Multicultural Food Musings…


On the left, is Isabel Paz Mendoza, my paternal grandfather’s mother. She’s dressed in a traditional terno and draped with a shawl, which has come to be recognized as traditional Filipina dress. On the left is Ella Shaw Kekuawela my maternal grandmother’s grandmother. She’s wearing what we basically call a mu’umu’u but might actually be a holoku which is a predecessor to the mu’umu’u as it has a tighter collar.


Whenever I read about the history of a particular neighborhood, city or country- I’m absolutely fascinated. I’m particularly fond of New York City history, Hawaiian history and Filipino history under Spanish colonization. I can read about those topics for hours, and impress people by mentioning factoids and trivia at cocktail parties to seem more interested and interesting that I actually am.

My most favorite history to research is my own. And by that, I mean my ancestry and genealogy. While the databases available is invaluable, there are plenty of open loops that need further work to determine if they can be closed or will remain open. Some of these open loops go back as early as three generations, and some of them go back to the reign of Henry VIII. I’ve discovered English, Scottish and Chinese ancestry- with those ancestors in the distant past- and some family legends that need to be debunked because my maternal Grandfather’s past is a mystery.

To answer a question many folks ask of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic folks I identify as a Native New Yorker of Kanaka Maoli (native Hawaiian), Spanish  (mother) and Filipino (father) ancestry.

Which makes my culinary culture pretty darn eclectic. New York Regional, Local Hawaii Regional, Hawaiian, Spanish and Filipino foods… I can picture the five course meal:

  • Appetizer: Roasted ulu (Breadfruit, Hawaiian)
  • Soup: Tinola (Filipino)
  • Lemon Sorbet palate cleanser
  • Salad: Waldorf Salad (New York Regional)
  • Honeydew cube palate cleanser
  • Entrée: Paella de marisco (Spain)
  • Dessert: Chocolate Haupia Pie (Local Hawaii Regional)

Hmm…. this sounds like a pretty good five course menu. Maybe I’ll break it down by course over the next few weeks.

I don’t know how I feel about the idea of “fusion” cuisine. Some fusion dishes I’ve seen and tasted could be a big hit (Spam Musubi) a huge miss (“Asian Chicken salad anything) or something that tastes good to me, although I just really wish I never looked up the ingredients (Filipino Spaghetti).

I think what I find the most problematic about “fusion cuisine” is when an ethnic group’s name is slapped across a dish with one or two arbitrary ingredients. Like the pizza that is called “Hawaiian Pizza” because it has a piece of pineapple and ham on it. Pineapple isn’t even indigenous to the Hawaiian Islands. Pfft. That gets on my nerves. But that’s also connected to a very long cultural commentary that I don’t want to get into at the moment.

Personally, for true “fusion” it should be comprehensive- taking into account the history of the food being prepared, the ingredients and complimentary flavors, and the methods of cooking. For instance, using the traditional Filipino adobo marinade to flavor pork and wrapping it up in taro leaves and banana leaves and allowing it to steam cook is much more fusion than just wrapping already cooked pork adobo in a blanched taro leaf and expecting people to woo over it. Fusion is an opportunity to be creative and innovative with food, not lazy and slapping names on things.

Funny, I started out writing this post with the intentions of paying tribute to these women you saw in the photo above. And I think I’m holding true to that tribute. My Great-Grandmother Isabel and Great-Great-Grandmother Ella lived during times when their respective homelands were going through many changes, and they were still expected to manage the home and kitchen and childcare. I guess during that time of fusion in their homelands, they had to be industrious, creative and innovative. I never had the opportunity to meet them, as they both predeceased my birth- but I’m certain that they were women of strength if everything I have today stands on their shoulders.

Okay. I’ll be industrious, innovate and creative and test kitchen some ideas and report back.












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