Food, Glorious Food!

by Ronnie Hoyle

IF THE way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, men in the Philippines have no choice but to expand like a balloon…and the women have to accept us the way they have made us!

Of course, it could also be the responsibility of hundreds of good cooks and chefs in the region who make men become fatties: take the chefs on Alona Beach, Panglao, for instance. They have a lot to answer for.

Philippine cuisine may not have the same reputation as nearby Thailand, but wherever you go in the Philippines you will find that your taste-buds will have to cope with a new gastronomic experience. Some foods you will love, and some you will wish you had never eaten, especially if you cannot stand ginger or really hot spices. Well, you did ask for it – you are in some of the fabled Spice Islands that the Spanish, Portuguese and the Dutch went to war over a few centuries ago.

But if you do not like it hot – and we are not talking about the weather - avoid those little green or red chillies which you see some local people eating with relish: they are not as innocent as they look! Even the Devil would go pale trying to eat one of those.

And watch out for eggs…sometimes they may not be what they seem: especially if they are brought around at night by a guy on a bicycle with a cooler box on the back calling out the name and they appear to look like a typical boiled egg. They could be our local eggs with legs!

Filipinos call them balut, which means they are boiled, but they contain the embryo of a 16 to 21-day-old duck or chicken which is almost ready to hatch, complete with wings, feathers, beak, brains and crunchy legs.

With the shell broken, the juices are first sucked out with a sprinkling of salt and then the rest of it eaten with relish, even by the girls who might eat more than one. Only brave westerners have been known to eat them with the same amount of gusto.

Local people swear it puts a bit of ‘oomph’ into their love-life and is less than a tenth the price of half a Viagra tablet, but they say the much same thing about swaki, which is pinkish centre of some sea urchins which is eaten raw, like an oyster, or mixed with tuba (fermented coconut sap) and tastes salty and slimy.

International-style cuisine abounds in Cebu and elsewhere in the Visayan region, and you can probably find a restaurant that cooks in any style you want, but now that you are abroad you should try some local food to tickle the taste-buds.

Some of the guidebooks say that if you cannot peel it, unwrap it or open the lid, avoid it … and don’t eat anything you find being cooked on the street.

Take no notice: it was probably written by someone with a queasy stomach and without the slightest idea of what gastronomic adventure really means. Try some of the roast pig (lechon) or barbequed chicken (lechon manok) being cooked on the streets of any town or in any market place and find out for yourself how good it can be.

Mind you, Filipinos are not adverse to eating animal gizzards and some other odd bits of intestines on bamboo skewers, so you might want to avoid that until you work up the courage to try them…and roast dog and dog stew was actually made illegal ages ago…although I have to warn you that it is still eaten in some districts!

Unfortunately, the new law did not condemn the eating of snakes and large lizards, so you could find them on some dinner tables out in the countryside…especially at private feasts or fiestas.

The trouble is, you do not speak the local language and the menu terms are a little bit puzzling? Okay, we’ll try and sort some of it out for you …

ADOBO – Pork or chicken slices or pieces cooked with spices, onions, garlic, soy sauce and vinegar.

BAM-E – Glass noodles with salted meat and mixed vegetables served Canton-style in its own sauce.

CALAMARES – Rings of squid-body battered and deep fried: the squid itself is usually soft, but the batter is a crispy brown. Good with calamansi (the little round green things that taste like lemons and are just as rich in vitamin C) squeezed over the top as flavouring.

CATALAN – Salted meat with vegetables (usually potatoes and carrots) cooked with an addition of ketchup to add colour.

ESCABECHE – Chicken or pork served with a style of sweet and sour sauce, together with added spices, like ginger.

KINNILAW – Usually the name applied to slices of raw fresh fish (the fresher the better), particularly with yellow or blue-fin tuna, but equally to tanigue and other good fish presented in Japanese style.

MENUDO – A style of pork cut into cubes and served with potatoes and carrots.

REBOSADO – Shrimps marinated in a light soy sauce, then coated in egg and flour and fried.

SINIGANG – Pork with a tamarind soup base mixed with vegetables and spices.

SOTANGHON – Glass noodles with salted meat (normally pork or chicken) and vegetables, usually cabbage, carrots, potatoes and onions.

Dried and salted fish are thought of as delicacies by Filipinos but, unfortunately, it does not seem to suit western tastes…particularly when it is being cooked: it seems to have a smell that wafts more than a mile away for some sensitive noses and has been known to make a few people gag.

There are all sorts of different desserts available in the islands and, surprisingly, spaghetti and macaroni are sometimes used with the addition of tinned and sweetened milk, together with jellied sweets, coconut and raisins. Some vegetables also end up on the dessert menu (like the purple ubi – a sort of potato - which also ends up in ice cream as flavouring and colouring) after suitable treatment!

Of course, international cuisine is also available for those with unadventurous appetites and all around Panglao Island you will find bars, resorts and restaurants to cater for your tastes…although we do have a dearth of fast-food joints – the nearest are 20 kms away from Alona Beach in Tagbilaran City – but there are some pretty good barbeque stalls and several styles of home-produced pizzas are available!