Travel operator Clang Garcia launches book on regional cuisine
There’s a lot to be said about Filipino food, so much, in fact, that Clang Garcia was inspired to write a book about her dining experiences through her travels as operator of Jeepney Tours, and as an officer of the Philippine Tour Operators Association (Philtoa).
The book, Food Holidays Philippines, offers a glimpse not only of the breathtaking sights that the country has to offer, but also the unique Filipino culinary culture found in the different regions. Garcia carefully curated the book to show 25 gastronomic destinations and 15 heirloom recipes altogether. This homage to lolo and lola’s homecooked cuisine was written with the help of Filipino food experts such as Ivan Henares, who writes about his childhood memories of Pampangueno feasts; Anson Yu, who shares Binondo’s culinary gems; Ige Ramos, who expertly expounds on Cavite’s cuisine; and Marilen Fontanilla, who writes about cosmopolitan Manila. The book, therefore, essentially serves as a guide to planning an eating itinerary for Davao, Iloilo, Dumaguete, and Quezon with tips on where to stop for your next meal.
Ever the tour guide, Garcia highlights several points of interest while walking about Fort Santiago for her photo shoot for this cover story.
“I’ve been in the business for 22 years,” she explains. “My first exposure to tourism was working for Mabuhay, the PAL inflight magazine, back in 1994.” She has since grown to love the industry, even putting up a tour company that offers beyond-the-usual packages, including the use of a “tour jeep”—an air-conditioned jeepney that even has a videoke machine.
It was during her travels that she hit upon the idea of publishing Food Holidays. “I feel that our cuisine is
underrated and I would like to give due justice to it. I grew up in the kitchen of my grandmother where I witnessed the laborious process of preparing food with such dedication and precision of ingredients to achieve splendid flavors. There was so much respect and integrity in the food that is missing now that almost everything is instant. As we do that, we lose the integrity of our culinary heritage, and that’s what the younger generation will be exposed to.”
Through the publication, Garcia says she wants to present our edible heritage and document heirloom recipes, “otherwise it will be buried with the cooks when they depart this world. I hope it will start a ripple effect.” She adds that food is good for tourism. “It is easy to seduce anyone with food. The marriage of ‘food’ and ‘holidays’ are universal love languages that cut across the market segments. I believe it will be the best way to lure the global market to visit the Philippines.”
Her book is a labor of love. “In the beginning, there was a big challenge in orienting people about what I want to happen. It is a good thing that there were inspiring individuals who stepped up and passionately shared their heritage and everything they know. The co-authors were chosen based on their credibility and passion for revealing the gems of culture in their respective place of pride.”
Another challenge is choosing and curating what to feature, with more than 7,100 islands offering their own interesting contributions to culture. “There has to be a sense of authenticity in the choice of cuisines and stories to be featured. Being a tour operator, I also have to filter the destinations that are tourism-ready.” It is not enough that there is a touted dish for the province, she adds, “It has to be itinerary-based, where people can go around and follow a trail. The essence of tourism is to share the blessings of creating economic activity in every destination.”
Even with more than two decades of being immersed in the industry, she says she always finds surprising things when on tour. Researching for the book was no exception. “I was really blown away by the diversity of flavors, cooking techniques, and creativity per region. I feel so honored to have discovered all that. I am always on the verge of tears, every time I discover a sensational dish. I want to celebrate all that in every page of the book—and I am just starting. There’s even more to cover!”
She cannot do it alone, she admits, and appeals the government to conduct a comprehensive research and documentation on heritage cuisine. She suggests, “We also have to empower local communities to prepare authentic dishes in their purest form, using the right ingredients and following the right process of cooking—no cutting corners! We also have to patronize our endemic ingredients, otherwise, our farmers will stop planting them.”
She says ordinary Filipinos can do their part in spreading the advocacy of Filipino food too. “Ask yourself: What are the flavors that you grew up that you remember with so much fondness? What is the story of your grandmother? Look back, be curious and observant. Keep on cooking your family recipes and pass it on from one generation to another.”
There are challenges in the growing tourism industry in the country, where Garcia observes, “Being an archipelago, there will always be that concern of connectivity to travel from one point to another. In Manila, it’s the clogged airports and unacceptable traffic condition. There should be a serious investment on information and communications technology to boost the productivity of government and service sectors.”
She has also noticed what she calls the lack of sensibility on the culture of passion for excellence, precision, resourcefulness and speed. “Filipinos are very nice, charming and hospitable but that is not enough. We have to equip ourselves with competitive skills. With the unprecedented growth of the tourism industry, there have been big investments on the accommodations sector. However, the investors do not pour in sufficient funds to extensively train their people and that is the sad part about it. You see fantastic resorts yet the experience is very poor, which ruins your stay. What we need to understand is that tourism is all about creating wonderful memories.”
All that said, she says that it really is More Fun in the Philippines. “Because we are naturally fun people. I remember one of our guests who said, ‘It’s only in the Philippines where I feel the sincerity of smiles, and I always leave with new friends.’ The Philippines is blessed with 7,107 stunning islands and diversity of attractions—here, you get to choose your adventure.”
MAAN D’ASIS PAMARAN