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Culinary conceit

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IS PAMPANGA the Culinary Capital of the Philippines?

How can it be otherwise? What with the sangguniang panlalawigan passing unanimously Ordinance No. 863 on Feb. 26, and Gov. “Delta” Dennis Pineda approving it on March 7, both this year, declaring the province as such “for so many reasons” not the least of which is Pampanga’s “long uninterrupted reputation for being home to culinary talents – from the chefs who cooked for the Malolos Congress in 1898 to the chefs who prepared the meals for the athletes of the 30th Southeast Asian Games in 2019.”
The ink on Delta’s signature hadn’t even dried yet when former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo led her three cabalen congressional cohorts in filing House Bill No. 10014 seeking the declaration of Pampanga as the “Culinary Capital of the Philippines” in recognition of the province’s “formidable culinary history” and to further boost the province’s thriving gastronomic tourism. Their proposed measure literally turning into a bill of fare with a banquet of the choicest Kapampangan dishes at the House, delectably digested by their peers.  

Were legislation the only determinant to a culinary capital entitlement, then Pampanga is it most assuredly, its political leaders having jumped the gun on all other provinces in the country. 

But is it? Is it even within the powers of Congress to legislate taste? 

De gustibus non est disputandum. A truism I have kept from my seminary Latin that has withstood the test of time. Indeed, the self-evident truth that “about taste, there is no argument.”  

In matters of gustation, I find as much predilection for the Kapampangan begukan as for the Bicol sinilihan, for the Ilocano dinakdakan as for the kinilaw de Oro and Dumaguete’s binakhaw. Or for chicken, be it inasal, kulub, lechon or pinaupo.  The gourmand in me couldn’t care less of the origin of the food on-plate, all that matters is its tastiness. I leave anything above that to the snootiness of the gourmet. 

Why, a taste of ambrosia to me may just be a cause of nausea to another. I suddenly remember the Bicolano journalist Ben Gamos who, despite working in Pampanga all his life, never found the “usual” Kapampangan beyond plainly edible – “panlaman lang ng tiyan” Whenever ribbed of his proclivity for laing and Bicol express over sisig and tocino, he was wont to riposte: “Kanya-kanyang poor taste lang ‘yan.” Of course, the inference goes both ways. Yummy to one, yucky to the other.

Concededly, Pampanga is a culinary haven. Conceitedly, Pampanga is gustatory heaven. Just about everyone that has come to dine in a Kapampangan home – from the humblest hut to the grandest mansion, or in a Kapampangan eatery – from the lowliest carinderia to the classiest gourmet restaurant, attests to that indubitability. By and large.  

Food, glorious food, has long defined Pampanga in the nation’s cultural psyche, affirmed in one generation, reaffirmed in the next. So niched, shall it remain. 

Still, does that make Pampanga the Culinary Capital of the Philippines, meriting national legislation at that? 

Currently breaking the internet is Erwan Heussaff’s FEATR on Kapampangan food. It is – to me – the most substantial take on our culinary excellence yet, seasoned, so to speak, with the perspicacity of contextualization by culturatus Ruston Banal and Jam Melchor, founder of the Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement. Every cabalen worth his palate ought to see, indeed, savor this cultural fare. It is a nourishment to the Kapampangan soul. 

At the end of the video feature came the inevitable: Is Pampanga the Culinary Capital of the Philippines?

A question that is impossible to answer. It’s impossible to self-proclaim that [title] because …there’s such beautiful diversity when it comes to Filipino food to claim that one place only can represent the country as its culinary capital.” Heussaff, definitive and succinct. 

And en punto: “It’s very difficult to say. Yet, I do believe that [Pampanga] is one of the most important provinces that we have when it comes to food alongside provinces like Cebu or regions like Western Visayas.” 

Talking of Western Visayas, its regional capital Iloilo City was included last October in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) for Gastronomy, a “recognition granted to applicant cities for their culinary history, tradition, culture, and identity – which integrates education, science and technology, crafts and farming industries, and environmental endeavors that contributed to the sustainable gastronomic heritage.”

Notwithstanding this recognition from no less than UNESCO itself, Iloilo City did not endeavor to be declared – by law – as the “Gastronomic Capital of the Philippines.” 

Might the gastronome Heussaff have had this at the back of his mind when he pondered the impossibility to the question: Is Pampanga the Culinary Capital of the Philippines? 

The Philippines’ first in the gastronomy category, Iloilo City joins in the prestigious recognition Baguio City as UCCN Creative City of Crafts and Folk Art since 2017, and Cebu City as the country’s inaugural UCCN Creative City of Design in 2019. 

Crafts. Folk art. Design. Realms of culture and innovation where Pampanga excels too, but unrecognized, alas! 

No harm to Kapampangan pride there as a whole, only a prick on our culinary conceit. 

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