you are what you eat

I’ve come a long way over the years with regard to the foods I will eat. I was probably what most would consider to be a very picky eater when I was young. “Plain” was a permanent part of my ordering vocabulary for restaurants. No lettuce. No tomatoes. No sauce. Meat, cheese and bun was the perfect burger to me.

I’m a bit more adventurous now. I’ve traveled outside the US and have come to appreciate different foods and their places in various cultures. Mystery meat in a simmering sauce? If you don’t tell me what it is and it’s spicy and delicious, bring it on. Hell, I ate a guinea pig in Peru, so I think I can safely say I’m not all that picky.

When I headed to the Philippines, I was excited to see what local foods I’d be able to try as part of the adventure of traveling. I already knew about balut, and I don’t care how adventurous I may think Iam. No. Fucking. Way.

So, what are the other options? Well, in Manila…not many. I’ve been pretty disappointed to find that most of the food in the area where I am staying and working is pretty much unseasoned, deep fried and mashed-up conglomerations of tasteless meats. Even the fried chicken is just a quarter, half or whole bird deep fried without batter. It’s all been pretty disappointing.

I realize it could be quite a different story if I left Manila and headed into some smaller, more rural areas of the islands. But, on this trip that just isn’t an option. And, to me, the largest city…the flagship city…of a country should at least offer some glimpses into local and regional food culture. It shouldn’t just be a mass of fast food chains and half-assed cuisine.

And, I don’t care where you are in the world. I don’t care how close to the ocean you may be. You should never, and I mean NEVER, be greeted by this at the breakfast buffet in a hotel:

In all fairness, I’ve become a big fan of lumpia. Surprisingly, I prefer the vegetarian variety. Most places here ruin it by deep frying (seriously, I feel like I’m in Alabama or Georgia with all the deep frying…or the state fair.). I like the fresh version.

I know if I could get out of Manila I’d see a side of the country that is much more unique. One that probably preserves some of the history and traditions of the people here. But, with this city as my only guide, I’m left to assume that history is a tradition of deep fried, greasy blandness.

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6 responses to “you are what you eat

  1. That plate of fish is just nasty. Granted, I don’t like or eat fish, but…on a breakfast buffet? Seriously?! With the eyeballs still there, staring deadly up at you?

    The balut is interesting. My brother ate something sort of like that while in Vietnam. Only the egg he ate had long been soaked in alcohol and he ate the shell (which was soft, from soaking in alcohol), too. This bottle of booze and eggs was an expensive delicacy and he was fortunate the family shared it with him — and he said it was delicious. You both have far more culinary bravery than I’m ever likely to have. 🙂

  2. Apparently growing up Asian and Southern has me thinking the fish looks okay… but I’m also not too picky with food! I think it’s time for you to get lost on accident and find some good street food!

    On another note, http://www.wired.com/reviews/2011/09/timbuk2

    • That’s the problem. I’m not a chicken when it comes to exploring new cities, but my host colleagues will not let me out on my own. I guess the area we’re in is not very American friendly. Add to that the fact I am working very odd hours with this team, and my windows of opportunity are fairly small.

      However, I have sneakily planned an adventure for Saturday, my last full day here. So, stay tuned for details on that!

  3. That’s a bummer about the food. I bet Joe would eat that fish for breakfast though. He loves whole fish with the eyes and all. There are some great dishes, although they are not all winners in my palate either. I do LOVE lumpia. Whenever we have it at a family gathering it gets inhaled.

    Hopefully you will find some redeeming dishes.

  4. Everything comes back to those poor guinea pigs, doesn’t it?

    I work with a Philippino guy and when he told me about balut, I was pretty much scarred for life. Fetuses should never be dinner. And fish should never be breakfast – especially when it’s deep fried.

  5. Between your photos and Jen’s descriptions of this trip, my stomach is in knots! How good does any regular food sound right now (even fastfood like McDonald’s or Taco Bell) and how sad is that! Safe travels home!

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