Filipino American

Small

by Angelique Campo, FINDink Contributor

I spent a lot of my years trying to get to the bottom of who I am.

At a young age, I taught myself how to be small, in every essence of the word.

When I became aware of all my flaws, aches, and growing pains that I didn’t like about myself, I began to learn what it felt to be insecure and suddenly, being small became progressively easier.

There were parts of me I kept hidden away. I pushed everything I felt down, hoping that one day those feelings would disappear. I thought I was just being dramatic when I was younger. But then it started following me for longer periods of time. My mind took one, little thought and ran with it, and it wouldn’t stop until I was hyperventilating. It was such a stark contrast of what I felt versus who I portrayed myself to be to everyone around me.

You never want anyone to know, because it brings an onslaught of shame and guilt. Like I’m not allowed to feel this way. Because there’s no reason to. It’s not real and I’m not actually suffering.

You have this, and you have that. You’re so lucky compared to others. Stop complaining.

So, I stopped.

I made it so that it was small; so tiny that it was insignificant.

Because if it were small, I wouldn’t have to deal with it.

If it were small enough, it wasn’t real. And if I brushed it off like I learned to, then I would be fine.

I hadn’t realized what a disservice I was doing to myself by invalidating my own emotions. I was shrinking myself to fit into an outdated cultural narrative that was brought down from generations before me. I didn’t understand it until I got to college. I couldn’t run from it anymore. I couldn’t ignore it when it started seeping into my life during the day and putting italics on my sadness at night.

When I finally got diagnosed with anxiety and depression, it was such a weird sense of relief. Like I could breathe now that I knew what was wrong.

But at the same time, it opened doors to conversations I still was not ready to have, with people I loved who couldn’t quite understand why, and trauma from growing up that I had to relive over and over again until I accepted it for what it was: trauma.

For me, healing meant having to peel myself down to the very core, everytime, in hopes to get to the bottom of it all. You make a valiant effort to explain it to other people, and yet, it still doesn’t get any easier.

That’s why this month in particular is very special to me. It’s the first one that’s allowed me to feel valid. After a year of not being able to recognize her, she was able to build herself back up.

Once I faced the fear that became my own truth, I made some room, instead of shrinking.

I finally felt the gravity in kind words. I started saying them to myself. I said it out loud. It was then that I decided this is where I begin again.

And I will start over every time if it means getting the opportunity be better than I was before.

Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc.

Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc.

A Taste of Home

by Katie McColgan, FINDink Contributor

Being a third generation Filipino American, I always felt like my strongest, and sometimes only connection to my Filipino heritage was through food.

Growing up, I never felt like I was Filipino enough. I’ve never been to the Philippines, never learned my grandparent’s language, and didn’t know about any cultural traditions. The one thing I did have was the food, and so I held my relationship with Filipino food very close to me.

Filipino food is also a very strong connection I have with “home”. Adobo, pancit, and lumpia were all very frequent occurrences in my household, and rice was a daily staple. Other dishes like singigang, pinakbet and kare kare were more often eaten when I’d visit my extended family. But no matter what it was, eating Filipino food always made me feel that much more validated in my Filipino-American identity, and proud to claim it as my own.

But now, as a college freshman living off dining hall food, I find myself dreaming of having a kitchen, and living vicariously through the pictures of home cooked meals my mom will send me from time to time. Since being in Boston, I’ve made pancit, and my friends have made me adobo, but nothing comes close to a home-cooked meal from my mom.

There is one dish in particular that I miss the most; one of the last meals I ate before I left home, and the first meal my mom made for me when I came back for winter break. However, I didn’t have a name for it until recently when I was asked about my favorite Filipino food and I realized that I didn’t even know the name. At home, my family just called this dish Upo Soup-o, a cute rhyming name for my favorite dinner. But upon a quick google search, I discovered that the actual name is Ginisang upo.

Ginisang upo is a very simple stew with tomatoes, some kind of meat, and of course: upo. The word “ginisa” means sauteed, which is a pretty self-explanatory name for the dish. Upo, otherwise known as bottle gourd, calabash, or long melon is a very mild vegetable that just absorbs the flavors of the broth it cooks in.

