As the days and weeks in the sun go by, I’m beginning to see more and more truth to the old adage: the way to the heart is through the stomach (I might be paraphrasing a little). You might recall, sometime ago, in the early moments of this blog, I discussed my love of food (okay, cheese) and how I worried about losing this love in the Philippines. So far, it appears my worries were for naught. There have definitely been some adjustments, some trials and errors, some grinning and bearing… but overall, I have been so pleased by the Filipino food to which I’ve been exposed.
I have to say, it doesn’t hurt that my first host mom is a caterer and an awesome cook. She was extremely accommodating and understanding of my desire to eat lots of fruits and vegetables and little meat. (I decided at the end of my second week here that I would add chicken to my diet. After my first day out snorkeling in the sun, I came back to the training center ravished. I ate 6 or 7 fresh veggie spring rolls and was still hungry! I realized I needed protein that I just wasn’t getting as a vegetarian here, so chicken and some seafood re-entered my diet. I also didn’t want to be a burden on my future host families; it was time to adapt.)
The last couple of weeks before I left my training site I started photographing some of my favorite dishes. One of which was the delicious ginataang kalabasa and sitaw comprising of onions, Calabaza (kalabasa), a local green bean called sitaw (pronounced see-taw) which is about a foot long but cut into smaller pieces, all stewed in fresh coconut milk (ginataang). If you like a little spice, like I do, you can add a sliced chili pepper or two to round out the dish. Scrumptious, fresh, and not just vegetarian but vegan!
On the other side of the spectrum is one of my favorite chicken dishes, manok afritada (manok being chicken, afritada being something I don’t know how to translate). I told my host Tita (aunt) that I loved this dish because it reminded me of something that my mother used to make for Sabbath dinners. It consists of onions, potatoes, red peppers, carrots, and chicken in a scrumptious, savory tomato sauce. The first time I had it I was craving a nice hunk of challah to help me sop up the delicious gravy. But unlike in the US, most people here don’t have ovens, and the whole dish (actually, all the dishes I describe) are done on a gas or coal stove top!
About a month or so ago I posted about the kindness and generosity of Filipinos and how when I was sick my host Tita made me a delicious, spicy Vietnamese-style soup. It was a make-your-own-bowl situation that my inner child was a HUGE fan of. I would fill my bowl with delicious stuffings: rice noodles, shredded chicken, cabbage, bean sprouts, caramelized onions, and chili and then top it off with a savory broth. It cleared my sinuses and filled my belly with warmth and joy, and for my despidida (going away party) I got a second helping.
I was truly spoiled with not only one Tita that could cook but three. I expressed interest in trying dinamita (dynamite) before I left town… a chili pepper stuffed with cheese, wrapped in spring roll paper, and fried; the Filipino version of a jalapeno popper. So for my despidida, there was this mountain of dinamita available for munching and they really were ‘da bomb’! 😀
Another big component of my food routine were my baon, packed lunches. Often I would have rice, a raw cucumber or carrot, a banana, and either fried fish or chicken or the savory, vegetarian spring rolls (yes, homemade!) packed in tupperware and my handy bamboo To-Go Ware (yay for zero-waste lunch).
Filipinos also love snack time. There is a pretty strict merienda (snack) schedule that we stick to here, twice daily, 10am and 3pm. Some of my favorite snacks are simply the array of delicious fruits and veggies available here: mangos, bananas, avocado, and rambutan (the spiky red thing, similar to a lychee inside). One of my favorite snacks/desserts here is turon, fried banana spring rolls, I could eat a plate of them easily (don’t judge until you’ve tried it)!
When we did get to cook for ourselves… we used fresh, local ingredients to make a dish that reminded us all of ‘home’: fish tacos.
So now I’ve moved to the other side of the country practically and food is different. There is a lot of seafood in my new town and my host family isn’t as familiar with vegetable-rich foods. It’s time to adapt again… but for now, it’s time for lunch!
Also – In the end, it’s not really cheese that I’m missing most. It’s chocolates and salted nuts… pistachios and almonds… and tea. And savory bread… what I would pay for a loaf of savory french bread… Nom.