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The Colonial Roots Of Pimiento Cheese

A Filipina American discovers her favorite cheesy snack has a bloody origin story.
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When I was a kid, my Tito Maro would make us cheese pimiento, a popular sandwich in the Philippines.
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As I grew older, I made pimiento cheese for friends, roommates and boyfriends. It was a way for me to share my culture with them.
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The Philippines was a Spanish colony for 400 years. After the Spanish-American war of 1898, the USA took possession of the colony.
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The USA didn't grant the Philippines independence for 44 years.
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With the American occupation came American imports of canned foods.
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My mom says that my grandma would make it for special occasions in the '50s. She'd stuff it into pinwheel sandwiches for fancy cocktail parties.
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Over the generations, cheese pimiento became a regular part of the Filipino lunch tradition, enjoyed by the masses.
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But Gem Daus, a Filipino American professor of Asian American studies at the University of Maryland, reminds me that many long-standing Filipino foods aren't really Filipino.
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But when each dish arrived — whether by force or by trade — Filipinos added their own little spin. They cook it to their tastes, adapting and improvising until it's far from its foreign origins.
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And pimiento cheese became cheese pimiento. There's not really much difference in the recipe — it's still cheese and mayo on bread — but we did remix the name.
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Is my beloved pimiento cheese still good? I made a toasted sandwich recently — the same way Tito Maro made it.
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This illustrated story originally appeared in The Nib.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Malaka Gharib is the deputy editor and digital strategist on NPR's global health and development team. She covers topics such as the refugee crisis, gender equality and women's health. Her work as part of NPR's reporting teams has been recognized with two Gracie Awards: in 2019 for How To Raise A Human, a series on global parenting, and in 2015 for #15Girls, a series that profiled teen girls around the world.
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