The Foods of Jose Rizal
Everyone’s a “foodie” now, and in order to cash in on the fad, as well as the 150th anniversary of Philippine national hero Jose Rizal’s birth, historian Felice Prudente Sta. Maria decided to write a book on The Foods of Jose Rizal. I’d read this a few months back, but only got to writing my review today, which is fitting, because it’s the anniversary of his martyrdom. This was an ambitious tome, but it falls far short of the expectations it set for itself.
It’s not exciting enough to be food porn. It’s pretty much just bland narration and hardly any description. It’s not scholarly enough to be historical. Sta. Maria won some awards for her well-researched books in the past, but this one is built on “probablies” and “likelies”. The background is forced: in order to add more historical context, the author would begin chapters by talking about Rizal, then go on about secondary sources with only a tangential relation to our national hero, tying them together by implying that these were from Rizal’s own experiences. Very little is written about what Rizal actually ate. Instead, the food is extrapolated from these tangentially related sources. The title is deceptive then, and should be changed to The Foods During the Time of Jose Rizal, which He may have Eaten by Virtue of the Fact that they were The Foods During the Time of Jose Rizal (There is no Indication that He Actually Ate Such Food, Though).
The recipes are uninteresting and culled from the most random of sources. These were obviously just filler in order to keep the book more in line with the purported theme.
The main problem is that there is hardly any material on the matter in the first place, and the book tries too hard to make up for that fact. It would not satisfy one looking to learn more about food, about history, about traveling, and even about Rizal. Everything was superficially discussed, with any additional detail being mostly glossed over. The interplay between food on one hand, with culture and economics on the other, would have been interesting to someone who wanted to learn more about that time period, but again, this was only glanced upon, and barely.
The grammar is passable, if it were a high school freshman paper. There are many errors that a basic English speaker would not notice, much less mind. But this is supposed to be a semi-scholarly work. The style is inconsistent as well, with constant shifting between the passive and active voices.
It’s ironic that the author notes that Rizal’s novels were well-received in Europe. Perhaps this was because Rizal made his works accessible, i.e. readable, to everyone — a lesson that could have been put to use in the research, writing, editing, and publishing of this book.
Let’s just face it. Maybe food really didn’t interest Rizal at the time. The fact that he was a spendthrift and a pragmatist mean that he was probably not much of an epicure. It doesn’t make him any less of a hero, or appear less human or real. I’d still be interested on a better-researched, well-written account of the food of Rizal’s time. Hopefully, if enough primary sources can be found, this could be made a reality in the near future. Happy Rizal Day to everyone!