SAGANA, a foodbook on the universality of food cooking

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Another review of SAGANA by the favorite Chef Tatung Sarthou of “Chef Tatung’s Cafe”

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” Sagana is an apt title for this work by G. B. Korten.  Sagana translates to Abundance in Filipino and this work is to just a compilation of recipes, but a delicious serving of stories with sides of nostalgia and kitchen wisdom set on the author’s life and love affair with cooking.  This work is inspirational in its simplicity and truthfulness when depicting  Filipino food and cuisine- with no apologies against the global background of her life.

I am inspired and thankful for this contribution to Philippines cuisine.  I hope that more people swill read this book for its second printing.  There is so much to learn from it and I implore everyone to savor every word of it.



Chef Tatung Sarthou


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SAGANA, a foodbook on the universality of cooking

SAGANA, a foodbook, with the premise that everyone in the world cooks the same food, has more than 250 Filipino based cuisine, with Spanish, Moorish, Chinese, American cooking influence, accumulated over more than 400 years of colonial occupation and trade. GBKorten, the author, attended Le Cordon Bleu, in Paris. This book was published in 2003, reprinted in 2007 and now going to be re-published in the Philippines.






A sample chapter: (copyright Geraldine Barangan Korten, 2003)*

“You say Tomato, I say To-may-toe”

EVERYONE IN THE WORLD COOKS AND EATS THE SAME FOOD. There might be explicit differences: the name of the dish; its presentation; a disguised flavor from indigenous spices; and other subtle nuances.  I maintain that there is a strong commonality among foods in the world.

Let me take you around the world, see if you can taste any familiarity with any or all of them.

 Goulash– red, thick, and spicy, in Budapest.  Rigatoni in fragrant basil, luscious tomatoes, plump knobs of garlic in silky olive oil in Lago Di Garda.  Pig’s Knuckles, soft and yielding, in a bed of sauerkraut, in Heidelberg. Wonton, crunchy water chestnuts and aromatic sesame oil in limpid pool of gingered chicken broth, in HongKong.  Hot and Sour Soup, tofu and shrimp swimming in lemongrass and mushrooms in Bangkok.  Oozy eggplants in dark sauce covered in lamb stuffed in hot pita on a boat plying the Nile.  Piercing mosaic of flavors of parsley, garlic, tahini, and chickpeas in Baba Ghanoush in Marrakesh.  Creamy, thick Vegetable Soup rousing one from a beery stupor in Killarney.  A gloppy Beef Stew of cabbages and carrots in Essex.

Let us keep on going and watch how closely akin these are to foods that we know.

A tureen of beef broth with pungent onions , sticky Gruyere, crunchy croutons in a bistro in Avignon.  Platters  of crackling pork skin surrounding melting soft flesh of conchinillos in a Parador in Salamanca.  Cauldrons of spicy, tender pork crumbly snapper and mushy okra stewed in rich thick gumbo while a soulful tuba plays nearby in New Orleans. Beds of seaweed, juicy, red tomatoes, blazing ginger blossoms nesting gigantic tuna grilled on hot coals in blue soaked Huahine.  Baskets of hot tamales, oozing spicy and fiery meat in the Zona Rosa of Mexico City.  Bowls and plates of lamb, lamb, and more lamb on top of rice surrounded by a crowd of leaves in Masai Mara.  One-pot, hot and energizing soup of sausages, curries, green vegetables in a bonfire camp on the hills of Kathmandu.

Let me bring you to a home that beckons. A clear broth, still sizzling from the stove, with thinly sliced pork tenderloin, wisps of ginger, and slivers of scallions in a clay bowl at my parents’ favorite home in Balatong, in Ilocos Norte.  Sheltered by generous branches of ages mango trees , this sprawling home made of nipa, bamboo, kakawati, and brick is surrounded by a sea of orchids, hibiscus, bougainvilleas, jasmine, yang yang, citrus trees, papaya, banana, star apple, chico and a crowd of laughing brown faces of happy villagers. The cooking smoke sends a spiraling spume from the kitchens; the flowers exude headily sweet scents.  There is lighter amidst the din of plates, spoons and forks.

Aside from language, the nuances in dishes is caused by the use of indigenous ingredients found in different terrains and waters that people live in.  Hence, Eintopf on Munich is Gumbo is New Orleans.  Paupiette de Veau in Paris is Morcon in Madrid and in Manila.  It is Rollbraten in Berlin.  Lo Mein in Beijing is pasta in Florence.  It is macaroni in Dallas, soba in Kyoto and pancit in Davao City.  Beef Stew in London, Dublin and Boston is Goulash in Belgrade; it is cassoulet in Antibes and Brussels.  Creme Brûlée in Toulouse and Liege is Leche Flan in Torremolinos, Quezon City and Bogota.  It is called custard in North Haven, Oxford, and Galway.  Pita in Cairo. Tel Aviv, Cappadocia, Athens is Enchilada in Guadalajara and San Antonio; it naan in Delhi.  It is mooshu in Shanghai, crepe in Marseilles, pfannkuchen in Stuttgart, Vienna, and Bern.  Everybody’s grandmother cooks the “best chicken soup”; it becomes different when on puts cilantro, or water chestnut, or minced carrots, or ravioli. or wonton, or knoedle.

