OVER a cup of brewed coffee in the kitchen came the topic of food.
“You love to play with English, don’t you, Obz?” My cousin, Dona asked me yesterday.
“Yes and it’s because I like playing with food.”
We laughed then became silent. Just then, her husband, Peetong passed by with his cup of brewed coffee. He sat down with us.
“Ca sent bon, Dona,” he said in his broken French, referring to the wondrous fragrance that enveloped the kitchen.
“Merci, mon amour,” she replied formally.
“What are you talking about?”
“Oh, I complimented her for the fragrant ginamay nga baka she is making,” Peetong replied.
Uncle Gustave came over to check out the heavenly fragrance. “Ginamay! Did you know that reminds of boeuf bourguignon?”
Right behind him was his venerable and still-lovely wife, Aunt Tita Blitte. “Boeuf something-something also has carrots, potatoes, meat and a heady mixture of leafy spices. It’s richer than our ginamay, but it just goes to show you that karinderia food resounds of French cuisine.”
“I sense Georges-Auguste Escoffier turning in his grave, Lola,” my niece, Amee said. She arrived from General Santos last week to spend some time with us. (In case you are confused, most Pinoys address grandaunts as grandma or lola; cousins who are elderly as lola or auntie, and so on).
My other niece, Krystalle, joined us. “Oh, that’s aux karinderee or with karinderia in mind.”
I told them that food can define a nation or a region. Say “kimchi” and you shout “Korea.” When someone says “sashimi,” it’s Japan. In the same way, food is not an island.
“What do you mean ‘not an island,’ Uncle?” My nephew, Pannon asked.
I told them that almost all food in the world can remind us of our own backyard favorite. For example, Italians make polpette but we call it bola-bola. In an Italian resto, that piece of meatball would cost a finger but in a karinderia, it would only be P6 per piece.
“I see,” Dona said. “Let me then call a karinderia as the corner artisanal, traditional restaurant.”
I applauded her for her genius. I told them that in a fancy restaurant, soupe aux legumes would intrigue us. So we order it. When it lands on our table, we kick ourselves for ordering soup with vegetables. It would be like sinangag nga utanon with sliced beef or pork ribs in a small amount of water.
Soupe aux pistou is almost like linat-ang baka, although the French one has a brown soup base. Steak de boeuf is nothing but bistek Tagalog. And aubergine farcies is tortang talong.
“You made a good point,” Peetong said. “Food unites a family and in a global setting, it unites nations. I see the intermarriage of cuisines, just as we have integrated Spanish, American and Italian cuisine into our kitchen. That’s why j’aime ta cuisine, Dona. You have mingled Ilocano cooking with Bisaya cooking.”
“Merci beaucoup, Peets. I love that about you,” she replied.
“Food unites us to this day,” my Aunt, Tita Blitte said. “It will always remind us of one another no matter where we go.”