How a Filipino Breakfast Changed My Writing
By Samantha Garner
June is Filipino Heritage Month, and to close out the month and my time here as writer-in-residence, I wanted to talk about Filipino breakfast. Specifically, one that influenced both my novel and my life.
The Quiet is Loud features a mixed-race Filipino and white protagonist, Freya. Several areas of the novel examine Freya's complicated relationship with her heritage. She often feels in a grey area of belonging - she doesn't fully fit in with either cultures, yet both are inextricably part of her.
One way in which Freya relates to her Filipino heritage is through food. She and I share a very similar cultural background, and I gave her my love of the Filipino breakfast dish longsilog.
In Filipino cuisine, a "silog" breakfast refers to a breakfast that includes sinangag (garlic fried rice), itlog (egg), and a third component that finishes off the portmanteau. In the case of longsilog, the "long" stands for the sweet breakfast sausage longanisa. There are many different kinds of silog breakfasts, but longsilog has been my favourite since I was a child. There was honestly no better feeling than waking up on a weekend morning and smelling the garlic, knowing my father was cooking his incredible garlic fried rice. No matter what kind of silog he made, there was always a small dish at the side of each plate containing vinegar and garlic, perfect for soaking the slices of tomato grilled on the stove's burner.
If asked what my favourite Filipino food is, I would probably say longsilog. It's delicious, imminently comforting, and easy to make - the holy trinity of food for me. Though I've never been able to replicate my dad's sinangag, despite how often I've stood next to him watching him cook it, making longsilog is a quick way for me to get closer to my Filipino heritage. Like Freya, I don't often feel like I fully fit in with the different cultures of my parents. While I understand that even monoracial people don't have a perfect understanding of their cultures, I grew up painfully aware of the large gaps in my knowledge, those specific contextual moments that left me standing there smiling politely as if I understood, feeling only partially constructed.
When I started writing The Quiet is Loud, I was sure of two things: Freya would be half-Filipino, and I would include Filipino elements in the novel. And, because food is the most low-stakes entry point into a culture, it was the first thing I accessed. Writing about longsilog in the novel was joyful. I didn't have to write about something I didn't understand. I didn't have to write about an experience I felt excluded from. I got to write about the parts of Filipino culture that are tightly bound to some of the happiest moments of my whole life. If you go to a Filipino party, there is no gatekeeping about food. No judgement. Instead, people are excited to feed you, to introduce you to something new, or to make sure you get second helpings of the food you already love.
After including longsilog in The Quiet is Loud, something unlocked. Suddenly I felt eager, almost desperate to include other aspects of Filipino culture. I thought back to other parts of my own upbringing that I really loved, such as Filipino mythology and, of course, more food. Then, I gained confidence to go deeper, to examine the way characters in the novel relate to their own Filipino heritage. The way it folds into their everyday lives and makes them the people they are. These are things I hadn't felt confident to explore in my work before. Now, I feel like I better understand how to ask these questions. I feel like I can ask these questions.
"Mary clanked a plate down in front of me, and the intoxicating smell of garlicky fried rice, egg, and longanisa went straight to my stomach and made me sit at attention. I had smelled the food cooking, but it hadn’t clicked that Mary was making my favourite Filipino breakfast, longsilog. I picked up my spoon and fork and took a moment to appreciate the meal. She’d even remembered I liked charred tomatoes and vinegar with it. There was nothing more comforting than the combination of tomato and tart vinegar sopped up by a spoonful of garlic-fried rice."
Longsilog appears twice in the novel, when its comfort is needed. I consider it to be the food mascot of The Quiet is Loud, and it's become even more significant in my life now that I've gotten to share it with readers. People tell me that reading my book made them hungry, and I take that as the highest praise of all.
Thank you very much to Open Book for having me as June's writer-in-residence. It's been so much fun! I've been honoured to spend this month talking about writing with all of you, and I hope that you've been able to find some new ideas and new questions of your own.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Samantha Garner is the author of The Quiet is Loud, shortlisted for the 2022 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize. A Canadian of mixed Filipino-Finnish background, her character-driven fantasy novels explore themes of identity and belonging. When not writing, Samantha can be found daydreaming in a video game or boring a loved one with the latest historical fact she’s learned.