The Birth of Ang Sariling Atin Culinary Heritage Institute (Food That Was Always Ours)

January 5, 2012

Ang Sariling Atin (Food That Was Always Ours) logo by Pauline Galiana

Last year was a breakthrough year for the Ang Sariling Atin (ASA) which would lead the way to preserving not only the  culinary heritage of the Philippines but will seek to re-discover the true palate of the Filipinos.  Below is the overview of the Institute and what we seek to achieve.  Since I am mostly based here in NYC, I will also be doing activities around the US to bring the food issues we raise here to the Filipino community and the greater American public because the future of our health and well being is at stake.  We hope to engage many of you in the many rewards of re-learning our food, our regional flavours and our true palate that has been eroded during the last two decades of fast food and MSG-laden packaged mixes.   Amy Besa

Cooking rice in bamboo tubes is a dying art that needs to be revived

Ang Sariling Atin (ASA) Culinary Heritage Institute

(Food That Was Always Ours)

“If we want to preserve our culinary heritage, we must cook and eat those dishes that were served by our mothers and grandmothers when home cooking was our primary source of sustenance.  It is not enough to document them and keep them in archives.  We must bring these dishes, along with their cooking methods and cooking equipment, back to our table.  We must re-awaken our thirst to learn to cook with the palayok, with banana leaves and the bamboo tubes savoring the flavor of our alugbati, saluyot and malunggay.  Otherwise, not only will our culinary heritage disappear, but our identity as Filipinos will be lost along with the health and vitality of our nation.” Amy Besa

What is the Ang Sariling Atin (ASA) Culinary Heritage Institute?

The Ang Sariling Atin (ASA) Culinary Heritage Institute is a non-stock , nonprofit corporation registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the Philippines.  It was founded and established by Amy Besa, a New York-based restaurateur with 16 years of restaurant management experience.  Ms. Besa, along with her husband, Chef Romy Dorotan, have authored the award-winning international book, Memories of Philippine Kitchens (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2006, NYC), which showcased heirloom recipes from several regions in the Philippines and contemporary Filipino recipes from their New York based restaurant.  A new and revised edition of the book will be released May 2012.

Pinais in Ilocos Sur has similarities to the Kuping of Sorsogon

Preservation of our Culinary Heritage through Research

The native cuisine proved itself strong and resistant to “fraternization” with the foreign invaders. The original dishes have retained their ingredients, cooking methods and spirit. Foreign dishes have been Filipinized, but Philippine dishes have not been Sinicized or Hispanized. The cultural interaction has been one of borrowing whole dishes, then adapting and indigenizing them, rather than borrowing elements to impose on native dishes. The result is a cuisine enriched rather than bastardized, its integrity kept, its dynamism that of judicious response to change.

Doreen G. Fernandez:

Culture Ingested: Notes on the Indigenization of Philippine Food

Did you know that Filipinos use a tandoor oven in Ilocos? Neal Oshima identifies this as "opia on a piyalo." I assume that the local term for the tandoor oven is piyalo. The dough is stuck on the side of the hot oven until properly "baked."

The ASA aims to build knowledge on Philippine culinary heritage and inform about the Filipino palate through the documentation and preservation of family heirloom recipes, old cooking techniques and traditional cooking equipment.

We are developing a scientifically based research methodology to gather data on flavors of the different regions of the country and with the help of academicians, will write a book on Discovering the Filipino Palate: the food, flavor preferences and meals of the Filipino people.

Wrapping rice cakes with banana leaves, a more flavorful and environmentally friendly method of cooking

The Benefits of Preserving Our Culinary Heritage

1. Preserving a fast disappearing part of Filipino life that is culturally important and making it accessible for future generations.

  • If we don’t eat it, we lose it. The Philippines houses a complex culinary heritage. Filipinos however are in a crisis identifying what is theirs.
  • Filipino food is getting commercial and artificial. The Filipino food landscape is vibrant.  We do not want to lose its value to commercially produced flavoring pastes and powders, mass produced traditional foods and other culinary deskilling and convenience products.
  • Food is a tool of empowerment for people. Our regional based cuisine is getting more popular but remains understudied. The benefits of a deeper understanding of the Filipino palate go a long way whether this deals with identity, arts or in business.

