I am a cookbook reviewer, and it’s always exciting to leaf through pages that offer an insight into a new and vibrant cuisine. And I am a food writer, so I appreciate the effort it takes to compile such a book. Kusina to Cuisine – The Theresian Cookbook had me glowing with child-like joy.
We think we know all about food, don’t we? Those classic French dishes that are so prized …by the French; sumptuous and spicy curries from the Subcontinent (I am personally addicted); baked goods from these very shores – yes, we are au fait with food. But then there are plates from the Philippines!
I am fortunate to have a dear friend who hails from Manila. She is an ‘Old Theresian’ and has contributed to this volume, a compilation of recipes from former pupils of St. Theresa’s. For us non-Filipinos, it’s a delicious introduction to a very individual cuisine. There is nothing in this book that would strike epicurean terror into the heart of even a timid European home cook. OK, granted, a very few of the ingredients might demand a trip to an Asian supermarket, but that aside, the majority of recipes here are accessible and they are all tempting.
Chef cookbooks are glossy, polished and sometimes intimidating. On the other hand, cookbooks such as Kusina to Cuisine offer a real vision of how folks cook and eat, and in this case the cooking and eating is enjoyed in the Philippines. Perhaps I am naïve but I trust recipes from home cooks. They take pride in that cake, that sauce, that pasta, those noodles might be dinner every Wednesday night. These particular home cooks have flair!
I am rather surprised that Filipino restaurants are not flourishing outside that country. Its foods have so many elements with which we are already familiar. I have seen menus from the best of Manila’s restaurants and I could book my flight this very moment. The recipes here are a more domestic take on these dishes but they indicate the value of this internationally little-known cuisine.
Good use is made of both fresh fish and shellfish. Pork is prominent, along with chicken. Lots of Asian fruits and herbs but chilli isn’t overpowering. Garlic is evidently popular, along with the expected Chinese accents of soy and rice. It’s a delicious amalgam of all the cultural influences that make these islands what they are today.
I have several favourites from this practical ring-bound collection. Killer Chili Dip is simple and comforting and flexible. Great for a party and it can be spiced up for those with adult tastes; nothing exotic, admittedly, but worthy of a try. Yema are sweet caramelised milk balls that would make delicious gifts if one could bear to give any away. Toyoma is a pork belly stew with eggs – just a couple of ingredients, used to present a unique dish. Lengua is beef tongue and it takes advantage of that underestimated meat. This recipe turns that humble offal into dinner party fare with Asian colour.
My dear reader might wonder why I bother to review a book that the majority will not find. Kusina to Cuisine – The Theresian Cookbook isn’t readily available, that’s true. I have used this volume to illustrate the broad appeal of Filipino food and to act as a catalyst to ask the question: ‘Where are the Filipino restaurants in London?’ Failing that: ‘Where are the cooking classes?’ I am sure I will be advised that there are one or two but they are not well publicised. As we speak I would say that the most authentic food is found in homes. There seems to be little publicity about the dishes, although there are faint rumbles of enthusiasm from those who have travelled. There are folks who are endeavouring to introduce Filipino food served from food trucks. Word is slowly getting out to those who are open to another taste palate.
I will travel to Manila and beyond at the soonest opportunity and enjoy learning about the restaurant trends, classic dishes, home cooking and, undoubtedly, snacking. I will muse on origins of dishes and consider how to describe this European-infused multi-Asian culinary delight in one word. I guess ‘Filipino’ will do nicely.
Kusina to Cuisine – The Theresian Cookbook
Author: St. Theresa’s College Manila Foundation
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018