To Liza’s amazement, Salu-Salo’s huge popularity among readers in North America attracted Page Street Publishing, who asked her to write Quintessential Filipino Cooking 75 Authentic and Classic Recipes of the Philippines launched this year.
Liza recalls, “The publishers called when I was about to leave for my mother’s 90th birthday in the Philippines.”
When Liza Agbanlog moved to Canada with her family in the early ‘90s, she wanted to cook Filipino food but couldn’t find the ingredients. There weren’t too many Filipino cookbooks around for Pinoys living abroad. She was overwhelmed with caring for three small children, having been used to life in Manila where there was a big family to count on. Slowly, Liza made friends in the Vancouver Filipino community who suggested where to shop for Asian ingredients. She learned to substitute hard-to-find condiments. Liza tapped the cooking skills taught by her mother.
In time, Liza found her way around her Canadian kitchen. She cooked for her family especially during holidays and birthdays. She started blogging in 2012 to record recipes. “I get an average of 12,000 visits per day,” Liza says.
The recent trip back home gave Liza the chance to talk to older relatives for ideas. She returned to Vancouver, with family recipes that she kitchen-tested. Liza had enough to fill her cookbook with 75 authentic, classic Philippine recipes divided into nine chapters. The dishes ranged from meats, seafoods, rice and noodles, vegetables, soups, desserts and more. Her criteria for the dishes were ease of cooking, relatable meals for Filipinos, accessible ingredients, and definitely flavorful outcomes. Liza’s cookbook is a workhorse. It’s the book you bring into the kitchen, lay flat on the counter, write into pages and bookmark the recipes you’re familiar with.
Liza was warm and friendly when I chatted with her. Charming and down-to-earth, she reminisced about food memories.
She happily talked about her family: husband William; her three sons, Kendrick married to Clara; Kendal who helps maintain her blog; and Kennard, the youngest.
“Sinigang (tamarind stew) is a favorite of my sons,” she says. When they were new to Vancouver, Liza used sinigang mix packets. Later, she found specialty stores with fresh tamarind pods which she used. Her sons noticed the difference and began to appreciate the wholesome, natural flavors.
“The recipes in my cookbook are easy to make, “she says. For kitchen novices, Liza recommends the adobo recipes. “Adobo is simple to do. You put it all in a pot and let it simmer.”
The younger generation has taken to her cookbook, too. Her sons’ Canadian friends were adventurous enough to make Kare-Kare (ox tail peanut stew), which Liza knows is complex for those new to Pinoy cooking. But she was proud to hear the young ones were up to the challenge.
Despite having lived in Canada for so long, Liza still yearns to scour for ingredients she wishes she could easily find. “Kamias (bilimbi) to make sinigang extremely sour is impossible to find, “she said.
Liza also wishes she could have access to tamarind leaves for her mother’s recipe of Sinampalukang Manok (chicken in tamarind). She wistfully recalls her mother, Lydia, cooking a scrumptious Dinuguan with Tamarind Leaves, a dish indigenous to natives of Gapan, Nueva Ecija.
Like many, she is the typical working wife who comes home after a busy day at the school where she works as a special education assistant to autistic children.
“My day starts with going to work in the morning and coming home in the afternoon. I go for a walk, cook dinner and prepare lunches for the next day. After dinner, I work on my blog.”
Liza personally replies to comments and enjoys hearing her readers’ food stories. Liza Agbanlog’s popularity in the Filipino Canadian food community can be attributed to her recipes, which are relatable. She shares homespun cooking wisdom and is a helpful resource to busy homemakers or those learning how to cook.
Her can-do attitude is worth emulating. The lack of ingredients has never stopped her from cooking what she knows best. In fact, her resourcefulness led to possibilities. Whether it’s her recipes in her blog or her cookbook, Liza inspires by harnessing what she can find.
Looking back to when she first landed in Canada, Liza has this kitchen advice for those who live abroad: “Give Filipino food a try and have fun in the process. It will give you an appreciation of our cuisine.”
Elizabeth Ann Quirino, based in New Jersey is a journalist and author of the “Instant Filipino Recipes: My Mother’s Philippine Food In a Multicooker Pot” Cookbook. She is a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals and blogs about Filipino home cooking on her site AsianInAmericaMag.com.
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