Updated: May 13, 2021
As humans we take food for granted. We don’t think about the significance of how the food was prepared, where the food grew from, and who created the recipes we’re cooking. Google has any recipe you want at the tip of your fingers but no real context as to where it came from. Who’s Mama or Papa made it first. At Moxy we want you to be able to slow down. To let us prep the bulk and gain nuanced skills it takes to create tremendously stellar dishes. To bring you back to what comfort food is and why it can be so comforting. So you can just learn and enjoy. Share food with your partners, friends, family, or even give just yourself a moment of reprieve.
I chatted with Catherine Manabat over coffee, sitting in the sunshine at Roebling Point a couple weeks back. Being the extremely passionate human I am, Gene and I were stewing over this idea of bringing more story back into food. When I first truly met Catherine was during our Pop-Up at Homemakers for Mardi Gras. Gene had made traditional Red Beans and Rice and house made Po Boys; while I couldn’t stop talking about Fasnachts and how excited I was to pair them with their absinthe fat washed chocolate cocktail--it was delicious by the way. These little nuggets of lard donuts covered in sugar each year bring me so much joy and cultural pride in the small farm town where my German ancestors found solace. I think Catherine recognized that excited, frantic passion and began matching my own enthusiasm of food with her own. After dropping mention of a few dishes she loved to prepare at home, I decided she would be the perfect person to ask to interview.
As I poked around asking my list of questions, our conversation veered in such a beautiful organic fashion that can’t quite be replicated. She LOVES food. It was ingrained in her at such a young age from the necessity and significance that her filipino family gave it. (For those who are a little shaky on the background of the Philippines, it is a cluster of islands residing in Southeast Asia. In quick summation, they were colonized by the Spanish in 1543. Much of their culture began to be muddled by the 300 year rule of the Spanish in the Philippines. After a power shift by the United States, finally they gained independence in 1946. It is an island type climate with the majority of the time being hot and humid.
Growing up in Southern California, she described it being difficult due to the fact that she doesn’t necessarily have the features or skin tone that has been stereotyped for asian cultures. Many thought her to be latinx due to how close Southern California is to the border of Mexico. It took until her brothers with more discernible “asian” features to mention “Hey that’s my sister,” for the rest of her school’s asian community to welcome her into the fold.
One of the notable things she described was just how much easier it was to gain friendships with those who were also from asian descent. Their homes smelled similar and the dishes they ate were of similar construction. It was easier to feel more comfortable and at home while visiting these friend’s homes versus the latter.
Food though was the love language of her mother. She described holidays with large amounts of family and how it's a cardinal sin in a filipino home to run out of food. Her mother would make pancit specially for each child’s specifications, because even the little differences were little love letters she’d be able to write to her children. Catherine’s mother would even jokingly ask when she went over to a friend’s home that wasn’t filipino descent--what did they cook? What did it look like? Did they really not stack the table with food and dishes? Then she began recalling exactly what food made her heart swell. Let me tell you after researching and diving deep into cookbooks and recommendations of Catherine’s personal favorites, I agree with her.
The food is just stunning. It has such a comforting feeling to it. It’s not overly complex, just layers and layers of flavors. More importantly when she cooks and her mother cooks for her it is love. Pure unedited gifts of love. Food means the most when its roots lie in creation for the sake of love.
Catherine’s favorites include:
Lumpia, an insanely delicious crunchy type of spring roll. We’ve made the classic version with the star being pork, carrot, and onion.
Pancit Bihon, a stir-fry dish with extremely skinny rice noodles. Many different asian cultures call these the longevity noodles. They are usually to celebrate a birthday or the new year. Each pack of noodles are one singular strand of noodle. You never cut the noodle for that derives bad luck. Ours is made with confit chicken (a small variation that I think enhances the flavors), stir fried cabbage, carrot, garlic with a great amount of chicken stock and soy sauce.
Chicken Adobo, a seared, crispy skin chicken dish that reduces down garlic and soy sauce into a saucy glaze.
Ube Ensaymada, a soft simple pastry filled with ube halaya, topped with sugar, butter, and edam cheese. Ube is a popular purple yam that is slightly nutty in flavor and emits baking spice notes. This dessert is extremely similar to that of the idea one eats cheese and bread as their finishing course. It muddles the lines between sweet and savory.
Catherine’s Breakfast: Of any of these dishes this is the one that stood out to me the most. Describing something that I could understand: not coming from a lot of money. There were things that were cheap that you ate growing up that maybe at one point you were ashamed of. Spam over garlic fried rice, Catherine describes as hands down her favorite food her Mom will make her. Filipino families after eating dinner tend to leave the food out on top of the stove to be eaten throughout the night or the next day. With the amount of vinegar and preserved items one isn’t concerned about whether or not it’s “Serve Safe” within the home. With leftover rice her Mom would make garlic fried rice with egg and fried spam. Being ashamed of eating Spam at a younger age, she expressed how silly she thought it was. Spam is delicious. It’s just a cured meat product that the can tends to stray people away. Catherine is right though, sometimes food that looks strange just tastes oh so much more satisfying.
It was an honor in interviewing this wonderful woman. She is a pillar in the community and I admire her strength, passion, and tenacity in everything she does. I wish her the best of luck in all endeavors for her life, but in the meantime---enjoy a kit that’s reflective of Catherine’s specific Filipino-American experience. I hope that in our prepping of this kit and your actual preparation of it home, you’ll get to taste the years of culture and love that was made into creating these culturally significant dishes.