The ‘flavors’ of Philippine culinary cinema

FDCP Chairperson Liza Diño-Seguerra with director Carlo Enciso Catu, festival director of Cinema Culinarya 2022.

What is the similarity between food and cinema? Both transport us to another place or time. Both have the magic of bringing people together.

It is not an overstatement to say that perhaps the Filipino lingua franca is indeed “food.” Food is our native tongue and love language. We show our appreciation by working on something special in the kitchen for the people we love. Cooking has also become a way of being alone with oneself — we put together our scattered thoughts by slicing and dicing and mixing in silence like a sacred ritual, a meditation, or a prayer. We bond over food. A Filipino celebration cannot be called so without a salo-salo. It can only be celebratory when there is food, simple or grand, and when it is shared.

It is incredible to have a piece of our identity as people come in the form of something edible, delightful, and nourishing. Our cuisine reflects our culture and experience because there are as many versions of adobo as our more than 7,000 islands. The ingredients vary according to what is available or abundant in the area. The food is simple yet comforting. It also shows our many brushes with other cultures, by trade or colonization, and how we made those influences into our very own.

It is perplexing that this intimate intermingling of food and identity does not show so much in our other passion — the movies. Film is an essential medium for telling the human experience, and what better experience to know than what our tongues already know?

I was very excited to attend last week’s Cinema Culinarya Film Festival opening ceremony, albeit virtually still. This is another step forward to harnessing that part of us worth exploring further and digging deeper.

Philippine culinary cinema

If you only know “Eat Pray Love,” “Chef,” “Ratatouille,” “Julie and Julia,” “Chocolat,” “Woman on Top,” or the sumptuous “Eat Drink Man Woman” by Ang Lee, it is high time to see Rory Quintos’s “Kailangan Kita” for a taste of that Filipino flavor in culinary cinema. The story follows the story of Lena, her family’s designated cook, set in Bicol, the home of laing and Bicol Express. It is a balanced and sensuous concoction of romance and family drama, with a touch on traditional gender roles, politics, and working abroad.

It is also worth mentioning the memorable food cameos in the movies, such as the adobo in “American Adobo,” the sinigang in “Miss Granny,” the isaw in “English Only Please,” the tortang talong in “Anak” and Jed’s pochero (or afritada) in “Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo.” Judy Ann Santos also starred in the indie film “Kusina.” More recently, in 2018, we had the comedy “Kusina Kings” and the food documentary “Ulam” following the rise of the Filipino food movement in the US. While we have these titles, movies on food or cooking have been few and far between. This subgenre remains a potential that is not fully maximized.

Cinema Culinarya

The celebration of Filipino Food Month every year in April aims to promote and preserve local culinary traditions. This year’s Cinema Culinarya Film Festival is being led by filmmaker Carlo Enciso Catu whom I am very proud of. He was also the festival director for SineKabalen, where the decision to make a section on culinary cinema was first introduced. His dreams of promoting Kapampangan films through film festivals to give a platform to the region’s creatives continues with a more enormous, more national scope as he now helms Cinema Culinarya, a celebration of the diverse culinary traditions not just of Pampanga but of the country.

This whole new festival seeks to showcase tasteful narratives, exquisite cuisine, and colorful traditions from all over the Philippines. This year’s film fiesta is being led by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and goes with the theme: “Pagkaing Filipino, Susi sa Pag-unlad at Pagbabago.”

This year, 27 delicious films are featured, including full-length and short films grouped under in-competition categories and in exhibition. There will also be talk-back sessions with the filmmakers to enrich the festival experience further. The exciting news is that everyone can watch the festival films online for free at their Vimeo account (bit.ly/cinemaculinarya). Spread the word.

seven thousand islands adobo

There is adobong puti, adobo sa gata, adobong pula (with achuete), adobong dilaw (with turmeric), sweet adobo, adobong tuyo, adobong masabaw, etc. — our narratives as an archipelagic country enjoys a wide variety of textures and flavors, too. We get creative with the ingredients we have at hand and create tastes suitable for our palate, just as our filmmakers draw from our many different experiences and geographies.

Our smorgasbord, like our films, is a rich buffet of various tastes, an invitation to communion and conversation with others who are not familiar with our menu or to simply partake in each other’s slice of life to savor and enjoy. More recently, the table is no longer just for the exchange between our regions. The table is now open to everyone in the global village. Curious that while food and film remind us of our identity, both also join us to the world.

My love affair with food started early. I growing remember up, lingering around the kitchen, watching my uncle and grandma cook gourmet Filipino dishes for our weekend salo-salo. At 10, I learned how to smell fish, touch the meat and squeeze the fruit to find the finest ingredients in the farmers’ market.

Oh, how the aroma of something cooking, even the thought of food, opens the floodgates of memories! It reminds us of even the faintest remembrance cob-webbed in some obscure corner of our mind. Film and food remind us of who we are and where we came from. Film has this same power of transporting us to another place and time.

My passion for cooking also allowed me to see the value of using my art of making food to bring people together. Now, as chairperson of the Film Development Council of the Philippines, I believe that the art of making films can also bring a nation together. It can be a channel to promote history, heritage and culture.

As one passionate about film and food, I am looking forward to more intertwining the two in the near future. We have so many flavors to explore in this regard — as many as our versions of adobo here in our country of more than 7,000 islands, and all equally delicious, delightful and nourishing.

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