This is the cookbook that started it for me:
Never mind that its cover features a tired ham, maraschino cherries, imported grapes and red delicious apples instead of foods remotely native to the Philippines. If I met Ms. Enriqueta David-Perez, I'd tell her that her cookbook was picked out from Manila's National Bookstore by my mother's 22-year-old hands, packed into a suitcase, flown across the Pacific, schlepped in various cardboard boxes across the continental US, and its recipes re-opened 26 years later, when I was 8 years old. And I'd thank her.
We lived in the Mojave Desert then. Summers were hot, dry, and boring. On days so hot even the ants stopped crawling across the pavement, the kitchen was my solace, and I pored over barely touched French and Moosewood cookbooks, trying to match recipes that called for truffle oil with our pantry's Spam, corned beef, rice, canned corn, spaghetti, and Pop-tarts. A true geek, I used a dictionary to decipher terms like "whisk" and "mince," cooking terms that were a language I had not learned to speak.
I remember the day I first dug out Recipes from the Philippines from between the shinier cookbooks. Paperbound, with frayed pages and a taped-together cover, it was like finding the dead sea scrolls misplaced among new edition bibles.
The recipes were different, sparse. In fact, they seemed to be missing directions completely. How much was a "bunch" of green beans? A handful? Although the cookbook was in English, I didn't understand it. Raised without the language of my parents, words like sitaw, kamote, or sili had no definitions. I had to ask my mother to remember. And so, this is how the rest of the summer went:
Mom, what's atsuete?
Um...Aileen, I didn't cook so much growing up, that was your titas. Let me think...
What's bibingka? What's espasol? What's kamoteng kahoy? What's MIKI BIHON? Where can we find pig ears?
Hmm, let's try here...
I would pick a recipe, demand my mother's help, and we would talk it through, call relatives for ideas, or drive miles away into the Mojave to the one Filipino/Pan-Asian market for ingredients. Some of our trials tasted good - like the tender espasol cut by hand into tender logs. Others, like bibingka using spoiled rice flour, were an epic failure. I'm just grateful my mother was patient through it all, digging back to recall childhood memories and become a living dictionary.
It was imperfect, floundering, and we made things up when we didn't know the "right" way to do it. But these attempts to channel Philippine flavors to a kitchen in the Mojave awakened a hunger for something I couldn't name. Heritage? History? In my child's mind, I simply knew there were recipes asking to be unlocked, and so turned to those pages - and my mother's memories - again and again.
What recipes do you remember?