Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — As a child I never questioned the nature of dinuguan. I devoured first and asked questions later. It comes as no surprise that I only realized belatedly that dinuguan was made out of blood, which did not faze me one bit. Dinuguan is still the stew that I grew up with, the sour and pungent soup that would always stain my white shirts because I was a messy eater, the same stew that I always thought was this insidious potion, the same stew that I have consumed all my life. So I find it so shocking that anyone finds it weird that I’m eating blood.
Foreigners would always say that dinuguan is an exotic concept. The innards are often relegated as the dirty bits, the parts we throw away. There’s a certain sense of detachment and patronization in the way they say “exotic.” Exotic does not merely mean something is foreign to them. In modern vocabulary, it implies something that is weird, kooky, and not at par with usual standards of what is normal.
Dinuguan is not really a peculiar dish per se; it’s one that was created out of necessity, as most of our indigenous dishes are. Using pig’s blood as flavoring and incorporating acid to increase its shelf life is no foreign concept. Employed in paksiw, sinigang, dinengdeng, adobo, and other dishes, adding acid is a common way to clean and preserve food. And though the origins of the stew are not heavily documented, variations of it are.
Dinuguan is not really a peculiar dish per se; it’s one that was created out of necessity, as most of our indigenous dishes are.
In my father’s hometown in Virac, Catanduanes, they serve dinuguan in gata, and instead of pork, they use carabao meat. There’s also the dinardaren of the Ilocos region, which is drier and oilier than its Tagalog counterpart as mentioned in Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s book, “Philippine Food and Life.” In Cagayan de Oro, they use bamboo shoots and chopped intestine to make their blood stew, which they call sampayna. In Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan’s “Memories of the Philippine Kitchens,” they recount the tidtad babi of Pampanga to be thinner and soupier compared to others.
The many ways by which we cook dinuguan prove that the dish is exceedingly normal in our culinary pedagogy. It’s not a convoluted concept. On the contrary, it’s so conveniently mundane. It’s so heavily embedded in our culinary history, that it is absurd that there is such a constrained relation with it. I cannot count how many times I’ve encountered someone asking me how I could stomach dinuguan, like it’s such a foreign concept, like it was something inherently exotic.
This is by no means a jab at the people who do not eat dinuguan. What this raises is how we’ve come to view the food of our roots. We see that there’s still love in there. Love of sisig, Betamax, and isaw sold on the streets, love of the different portions of the animal that others would classify as dirt. But have we also relegated this to street food and poor man’s fare? Are we looking at our food in a semi-foreign lens?
The many ways by which we cook dinuguan prove that the dish is exceedingly normal in our culinary pedagogy ... I cannot count how many times I’ve encountered someone asking me how I could stomach dinuguan, like it’s such a foreign concept, like it was something inherently exotic.
Foreigners have long been a fan of exotic food, but not just for flavor. An example of this would be the ube, or purple yam, which has reached the hearts of foreigners here and abroad. The appreciation of ube is by no means just an appreciation of its depth in flavor, its appreciation is that of its exoticism: the odd coloration of its flesh, for example, and the weird and wonderful things it can do to normal food.
Like the foreigners that frequent P. Burgos in Makati, they look for something different, something their country cannot provide them.
This weird apprehension to dinuguan and some of our other ethnic dishes (which may include the likes of monitor lizard and crickets as ingredients) stems from this deep association with the West. Our concept of what is exotic may have been heavily influenced by their standards. In Doreen Fernandez’s article “Mass Culture and Cultural Policy: The Philippine Experience,” she mentions how the Philippines has been indoctrinated into the Western standard of living, how education and modernization has heavily influenced our integration into what is normal.
According to Fernandez, before we learn the songs of our people, we hear White Christmases and life in the big city, see Americans on our TV screens, and nurse a tongue not our own. Before we could learn to love our culture, we were taught to love someone else’s. The frogs, crickets, and snails that were eaten throughout history have become vestiges of a people we have forgotten. What was the fare of everyday has become alien to our tongues, seemingly unheard of — nonconsumable. What we call “exotic Filipino food” is not by any means a foreign concept. It is not a figure outside of our context, it is in fact the exact opposite. It is the most Filipino thing one can ever mention.
The variations of culture are deeply on rooted on environment and history. Normal is relative, its standards changing in each region, in each municipality, in each passing kilometer. Dinuguan and other “exotic” dishes should not be viewed as something in a different category, it should be looked at with a sense of sameness. It should be looked at with relative indifference. Eating pieces of intestine with the grit still intact is our normal. Consuming the deep fried crickets and mangrove worms drenched in vinegar is our normal. Eating the innards of pigs and chickens is our normal. And enjoying dinuguan, through each spoonful of cooked blood, is our normal.