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Taste of Confusion

Having lived in multicultural settings, speaking a variety of languages, with many years spent abroad than in our home country-- has any of us changed? Who are we now? And what makes us Filipinos still?

Sauerkraut, Schweinebraten and Siopao---what could possibly go wrong?

It was a typical Saturday afternoon when Elaine called our friends for a typical German lunch--- Sauerkraut for starters, Schweinebraten for main course and Apfelstrudel for dessert. But nothing could be more atypical in this scenario as she was hosting a group of Filipinos living in Marbella, in the south of Spain.

For someone whose palate is programmed for the taste of vinegar, soy sauce and the occasional bagoong, this almost sounded like blasphemy. Seriously, where is the Adobo? The Sinigang? The Caldereta? And of course, the queen of staple Filipino cuisine—the rice.

I couldn’t blame Elaine though for choosing such an exotic dish to serve. Yes, she is from Cebu but she also lived in Munich for many years and was married to a German so her culinary prowess is now geared towards potatoes and meat instead of Pinakbet or Tinola . And it was not only Elaine whose taste buds have been modified. Our friend Amy has lived in Amsterdam and is married to a Dutch, Glo’s husband is also from Germany while Trisha has been living in Spain for twenty five years and I have been on the Costa Del Sol since 2004.

Siopao also makes me melancholic. It brings back memories of my childhood in Mindoro when our family would eat at my father’s favourite restaurant in town after Sunday mass.

“I’m proud to be a Filipina mom”, Elaine said with a smile. “Just like any Pinay mothers, I am very protective of my children and I would want to be an important part of their lives even when they had their own families.” Glo’s answer was similar: “I always teach my children Filipino values; to always say “thank you” and “please” even if it is to ask our househelp. Nothing is more important than to be kind and considerate of others.” I have seen and talked with Elaine and Glo’s children. They all looked breath-taking with their mixture of Asian and Caucasian features just like any other bi-racial kids but behind their physical attributes, I didn’t know that these children also shared the same Filipino values like me.

“What about you Amy?” I asked.

“I guess not forgetting where I come from makes me Filipino. I may enjoy the comfort of life now but I always make sure that I come home and share my blessings with others.”

“And you Trisha?”

“Well, my siblings still live with me so I guess that says a lot about my heritage.”

We all burst into laughter.

“And you, Jeno? What makes you Filipino?” Elaine asked.

I was caught off guard. Such a simple question but fully loaded that I didn’t even know where to start. I’ve been living away from the motherland for so long that I have adapted to different cultures like a chameleon. Yes, I am a Filipino but I am also Spanish. I speak Filipino but I also dream and swear in two other languages. I love listening to Sharon Cuneta but I also adore Flamenco and I wear Barong Tagalog but I match it with high heels.

Have I lost my cultural identity? Have I morphed into something else? Am I not a Filipino anymore?

Just as I was about to share my confusing thoughts, Amy excused herself to go to the kitchen and came back with a big plastic bag.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Siopao”, she said. “I ordered it from a Filipina in our neighbourhood. They’re so good; you have to try them!”

I love Siopao. In fact, it was my mother’s favourite food when she had me in her womb. It was her pregnancy craving. Siopao also makes me melancholic. It brings back memories of my childhood in Mindoro when our family would eat at my father’s favourite restaurant in town after Sunday mass. Those precious moments when my mother was still alive and we were still complete; when we gathered at the table without any care about the world but just laughing, joking, and enjoying our time together over a bowl of Lomi and that delectable soft, white bun filled with chicken Asado.

“This is what makes me Filipino”, I said with the siopao in my hand. “Siopao makes me Filipino.”


Jeno Pineda is a Filipino-Spanish freelance journalist and copywriter based in Marbella, Spain. He holds a degree in Communication Arts major in Mass Communications from The Lyceum of The Philippines in Manila. His works have appeared in several publications in the Philippines and Spain including Sur in English Newspaper, Hot Magazine, and Love2Fly Iberia .com amongst others. He also holds a weekly talk show on his Instagram account: @marbellastyle

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