2. Healthier diets for today and tomorrow.

  • Diverse diets should be part of healthy lifestyles. A healthy diet is based on a diversity of fruits, vegetables and animal protein found locally.  Despite the bounty of our islands and seas, Filipinos don’t have much access to fresh, nutritious and diverse foods.
  • Poor people don’t have to have bad meals. Almost a third of the Filipino population is poor. Poverty contributes to the slow disappearance of local flavours and cuisines as  people desperately rely on cheap instant and processed food to satiate hunger.
  • The country needs a healthy, productive and well-educated workforce. What the country has is the double burden of malnutrition which is rather more damaging to the economy. While we are rehabilitating millions of undernourished children we are also nursing a significant number of adults with non-communicable lifestyle diseases as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

3. A return to an environmentally responsible way of nourishing ourselves.

  • Nature nurtures but we have to give back. We believe that the future of our well-being depends on responsible stewardship of the earth and our environment.  We need to start integrating as many sustainable sources of food into the diets of Filipinos in every region of the country.
  • We need to reconnect to food. Food is sacred and must be treated with respect and so should those hands that raise them be supported. The promotion of sustainable agriculture and the preservation of heritage food and heirloom crops may make us once more look at food as more than a source of sustenance and nourishment.

Sinambong suman in San Juan, Ilocos Sur

Call to Action: Community Kitchens

ASA champions the building of community kitchens all over the country as a way of empowering people to accomplish the following goals:

Protect and promote local indigenous ingredients and dishes through their revival and continued use

  • raise the quality of life through livelihood projects
  • improve people’s health through diverse diets  and proper food preparation ; and
  • create sustainable communities through practical and green foodways .

The ASA will share its knowledge of the culinary arts, food preparation and nutrition with different types of communities (both rural and urban) while documenting the different local flavours and cooking practices to preserve the Filipino palate for future generations to enjoy.

The ASA also aims to learn best practices from its partner organizations and stakeholders in the local community.   We will partner with:

Local Government Units/Organizations and Universities  in setting up/organizing the kitchens  and mobilizing the communities

  • Culinary institutions and organizations to provide their students opportunities of culinary immersion as they collaborate with local cooks to set up community kitchens.
  • International proponents of sustainable agriculture, heirloom crops and recipes

ASA Community Kitchen Pilot Project

We are presently working on a pilot project to build a community kitchen at the Marina Wellness Clinic in Dauin, outside Dumaguete, Negros Oriental with the Nutrition and Dietetics Department of Silliman University.  The kitchen design will make use of skilled artisans and craftsmen and their knowledge of local indigenous materials to build an effective system of collection and reuse of rainwater, develop fuel efficient stoves and ovens and other technological developments to create a replicable prototype of a green and eco-friendly kitchen. We will be exchanging lessons on local cuisine and proper food preparation and sanitation with country cooks and other cooking apprentices (i.e.,  mothers, public school teachers, health and nutrition workers).

Making miki, whole wheat noodles for breakfast soup, Santa Catalina near Vigan, Ilocos Sur. Note the old karitela wheel which has been recycled to run the pasta making machine. The ingenuity of our people never ceases to amaze me.

Other Projects

National Filipino Food Conference in Manila is proposed for March 2013 to provide culinary professionals and other sectors of society an overview of our culinary heritage and how it is intertwined with the state of human and environmental health in the country.  The conference will report on the status of our community kitchen projects and identify future strategies for the ASA to reach its goals.  It is further proposed that the results of this conference be presented in another conference in New York City to be hosted by the Asian/ Pacific/ American Institute of New York University sometime October 2013.  The ASA views this opportunity for dual conferences an effective way to bring our efforts and concerns in line with those of the international community.

Books/ Videos/ TV shows – as we gather our research data on our culinary heritage, we will be making our findings available to both scholars and the public through smaller publications (regional food books, monographs on heirloom dishes or ingredients, family recipe cookbooks, etc) and cooking shows through video to be released on the web or through television shows.

Archiving / New Media Presence – we intend to digitize our research so that the data can be accessed by scholars, researchers and the inquiring public through our website/database.

Making tapuy, local rice wine in Ilocos Sur near the foothills of the Cordilleras sharing this tradition with the indigenous people who live in the mountains.

Who We Are

Amy Besa, President of the Ang Sariling Atin Culinary Heritage Institute, is presently based in New York City and uses her present restaurant, Purple Yam, as a platform to promote Filipino food abroad.  Her husband, Chef Romy Dorotan, along with the restaurant, have been the subject of many positive reviews and feature articles in US publications.

Executive Committee

Melanie Narciso, Assistant Professor, Institute of Human Nutrition and Food, College of Human Ecology, University of the Philippines, Los Baños.  She travels around the Philippines to document the diets and food practices of Filipinos as a part of locally and internationally funded nutrition researches.  Her latest research involves the participatory development of recipes among mothers utilizing locally available techniques and ingredients in Camarines Sur, Zamboanga and Iloilo.

