On Bicol Express
Again, guys, what’s in a name? In the case of Bicol Express, everything.
The Philippine Cookbook (Virginia Roces de Guzmán and Nina Daza Puyat) states that the dish was invented by Cely Kalaw of the famous Grove Restaurant in Malate during the 1960s.
As if this info came from the bible itself, many food bloggers accepted this as fact without question at isinalpak sa mga blogs nila. Understandably, maraming nagalit na mga Bicolano, bloggers and readers alike.
Although Ms. Cely Kalaw spent almost all her adult life in Naga, she is still a non-Bicolano. To claim that she “invented” an obvious Bicolano dish eh medyo nakaka-pikon ang dating. Kahit na ba she is considered one of the best cooks in the country. Who gives a shit? I don’t.
You see, one does not, I repeat, does not have any right to claim or give credit to anyone kapag “invention” ng traditional/regional dishes ang pag-uusapan.
It’s not only irresponsible or erroneous reporting, it is an insult to the kusineros and kusineras of the region concerned.
Kung sabihin ko kaya sa inyo na tatay ko ang nag-imbento ng laing, you will think I’m a shameless liar, right? At syempre hindi kayo maniniwala. I wonder why some food bloggers swallowed that “inventor” shit hook, line and sinker. Ni hindi man lang nag-isip. Baka dahil printed sa libro ‘yung kwento kaya akala nila gospel truth na siya.
At least one of the influential food bloggers (na idol ko as a writer, a cook and a gentleman) immediately wrote a follow up to somehow settle the uproar caused by a previous post about the famous Bicol Express.
For giving the dish its present name and making it popular in Manila, give Ms. Kalaw and her old Grove restaurant the credit. She deserves it. But please leave the pork-gata-sili dish alone. If they say she made improvements on the dish, fine. But let’s make one thing clear, she DID NOT invent it. Nobody did.
Common sense lang naman ‘yan. It’s almost impossible to trace the original inventor of any dish which is considered regional unless pina-patent ‘yon o kaya may makapal ang mukhang umangkin sa kanya.
They usually originate from the kitchens of simple barrio folk who cook dishes based on the abundance of readily available ingredients in the area. Actually, these are ingredients na hindi na kailangang bilhin.
It’s a classic case of necessity is the mother of invention syndrome. Kailangang kumain, maghagilap ng mailuluto sa paligid.
In the Bicol region na santambak ang punong niyog, natural, ang naiimbento ay mga ulam na may gata. Libre na, endless supply pa.
Bicol Express is that kind of dish. Typical. Pangkaraniwang ulam ng pangkaraniwang Bicolano. It has the three major ingredients you’ll see in almost all the dishes Bicol region is known for. Gata, bagoong at maraming sili.
Nothing spectacular about the dish either, if you are a Bicolano. Halos lahat naman ginagataan nila. Sitaw, upo, talong, kalabasa, gabi, hipon, suso, manok, baboy, baka, isda, pusit, kamote. Basta puwedeng kainin, puwedeng lahukan ng gata. Bonus points na lang yung lumabas na masarap pala ang may gata.
When you say you invented something, that something did not exist anywhere before. It’s that simple. We are made to believe na naimbento ni Ms. Kalaw noong 1960 lang ang pagkaing nasa mesa ng mga Bicolano simula pa nang ipinasok ang mga sili sa bansang ito.
Batang paslit pa lang ako, ulam na namin ang “Bicol Express” na ‘yan. As in pangaraw-araw na ulam. Iba nga lang pangalan. Ang tawag ni Tatay sa kanya ay “ginataang baboy”. No fancy name but still the exact same dish, with the exact same ingredients, and the exact same prep procedures.
Every time we visited my lola in Daet, na nakatira sa gitna ng kawalan, ‘yon ang niluluto niya para sa amin ni Ana. She was so proud of that dish na itinuro rin sa kanya ng lola niya.
Imagine how I felt noong mabasa ko ang outrageous claim na inimbento siya ng isang Tita somebody from Los Baños, Laguna. May kasama pang wonderful kwento ‘yun ha. Magagalit nga talaga ang mga uragon sa ganoong kakapal na statements.
Eniweys, masyado nang humaba ang rants ko. Naubusan na tuloy ng space ‘yung recipe ni Tatay at ng lola ko, “Bicol Express” (na hindi raw galing sa Bicol LOLz) Ciao muna for now, guys. Next time naman ‘yung recipe.
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