In 2017, an web buddy despatched me a message: “Would you be interested in a PDF copy of Tikim?” She was referring to Filipino meals scholar Doreen Gamboa Fernandez’s 1994 ebook: over 200 pages of essays exploring the culinary tradition of the Philippines, from house cooking to avenue meals to eating places. “I have access to it and I’m going to scan it, then put it on those book sharing sites […] because it’s not fair people can’t have access to it unless they wanna pay $500. I got mine from the library.”

I’d learn Tikim, which suggests “taste” in Tagalog, in faculty a couple of years earlier throughout an unbiased research on Asian meals. My professor, a Filipino meals historian, put the ebook on our syllabus, and we talked in regards to the methods Fernandez’s writing helped the nation—and the world—take Filipino delicacies critically. With tutorial libraries at my disposal, I skimmed the ebook not realizing that I would not learn it once more for years. 

As I began to put in writing professionally, at occasions about Filipino meals, I encountered precisely the issue this buddy took situation with: I could not get my palms on a replica, with out tons of of {dollars} to blow. Yet as a lot as Fernandez’s work eluded me, I noticed references to it in tales and podcasts about Filipino meals, in a writing workshop I took with the New York Times‘ Ligaya Mishan in 2018, and in dialog with meals writers and folks within the diaspora. Tikim was the proper historic supply—however one I could not learn or cite past the few bits on-line, and I wasn’t alone within the search. People with copies of Tikim even have tales about how they struggled to search out it. 

“I think of her as the most pivotal figure of Philippine gastronomy.”

Before the West took vocal curiosity within the vibrant delicacies of the Philippines, Fernandez was writing articles within the Manila Chronicle and the Philippine Daily Inquirer displaying Filipinos that even their every day meals deserved reverential, historic remedy. Treating Filipino meals as what it was—a delicacies—was a revolutionary act, Mishan wrote within the Times final yr in a memorial of the author, scholar, instructor, and historian who died in 2002. In that piece, the paper’s former meals editor Raymond Sokolov referred to as Fernandez “the most impressive food writer and historian I ever encountered.”

Fernandez wrote a culinary historical past that, to that time, hadn’t been given severe consideration. In plain however stunning language, she recognized the indigenous and colonial affect behind the Filipino palate of salty, bitter, bitter, and candy. Food was greater than the act of consuming, although she definitely loved that; it was a signifier of tradition, and she or he noticed writing about meals as not solely the work of columnists and restaurant critics however of cultural historians, essayists, novelists, and poets particularly. “For it is an act of understanding, an extension of experience,” Fernandez wrote in Tikim‘s introduction. “If one can savor the word, then one can swallow the world.” 

“I think of her as the most pivotal figure of Philippine gastronomy,” mentioned Martin Manalansan, a professor of American research on the University of Minnesota and a co-editor of Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader. Like “a culinary archeologist, digging up layers of meaning,” Fernandez dissected dishes, flavors, and influences: how delicacies skews probably the most bitter within the northernmost area of Ilocos, the place bile is used for flavoring; how the Tagalog phrase for alcoholic drinks, “alak,” mirrors the Arabic “arak” and the Balkan “raki”; how avenue meals was a necessity for a poor nation with a younger restaurant custom. With analysis and reverence that forged a highlight on on a regular basis individuals, she defined the meals Filipinos encountered incessantly in easy phrases, printed in newspapers for anybody. But if Fernandez’s writing was meant to be learn not simply by these with credentials, then why is Tikim so onerous to search out over twenty years later?    


To study French meals, one reads Julia Child; Italian meals, Marcella Hazan; Indian meals, Madhur Jaffrey. To perceive Filipino meals, one ought to learn Doreen Fernandez, whose work can enlighten ancestral historical past for the diaspora and clarify the foundations of the delicacies for readers outdoors it. Despite the fame that precedes her, discovering Fernandez’s work internationally is a problem. Tikim is not her solely ebook on meals—there was Sarap in 1988 and Palayok in 2000—however it’s the most well-known. After its first printing in 1994, the Philippines-based Anvil Publishing has reprinted Tikim 5 occasions since, most just lately in 2019. That reissue, with Mishan’s piece now quoted on the again, could be present in bookstores within the Philippines or ordered on-line by native buyers for 299 pesos, or about $6.17. 

But intermittently out of print and till just lately, printed and offered solely within the Philippines, Tikim is extremely uncommon within the American market, regardless of the dimensions of the Filipino inhabitants and the rising curiosity in Filipino meals. Before Anvil’s latest reprint, I’d seen on-line sellers checklist copies from $300 to $500; listings on Amazon presently vary from $130 to $230. Even the reissue is expensive as a result of with out large-scale American distribution, sellers who’ve gotten maintain of the ebook piecemeal value it at a premium: presently between $79 and $99 on numerous websites that ship to the United States. The WorldCat library catalog lists Tikim‘s print availability in 48 libraries worldwide. 

