Monday, 17 December 2012

The Feast

The dreams of lovers are like good wine
They give joy or even sorrow.
Weakened by hunger, I am unhappy.
Stealing on my way everything I can
Because nothing in life is free.

Hope is a dish too soon finished.
I am accustomed to skipping meals.
A thief alone and hungry is sad enough to die.
As for us, I am bitter, I want to succeed,
Because nothing in life is free.

Never will they tell me that I cannot shoot for the stars;
Let me fill you with wonder, let me take flight
We will finally feast.

The party will finally start
And bring out the bottles, the troubles are over.
I'm setting the table; tomorrow is a new life.
I am happy at the idea of this new destiny.
A life spent in hiding, and now I'm finally free.
The feast is on my path.
-Le Festin, Michael Giaccino

Every time I go to class, I feel like going to a feast. My disposition is very positive and excited. It’s not that I consider this subject as an escape from all other subjects I take this semester,  it’s just that I discover something new in every discussion that takes place in the small space of D313. I love how language was compared to grapes and wines during past discussions. Whenever we press keys on the keyboard, our fingers turn into beautiful muses dancing on a wine press in a celebration we share with our selves. Then we wait for the next celebration, for when the wine finally ferments and is ready for others.  We savor every drop of it, as we have done in the waiting, before we let it let us be who we are.

Language is one thing we celebrate everyday. Language is a feast, a smorgasbord of surprises, inviting our tongues to dwell in it—to experience it and to live it. My chef brother once told me that the number of dishes that can still be discovered is as many as the stars that can still be discovered in the sky, and that is why gastronomy sounds like astronomy. I laughed at him then, but somehow it makes sense to me now. Some dishes can make us remember happiness or sadness or fright. Some texture can scare us to death on the first encounter, some can comfort our souls in solitude, while some titillate our palates in excitement. We sometimes judge by their color or presentation before we take a bite if we even take a bite or sip at all. Some food fool us with their appearance, some surprise us with their hidden delight. Most of the time we look for something that isn’t there—that taste our tongues try to figure out in confusion.  Of course, we have our favorite dish. We expect it to taste the same but there’s a different experience every time we taste it. We also try to avoid eating it everyday, because it might lose its power over us.

There is no standard recipe for every good food, we know the taste by heart. The measures are like the language structures we have. They are there so we have something to start with. If we stick to the taste preferred by others, then we will never discover things unique to us. In my whole kinalas experience, nothing was more sensational than discovering that supping beef kinalas is best while chewing pork hopia bread at Gotobest, but I would never have discovered how wonderful this new taste was, had I not tasted kinalas or hopia before. On the other hand, I really could not tell whether the Couscous and Ossobuco really tasted as they would in Italy when I first tasted them, but my tongue loved them. 

Tasting food is art. We do not gobble down food without savoring the flavors. It is not just a pragmatic human activity—like eating in a rush lunch break or feeding on a pack of instant noodles. That is why more than eating or gobbling down, we savor our food by letting it dance with our tongue. We chew it well so flavors come out.  We chew it well so the nourishment is easily digested and absorbed. Language is like food, we may find a small piece of fish more nourishing than a plateful of sweets. We cannot live eating sweets alone, bitter herbs and vegetables can enhance our dining experience. The food can be bland but if it offers more nourishment, sooner we’ll learn to love it and our taste will prefer it. Things do change. What has been delicious before, might not be delicious tomorrow.

One thing I love about Naga is that there are lots of restaurants and eateries that offer a variety of taste and culinary experience. Pancit alone has a hundred—or even a thousand—variations; Kinalas is reinvented and rediscovered every day; and the viands have the colors of fiesta.  Compared to a fast food joint, where burgers follow what the machine has programmed, these restaurants and eateries believe that food must be made in the slow process of cooking, like boiling kinalas in medium fire for many hours. You cannot just pressure cook the kinalas, else you will lose the meaty taste embedded between bones and tendons.

This variety of taste that restaurants and eateries offer makes you want to know the place further. Nothing excites me more when going to a place than trying their delicacies and gourmet food. The lechon of Cebu, bagnet of Ilocos, or longganisa of Lucban reflect the lives of people who have shared them over the ages. No one can own the recipe of Kinalas, it is something we Naguenos share. We have our share of personal stories of Tiya Kamot’s, Tiya Ced’s or Tiya Cely’s Kinalas recipe, because Kinalas has limitless possibilities of discoverable taste. We can always add ingredients to suit our palate. We can always rediscover.

To eat Kinalas is a gathering, whether we are in Dayangdang or in Barlin or even when it is served outside Naga. We will always find a way to search for it and have conversations. Sitting in my brother’s restaurant in Sta. Mesa, and listening to the words exchanged by customers amazed me. It was like being in Naga. We are owned by our tastes, by Kinalas and by the language we speak.   

On the other hand, Sukang pinakurat tells a different story. To experience that Visayan gourmet vinegar is something sublime, that even when Datu-Puti mass-produced it, they could not copy the taste and experience. We have experiences that can never be captured, simplified nor transformed into something instant, just like an authentic emotion that can never be transformed into an internet meme. It can replicate, mutate, or transform but it will never come close to the original.

Just like language, food connects our tongues. We become friends, admirers, critics, or connoisseurs because we have the power to distinguish flavors and love the unique experience we share in dining.  
Just like gastronomy, we do rediscover language everyday as we give new meaning to an experience. Just as Chef Auguste Gusteau tells Remy in Ratatouille, “Everyone can cook”, I say “everyone can say something new”.  Language lets us discover a new dish or a new taste we can contribute to the stars we’ve known in the skies. Let’s bring out the bottles, the feast is on its way.

Kumusta? Nagkakan ka na?

Reflection paper for Philosophy of Language and Culture

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