STORIES nourish just as much as food, and the Mama Sita Foundation’s 4th Mga Kwentong Pagkain goes on despite a pandemic.

The contest focusing on Filipino food, went online this year: the submissions, deliberations, and awarding of the winners were all done in everyone’s homes, with contestants coming from all corners of the Philippines.

While the last contest (held in 2016) was strictly an essay-writing one, with the winners published in a book the online format opened new possibilities with entries for this year were submitted in written, video, and even in illustrated form through the contest website’s page, with over 50 entries submitted from its launch on June 25 to its close on August 16.

The different entries were reviewed and discussed by panelists, which include food historian Felice Sta. Maria, Ateneo de Manila University professor emeritus Fernando Zialcita, author Guillermo Ramos, Jr., columnist Michaela Fenix, and writer Nina Puyat.

They shared their insights and inputs from the entries with each other through an email thread. The top ten entries for the contest were posted on Facebook last September 15, which also opened the nominations for the Patok na Mangkok award, given to the entry with the most likes and reactions in the post.

The winners and runners-up of the contest were announced in a video premiere on the Mga Kwentong Pagkain’s Facebook page, hosted by Paolo Paculan and Matthew Yuching. Taking home the Patok na Mangkok award was Aries Mercado, who hails from the province of Pampanga. His entry was a story on the different varieties of lulak or lugaw (rice porridge) in the province.

The three major island groups of the country were represented in the contest by awarding one winner each of the Pinilakang Palayok award from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

With a grand winner from each of the major islands in the country, the Pinilakang Palayok were given the distinction of being the best entries from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

Luzon winner Bea Mandapat comes from La Trinidad, Benguet, and wrote about Etag, or salted and preserved pork, that her family traditionally made. She also talked about the memories the food invoked from both her and her father.

“Perhaps to conjure a memory of crisp nights in a yard behind a steel drum house, or the sound of dinnertime laughter around a wooden table where new friends became old ones. Or maybe even the lasting image of piercing blue-gray eyes telling you to finish your food,” said her entry. 

Visayas winner from Bohol, Procopio “Cooper” Resabal Jr. shared his ancestors’ story of how their entire village managed to escape conflict and bloodshed by holding a feast and serving the soldiers Halang-halang manok tinunuan, a spicy and milky chicken dish. The dish has always been the centerpiece of any gathering or events in his hometown. He talks about the role of the dish in supporting and sustaining their village.

“Indeed, in war and peace, and even in times of disaster, the Halang-halang manok tinunuan continues to add spice to life and help the clan and the folks rise again from historical and natural challenges in my father’s village,” says his entry.

Finally, Mindanao winner from Zamboanga John Serag writes about their local street food satti, explaining that the satti is not just a local concept, but came as a result of different cultures and practices influencing its creation, from foreign to local influences.

“Kung satti ang nakahain, tiyak na magdadala ito ng kakaibang sarap satti’ng paggising,” (If satti is served, it will surely bring a different kind of enjoyment when waking up), read his entry.

The contest continues to prove throughout the years that sharing one’s culture and history, especially their food traditions, will always find a way to tell its story. Through the contest, Filipinos here and abroad are given an opportunity to tell their culinary stories and traditions to a bigger audience, to tell their kwentong pagkain to everyone else. — JLG