In a year that consumed us unlike any other, here’s an intimate look at food, one of the common denominators that not only helped us survive, but taught us a few things along the way.
It took me awhile to even begin to compose my thoughts on this, and one thing is certain – the past year has certainly devoured us and stripped us of a lot of things – our headspace being one of the first casualties.
So, what does one do when there is a global pandemic, and you’re forced to stay put in your home? What do you do when the monster that is 2020 bared its fangs and chomped on you? Well, for a lot of people, apparently the answer is to fight back. How? By turning to food.
I’ve been a serious observer of our local food scene for awhile now. I thought that being indoors would limit my field of vision. But on the contrary, it became even clearer. Due to obvious reasons, home was where the action was. To be even more specific, the kitchen. To begin with, whether we knew how to or not, we had to cook – and cook some more. For most, the past year had us cooking the most we’ve ever had to, perhaps ever! This is where the saga of the food year that was begins.
Pandemic food finds
Glued to our devices, shifting between platforms as we read the local and global news, we tried to run away as far as digitally possible from the grim reportage. The more aesthetically inclined social media platforms like Instagram hypnotized us by fueling our escapism with culinary acts gone viral.
Love them or hate them, pandemic trends such as the Korean fluff ball beverage known as Dalgona coffee, the oft abused sushi bake, and the maligned ube pandesal bombarded our feeds. The biggest “crime” of these pandemic hits was perhaps being in-your-face ubiquitous, and they’re all pretty much still around. But if we’re going to be honest, they’re far from being incapable of providing some gustatory pleasure. They created things that anyone could sink their teeth into, and hit the spot. How can you go wrong?
In hindsight, I’m pretty sure these kitchen creations also gave one a sense of accomplishment – something badly needed as we wrapped our heads around the madness. We needed any source of normalcy. We agonized, we worried, we wept, we stared into space. We lost jobs, side hustles, opportunities. But we had to do something to see us through. We had to fight back. We had to (here’s another pandemic-born aggravatingly ubiquitous term) PIVOT!
The local F&B scene
The not-so-underground food economy started with a low rumble, like a jet positioning for take off. Cooking food and selling it – what a novel idea. Something you could do from the safety of your home that could put some sorely needed cash in your pocket just to help things along. Suddenly, there were cooked dishes flying out of everyone’s kitchens.
Family recipes were dusted off, to be sold to a hungry city. Experiments like the aforementioned ube bread and others were tested and marketed by enterprising guys and gals. Displaced chefs did their thing too. They were either recreating the food they’d already perfected, or spinning into entirely new directions. I even got to try and buy some food from a security guard who once worked as a cook. This proved to be a big part of my year. As someone who has always amplified my finds in whatever feeds I had, I found myself in an interesting position as all that amplification went into overdrive – trying food from the biggest of purveyors to the smallest home-based businesses who are trying to scrappily float above water.
The restaurants, meanwhile, had a lot to think about. For a time, no one could go to them. But they were able to remain open and do take away. And just like that, that became the only way the rest of us could eat from our favorite places – take-out and delivery style. Couriers got a ton of business, and they still do! Even milk tea was not spared as cravings from being locked down started hitting people hard. While this wasn’t the best way to stay afloat, these were the cards they were dealt with, and there was no choice but to roll with the punches. The battle for the folks in the F&B industry still remains to be an uphill climb with the erratic cases and constantly-changing regulations.
The brighter side of it all
Amidst all this insanity and struggles, I saw a lot of light as well. And that is what I really want to share with you: all the stories of hope and inspiration are all the things I loved most about the food scene in the year that ate us.
I witnessed the restaurant community come together in an unprecedented manner. In the beginning, there were hero chefs who started doing what they do best: feed people. They would use their networks to help with ingredients, cook until they almost passed out, and fed frontliners. At some point, restaurant owners and chefs converged, and formed groups to assist each other for whatever reason: sharing suppliers, talking about issues, even figuring out how to get a vaccine. Despite the desperate times, they found it in themselves to just help each other keep at it. I’m hoping this becomes the norm more than just because of the moment.
From the diner’s standpoint, it became a time to try food made by non-pros, using their family’s favorites as their starting point. There is a LOT of food going around, but the very best ones were truly special, and made me feel like I was sitting with them at their table, eating food they love, or things taught to them by their elders.
Pro chefs stuck at home were no exception. They started getting creative by cooking dishes that they’re not normally associated with, but because they have the time, and maybe want to experiment a bit, they just went out and did it. They were given a chance to spread their wings and fly, if only to get off the rocky ground.
From food, some lessons learned
If anything, the biggest lesson I learned from our world turning upside down is that what we need is a change in perspective – whatever that may mean in the space you occupy. In the food world, it was to see people who were your “competition” as your comrades instead–fighting that good fight alongside you in the trenches, all of you watching out for each other.
It meant seeing your family’s old recipes – the ones you might be tired of – with fresh eyes, cooking them with love and nurturing people with your food. It meant sharing yourself, your time, and your resources in the name of humanity. It meant seeing time with your family, around the table, day in and day out, as a simple blessing that not everyone had. It meant letting love lead your decisions.
We may have gotten attacked, and maybe lost things we hold dear, but remember this: we are still standing and we are very much alive. We’ve changed, we’ve grown, we’ve even achieved, and we have gotten this far. Let’s keep moving forward, albeit cautiously, and when this is all over – let’s sit down for a meal, shall we? Cheers and stay safe everyone.
JJ loves and appreciates good things - delicious food, interesting stories, compelling words, entrancing images, beautiful places, groove filled music - and wants to share it with anyone who cares to listen. He is a friendly face whorls happens to be a food enthusiast. If you want to know what to eat and where you should go, JJ is your guy.
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