The soup itself isn’t all that special, there are very few ingredients in total, but I guess it’s that simplicity that makes it so comforting and familiar. There is sweetness from the tomatoes, saltiness and umami from the fish sauce, a refreshing crunch of upo and a fattiness from the pork. There is no special secret ingredient, or fancy cooking technique, but nonetheless, it is one of my all time favorite foods.

Recently, I had really been craving a homemade meal of upo soup, but when I asked my mom for a recipe, of course she didn’t have one written down. She gave me the ingredients and general guidelines to her own version, but told me that everyone has their own variation. Upon looking for recipes online, I found she was right, and that every website had their own twist to a similar dish.

Wanting to recreate my mom’s version the best I could, I decided to go with what she told me over the phone, and from what I remembered when I cooked with her back home. I also thought that this was the perfect opportunity to document the process by writing a recipe myself so I could share my favorite food with my others.

This week, I went grocery shopping in Chinatown to find upo (unfortunately there was no upo in sight at my local Whole Foods), invaded my friend’s kitchen and cooked dinner for a bunch of people. This was my first time cooking in a long time since I haven’t had access to a kitchen during my freshman year of college, so I was nervous that I would mess something up or that no one would like what I made. Or even worse: that I wouldn’t be able to recreate something that lived up to what my mom made for me at home.

But all that worry melted away once I tasted what I made and rush of warm nostalgia filled me. My self-confidence boosted, I more confidently splashed in some more fish sauce and served up bowls of food to my friends.

Below, I wrote up my version of my favorite food to share with you all!

Upo Soupo (Ginisang upo according to me)

When I think of comfort food, I think of a warm bowl of upo soup and rice. It is super easy and quick to make, budget-friendly and definitely a household favorite.

Ingredients

  • Pork spare ribs

  • 2 pints of cherry tomatoes

  • 2 medium-sized upo, peeled and sliced into half moons

  • 1 medium onion sliced into strips

  • 4 cloves of minced garlic

  • 2–4 tablespoons of fish sauce (patis)

  • 2–3 cups of water

  • 1 tbsp cooking oil

  • Salt and pepper to taste

Note: All of these ingredients are totally adjustable to your liking! You can use however much of any of these you’d like, and different substitutes too! Instead of upo, you could use other vegetables like bitter gourd or even sayote. For meat, I chose to use pork because it’s my favorite, but some recipes I’ve seen online use shrimp, canned sardines or a combination of pork and shrimp. You can also adjust the fish sauce to how salty you like it, and water to how soupy you want it.

Instructions

  1. Heat pan and add cooking oil (Use a pot/pan deep enough to hold all the vegetables and water later)

  2. Sautee onion and garlic

  3. Add tomatoes and cover with lid until soft. Then mash with a fork (just enough to split tomatoes and let juices out)

  4. Add pork and cook until browned (stir to make sure all sides are cooked)

  5. Add upo and stir to combine

  6. Add fish sauce to season and stir again

  7. Add water and let simmer over medium heat for 10–12 minutes, or until upo is tender and becomes more translucent

  8. Add more fish sauce and salt to taste

  9. Serve over rice and enjoy hot!

Before letting the upo cook for 10–12 min

Before letting the upo cook for 10–12 min

After letting the upo cook for 10–12 min

After letting the upo cook for 10–12 min

Note: Highly recommend eating this meal with a mixture of extra patis, lemon, and sriracha on the side. I use this to spoon a little extra oompf onto every bite I eat.

Note: Highly recommend eating this meal with a mixture of extra patis, lemon, and sriracha on the side. I use this to spoon a little extra oompf onto every bite I eat.

And that’s it for my making my favorite food! Your hands might smell a bit like garlic and fish sauce when you are done, but it’s well worth it for a full belly and the feeling of home.

Getting to share my favorite meal, both by actually cooking for my friends, and posting this version online has been such a rewarding experience, and I can’t wait to do this more when I actually have a kitchen next semester.

Home doesn’t feel as far away anymore, now that I’ve brought the taste of home along with me.

Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc.