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


This first-person article is the experience of Jim Agapito, host of the new CBC Radio Recovering Filipino series and podcast. For more information on CBC first-person stories, please see the FAQs.

I am an enemy: an enemy of Filipino food.

I hate sweet spaghetti, balut, and dinuguan.

There are exceptions to my rule, but I hate so much more of the dishes that I love. It 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 very important.

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

Food is at the center of all kinds of get-togethers, from casual get-togethers and picnics at the park, to epic debuts and funerals.

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

For many years, I avoided family gatherings, in part because I didn’t want to take the pressure of being cuddled and “force-fed” with food that I just didn’t like. And I didn’t want to have to explain myself all the time.

Food is love, so when you reject food, are you rejecting 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)

Know my heritage

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

But now I’m trying to find out more about my Filipino side. I do it for myself and my family. Recovery of Filipinos, my new podcast and radio series from CBC, is my quest to understand and embrace my heritage, starting with Filipino cuisine.

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

Believe me, my honesty has caused controversy within the family. I am not alone. Some family members also shared their own stories of PTSD after being forced to eat this sugary, sickly 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 WWII, the Philippines couldn’t import tomatoes, so they created an alternative to tomato sauce: banana ketchup. It’s made with bananas, vinegar, spices, and lots of sugar.

LISTEN | Pick up from Filipino Host Jim Agapito’s Quest to Understand Filipino Cuisine:

Filipino recovery27:26Fried chicken and spaghetti. How is this a Filipino love story?

Jim is not a big fan of Filipino cuisine, especially sweet spaghetti. Jim dives into the yum and yuck of Filipino cuisine with the help of expert Patricio Abinales; looks at his relationship with a popular bee; and give a hated dish another try. 27:26

Truth be told, I just can’t stand the sweetness of Filipino spaghetti. Luckily my mom doesn’t like it either, so I didn’t have to grow up eating it.

But when my cousin Kaye Galang moved from the Philippines to my parents’ house in Winnipeg in 2013, a friendly spaghetti war started. We suspect that my cousin adds sugar when my mom is not looking.

Sweet spaghetti isn’t the only food from my ancestors that I don’t like.

I refused to eat a lot of Filipino food while growing up because I am allergic to seafood. My mother and titas (aunts) didn’t quite come to terms with this fact despite my post-seafood hives and other nasty side effects. They continued to squeeze 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 am a visual person and the stews are not pretty. The appearance of the dishes does not appeal to me. Difficult pass. No thanks.

My vegetarian years

Filipinos also love their meat.

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

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

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

After refusing to eat, my lola said, “You don’t like my food, so you don’t eat,” and stormed out.

Lola tried to entice me with chicken for a decade. I held on and I think the rejection broke her heart a bit.

LISTEN | Where are the Filipino vegetarians?

Filipino recovery27:26Where are all the Filipino vegetarians?

For a decade Jim was a very bad Filipino, that is, a vegetarian. Her lola was not proud. Jim discovers the Hobbit connection and makes a meaty reveal. He navigates modern Filipino cuisine with Jeremy Senaris, of Master Chef Canada fame. 27:26

I have now come into the estimation of my family. I’m no longer a vegetarian and will eat all the fried chicken lola provides. (Today I even have a fried chicken tattoo on my thigh.)

I still have tremendous respect for all of my vegetarian friends, and I will often go for long episodes without eating meat.

Despite the common ground I now have with my family, I still can’t forget all the little knocks I endured for being herbal for so long.

Rediscover more Filipino food

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

i can’t say i’m going to eat dinuguan, aka pork blood stew, or balut, aka a fertilized duck or chicken egg, anytime soon.

I already eat my mother’s lumpia, pancitis and dessert, which I love.

Pictured left: chicken adobo. There are variations of adobo depending on the region. Adobo is usually chicken or pork (or a combination of the two) cooked or marinated in vinegar and soy sauce. Pictured right: Lumpia may contain any 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 Filipino culture and character. You grow up and realize that maybe you missed some important things.

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

Filipino recovery2:13Filipino Recovery – What Does It Even Mean?

Meet Jim Agapito. When his lola (grandmother) called him a “bad Filipino,” Jim realized she was right. Now Jim is on a mission to reclaim his culture, one conversation at a time. His mother Yolanda is his unofficial guide and main lumpia maker. 2:13

How to find Filipino recovery

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

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