Yesterday, I attended the best cookbook event ever. Book signings are now more a professional obligation than a fun diversion, but I'm very glad I stopped in at the Bayanihan Community Center to see Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan. This wasn't your usual book event. Grandparents brought their grandkids, and Tagalog was spoken unabashedly. The tastings were generous--I enjoyed thirds on those adobo ribs--and there was much laughter in the air. Their discussion and demonstration were a powerful reminder of the way sharing recipes, memories, and food keep a community together over time and distance.
Amy and Romy's book, Memories of Philippine Kitchens, has been years in the making, and once you open the covers, you undertand immediately the amount of time and effort that went into gathering the stories. It's a rare example of a cookbook that encompasses geography, politics, culture, oral history, and excellent recipes in a book that is as beautiful as it is generous and loving. Publishers Stewart, Tabori & Chang did an excellent job with it; they allowed Amy to include the region's complex history, a multitude of photos, and a voice centered in her own community's experience rather than bent toward explaining her cuisine to non-Filipinos.
The book has sold out in nearly every store around the world, from Manila to London to San Francisco. Managers tell of readers standing in their store aisles, crying over the book. Its deep resonance with the Filipino diaspora speaks of the need for this book. Long overdue, Memories of Philippine Kitchens is the harbinger of a wider appreciation of a much misunderstood cuisine.
The husband and wife team opened their restaurant, Cendrillon, in Manhattan in 1995. Amy had fled Manila just weeks before martial law was declared in 1972, and in their youth, they were activists in the international Phillipines political movement. Romy's passion for food, however, led him to work in restaurants. It wasn't long before they decided to open their own restaurant highlighting Southeast Asian cuisines and then, of course, to begin writing this book.