Satay in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia is Shish Kebab in Africa and the Middle East. It is Shaslik in Europe.  Pork and beef are threaded in metal skewers called barbecue in America.  Chunks of meats are rubbed and dressed with lemon, oil, salt, pepper and are roasted in spits over hot coals in Greece as well as in the Caribbean Islands. Pork, lamb and beef ribs are cooked almost the same way all over the world- over fire, thick with sauce. Every country calls fresh salads its own: Italian, French, Greek, Ensalada, Salat Mixte, Salad Nicoise, the list goes on. These salads are tossed with a basic dressing combination of oil, vinegar, salt pepper, egg yolks, lemon, honey, and mustard.

What has brought us all together in this kinship of food?  History shows a continuous buzz of recipe exchanges in the world.  They say Marco Polo brought noodles back to Italy via the Silk Road from China.  It is written that the western conquistadores brought home trunks of tea and exotic spices from the east.  People traded goods as well as cooking styles as they moved around the world in boats, carriages, cars, planes, and trains.  From the aborigines of the mountains, to the hardworking tillers of the flatlands and the fishermen of the seas, everyone shared his way of cooking vegetables, meats, fish, and fowl.  Everyone offered each other bowls, plates, platters of nourishment and friendship.  Languages being a hindrance, they spoke with their hands and their feet; they showed each other how to make noodles; create rich sauces, filet fish, pick mushrooms, steep tea. And on and on.

We are interested in learning how certain foods have come to taste a particular way.  We ask. And guess what?  The informer is pleased to share information.  And word gets around.  That is why everyone in the world eats caramel custard, otherwise known as Leche Flan or custard cream, as dessert.  I had presumed that Lechon, roasted pig, was a favored dish in Europe as it is all over the world.  My husband who grew up in Germany was certain I was wrong.  “No,” he stated, ” roasted pig is unknown in Germany.”  A few years later, we attended an elegant wedding in Munich.  There before our eyes, on a beautifully decorated banquet table, reigned one gargantuan roasted pig.  “Ach, die Spannferkel, ” he remembered, as we admired the scrumptious centerpiece, its skin, glistening brown and in its mouth- the inevitable apple.  Which is how the whole world presents this dish.  So, I reiterate: WE ALL COOK AND EAT THE SAME DISHES.  We borrow and copy, we vary recipes because of what we find in our own particular forests, grass and seas.

I have seen; tasted; smelled and touched heavenly, sublime, perplexing, tricky mysterious foods from traveling all over the world.  I love to sample “unfamiliar” food at least once. When it comes to food, “no” is not an accepted word.  This alacrity about food got me into trouble once as a dinner guest in a Moroccan yacht , moored off the shores of Lisbon.I has asked the chef what the big piece of unrecognizable white chunk of meat was amidst a very luscious platter of vegetables.  Of course I didn’t know what it was even ager he graciously placed it on my plate.  Until someone beside me pointed it out: beef testicles.

“Ah, no thank you.  I couldn’t.  I wouldn’t know how to et it.”

“For virility,: they said.

“Ah,” I answered, “then, I really don’t need it.”

By this time, even if I wanted to try it to quench my curious taste buds, I was too conscious of everyone watching me.  My brothers and their male friends enjoy eating fried goat, pork, beef testicles.  I know male American and European friends who have tasted these morsels of food.

I believe there is no such thing as authentic ethnic cooking; there might be improvised or modified cooking. For who actually knows how our forefathers really cooked?  What did they eat?  Cooking gets passed down through generations by telling and retelling, by remembering what they saw and tasted; by copying what has already been modified, by guessing and by experimenting.

I have learned how to cook from asking.  I have cajoled old folks to show me their cooking secrets.  I have visited many kitchens; I watched and wrote copious notes. I tried to remember sensations that I felt when I tasted, smelled and saw food.  I listened as people talked yards and yards of joyful memories of food that they have experienced.  I have repeated, in this book, most recipes with some modifications; some I left as they were told to me.  My creations are reminiscent of foods from many corners of the world, translated, in the french style of cooking as I believe it to be worth emulating.  French cooking ensures well cooked, well balanced, nutritious, and beautifully presented dishes.

Food brings memories of sensations of none’s youth bringing a sense of “going home” hence the term “comfort food”.  After all the distances that I have traveled, all the languages I have learned , and the cultures that I have lived in, I come full circle and speak with the language, culture and comfort food of my youth- Filipino. The dishes in this book are demonstrated examples of the fusion of cultures, languages and ways of life.  Filipino cuisine is an eclectic mixture of evolved cuisine from the Spanish, Malay, chinese, Arab, and American cookery.  A part of the fascinating global cuisine that has made dining in any part of the world a real welcome home affair.  “It’s a small world, after all.”

* Copyright by Gerladine Barangan Korten, 2003)

* All rights reserved.  No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner and the publisher.