Category Archives: philippines

On this page:
  • Making polvoron
  • A braindump of tips for other new immigrants from the Philippines
  • Taho
  • Filipiniana
  • Bread of salt and taste of home
  • A night with the barkada

Making polvoron

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Yesterday, I tried making polvoron for the first time. =) J- and her friends had devoured most of the stash that my mom sent us. I followed a simple recipe, but once we get through the… umm… 139 pieces (although we lost quite a few to breakage, see above), I’ll try other recipes with more cooling time. I’ll also try dividing the recipe by four, as that recipe resulted in a lot of polvoron. Mmm!

W- and I cook a lot. There’s enough room in the kitchen for both of us to work, and it’s fun making and enjoying good food. I’m really lucky that he enjoys cooking as well, and that he’s up for eating my experiments!

A braindump of tips for other new immigrants from the Philippines

For Anna Simbulan (welcome to Toronto!) and others this can help along the way. =)

  • Winter and clothing

    Toronto can be cold. Dress in layers. Long underwear, sweaters, gloves, and hats can help you keep warm. Thinsulate is better than knit when it comes to blocking out wind. Layers are better than a big coat because you can adjust the warmth depending on changes in weather, physical activity, etc.

    Winter can also be pretty grey and depressing. If you’re finding it hard to get through the day, get plenty of sunlight. Sometimes colourful things can be helpful, too.

    Things might look pretty expensive, particularly if you do the CAD-PHP conversion and think about how much cheaper you could get things at ukay-ukay or bazaars. Check out second-hand stores like Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Value Village. You can usually find perfectly good clothes, coats, and household items for much cheaper than the retail price.

    If you need to walk around downtown Toronto, check out the underground PATH.

    Find something to enjoy about winter. I’ve learned to think of winter as a season for cooking, baking, hot chocolate, and early(ish) bedtimes.

  • Home and society

    Be prepared for homesickness. It’s a natural part of moving.

    Be prepared for cultural differences. Avoid making jokes or statements that are racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise politically incorrect.

    It can feel pretty lonely when your barkada and social support networks are half a world away. Check out classes, go to activities, meet people, make new friends.

    Free video-calling programs like Skype and social networking tools like Facebook help you keep in touch with old friends.

    If you want to cook recipes from home, you can find many of the ingredients in Chinatown or even in some of the larger supermarkets. For example, you can find Skyflakes, ampalaya, bagoong, and halo-halo ingredients in Chinatown. The No Frills supermarket in Dufferin Mall has Skyflakes, too.

    There aren’t that many Filipino restaurants downtown, though. Definitely worth learning how to make things at home. You may find some neighborhoods with Filipino stores (including places where you can buy balikbayan boxes). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Manila#Toronto

  • Resources

    The Toronto Public Library is amazing. Sign up, get your library card, and use http://torontopubliclibrary.ca to get books delivered to the branch closest to you. It even has a number of books in Filipino. Check out the e-books, movies, music CDs, and graphic novels as well.

    The library has many seminars for newcomers and job-seekers. There are many other newcomer organizations, too. Take advantage of the services and training they offer, such as networking events and free training.

    Public transit works pretty well. You can even use maps.google.com to plan your route.

  • Work

    If you’re applying for a job, it’s worth reviewing your resume and using the Canadian conventions. For example, people here don’t indicate their age, marital status, height, or weight on resumes.

    If you get stumped by employers requiring Canadian experience, consider volunteering or working in a different position for some time in order to pick up that experience.

  • Finance

    If you’re having a hard time getting a credit card, get a secured credit card first, then use that to build your credit history. When I started, I got the TD Green Visa card. I deposited some money and that deposit was used to secure the card. Once you qualify for a better card, you can switch to something like PCFinancial Mastercard (equivalent of 1% rewards) or MBNA Enrich (3% cashback on groceries, 1% on regular purchases).

    Compare prices online. Buying textbooks or other things? Check ebay.ca and other sites before buying things in person. You can often find significant discounts online, too, and shipping is reliable. Look for free or cheap stuff on craigslist.ca or kijiji.ca, or join a Freecycle group.

    Keep some savings in a checking account as an emergency fund / buffer and the rest in a high-interest savings account. Don’t overload yourself with credit card debt. Pay off your credit card every month, if you can, and plan your spending so that you don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck.

    Enjoy life. =) There will probably always be things and people you will miss, but maybe Toronto can become a second home.

    —-

    What other tips would you add?

