The Philippine Kitchen in the Early 20th Century
The bewildered natives and Spaniards lamented as Thomasites preached “everyday right living” through sanitation, nutrition and oil cloth tablecloths. Under the new public school system, elementary school girls studied home economics two to three hours a week. They learned that rice is served as a vegetable and must be boiled with salt and some cooking oil.
Homemakers initially reacted with curiosity then exasperation. Why were bread-eating Americans meddling in Filipino kitchens! What did they know about cooking rice!
In time, however, the indulgent Filipinos began to adopt the ways of the new Motherland. Lovely mestizas enjoyed preening for balls and afternoon teas where Americans served some nouvelle cuisine blancmange, apricot ice water and frosted cake. With the return of the pensionados or government scholars from the States, younger generations became preoccupied with comparing native customs to those of modern America. Iced punch and delicate pan Americano sandwiches became standard fare at stylish native parties where guests never sat down.
The turn-of-the-century Filipino kitchen was a menagerie of rustling floor-length sayas, smoke and soot, savory laurel and peppers, crawling infants, pet dogs and barefoot house boys called muchachos. Cooks owed much of their discomfort to tropical heat and to the kalans, native red earthenware stoves which required fanning and puffing through a bamboo ihip every few minutes to keep the fire burning.
Joseph Earle Stevens, a British resident of mid-19th-century Manila, likened the kalan “to an old shoe. The vamp of the shoe represents the hearth; the opening in front, the place for putting in small sticks of wood; and the enclosing upper, the rim on which rests the single big pot or kettle.”
Native cakes of glutinous rice like puto, kutchinta, suman and sapin-sapin were boiled or steamed over the kalan while wrapped in buri or banana leaves or molded in white porcelain saucers. Bibingka made of rice flour was “baked” over the kalan with the top heat provided by glowing coals in a clay dish cover. Kiln baking of broas, dainty lady fingers which served as popular accompaniment and edible spoon to the ritual morning cup of syrupy chocolate remained a commercial enterprise.
Average families had one or two kalans; kitchens of the rich, up to a dozen. It was common to store an extra kalan for fiestas and other special occasions that required more cooking than usual. While there were no stoves in 19th-century Manila, Stevens noted that the exclusive English Club served mince pies, plum puddings and Continental hors d’oeuvres at Yuletide.
It was with Major General Arthur MacArthur who marched into the Islands with his U.S. Volunteers that the Filipinos got their first glimpse of the American kitchen. There were field cooking ranges Myers and Buzzacot Blodgett pipe ovens and bread ovens, and myriad garbage cans. The resident Quartermaster himself manufactured the water cans for distilled water, the stove furniture, can openers, ice boxes, baking and biscuit pans, meat blocks and kitchen sinks.
When American teachers and army wives descended upon the Philippines incessant demand grew for “the creature comforts of home.” In time the best Echague and Rosario Streets merchants were advertising Red Star and Hot Point ranges. The elite began to remodel their kitchens like those in Ladies’ Home Journal and Good Housekeeping.
Initially, schools outfitted home economics laboratories like native kitchens. There were clay palayoks and bangas, metal carajays and copper tachos, llaneras, bibingkahans, cafeteras and tea kettles, chocolateras and batidors. Native turners were called siansi. Numerous spoons made of coconut shell tied to a bamboo handle with rattan twine were available in markets. Every home needed a stone gilingan for grinding rice, a kabayo for grating coconut and an almirez for pounding spices and extracting juice from shrimp heads.
As domestic science teachers introduced American recipes and the concept of efficiency in the kitchen, new equipment was added to the St colanders, zinc-topped worktables potholders and kitchen sinks. Seventh graders mastered Blue Flame petroleum stoves and the fire box, the stove pipe, the dampers and ash pans or kitchen ranges.
While the clay kalans remained in the majority of native homes and the Bureau of Science taught bread-and-cake-baking in bibingkahan stoves, women dreamt of fashionable kitchen ranges seen only in the schoo laboratories and mansions of the aristocrats.
Manila imported ice from America prior to 1899. Turn-of-the-century ice chests were insufficient to keep meat and poultry fresh for more than a day and homemakers continued to market daily. Sufficiently cold refrigeration as we know it today did not develop until the 1920’s. Once available to Filipino kitchens, refrigerators were an indication of one’s status. Ice cream became a popular dessert.
Rations of ice were delivered in horse-drawn carts from military depots. Mrs. Campbell Dauncey, an English resident of Iloilo writes about receiving a ten-pound brick daily. In 1916, the Fabrica de Hielo de Manila on Echague Street began to sell distilled water ice for half a centavo per kilo. But ice remained expensive if not unavailable to most Filipinos, specially in the provinces.
Backyard gardens and orchards assured native tables of fresh vegetables and fruits. But for the treacherous monsoon months of flood, ways of storing food were devised. Fruits were boiled with syrup in tachos, or glazed, or made into pastillas which early schoolteachers found too sticky and sweet for American tastes. The art of fruit preserving climaxed in Pampanga and Bulacan. San Miguel de Mayumo sweet makers are still famed for their lace-like sculptured guavas, dayap and santol.
