Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Suez Canal: Dr. José Rizal and his Padalas

Another effect of the shortened time and travel distance through the Suez Canal from the Philippines to Spain is the accessibility of trade goods. For the expatriate community like Rizal, trade goods can only mean padala of specialized Philippine food. This must be understood  by examining three things:

Scene Rizal must have seen entering the Suez Canal from the Red Sea.   Today's scene:  August 2011.

1.  The Filipinos in Spain are always hungering for Filipino food. No doubt about that.  In fact whenever they have get- togethers, they most often serve Filipino dishes: lechon, pancit, adobo.

2.  The opening of the Suez Canal shortened the time for food transport.  It has become easy to have neatly packaged and air-tight-sealed native delicacies not to spoil and prolong its travel- life.

3.  And most importantly, today, as it was during Rizal's time, the Filipino syndrome of padala was a common trait.

Let's peek into one of Rizal's letters.  Reporting on political doings and proposing social solutions within their circle--the Circulo-hispano filipino in Madrid, in the next paragraph he suddenly goes left field into a request for food!!!
...Sanciangco going there and plans to return very soon. If you want to send me something, through him, you can do so, such as ...sweets, jellies, bagoong, pickled mangoes, tamarind...
   In-house stories tell (source: my father who heard his uncle Dr. Maximo Viola relate this story) that Rizal's bagoong clay jar broke during the passage at the Suez Canal. The sustained stink it created, mixed up with the salty-desert air, must have contributed to the erosion of the 2,500 year old sphinxes that lined the river Nile banks.

Meanwhile, Rizal is undaunted. In another instance, through Paterno this time, Rizal's bagoong was prepared air-tight and sealed properly. We know this because of another letter thanking them for their food padala and more request for various food igredients.

In one of Saturnina's letters, she complains that fruits are so scarce that she was not able to make preserves. However, she's sending him guava jellies instead. She adds that "through the next one who will go there" (of course through padala), she  ordered hand-woven piña embroidered handkerchiefs from Lipa.

We also learn that Rizal, paying court to Consuelo Ortiga y Perez, (the lovely daughter of Don Pablo Ortiga  the house owner where the Circulo hispano-filipino is held) gave a present of hand-embroided piña handkerchiefs.

Rizal receives (through padala parcels that he orders) all  kinds of noodles, (he must be cooking pancit), and esoteric Filipino ingredients  like "angkak" not available in Madrid.  What is that for?  I wonder if he must be preparing a lot of "buro" food!!!

It's interrelated: the opening of the Suez Canal and the exporting of specialized gustatorial support for the Filipino expatriates in Europe.