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Now Iloilo can claim its foods are really works of art

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Oct 07, 2021 5:00 am

Who doesn’t love pancit molo and La Paz batchoy?

Those are just a couple Ilonggo food delights. Now Iloilo City, which houses Megaworld’s Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art (ILOMOCA) to showcase Ilonggo artists, wants to celebrate its world-class local recipes and dishes.

Food, like art, isn’t just about filling your stomach; it comes from a deeper place: culture, memory, emotions and a sense of place in the world. As part of its emphasis on local cuisine — part of its ongoing bid to get Iloilo listed by UNESCO as a “Creative City of Gastronomy” — ILOMOCA launched “Timplada: The Art of Ilonggo Cuisine,” a three-part event composed of an on-site and virtual art exhibition, a series of educational live streams, and an Iloilo City food map.

At present, there are only 36 UNESCO Cities of Gastronomy in the world. If selected, Iloilo would be the first Philippine city to make it on the list.

Ten local artists were invited to celebrate their favorite food memories of classic Ilonggo dishes through works of art.

What’s striking in these works is how food memories are so deep and primary for artists, they can actually inspire creative output. That’s a double helping of expression — not bad for pancit and batchoy!

Alex Ordoyo, Jecko Magallon and Kristoffer Brasileño based their pieces on quintessential Ilonggo favorites batchoy, pancit molo and chicken inasal, respectively.

 Noel Epalan’s rendition of KBL (kadyos, baboy, langka)

Kitchen preparation was depicted by creative power couple Noel Epalan Jr. and Marge Chavez with still-life canvases featuring ingredients of KBL (kadyos, baboy, langka) and laswa, a mixed vegetable soup. The herblike soup reminds Chavez of her OFW father returning from working overseas. “It’s an acquired taste, but he would request it when he came home, so there’s a lot of emotion in it.”

 Margret Blas’ “Tambo

Margaux Blas featured a stylized take on the ingredients of tambo, a seasonal dish made of bamboo shoots, in her artwork.

Marrz Capanang’s work harks back to memories of returning home to another Iloilo favorite, binatwanan, a soup flavored with batwan, a green sour fruit native to the region. “It’s something we used to make the soup sour, and I painted it to honor my grandfather, who passed on his cooking skills to my mom.”

 Marrz Capanang’s “Binatwanan, Ang Kaaslomon kag Kanamiton” captures another personal memory.

Eric Barbosa Jr. and Jeanroll Ejar rendered interpretations of traditional Ilonggo kakanin, baye-baye and ibus.

 Jeanroll Ejar “Ibus” sculpture

Inday Dolls artist Rosa Zerrudo completed a soft sculpture titled “Timplada ni Inday,” one that opens like a book, spotlighting Hiligaynon terms for taste and names of local fish.

The hand-embroidered work was created in collaboration with women artists and hablon weavers behind bars or persons deprived of liberty (PDL) in Iloilo City.

“I curated this with the women in prison to really express their sense of home” through a dish like laswa, made with ginger and lemongrass and said to have anti-COVID properties. She chose fabric as her medium because “it’s comforting, it’s gentle, like women’s comfort. And it’s symbolic of inner power and resilience.”

 Marge Chavez painted “Laswa” because of its emotional draw for her. 

Starting Oct. 1, all pieces are viewable at the Hulot Gallery of ILOMOCA, located in Casa de Emperador, Iloilo Business Park. (A virtual version of the exhibit can be viewed online.)

“As a City of Gastronomy,” said Mayor Jerry Treñas, “we preserve Iloilo’s heritage through foods, which are part of its intangible cultural properties.” Whether it’s family recipes, homegrown restaurants passed down over generations or today’s fusion food stalls, food provides a “vital culinary community.”

As National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) executive director Al Ryan Alejandre noted, “Food can be a driver for collective national identity, while at the same time, a catalyst for diverse cultural expressions, much like the expressions embodied by the savory food culture here in Iloilo.”

 “Timplada: The Art of Ilonggo Cuisine” launched on Oct. 1 at  Hulot Gallery of ILOMOCA.

This is just the beginning of a three-part bid to win UNESCO status, says Janine Cabato, project head of “Timplada.” In addition, “Merienda Talks” will be livestreamed on Saturdays up through December, covering topics like “Doreen Fernandez and Ilonggo Cuisine” and “Heritage Food and Millennials.” The 3 p.m. forums can be accessed on the ILOMOCA Facebook page

The food and art festival culminates with an official Iloilo City Food Map, released to mark the significant signature dishes of Iloilo City. The brochure, illustrated by Jimhuel of Dampi Art, will highlight the city’s landmarks and restaurants, serving as an all-in-one informational guide of Iloilo City’s brief history, festivals, landmarks, must-eats, fun facts, and common Hiligaynon expressions.

Expect more food stalls and festive events near the museum during the three-month Ilonggo cuisine celebration, says Festive Walk Iloilo manager Karmela Jesena.

Will this all help Iloilo win the coveted “gastronomic hotspot” status from UNESCO it craves? It can only help, says Iloilo City MICE Center director Salvador Sarabia. “It would be wonderful to be put on the UN list of most creative cities in the world.”

At present, there are only 36 UNESCO Cities of Gastronomy in the world. If selected, Iloilo would be the first Philippine city to make it on the list.

Together with the NCCA, “Timplada” is made possible through ILOMOCA’s partnership with the Megaworld Foundation, Department of Tourism, and the local government of Iloilo.

For more information, visit ILOMOCA on Facebook and on Instagram  or email [email protected].