Essay from the Field

--Field Work / Field Talk--

Jamon, also from Spanish, was already a feast dish in Cebu from the late 19 th Century. Jamon en dulce (ham in sweet jelly) was on the menu of a full-course dinner served at the house of Don Cui, the Chinese-mestizo tobacco merchant, in 1891. Today, it' a Christmas-related food, and many recipes have been introduced to enrich this Holiday delight-with sweet jelly or brown sugar crunch, raisins, pineapple jam sauce, marmalade, honey gravy, butter and sugar sauce. . . . It sounds really sweet, and in fact tastes really sweet.

Filipino jamon itself is already sweet compared to salty Spanish hams or savory American sandwich hams. As in all Philippine processed foods, the Christmas ham contains "sugar" as an ingredient. Yet, to make it more luxurious, to be "better" (read "sweeter"), an inventive sweet sauce is poured over the slice.

Incidentally, whenever I ask why Philippine dishes are so sweet, people (and especially men) say "because we are sweet," as if this was out of a humor-manual for answering questions by foreigners. Aside from this wit, there are several reasons. Since there is little ancient influence from India, most Filipino dishes are not spicy in comparison with neighboring Southeast Asian countries. On top of this, Americans, who are sugar lovers, colonized the archipelago for forty years. American recipes were introduced, and the Philippines became a sugar-producing country. . . This is what I heard from my Filipino friend. But American and Filipino "sweet teeth" are somewhat different. To me, the Filipino taste outweighs in sweetness, because even the savory dishes or ingredients (sausages, canned luncheon meats, table rolls, cheese spread, mayonnaise, ketchup, etc.) are sugar-sweet.

  1. Resil B. Mojares. 2002. "Deciphering a Meal" In Waiting for Mariang Makling. pp.198-217. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.
"The Christmas Table in Cebu, the Philippines"
YAMAGUCHI Kiyoko (Division of Southeast Asian Area Studies)
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