As a teenage exchange student in the Southern Philippines, I quickly learned that food is more than just food: food is love. Go ahead and refuse a Filipina hostess’s hospitality by turning down her food, and wait for the evil stink-eye look that tells you you may as well have spat right there on her kitchen floor. When you enter a home in the Philippines and you’re offered food, you sit. You eat.
Maybe it’s because of my time in Davao, or the fact that my dad, raised by a southern woman, was always a gracious and generous host, but when you enter cross my threshold, you’re immediately going to be offered something for sustenance, even if only water, tea or coffee, and woe to me if I can’t muster up a warm cup of home-made soup or a plate of cookies. I can’t imagine not feeding a guest. certain if that if I did forget, I’d feel the virtual glares of my female ancestors searing down from on high.
Here, in Panama, they don’t seem to take the ‘food equals love’ equation quite as personally as the Filipinos did when I was there. Still, preparing nearly all daily meals is part of most every household’s regular routine, and it has a communal aspect.
In our little barrio, we women folk are endlessly sharing the fruits of our kitchens and gardens. It’s common to see one of us ladies shuttling down the street to a neighbor’s house with a covered platter or, more commonly, a recycled plastic food container filled with something just-off-the-stove.
Not everyone has an oven and with gas is purchased by the tank, baked goods are rare and usually supplied by me. This is good for neighbor relations as anything out of my kitchen seems a welcome surprise. Recently, one neighbor lady turned up with a styrafoam plate arranged with freshly cut fruits. She also gave me a recycled jar filled with a very fine “Plantain Flour” her husband had ground from a bunch of plantains I’d given them from my back yard. I use this aromatic, powder to make a hot drink for William’s breakfast, adding milk, honey and vanilla. Another neighbors keeps me in a half dozen freshly laid eggs –never white here in Panama, and often shades of pastel. Mr. Fermin brings me gigantic, sweet Chirimoya fruit, in the silent hope I’ll turn him out some warm bread pudding.
For me, there’s nothing more comforting that a busy kitchen spilling over with pots and pans and food and love and life. Nothing. Nothing pleases me more than being able to offer my son’s friends, or someone just stopping by, a bowl of home-made soup or a slice of fresh banana cake.The kitchen is, officially, my “office.” It’s where I want to be and where I want everyone I love to gather. Come into my kitchen. Bring me your good news, bring me your woes, and bring me your appetite…
…I will fix it all for you, with love and butter.