Anabelle Abaya, Founder of the Conflict Resolution Group Foundation, Inc., a non-profit, non-stock organization dedicated to promoting non-adversarial processes of conflict resolution.  She is the former presidential adviser on the peace process in the Philippines under President Gloria M. Arroyo.

Lyn Besa-Gamboa, President, Negros Cultural Foundation.  She has spearheaded many efforts to preserve not only historical homes in Bacolod and Silay, Negros Occidental, but also the kalan-unon and native dishes of the region.

Neal Oshima, an award winning photographer for many food books published both in and outside the Philippines.  He is the photographer of Memories of Philippine Kitchens.

Community Kitchen Committee (for the Marina Clinic in Dauin, Negros Oriental)

Dr. Edgardo Rodriguez, Dean of the College of Business, Enderun Colleges.  A native of Dumaguete and a graduate of Silliman University, he will lead a team of Enderun students in developing a business plan to build a sustainable community kitchen and develop livelihood projects for barangays in Dauin.

Edi Sian is a businessman with extensive experience in international microfinance and microenterprise investing.  His role with the ASA is to develop local social enterprises that focus on using market solutions to solve societal problems.

Erwin Lizarondo – Professor, College of Business, Enderun Colleges.  He is mentoring a group of culinary students from Enderun (aka the Kawali Kings) in developing modules to teach basic culinary skills along with sanitation and safety codes to mothers to improve the health and nutrition of their children and families.  They will also develop marketable recipes for a livelihood program within these communities.

Dr. Michael Tan, Dean of the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines Diliman. He will lead a group of researchers in developing a sound methodology documenting the flavours of the locality and in implementing the research aspect of the community kitchen project.

Selection of kakanin delicacies from Bacolod. In the middle is a tamale wrapped in corn husk, more closely related to the Mexican tamale and different from the Pampanga tamales.

Board of Advisors: (partial list)


Ma. Dolores Romualdez-Colayco, Founding Member, Culinary Historians of the Philippines (CHOP)

Yvette Fernandez, Editor-in-Chief, Town and Country Philippines

Tom Bascon, Chef

Bea Misa, owner, Ritual

Nana Ozaeta, Editor-in-Chief, Food Magazine

Carla Pacis, Professor, De La Salle University

Ige Ramos, Editor-in-Chief, Sans Rival magalogue for Rustan’s supermarket

Tricia Tensuan, Vice-President for admissions and external relations, Enderun Colleges

Ramon Uy Jr (Chin Chin), Co-Founder, Fresh Start Organics / President, ONOPRA (Organik na Negros! Organic Producers and Retailers Association)

JJ Yulo, Founder. Choreographer. GRO. Pinoy Eats World

Tanya Yuson, Film and TV Producer/Director

United States

Jack Tchen, Founding Director, Asian Pacific American Institute, New York University

Patrick Martins, co-Founder, Heritage Foods USA, founder of Slow Food USA

Alex Orquiza, Doctoral Candidate, Department of History, The Johns Hopkins University

Adlai Amor, Silliman University Alumni Association; Bread for the World, DC

Alice Flores Mercado, Silliman University Alumni Association

United Kingdom

Regina Lim, Associate Lecturer and Researcher, Department of Planning and Urban Design Faculty of Technology, Design and Environment, Oxford Brookes University

For more information about the ASA, please contact Amy Besa at

Making kalamay - ground sweet rice with brown sugar and coconut milk -- a delicacy of Ilocos Sur.

Photos of our culinary traditions courtesy of Neal Oshima

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Cathy Coleman January 12, 2012 at 5:30 pm

I would like to buy the book or even sell it here in California. If that would be fine with you?. Please give me details on how to go about it?. I love it!. specially that sinambong, my grandma use to make, since our ancestors are from Ilocus Sur. Thank you so much! This is awesome, I love your lay out and I am excited and so delighted!. I will post this on my FB site. . God bless you!….Catherine.I.Coleman

Amy Besa January 12, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Thanks Cathy. Will have to find out how you can sell. The easiest way right now is to get a few copies from Amazon which sell the books at a cheap price. The revised and updated version will come out May 2012. Perhaps we can do a launch in CA again. Thanks for your enthusiasm and support.

Lucidelle Gonzalez January 13, 2012 at 2:29 pm

This is wonderful! I have never even seen or taste some of these delicacies u have posted! Even better when u launch this book is invite people to make some of these food and sell them. I would surely be there, and I’m from las Vegas!!! Great, thanks from saving our culture!

