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Discovering ‘ginhawa’ in Filipino food

/ 05:01 AM September 01, 2019
Felice Sta. Maria fans, rejoice! The food historian has created yet another guide to Philippine food. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Felice Sta. Maria fans, rejoice! The food historian has created yet another guide to Philippine food. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Felice Sta. Maria does it again.

The prolific culinary historian has published yet another book on Filipino food titled “Kain Na!” The book is described on its surface as “an illustrated guide to Philippine food.”


She is joined in this project by a Singaporean who loves Filipino food and even authored a Filipino cookbook, Bryan Koh, who will undoubtedly, once again, bring international attention to Philippine cuisine.

What is interesting is there are no recipes in this book. It is not a cookbook at all. It seeks to be a reference to what Filipino food to expect. It essentially offers a list of what our most revered culinary historian considers Filipino food.


“Kain Na!” A new book by Felice Sta. Maria and Bryan Koh with illustrations by Mariel Garcia. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

“Kain Na!” A new book by Felice Sta. Maria and Bryan Koh with illustrations by Mariel Garcia. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

There are over 100 dishes and ingredients in the guide. Each dish is illustrated by a young artist named Mariel Garcia.

The book is divided into 12 chapters, from breakfast to dipping sauces.

Sta. Maria shares they deliberately did not divide the dishes by region or province. “We did not do it by region because so many iconic provincial dishes are available all over: inasal with atsuete from Bacolod, pansit palabok earlier known as pansit Malabon and karikari once called Tagalog Kari for instance. Maranaw delicious dishes and palapa are in Manila and other places where families have fled to for safety and a chance to rebuild their careers,” she explains.

Each dish, however, was carefully selected. “The challenge was how to select the foods and write captions that when taken together, leave a fine macro image of Philippine food.”

Given this challenge, RPD Publications—the publisher of the book—is lucky to have Sta. Maria behind the project.

She is the author of numerous culinary and cultural books, including the first coffee table book on Philippine cuisine titled “The Culinary Culture of the Philippines,” edited by the great Gilda Cordero-Fernando and published in 1976. She also authored “The Governor-General’s Kitchen,” a multiawarded book on the Philippines’ culinary culture from 1521 to 1935. She also created the Department of Tourism’s 1993 “Guide to Tasting the Philippines.”

She has received several awards, including the Manila Critics Circle National Book Award. She was also added to the prestigious roster of the S.E.A. Write Award for Asean writers.


Sta. Maria is happy to partner with Koh, whose book “Milkier Pigs Violet Gold” on Filipino food became a bestseller in 2016. We have to credit Bryan’s yayas, Evelyn and Lydia, who cooked Filipino food for him while he was growing up and developed his love for Filipino food.

Bryan has keenly observed that not many people realize the effort that goes into making Filipino food. He also wants to share with an international audience what the Philippines has to offer in terms of cuisine: “In terms of Southeast Asian cooking, people are well-versed on Singaporean, Malaysian and Thai cuisine, but there is not much literature on the Philippines.”

Sta. Maria adds the book is not only about the dishes per se but also about Philippine culture. She explores the Cebuano culture of “nayanaya,” an essential element of Filipino entertaining: “Filipino food is not only the dishes but the spirit with which we offer food: nayanaya.”

Nayanaya, she explains, is the closest Philippine word she found to mean hospitality.

“It’s Cebuano,” she shares. “In the 1800s, its definition was to feed and entertain others and also to be a happy person. So we feed others not only to make them happy but the one doing the feeding [also is or becomes] happy. Our sense of hospitality is person to person, interrelational.”

She also explores the culture of communal eating: “We prefer to eat with others, as in an antique term, higara.”

She also proposes that the Filipino concept of pleasure—ginhawa—began with food: “We like a diversity of flavors at each meal. [That is why we eat] with dipping sauces, relishes, ripe fruit on the side, or have many, many dishes to eat like at a fiesta or all-you-can-eat buffet. Once upon a time, ginhawa meant to have many dishes at a meal, [although] today we think of it as happiness, well-being.”

This book is a great introduction to Filipino food not only for foreigners but also for Filipinos who would want to rediscover their cuisine and expand their Filipino food vocabulary.

The book was launched yesterday, Aug. 31,, and is available online at Anahaw Books (anahawbooks.com) and The Kitchen Bookstore (thekitchenbookstore.com).

More from the author at margauxlicious.com. Follow @margauxsalcedo on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.

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TAGS: Filipino food, ginhawa, kain na book, Kain Na!
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