Saturday, August 03, 2013

Guest Post: It's More Fun in the Philippines

Hi everyone, this is Ritchie (Richard as the sisters call me)! You may have seen my name pop up now and again as I have the rare flash of brilliance in my experimental cooking - just enough that it impresses both Lucy and Christine (granted I find it hard to cook visually appealing food).

Recently I've started an internship in the Philippines where I will be living in Manila for the next year and a half. I hope to share with you all some of my culinary experiences as me and my tongue become more adventurous (some of the things I've eaten already are pretty radically-tasting - even for a guy who's known for loving stinky foods). Here's a sample of things to come!

Manila Polo Club

Since I'm a business development consultant, I get to meet many clients in pretty fancy places. This one particular occasion I was invited to the Manila Polo Club. Classy place, filled with classy people. The walls were lined with hand-written charts of the Polo clubs most decorated players and horses.

And of course these classy people need to be fed with classy food. What we ordered was three different types of pizza: margherita, vegetarian, and hawaiian. You can see the picture of the pizza above. As you can see, it's quite flat and tasted the same. The dough obviously didn't rise enough or had enough yeast and was quite dense. Not to mention the fact that it was overcooked that I couldn't even cut through with a fork and knife. Overall, the pizza was really mediocre.

But the saving grace was the fantastic salad. OMG. I had never had watercress in a salad before but it is the single most amazing-life-changing salad I have ever had. The dressing was akin to the mandarin orange dressing we buy from Loblaws - slightly sweet and just a tad acid. Along with romaine lettuce there was walnuts and craisins. So refreshing and delicious.

Then there was this bad boy. Grape juice. ACTUAL grape juice. You can see the skins in the glass. It was so refreshing.


A few weekends ago our friend invited us to her hometown out in the province of Pampanga to celebrate her fathers birthday. I'll have to tell you - living right downtown in a huge metropolitan city means that most of the food I eat comes from convenience stores and fast food joints - microwaved and deepfried "deliciousness". Which really bugged me since I had quite high expectations coming to South East Asia. So when I expressed this disappointment to my friend, she immediately scolded me. "Don't you dare say that in front of me," she screamed. "Come eat my dad's food and then talk to me."

ZOOM! Off to Pampanga we went. Getting there was quite easy - we took the MRT (main metro system) to Taft station and then transferred to the LRT (light rail system) all the way to Doroteo Jose station where we caught a bus straight to San Fernando. 

Once we arrived we were greeted by my friend's uncles who transported us from the main city to her village.

Sitting in these bad boys felt pretty amazing since your butt is literally a few inches off the road. We arrived maybe around 5 or 6 in the afternoon so it was still light out. The food wasn't ready yet so all her cousins decided to take us on a tour of the village area.

We got to cross this fancy feat of human engineering. When the concrete bridge collapsed during a flood, the villagers built a makeshift bridge from bamboo. The bamboo bridge has been there ever since and no one feels the need to build a concrete one. Pretty sturdy but jumping is still not advised.

Past the bridge a bit we met up with my friend's great aunt. This was my first taste of the Philippine life as she brought us fresh green mangos that she grew.

Our mom would always buy green mangos in these vacuum-sealed bags and would love snacking on these sour bad boys. Now I understand why. The tartness that just makes your cheeks squeeze together is just so pleasant, and dipping it in fish sauce with salt really made it taste like home.

Oh and these guys. Fresh guava from the trees. They taste nothing like the super sugary guava candies that our mom loves to eat. You eat them like apples, skin and seeds together and the seeds are quite crunchy but I'm told that's where all the nutritious stuff is. It has a very mild sweetness with a creamy texture.

When we got back to the house, a feast was set out for us. Oh the food was amazing and it's really hard for me to describe what it tastes like because I've never had anything like it before.

First up was pork minudo. Stewed pork and potatoes and carrots. The sauce had many spices flavoring it but was quite mild (similar to the stewed meat dishes we Chinese make). Juicy hunks of pork and vegetables. YUM!

Some Filipino-style fried chicken. Juicy, crispy - filipinos really know how to do fried chicken.

Kalderetang manok. Another stewed dish made from tomatoes, chicken, and a bunch more mild spices. The meat fell right off the bone and the sauce went so well with rice.

And this stuff. Palabok. Let me tell you - here in the Philippines they are OBSESSED with pancit (read: noodles). They have a huge eating culture and actually take time in the afternoon to have merienda (mary-enda: read afternoon snack). This is one of the many common meriendas to have. The noodles for palabok are a little smaller than udon and the texture is quite strange - as you bite into them they kind of snap. So they don't really turn to mush while you're eating it like the noodles I'm used to eating. It definitely took a while for me to get used to it. I'm not sure what the sauce is made from but it has shredded chicken throughout and deep-fried garlic and sliced eggs sprinkled all on top. It wasn't my favourite dish for sure but it was still quite tasty.

Walking around in the country side really made me homesick. It was time I was able to completely disconnect from work and the busy concrete jungle of Manila and was able to take in my situation. The country air and food cleansed my spirit and rejuvenated my energy. I can't wait to return again!

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