You know what’s better than an ube donut? A donut. A good donut is already delicious. Ube doesn’t make it more delicious. Ube alone is fantastic. I mean ube halaya, a wonderfully coloured vehicle for our favourite pantry item: condensed milk. Sweet, sweet, thick, gritty, purple goodness.
You know the early ass morning after Christmas or your Lolo’s birthday there’s that leftover ube in the fridge your Tita Nita packed up for you? You take it out, tear the foil and the cold’s formed a light crust on the surface. The surface starts to sweat as the ube mound rises to room temperature. You take a spoon and eat it right out of the packaging. You remember that at the gathering you didn’t really care for the ube, but now it’s four AM; you don’t have to heat it up and it’s actually kinda filling. You take a massive scoop and close your mouth up on it. With your tongue taut, you pull the spoon out leaving a layer of ube in your mouth to savour. You let it hit all the parts of your mouth. The purple on the spoon smooth and glistening, you go for another. Then another layer. You keep going until that spoon is clean. Then you repeat the process. No Titas around to bug you about not being married. That’s ube.
Putting it on a donut doesn’t add to that experience or even remind me of it. It’s a purple donut. It doesn’t make the donut better. It doesn’t make ube better.
Sometimes Filipino food in North America takes the character of your embarrassing Uncle Nes. Uncle Nes souped up his GMC Astro with extra lights and made it chime Christmas songs when he’s got it in reverse. Why you gotta attract so much attention to yourself, Tito Nes? Just let the Astro be an Astro. It’s just an Astro.
Filipinos are like that though. We like shiny things. So sometimes when we’re trying to show somebody outside of our culture something about ourselves that we think will please that somebody, we show them the shiny stuff.
That’s what an ube donut is. “Oh, you like donuts? This is ube donut! Purple donut. It’s nice, no?”
In Chicago, during a Filipino food and arts festival, a New York chef made ube donuts with Cristal gelee and gold flakes. They sold at $100 a piece. The donut got more media coverage than the headline performance by nouvelle Filipino dance troupe, Hataw. It got more coverage than the festival itself and the Filipino-American heritage month the festival was honouring. I can’t confirm that. Whatever.
What am I trying to say? I don’t know. I just don’t like all this putting ube in something, making it purple, then calling it Filipino. Ube waffles, ube pancake, ube cupcake, ube fries. Our parents and Pinoys all over have been ube-ing things up before us, with purple puto and purple birthday cake. You know what the distinguishing flavour of those things are? Nothing. They taste like puto. They taste like birthday cake. The ube part is inconsequential. They’re purple. Yun lang.
Don’t get me wrong. I love those things. They hold the same place in my heart as vienna sausage and canned cheese, but we have the opportunity to move away from these things. So we should. They don’t have to stop existing, we just don’t have to add to the catalogue of purple things. There’s enough purple things.
Related: Thoughts on the Filipino Food Trend