My mother still does not know how to cook—she doesn’t have to because my dad does.
My father learned how to cook from his grandmother. He is the oldest of seven siblings and had to be a surrogate father to them, as their own father was kidnapped in the Philippines and never found again.
My mother, Marisa, also has seven brothers and sisters, but when she was six months old, she was sent to live with an aunt who could not have children of her own. Ama Perla was an independent woman who had acres of copra farms in the province of Bulan Sorgogon. (Copra is the kernel of the coconut from which valuable coconut oil is extracted.) She believed in the power of education and business so that our family members could support themselves, and the successful stores she operated allowed her to hire maids and cooks, so my mom never set foot in the kitchen.
It was Ama Perla’s dream for my mother to attend medical school in Manila, becoming an OB-GYN, and then move to the United States, a land of opportunity. But she missed having a child, so I was sent to live with her until I was three years old. Even after I returned to live with my parents, she was the biggest supporter of my dreams. I wanted to be a singer. My father never approved of the arts as a profession. Although I led the choir department in high school, and won awards and competitions, he considered these things to be a waste of money that we could be spending towards the debts of the family. My mother wanted me to become a pharmacist or a lawyer. She believed that a woman better make her own money and not depend on anyone else, also conveying a kind of reverse traditional philosophy—that a professional woman should find a man who would handle domestic chores such as cooking, like my dad did. But Ama Perla kept pointing out my talent and passion for music, and she funded any summer program that offered me an application, then financed my college degree.
(Grandma Adela, Aunt Marie, sister Maxine, Ama Perla, and me)
My biological grandmother Adela is an amazing cook who taught me how to make my first pot of rice at age 11. A gift of an Easy Bake oven opened the world of burnt fingers to me, but I was hooked. I think she was disappointed that her own daughter took no interest in the culinary arts, and grateful that she could pass on her skills to me. She was the one who was health-conscious enough to empty our pantry of any products with MSG. At the time, I thought she was evil for throwing away our favorite snacks and was wasting our money. Now I thank her every day for the discipline she taught us. One day I will open a restaurant based on the recipes of my grandmother and my father.
My mom became my chaperone for choir competitions and a huge supporter of my music, fully accepting that it is my destiny. We bond over American Idol and singing competitions. We are so much alike in temperament, both stubborn with short tempers (tiger moms are so real). Although she has a unique perspective about a woman's traditional place in the kitchen, she is very conservative in much of her thinking, something I am trying to change. I do know that I can come to her with almost any question, and she will answer in both a professional and a maternal way.
But it's Dad's soup that I crave.
Monique Magpayo is is a member of the musical group The Royal Mangos and can be found @ayyomomo.
1 T. vegetable oil
1 lb. boneless pork butt, cut into pieces
1 medium eggplant, peeled
1 daikon radish, peeled
1/2 lb. baby bok choy
1/2 lb. green beans
1 package Knorr tamarind soup base powder
1 jalapeño or any chile, left whole or cut in half for more heat
salt and pepper to taste
green onion, chopped
1 lemon, or more to taste
Heat oil in a large pot, and brown the pork on all sides.
Discard excess fat, and set aside.
Cut eggplant, radish, onion, tomatoes, bok choy, and green beans into bite-sized pieces.
Bring 8 c. water to a boil.
Add tamarind soup base powder and pork.
Let the water come to a boil again, then lower heat and cook until meat is tender.
Add vegetables, jalapeño, salt and pepper, and bring to a boil again.
Serve with green onion and lemon juice.
(Tilapia fish fillet may be substituted for the pork.)