Sunday, April 06, 2008

Not Your Grandma's Leche Flan



Growing up, I loved lingering about the kitchen while my grandparents cooked up the most delectable traditional Filipino dishes. My grandfather's Kaldereta was always a popular dish! No one in our family has been able to make it the way he used to make it!

I loved listening to my grandparents talk about life in the Philippines and moving to Canada almost forty years ago. I often wished I could capture all their stories on paper and keep them for posterity. There's just so much material that I wouldn't even know where to begin!

Though my brothers, cousins and I never learned to speak, read or write in Tagalog, we are able to understand most of what is spoken to us. I wish we were taught the language because now that I'm in my thirties, I'd love to pass more of my Filipino heritage onto my kids when Hubby and I start our own family.

Growing up in Montreal, Canada, I feel like I don't really know my Chinese and Filipino background. I know this phrase sounds horrible, but I kind of feel like a coconut. White on the inside and brown on the outside. It's a terrible thing to say, but that's how I felt growing up. The only time I was reminded that I was brown was when I looked in the mirror! Other than that, I didn't even realize that I wasn't 'white'! All my friends were 'white', we spoke French and English at school and English in the house. I didn't attend any of the Filipino Association clubs or events. I majored and specialized in English Literature in university. Many of my courses were about "Western Civilization". I took countless courses in Women's Literature, British Literature, and the only time I realized how much I was missing out on my own cultural background was when I took a course in literature and the immigrant experience.

It was then that I understood that though I am North American and have lived here my entire life, I've got so many things that I need to learn about who I am and where my roots are.

This post is a result of this strange wave of thought I had as I made a dessert that reminded me of my grandmother's leche flan. I can't give out my grandmother's recipe because it's a secret family recipe...and because it's so time consuming and labour-intensive that even I can't make it! My cousin brought me a box of Dr. Oetker's Creme Caramel. Though I try not to make any convenience foods, the box was just sitting there in our kitchen. It reminded me of my grandmother and her wonderful leche flan. For a brief moment, I was transported back to my grandparents' home in Montreal. My grandmother was making her leche flan and telling me all the naughty things my mom and her siblings used to do. In that moment, I could even smell her. It was that unmistakable scent of Johnson's & Johnson's baby powder, rose water and Oil of Olay.

I was thinking, would it be horrible for me to ask my eighty-six year old grandmother to slave for hours in the kitchen making her fabulous leche flan when she returns to Canada for the summer months?

I don't even like eating sweets!

Isn't it funny how certain fragrances, aromas, sounds, and music can trigger memories from deep within?

24 comments:

mrinz said...

I have often thought that it must be confusing for NZ born immigrants, many of course have the same or similar background as you. (hows that for a clumsy sentence!)

If they keep their language and customs alive they are sometimes accused of 'not integrating'- which is nonsense of course.

Living in Canada for that year in 1968/69 gave me a huge insight into how it feels to be an immigrant.(and I spoke English - well a version of English!)

jan said...

Proust wrote "Remembrance of Things Past" after the memories brought back of the fresh baked madelienes swept over him. the sense of smell is amazing.

hotmommy said...

is it just me or are you getting very pensive these days? luv you my little coconut!

Karen MEG said...

To my friend the coconut from her friend the banana:

I think these sensory memories are often the most potent - they hit you when you least expect it and just transport you back to usually the most beautiful memories.

hey, I've tried that Dr. Oetker creme caramel and it actually is not bad :)

J at www.jellyjules.com said...

My husband is brown, and my friends say they forget it sometimes, because he seems white to them. His ancestors are from India, via a few generations in Guyana, and he's American, so he wouldn't fit in well in either of those places. It's amazing what is lost in this world, where we travel so much further than our ancestors would have ever dreamed.

Girlie Monkey said...

I had this long comment about my perspective on immigration and preserving culture but the stupid "blogger" didn't post it so i don't feel like re-typing it again ;-)

Dessert looks yummy though!

t said...

The funny thing is that you always seemed white to me! But you always had the best family parties! The food was always amazing and you are so close to your family- I always loved that about your culture and your family. would be nice if you learned more about your roots, it's very special. Your right- your grandmother's flan is the best !

do you think your more of a coconut than a banana? :0)

C said...

mrinz:
It can certainly be quite the challenge...not knowing what your roots are when you've been living your entire life in a "Western" country. I was talking about this with Hubby last night, and he said something that made me smile. He said, "I don't think you're a coconut." To this, I thought, "Oh, great! You think I'm not Canadian then?"

Hubby smiled and said, "No. I just think that you are aware of your culture and that you practice certain aspects of it." How's that for being diplomatic?! LOL! ;)

Jan:
Yes! That's right! I remember reading that AGES ago! Just thinking of the aroma of freshly baked madeleines is a powerful enough trigger to transport one into one's past! I should look up my Proust quotes.

C said...

Hot Mommy:
I wuv you tooooooo! ;) Yeah, I don't know why I was thinking about that. Funny how all of a sudden you think of things that you wouldn't otherwise think of.

Karen:
LOL! Thanks :) You make me laugh :) Thanks, my lovely banana friend! You're the best!

C said...

