Cuisine of the Philippines

9780804842570All week we’ve been thinking about friends, family, and colleagues down in Boston during the bombing at the Marathon and now the hunt for the bombers. As they say in Boston, it’s been awful. We hope it’s over soon and the wounded start recovering.

Until events in our backyard overtook us, we were all looking forward to the LA Times Festival of Books this weekend where our friends at Philippine Expressions are helping launch one of our biggest new cookbooks of 2013: Marvin Gapultos’s The Adobo Road Cookbook.

In a Huffington Post book review today, Anna Almendrala writes that “Filipino food has all the trappings of the next big ‘it-cuisine’ in the United States restaurant scene,” and she interviews Marvin, a writer known both for his blog Burnt Lumpia and as the operator of LA’s only gourmet Filipino food-truck, the late, great and much missed Manila Machine.

Like Filipino language and culture, the cuisine of the Philippines has blended local elements with successive waves of external influences. Chinese influenced foods include pancit (pahn-sit), which is a Filipino noodle dish akin to chow mein. Chow mein, 炒面 (Trad. 炒麵) chăomiàn, just means “stir-fried noodles”. The word pancit, however, comes to Tagalog by way of the nearby southern Chinese dialect Hokkien (Fujianese) word “pian i sit”, 便食, (Mandarin biànshí) which means “convenient eating”. And indeed while you can make an haute cuisine pancit, the basic recipe is simple and delicious.

Lumpia are Filipino spring rolls. The term comes from the Hokkien 潤餅 (Mandarian rùnbǐng). The second character 餅, in its basic sense of a “cake” or “biscuit”, was borrowed into Japanese and applied to mochi, sticky rice often eaten as a small cake.

From Spain comes the title dish adobo, from the Spanish verb adobar, which referred to dressing meat in vinegar for cooking. In Filipino cuisine, adobo is a dish of meat braised in vinegar and spices. As is often the case in the language of food, the word can be traced back to France, in this case the Old French adober (adouber, aduber), which meant “to arm a knight”. The word made its way into Anglo-Norman England in the ritualized phrase of naming: “I dub thee…” in ceremonies that conferred knighthood. If the connection between chivalry and cooking seems tenuous, consider the English word “dress”, which we apply to arrangements of both food and clothes.


Free bamboo cooking set.

Also from Iberian cuisine come empanadas. A well-known dish in Latin America, an empanada is a filling “enclosed in bread”, pan. Interestingly pan is not the Tagalog word for bread (tinapay is), but pan was borrowed by both Korean 빵 and Japanese パン. And because Spain’s main link to the Philippines was through colonial Mexico, cooks in the Philippines also incorporated New World foods like chocolate, potatoes, tomatoes, corn, jicama, and chayote into the traditional foods of the archipelago. Alongside SE Asian flavors like peanut sauces and lemongrass, such Asian, Spanish, and New World elements enriched cooking traditions based on foods native to the Philippines like the calamansi, a local citrus fruit.

If you’re in the Los Angeles area this weekend, you can meet Marvin Gapultos at the LA Times Festival of Books. He’ll be there at a booth run by our friends at Philippine Expressions. As a special gift here, in addition to a copy of Marvin’s book, I’ve got a free bamboo cooking set to give away. It includes utensils, steamers, placemats, and a mit. If you’d like to win this book and the bamboo cooking kit, click here to email me and write “Adobo” in the subject line. I’ll announce a winner next week.

Thanks to Patti from Suisun, CA who won last week’s copy of Korean for Beginners!



Korean Crisis Glossary

All eyes in Asia are on North Korea this month as the worst crisis, or the worst rhetoric at least, in many years has triggered a fresh round of sanctions by the UN, even this time with the support of North Korea’s one ally, the PRC. As we take time to ruminate on visions of Seoul and Austin, TX bathed in fire, I’d like to offer a run-down of the key words and phrases in the news:

38th Parallel
The 38th Parallel has generally been the dividing line between northern and southern halves of the country. In Korean the line is called 북위 38, the bugwi 38 do. In hanja (Chinese characters), that’s 北緯三十八度, which means “North Parallel 38 degree”. Japanese is a bit simpler with 38 度線 (38どせん) or “38-degree line”. Chinese is the simplest: 三八线 (Trad. 三八線), sānbāxiàn, or “38-line”.

The actual dividing line between North and South is the DMZ, an English acronym for “Demilitarized Zone”. The DMZ was established in the 1953 armistice signed by North Korea, the PRC, and the United Nations and South Korean forces. Its Korean name is 한반도 비무장지대, hanbando bimujang jidae, which comes from the hanja 韓半島非武裝地帶. A direct translation is: Korea Peninsula No-Military-Equipment Land-Belt. But you can just call it the “DMZ”.

“Peninsula” is interesting. The English word comes from the Latin paene (“almost”) + īnsula (“island”). In Asia, a peninsula is a bit less, just half in fact. 半島 (Mandarin bàndăo, Korean bando/반도, and Japanese hantō/はんとう) means “half-island”.

The North’s nonchalance towards total isolation comes from its founding father’s policy of “self-reliance”. Kim Il-sung called his philosophy 주체사상, juchesasang, (hanja 主體思想), meaning “self-reliant thought”. It’s usually shortened in English to its first two syllables juche.

Korean Central News Agency (KCNA)
The vitriolic rodomontade of the Kim dynasty is delivered to you by the hard-working cadres of the Korean Central News Agency, which continues into the 21st century the breezy, light touch and nuance of Pravda in its heyday. Its name in Korean is 조선중앙통신, romanized Joseon Jung’ang Tongsin. In hanja that’s 朝鮮中央通信, a literal translation of which would be Korea Central Communications. The characters for “communications” (通信) here mean “transmitting-trust”, and if we can all trust what the KCNA is broadcasting, we’re in trouble.

