In the Philippines, it is normal to eat at least 5 meals a day. This is true anywhere you are: in a metropolitan, urban area or in the country.
In addition to the main meals of breakfast, lunch and dinner, there are also light meals in midmorning and mid-afternoon popularly and interchangeably referred to as merienda or snacks, not to mention the occasional chichirias Ė munchies like nuts, chips and chicharon (pork rind cracklings) - which is eaten anytime, whenever one wants to satisfy his/her cravings for such.
I vividly remember the seemingly nonstop eating while vacationing at my grandmotherís in Pozorrubio, a town in Pangasinan (a province in the northern part of the Philippines).
On our first night, we were awakened at midnight to partake a bowl of hot chicken congee after which we were again sent back to bed. At 3:00 in the morning, even before the cock crows, those who would go to the farm at dawn had their second meal of steaming cups of native coffee or chocolate, pan de sal (local bread roll), boiled eggs and boiled saba (native banana). They had with them packed food for breakfast and midmorning snack which they partook before heading back to the ancestral house for lunch.
Those who stayed behind had breakfast at six in the morning. Fare included steamed and fried rice, fried eggs, dinengdeng, a kind of vegetable stew usually consisting of okra, squash, eggplants and ampalaya (amargoso or bitter gourd) cooked with bagoong isda (fish paste), fried salted fish and smoked bangus (milkfish). There was hot coffee and chocolate as well. Up until now, with all those food laid on the table, I still think it was a super heavy breakfast. Having grown in the city, my usual breakfast is fairly continental fare: eggs, toast, a dollop of butter and jam, a cup of coffee, a serving of banana fruit.
At around 10:00 in the morning, we had some of the delicacies Pangasinan is famous for: patupat (sticky rice in pouches made of woven palm leaves, cooked in a mixture of sugarcane juice and coconut milk or molasses) and tupig, a concoction of glutinous rice flour, coconut meat shavings, brown sugar and coconut milk, wrapped in banana leaves then cooked over live coals.
By noon, lunch was served. An array of grilled milkfish from the familyís fishpond, steamed shrimps, tinolang manok (chicken in clear broth with slices of young and green papaya fruit and aromatics like ginger, onion, native garlic), boiled eggplants, native sausages, grilled pork chops. A full meal such as this one is never complete without boiled rice. Salad was a mixture of tomatoes, onions, chopped green mangoes with chilli peppers and shrimp paste (bagoong alamang) on the side. Native vinegar with garlic, peppercorns and chilli peppers for dipping was also available. For dessert, there were fresh fruits in season like ripe mangoes, bananas, watermelon and caimito (star apple). Buko (young coconut) juice was the main drink.
At about 3:00 in the afternoon, we were gathered at the smaller table set at the verandah for the merienda. There was bucayo, a kind of candy made from shredded coconut meat cooked in brown sugar. Champorado, some kind of porridge made of sticky rice cooked with chocolate, sugar and milk, coupled with fried dried and salted fish called tuyo was also prepared. We added to the fare some store-bought putong Calasiao (steamed rice cakes from Calasiao town - really yummy) and kutsinta with grated coconut sprinkled on top (gelatinous rice cake with lye as one of the main ingredients). Fresh coconut juice in its shell served as refreshment.
At 6:00pm, itís dinner time! Fare consisted of Adobo (pork stew), fried milkfish marinated in vinegar and aromatics, shrimp sinigang (shrimp in sour soup), stuffed milkfish, and pinakbet, an Ilocano-inspired dish of eggplants, okra, string beans, squash, saluyot (native greens) and tomatoes in shrimp paste.
That was 6-7 meals in one day! Add to that the chichirias we munched while gathered around playing card games or sharing catch up stories. It was a one week gastronomical experience for me. This is not unusual though, or put up just because we were visiting. It has been the routine in my grandmotherís household from the day she was born.
While the type of food may differ and meal times may vary in other places, nevertheless having five or more meals in a day is part and parcel in the lives of most Filipinos. In reality the quantity or the elaborateness of the food does not matter as much as having the whole family gathered together during meal time.
There is one thing sure though. If you happen by, you will be invited to join and partake of the food, sufficient or not. Hospitality and generosity are typical Filipino traits Ė to offer and share with others what he/she is having and enjoying. Always, with a smile, he/she would say Tara na kain tayo! (Címon, letís eat!)