USA

There’s three vital steps you absolutely can’t miss if you’re invited to a Filipino family party:

  1. Greet the host first
  2. Leave your shoes at the door
  3. And most importantly, come on an empty stomach

Expect plenty of food. There’s no skimping on portions, and all the dishes are hearty and filling: plump, sticky rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves; sweet-and-spicy skewered meat; a whole roast pig called lechon, for really special days; rich, colorful stews of all kinds, from tomato-tamarind to peanut and oxtail to creamy coconut milk and vegetables; pancit noodles with chopped meat and vegetables; and, of course, lumpia, our answer for spring rolls.

The making of glorious Lumpia! Photo credit mlcbube from Flickr

More than that, expect not only to eat– but to be fed. You won’t get past the threshold, especially if you’re a new face, without getting a plate pressed into your hands. Then the beginning of the chorus of Kumain ka na?— “Did you eat?”

And that, to me, is the spirit of Filipino food and Filipino culture: an open, earnest welcome to anybody who’ll take a bite.

But that welcome goes even further than a weekend potluck with all 12 of your cousins. Growing up with meals that bring you back to a home with arms wide open also means that you can pack that spirit up into a take-out box to enjoy when you leave.

The beauty of Filipino food, at least in my family, is that togetherness is part of the process in itself. Recipes get passed down from parent to child, and sure enough, every Filipino dish I know how to cook is something my parents showed me. All of those, in turn, are things their parents showed them.

Most of my earliest memories of food and eating have me right in the fray: rolling up mincemeat and vegetables in spring roll wrappers for lumpia, snapping the ends off yardlong beans for sour tamarind sinigang soup, and, of course, being the designated taste tester for everything my grandfather used to make. My culture is wrapped up tightly in both food and family.

This is suman, a sticky rice cake in a banana leaf.

Food is special to all sorts of cultures, but for me, Filipino food has always been a way for me, no matter where I am or who I’m with, to make anywhere feel like home. Even the simplest of foods from my culture bring me back to a comfy place. And that’s a pretty good skill to have when you’re twenty-something, slowly making your place in the world, and — to be totally honest — hungry all the time.

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