Korean People’s Army
If KCNA reports are to believed, Seoul, Washington, DC, and Austin, Texas will all soon be awash in radioactive fire thanks to the 조선인민군, Joseon Inmin’gun, or Korea People’s Army. In hanja, that’s 朝鮮人民軍.

The Appomattox of Korea, Panmunjom is written 판문점 in hangul. The more  modern romanized spelling would end in –jeom, but we still use the version current in ’53. In hanja, the name is written 板門店, which means board-gate-store.

Republic of Korea Army
On the south side of the DMZ is the 대한민국 육군, Daehanminguk Yuk-gun, or 大韓民國 陸軍, whose literal translation would be Great Korea People’s Country Land Force.

Sacred war
How an officially atheist state mounts a “sacred war” only makes sense in the linguistic logic of Pyongyang, but that’s what the North is threatening. The word is 성전, seongjeon, or 聖戰.

Sea of flames
The North’s standard go-to phrase for “we’re going to kick your ass” is a threat to turn your town into a 불바다, bulbada, from bul (fire, flames) + bada (sea). Call me crazy, but after I saw Park Chan-wook’s 2003 film Oldboy (올드보이, oldeuboi) where the protagonist (spoiler alert!) cuts out his own tongue with a pair of scissors, a clean death by incineration hasn’t fazed me much. The Chinese press translates “sea of flames” as 火的海. In Japanese, it’s 火の海.

South Korean puppets
Politicians of all persuasions enjoy swapping insults, but die-hard communists have never really pulled it off with much verve or hipness. When Khrushchev pounded the desk of the UN with his shoe, even his homies back in Moscow thought it was lame. The North doesn’t rely much on classic Marxist put-downs like “reactionary” or “bourgeois” anymore, but insults that remind us of Shari Lewis and Lambchop aren’t intimidating. The phrase is 남조선 괴뢰, namjeoson georeo, 南朝鮮傀儡 . Back in Mao’s day, the bon mot to call your imperialist enemy was 资本主义的走狗 (Trad. 資本主義的走狗) zībĕnzhŭyì de  zǒugǒu or “running dog of capitalism”.

US Imperialists
While our South Korean friends are “puppets”, citizens of the US are “US Imperialists”. This is an interesting little contraction. The North is using the word 미제, mije, where mi comes from the Chinese word for the US (美國), pronounced miguk in Korean. The –je is the first part of the word jeguk (帝國), which means “empire”. 帝國 in both Simplified characters and in Japanese 新字体 is 帝国. Frank Lloyd Wright’s magnum opus in Tokyo was the original Imperial Hotel, the 帝国ホテル (Teikoku Hoteru).

United States Forces Korea (USFK)
Opposite the Korean People’s Army (조선인민군) and alongside the ROK Army (대한민국 육군) is a force of about 28,000 US soldiers called the 주한 미군, Juhan Migun. That’s  駐韓美軍. Japanese speakers will recognize the first character 駐 from “parking lot” signs (駐車所), so the phrase sort of looks and feels like “American Soldiers Parked in Korea”.

Korean for Beginners

Don’t get stuck in a sea of flames without it.

Yālù River
The dividing line between North Korea and the PRC is the Yalu River. Yalu is the Chinese pronunciation of  鸭绿江 (Trad. 鴨綠江), which is duck + green + river, although the character here for “green” is used only for pronunciation.  In Korean, the hanja would match the Traditional Chinese, but now it’s written in hangul 압록강 and pronounced Amrok-gang. To the Japanese, it’s the Ōryokukō (おうりょくこう).

I want to thank our author Kyubyong Park for his help with this list, and my raffle prize this week is a copy of the excellent, best-selling introduction to Korean he penned with writing partner Hal Amen, titled Korean for Beginners. If you’d like to win this book and brush up on your Korean, click here to email me and write “Crisis” in the subject line. I’ll announce a winner next week.

How to Say Ry- in Japanese or Korean

Friday’s focus on the Korean Wave hallyu 韩流 (Trad. 韓流, Hangul 한류, Hiragana はんりゅう) got me thinking that I might have paused on the linguistic footnote of how to pronounce 流 (Hangul 류, Hiragana りゅう, Roman ryu) in Korean or Japanese. The Chinese liú is pretty straightforward, except that the ‘u’ is pronounced ‘o’, but the ry- in Korean and Japanese can cause a little trouble.

To put things into perspective, it’s not a huge deal. It’s not an extremely common combination in either language. 流 appears, however, in things like schools of sporting traditions or arts, like kyūdō (archery), taekwondo, and tea ceremony. Every time I go to Home Depot, I see it in their line of power tools called “Ryobi”. And most travelers to Japan will stay in a form of traditional inn called a “ryokan”.

English-speakers usually look at ry- and pronounce it as in the name Ryan, as in Rye-Oh. Or maybe ree-oh, so that ryokan often comes out REE-o-kan. In Japanese, the trick is to pretend the ‘r’ is a soft sort of ‘d’ sound. 流 is pronounced close to “dew” or “due” if you pronounce the vowel “yoo” and not so that the word rhymes with “do”.

Full disclosure. I do NOT speak Korean, but in my exhaustive research for this blog, I looked for videos of people speaking Korean and using words with ry-. Interestingly, I heard several people say that you should just pronounce 류 as “yu”, but if you listen to native speakers, you can hear a soft “d” sound in there as well. Linguists have never established a relationship between Korean and Japanese, but, in this regard, to my ear at least, the phonology is quite similar.

Thanks to Ellie for entering the raffle for Friday’s copy of our 500 Basic Korean Verbs by Kyubyong Park. Thanks, Ellie!