How studying and cooking nourish me
Campus kitchen confidentialBy Edson C. Tandoc Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
COLUMBIA, Missouri—I love food. It nourishes me. It makes me happy.
So when I got a Fulbright scholarship to study in the
United States almost two years ago, I just had to check if Columbia had a Filipino restaurant.
It didn’t. This city, which is really hot in the summer and freezing in the winter, is small, with only about 110,000
Of course, the lack of a Filipino restaurant was not going to make me drop the idea of coming here.
The Fulbright Scholarship Program got me into the best journalism school in the world (I am being totally biased here). The Missouri School of Journalism is not only the world’s oldest, it also has the nicest and smartest people I have ever met (biased again).
To pursue my postgraduate studies and still be able to enjoy the Filipino food that I love so much, I decided to learn how to cook my favorite dishes.
I had to perfect the adobo and needed to master pinakbet. I rolled up my sleeves to prepare delicious lumpiang shanghai.
Although there is no Filipino restaurant, Columbia has a small Filipino store and a few Asian stores where I buy my Filipino soy sauce, vinegar and lumpia wrappers.
And so it is that my journey toward my doctorate degree parallels my culinary adventure.
I have learned that pork adobo tastes best with some pork fat. But the pork slices sold in stores here don’t have fat. No skin, either.
Meat without the fat
Studying here is like pork slices without fat. My program is awesome. My professors are very helpful, encouraging and smart. I get to work on some projects with them, in the process learning from them. I also teach classes. So, yes, I get the meat.
But there is only one mall (this is a university town) and I do not have a car. With buses running once every 40 minutes—and never on Sundays or holidays—there are very few places where I can go. To fight boredom, I do more work and become more productive.
So, although life is not as good as I would want it to be, without the “fat,” it is definitely much healthier.
It is difficult to find malunggay leaves here so I use spinach in my tinola. Also in my sandwiches. Sometimes in my sinigang, too. Of course, the taste is not the same.
Studying away from my comfort zone is like tinola without malunggay. It is a constant challenge to overcome missing my family and friends back home. I was not able to celebrate with my family when my brother officially became an engineer. I have missed several weddings.
It is always tough to find a good time to Skype with my parents and siblings, and with my best friend (there is a 13-hour difference between the United States and the Philippines; it will be 14 hours when daylight saving time ends in November).
So I settle for “spinach.” I have many new friends. They are adorable. They keep me sane and grounded. I write a lot of research papers with them (cool bonding moments, I must admit).
Tinola without green leaves tastes bland. Malunggay or, as I’ve discovered, even spinach, makes it more flavorful.
I could not find yema wrappers here, probably because no one makes the sweets here like I do. One time, I used yema as topping for a rice cake I made. My classmates liked it.
Studying here is like being a yema without the colorful cellophane wrappers. So you have to assert your identity. Be yourself and embrace where you come from. Here, you are different and will always be different to some people.
That’s fine. I wear my University of the Philippines centennial jacket to school. I wear shirts embroidered with the Philippine map—a different color every day.
There are some who look beyond the color of your skin and see your passion for what you do. Most people here appreciate hard work. And that inspires me. It makes me work harder and enjoy what I do.
When I quit my newspaper job, which I really loved, one of my editors teased me that people should stop going to school at some point. That was exactly how I felt when I finished college not so long ago. I wanted to do the real thing. I have been going to school since I was 3. I wanted to practice what I had learned.
But now, I realize that school can also be the real thing. It is what you make of it.
I don’t just go to school. I meet new people. I make new friends. I make lasting friendships that transcend race and distance. I research about journalism, something that I care about, and find ways to improve how we practice it. I learn new things, even if it is an old theory I had not heard before or hierarchical linear modeling. I visit new places. I discover more about myself. And I get to cook and eat the dishes that I love.
I love studying as much as I love cooking and eating. Knowledge nourishes me. It makes me happy.