We call them SuToKil foods now, done the sugba-tola-kilaw way — grill, boil, cook in acids — but they are what food anthropologists may call “virgin dishes” the ones that supposedly go untouched all the way to prehistoric society, offering clues as to how life was in the past.
These are the foods that the cavemen must have enjoyed: Sugba, when he discovered the thrills of meats subjected to fire; Tola when he bled out the flavors of meats by boiling them in water and Kilaw, when he simply cooked the meats in acids without fire.
Food as key to the past? Imagine your great grandmother in the farm, cooking the fish she just bought from the passing hawker: throwing it to the boiling water for tinola the men working in the fields will have for breakfast.
Or your grandfather grilling pork from newly-slaughtered boar he had slain during the hunt, up there in the mountains, before the logging concessions cleared the trees and drove the animals away.
These are really simple dishes, prepared with a minimum of fuss and the barest of ingredients, usually just salt, and maybe pepper, and that’s it, to better highlight the flavor of the meat, or fish. Don’t look now, but the utter simplicity of these should stand out in the sauce-soaked dishes of the world.
Indeed, each bite into a SuToKil food should remind us of our past, and inevitably, of who we really are: a people blessed with easy resources and an even easier life, except that something terribly wrong happened along the way. We started looking at other peoples’ way with food and thought theirs was the better way.
Thus, we became a people living in the tropics who love ham and cheese and wine, foods that other cultures developed out of their own unique circumstances and necessity. While we could very well afford the luxury of having fresh chickens cooked within the hour they are slain, we go for chicken ham loaded with preservatives and other artificialities. And boy! Can we drink wine in the noonday heat, and humid nights, oftentimes in our stifling formals. While we are at it, haven’t you noticed how we’d rather go for grape concentrate than kalamansi, or perhaps, kamias juice which are fresh, natural and laden with more vitamins and nutrients?
The truth is, our fascination with the western treatment of food, usually drowning them in sauce and other trickeries have practically hidden the true taste of meats and fish. Tell me: when was the time you ate chicken that really tasted uh, chickeny?
Something about our skewered food system, sourcing and storage and our unmitigated colonial mentality have made us drop our own ways with food in favor of foreign methods. Instead of taking full advantage of the blessings of the nearby sea which can give us fish fresh daily, and the backyard garden where we can pluck our salads, we prefer frozen foods and try to compensate for the lost flavors by drenching them in spices, condiments, and those so-called magic cubes.
If you get down to it, SuToKil is a culinary legacy that we should promote. It is part of who we are and what we are. It is heartening that it has even moved on out of our home kitchens and streets and has gone on to the restaurant circuit, in such places as Diotay’s, Old Pala-pala, Konting Kuskos.
This must be written in our DNA, such that no matter the onslaught of foreign tastes and ideas, no matter how much we flirt with other cuisines, we keep going back to our kitchens and do SuToKil!.*