Feeding Manila in Peace and War, 1850-1945 (a book review)

What makes a city? It is more than just the mortar and stone in its buildings, or even the very people populating it. A key aspect of a metropolis is its supply lines for food and resources, which is the very thesis of Daniel F. Doeppers’ book, Feeding Manila in Peace and War, 1850-1945.

 

Doeppers, a professor of Southeast Asian studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has retold some of the most intriguing chapters of Manila’s history in terms of how its inhabitants regularly (or not so regularly) ate, drank, and sourced their basic needs from nearby provinces. The book goes into interesting details ranging from how the waterways of Bulacan and Malabon were changed to accommodate the rice trade, all the way to the rise of the popularity of chocolate as a beverage, and how it was displaced by coffee. Everything from animal and human diseases, fishing practices, and the potable water supply makes its way into the text.

Apart from these bits of trivia, Doeppers’ text also documents the rise of families and companies involved in the food industry, many of which are still big players in commerce to this day.

 

Although lengthy and at times tedious with its emphasis on economic trends and statistics, Feeding Manila in Peace and War, 1850-1945 provides a fresh look into life in the city of Manila, especially for the denizens who hardly get a mention in textbooks. One gets a vivid sense of the ingenuity, tenacity and good humor characterizing the residents of this old city, all the way up to the devastation that befell it during the Second World War. It reminds people that much of human history is associated with the realities of existence such as feast and famine, all of which go on despite upheavals and grand events.

 

This book is a recommended read not only for anthropologists and scholars of Philippine History, but even for foodies and culinary enthusiasts. It is well thought out and spaced under easy to follow subject headings, making it suitable for earnest study as well as casual reading. Since we at Team Glasses Food Blog are not only foodies but also history geeks, this book was a particular treat.

 

Feeding Manila in Peace and War, 1850-1945 is available from the Ateneo de Manila University Press at Bellarmine Hall, Katipunan Avenue. More details may be found at www.ateneopress.org.

(featured image from wikipedia)

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Gumbo: a foray into Cajun cuisine

Throughout all our (mis)adventures and run-ins with hot and piquant food, we’ve sampled various cuisines utilizing chilis and spices such as Thai, Tex-Mex, Indian, and Lebanese, just to name a few. Oddly enough, one we had skipped was Cajun, referring to a culinary tradition with its roots among French-Canadians who had settled in Louisiana, USA. For many diners, this word brings to mind dishes such as ‘Cajun chicken’, gumbo, jambalaya, and an assortment of meats smothered in gravy and served on top of ‘dirty rice’. This tradition is often confused with, or crossed over with other traditions of Louisiana such as Creole food, which originated among another set of French immigrants in the area.

For the sake of broadening our horizons, we decided to dine at Gumbo, located in Robinson’s Place, Ermita, Manila. The restaurant’s ambiance on this busy Friday night reminded us of a Mardi Gras combined with a wood-and-brick bistro. The staff were accommodating and prompt with showing us to a table, as well as providing menus and a complimentary appetizer. The facilities themselves were spacious and a welcome respite from the chaos of the mall.

After poring over the rather extensive menu, we ordered the seafood gumbo and the chicken jambalaya. Our server asked us if we wanted the dishes to be mild or spicy, thus we decided to have the ‘mild’ gumbo and the ‘spicy’ jambalaya.  We thought that ‘mild’ would be along the lines of peppery or sweetly piquant. Boy, we were in for a surprise.

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The seafood gumbo was definitely a surprise to the palate. I ordered a mild one and at least to Filipino sensitivities and my subdued eating state, it was already spicy. But it doesn’t take anything away from it, rather, with an extra order of rice or two with the meal, and some yogurt or yakult after it should help make the meal even more palatable. Another plus is how well they cooked the seafood, such as the squid. The squid was firm but not chewing gum with consistency, and the shrimps were well cooked, absorbing all the flavors along with the clams.

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The chicken jambalaya was intimidating at first sight: three large chicken fillets atop a sea of rice and sausages. The chicken itself was mildly flavored; the real star of the dish was the rice! We quickly realized that the hotness of this jambalaya was not an explosion in one’s mouth; rather it was a steady, roaring burn accentuated by the slight saltiness of the sausage. Needless to say, we could not quite finish this dish, as our tastebuds were already begging for mercy.

After such an eventful introduction to Gumbo and its rendition of Cajun cuisine, we look forward to trying some of the other entrees such as the ribs or the pizzas. Other diners may also peruse the drinks and desserts selections to round off their meals.

The Food Score:  4/5: The food comes in hefty, very savory portions. There is no skimping here on flavors, which makes this worth a visit. There is a whole range of entrees and drinks for everything from a family dinner out, to pre-gaming before an evening on the town.

Ambiance/Service Score: 4/5: The service here is excellent, with dishes arriving promptly at the table, and the staff ready to assist diners. The ambiance, as described, is more homey and welcoming instead of going over the top on the Mardi Gras theme.

GERD Score: 3.5/5: Admittedly, Gumbo isn’t quite the places for people in need of heartburn-friendly food, but at the same time, they still have a decent selection of food for anyone to choose. And also, please do take note that their mildly spicy meals like the jambalaya or gumbo is spicy already for Filipino standards. Anything that goes beyond their restaurant is very bad for your stomach in the event of a heartburn.

Epilepsy Score:  3.5/5: Diners with issues regarding highly seasoned food or gluten may be better off elsewhere; while salads and other options are available, this place’s best-selling dishes lean towards spicy, with plenty of grains and meats. That aside the restaurant’s lighting and music are mellow, and less likely to be jarring or overstimulating.

Team Glasses Score: 4/5 : We certainly cannot eat at this restaurant too often, thanks to our health issues, however it is still worth a second visit if only to try the rest of the Cajun food on the menu. We are glad we found this on a rainy night.

Gumbo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato