Cookbooks–do you really need one? | Inquirer Lifestyle

Cookbooks–do you really need one?

Like most authors, I’m currently “working on a book.” This doesn’t really have to mean anything concrete.

For instance, just living life is considered “collecting the raw material” that will eventually be turned into a novel, at some far-distant point in the future when I am ensconced in a chateau in the French countryside and I get the chance to hammer out my masterpiece on a vintage IBM Selectric.

All the authors you haven’t heard from in a while, don’t worry about them. They’re somewhere working on a book, and will emerge in due time, bearing something that was worth the wait.

There was a time when there was only one cookbook given as a standard gift to students who were going abroad to study, or emigrating to where there were only white people. The book was Nora Daza’s classic “Let’s Cook With Nora.”

When I was living in Paris and learning to cook French cuisine, I took the book with me and cooked the recipe for adobo using the proportions that are close to what we use as a standard in our household these days. The smell of garlic, soy sauce, and vinegar floated out of the windows on the Rue Saint-Paul like a flag that announced: There is a homesick Filipino living here!

Among the Chinese in the Philippines, a mother would often gift her daughter (or sometimes included as part of the dowry) the volumes of Chinese cooking published in Taiwan by Pei Mei. To this day, when my mother is stumped or needs to remember how to cook a certain dish, she will bring out her very old, grease-stained copy, and look up the recipe.

Much in the same way that I will always return to Time-Life’s “The Good Cook” series, which was the set of books I learned to cook from.

Abundance

These days, there’s an abundance of cookbooks for Filipino cooking. This is a sign of several things, aside from the obvious fact that more people are interested in cooking Filipino food. If you think about it, in a traditional society, there really is not much need for cookbooks.

Recipes were transmitted from mother to daughter, or, as in the case of the Chinese, from mother to daughter-in-law (Chinese patriarchal tradition demands that the bride relearn the recipes as it is done in her husband’s family). Daughters might take notes, or have a worksheet handed out to her if she attended a baking or home economics class.

But there was really no need for a cookbook. In fact, writing down the family’s recipes for the rest of the world to cook from would have been frowned upon.

Family-based traditions

The first widely circulated cookbooks in the Western world were written up as books of household management (in England) or books for running a court kitchen (in France). In the Philippines, the proliferation of cookbooks began when the closed, family-based traditions of passing down recipes stopped—as more families moved to the city and more mothers worked or wanted their daughters to work.

And so girls weren’t taught the menial skills of cookery, but instead were drilled in trigonometry or accounting.

But I believe that the increasing number of overseas workers had something to do with it, as well. Mothers working abroad couldn’t pass on the tutelage of their regional dishes to their children.

“Kulinarya,” now on its umpteenth printing, is probably the book that will be packed in the diasporic suitcase for a new generation.

More recently, Myke Sarthou Tatung’s cookbook, “Philippine Cookery: From Heart to Platter,” is literally everywhere—kudos to whoever was in charge of distributing this book, and I hope Tatung is earning heartily from his royalties. It’s well-produced, clear, direct, and the recipes really work.

From Anvil Press, Claude and Mary-Ann Tayag’s “Linamnam” isn’t a cookbook but something between a Michelin guide to the country’s restaurants and a useful backgrounder for various dishes and recipes.

Meanwhile, Stephanie Zubiri-Crespi’s book, “Feast With Me,” does the opposite of what Nora Daza’s book did. Its compilation of recipes and anecdotes brings the wider world to the Filipino table, along with entertaining tips and wine notes.

Ige Ramos’ new cookbook is the kind I like the most. It has a lot of chatty social history, field (or “location,” as filmmakers would say) and studio photography, and then a handful of recipes that are well-written, clearly explained, and actually look like I’d be able to do them.

My only complaint is that it is a little short, but apparently it is the first of three volumes, which should become the definitive guide to Cavite cuisine for many years.

I bought a copy direct from Ramos himself in what looks to be the next step for distributing books: direct selling, bypassing the bookstores’ steep margins and creakingly slow distribution system.

Anvil books are probably the most affected by National Book Store’s new turn toward retail. Fully Booked won’t stock Anvil titles for reasons that are too long to go into here. However, Anvil’s website now allows you to buy books online, though I’ve yet to try it out.

And yet, as much as I love cookbooks, I have to admit that I actually don’t use them a great deal. The internet is so much more bountiful if I need to, say, learn how to make naan bread (yes, I know that naan actually means bread, but not everyone does), because along with recipes, I get YouTube videos of a mummyji explaining in Hindi.

For a new generation of Filipino cooks, the recipes they learn will come from the great melting pot of global cuisine. Perhaps in Mumbai, a young cook is learning how to make chicken adobo. –CONTRIBUTED