Manitoba·First Person

I hate sweet spaghetti, balut, and dinuguan. Am I a bad Filipino?

Filipino-Canadian Jim Agapito is on a recovery mission to learn about his Filipino roots and culture in his new CBC podcast and radio series Recovering Filipino.

Jim Agapito is on a cultural recovery mission in new CBC podcast, radio series Recovering Filipino

Stew cooking, sugar at the ready and rice in hand, Filipino-Canadian Jim Agapito has struggled to enjoy the cuisine of the Philippines. (Submitted by Jim Agapito)

This First Person article is the experience of Jim Agapito, host of the new CBC Radio series and podcast Recovering Filipino. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

I am a hater: a hater of Filipino food. 

I hate sweet spaghetti, balut, and dinuguan.

There are exceptions to my rule, but I hate so many more dishes than I love. This is a problem. 

My anti-Filipino food stance has caused a lot of misunderstanding and friction within my family over the years. 

In Filipino culture, food is a very big deal.

Food is love so when you reject the food, are you rejecting the love and ultimately your culture? - Jim Agapito

Food is the focus for every kind of get-together, from casual meet-ups to picnics at the park, to epic debuts and funerals.

The number of dishes always outnumber the people at the party. There are leftovers for days. 

For many years, I avoided family gatherings, in part because I didn't want to deal with the pressure of being cajoled and "force-fed" food I just didn't like. And I just didn't want to have to explain myself all the time. 

Food is love so when you reject the food, are you rejecting the love and ultimately your culture? 

Filipino dishes include dinuguan, left, pork cooked in pig's blood, and pancit, a popular noodle dish with shrimp, meat and vegetables. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images, Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

Learning about my heritage

I was born in Canada to immigrant parents. I am Filipino-Canadian, and I have only visited the Philippines once, 31 years ago. 

But now I am trying to learn more about my Filipino side. I am doing it for myself, and my family. Recovering Filipino, my new CBC podcast and radio series, is my quest to understand and embrace my heritage, starting with the cuisine of the Philippines.

Filipino sweet spaghetti has been a mystifying part of my heritage. It's on my hate list.

Trust me, my honesty has caused controversy within the family. I'm not alone. Some family members have also shared their own stories of post-traumatic-spaghetti-disorder from being forced to eat this sickly sweet abomination.

It turns out that sweet spaghetti is inextricably linked to the history of the Philippines. The traditional style of spaghetti was introduced to the Philippines in the early 1900s by the Americans when they occupied the country. 

At the start of World War II, the Philippines couldn't import tomatoes so they created an alternative to tomato sauce: banana ketchup. It's made of banana, vinegar, spices, and loads of sugar. 

LISTEN | Recovering Filipino host Jim Agapito's quest to understand Filipino food:

Jim isn’t a big fan of Filipino food, especially sweet spaghetti. Jim digs into the yuck and yum of Filipino cuisine with the help of expert Patricio Abinales; delves into his relationship with a popular bee; and gives a hated dish one more try. 27:26

Truth be told, I just can't take the sweetness in Filipino spaghetti. Thankfully, my mom doesn't like it either so I didn't have to grow up eating it.

But when my cousin Kaye Galang moved to my parents' home in Winnipeg from the Philippines in 2013, a friendly spaghetti war started. We suspect that my cousin adds sugar when my mom isn't looking.

Sweet spaghetti isn't the only food of my ancestors I dislike. 

I refused to eat a lot of Filipino food growing up because I'm allergic to seafood. My mom and titas (aunts) didn't quite accept this fact despite my post-seafood hives and other unpleasant side-effects. They continued to sneak in seafood where they could, and I continued to push the plate away in my own act of defiance and good health.

Stews are also a big part of Filipino cuisine. I'm a visual person and stews aren't pretty. The look of the dishes don't appeal to me. Hard pass. No, thank you. 

My vegetarian years

Filipinos love their meat too. 

From age 17 to 27, I became a vegetarian and family harmony tanked.

Pictured left: Recovering Filipino host Jim Agapito, bottom centre, was born in Canada in 1980. Pictured right: Agapito with his lola (grandmother). (Submitted by Jim Agapito)

There were well-intentioned interventions. For my high school graduation and birthday in early July, my lola (grandma) wanted to do something special. She bought what she thought was the golden ticket to her Jimmy Boy's soul: a KFC fried-chicken feast. 

After I refused to eat, my lola said, "You don't like my food, then you don't eat," and stormed out furiously.

Lola tried to entice me with chicken for a decade. I stood my ground and I think the rejection broke her heart a little.

LISTEN | Where are the Filipino vegetarians?

For one decade, Jim was a very bad Filipino, aka a vegetarian. His lola wasn’t proud. Jim discovers the Hobbit connection and makes a meat revelation. He navigates modern Filipino cuisine with Jeremy Senaris, of Master Chef Canada fame. 27:26

I have now come around in my family's estimation. I am no longer a vegetarian, and I will eat all the fried chicken my lola provides. (Today, I even have a fried chicken tattoo on my thigh.) 

I still have mad respect for all my vegetarian friends, and I will often go long bouts without eating meat. 

Despite the common ground I now have with my family, I still can't forget all the little jabs I endured for being plant-based for so long. 

Rediscovering more Filipino food

We Filipinos have a love for the sweet, the fried and the ugly delicious and that's not going to change.

I can't say I'm going to eat dinuguan, a.k.a. pork blood stew, or balut, a.k.a. a fertilized duck or chicken egg, anytime soon. 

I already eat my mom's lumpia, pancit and dessert, which I love. 

Pictured left: Chicken adobo. There are variations of adobo depending on the region. Adobo is commonly chicken or pork (or a combination of both) stewed or pickled in vinegar and soy sauce. Pictured right: Lumpia can contain a vegetable, meat, pork, shrimp, or a combination. ( Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

I will, however, give more Filipino food another shot.

But that's the great thing about my quest to understand my culture and my Filipinoness. You grow up and realize you might have missed out on important things.

You begin to appreciate, or at least understand, what you rejected within your own culture. I guess that makes me a recovering Filipino. 

Meet Jim Agapito. When his lola (grandma) called him a "bad Filipino," Jim realized she had a point. Now Jim's on a mission to recover his culture one conversation at a time. His mom Yolanda is his unofficial guide and chief lumpia maker. 2:13

How to find Recovering Filipino

  • Tune in on CBC Radio One, starting June 28 at 11:30 a.m. across Canada. New episodes will air Mondays at 11:30 a.m. throughout the summer, and on Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m. AT, 8 p.m. NT).
  • Listen anytime on cbc.ca/recoveringfilipino.
  • Follow us on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts.
  • Join the conversation at #recoveringfilipino.
  • Send us an email.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jim Agapito is a Filipino filmmaker from Winnipeg. Jim writes, boxes, takes photos and sings in a punk band.

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