What did General Aguinaldo like to eat? Pinangat na isda and camote tops 2
The main dining room of the Aguinaldo Mansion; portrait of the General as a zacatero; digital reconstruction of the Malolos dinner menu.
Food & Drink

What did General Aguinaldo like to eat? Pinangat na isda and camote tops

How the country’s first president’s fondness for Filipino food tells us about the role food and food production played in nation building. By IGE RAMOS
ANCX | Jun 12 2020

Aguinaldo was already an astute young businessman when he joined the Katipunan. His parents taught him the value of hard work and money. The family owned a small steamship that sailed around the islands of Mindoro and Panay, procuring and exchanging produce and light merchandise.

His father, Carlos Jamir Aguinaldo, was a fishpond and land owner whose ancestors were Chinese settlers who married the local indegenas and who introduced the making of salt (sal de Sangley). Salt beds are known in Kawit as irasan. He was appointed municipal governor of the Cavite El Viejo, the present-day Kawit, in the 1860s. His mother, Trinidad Famy, was a feisty Tagalog Chinese mestiza who was known in the neighborhood as kapitana. The couple had eight children, with Emilio being the seventh.

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Pinangat na bisugo sa kamatis, burong manga, chicharron on rice; one of the few remaining saltbeds (irasan) in Kawit.

According to Angelo Jarin Aguinaldo, his Lolo Miong’s diet wasn’t as elaborate as we would like to think. In fact, he preferred to eat very simple food like pinangat na isda sa sampalok at kamatis (steamed fish with tamarind and tomatoes) with just small servings of rice. As a child, Aguinaldo was very impatient and always liked his food prepared quickly and unadorned. He also enjoyed eating steamed camote tops dabbed with a little bagoong, and his favorite fruit was the chico. This food perhaps shaped his character, so when the revolution occurred, he was prepared for a life of danger and frugality.

In the Aguinaldo Shrine’s museum, an ingenious picnic kit is displayed containing a foldable table, cutlery, plates, saucers, and beakers. This same picnic basket was used during their time spent as fugitives from the Americans. When a semblance of peace was established, Aguinaldo also brought this set each time he visited his estate in upland Cavite.

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The General’s picnic kit on display at the Aguinaldo Shrine.

Since most of his household staff originated from Iloilo and Negros, he became fascinated with Ilonggo cooking. Among his favorite dishes was steamed white chicken stuffed with tanglad (lemongrass) and asparagus. He also brought home to Kawit plant ingredients such as tanglad, langkawas (galanggal), alugbati (Malabar spinach), and batuan, a souring agent popular in Negros and Iloilo, and known only in the Visayas. These he managed to successfully propagate in Cavite.

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A wide-angle view of the main hall with General Emilio Aguinaldo with his wife, Maria Agoncillo. Photo by Shinosuke Furuya taken in 1932

If you have the opportunity to visit the Aguinaldo house in Kawit, make a special request to the guide to take you inside the kitchen, which is normally off-limits. The highlight of this room is the wood-fired, eight-burner cooking stove-oven-boiler with the General’s name emblazoned on the door. It was assembled during the renovation of the mansion which took place at the height of the American occupation between 1919 and 1920. Together with the cooking stove, there is an icebox that used imported dry ice from Boston.

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The General’s eight-burner cooking stove-oven-boiler.

In 2018, to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines - Museo ni Emilio Aguinaldo, Museo De La Salle, and IRDS-Republic of Taste Food Network collaborated to create Sinag: Tracing Emilio Aguinaldo’s Palate.

Sinag is a chronological infographic exhibition (now available to view here) that uses elements related to cuisine, natural heritage, and landscape of the country’s first President and his relationship with food that connected him to places during various stages of his life. The author of this article worked with the students of the Graphics and Multimedia Department of De La Salle University-Dasmariñas to develop the infographics based on Aguinaldo’s nationalist iconography and symbols. The sun in the Philippine flag is used as a framework to demonstrate the role of food in nation building and the search for national identity. The creative collaborators in this project believe that infographics has the power to communicate concepts and ideas immediately in the digital age.