Taho

From Sunday:

When I was growing up, we often had taho for breakfast. Manila had many magtataho who roamed the streets each morning, with two aluminum buckets hanging in balance from a pole. One bucket had tofu, and the other had compartments for tapioca pearls and sugar syrup. Yaya would have glasses filled and brought upstairs, where they would wait under crocheted glass-covers for us. Sometimes I lucked out and had two glasses of taho, like when I knew other people had finished breakfast already. Sometimes we had taho for afternoon snacks, too. It was fun watching the vendors work: swiftly scooping the tofu into a glass, spooning tapioca pearls in, swirling the syrup and mixing everything together.

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There are no taho vendors in this part of Toronto – or perhaps anywhere in Canada. But we can get silken tofu and tapioca pearls at the Lawrence Supermarket on Black Creek Drive. After five years of only having taho on my trips home, I found a recipe on the Internet and made taho for the first time. It’s simple: a syrup of brown sugar and water, tapioca pearls, and warm silken tofu.

It tasted like the quiet mornings of childhood.

Filipiniana

The dress arrived last week. It’s a simple ivory sheath of piña (pineapple fiber), with a lightly-beaded and embroidered panuelo (wrap). Although I’d never met the seamstress who made it, the dress fit like a charm, thanks to the measurements I’d sent.

I had been planning to wear a dress a family friend had given me before, but my mom wouldn’t hear of it. She wanted to be involved in planning the wedding, so she volunteered to take care of the dress. It would be her gift, she said. I accepted, asking her to make sure it was simple, classic, and something I could wear again. This dress fits the bill perfectly. It would do just fine at a wedding and at a formal get-together or cultural celebration.

In addition to this knee-length dress, she has also commissioned a Maria Clara, in case a long dress proves a better fit. My concession to the pageantry of weddings is to reach back in time and connect with my roots. I asked her to make sure the designer didn’t get carried away with modernizing the outfit. Traditional. Classic. A dress I can be buried in, I said.

I was half-tempted to suggest an Ifugao outfit – our family has many memories of Banaue – but it seemed easier to find a seamstress to work on a beautiful Tagalog outfit than to (a) pick the right tribe, and (b) find an outfit that doesn’t scream “tourist souvenir”. Maria Claras and nice panuelos are non-mainstream enough to require a seamstress, but there’s plenty of wedding inspiration. The rich weaves and beading of the mountain tribes are more niche. And there’d be no question of W- matching my outfit – a g-string? in Canada? in October? At least W- has a barong, which he may or may not choose to wear.

Actually, the wraparound skirts and colourful belts of some of the tribes can work really well here, too. I’ll need to find a way to pick up some of those when I next visit, as SM Kultura doesn’t stock a lot of those. =) We don’t have nearly enough variety in those department stores. I was looking all over for a payneta, and I think I only found it in Baguio…

I love wearing Filipiniana, from the malongs I wear in summers to the colourful Ifugao belt I once repurposed as earwarmers in winter. I’d like to wear more of it, like the way I see men and women in ethnic outfits even at work. That might mean learning how to sew my own everyday versions, because the only baro’t saya I’ve seen in Philippine department stores are embellished with metallic threads or beads. The baro’t saya is close enough to regular wear for me to avoid having tons of conversations with strangers about whether I’m heading off to perform somewhere.

Yay culture. =)

Bread of salt and taste of home

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Pandesal. Brown paper bags of crunchy-yet-soft buns at breakfast and merienda, often accompanied by hot chocolate—or chocolate porridge, if I was really lucky.

If there is a type of bread in my heart, it is this. Not white bread or whole wheat or rye or flax. Not the focaccia we dipped into balsamic vinegar and olive oil at the Italian restaurant my family often went to. Not the banana breads or cornbreads W- and I have made.

Pan de sal. Bread of salt. 

Perhaps Laura Esquivel was on to something in Like Water for Chocolate. Food really is a language powerful beyond words.

I made pandesal for the first time. Fresh from the oven, they tasted of home.

I offered W- a piece. He had pandesal during our trips to the Philippines. I was glad he could relate to my memories.

There are places that sell pandesal in Toronto. I’ve never been to them. It’s different. Going out of my way to buy Filipino food? That’s something I might do if I get really homesick. Learning how to make the food of my memories? That fits. That helps me grow.

Now I can have pandesal any time I want. =) When we finish the 14 rolls I stashed in the freezer, I’m going to try this other recipe.

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Picture by W-

A night with the barkada

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I’m trying to figure out how to explain to other people what this barkada thing is like, but it’s hard.

I can’t explain how the conversation can flow so fast and funny over water and pizza. (And to think that other people drink alcohol to relax their inhibitions.)

In-jokes that still haven’t grown old, after all these years. New jokes and references. Politically incorrect humor mixed in with ideas and initiatives. Serious thoughts mixed in with crazy antics.

There’s something about critical mass and quick retorts that’s part of the magic of being in person.

It’s amazing being part of a group like this.