For the last 40 years or so, the best selling Filipino cookbooks in the Philippines were written in Canada by a Filipino immigrant who did not know how to cook when she first arrived in Toronto.
“I didn’t even know where the rice bin was kept in our house in Manila because I never had to cook rice or anything when I was growing up. We had a very good cook,” confessed Eleanor R. Laquian, who wrote Filipino Cooking Here and Abroad (1977) and Filipino Cooking and Entertaining Here and Abroad (2005). Both were published and distributed by National Book Store in the Philippines.
Was she ever interested in learning to cook in the Philippines? “No, not at all. Eating out was cheap and more fun. And in the 1960s, I had no idea I would be moving to a country where I will not have a lived-in cook,” Eleanor explained.
When her husband Prod accepted a one-year grant to write a book at the University of Hawaii in 1968, they were both still thinking of going back to Manila after. But one thing and another happened, including a Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines, and they became landed immigrants in Canada in 1969.
“When we arrived in Toronto, there were no Filipino restaurants. Moving to Ottawa the following year, I found there was not even a Chinese store in the Alta Vista area where we lived. By then I could no longer bear to even think of another meal of burger or pizza for my family. I was craving for tinolang manok like I was three-months pregnant. I vowed to learn cooking.”
Luckily, Eleanor met Fannie Araullo in Ottawa who showed her the rudiments of Filipino cooking and where to get basic ingredients. Fannie, a food scientist and president of Milky Way Restaurants in the Philippines at that time, was doing nutrition research in Ottawa.
Within a year, Eleanor had compiled a thick binder of typewritten recipes she had meticulously tested and documented. Fannie was so impressed that she brought the binder to the attention of Mrs. Socorro Ramos of National Book Store who agreed to publish it. It was the first Filipino cookbook giving precise measurements of ingredients listed in the order of use, the exact time needed to cook each ingredient and number of servings per dish. There were no vague instructions like: “Hulihin ang manok” (catch the chicken), “season to taste,” “bake until brown,” and “cook until tender” which were common in Filipino cookbooks at that time.
Initially, the book title was Filipino Cooking Abroad because Eleanor thought there must be many immigrants like her who came to Canada not knowing how to cook Filipino food. But the first printing sold out so fast in Manila that National Book Store suggested changing the title to Filipino Cooking Here and Abroad. It continued to be the best selling Filipino cookbook in the Philippines, selling thousands of copies every year, until Eleanor came up with her second cookbook in 2005.
In 2000, Eleanor took early retirement from UBC to travel worldwide with her husband who had just retired. They traveled extensively by air, land and sea. In their many trips, she was captivated by the healthy but delicious foods served in cruise ships and hotels. She wondered if Filipino food could be made healthy, and delicious too, as she watched the expanding waistlines of her fellow travelers
Back in Vancouver, she started researching and experimenting with ways to make Filipino food less salty, less oily, less sweet and still delicious. The result was Filipino Cooking and Entertaining Here and Abroad, also published and distributed by National Book Store in Manila. Aside from recipes, it has a nutrients table giving the amount of calories, carbohydrates, protein, fats, cholesterol and salt of each ingredient per measure.
Since traditional Filipino hospitality can be hazardous to one’s health due to the richness and quantity of food served on special occasions, this cookbook also includes tasty and easy recipes for relaxed entertaining and healthy living.
“But this is not a salt-free, low-cal, no-fat diet cookbook,” Eleanor stressed. “It simply shows how it’s possible, with a little adjustment, to enjoy a healthy body and eat delicious traditional Filipino food, like our grandmothers used to cook.”
Eleanor and her husband Prod have been Canadian Filipinos for 48 years. In October 2017, they will celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary. They live in Vancouver.