Things that come but once a year—fiestas, homecomings, graduations, promotions, birthdays, holidays—are bound to be full of festivity, frivolity, and of course, flavors. The idea of rejoicing and merriment for someone or something that’s ‘finally here’ is not complete without sumptuous cooking (and dare I say, the huge amounts of cholesterol with it).
For this reflection I attempt to look into different aspects of culture as seen in the foodways of three different festive occasions I attended over the holidays: a birthday celebration held two days before Christmas, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. I aim to look at how food affects kin relations, how it, with family tradition, changes over time, how it ‘creates’ new traditions, and how it even brings about fond memories within the family. Let me share with you my observations on food and eating regarding the three events, hopefully establishing what I think is an interesting and colorful picture of food culture.
*For this blog post I'll just put here my observations for the third event, the New Year's Day lunch.
Like in many other families, food and fireworks are a yearly must for New Year’s Eve in our family, and it is also a time for a special chicken noodle soup, fondly called “Sopas ni Daddy” after my late grandfather (my mother’s father). Consumed with fiesta hams (or so my grandmother Mommy said, “ham sweet ham”), queso de bola, and red wine or soda, it was the best hot food for our gurgling stomachs as we waited for the kitchen clock to chime twelve. My mother told me that she learned the recipe from Daddy, who in turn learned the recipe from his mother. It was another dish I wanted to learn and pass on.
Traditionally, while Christmas is spent with my mother’s side of the family, January 1st is ‘reserved’ for my father’s relatives because of the double celebration—my late grandfather’s (my father’s father’s) birthday. With no time to prepare the food ourselves, my grandmother decided to ‘call a friend’ and have the food catered. Unfortunately, the caterer was away, and my mom finally took it into her hands, and dialed a friend. “Except the pancit,” my grandmother reminded her. “Anabel’s bringing it,” she said, referring to her firstborn.
My mother’s magic finger brought about fish fillet, lumpiang shanghai, beef with broccoli, mashed potatoes with buttered vegetables, buko pandan, and chicken lollipops “for the kids” (old kids included). My grandmother made her quail egg soup, another yearly tradition but one which some of us would love to dispose of, because she made so much we had to eat the leftovers for the next three days. Alas, it cannot be easily scraped off the menu—“Tradisyon na ‘yon eh.”
Eating time and everyone was present, except for my aunt who was tasked to bring the pancit. “Okay lang, kain na tayo, pancit naman ‘yon eh, pwedeng i-merienda,” said Lola. So we dug in and ate with gusto, many thanks to the caterer who sacrificed the first hours of the new year preparing the food.
When my aunt arrived with a big bowl, my grandmother exclaimed, “Ang daming pancit niyan!” to which my aunt replied, “Di ‘to pancit, carbonara ‘yung ginawa ko.” From then my grandmother started her new year with a frown. When I visited the kitchen to stack my used plate, I heard her grumble “Sabi ko pancit eh, iba naman ‘yung dinala.” It was very good pasta by the way, and somehow I felt sorry for my grandmother because she couldn’t appreciate the different flavor it offered. But then again, my grandmother is firmly grounded in her (conservative) beliefs, and I understood why she rejected the idea of substituting one “long-life” dish for another.
While that drama in the kitchen was unfolding, my cousins were happily chomping on after-meal chips while watching the television, completely oblivious of the breach of tradition that had just taken place.
[Deleted: some academic stuff/analysis here.]
Breaking a tradition is considered taboo—as for the pancit-turned-carbonara, I suppose it will take a couple of years more for the pasta to be accepted as a fitting substitute for the ever-so-present pancit. Looking into the effect on the relationship between mother and daughter because of this instance, we can say that the disapproval by the mother has passed, yet it is possible that the daughter may not be tasked—trusted—again with the dish. Frowned upon but also worth mentioning here is women and beer—it is not widely accepted in our family that women drink—red wine, yes, but beer, never. Consumption of alcoholic drinks is genderized, favoring the masculine.
Traditions do change over time—if not in the kind of dishes served during special occasions, then in the manner of preparing them. What used to be an all-morning affair of cooking became a mere thirty-minute ride to the caterer’s to pick up the food for the New Year’s Day celebration. If things stay as busy the next year, then it’s a phone call to the caterers again, but the eating and festivities will undoubtedly push through.
Oh, such a heavy burden the word “tradition” puts on later generations! But then, who’s complaining? As long as food keeps families together and stomachs full, the way I see it, food traditions will surely stay. And if anyone still craves for more, well, there’s always next year.
And the next,
and the next.