Doreen Gamboa Fernandez

©️2002 Stella Kalaw

Filipina American, Foodways, Theater, Literature

Doreen Gamboa Fernandez


Dr. Doreen Gamboa Fernandez was a prolific scholar who wrote extensively on food, culture, literature, education, theater, and performance. She is best known for writing on the Philippines’ foodways, from the dizzying array of street foods to distinctive regional specialties, and about the folk who fish, hunt, and farm the waters and land of the 7,100-plus island archipelago, preparing and cooking the bounty always with a nose-to-tail approach. She paid tribute to everyday Filipino food traditions at a time when Western dishes ruled the country’s haute cuisine, while illuminating the influences of Spanish and American colonization on some of the Philippines’ national dishes. She helped inspire the current Filipino food movement, and some of the most influential Filipino American chefs who are driving it, championing Filipino cuisine so that it reached the mainstream.       

Doreen Fernandez, neé Alicia Dorotea Lucero Gamboa, was born on October 28, 1934 in Manila, Philippines. She obtained her BA in English and History (1954) from St. Scholastica’s College, Manila and earned both a MA in English Literature (1956) and a PhD in Literature (1976), from Ateneo de Manila University. Dr. Fernandez taught at her alma mater and chaired several departments. 

She began to write on food in 1969, with regular food columns for The Manila Chronicle. Along with her architect husband Wili, a dedicated foodie, Dr. Fernandez explored humble eateries and high-end restaurants and places in between, and she described her meals in a column titled “Pot-au-feu.: For two decades, she continued to write for publications such as Mr. and Ms. Some of her most memorable writings were later gathered in Tikim and then in Sarap: Essays in Philippine Food (1988), another compilation of her food writings, which she co-wrote with Edilberto N. Alegre. She also wrote on theater, including about the Iloilo zarzuela (1978) and then edited the volume Contemporary Theater Arts: Asia and the United States (1984).

In 1990, Dr. Fernandez gave the keynote lecture titled, “Colonizing the Cuisine: the Politics of Philippine Foodways” at the American Folklore Society’s centennial meeting where she noted that “these uncolonized foodways will steadily confirm the culture, provide documentation of what is Filipino…and assist the national identity” (Fernandez 1994:177). Her invaluable writings on native foodways have helped Filipino food to thrive to the point that it is now having its moment on the global food stage. 

By the time of her death in 2002, Dr. Doreen Fernandez had taught for almost 30 years, served in the editorial capacity for Philippine Studies and The Asian Theatre Journal as well as contributed her time to arts organizations like the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila.  

Among her publications are:

Tikim: Essays on Philippine Food and Culture (1994)

Palayok: Philippine Food through Time, On Site, In the Pot (2000)

Margaret Magat