Every Sunday at First Church Melbourne’s Celebrations Café, 50 to 70 friends join for an authentic Filipino potluck meal, sharing fellowship, speaking their common language and enjoying dishes such as lumpia (egg rolls) and pancit (rice noodles). And, they’ve been doing this for 17 years!
|Pancit, one of many favorite dishes served at First Church Melbourne's Filipino potluck meal, is shown here with egg rolls and a side of sweet and sour sauce.|
Rev. Sol Madlambayan and his wife Myrna are two of the regulars who attend, calling the luncheon a home away from home. Sol is the Filipino-American ministry pastor at First Church. “We do this after the 11 a.m. worship service because that’s when most of the people are already here,” Myrna said.
“We speak the language (during the luncheons), so the children can listen to the different dialects that come from the Philippines, especially the Tagalog language and English, which we call ‘Taglish.’ This gives the kids, many of whom have a Filipino parent and an American parent, a glimpse of their culture,” she added. “It is a simple thing and a joyful thing.”
Myrna said there are 84 dialects in the Philippines. Members of the group in Melbourne combine to speak more than 10 of these. But with 99 percent speaking Tagalog, communicating to each other in the language of their home country, half a world away, is an important part of the gatherings.
Picture-taking at the luncheons is common, as the group often celebrates birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers and pastor appreciation days. “My husband is known as the selfie-king,” Myrna pointed out, smiling.
Music also takes a role in the fellowship, when Tagalog and Filipino love songs become serenades. Myrna said when they gather in homes, they turn to karaoke using a Magic Mic.
But food is at the forefront of the group, she said. “It seems that what people miss most about the Philippines is the food,” Myrna said. “This is their only chance to get a taste of home, and the most popular food that we have are the famous egg rolls,” she said. She added that adobo pork and chicken (marinated, then cooked) and rice noodles with broth are favored as well, along with pinakbet, made with Filipino veggies and shrimp paste.
Desserts served—including rice cake made of sweet rice with coconut milk and sugar, along with cassava cake and baked grated yucca root—are also in high demand.
American sandwiches, fried chicken and pizza have been added to the menu. The cross-cultural element has been very welcome, Myrna said, especially to kids.
Surprisingly, no one officially coordinates this regular meal, intended for 50 plus diners. “We have a chef in our group who loves to cook food for people. The other regulars bring small amounts of food, but she (the chef) feels this is her ministry to feed people, and so she makes enough to feed everybody. We just invite people, and all are welcome to the free meal,” Myrna said.
As they say in the Philippines: “Maligayang Pagdating” (Welcome Home).
--Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.