On Mexipino Foodways: Essay & Photography

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By Rudy P. Guevarra, Jr.

Growing up Mexipino in San Diego, California, I spent a significant amount of time in the kitchen.  We had a large household that included our immediate and extended family from both sides.  Cooking food for five to ten people at any given time was a chore, but one I enjoyed.  It was one way for me to get quality time with my mother and other relatives who were spending time with us.  The kitchen was where I also learned to appreciate and cook both Filipino and Mexican food.  My teachers included my mother, tata (Filipino grandfather), abuelita (Mexican grandmother), tias and tios (aunts and uncles both Mexican and Filipino).  For me, being in the kitchen was an amazing learning experience where I heard family history, gossip and jokes being passed around while we prepared meals for our relatives. My education came by watching, listening and partaking in the joyous occasions we got to spend with each other as a family. These experiences shaped who I am as a Mexipino, but also a chef-of-sorts, as I continue to experiment with new dishes and recreate old ones I grew up learning how to cook.  I learned from my relatives over the years that dishes such as menudo, adobo, empanadas, arroz caldo, and chicharones (to name a few) have similar names in Mexican and Filipino cuisine.  As a scholar of history and Comparative Ethnic Studies I later understood these culinary intersections were the consequence of Mexican and Filipino Indio and mestizo lives and histories converging under Spanish colonialism and the Manila-Acapulco Galleon trade for over two hundred and fifty years (1565-1815).  One of the historical ties that Mexicans and Filipinos have as a result of the constant interactions during their colonial crossings is the exchange of agricultural produce, spices and other cooking techniques, that have shaped their cuisines in profound ways.

This culinary legacy shaped generations of Mexican and Filipino dishes, which continue to converge at the dinner table.  At our dinner table for example, we have varying combinations of food.  Sometimes we prepare Mexican dishes, other times Filipino.  On many occasions however, we have both, especially when relatives from both sides of the family come to visit and celebrate special occasions and holidays. Our multicultural food centered on these experiences.  The smells of soy sauce and vinegar, sautéed onions and garlic, beans and warm flour tortillas filled our home.  As a child I remember seeing finedeni or soy sauce and salsa at the dinner table when we ate.  The food varied on occasion, but it consisted of a number of dishes such as pancit, lumpia, chicken or pork adobo, carne asada, enchiladas, ceviche (kilawin), dinuguan, tamales, mole, white or Mexican red rice, beans, sotanghon, pan de sal, and tortillas (among others).   These combinations were not only common, but also delicious.  I grew up for example, eating chorizo con huevos with white rice instead of tortillas (or sometimes both).  And on the occasion when we ran out of white rice with our chicken or pork adobo, we just made tacos and burritos with the meat.  We also added salsa or a jalapeño on the side to give it some extra heat.  These sorts of combinations were normal for me, but my Mexican and Filipino friends got a kick out of how we merged the two cuisines (and they loved it by the way).  Over the years as I had the opportunity to meet and befriend other Mexipina/os, they also shared their stories of how they grew up eating similar or even different combinations of dishes.  Many of these stories are featured in my recent publication Becoming Mexipino, which illustrate how our multiethnic identities as Mexipina/os are reflected through the food we eat.  One of my interviewees for example, shared how he grew up eating burritos with bagoong inside, while another shared her story of eating mole with white rice.  Another friend I interviewed shared how his favorite dish was pancit and tamales, which he ate during the holidays.  These stories resonated with me because we all shared an experience of actually consuming our cultures as Mexipina/os, which only reinforced our identities in the communities we grew up in on both sides of the border.

This combination of food however, was not isolated to our own families and communities.  Rather, it is becoming trendy these days with the rising popularity of food trucks and fusion restaurants, particularly those that specialize in Asian/Latino cuisine.  Papalote Mexican Grill for example, offers the Mexipino burrito, which has been featured on the Food Network Throw Down! with Bobby Flay (which incidentally, beat out Bobby Flay’s burrito), USA Today, Project: Adobo and the San Francisco Chronicle to name a few.   Voted San Francisco’s best burrito in SF Weekly, it has a loyal following of hungry customers ready to indulge in the delicious combination of chicken adobo, garlic fried rice and chopped tomatoes.  It is accompanied by Papalote’s famous roasted tomato salsa.   As co-owner of Papalote and creator of the Mexipino burrito, Chef Miguel Escobedo (who is Mexican) shared his inspiration for the dish, “What inspired me to prepare Filipino adobo was the similarities with Mexican cuisine….My kids are half Filipino and I really wanted them to get involved and participate in their other culture.  Most of my close friends are also Filipino so it made my attempt at making Filipino food feel natural.”

Food trucks in San Francisco also provide another venue for Filipino-Mexican cuisine, such as Señor Sisig.  They offer a tasty combination of Mexican and Filipino food with their own line of tacos and burritos.  Mexican-Filipino fusion food trucks are also located as far away as Manila, in the Philippines with the Guactruck, which features their own line of wraps (a.k.a. burritos), burrito bowls and other Mexican-Filipino dishes.   These various examples demonstrates the popularity of the combination of Mexican-Filipino food and the ways in which this common multiethnic mix is making its way in the culinary world.  There are almost endless possibilities in how these two cuisines can come together in delightful ways, which speaks to a historical legacy of cultural exchange, interethnic mixing and ingenuity of both peoples.  It was the storytelling and imagination in our kitchens that brought significant meaning to how we experienced being Mexipina/o.  It is now becoming an experience that everyone can enjoy, one adobo taco or burrito at a time.

  — References:

Rudy P. Guevarra, Jr., Becoming Mexipino: Multiethnic Identities and Communities in San Diego (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012).

Rudy P. Guevarra, Jr., “Filipinos in Nueva Espana: Filipino-Mexican Relations, Mestizaje and Identity in Colonial and Contemporary Mexico,” Journal of Asian American Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3 (October 2011): 389-416.

Rudy P. Guevarra, Jr., “Burritos and Bagoong: Mexipinos and Multiethnic Identity in San Diego, California,” in Marc Coronado, Rudy P. Guevarra, Jr., Jeffrey Moniz, and Laura Furlan Szanto, eds., Crossing Lines: Race and Mixed Race Across the Geohistorical Divide (Walnut Creek, CA: Alta Mira Press, 2005): 73-96.

“Papalote Mexican Grill Homepage,” accessed August 13, 2013, http://www.papalote-sf.com/.

“Project: Adobo,” accessed August 14, 2013,  http://projectadobo.blogspot.com/2013/08/mexipino-chicken-adobo-by-miguel.html?m=1.

“Guactruck Homepage,” accessed August 13, 2013, http://www.guactruck.com/menu.html.

“Señor Sisig Homepage,” accessed August 13, 2013, http://www.senorsisig.com.

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