Mama Sitas

Like Nothing: A Father’s Day Reflection

June 10, 2022 People's Tonight 232 views

Mama Sitas

Mama Sitas

IT tastes like nothing.”

This is one of my most dreaded statements coming from a family of self-declared connoisseurs of everything from tuyo to sous vide steak.

My cooking adventure as a dad began when my panganay was born. Budget for eating out was diverted to diapers and milk, so I had to learn to recreate the recipes we loved at home.

So began the steady stream of pancakes from scratch, spaghetti sauce variations, homemade bread, and burgers. Some dishes were good, and some were…let’s call them “experimental.” But I learned to cook bit by bit, further fueled by my love of research with which I was making up for my lack of cooking experience.

I avoided making Filipino food then, since the rubric was too high for adobo, tinola, sinigang, and all the other foods we grew up loving. The one exception might have been champorado, especially since we loved tuyo for its taste, the memories it evoked, and of course, its price.

I remember once when I brought my young daughter to visit her lola, who wanted to know how we were doing on our own. Mama asked her: “So, what do you eat at home?” “Tuyo,” my daughter replied, which might have been the reason why Mama gave her some cash as we were leaving. With which we bought more tuyo.

Another time, when we already had 2 kids and after the Christmas frenzy was over, I discovered I had spent all our available money and we had almost nothing left in the refrigerator but butter and queso de bola. Thus, was born a pasta recipe that I cooked with some pain in my heart, but which became one of my kids’ favorites as I discovered later.

Over time I gathered the courage to cook my adobo, tinola, ginataan, palitaw, lugaw, and all the other stuff that was part of our childhood memories. (My wife usually handles the Pinoy part, on days when she wakes up having dreamt of her lola’s cooking.) Slowly, the pasta recipes became Cacio e Pepe, and tuyo in olive oil with capers and sundried tomato. The bread became artisan sourdough; the pancakes, crepes suzette flambéed with Grand Marnier.

My kids also tried their hand at cooking and baking. Chewy buttery chocolate chip cookies, mango ice box, homemade peanut butter. One day I woke up and found eggs benedict on the table, with perfectly poached eggs which I had never been able to make! I asked my son what the dressing was and he said: “Hollandaise.” Wide eyed, I asked: “How’d you make it?” He said: “Well I made a roux then added some egg yolks…” I forgot the rest of the answer because I was choking, not from the food but from a realization.

The kids whom I insulated from the bitterness of life with good cooking have become good cooks themselves.

Once my daughter came home from a gimmick with her barkada. She sat down at the table with me, still recalling how her day had gone when she said: “It’s so hard to eat out.” When I looked puzzled, she continued. “The food is always so good at home.”

So yeah, I still sometimes get the “It tastes like nothing” comment, now even from our baby bunso. But though I may feel shame for what I served, I cannot help but feel proud of the people my kids have become–discriminating, honest, independent young people who I know will always be eager to go home, even if it’s just to sit at our dining table and rant about the food.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads who make do with what’s in the ref, and who go the extra mile just to put the best food on the table.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paolo is a Filipino language teacher at the Ateneo de Manila Junior High School. Together with his panganay, he has hosted several conferences that aim to celebrate our Filipino culinary heritage around the world. (Follow Mama Sita’s Mga Kuwentong Pagkain on Facebook to join the advocacy.) He continues to toil in the kitchen to please his family.

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