By Joaquin Carlos De Jesus
The world of cuisine greatly shapes the lived realities of people. Thus, culinary culture and history also tell us about how people before lived and what food, ingredients, and technologies proved vital for the flourishing of our civilization. For Filipinos, it is Felice Prudente Sta. Maria who is paving the way for future generations to get to know how our gastronomy has influenced our identity and shared values.
Currently finalizing her research for the first lexicon of Philippine colonial-era culinary words between 1609 and 1907, Sta. Maria’s formidable body of work as a cultural worker and culinary historian is a rich resource for current and future enthusiasts of Philippine history and cultural heritage. Among her books is The Governor-General’s Kitchen: Philippine Culinary Vignettes and Period Recipes, 1521 – 1935, where Sta. Maria gives readers a glimpse of the changing social dynamics in colonial Philippines. It received the Best Food Book and Best Designed Book awards in 2007 of The National Book Awards by The Manila Critics Circle. Her other books include The Foods of Jose Rizal, A Cultural Worker’s First Manual: Essays in Appreciating the Everyday, and Heirlooms and Antiques, which received the Best Art Book award in 1981 given by The Manila Critics Circle.
Among her several positions, Sta. Maria is also presently a trustee of the National Museum, a member of the board of advisers of the Ayala Museum, vice president for internal affairs of the Food Writers Association of the Philippines, which she co-founded.
In a career that spans 40 years, it’s a delight to ask Sta. Maria how she can sum up Filipino cuisine.
“Studying Filipino cuisines across different considerations—from the cooking, the ingredients, etcetera—reinforces that we have a very strong culture.
It supports the idea that we are innovative, that we adapt to changing surroundings, and that we nativize. We make everything that comes our way Filipino. To me, Filipino food is the world’s cuisine that seeks to bring a smile to the tummy. That’s our food!” Sta. Maria shares.