Guest Author - Rachel Meneses-Ponce
The Philippines is comprised of multi-ethnicity people. One of the strong links that bond Filipinos together is the characteristic adventure-some spirit in the approach to food. Here are a few trivia on some Filipino food as well as a few tips on how to deal with them if offered to you – especially the ones you may consider as exotic delicacies.
1. Adobo. This has been part of Filipino cuisine even before Spanish times. Refrigeration was unheard of. So our ancestors would clean, and then salt the meat of wild boars they hunted down. These were placed in clay pots and cooked as needed. Garlic and vinegar are added to balance the saltiness of the meat. When commercial interaction with Chinese merchants became regular and as new things were introduced in the process, the native Filipinos learned to use soy sauce. The Spanish settlers called the dish “adobado” until it evolved to what is now known as adobo. At present, other meat such as chicken is also used.
2. Balut (boiled duck egg with embryo inside) is best eaten warm. Foreign tourists almost always are egged (pun unintended) to try this delicacy even just once. Some kind of a rite of passage. You can always refuse of course. In the event that you take the dare and is game enough, here’s how to eat it and show off to your local hosts. If successful, you level up your popularity in the local community. At any rate, take everything in stride and just have fun with it. Here goes:
First, crack the shell on one end and make a small hole. Break the membrane if it is not broken yet. Fluid will ooze out. Locals call it sabaw or soup. Others refer to it as juice. Suck the “juice” or “soup”. After which, peel the shell off to get into the matter inside. You may sprinkle some salt over it or dip it in spicy vinegar. With eyes closed, pop the entire thing into your mouth, chew then swallow. A bottle of cold San Miguel beer or cold soda is a good companion to “push” this down your throat. Note that closing one’s eyes is optional. If you are not squeamish and can look at that embryo with its beak, then go ahead, take small bites at a time and eat it with open eyes. Balut is not for the faint-hearted. But once you get the hang of it, you might join the others who got hooked. I met some foreign guests who could consume 5 to 6 pieces of balut every night. Balut is considered an aphrodisiac, said to make your knees strong.
3. Durian. You have two choices for durian: either you love it or hate it. The fruit looks like a jackfruit with thick, spiky outer skin or covering. The flesh is sweet and creamy. But the smell is another story. It is indescribable (very pungent, sickly sweet) and not too few are repulsed by the smell. If you cannot eat the fresh, ripe flesh of durian because of its offending smell, at least experience it in candy form. Durian from Davao Province in southern Philippines is one of the best. Durian is known to locals as an aphrodisiac as well.
4. Balao-balao. This is a concoction of fermented salted shrimps (the soft shell variety) mixed with cooked rice. It is ready at least five days after its preparation. The sour, almost acidic smell is very strong. It is cooked in sautéed garlic, onion and roasted, peeled tomatoes; then simmered in small amount of vinegar until almost dry. It is usually served with roasted eggplant salad, fried tilapia and warm steamed rice. I am one of the few who would ignore it if served on my table. I just can’t reconcile with what my imagination is telling me - it looks gross to me and therefore unappetizing. Regardless of my personal view on this delicacy, Balao-balao is popular, especially in Pampanga Province in northern Philippines where it originated.
5. Dinuguan. This is a kind of stew where the liver, lung, intestines, lean meat and blood of the pig are cooked together in a solution of vinegar, water, garlic, onion, salt, peppercorns, tomatoes, finger chillies and in some cases with green tamarind leaves. The stew is black in color and goes well with steamed rice cake known locally as puto. Nice contrast in color – black and white. This is one of the comfort foods popular to most Filipinos.
The above is a scant list of interesting Filipino food. To the unfamiliar, some food listed here may be considered exotic and to some extent, extreme food. Each Filipino food – be it indigenous, an adaptation or fusion with other cultures - has a story of its own that would give you glimpses of Filipinos and life in the Philippines in general.