Pigs, chickens and goats wandered about most native yards. Although usually saved for fiesta lechon, pork was also preserved in a variety of popular dishes palayoks of highly spiced adobo packed in lard, salted tapa steaks, sweetened tocino, sausages, chicharon and cooking lard.
During prime fishing season, part of the haul was salted and dried or smoked into tinapa. In huge vats under the house, tiny shrimps, oysters, fish roe or crabs were fermented with rock salt into patis and bagoong. MacArthur’s Chief Commissary officer, encountering problems of food storage, primarily for Australian beef, wrote Washington prescribing the establishment of cold storage plants throughout the islands. He recommended that each military post have a refrigerator large enough to contain rations for an entire garrison. Sugar-cured ham, bacon and tinned butter, he warned, spoiled quickly in the tropics.
Before 1900, the Philippines was already importing canned goods Australian butter, concentrated milk drunk with mineral water, and Viking evaporated cream. In 1909, an American official’s wife, Edith Moses. wrote: “The passing of butter and milk n the tin cans in which they are sold is another habit, the result of tradition. It is a native custom also. At the most elegant Filipino dinners, the butter is always floating about in a tin. My boys (servants) have learned to make butter balls, and pour the tinned cream into the milk jug, but one evening Lai Ting passed cranberry sauce in the tin.
It is said that Americans reacted with more enthusiasm than the British to tinned Australian beef displayed at the 1851 Great Exhibition in England. That same eagerness crossed the Pacific as cold stores and groceries sprouted in Manila, their advertisements boasting Fresh American Groceries Always in Stock,” Del Monte peaches and pears, Royal baking powder, Libby’s corned beef, Quaker oats and Sunmaid raisins.
Every home locked up dry provisions in the dispensa. This storeroom or cabinet was a frequent battle for homemakers and insects as teachers emphasized, “Keep the kitchen as clean as the sala… Dirty kitchens bring death and disease.”
Native strategy entailed wiping all shelves, floors and window sills with petroleum. Legs of food larders stood tins of petroleum. Baskets of meat, dried fish, vegetables and bunches of herbs were tied to kitchen rafters with twine previously soaked in kerosene.
American teachers abhorred the over-use of petroleum, finding it sticky and quick to stain party frocks. They instructed school children to scrub tables with soap and water instead and to stand the legs of tables and landers in tins of water. To catch mosquitoes, water traps were covered with ba leaves soaked in coconut oil. A mixture of borax and sugar poisoned roaches. Boiling water was poured on ant and cockroach runs and Tangle Foot fly paper spread out on kitchen tables and window sills.
The Bureau of Health and Sanitation campaigned against cholera, and families learned about pure drinking water. From spring, well or river water was usually carried to the banga the clay drinking water jar of the home patio. Rain water, which was preferred for drinking, was fed from corrugated roofs into water tanks. Homemakers, afraid of the plague, boiled drinking water for 20 minutes, then strained it over clean cloth into a water filter or filtro. They learned that dipping drinking cups into the banga contaminated the water with germs. The prudent purchased bottled mineral modern” filtro with a water or a faucet.
Garbage disposal was another turn-of-the-century sanitation problem Leftovers were fed to animals, egg shells and fish scales used for fertilizer and seeds dried for replanting, but the stench of stagnant waste and litter perpetuated slovenliness. With regular inspection by the sanitary inspectors called Sanidad, every kitchen acquired a covered garbage can, commonly made from empty petroleum cans. The Sanidad also encouraged installation of sewerage that connected to esteros.
Even the best homes washed plates and pans in basins laid out on the floor or sometimes on a table or a shelf. Plates and utensils dried on the bamboo banggera, exposed to dust and flies. School teachers quickly emphasized “systematic and sanitary” dishwashing. Leftovers were first scraped into animal troughs or garbage cans and grease wiped off with banana leaves or paper. Two pans, one with soapy soft warm water, another with hot water for rinsing, became compulsory. Utensils and crockery were towel-dried and stored in closed cabinets.
Before long Old Dutch Cleanser, Ivory Soap and Ajax joined the shopping list. Malnutrition was combated by home economics subjects in the classroom. Housekeeping and Household Arts, a manual for elementary school girls explained, “Sickness is not punishment for sin, but it is caused by careless living… First of all, we must eat wholesome food. It is not enough to simply fill the stomach with anything which will satisfy hunger.”
With the cost of living rising faster than average earnings, particularly in Manila, children had to master prudent budgeting and marketing. In 1935, the minimum standard of living for a family of six reached P1.462, daily P0.86 channeled into three scant meals. The government minimum wage remained at P1.00.
Traditionally, the majority of families survived on rice flavored with fish and vegetables. Only clergymen, Spanish officials and mestizos dined as described by Sinibaldo de Mas, starting the day with a cup of chocolate or tea upon rising, followed by a late morning three-course breakfast with dessert. Lunch was served at two in the afternoon; a dinner of wine, biscuits cakes and sweetmeats after the twilight walk.
