This First Person article is the experience of Jim Agapito, host of the new CBC Radio series and podcast Recovering Filipino. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
I am a hater: a hater of Filipino food.
I hate sweet spaghetti, balut, and dinuguan.
There are exceptions to my rule, but I hate so many more dishes than I love. This is a problem.
My anti-Filipino food stance has caused a lot of misunderstanding and friction within my family over the years.
In Filipino culture, food is a very big deal.
Food is love so when you reject the food, are you rejecting the love and ultimately your culture? – Jim Agapito
Food is the focus for every kind of get-together, from casual meet-ups to picnics at the park, to epic debuts and funerals.
The number of dishes always outnumber the people at the party. There are leftovers for days.
For many years, I avoided family gatherings, in part because I didn’t want to deal with the pressure of being cajoled and “force-fed” food I just didn’t like. And I just didn’t want to have to explain myself all the time.
Food is love so when you reject the food, are you rejecting the love and ultimately your culture?
Learning about my heritage
I was born in Canada to immigrant parents. I am Filipino-Canadian, and I have only visited the Philippines once, 31 years ago.
But now I am trying to learn more about my Filipino side. I am doing it for myself, and my family. Recovering Filipino, my new CBC podcast and radio series, is my quest to understand and embrace my heritage, starting with the cuisine of the Philippines.
Filipino sweet spaghetti has been a mystifying part of my heritage. It’s on my hate list.
Trust me, my honesty has caused controversy within the family. I’m not alone. Some family members have also shared their own stories of post-traumatic-spaghetti-disorder from being forced to eat this sickly sweet abomination.
It turns out that sweet spaghetti is inextricably linked to the history of the Philippines. The traditional style of spaghetti was introduced to the Philippines in the early 1900s by the Americans when they occupied the country.
At the start of World War II, the Philippines couldn’t import tomatoes so they created an alternative to tomato sauce: banana ketchup. It’s made of banana, vinegar, spices, and loads of sugar.
LISTEN | Recovering Filipino host Jim Agapito’s quest to understand Filipino food:
Recovering Filipino27:26Fried chicken and spaghetti. How is this a Filipino love story?
Truth be told, I just can’t take the sweetness in Filipino spaghetti. Thankfully, my mom doesn’t like it either so I didn’t have to grow up eating it.
But when my cousin Kaye Galang moved to my parents’ home in Winnipeg from the Philippines in 2013, a friendly spaghetti war started. We suspect that my cousin adds sugar when my mom isn’t looking.
Sweet spaghetti isn’t the only food of my ancestors I dislike.
I refused to eat a lot of Filipino food growing up because I’m allergic to seafood. My mom and titas (aunts) didn’t quite accept this fact despite my post-seafood hives and other unpleasant side-effects. They continued to sneak in seafood where they could, and I continued to push the plate away in my own act of defiance and good health.
Stews are also a big part of Filipino cuisine. I’m a visual person and stews aren’t pretty. The look of the dishes don’t appeal to me. Hard pass. No, thank you.
My vegetarian years
Filipinos love their meat too.
From age 17 to 27, I became a vegetarian and family harmony tanked.
There were well-intentioned interventions. For my high school graduation and birthday in early July, my lola (grandma) wanted to do something special. She bought what she thought was the golden ticket to her Jimmy Boy’s soul: a KFC fried-chicken feast.
After I refused to eat, my lola said, “You don’t like my food, then you don’t eat,” and stormed out furiously.
Lola tried to entice me with chicken for a decade. I stood my ground and I think the rejection broke her heart a little.
LISTEN | Where are the Filipino vegetarians?
Recovering Filipino27:26Where are all the vegetarian Filipinos?
I have now come around in my family’s estimation. I am no longer a vegetarian, and I will eat all the fried chicken my lola provides. (Today, I even have a fried chicken tattoo on my thigh.)
I still have mad respect for all my vegetarian friends, and I will often go long bouts without eating meat.
Despite the common ground I now have with my family, I still can’t forget all the little jabs I endured for being plant-based for so long.
Rediscovering more Filipino food
We Filipinos have a love for the sweet, the fried and the ugly delicious and that’s not going to change.
I can’t say I’m going to eat dinuguan, a.k.a. pork blood stew, or balut, a.k.a. a fertilized duck or chicken egg, anytime soon.
I already eat my mom’s lumpia, pancit and dessert, which I love.
I will, however, give more Filipino food another shot.
But that’s the great thing about my quest to understand my culture and my Filipinoness. You grow up and realize you might have missed out on important things.
You begin to appreciate, or at least understand, what you rejected within your own culture. I guess that makes me a recovering Filipino.
Recovering Filipino2:13Recovering Filipino — What does that even mean?
How to find Recovering Filipino
- Tune in on CBC Radio One, starting June 28 at 11:30 a.m. across Canada. New episodes will air Mondays at 11:30 a.m. throughout the summer, and on Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m. AT, 8 p.m. NT).
- Listen anytime on cbc.ca/recoveringfilipino.
- Follow us on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts.
- Join the conversation at #recoveringfilipino.
- Send us an email.