Nigella Lawson answered that question pretty well in her old show. Lamentably, I can't seem to catch her new show. Anyway, she made everything from macaroni and cheese to tom yum gum soup to answer that question, and broad strokes like that are what made her the best thing on food tv besides The Two Fat Ladies and Molto Mario. I distinctly recall the Hangover show, where she concocted and downed a Ramos Fizz, returned to bed, and later made a fetching pitcher of Bloody Mary before proceeding to whatever was the theme that day. That might have been the mac and cheese, come to think of it.
Mcco12 asked what mom will be cooking for this terrrible stretch of road. This led me to once again realize that I need to write down some of her recipes, even if I know how to make them. I don't make the dishes often and she's always a phone call away, but one day things may change. She's the only link to a particular regional dish that my step-grandmother used to make, and although I've had numerous versions of that stew, none approaches the flavor of Lola Puren's. And my mom has that special touch—the one that makes a perfect gravy out of the same stuff I turn into liquid with bits. It's not even a cook's touch, I don't think. It's a weird secret I haven't absorbed due to lack of talent or lack of practice or both.
Filipino food is what I need right now to beat away the blues. It's a strange mix of southeast asian, malay, native, and spanish influences, and I know many asians (particularly indians) who think it's funky—smell or looks-wise. Of course they've never tasted it, which is too bad. I don't mind, but it's really not that different from many asian foods. You have noodles, egg rolls, rice, kabobs, fish in various incarnations (fried, poached, stuffed, in ginger sauce), things that look like paella, things that look like carnitas, things in peanut sauce and coconut milk, and stews of the most unlikely vegetables you might combine. Those vegetable stews tend to have pork, shrimp or fish as the flavoring agent, along with a bit of fish sauce. If you've eaten thai-vietnamese-cambodian or any southeast asian food, you've eaten fish sauce. Whether you know it or not. It's an integral seasoning. To me, it's what makes a fried fish come alive. I can eat fried fish with rice and tomatoes (and fish sauce) till the cows come home. Good thing the husband loves to fish. (He will only eat it in two forms, however—sushi, and fish & chips.)
The two varieties of filipino food are the "party food" (what most people have had if they've ever come across filipino food), and peasant food. It's true of any culture, of course. Peasant food is pretty humble, containing very little meat. Meat is very expensive in the Philippines, especially beef. Pork is somewhat affordable (although most of the country still lives in hunger and poverty so really, working people eat fish and chicken). So you eat what grows, and lots of things grow in tropical jungles. It's just a matter of what you feel like combining that day, and what region you're from. There are amazing differences in regional cooking. My parents come from the Mountain Provinces, whose flavors differ greatly from the lowlands, where food seems more thick and pungent than food from the central islands, etc. The "party foods" are always prepared in a somewhat standardized way with regional differences, but that's where all similarities end.
I'm craving a roasted eggplant fritatta, a common dish around the world, I'm sure. Sometime this week I'll ask for a crab-potato-tomato fritatta, and a stew of eggplants, bitter melon, long beans, and pork. When hubby gets home, he'll be looking for his favorite marinated beef dish. I won't mention the other things—my friend Tara is probably gagging—but it's no different from haggis, chitlins, or deep-fried Twinkies—an acquired taste. I have a long list of yummy foods, and I'll be writing down the recipes. It'll be shopping intensive, which means a jaunt into Oakland's Chinatown for esoteric ingredients. I might even lift the sugar ban and ask mom to make sweet sticky rice and fried bananas…..
She gets in at 3:30. I better bleach the kitchen.