An appreciation of Moro food can bring Pinoy Muslims and Christians closer, says this Muslim chef

Pendatun (in black) preparing dishes with the chefs of Chef Jessie’s Place. Photo via abs-cbn.com/ancx

By Barbara Mae Naredo Dacanay/abs-cbn.com/ancx – A Filipino Muslim chef and writer has been cooking and serving the “black” dishes of the Moros from Muslim-dominated parts of southern Philippines, hoping to stir a fascination for seemingly exotic viands that could possibly pave a harmonious “culinary-connect” with Filipinos nationwide, majority of whom are Catholics.

“Appreciating Moro food (outside of Mindanao) is a step closer to realizing that we aren’t very different from each other after all. By perceiving similarities in ingredients, flavors, and cooking techniques, one becomes conscious of things that connect,” claims Datu Shariff Pendatun III, a professionally trained chef and award-winning food writer, who has also been serving as a food ambassador of sorts for the cuisine of his home region. Hailing from Maguindanao, Pendatun was a social anthropology student at the University of the Philippines, before he finished culinary arts with honors at the Center for Asian Culinary Studies in 2005.

What is Moro food?

“Moro” encompasses different ethnic groups in Mindanao that are connected not just culturally but politically as well. Pendatun expounds, “Calling the foods of various Islamised ethnolinguistic groups (in Mindanao) Moro dishes is a political act in itself since the Moros own the term and have identified themselves as such.”

The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is composed of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi, formed after a referendum for autonomy in 1989, with Basilan and Marawi joining in 2001 after a peace settlement between the Philippine government and the 47-year-old Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The signing of a third pro-autonomy peace settlement by the government and the 38-year-old Moro Islamic Liberation Front (it became an MNLF faction in 1981) in 2014, resulted in Congress approving the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BAR) in January 2019.

To further explore the cuisines of Bangsamoro, Pendatun cooked and discussed a menu of six Moro dishes to illustrate his point about this “culinary-connect” during a well-attended lunch and lecture at Chef Jessie’s Place on Pililia Street in Makati last April 13. Organized by the Culinary Historians of the Philippines, the event was held in celebration of the country’s national Filipino Food Month.

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