prepared by Fortunata Lamba
Fortunata was out with a friend listening to live music when they started a casual conversation with a man attending the event alone. During that meeting, the man told her there was a coworker he wanted to introduce her to, so they exchanged numbers. The next day she received a call from Jack, an Indian-American engineer working in the Philippines. They dated for two years before his company called him back to the United States. Fortunata experienced overwhelming culture shock on her visit to see him, but Jack followed her to the Philippines to convince her to return with him to live in Chicago. After much wooing and persuasion, she relented. They married soon after her arrival and settled in the south suburbs where they raised their two children.
Food and cooking were central to Fortunata’s childhood. Some of her earliest memories include the sights and smells of roasting pigs and giant steaming woks at town fiestas. Her grandparents cooked for these events and regularly prepared food for her and her five siblings at home. Along with Fortunata’s mother who cooked often, they were her first culinary teachers and sparked her interest cooking. This interest was nurtured by many others along the way. A close friend’s mother saw Fortunata’s eagerness to learn and became a mentor, bringing Fortunata along to the wet market and teaching her how to choose fresh ingredients and how to bargain. Fortunata delighted in these trips and never tired of seeing the jumping shrimps and lush local vegetables.
Cooking stayed central to her life, even when her first jobs were outside of culinary spaces. Out of curiosity and desire for experience, she took low-paying side jobs to help her friend who worked in catering. Through these opportunities, she recognized her real passion for food and continued to pursue other avenues of learning, although she never committed to a career in food while she was in the Philippines. It was not until she moved to the US and was looking for work that she decided to enter the food service industry in catering. Food became her life and she has not looked back since.
The challenge in working with food for Fortunata, however, was the exhaustion from cooking all day for clients and then returning home to feed her family. Takeout or leftovers
from work often solved this daily problem, but she did feel some guilt around feeding her family
with less care than she did her clients. She strives to make up for it now that she is retired by cooking and delivering food to her daughter any time she asks and by giving her son plenty of kitchen tips to help him improve his cooking.
Despite this small regret, Tita Naty has gotten so much pleasure from feeding people throughout her career. Through her personal catering company, she provides delicious and soulful food to the Filipino American community in Chicago. Seldom does one attend a Filipino event that Tita Naty has not catered and the quality of her cooking is so consistent that her dishes can be identified by look alone.
Tita Naty shared this pork tapa recipe because it is versatile, simple, and inexpensive to make. It is one of her signature and most popular dishes. From her long career, she has a lot of culinary wisdom to share, although the most important is always to cook with a lot of love:“You have to love what you’re doing. You have to please yourself. You have to make it tasty so that people will love it. You’ve got to just put your heart into it and the outcome will be the best. And when you see a lot of compliments like, ‘Oh my God. This is good.’ It makes you feel good that you did something.”
The Panlasa Project: Community Cookbook (2020) records the recipes and stories of a small group of Filipino immigrants living in the south suburbs of Chicago. By archiving the culinary wisdom of this generation of Filipino Americans, the hope for the Panlasa Cookbook is to share narratives of immigration through food and to become a resource for culinary enthusiasts, historians, and the participants’ posterity.
Director, Producer, & Food Stylist: Kayla Sotomil
Cinematographer & Editor: Harry Cepka
Camera Operator: Blair McClendon
Camera Assistant: JB Barin
Colorist & Sound Editor: Sean David Christensen