H. Jonas Javier January 13, 2012 at 3:12 pm


I bought a copy of your book and have read it cover to cover! It is beautifully presented, thoroughly researched, informative, and personally engaging. As a Philippine born New Jerseyan I applaud your efforts to bringing our culture to the limelight. I can honestly say that you’ve motivated me to do the same in my own way, including following on the activities of the new institute you’ve created. I look forward to dining at Purple Yam when the NJ Nets move to Brooklyn!

Warmest Regards!

Peng Olaguera January 13, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Great job Amy+Romy! I come from a family that hardly ate at restaurants. My parents were the first of their families to move to Manila from the provinces. The links to Bicol were ever present. We ate food that my parents grew up with. My dad even planted a malunggay tree in our front yard so we can have it as part of our everyday food. It reminded me of the house he grew up in, in Guinobatan, Albay. It had a lot of fruit trees and edible plants that would be part of their meals. It even had a hedge of paco which makes a great vegetable dish. My dad even raised golden snails in our little fish pond so we could have fresh kuhol sa gata.

Amy Besa January 15, 2012 at 12:16 am

Thanks! Look forward to having you at PY soon. Hope you can visit the Philippines soon and enjoy its bounty.

Amy Besa January 15, 2012 at 12:17 am

Thanks Peng! You have helped us a lot in our research for what is ours. The kurakding for one which made such a fabulous story in our Memories of Phil Kitchens. If only you could keep the traditions that your Dad started even here in the US.

Amy Besa January 15, 2012 at 12:21 am

Thanks! The revised edition of Memories will not have these unfortunately. But we plan, as soon as we can get funding, to do a book that features many of these glorious culinary treasures that we have in the Philippines — many of them hidden from view. One positive result of culinary preservation is that one is totally amazed at our people and our culture. You really end up loving the country and being proud of what we have.

Mark Roland Arquero Castaneda November 19, 2012 at 11:46 pm

This is such a wonderful piece of work. I have your book and I really enjoy it. I can’t wait to purchase the revised edition soon. I am so grateful for your work. I stumbled on this site while I was looking for a recipe for Filipino Tamales. I am familiar with the Pampanguenyo tamales, which I have made at home, but I was looking for other types. My father who grew up in Ilagan, Isabela said that he remembered seeing tamales for sale at the market when he was younger. He didn’t remember very much except that they were made of corn and were sweet. He wasn’t even familiar with the Pampaguenyo tamales. My mother who grew up in the far north of Cagayan made what she called tamales- ipon, the small, silver fish cooked in a small lump with in ginger and wrapped in a banana leaf. She didn’t know about the ones my dad talked about.
As an adult recently I had been able to visit the Philippines twice and I was always amazed with our foods and wanted to see and eat so much but we never had enough time. I fell in love with being Filipino and all things Filipino. The people were so amazing to me that I thought to myself- wow, I really have to eat what they are eating!!! I am so glad to have been born (I left the island when I was barely 2 years old) in the Philippines and it was such a blessing to see so much variety in produce as well as production and the creativity that went into that production. Thank you so very much for seeking to preserve our beautiful traditions and recipes without which we would be so lost.

Malou Legaspi November 28, 2012 at 6:55 am

Hi! I am very happy to see you Ms. Amy Besa and your husband Chef Romy Dorotan when you joined and took part in the 7th Negros Organic Farmers Festival last November 22-24, 2012 here in Bacolod City. I watched the cooking demo by Chef Romy and other Chefs… We are so blessed that there are people who are doing much effort to preserve the true Filipino foods and campaigning for a healthier cooking as well. I am a mother to my 9yr old unica hija and I am also making extra effort to let her eat healthy food. I usually prepare our meals and seldom let her eat from fast food restos. I also have the passion for cooking, not only because I love to eat but I also want a healthy food prepared for my family and I also share it to my relatives and friends. I am much willing to volunteer and be part of your thrust. Hope I can be part of ASA :-) Thank you and God bless you and your team. Hope I can get your email ad so I can send pictures of Chef Romy in action here in Bacolod City… thank you so much!!!

Amy Besa December 20, 2012 at 5:47 pm

thanks so much for your beautiful response. I feel exactly as you do. Everytime I go home and see all the variety of food that we have, I fall in love with our people, culture and country all over again.

Amy Besa December 20, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Thanks Malou, will send you an email and hook you up with some people who are into ASA in Manila. What you are doing right now, feeding your child healthy food is already helping us at ASA. That is the end result that we want — that people like you eat and cook for your family in the healthy traditional way. No more fast food for kids.

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