Elizabeth Yu Gokongwei’s Legacy Lives On Through This Heirloom Cookbook
In a heartbreaking turn of events, Elizabeth Yu Gokongwei, the wife of JG Summit Holdings Inc. founder and chairman emeritus John Gokongwei Jr., passed away on November 16, exactly a week after her husband’s death. She was 85.
In light of her passing, we remember the philanthropist, patron of the arts, and Robinsons Department Store co-founder through the cookbook My Angkong’s Noodles, which she published with the help of late restaurant critic and award-winning writer Clinton Palanca. The book contains some of her favorite meals, but more importantly, preserves precious Chinese-Filipino recipes that will hopefully live on through the generations to come.
In his cookbook My Angkong’s Noodles (“Angkong” meaning “grandfather”), Palanca presented over 100 heritage recipes culled from Chinese households and establishments.
The selection of recipes covers a range of noodle and rice dishes, desserts, and celebratory meals, from lugaw and Fookien fried rice to birthday misua and humba, a personal favorite dish of the cookbook’s publisher, Elizabeth Gokongwei. “It’s a good mix of very traditional Chinese recipes and more forward, interesting ones. I wanted to show how the Philippines has influenced Chinese cooking,” Palanca said. “And from the book, you are also able to see how much the Chinese have influenced Filipino food.”
Growing up, Palanca, whose grandfather came to the Philippines from Fujian in the 1930s, took no special interest in the recipes his grandparents had meticulously passed on to their longtime family cook. “I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it because it was what we had at home. I was more interested in other cuisines,” he said. It was only during his time away from the Philippines, while studying for his doctorate at Oxford, that Palanca returned to the subject of Chinese cuisine. After four years of completing research and anthropological fieldwork for his dissertation on the topic, he found that he had compiled substantial material for a book. Things naturally fell into place when the Gokongwei matriarch and Summit Media approached Palanca to write a tribute of sorts.
Produced by a dream team composed of photographer Neal Oshima, Gustare’s Ginny Roces de Guzman, and Palanca, My Angkong’s Noodles documents the evolution of Chinese cuisine in the Philippines, with some recipes including familiar Filipino ingredients like calamansi and patis. In pursuit of authenticity, the trio collaborated with a number of immigrant families and old dining favorites such as Mann Hann, Little Store on the Hill, Wei Wang, Hai Kang, and Ling Nam, which opened their kitchens and factories to the team so Oshima could document a day of cooking. “They let us into their homes and would not let us pay for the ingredients,” Palanca said. “They were very, very generous with their time and recipes.”
Just as interesting as its featured recipes is Palanca’s essay, a reflection on growing up Chinoy and the roots of the hundreds of thousands of Chinese who have called the Philippines home for centuries. Mara Coson, Apa Ongpin, the late Doreen Fernandez, and Jeffrey Yap also contribute.
This article was originally published in the December 2014 to January 2015 issue of Town&Country Philippines. Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.