Home is Where the Food Is

As an expat who misses the Philippines and had the last glimpse of it five years ago,  the closest to feeling the warmth and comfort of home is the food!

Photo by: Lito Flestado
I remember arriving in this foreign land, alone, not knowing how to cook.  Like most of you, I was pampered by our kasambahay (housekeeper) and was blessed with a mother who prepares warm meals. I didn't appreciate it back then, the luxury of coming home to find a hot  pot of sinigang waiting for me after a long work day.   Not to mention waking up in the morning with the scent of garlic from the sinangag.  There I was, with my can of Century Tuna (a local brand of tuna ). I would have different flavors every day and would replace it with Lucky Me pancit canton some days.   I survived these  for a  few months, but as my homesickness grew along with my craving for  lutong bahay  (home-cooked meal)my mother's cooking, my immediate cure was a trip to the closest Filipino restaurant across the block.  The tastes of pinakbet with inihaw , kaldereta, and the kare-kare in palayok drew me closer to home. Each flavor brings with it a certain memory of an event, of a certain someone, of a childhood friend whom I used to share the food with or a place that means a lot to me.

Being far away, one of the challenges we have to face is being physically ill on our own, with no one to look after us and to cook sopas.  A spoonful of this creamy  soup seems to have some healing wonders.   These are the times we long for a nurturing  hand helping us a serving of arroz caldo or goto, while dreaming of those days we snuggled under the blanket accompanied by the comforting sound of rain continuously beating against the glass pane.  Reality hits me as I gaze at the sand storm outside covering the neighboring buildings like espasol.  Too sick to cross the street, I call the first fast food take away on my speed dial.

Lechon Kawali
Photo by Lito Flestado
Living abroad, I have developed a liking  to different cuisine and was gifted with the appreciation for them.   I noticed, however, that when I feel sad, I crave for the dishes I grew up eating.  For they brought me closer to home. With that came a decision, a brave attempt to start cooking my favorite Filipino meals dear to me.  A habit blossomed.  Whenever I feel stressed, I immediately search for a recipe and just did it.  The scent of ginisa (stir fry) reminded me of our kitchen and my mother effortlessly tossing in the ingredients.  The preparation distracted me from homesickness and depression.  There's nothing more rewarding than finally learning how to cook these meals that I used to take for granted and seizing the satisfaction of enjoying my foodie project at the end of a tiring day.   Little did I know, I started cooking a lot more Pinoy dishes that I can ever imagine.

Here I am, about to go home in a month after five years.  Apart from the excitement of  reuniting with family and friends, I look forward to trying out all the lutong Pinoy (Filipino cooking)  I have missed. Perhaps I could cook for my family and our kasambahay  this time around and bask in the lively dinners heavy with non stop kwentuhan (conversation).   Pure happiness awaits!  For now, my cooking keeps me company, the food brings  me home.

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