Click on the arrows for slideshow

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PLATE 1. MULTI-CULTURAL BACKGROUND. “Himself speaking, the General defines his background: provincial, petite bourgeoisie, landed gentry, small enterprise, conservative and official. The vara de mando, or staff of authority, resided with the family.” — Nick Joaquin. A Question of Heroes.

PLATE 2. KITCHEN. “The native synonym for ‘cooking space’, recorded in the 1935 Tagalog vocabulary prepared by Franciscan priest, Domingo de los Santos, is pagsasaingan (the spot where rice is cooked). — Felice Prudente Sta. Maria. The Governor-General’s Kitchen Philippine Culinary Vignettes and Period Recipes 1521-1935. 

PLATE 3. BOTANICAL LANDSCAPE. “A major catalyst in the changing landscape of Cavite was the coming of the first colonialists—the Spaniard, represented by their zealous missionaries and bureaucrats who brought not only new idea and concept, but also a great number of crops. The transshipment of goods to and from Acapulco (Mexico) and Manila, via the Galleon de Manila which started in the later part of the 16th century up to 1815, undoubtedly transformed the thriving peninsula into a melting pot of all nationalities.” — Isagani R. Medina. Cavite Before the Revolution (1571-1896). 

PLATE 4. REVOLT AND THE CROPS OF OPPRESSION. “As the nineteenth century ended, economic and social forces at work within the friar estates came to have far reaching consequences for the continued existence of the estate economy. The worsened position of tenants and sharecroppers within the estate economy revealed more clearly the fragility of ties that bound all tenure groups together.” — John P. McAndrew. Urban Usurpation From Friar Estates to Industrial Estates in a Philippine Hinterland.

PLATE 5. SYMBOLS OF THE REVOLUTION. “Do our flag and anthem still convey the spirit of the revolution of 1896 to a generation brought up on the EDSA “Revolution” of 1986? How flexible should our national symbols be?” — Ambeth R. Ocampo. Aguinaldo’s Breakfast and More Looking Back Essays.

PLATE 6. FROM STATESMAN TO FUGITIVE. “The so-called Banaue breakfast is enjoyed every morning by the President and his family during their stay in this ranchería. It is tasty, light and digestible, cheap and easy to prepare. It has been preferred by all who have tasted it and by the President himself whenever he comes to any of these mountains. It consists of: milk with coffee, fried camote, cut into five to seven millimeters thick and butter. It was named thus by the President.” — Col. Simeon Villa and Dr. Santiago Barcelona. Aguinaldo’s Odyssey.

PLATE 7. DINING IN PEACETIME. “The attitude of adulation extends to almost all other American food (fried chicken, hamburgers). Filipinos have been taught through the educational system (home economics classes) kitchen hygiene and sanitation (dishcloths, cleanser, and garbage disposal), American cooking equipment (ranges, ovens) and cooking products and processes (pies, cakes, punches; pressure-cooking and freezing).” — Doreen G. Fernandez. War and Food Essay from Vestiges of War: The Philippine-American War and the Aftermath of an Imperial Dream 1899 -1999. 

PLATE 8. PALATE AND NATION-BUILDING. “Aguinaldo’s simple palate is in tune with the current culinary trends where chefs return to gastronomic past to build up a culinary canon that is forward looking, culturally sensitive and adheres to the nations’ pride. The forward looking Aguinaldo, did not only help organize the banquet for the Proclamation of Independence in Malolos, but he also ordained that the menu be written in French, the language of food and diplomacy. And this is just the beginning how our national taste and palate is formed.” — Ige Ramos. Republic of Taste, The Untold Stories of Cavite Cuisine. 

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Talang Buhay ng Supremo Andres Bonifacio sa Kabite, a new book published by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), makes public the manuscripts in the handwriting of General and First President Emilio Aguinaldo about the days of the Supremo in Cavite. This book is important because it concerns the two most important heroes of the Philippines’ quest for independence. Here, Gen. Aguinaldo narrates important and controversial events as he and other revolutionaries experienced them. The foreword is written by the eminent historian Rafael Ileto who, in his younger years was a staunch Aguinaldo critic. This publication hopefully, will provide answers to many questions about Bonifacio’s stay in Cavite during the revolution from Aguinaldo’s eyes. — Elizabeth Angsioco

 

Photos by Ige Ramos