Kiss and Cry: Food stories
My books often have food mentions, especially the ones set in the Philippines. That’s just the kind of person (and writer) I am I guess…but Kiss and Cry taps into an entire range of food experiences that I associate with balikbayans (what we call a Pinoy who has lived a long time in another country and has come back to visit).
When I was preparing to write Kiss and Cry, I wrote a short story called Let’s Be Friendly, showing Cal and Ram’s first meeting in vignettes. It was practice and I temporarily put it up on Wattpad, but I’ve taken it down (although I may put it up here on the site as a bonus thing). Cal and Ram bond over mango shakes bought at the mall. It’s almost not special, until you live somewhere else and those kinds of mangoes just aren’t available.
When Cal and Ram meet again at the beginning of Kiss and Cry, they have a longganisa platter (among other things) at the restaurant where they talk. Longganisa is the generic term for sausage and if it’s offered on the menu I often ask the restaurant staff which one they serve, from which region, and if I’m unfamiliar with it I ask what the flavor is (sweet? salty? how spicy?).
Sisig is served at many places that serve Filipino food, but I want a place that can serve it crunchy. And not gummy, because yes there are parts to that sisig that will be gummy and chewy but I don’t want those parts, ick. Sisig is also an experience — it’s a dish made from parts that usually get thrown out in finer dining.
There are a lot of ways to make sinigang and the variant I mention in the book is not my favorite, but I enjoy it, and it’s not that common. I used to nope out of anything guava as a kid, but now as an adult who loves all these food experiences I really appreciate what it brings to a dish that’s associated with other souring agents (tamarind would be easiest to get for a sinigang).
Kansi, served at the family dinner near the end of the book, is a meaty and unwieldy dish. Looks like bulalo because bones and marrow, but isn’t.
These are all photos I’ve taken of food I’ve eaten myself haha, but I’m glad we’re at a stage where readers have told me they’ve Googled food references they’re not familiar with, and end up learning about Filipino things more. That’s cool but in my own way I wanted to suggest — and with this book in particular — that the food also might not look like the first photo that pops up on Google. Because food memory is a range, especially if you’ve left the place where you used to have it, and it’s possible to treasure a very specific version of it that might not be its best, its finest. Or, oddly, the opposite — connecting instead to something that was most commercial and accessible. My own family is part of the diaspora, and my list of food requests when traveling can get very specific: this brand of hotdog, this flavor of sugary powdered tea, “original flavor” instant noodles.
I wondered while writing and revising how much of this should be on the page, and how much I should explain of this very specific longing. I think though, I mentioned food enough (a LOT) on the page anyway, and decided to expand on the longing behind it on my blog instead. Reader Aarya Marsden has a review of Kiss and Cry on Goodreads that also discusses this, from her experience. (“Same,” is my response.)