In the 29 years he is labored at Kitchen Arts & Letters, the New York City vendor of uncommon and out-of-print culinary books, managing accomplice Matt Sartwell has fielded requests for Tikim, however he cannot recall the shop ever having had a replica till this yr. It’s “unfortunately, just so scarce that whenever somebody has a copy, they’ve decided that it’s their meal ticket,” he advised me final yr. “I can’t overemphasize the use of that word.” Tikim is only one instance of a broader situation going through meals fans looking for deeper data about international gastronomy. 

The similar shortage applies to many worldwide books about meals, since deep histories of worldwide meals cultures written in English are restricted and attraction to solely a small market within the American ebook business. Publishers go the place the cash is, and translating and distributing specialised, worldwide meals books will not be more likely to make any cash, Sartwell mentioned. But bringing worldwide books into the US one by one, as has largely been the case with Tikim, signifies that readers are those who take the monetary hit. 

As curiosity in Filipino meals grows internationally, Fernandez’s work has re-entered the highlight. Immigrants and their youngsters discover validation by her writing in meals they may have felt ashamed of consuming, Mishan famous. Chefs highlighting the delicacies discover its essence in Fernandez’s phrases and a era raised on Anthony Bourdain seeks conversations about meals with substance, resulting in vocal clamor for Tikim prior to now few years, based on Anvil’s former basic supervisor Andrea Pasion-Flores. “We knew that there was a responsibility to come out with this [reissue] because of the limelight that has been cast not just on Doreen, but on Philippine food in general,” she mentioned final yr. 

“She writes about food, but she does not fall into the fetishization of it.”

As a lot as Manalansan admires Fernandez, individuals initially underestimated the worth of her work, he mentioned. Food writing—significantly in its commonest types—has a fame, at occasions, as a pursuit centered solely on chasing pleasure, however Fernandez’s strategy was journalistic, anthropological, and ethnographic. She provided a framework of delicacies that paved the best way for individuals like Mananlansan, who needed to consider meals and tradition with a important, contextual eye. 

By desirous about how meals turns into “Filipino,” Fernandez noticed delicacies as a negotiated course of. “It’s a product of people trying to struggle with what’s available, with their own limitations, the environment, what the government [and] the economic conditions will allow, and how tastes actually are not intrinsic to people living in one location,” Manalansan mentioned. “She writes about food, but she does not fall into the fetishization of it—the way a fetish is like this one singular object that you imbue with very specific powers that don’t change.” Fernandez’s imaginative and prescient of meals was dynamic: Though she understood Filipino delicacies’s historical past, she additionally had a watch in the direction of its future. 


I did not get my copy of Tikim till 2020, when the net retailer Filipino Food Crawl started promoting restricted portions of Anvil’s reissue. I winced once I purchased it for $69, however now, as considered one of its admirers, I perceive the pull to cross on what I can of Fernandez’s work. Though she’s impressed many writers, nothing beats the unique materials, and although there could be denser texts on these matters within the Philippines, in the event that they exist, they’re even tougher to search out. 

“When I had the book and I deep dived into it, this sounds so extra, but I think I kind of had what other people feel closer to a spiritual or religious [experience],” mentioned Pamela Santos, an artist-scholar and author based mostly in Portland, Oregon. During gatherings with pals, typically at Filipino eating places, Santos has, at occasions, introduced a replica of Tikim in her bag and began the meal by studying from its intro: “The experience of food is ephemeral. What one puts into the mouth is the end result of a process that starts with the sea, the soil, animal life,” she’d learn, like a prayer. 

Santos got here throughout Fernandez whereas educating herself to prepare dinner Filipino meals a couple of years in the past. After seeing Fernandez’s identify among the many sources within the books she bought by libraries, Santos marked her down as required studying. “The history and the [origin of dishes] always came back to Doreen,” she mentioned. After selecting up library fines for preserving the ebook too lengthy and setting Google alerts for Tikim, Santos bought a replica for $50 from a San Francisco Goodwill. Its authentic sticker remained: 175 pesos, or $3.62 by at this time’s conversion.

“She wanted—and a lot of us want—regular Filipinos to find the specialness of Filipino food rather than it being purely pedestrian.”

When Manila-based baker and meals author Chino Cruz began working on the meals journal Yummy, he determined that with the intention to take meals writing critically, he wanted to learn Fernandez. “I was like, I’m a big fan of food writing in general, but all my references are American, so there’s John Birdsall and Ruth Reichl, but there was never really a Filipina or Filipino to pull from,” Cruz mentioned. Though he attended Ateneo de Manila University, the place Fernandez taught, he regrets that he did not matriculate till after she died. 

