In his introduction to Philippine Cookery, Manila-based chef and author Tatung Sarthou – known more formally as Michael Giovan Sarthou III – writes about why home cooking is so different from anything you can get in a restaurant.
“There is bliss in cooking, especially in your own home when you do it for the people you love. When we cook with love, food comes from a very special place, not only physically, but from within the cook who imparts a nurturing energy to the act of sharing food. I saw this from my grandmothers and my mother. I witnessed them toil in the kitchen as they took care in choosing their ingredients, no matter how simple or inexpensive they were. It was always prepared and seasoned properly and always served with pride. This is what sets apart cooking in your own abode from cooking professionally. The fundamentals may be the same, but the motives that drive us to cook make a whole world of difference.”
Sarthou’s seemingly blissful childhood – when it came to food, at least – came to an end with the divorce of his parents, political unrest, the Philippine revolution of 1986 and economic chaos in the country, as well as the influence of American fast food on the culinary scene, bringing “picture-perfect products on TV”. And yet, “those childhood Sunday lunches still left a profound impact on me. I ached for those meals long gone. The simple act of cooking and dining with family represented an intricate web of values that somehow sums up what life is all about. It’s that life that always resonated with me [...] Many years later, when I began to cook the food of my childhood, the food I truly loved, I found myself again. It was a painful homecoming, but to choose to cook our own food is a bold choice, because, when we make that decision, we too have to arrange our lives to accommodate the change.”
The chapters are laid out in an unusual way, which makes sense for a cuisine that’s made up of dishes that are shared with everyone at the table. Recipes are grouped by cooking method, rather than course, and include sautéed fish roe; steamed fish with oyster sauce; grilled pork and tuna kinalaw; lechon Cebu; grilled chicken seasoned with salt; crispy pata; stuffed plantains; stewed duck with sugarcane; squid adobo; home-made fish paste and fish sauce; and Vigan-style longganisa.