Most native families scrimped or borrowed money to serve “good food” on Christmas and fiestas. Their standard of nutritional value entailed gruelling hours over the kalan in an attempt to duplicate the rich man’s splendid fare. Early travellers marvelled at the sumptuous banquets prepared for them by their generous hosts. There were always 12 to 32 entrees for at least 30 guests — sarciados, galantinas, embutidos, architecturally splendid bombe, besos, rice cakes, turkey, croquembouche and escabeche.
Schools, however, injected a new measure by which to appreciate “good food” — the “balanced meal” — 7/12 carbohydrates, 1/2 proteins, 2/12 fat, with as many minerals and as much water as possible.
Native diets were deficient in tissue-building food like meat. Eggs and milk were the first meat substitutes, and later the more economical lentils and mongo. Parents realized the need for protein and did not want feeble-minded, weak-boned children. Babies were fed nothing but the recommended milk, boiled water and fruit juice for their first eight months. milk became a substitute for mother’s milk. were introduced into the native menu as morning cereals, bread, cookies and cake.
Children discovered that some green vegetables could be eaten raw. Ferns, katuray, banana heart, tomatoes, lettuce, pomelos and peppers were washed and made into salads.
Before long, school children brought home beef with dumplings, boiled corn-on-the-cob, hoecakes and Washington pie. Nutritionists published sample balanced diets embodying favorite regional recipes with cheap, locally available ingredients.
Through the microscope, domestic science students saw meat fibers and the pores of egg-shells. In time homemakers realized that health stemmed from scientifically balanced diets, not lavish preparation.
In 1893, British travellers, dining with forks, knives, plates and napkins in a nipa hut, astounded a remote Calamba village. After all, the native ate his meals squatting on the ground sometimes before a low bamboo table. The rural Filipino, using neither table, linens, towels or silverware distressed the early Americans.
In contrast, wealthy families exhibited heirloom collections of fine cut crystal goblets and decanters, pewter teapots, sterling silver flatware and trays, gold-edged china and silver toothpicks. Ladies of the Taft Commission proudly displayed mother-of-pearl and silver toothpicks given to them by a rich Cebu merchant.
Home economics included lessons in proper table setting and good manners. Little girls of average means were encouraged to sew tablecloths and napkins or to cut white o to fit their dining tables. Their brothers built tables in industrial arts classes.
Bureau of Education bulletins pointed out details for using the knife — “to cut up food and for buttering bread; it should never be put into the mouth — and fork — “it should never be overloaded.” Children were discouraged from eating with their hands.
From Grades I to VII, school children heeded a list of 13 embarrassing “blunders to avoid which included: “No. 3 Do not draw in the breath when eating soup No. 5 Do not smack the lips No. 7 Do not wipe your mouth on the edge of the tablecloth or on the corner of a regular napkin left folded on the table No 9 Do not rinse your mouth at the table and “No. 10 Do not pick your teeth or put your finger in your mouth at the They were warned, “If we are to have good table manners we must practice them daily at home; otherwise we shall feel awkward and not know how to behave at the table when we eat in the home of a friend or a stranger, at a ball, or a banquet.
Instructions also included how to eat new foods like ice cream and sandwiches. “The proper way to eat a sandwich is to hold it in the hand and bite through the three layers. Do not take the top layer only.” During class parties, girls set tables with flower centerpieces, individual glasses and silverware. Critic teachers graded student conduct and table manners.
Filipino women envied the “American way.” H.E. Heacock’s and La Estrella del Norte carried not only coffee and jelly spoons, but advertised the latest in Western kitchen and dining accessories. In the late 1920’s Philippines Free Press and Graphic advertised electric toasters, flat-irons, water heaters and thermos as appropriate Christmas gifts.
Filipino entertaining acquired new vivacity. The host spent less time with self-imposed tasks required of grande cuisine. His table offered simpler, though more nutritious and appetizing menus, allowing him more time with his guests. But the native kitchen’s transformation surpassed new kitchen equipment, dishwashing methods, menu planning and entertaining.
Education revealed innumerable latent potentials in the Filipino homemaker. She was not only cook, dishwasher and mayor domo. In Philippine Social Life and Progress Conrado Benitez, Ramona Tirona and Leon Gatmaytan described the new 1930’s mode present day homemaking is not as simple as it used to be in the days of our great-grandparents. The activities of the home have been greatly lessened. The factory, the office, commerce, the schools, have taken many of its former activities. However, the problems of the home have become very much more complex because of the demands that society makes upon it” improvement of physical well-being better child care, supervised play, wise use of leisure, maintenance of a congenial, loving homc atmosphere and better home sanitation.
As skirts replaced sayas and American fruit cocktails rivalled native matamis, the native kitchen emerged recast as an exposition of Western achievement — the planned, efficient, electric-powered kitchen.