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How growing up in a Filipino household shaped my relationship with food

The traditional foods I ate as a child led me to be courageous in my choices today

By Jenny Castaneda

Have you ever had balut? If you don't know what it is (I wouldn't recommend Googling it at work), I'll spare you the trouble and just say that it's a popular dish in Asia that is deemed very bizarre here in the Western world. It's also something I grew up eating. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

No, but really. I am a foodie at heart, and I have a very deep appreciation for all different kinds of foods thanks to them. Did I like everything they fed me growing up? Not really. But I am proud to say that I will try anything at least once. They gave me my courage with food. Not just the courage to try new things, but to create new things as well.

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Although I grew up in a very traditional Filipino household, where half of our meals consisted of Filipino dishes, my parents' love for a wide variety of flavors provided us with some really interesting (and delicious) dishes. Birthday parties consisted of spaghetti with hot dogs and fried chicken. For Christmas, we had spiralized ham, rice noodles, salt-and-pepper crab and mashed potatoes and gravy. All the dishes were a smorgasbord of different cuisines — nothing had to match, but everything tasted amazing! As I grow older, I still hold onto that sentiment. My approach is more refined in a spruce-up-Brussels-Sprouts-with-pureed-roasted-pepper kind of way, but the main theme holds true. I'm not afraid to create dishes with new flavors I think would go great together. And I've had some amazing results because of it!

The traditional foods I ate as a child led me to be courageous in my choices today

Image: Jenny Castaneda

My passion for cooking stems from all the hours I spent in the kitchen with my mother. What I remember best was what we did every Sunday. My mom and I would always tune in to at least two cooking shows on TV. With pen and paper in hand, we would watch in anticipation and scribble down recipes we would want to try next. It gets boring to cook and eat the same thing week in and week out, so new dishes that we got from watching our favorite cooking shows would appear on the following week's menu — with a little flair, of course. Sometimes it was a yay, sometimes it was a nay, but those Sundays were my cooking classes. I learned about contrasting and complementary flavors (and that I hated cilantro with a vengeance, though I do love it now!). It was where I developed my own signature stamp on dishes.

I am very thankful to have parents that taught me to be adventurous with my food. They taught me how to appreciate traditional dishes as well as how to re-create them with exciting and unexpected flavors. I realize that life is more exciting when you know that everything is up for interpretation. I will always cherish the food of my upbringing, because it taught me that life — as with food — is what you make of it.

Jenny Castaneda is the founder of Paleo Foodie Kitchen and author of One-Pot Paleo: Simple to Make, Delicious to Eat and Gluten-free to Boot.

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