Singapore’s latest ‘must have’ cookbook, Family Favourites launches at Boutiques Fair this week. Ghillie James talks to the inspirational Filipino women behind it.
I have heard many times over my years living in Singapore ‘Wouldn’t it be great if some of our helpers noted down their fabulous recipes for others to try’. A melt-in-the-mouth banana cake, a flavoursome fried rice or some of the more elaborate dinner party dishes, which we would all love to recreate in our own homes. Well, now five of them have! The Family Favourites cookbook is the brainchild of 56-year-old Lita Patricio, who joined forces with four of her great friends, all united in the fact they are domestic helpers in Singapore, who also give up their precious days off to volunteer for the charity HOME.
Between the ladies, we worked out that they have cooked for 10 different nationalities, as well as their own families in the Philippines, so their culinary knowledge (plus some hilarious intel about the quirks of the families they have cooked for) is terrific.
Lita, who has been living in Singapore since 2001, was working for a previous employer who rather enjoyed taking the credit for all of Lita’s hard work in the kitchen! So instead of blowing off steam in other ways, she decided instead to write all the recipes she had created over the years down in a book, which, combined with the recipes given by the other ladies, has formed Family Favourites.
Jomarcy gave her super simple carrot cake (recipe below), which she says is requested for every birthday celebration or party! Carina gave her legendary gazpacho, and others gave a whole variety of dishes including lamb tagine, laksa, fish curry, sugar free banana cake and many more. They also include some guest writers, too – with popular Singapore restaurants like PS Café, Gattopardo and BAM all giving recipes to support such a brilliant initiative.
All recipes have been tried and tested many times, by the ladies and a group of their friends. Apparently they spent a very happy (and I would imagine pretty noisy) morning cooking the recipes together at the home of former That Mama Anouk (Lita’s wonderful employer – not the one mentioned earlier!). She has had a large part in the background work – finding the generous printers, photographers etc who helped to make sure the book happened. At the end of the test day they said that they could then feel confident that the recipes in the book were totally foolproof, and most importantly – delicious!
As I sat and chatted to the ladies over coffees at my house I was quickly struck by what a strong and inspirational group they are. HOME (which stands for Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics) was founded in 2004, with a goal of enhancing the wellbeing and future economic prospects of domestic and migrant workers in Singapore. They offer shelter and support in crisis situations (running a hotline, help desk and shelter as well as giving medical assistance and legal aid to any migrant worker in need). They also offer vocational training in everything from cooking to managing finances to care giving. The website www.home.org.sg has further information.
Lita, Jomarcy, Carina and Jetky as well as the other volunteers (a mix of expats, Singaporeans and domestic and migrant workers) combine talents to help where needed, and according to the ladies they are like a family. As they explained their different situations back home – two widows, one single and one ‘complicated’, I can believe that the bond they have made through HOME is all the more important. All of them are supporting families in need in the Philippines, whilst working hard for their employers.
And yet they are willing to give up the small amount of free time they have to help others less fortunate (Jomarcy also volunteers for a government initiative!) and somehow find time to write a book! In Lita’s words, the book is ‘a legacy’ for new helpers coming to Singapore, but also one with a deeper message: You CAN do it! They hope to empower others living here by showing them what is possible.
As well as the satisfaction of completing this magnificent project (giving 10% of their precious profits to HOME), they say they have much more planned, and having met them I totally believe it! Plans are already starting for another book, as well as further down the line a restaurant and café back home to secure their futures when they eventually return to the Philippines. You go, girls!
Images via Anouk van der El, food styling by Trisha Toh