Food and Memory

Manila Bulletin, April 28, 2019 | Go to article overview

Food and Memory


By LAWDENMARC DECAMORA

Before close reading Nick Joaquin's The Legend of the Dying Wanton, as a literary means of cooking it, I first asked a few questions: Why does the narrative brush with Spanish diachronicity? Am I reading a text depicting a Pieta-inspired family picture? Is Dona Ana the Virgin who sheds light on the dying Currito? Why is augury related to memory and memory to myth? Will I find a banquet scene or a feast here so that food is all over the narrative?

With "inside" memory storing precious signs and symbols, remembering food and home, the fictive kitchen that I'm proposing here all of a sudden touches modern thought and desire. Gossips, tall tales, and folk quarrels find their place in this new storehouse memory I'd like to call the sari-sari.

Like in a small town sari-sari store, so-called rumors or cheap talks could be mythicized into barrio legends or other otherworldly narratives. Furthermore, the deliberate cataloguing of food and drink, warm women, Malaga, the fountains and streets in Granada in The Legend of the Dying Wanton is welcomed by the sari-sari type of memory to interpellate the soul, "not the salvation of [Currito's] soul but the things of earth his senses had enjoyed and would never enjoy again," as Nick Joaquin wrote.

Let us consult the list of food, characters, and ways of living that cannot be decoupled from home and all memory that deems to portray the role of the sari-sari:

food & drink + warm women = Malaga

fountains & streets = Granada

cypresses & bandits = Sierra Morena

roasted lamb + shepherds + weeds + Romans = Ronda

vineyards + convents + orange & olive groves = Guadalquivir and Cordoba

Stereotyping of sites has been finally "re-sited" since cultural pollution or social nuances attached to these sites are interchanging. A traveler guising himself in other places may experience seeing and feeling these signs in Malaga, or sometime in Ronda or Cordoba. Like sites of memory, food is also expressive of its emotive relations to site that contains them and to the traveler that reads them.

He even remembered dishes and how they were cooked, which hints at the various ways of food preparation or the Filipino procedure of pagsasangkap, say, kilaw, buro, ihaw.

Currito conveys the Proustian moment with his experience of travel and dying on an island alone and helpless. The after-life odyssey seems very fitting to revisit the memory spectacle in which the soul seasons sin with food and spices, forgiveness, and salvation. …

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