What is good food?

It's more than what meets the mouth.

This newsletter was distributed via Mailchimp on 6 December 2019. The following content was reformatted for Substack.

"There’s a story on every plate that is very much implied, and you can write that story so the food and writing complement one another. Yet, food and cooking is such a visceral thing. Capturing this very ephemeral, sensory experience and obliterating it all by sealing it into words ... This is why writing about food is a bit impossible sometimes, and that’s really beautiful actually."

My very talented friend Barclay, whose quote welcomes you to this newsletter, told me a great truth during our interview for Edsa. Writing is a very brain-heavy activity, while cooking is something that all comes through the hands. Since graduating from Oxford, I decided to spend my time doing a lot less writing and a lot more sitting, reading, watching and eating. This downtime brought me to wonder why we're so curious about what our partner had for lunch, and why food is the thing we bang on about after a long day's work. How is it that one man's bad food can be another man's treasure? What makes food good, and what is good food?

Let these recommendations help you find an answer. 

What I’m Reading

Filipino Chefs Are Taking Back Control of Their Cuisine (Munchies)

Illustration by Elnora Turner

Earlier this year, I interviewed Filipino chefs and restaurant owners in London about the struggles of reconnecting with their home cuisine while being away from home. I touched on issues of authenticity, diaspora culture, and how both shape a national identity that is continually in flux. 

Refreshingly Shit Coffee with Jerry Saltz (The Gourmand)

Image by Bobby Dohetry

Jerry Saltz can see through your bullshit. When asked about whether the art world has a tyranny problem with taste, the art critic replied with "very much."  He states: "The market is a self-replicating organism: people in the market buy what other people in the market have already bought, and so it only reinforces it. I would say we see it in art, we see it in food, we see it in music. We see it in films [...] We see it almost everywhere."

Can a Burger Solve Climate Change? (The New Yorker

Just a few weeks ago, I tried an Impossible Burger for the first time. It was after I read this article, which makes a compelling, yet controversial, case for turning our burgers meat-free. The texture of the patty was somewhere between a mashed aubergine and a falafel, tinged with the familiar taste of heme – the iron-containing compound giving meat its distinct flavour. Let Tad Friend from The New Yorker explain the why's and how's.   

What I’m Watching

You can follow the movies I've been watching on Letterboxd – a social networking site for sharing opinions and reviews on films.

Why you always have room for dessert (Vox)

Ever wondered why you could howl down a bowl of ice cream even after a really heavy meal? In this short video, Vox discusses the concept of "sensory-specific satiety," the declining interest in a certain food after continued consumption. Variety really is the spice of life.

The Mind of a Chef, Season 1

Chefs are some of the most intelligent and infectiously curious people you will ever meet. Let Dave Chang and Anthony Bourdain guide you through what makes that so in this fantastic first season. Available on Netflix. 

Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma

Food Wars is about the son of the owner of a small eatery in Japan who leaves the family business to study in the country's top culinary academy. Prepare for some OTT fun and deliciously tempting animations of Japanese dishes. Available on Netflix. 

What I’m Eating

THE ANATOMY OF A FILIPINO BREAKFAST 🇵🇭 Filipino cuisine is unique is a sense that, for the most part, dishes are adaptable to any time of the day 🕝 The Filipino breakfast embodies this very adaptability. To a foreigner, a plate of rice, eggs, viand and sauce sounds more like something you’d have for lunch or dinner 🤔 But in the Philippines, where hard work *really* pays off, your first meal of the day should fuel you 🏃‍♀️💨 I’ve had many friends in the UK question my early morning decisions, like why am I eating egg fried rice in the morning? Beef? Fish? Pork? For breakfast? 🍳🐄🐖🐠🍚 If you think about it, it makes complete sense ✅ Ask any scientist and they’ll say that food is merely a means of sustenance 🔬 (I don’t completely agree with this point, but let’s use it for the sake of argument). Thus, the Filipino breakfast is nutritionally optimal, striking that balance between carbs, protein and fat ⚖
Every morning since I arrived back in the Philippines, I’ve made tortang talong – a pan-fried aubergine omelette 🍆 served with banana catsup (fermented banana/vinegar sauce) 🍌 and rice seasoned with palapa 🥥 Palapa is a condiment frequently used in the southern region of Mindanao, made with coconut meat, onions, ginger, siling labuyo (local chili), sakurab (local spring onions) and salt 🌴 I bought mine from @ritualph on Arnaiz Ave, which they sourced from Datu Paglas in Maguindanao.
December 3, 2019
I just finished climbing at The Cliffs on DUMBO 🧗‍♀️ and I thought to myself, "okay... I'm going to wait until brunch to eat..." 🥓🍳 Here's a tip for you guys: Don't be waiting around Dumbo for too long on an empty stomach... 😐 because you'll inevitably walk into the Time Out Market 🇺🇸🗽 and be tempted by all that is there. Within a minute, I swear, I was gawking at a rotating grill of steak, charred to perfection 🥩 (swipe left 👈 and feast your eyes 👀). So here I am, sitting on Brooklyn Bridge Park 🌁⛲ having Tampiquena Steak and Chipotle tacos from @actqloves 🌮 It was just like how I imagined it: moist with a beautiful texture of char 💭 But brunch awaits, and I'm still hungry 😋 In the end, we all win 🥇
September 21, 2019
DESSERT AT @allegrarestaurant 🌈
🍫 Paris-Brest, a French choux pastry, with a caramelised pear and chocolate filling.
🌰 Iles flottante or "floating island", another French dessert with a meringue floating on a bed of crème anglaise, filled with cranberry compote and hazelnut praline #feedtwiceaday_ldn
October 19, 2019
As an adult, rarely does a meal ever change your life... 🤔 but this dessert might just have. It's neither fruity nor creamy, I wouldn't even say it's very chocolate-y. Yes, that's chocolate you see right there 🍫 But this dessert, when eaten in its entirety, is on a league of it's own. The chocolate is simply an agent of bitterness, used to elevate the delicate flavours of the black eyed pea ice cream 🍦 but its also not the overpowering kind you would typically have when biting on a piece from a bar. The sorghum beef fat cookie 🐄 at the bottom adds a texture akin to the feeling of scraping biscuit base from the bottom of a cake pan – a kind of childishness, perhaps nostalgia, which many chefs strive to instil onto its guests 🍰 And to top it all off, a drop of mushroom cep oil that is absolutely savoury, umami and arresting... 🍄
Black eyed peas, mushroom, sorghum beef fat... you'd think you were having savoury petit fours - well, think again. What do you call a dessert like this?
This is what creativity is all about. Thank you @jeremychanikoyi for sharing your unwavering wonder for food and all its parts. Swipe left 👈 to see my face of disbelief 🙇‍♀️
Black eyed pea ice cream topped with smoked salt chocolate, cep oil and sorghum beef fat cookie at the bottom @ikoyi_london
October 25, 2019

You can find more detailed commentaries of the food I eat all over the world on @feedtwiceaday, as well as the food I cook on #madetwiceaday.

Cultural Learnings is a newsletter written by Sai Villafuerte. You can support it by sharing this post, emailing your thoughts or answering this survey.