A Third World Country But First Rate Food

A few weeks ago, I reminisced about growing up in the Philippines.  That post did not mention food, but after a high school friend e-mailed me this week an article about Philippine cuisine I realize that it’s the food I miss most now.  And what food we had….!

Growing up, I focused mostly on the fruits and “dessert” options.  After i left, I gained more appreciation for the main courses.

The variety of fruits was amazing.  I ate lots of them, much more than I did typical “snacks.”

We had a papaya tree in our backyard and I regularly enjoyed papaya salads as a snack.  When I saw my first “papaya” here, I wasn’t sure what it was. When I realized it was a papaya, I laughed.  That scrawny thing is NOT a papaya!  A real papaya is about 18 inches long and a good six inches high. In other words, if a papaya fell off the tree and hit your head, you’d be seriously hurting.  I’m definitely an Asian papaya elitist!

Then, there were the fruits I’ll never see here…at least not fresh.  My favorite is jackfruit, known in the Philippines as nangka.  It is a yellow, fibrous fruit shaped somewhat like a tulip bulb.  The taste is somewhat bland with a slight sweetness. I’ve found it canned at Mike’s Seafood, a local Asian food store.



Santol is about the size of an orange; its white meat is somewhat sour.  I love it with some salt to bring out the tartness.  But for tartness, nothing beats hard green mango with salt and rice.  When mango is on sale at the grocery, I pick the hardest, greenest ones I can find and live it up!

Two Chinese fruits I love are Mandarin oranges and lychee.  The “oranges” are actually huge tangerines the size of a softball.  Very easy to peel and very sweet.  Lychee is a milky white fruit about the size of a globe grape with a delicate, slightly sweet flavor.  I’ve also seen it canned at Mike’s but fresh is so much better.



On the dessert / snack side, it was rice cakes, more rice cakes, and even more rice cakes.  Puto is a steamed rice cake that I can eat all day.  There’s also an orange, sticky rice cake called kutchinta which is more glutinous, and sweeter, than puto.  Kutchinta is traditionally eaten with grated coconut on top.  Masarap! (Delicious!)



Moving up in size we come to bibingka.  This is a pancake style rice cake the size of a dinner plate, although I now see it in a “mini” size.  It is also traditionally eaten with grated coconut. I can get bibinkga in Vegas and look forward to it on our annual visits.



The mother of all rice cakes is the “sticky rice” cake biko which comes from the northern provinces where my mother’s family is from. This monster is the size of a sheet cake.  It is little more than white rice and coconut held together by a coconut milk syrup poured over it.  But, the coup de gras is a layer of sticky brown sugar put on top. This is a huge sugar buzz!  My grandmother brought me one of these whenever she visited and I gobbled it down way too fast!  I get this in Vegas too!



Halo-halo is a concoction of ice cream (traditionally a purple sweet yam flavor called ube), sweet beans and fruits in a sundae style glass.  I never took a great liking to it but my wife loves it.  At a San Francisco reunion last year, there was a “you make it” halo-halo table and she went crazy! (I gorged myself on the rice cakes!)

Guinataan is mixed fruits in coconut milk and sugar.  Now even I admit that  guinataan’s visual appeal is below zero but the taste is marvelous!



In the entrée department, the “big three” are adobo , pancit and lechon.  Adobo is a pork or chicken stew in a sauce of vinegar and soy sauce.

Pancit is a rice noddle dish which comes in a variety of forms but I prefer the thin noodles with veggies and shrimp and pork bits.  Squeeze on some juice from a calamansi, a sort of Philippine lime, over the noodles and, as my wife would say, “it’s mighty fine eatin’!”

pancit w/ calamansi at top right

pancit w/ calamansi at top right

Lechon (spit roasted whole pig) is the Holy Grail of Philippine cuisine. Any important event must have a lechon.  The best part is the crispy outer skin!   I always have lechon when we’re in Vegas.



Now enjoy a taste of Filipino Flavors! (Warning: You’ll be hungry aftewards.)

(Next Sunday: I’ll be in Vegas for Thanksgiving week and some of you may be traveling that week too. So next Sunday I’ll give you my proven techniques for avoiding the BOHICA you often encounter as everyone tries to “tax the tourist.”)


13 responses to “A Third World Country But First Rate Food

  1. You didn’t mention rambutan! You can occasionally find them at Publix. Ever on the lookout for exotic stuff we’ve never heard of, my sister and I regularly cruise the “weird fruit” section of Publix. She’s never seen rambutan at her Publix near Atlanta. They are wonderful, but the first time I tried them, they were 69 cents each!!!

  2. I never heard of rambutan before you mentioned it. It looks familiar and after checking it out online it does look a lot like lychee.

    But 69-cents apiece is robbery! It should be sold by the kilo! Well, by the pound since we’re in the U.S. and it is still so backwards on measurement…lol!

  3. Interesting…I thought I’d read that they grow in the Phillipines. They do look similar to lychee, and they are very, very sweet. Like the flesh of a grape, but meatier.

  4. You had me the whole way until you got to that pig. I can handle some bacon but that thing looked gross! I hope that it tastes better than it looks!

  5. Believe me Nick, once you’ve tasted lechon you’ll never want pork any other way!

  6. I think if more of us saw the way our food really looks, instead of being cut up into its disconnected parts, we would change our eating habits. Except maybe not me…I thought the lechon looked really good 🙂 See my next post!

  7. Damn made me hongry jes lookin at it boy. Thanks for that.

    Hey I tried to post on yout TD post regarding their sloppy reporting but it is not enabled to accept replys sooooooo…sounds like your are contradicting your earlier postion of “not wanting journalism held accountable” The very thing that has us “red states” so pissed off at the MSM.

    FN have you ever watched Brokow try to ad lib? It’s a riot. If he doesn’t have that ear piece in filling his brain with content he’s a dead duck.

  8. Well PT…you are luckier than me because Tampa has quite a few Filipino restaurants. You sould be able to find them in the restaurant yellow pages, hopefully under “Filipino” or “Philippine”. if not, perhaps a Google search will turn them up.

    As for TDO comments, yes I have banned them. I received way too many personal attacks from the “maggots,” as you called them. I won’t put up with those.

    I wish you’d focus on your wordpress blog more, even if it just to dual post. I don’t even want to comment on TDO.

  9. well its just my business gets in the way …….that and fall in the south.

    I don’t want to comment on MSM either but I’m too fucking mad not to grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

  10. Now PT..don’t let these things get to you! If you allow yourself to get mad over things you can’t control, you have given control of part of your life to others. I rarely get mad, perhaps because at a certain level I really just don’t care about much at an emotional level. Or, if I think I will get mad, I avoid the situation, as by not allowing comments at TDO. So, I am quite stress free.

    No Fall in Tally right now..it’s WINTER! lol!
    Freeze warning tonite and Wednesday….

  11. I can’t imagine why commenting on MSM…at least the TDO branch…would bother ptfan1. I seems to me that everybody left there agrees with him. They all do a lot of virtual back-patting. At least ptfan1 has the courage to look at posts he might not agree with, even if he disparages them (“I try to use humor with these people but they just don’t get it”, is one comment that sticks in my mind).

  12. Cool pic of the plate of Kutchinta!


    Senor Enrique (Tito Eric) – Photojournalist

  13. I have no record of you asking permission to use my photograph. Would you please take it down!

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