Culinary culture has been a major aspect of the tourism promotions of the West for decades, from Paris and Rome to New York and San Francisco. That culture is now being promoted vigorously in Asia from Beijing and Hong Kong to Manila and Bangkok. Other destinations such as Taipei, Singapore and Mumbai are hot on their heels. As cuisine is a matter of intensely personal taste — some say personal adventure — there are no winners and losers in the competition among various destinations seeking to attract tourists in search of culinary discovery. All are winners. However, while the traditional culinary capitals of the world still draw the major portion of this segment of international travelers, the up-and-coming culinary destinations compete hard and fast — some even “inventing” new dishes flaunting the inheritance of culinary cultures from both East and West.
Culinary traditions are important elements of culture and history. Cuisine and the technology of its production show how people cope with food sources, vegetation, climate and the numerous other aspects of their environment. As tourism and heritage conservation become important to community pride and to their livelihood, culinary history becomes a point of reference to social planning and well being.
The Philippines with its 7,000 islands of tropical beauty is one of the best kept culinary secrets in the world of tourism. Now, the Department of Tourism is taking the story of its multifaceted culinary heritage to the world. Philippine culinary vignettes and period recipes from as far back as the 1500s are presented in a coffee table publication titled The Governor-General’s Kitchen. Complementing the publication comes a package of 13 “Kulinarya Food Trips” offered by the Philippine travel industry.
“The Governor-General lives like a king, and his grand receptions are the glory of Manila,” wrote an American journalist, in a preview of Philippine life during the Spanish and American colonial occupations when 112 Spaniards and 11 American governors-general ruled over the islands from 1569 onward. For close to 400 years, the governor-general’s table represented the epitome of Western cuisine and culture on the archipelago. It was the inspiration for countless recipes and a social etiquette that evolved singular to the hospitable, festival-loving Philippine people.
The Governor-General’s Kitchen shares stories of how insular cooks with nothing but simple clay stoves and pots produced everything from galantines forced with locally grown capers to pináis — boiled banana-leaf pillows filled with delicately flavored banak fish. Having learned to distill spirits, the island-rum became world famous. As the beehive oven found its following, native bakers turned out feathery hojaldres cookies and towering croquembouche sometimes filled with pineapple and cream. How the people of the Philippines transformed tropical ingredients into delicious meals and splendid edible fancies is a tribute to culinary creativity. The Governor General’s Kitchen attempts to show how it all happened over the centuries.
Showcased in the banquet of 13 “Kulinarya Food Trips” marketed by the Philippines travel industry are an array of distinctive regional dishes created with local ingredients with their very special flavors. They also reflect the influence of the various foreign cultures that impacted the Philippines for half a millennium.
For instance, the Ilocondia Culinary Tour introduces the visitor to cooking that is as exclusive as the region’s heritage churches and historic villages. The Pampanga Kulinarya Tour takes one to the “Food Capital of the Philippines”, the center for desserts and pastries. Bicol Kulinarya is a chili hot tour of the Bicol region where hot chili peppers rule the dinner table. The Iloilo Kulinarya traces the roots of southern culinary specialties with visits to ancestral houses. Other culinary tours transport the visitor to exotic places such as Cebu, “Queen City of the South” famous for mangoes, and Davao City, home to the “heavenly” durian fruit. Finally there is a tour of Bohol’s “Chocolate Hills”, which regrettably cannot be eaten. Instead one has to go for peanut kisses!
— Lakshman Ratnapala
BATW International Consultant