J:
That is so true. I can relate! When I was in the Philippines, I wasn't Filipina enough. They said my tagalog sounded too "English" and my mannerisms were too "North American". Here in the countryside, sometimes people speak to me very slowly, thinking I don't know how to speak English because I'm "Asian" looking. Then they find out that I'm very well educated, and that I have majored and specialized in English Lit, and have taught since 1998.

Sometimes being a first generation Canadian (of Asian parents) is like walking on a tightrope. On one side, you're not Asian enough to associate fully with your Asian side. On the other side, you're not white, so you're not immediately seen or recognized as "Canadian". I've had people ask me where I'm from and when I say I'm Canadian, they say, "No. Really, where are you from?" Urrgh.

Thanks for your comment, J. You always have the most thoughtful and thought provoking things to say.

Girlie:
Awww, shucks! That's too bad! I'd have loved to hear what you had to say!!!! I hate it when Blogger loses my comments too!

T:
Yes, you're right! That is one thing I am super proud of. The fact that I am so close to my family is something very special and important to me. That is one aspect of my culture that I love. The togetherness is something quite special.

To answer your question, sometimes I feel like a banana and sometimes I feel like a coconut. That's another challenge I have. I'm not 100% Chinese and I'm not 100% Filipina...but I'm 100% Canadian? Talk about confusing!

Sandy C. said...

That is too funny about the coconut....because I always tell people I consider myself like a 'Banana' as a Chinese-American, Yellow on the outside and white-ish on the inside.

Uncivil said...

Hmmmmm....I'm not redneck enough enough to fit in with the true rednecks, and I'm not uppity enough to fit in with the upper class!
I guess I sort of know how you feel? LOL!!!!!;)

Liver pudding reminds me of my granny.

lisa marie said...

Maybe your grandma could instruct you on making it? :) Two women hanging out in the kitchen. :)

Jeanna said...

Hey C., so glad I can finally get a chance to visit. I bet she'd love spending time with you in the kitchen. Maybe she can direct from a comfy chair.

VE said...

Have you ever visited the Philippines? I have; there are some beautiful beaches there. Manilla is a bit unruly though.

japanmanpete said...

Try being a Brit bloke in Japan! That's what displacement feels like.

That flan looks good.

-Pete

NYD said...

Hey, this is wierd. I was strolling through your pages via VE's place and then found that you were doing the same exact thing at the same time.

Must be the 'I was a Gaijin in Japan' connection.

Thanks for the comments, they reminded me of better times.

C. K. said...

Coconut!!?? That's the first time I've ever heard that!

But of course I've been accused of being a banana.

HA ha aha ha ha!

Deb said...

I swear you are my sister from another mother and country! I go through the "white on the inside, brown on the outside" dilemma on a daily basis.

My mother is Marshalese and Japanese and I never learned any languages or true culture. I wish I would have now that I am older.

And I love all the banana comparisons too! We should all start our own Banana-cococut Club!

C said...

Sandy:
LOL! I'm torn between being a coconut and a banana! ;p Dad's Caribbean-Chinese and Mom's Spanish-Filipina!!

Uncivil:
:) Yous jus purfek da wey yous iz. ;) Your comments always crack me up! XO

Lisa Marie & Jeanna:
You're both right. I should get her to instruct me from a comfy chair. I just know that her way is the most time consuming way to make this dessert...but it's sooooooooo goooood!! LOL! ;)

C said...

VE:
I have been to the Philippines once. It was a few years ago to attend my aunt's funeral and to visit my grandparents' hometown. It was a very special and eye-opening experience. Very bittersweet. The Philippines is a beautiful country and has many beautiful beaches. Manila is a little bit too busy for me though! It's a bit dizzying, really.

Pete:
I hear ya! I know the feeling. Well, not the part about being a British "bloke" though! LOL! ;)

C said...

nyd:
LOL! How interesting! It definitely must be the 'I was a Gaijin in Japan' connection!! ;)

CK:
Yeah, coconut...kind of like a banana, but with a brown exterior. LOL! I'm both a coconut AND a banana. Does this make me a coconana or a bananut??? LOL!

Deb:
You know it, sista! ;) LOL!
Wow! Your mother is Marshallese and Japanese! What a beautiful combination!!! Love it!

BeachMama said...

Yummy flan :). I dated a Filipino gentleman (Ok we were young kids) when I was living in Winnipeg. Some of my fondest memories are of big huge festive events with the food. Three of my favorites that I still miss are Chicken Adobo, Pandisol buns and Purple Yam fruit dessert (a jelly type thing). My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Fifteen years ago, I understood Tagalog, but I would be hard pressed today to remember any.

baby~amore' said...

I love Creme caramel ... ;(about the recipe but like KFC we have a secret recipe.
I must make some !

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City girl moves to the country, falls in love, and marries a farmer. She tries to incorporate her city ways with her new country lifestyle and blogs to keep in touch with friends, family & students who live far, far away :) Can this city girl go country? Watch as she learns all sorts of exciting things about life on the farm and in a small rural community. *UPDATE* We are now parents! Our baby girl was born on Nov. 11, 2008 (at 28 weeks gestation- 12 weeks premature, but she's quite the trooper)!!!
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