by Margaux Aquino
It was a chilly night in Manila and my Dad and were walking around for a bite to eat. Food adventures have always been an important part of our relationship. As we walked down a busy street, we could smell something bready, barbecue-y, and sweet. It smelled so familiar, even though I was in the Philippines for the very first time. We kept walking, and eventually found the source of the smell: a small street cart parked on a corner. Suddenly, my Dad was speaking Tagalog and handing me a steaming-hot bun that I couldn’t put a name to. How could something smell so familiar, yet seem so foreign? As I took a bite, a warm rush filled my body as I tasted the sweet, fatty pork that I remembered from family dim sum at the Chinese mall back in Michigan. The bun reminded me of the Hawaiian rolls my Mom would always set out with dinner – soft and sweet. I wanted to live in this moment forever, when my Dad broke the news that the siopao I was eating was something we could never ever find back at home. I savored the moment and ate much more siopao during my visit and subsequent visit to the Philippines.
My siopao memories continue on, as it was first a tasty treat enjoyed with my Dad, and then a food I rediscovered once I moved to New York City in 2012. I wanted to trace the history of siopao and my memories through both an infographic, and a Story Map, both below. I think it’s interesting how siopao has served as a comfort for both its early creators and myself. Food is something that comforts so many of us, through so many different circumstances: illness, heartbreak, homesickness. I think the fact that humans are so drawn to sadness is a reason why humans are also so drawn to food. Sometimes a good meal is the only thing that can pull me out of a downward spiral. And for that, I thank food.
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