So, this thing has been circulating in social media — a Bon Appetit recipe for halo-halo, which include blackberries, blueberries, lime, and then gummi bears and popcorn (please Google search it; I’m not going to link it here). Let me first say, I am aware the title of the Bon Appetit article is “Ode to Halo-Halo.” So then, not the “real thing,” but some kind of “tribute.” Let me also say, I’ve recently seen some westernized atrocities of Asian cuisine, including pho with broccoli and quinoa. Why even call it pho then? It’s just soup.
Gummi bears and popcorn.
I was thinking, Western substitutes for kaong and pinipig. But no. You can make halo-halo without kaong and pinipig. In fact, one of the best halo-halos I ever ate was at a place in the Mall of Asia (in Manila); this halo-halo had langka, saba, flan, and then the mango ice cream, milk, and shaved ice. So very, very good. And I don’t like the beans in halo-halo anyway. My mother had explained to me that other regions, other provinces of the Philippines had their different ways of preparing halo-halo. Same was true of another quintessential Filipino dish — chicken adobo. I’d been told that one Philippine region or province add coconut milk to the soy sauce/vinegar mixture. I love this; it is now the only way I ever cook chicken adobo.
Let me also say, I am aware you may be asking, now, why would a Filipino American poet/literature professor concern herself with these food atrocities. Ahem, they did use the term, “ode,” after all.
Let me also say, as a Filipino American, I do a number of substitutions in my own Filipino cooking. There’s probably very little that is “purely” Filipino about my cooking.
I am not a “purist.” I don’t cook or eat tripe in kare-kare. I also use Swiss chard over Asian greens such as bok choy. I also use Trader Joe’s peanut butter. When I make arroz caldo, I use boxed organic chicken broth. I don’t eat sisig when I know it contains innards and brains. I make sinigang with salmon and souring agents other than sampaloc.
I do eat Señor Sisig tofu tacos, the Lumpia Company’s bacon cheeseburger lumpia, Maharlika NYC’s ube chicken and waffles, all of which have been created by young Filipino Americans in the foodie scenes of their locales. In fact, this is actually something I’ve had good conversations about, with my Filipino American Literature students at SFSU.
For example, what are examples of Filipino American “Third Space.” What is Filipino American hybridity?
When Joey Ayala had an extended residency at Berkeley’s now defunct Pusod cultural space, one thing he talked a lot about was The Province of the Fil Am. There are so many of us in this country, with our histories and densities much more apparent in such places as the Bay Area. We have our own Filipino culture going on here, our own new traditions, which may or may not bear much resemblance to what our elders practiced “back home.” Even “back home” deserves quotes, because for me now, “back home,” means Fremont, means the Tri-City Area where two of my sisters were born, where my parents bought their home and sent us to school, and where we ultimately buried my father. “Back home” is not the Philippines anymore. So then, The Province of the Fil Am.
So then, the difference between Bon Appetit’s “Ode to Halo-Halo,” and then Señor Sisig and the Lumpia Company and Maharlika NYC should be apparent.
Why do Filipino Americans create “Third Spaces”? At the ground level, at the street level, we are changing our cultures, such that Filipino American — in which Filipino and American are already a hybrids, accommodates and embodies yet more hybridity. Our families are multi-ethnic. Our languages are Tagalog-Ilocano-formal and casual English-Spanish-urban vernacular. These are processes in which we are the active agents of our own change. We substitute and improvise when something is inaccessible, we chuck stuff too, when it is no longer useful or relevant. We adapt for our own Westernized sensibilities.
As an author, I can also tell you I improvise and substitute, I chuck stuff too, when working with poetic traditions that I have inherited, that have been imposed upon me.
I can’t accurately speak for Bon Appetit’s motivation, though I would suspect it has something to do with “diversity,” and making something “new,” and adapting it for a hip and allegedly cultured “Western palate.” Is this appropriation? Possibly. Appropriation entails lack of permission. Did they seek permission? I don’t know. And from whom would they seek permission? Oh, I don’t know, Amy Besa, Romy Dorotan, Nicole Ponseca perhaps? Who are the Filipino American chefs, and authorities/masters of the cuisine? If the publication were so interested in actually paying tribute (as composing an “ode” would tell me), why couldn’t they have asked Besa, Dorotan, Ponseca, et al to craft an American halo-halo?
So that’s where I am. Absolutely no love, actually, the opposite of love for this “Ode to Halo-Halo.”