I love Filipino food!!! I never get tired of eating adobo. The taste is so primal because I just think it satisfies every human being’s craving for protein and salt – those two key ingredients that help keep our bodies from malfunctioning. For me, Adobo is one of those dishes that make you want to say, “I am so glad I am not vegetarian”. I like it especially when the pork and chicken have been fried to a crisp before mixing it back with the soy and vinegar sauce. We have adobo regularly and it is the default dish when everyone is too lazy to think of what to have for lunch or dinner.
For some greens, I like the bitter and sweet taste of pinakbet. Cooked right, the pumpkin melts in the mouth while the okra and eggplant is crunchy in light sauce mixed with bagoong (shrimp paste). I also like stir-fried kangkong (swamp cabbage) and ginataang gabi (taro) or laing, which my late mother’s best friend from Bicol used to cook for us whenever she drops by for a chat. Not everyone can cook laing with the same success as her in my opinion. I won’t even dare try cooking it myself because it is cooked in several stages the first of which is drying the taro leaves under the sun for a few days at least.
Filipino street food is something else also. I have to stop myself from eating too much balut lest I develop high-blood pressure. I don’t like the aborted duck fetus so much when the duck bones and little bits of feathers are already visible although sometimes when it’s dark or when I just close my eyes and not let my imagination go wild, the yuck factor goes away. Balut is very tasty, indeed but I wouldn’t force my overseas friends to eat it. I’d hate for them to throw up a good thing.
Another street food that can be so addictive once you start munching on it is the isaw. It’s what we Filipinos call barbecued chicken innards. It’s so light and tasty that you end up eating more than the number of kilojoules allowed for the day. I have fond memories of eating isaw in Boracay Island before dinner while watching the sun set in the horizon. It’s just one of those little joys that we Filipinos love to do when we have time.
I can list all the Filipino dishes that I love but it could take me all week and if I enumerate all of them, this article might turn into a book. Besides, listing all of them is not really the point of this article.
Do you want to know why I love Filipino food? If I tell you it’s the best, which I won’t because I don’t think it is, you’ll probably think I am just being biased. I love Filipino food because I am Filipino. For me it is good because I got used to eating it from the moment I became capable of chewing solid foods when I was a toddler. Had my parents introduced me to eating monkey brain the way they serve it in China and Indonesia — raw and occasionally directly out of the dead monkey’s skull — perhaps I would crave it too. But because I didn’t grow up eating monkey brain, I find the thought of eating the “delicacy” appalling and gross.
Yes, I am well aware of the fact that some Filipino dishes are too salty, sweet, loaded with fat and overall unhealthy if taken in large quantities, which is why I do not eat too much of it. Lechon, anyone? I realize the danger of indulging too much in some Filipino dishes because I know a lot of people who developed kidney stones from eating too much salty Filipino food, particularly those flavored with alamang or shrimp paste. I also know someone who is a little bit on the plus size because she dips just about everything she eats in sugar carelessly.
Most Filipinos who go abroad would find other foreign dishes too bland and flavorless. I know some kababayans or Filipino travelers who think the famous British food Fish and Chips is unappetizing and depressing. Personally, I would only eat it when there’s nothing else to eat. I haven’t tried African food yet but I doubt it would appeal to me, something I decided after just watching them prepare it on one of those documentary shows on television.
Because the world is getting smaller and smaller, people from around the world are getting exposed to different kinds of food from overseas. Aside from Filipino food, I love eating Thai, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Mexican, Swedish, Greek and Italian food. I can live without Indian food because I think it’s too spicy, oily and fattening.
This brings me to my point. Each society is different. People from different societies have different tastes. We all have been exposed to different ways of cooking our meals. I was told that some people from other societies do not like being reminded of where their food came from, which is why they fillet their fish instead of serving the whole thing, head and all, on the table. Furthermore, some societies prepare and flavor their meals depending on the available ingredients in their homeland. Historically, some societies have even gone to great lengths to put some precious spice for their meals by conquering other lands. Meanwhile, some societies make do with what little they have like salt for instance to preserve their catch of the day.
We cannot force people to love our food because they have been exposed to a different kind of food preparation regimen and their idea of what is edible and unhealthy is not the same as ours. In other words, people from different cultures have different standards. This applies to pretty much anything — including food.
The fact that Filipino restaurants overseas are not that popular with other cultures says a lot about our need to improve on it. We should also not feel offended, for example, when people criticize our food like how the young couple from Poland did when they blogged about their awful experience eating Filipino food while they were in the Philippines. We should see it as an opportunity to address where we get it wrong.
Some Filipinos who were angered by Agness Walewinder’s claim that “she would rather go hungry than eat Filipino food again” appeared too defensive. They seem incapable of putting themselves in other peoples’ shoes. In the first place, the bloggers from Poland wrote valid reasons why they got turned off with Filipino food. I personally would not eat the stuff they ate. The picture of the adobo in the article didn’t look like it was cooked the same way I like it cooked. I wouldn’t like that adobo as well. The roasted poultry looked a bit grotesque piled up on top of the stand. I wouldn’t eat them even if someone paid me either.
Most Filipinos who got upset by the honest assessment of the couple from Poland missed their point. In the Filipino people’s defense some said that the couple should not have stuck with buying their meals from cheap local stalls that cater to poor Filipinos. But I think that the couples’ point was, in a lot of societies, the quality of food being served to the poor folk is not so different to that served to those in the middle and upper classes. In some countries for example, when a poor guy orders a steak, he will get a steak in the same quality as when a middle-income earner orders a steak. In a true egalitarian society, a steak is a steak. Meaning, food is not prepared according to your social standing.
Basically, these Polish bloggers highlighted the country’s gaping social divide.
Coming from a more advanced society, it was hard for the Polish couple to comprehend that poor Filipinos have their own standards in food preparation. Evidently, hygiene is not a priority when it comes to handling food. Unfortunately, because there are so many poor people from the Philippines, most foreigners visiting the Philippines will more than likely encounter street food that will not be enticing to them.
My advice to the two Polish travelers and other foreigners travelling the Philippines is to expect that the quality of food to be a lot different when the meals are prepared using a higher standard. And my advice to my fellow Filipinos is to take criticisms from foreigners with a grain of salt.
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