“Kumain ka na ba?” It’s the question my Filipina aunties used to ask any time we walked in their house. Have you eaten yet? The answer never really mattered, nor did the time of day: sit down, eat. Sticky sweet rice with purple ube yam. Caramel leche flan and buttery ensaymada rolls. Desserts from Goldilocks down the street in our San Francisco neighborhood. Now, that I live 6 hours away (instead of 6 blocks away), I often find myself craving the things I took for granted as a kid. Why can’t delicious food magically appear the second I step through the door? Why can’t we show our love for one another through simple acts of hospitality? During those strange disorienting months of covid, I missed the warmth and gratitude of gathering with friends, family, strangers over a meal.
Last December, my brother came to visit and we decided to crack open one of my cookbooks called Memories of Philippine Kitchens by chefs Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan (it’s amazing!). The book is filled with gorgeous photos, family stories, origins of native Filipino foods and the impact of foreign cultures, and of course, let’s not forget the recipes. Adobo. Pancit. Lumpia. Yum, yum, and yum. I’ve never been to the Philippines. My mom and her brothers and sisters moved to California in their twenties, and dove into becoming “American.” But, I’ve always felt like my grandma’s and aunties’ kitchens were spaces where I could connect with my mom’s roots—my roots.
So, with nowhere to be that drizzly December day, my brother and I cooked batches and batches of ensaymada rolls. Smooth buttery dough between our fingers, gently twisting into knots and sprinkling with cheese. Watching their slow rise into puffy perfection. So simple, but every bite says welcome home. Trust me, you need to try one!
“Kumain ka na ba?”