By Sol Vanzi
Kamote was the star at a memorable dinner with the Ateneo de Manila’s students of SA 157: Introduction to Cultural Heritage, under the Cultural Heritage Studies Program of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. Every first semester, the class, under Fernando N. Zialcita, organizes a dinner featuring the cooking of a particular region where the Ateneo Cultural Laboratory took place during the Intersession. This year Vigan and the northern towns of Ilocos Sur were the setting.
With the focus on Ilocano cuisine, the class thought of connecting their topic to the major crisis of our time, global warming, which endangers the very survival of our human species.
Ilocanos stand out for their love for vegetables and root crops. They abhor a largely carnivorous diet. In the barrios, bagnet, igado, and other meat dishes are for fiestas, not for everyday eating. While many urban Filipinos consider themselves kawawa if they eat only vegetables as their daily fare, Ilocano farmers say that when they visit Manila, they feel weak because of the lack of truly fresh vegetables.
Congressman Deogracias Victor Savellano, owner of Victorino’s Restaurant, shared with the students his mother Virginia Savellano’s collection of recipes featuring kamote dishes. Thus was born “Ilocano Recipes for a Warmer Planet,” a dinner planned around kamote, a root crop that flourishes even under harsh conditions.
Dr. Zialcita noted that throughout East Asia, rice is prestigious while root crops are considered low-class. But rice is a crop that requires more water and demands more care. Another reason to prefer root crops is the nutritional value of root crops over rice. Kamote is a good source of protein, fiber, and other basic nutrients in the roots and green leaves.
This school year, the class did seven projects in Ilocos relating to cultural heritage. 1) A study of the Ilocano’s fondness for vegetable; 2) an ethnography of the weaving of binakul cloth in a coastal barangay; 3) a history of binakul weaving in that same barangay over the past 70 years; 4) the making of gold tambourine jewelry; 5) local perceptions of birds and their utility, 6) a script for a tour of craftmaking; and 7) a module for teaching appreciation for local crafts in high school.
Once a year, the Cultural Studies Program of Ateneo’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology organizes a field school that focuses on the cultural heritage of a particular region. Its partners are the History Department, the Fine Arts Program, and the School of Management Business Accelerator Program. In June to July, students and faculty members stayed for three weeks in Vigan and the northern towns of Ilocos Sur.
Participants concluded that root crops would play a big role in food production when global warming peaks. The humble kamote will rise, not only because it is filling, but also because it is delicious. This year’s batch for Introduction to Cultural Heritage under the Cultural Heritage Program of Ateneo de Manila University traveled north to Vigan to learn all about Ilocano cuisine, arts, and crafts.
Kamote dishes, inspired by the recipes of Jean Savellano, were served at dinner, followed by an open forum encouraging dialogue between students, guests, culinary experts, and heritage advocates, including Congressman Savellano.
“This kind of dialogue is precisely what the foundation strives to inspire through our projects like Mga Kuwentong Pagkain,” says Clara Reyes-Lapus, president of Mama Sita Foundation. “Mama Sita loved to promote local foods and how they are prepared. She traveled to different places to search for the most authentic flavors and, in turn, she spread it out to share it with the world.”
After the Ateneo presentation, the MMSF launched the foundation’s annual food writing contest, Mga Kuwentong Pagkain. The contest encourages Filipinos nationwide to talk about a special dish, what makes it special, and how it is made and enjoyed in an effort to make known and preserve the flavors of homegrown cuisine. Deadline for entries is on Jan. 26, 2018.