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Missing Home: What It’s Like for a Filipino Abroad

October 29, 2015

If there’s one thing Filipinos are known for, it’s the hospitality we have. Growing up, we were grounded with principles that revolved around faith, family, and food, which are often defining components of any culture. Filipino food especially, is something that leaves an indelible mark on us. When uprooting ourselves to live in a different country, it’ll only be a matter of time before the nostalgia kicks in, and the craving starts for a mouth-puckering bowl of sinigang, or a clay pot of nutty kare-kare. Soon after comes the search for bright red, sugar-laden versions of birthday spaghetti, or colorful halo-halo to quench the thirst for home.

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Living abroad can be a tough feat, especially for Filipinos who are exceptionally attached to families and friends. Take Barby Tan, for example, an interior designer who practiced freelance design in Manila for two and a half years, before moving to New York where she started working at an architecture firm. “After four years in the design industry, I decided to take the chance and pursue a path that would immerse me in a different experience of businesses and studying consumers, that intersected with my interest in food. It led me to where I am today, crafting coffee as a barista in Chicago.

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“Being away from home for two and half years has taught me a lot. It can be intimidating to be a stranger in a whole new city, but I’m gratefully surprised and humbled by the kindness of other strangers. More than anything, I miss my favorite people, seeing my friends and family grow up back in Manila, but what I also miss is Filipino food! Certain vegetables, fruits, and home-cooked meals never fail to strike a nostalgic cord.

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Lengua cooked in either mushroom or tomato sauce, sinigang na bangus or sinigang na liempo in guava are just a few of the dishes that I’ll dig right into when I visit Manila again—also, my grandmother’s cooking, the best of which is crab cooked in coconut milk with talbos ng camote. Though there are many good options available around every corner—in Chicago, especially, as it’s one of the growing food cities in America—I think that once you’ve been exposed to a Filipino breakfast, there’s simply nothing that could replace the satisfaction of having daing na bangus with mounds of garlic rice, salted eggs, and tomatoes. Then, of course, there is the incomparable thrill of biting into freshly-popped chicharon and hearing it crack and sizzle when dipped in a bath of vinegar.

Barby (left) and her friend Roo

“Living abroad has taught me that whatever city or continent you’re in cannot limit how much you can grow. I’ve learned that much of life is determined by perspective, and people who want to learn will learn, and will do something about it. While I may be miles away from home, I take comfort in knowing that I have a full feast to look forward to, and of course, my family and favorite people to dine with.”

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All photos courtesy of Barby Tan.

Mikka Wee Mikka Wee

Mikka Wee is former editor of Pepper.ph and was part of the team until she got whisked away to Singapore in 2016 where she worked in advertising and eventually found herself back in the food industry. She currently does marketing work for two popular Singaporean dessert brands and is a weekly columnist for The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s lifestyle brand, Preen.ph. She has always been crazy about travel, food, and her dog Rocket.

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