One of the most unexpectedly popular article types in Manila Bulletin’s agriculture section is of agriculturally-inclined Filipinos based overseas who have successfully managed to plant Filipino vegetables in their adoptive/ new countries.
Vegetables that are taken for granted in the Philippines take on significance overseas. Table crops like kangkong and ampalaya become elevated, exotic, and expensive, if they can be found at all.
Food is the easiest way to connect to a culture. Everyday dishes, the dishes of the masses, the dishes of home, are often made from whatever was abundant (as well as whatever was the dominant culture) at the time it was invented. This could mean vegetable dishes like dinengdeng and utan Bisaya, or more recent classics like Filipino sweet spaghetti (While not technically raw meat and veg, banana catsup and red hotdog count as abundant ingredients at that time).
It is also one of the easiest ways to tap into nostalgia: no matter how old you are, eating a dish connected with your childhood will immediately transport you back to your youth. This was very well illustrated in the movie Ratatouille, where one bite of the dish the movie was named after brought jaded food critic Anton Ego back to his childhood. For someone far from home, often with little control over when they can visit or return, food can be an easy but highly satisfying way to, quite literally, get a taste of home. It’s why Jollibee does so well in so many countries. One bite of whatever your favorite dish is and you’re back in a children’s party or a mall food court in the Philippines. The same can happen with an everyday dish like pinakbet, if one can get the proper ingredients for it.
Many green-thumbed kababayans soon found that a challenging but extremely fulfilling way to get more or less steady access to common Filipino vegetables is to grow them. Seeds are bought online or from other Filipinos in the area who already grow Pinoy crops, sent from the Philippines by friends and family (not recommended as this can be considered illegal in some countries), or saved from produce bought at an Asian grocery. Growing tropical fruits and vegetables in temperate climates is hard but not impossible, though they will need extra care until they acclimatize, and maybe even after. But for all the overseas-based Pinoys we at Agriculture.com.ph have interviewed, the efforts are always worth it.
When we contemplate the “culture” part of agriculture, we realize that food is more than just something to fill our bellies. It is a tie to our culture and history. A dish can tell you about the landscape, soil and climate conditions, and lifestyle of the community that invented it, down to the specific local, regional, or global factors that led to its invention. And for the traveler stranded far away, it can, for a moment, take them home.