Thoughts on No Reservations, Part 2: Angeles City, Pampanga
Part 2: Angeles City / Pampanga
(end of Manila segment/ Angeles City segment)
So when I last left you, I was lamenting the Manila portion of Bourdain’s trip to the Philippines. But my spirits rose in the next segment, which by far was my favorite.
In this segment, Bourdain meets up with Claude Tayag, Pampangan chef and culinary expert extraordinaire, in Angeles City. Notorious for its red light district (due to the American military presence at Clark Air Force Base, open until 1991), Angeles City isn’t generally thought of as a necessary scenic stop in the PI, unless you’re a US war/colonialism/genocide buff and/or someone looking to get their kicks singing karaoke and bedding a prostitute.
Here are a few thoughts on how the US military presence in the Philippines, and specifically in Angeles, is presented: I appreciated how Bourdain and the producers mention this history, albeit briefly, though it was quickly dismissed as if there are still no real social issues in the Philippines that stem from this US presence. Bourdain says this US military/colonial presence began with the Spanish American War, and for someone like me who researches and writes about US-Philippine political relations, would have preferred he used the more accurate name of the Philippine American War. But hey, some bonus points to Bourdain here for at least making lip service to this history instead of brushing it off completely.
Ok, so, Tayag takes Bourdain to Nancy’s Carinderia, a hole-in-the wall where goat specialties are served. Bourdain tries goat in four different preparations: in papatan (bile soup); kilawan (sp?), which Claude describes as a “gelatinous rubbery skin thing”; sinigang (like adobo, can be made with different proteins. common element is a sour soup base made with tamarind); and finally, the goat head soup complete with eyes and brain.
This menu definitely had the potential to be made into a “weird foods” spectacle but I was happy to see that it wasn’t. Bourdain even enjoyed it all, digging into the goat head with relish to pick out the nasty bits. Claude proved to be an engaging guide here, and the rapport between them seems genuine and not awkward. The episode was looking better so far!
The next scene in Angeles is at night, and is the only real ‘going out’ scene we have in this episode– surprising for Bourdain’s track record in No Reservations, where it seems like he’s hungover half the time. Tayag and several other (unidentified) men are with Tony at Aling Lucing’s, another divey spot that lays claim to inventing sisig, that “symphony of pig parts” best enjoyed with plenty of San Miguel beer.
Is it sad to say this is the only scene were Bourdain really seems to be enjoying himself? Hate on me all you want and say he loved his entire trip… but I never really got the sense of that except for in this scene. Throughout the show, I as a viewer felt that Bourdain was going through the motions. Certainly, he didn’t actively hate his trip (see Romania and Namibia episodes for some real hate!), but his polite deference throughout was a little disconcerting. To see him dig into the sisig and “chicken butt skewers” and chatting with Claude and the other men in this scene was a refreshing change from the stilted conversations he had elsewhere in the ep.
So back to the food: When Bourdain says that this is his “come to mama moment of my trip so far” because of the sisig, I totally believe him. My own first encounter with sisig was at a bar on Timog Avenue, a popular bar strip in Quezon City (Metro Manila area) two summers ago, and the only good sisig I’ve had since then can only be eaten in the Philippines; my US-cooked counterparts hold no weight, perhaps because folks like to gussy it up with nicer pork bits instead of using the head like in the PI. The US military connection to sisig is clear- Bourdain says that Aling Lucing invented sisig to make use of the pig heads that Clark AFB used to give away in the 70s. And though that too is but a fleeting mention, I wish that the Filipino guides in the show who kept on offering reasons as to why Filipino cuisine is unpopular in the US or less “Asian” would remember this colonial history a little better.
That is to say, there is a huge difference between saying
“The Philippines has no identifiable cuisine/culture/personality because there are so many influences”
“The long history of colonialism and genocide have impacted many facets of Filipino life, from the Philippines’ political-economic dependency on the US, to its access to good pork products (instead of the ‘dirty bits’), to the large immigrant population who have to leave the Philippines to survive.”
Next up: Bourdain bougies it up with Claude in his house/restaurant/ridiculous compound in Pampanga!