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Philippine Food Fun MAG
I ate a live chick. Well, at least one that was three days away from hatching. I had just moved from Brazil to the Philippines with my missionary family. Arriving in a bustling airport full of tricycles (motorcycles with a cab attached to the side) and hawking vendors selling everything from Chinese toys to high-tech Japanese cell phones was a completely new experience for me. A strange-looking man tried to persuade me to buy a bowl of soup with large bones I was sure must have come from an exotic fish. With my fingers holding my nose tight, I made my way to the exit, but my adventures were just beginning.
After spending a few days at the mission base in Manila, we received our first assignment: Baguio, a remote city in the north. Great, I thought, we get to live in the mountains. And I thought that the Philippines was a tropical country. As we arrived at the house, I was excited to think I would be using the Internet again. I had no idea how wrong I was. Six months with no Internet!
Despite this setback, on my first day I had a very delicious lunch: chicken adobo. I loved it, but I wasn't sure that all Philippine food would be this good. And I was right. When we went to live with my mother's relatives on the island of Masbate, it was a frightful food experience.
Standard breakfast: dilis (tiny fish) and coffee at 6:00 a.m.
Lunch: more fish, rice, and some soy sauce.
Dinner: more fish, this time cleverly disguised as sinigang, a weird name for weird fish soup.
Doritos? Pringles? Forget it. If I wanted a snack, I was told to pick a green mango and put salt on it.
Then my family hopped to the next island, Cebu. Here, I admit, is where I ate foods that would make most Americans faint. Returning home after a long day of missionary work, my dad and I bought some barbecue from a street vendor. Big mistake. After eating, my dad asked what it was. I wish he hadn't. “Dog meat,” replied the vendor with a toothy smile, “with pork eyes.” I almost vomited.
I thought nothing could be worse, but I was wrong. During a Chinese New Year festival my family attended, my brother and I served ourselves and started eating with relish. The friendly Chinese hostess walked by and exclaimed, “Wow, you're eating that!”
“Er, what is it?” we asked with a slight fluttering in our bellies.
“Beans” – we were relieved to hear, but she hadn't finished – “in pork blood.” We threw the rest in the trash when she walked away.
One day during breakfast with relatives, we were served something that looked suspiciously like a fried egg mixed with food coloring, and so we ate it. When asked what it was, my aunt replied, “It's called balut.” I later found out this is an egg that is fried three days before it hatches. I had eaten it. Nasty.
But not everything was slightly inedible, according to Western standards. One food I really enjoyed was halo-halo which is basically grated ice mixed with sweet beans and an assortment of other unknown ingredients. Chuck three balls of ice cream under it and you have a cold, delicious God-sent snack.
Despite all of the strange and definitely exotic foods, I would love to return to the Philippines (I am currently living in Brazil). It was there that I learned that food is food; sometimes you can't do anything but eat it. There are probably many other types of food that I didn't get to try during the three-and-a-half years I lived there, and I'd like to taste it all. Call me crazy, but that's what culture is all about: you need to experience every aspect before you judge and say, “That's gross!” And that's what Philippine food is all about: strange, exotic, delicious, nasty, and just plain fun!