Cruz had issue discovering Tikim and Palayok in Manila—with out the books in shops on the time, individuals did not need to give their copies up—however luck took his facet someday when his author uncle handed Tikim down from his giant, diversified assortment. Fernandez turned an anchor for Cruz: taking issues that appeared apparent to him as a Filipino residing within the Philippines, and presenting them in a approach that was fascinating, totally researched, and written with love. “She wanted—and a lot of us want—regular Filipinos to find the specialness of Filipino food rather than it being purely pedestrian.”

Tikim‘s influences transcend the meals world. “I think that the word ‘revelation’ is one that comes to mind when I came across Tikim in the Philippines,” mentioned Catherine Ceniza Choy, a professor of ethnic research on the University of California Berkeley. In a department of National Book Store, whereas spending a couple of months between 1994 and 1995 within the Philippines doing analysis on Filipino nurse migration to the US, she was struck by Joanne de León’s cowl artwork of a girl savoring the smells and tastes from a spoon she held earlier than her.

“It’s about the people who prepare the food with love and care, and not just the food that’s prepared at a highbrow restaurant.”

Ceniza Choy knew meals was important to understanding Filipino tradition and historical past: one she barely noticed mirrored in her American training. Fernandez’s analysis cemented histories lacking from the American canon, and her view of meals by its cultural, historic, familial, and social contexts resonated with Ceniza Choy. The ebook renewed her appreciation for the experiences and relationships she had as a second-generation Filipino American, born and raised across the immigrant neighborhood of New York City.

“It’s about honoring where the food comes from; who makes the food, whether it’s farmers who are growing the fruits and vegetables, or the fishermen who are getting the bounty from the sea. It’s about the people who prepare the food with love and care, and not just the food that’s prepared at a highbrow restaurant,” Ceniza Choy mentioned. “It is that, but it’s also about the mother at home making meals. It’s about people on the street, who are sometimes preparing food, sometimes carrying it to sell it.”

Through the shiny banner of meals writing, Fernandez may very well be subversive. As Mishan wrote, Fernandez was often known as an ally to leaders of the National Democratic Front who opposed the Marcos dictatorship; rebels took shelter in her house, and she or he dressed their wounds. When she wrote for the journal Mr. & Ms., its life-style format snuck in an anti-Marcos message. “I saw a lot of her food writing as ways to try to poke holes into a technocratic regime during Ferdinand Marcos,” mentioned Adrian De Leon, an assistant professor of American research and ethnicity on the University of Southern California. 

“I couldn’t believe that this book wasn’t everywhere.”

While her contemporaries have been tracing “bourgeois restaurant culture” to focus on modernization, Fernandez recommended that “especially if you’re working class, marginalized, poor, rural, and indigenous in the Philippines, you’re at the heart of the world-making that becomes appropriated as Philippine cuisine,” De Leon mentioned. His work at this time explores Filipino historical past from the standpoint of the indigenous individuals of Northern Luzon, the nation’s largest island—in doing so, he facilities these whom historical past has typically excluded from the nationwide picture of the Philippines.

As De Leon realized from finding out her archives in Manila, Fernandez taught writing to the elite college students at Ateneo, then despatched them into the streets for interviews and ethnographies of avenue distributors and the city poor. “I found that to be her political mission as well: to turn to culture, to turn to the working class, to turn to the vernacular in order to complicate [the] upper class, elitist idea of the Philippine global modernity,” he mentioned. Though he prefers Sarap—which he sees as “more explicitly and also locally attuned to the Philippines itself” since Fernandez wrote it earlier than gaining international consideration—De Leon mentioned final yr he would “teach the hell out of” Tikim if it have been extra out there. 


Between 1995 and 2018, Ceniza Choy did not assume consciously about Fernandez’s work although she admired it as she labored on her ebook, Empire of Care, printed in 2003. That modified in 2018 when, as a professor at Berkeley, Ceniza Choy invited educator, activist, and prepare dinner Aileen Suzara to offer a speak about meals to college students in her Asian American historical past course.

“I talked to her class and included some quotes from Tikim because it talks about: How do you retrace your food roots?” Suzara mentioned. As a pure chef, former farmer, and member of the Filipino diaspora, Suzara has all the time felt a longing to be extra linked to land and to get well cultural foodways. When she discovered a replica of Tikim on a go to to the Philippines round 2009, it weaved collectively threads she’d drawn out round understanding ancestral spirit and connecting resistance and meals. “I couldn’t believe that this book wasn’t everywhere,” she mentioned. Holding that documentation in her palms was a reminder of legacy: “I think that [for] all of us doing any of our work, whether we’re completely aware of it or not, someone has made the path forward.”

