COTANGENT – By Daphne Cardillo
A few years ago, a close relative asked me to join them in visiting their American friend on Christmas Day. This American family had been living here in Tacloban for quite a time now. As I personally know one of the family members myself, I agreed to join the visit.
When we reached the house, there were three American couples seated in one table and some Taclobanon’s seated in separate tables eating lunch. Arrayed were American food – roasted turkey and different kinds of dips and sauces, breads and mashed potatoes, and an assortment of pies and other desserts. Of course there was rice and some other dish.
Since I’ve already eaten lunch I just took a few slices of turkey then cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes. I had iced tea for a drink. Then for a while, I got into this business of socializing; exchanging small talks while eating and trying to enjoy the atmosphere.
Later through the course of the meal, the male host started to yell at someone in the group: “Roy, there’s more rice.” At first, I did not seem to bother. But then for several times thereafter, he kept repeating unnecessarily “there’s more rice” that I already felt the mockery in the tone and the gesture. It was taunting, not only to the person the American host was addressing to take more rice but to the rice eating Filipinos in the crowd.
Foreigners who take bread as their staple food cannot seem to understand rice eating Asians. As one European acquaintance condescendingly quipped, “I don’t stay at home and eat rice, I eat at Giuseppe’s.” I don’t know what they associate eating rice with; probably chicken or hogs who also feed on them.
We, Filipinos, also eat bread but we consider bread as light stuff and not usually taken during meals. We take bread as more of pampa-init, light filler for the stomach in between meals. Even in the countryside, if you are eating bread for a meal it’s either you don’t have rice or you were already too tired to cook for lunch or supper.
Rice as our staple food ranks high among the grains and cereals. It is also widely grown here. With rice, one simply needs a dish to go with the grain. Oats used to be only for the kids, the sick, and the aged though it is now becoming a popular breakfast item. In the rural areas, the root crops can be eaten alone and people would normally apologize to a visitor if they don’t have rice to offer.
Bread is usually only for snacks and goes nicely with sandwich spreads or simply eaten alone. So if you don’t have rice, or have rice but no dish, you simply settle for bread and milk for dinner. Bread is popular as a quick meal for breakfast especially those living in the cities.
I use bread (or plain biscuits) when I have soup, or pasta, or cold cuts and sausages for a meal. Sometimes, I eat root crops for snacks or for a light breakfast (my uncle in Maasin usually had nilagang baka or beef stew with rice for breakfast so the kids won’t go hungry at school). And when not feeling well, I simply eat oats. But for a heavy meal, I want to have rice to go with all the dishes laid before me.
At hindsight, the bland taste of rice neutralizes the strong flavors of the Filipino or other Asian dishes. So I guess for the bland Western dish, it would require for the more flavored bread.