Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Culture On A Plate: Hosting Parties Abroad Filipino Style

Yesterday, a friend of mine who's Caucasian, told me, "Hey!  I went somewhere on Saturday evening and I was thinking of you the whole time.  I was almost expecting you to walk in!".

Naturally I asked, "Why?  Where did you go?"

"A Filipino birthday party!", she exclaimed, and added that it was a party for her son's friend from school.

It was funny because what my friend was so excited about was the fact that there was so much food!  She said she couldn't believe the amount of food that was prepared by the hostess (who started cooking the day before the party), as well as the droves of Filipinos who attended the gathering.  

All I can say to her was, "Yep!  That sounds about right!"  

Filipino parties.  What can I say?  Expect a lot of people, a lot of food, and most likely, disposable dinnerware.  (Yes, it's unlikely to find the host busting out their best china for such gatherings as it's just not practical given the amount of guests that show up).  

And speaking of the size of the crowd to be fed, expect the food to be served buffet style.  This means, finding a good spot for eating, where you can really sit down and find a stable surface to place your food and drinks on, can pose challenges.  The dining table becomes prime real estate and securing a spot (and being able to keep it!) takes skill and clout.  Age and sex are key factors for finding a good spot for dining.  The older (elderly) people are normally offered good seats, I'm sure mainly out of respect.  Men are also generally expected to give up good spots so that women can sit down.  If you're a 'newbie' though, someone who's really considered a 'guest' at this party, as opposed to being 'family' or a frequent guest (which practically makes you 'family' anyway), you're in luck!  You will be enjoying the fruits of the world-renowned 'Filipino hospitality'.  This means the host will make sure you are sufficiently fussed over, offered food, drinks and a comfortable spot for you to enjoy your time at the party.  

The level of hospitality afforded to you may even multiply further if you are a of a different race!  We Filipinos love to be loved and hate to disappoint.  We will surely go the extra mile to make sure you are well fed!  

However, don't expect every one of us to speak English in your presence (although we promise to do our best and trust that we don't do this to be intentionally rude; just that we love telling animated stories and it's hard to do this and have to translate for you). Rest assured, we are not bad-mouthing you. We just want to have a good, relaxed time and 'feel at home' and be able to use our native tongue in this foreign land.  Surely any sensible non-Filipino guest can appreciate that and won't take it personally.  Heck, we'll even send you home with a lot of leftover food so you don't have to cook the next day! That's how much we appreciate you joining us and hope you had a good time too!

A typical Filipino spread...Egg rolls and more egg rolls (veggie egg roll, pork egg roll, fried, fresh, etc)

Of course there will be some kind of noodle dish or 'Pancit' as we call it

There may be some 'American' dishes in the mix (mashed potato, turkey, pot roast).
 But there will ALWAYS be a RICE COOKER.

A separate area is allotted for desserts / sweets.  There's just too many of them to be included in the main buffet table.

My friend seemed like she enjoyed herself at the party.  I'm happy she kept an open mind about it and though she didn't try all of the Filipino dishes, she was curious enough to remember them and did not criticize.  She even found some of them delicious.  She was also happy that she witnessed a traditional Filipino custom.  She said she saw the younger ones at the party greet the older guests or family members not by kissing them on their cheeks, but by taking the older person's hand and pressing it against their forehead.  This is what's called 'Mano' in Filipino culture.  I added that it's a way for the younger people to show respect to, and receive a blessing from, the older ones.

I felt good after hearing what my friend had to say about her experience.  And it wasn't because she had a perfect time at the party, but because hearing all the details from her, a non-Filipino, highlighted what is still very much Filipino about me in spite of my sense of alienation here in the U.S.  I've always said that I'm proud of my heritage and will never reject it.  But at the same time, I acknowledge that I'm not, or never have been, very traditional either.  In other words, there's a sense of limbo lingering and hovering about me somehow.  

I'm not American, but at the same time, not 'that' Filipino either (meaning not traditional or stereotypical).  It's been a long time since I last did the 'mano' and frankly didn't grow up doing it to most of my relatives.  We were 'kissers', more Western admittedly.  But if there is one thing that remains very Filipino about me, it's my tongue.  It's in my language and how I still feel at home speaking it to express what's deeply true about me or what's going on in my life. It's also in my taste buds, my palate, and how Filipino food is still my comfort food, soul food, just simply 'home'.

I may not subscribe to some traditional Filipino customs or beliefs.  Nor do I act or even look traditionally Filipino.  But you can surely expect me to keep cooking Filipino dishes, do my best coming up with approachable Filipino party spreads and keep serving my guests buffet style with disposable dinnerware. It's the best I can do to keep 'home' with me while I share it with precious old friends and open-minded, gracious new ones.

Have you ever attended an 'international' party, one where the host is of a different race, and the food is new or unfamiliar to you?  
How did you cope?  
Did you learn anything new about culture and diversity?


  1. This reminds me of parties when I lived in Hawaii, while it was more Hawaiian-Filipino fusion, it sounds so similar. Loved this line most of all… "But if there is one thing that remains very Filipino about me, it's my tongue."

  2. Wow!! Filipino party sounds really awesome. I had never been to such a party. Glad to see the food in large quantity. Want to host this Filipino party at one of event space San Francisco. Arranging party for the first time so quite excited.


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