Between Suzara’s reference to Fernandez and the conversations at school, Ceniza Choy was elated—till Suzara talked about that lots of Fernandez’s books, Tikim included, have been out of print. “When she mentioned that, I felt deflated. I was just stunned. How could this be possible? Because that work is so seminal,” Ceniza Choy mentioned. Since 2017, Ceniza Choy had co-edited Brill Publishing’s Gendering the Trans-Pacific World collection with Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, and she or he thought: “I can utilize this role to bring the book back into print.”

In March 2018, Ceniza Choy introduced the concept to Brill, and the worldwide tutorial writer was supportive. As a Filipino American and as a historian within the diaspora, she had an emotional funding in making the work accessible to Filipinos worldwide. Still, she would not see its attraction restricted to Filipinos and even meals students: To her, Tikim is instructive for anybody fascinated about tradition in any respect. After Brill licensed the title from Anvil, it launched Tikim in hardcover and e-book kind in October 2019, with a ahead by Suzara and an editor’s preface by Ceniza Choy. Both variations are actually out there for $198, although the digital version is extra reasonably priced with institutional affiliation. Thanks to this reprint, Ceniza Choy will use Tikim for the primary time this yr within the Filipino American historical past course she’s taught since 2004. 


De Leon nonetheless takes situation with Tikim‘s present availability although. Hardcover and with small print, Brill’s version appears to him like a textual content for libraries and tutorial instutions, versus the paperback model that may very well be learn by anybody, wherever. “I think the actual material history and the material politics of where [Tikim and Sarap] have gone is precisely the problem,” he mentioned. His splendid could be to see the books at $15 to $20 every, so a broad American viewers might have entry to them, too. And, as Santos mentioned, discovering Fernandez’s books by libraries requires a data of interlibrary mortgage methods that may forestall “the average tita and lola” from simply asking for them. 

“Publishers can’t make direct comparisons and are thus reluctant to take a risk.”

Tikim‘s historic but accessible strategy to Filipino meals stays unmatched by choices within the American market. Though new cookbooks—like Miguel Trinidad and Nicole Ponseca’s I Am Filipino, printed in 2018—incorporate historic data, specialised culinary histories stay uncommon. “Part of it is that people have to buy them,” Sartwell of Kitchen Arts & Letters advised me final yr. “I think, to be quite frank about it, it’s the kind of thing where a lot of people feel like, oh my god, of course, this is so wonderful, what a great idea, it should exist—but they don’t support it with their money.” 

The bookstore lastly bought Tikim this month, with the assistance of an area entrepreneur seeking to increase consciousness of Filipino meals within the US. Sales have been “modest out of the gate,” Sartwell mentioned, as a result of the ebook is priced at $80. On this level, the store’s itemizing is apologetic: “There is no denying that the price, reflecting not only a small print run but the costs of importing the book from more than 13,000 kilometers away, is higher than we would like. […] However, we felt we simply had to offer this book.”

The American meals panorama is broadening its horizons, however the lengthy held baseline of Eurocentric tradition and familiarity remains to be the axis on which all of it turns. Nuanced and specialised tales about international meals are simply written off as “too niche” as meals media positions itself as all the time introducing new cultures to this specific, myopic perspective. Though curiosity in these deep dives is fervent in sure circles, it is nonetheless a small market, reducing the worth proposition for publishers who’ve overhead prices to offset. The tales the publishing system deems worthwhile, in consequence, are those with monetary worth. 

But it is a round downside: “It’s often the case that specialized books don’t have obvious predecessors in the way that a book on, say, Instant-Pots or soup might,” Sartwell mentioned this yr. “So publishers can’t make direct comparisons and are thus reluctant to take a risk. Which means that they don’t ever have obvious predecessors for comparison, and don’t ever take the risks.”

“For those who have not read something like Doreen in their lives, what will [reading it] plant in them, or what are the questions it will spark?”

Despite the challenges, it is true that Tikim is extra accessible at this time than it has been in a very long time. Having benefited from Fernandez’s dedication to Filipino meals and tradition, a number of of the students I talked to noticed passing on her work as a duty: If it meant a lot to them, then what might it imply for others within the diaspora, and the way might it enrich the understanding of individuals outdoors the tradition?

Just as Fernandez noticed delicacies shifting in response to social and historic contexts, the best way readers can expertise her work now—and what it will probably encourage—are additionally dynamic. “To continue her work means to think, to critically interpret what her work was in the first place,” mentioned De Leon. Through Tikim, Fernandez formed a brand new understanding of tradition, and the work she began is not over—it continues so long as individuals proceed to search out the trail she helped set up. 

“For those who have not read something like Doreen in their lives, what will [reading it] plant in them, or what are the questions it will spark?” Suzara mentioned. “I really want to see ways that people are going to reconnect to that writing and that viewpoint, find ways to make it real for themselves, and to look a totally different way.”

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