good read for the chocoholic
but also good reference material for chocolate-makers and food writers.
There is also an extensive collection of restaurant reviews that for now
may serve as a guide, but more importantly, in the years to come, will
work as lasting remembrances of these favorite food stops and fine
Tayag's travels, both
around the Philippines and abroad, are also documented with care so the
traveler and food enthusiast will benefit much from his notes. An
article of note is "Waddling Our Way through Negros," a journal entry on
a 'trans-Visayan tour for a group of self-professed foodies' organized
by Lory Tan. The article succinctly points out highlights of the trip
and offers even the experienced traveler new ideas for places to visit.
For the foodie, Tayag's articles are, for the most part, a clear
description of the best delicacies offered by different regions.
The aspiring chef and
other gourmands will be delighted as well by the recipes sprinkled
throughout the book, not only from the author but also from acclaimed
chefs nationwide. You will find the recipe for the sinampalukang manok
of Josephine Senares of Josephine's Tagaytay, the "Pato Tim" (yes, it
uses a whole native duck) of Chefs Paul Poblador and Frank Rabara of
Kusina Salud, and the corned beef sinigang of Sentro, among other
By the simple
narrations of this seasoned gourmet, "Food Tour" captures the essence of
the Filipino spirit while highlighting the best of Philippine food. It
jabs at cultural banalities, unabashedly making fun of Filipino
mispronunciations and peasant habits, but by doing this the author
boldly declares that this is who we are, quirks and all, so let's just
own up to them and be proud of who we are. Best of all, though maybe not
by design, "Food Tour" captures the essence of Claude Tayag- his sense
of humor, his lifelong romance with his wife, his love for life and
passion for food - and gives the reader an idea why this man is one of
the most loved artists of our time.