'Pines, Reveal Yourself

Filipino food, over 2 weeks grubbin' it and I'm still not quite sure what to think. Both Spanish and Chinese influenced and decidedly unique from the rest of Southeast Asia. Carne asada, chicarron..where are we? At times, over-salted and void of any culinary creativity or bright tropical infusion I would expect from a 7,107 island Southeast Asian Archipelago. Other times I was shown flashes of brilliance, that gave me reason to believe so much more had yet to be uncovered. Alas, I can only truly report on what made it's way down my esophagus-the rest is speculation. Let's get to it.

Ah, yes. 'Lechon baboy'. Time magazine gave it the 'best pig' in Asia award this year, but I highly doubt anyone from the staff made it out to actually sample. Not doubt a big [the only?] reason for giving this award was due to the fact chic food travel TV star Anthony Bourdain dubbed Filipino Lechon (a specialty of Cebu island) 'best pig ever' on his show 'No Reservations'. I'm sure what Anthony ate was sublime, but it was prepared for him fresh, meticulously roasted and cared for like a mother with her first child. I went to the well known 'cNt' Lechon restaurant in Cebu City which was recommended to me by more than one Filipino. The result fell short of expectations. The pig was VERY salty and the skin was FLOPPY- not crispy. In fact I tried Lechon again at another spot on Cebu just to be sure. Same result. I have no doubt an expertly prepared Lechon would be delicious, but not everyone who visits the Philippines can get a family to cook them a 90 kilo swine. I'll take Ibu Oka in Ubud, Bali any day. Moving on..

Little grills line the streets of city and villages everywhere. Similar to what you can find in Indonesia- with 30% less flavor sensation. Pork skewers, along with hot dogs and sometimes longganisa are on offer. The pork is basted with a 'bbq' sauce of ketchup, soy, vinegar and sugar. Fairly tasty, especially if they char the chunks of fat right. 10 for about $1.

Everywhere you go in Southeast Asia, you will find fried chicken. Don't worry. It'll be there. Most of the fried fowl out here is breaded, then dunked in dirty oil. Standard procedure.

Fried shrimp cake fritter. If it only tasted half as good as the concept. Like swallowing a bucket of sea water and you know how I love my shrimp. Easy on the soy, child.

Beef Afritada. A fairly well executed dish of tender beef stewed in a tomato sauce. Representative of the Filipino's love for meat- and apparent distaste for anything vegetable. Most meals are a serving of meat (pork, chicken or beef) over a big plate of white rice. Soy sauce and vinegar bottles occupy each table if you choose to get wet.

Lumpia, along with Adobo (stewed meat with vinegar, soy and bay leaves) is probably one of the most well known Pinoy dishes outside of the Philippines. Basically a fried spring roll with shredded veggies inside. Lovin' that coconut vinegar dipping sauce they serve with it, though. Even bought a couple bottles. Looks like it's headin' to LALA.

Halo Halo, not the video game squared but a funny mixture of beans and jellies over ice. Don't forget the condensed milk. The freakish purple blob is actually the natural color of Ube, a Filipino Yam. Perhaps a distant relative of the Malaysian dessert Cendol?

Lechon Manok. Rotisserie chicken was tasty, and a real bargain to boot. You'll see 'em EVERYwhere on Cebu island. For less than $2.50 you can get yourself a whole baby chicken, stuffed with lemongrass and roasted.

How about a kilo of crab for breakfast? Let's roll. At the seaside seafood market Baclaran (Metro Manila) you can pick up live crabs downstairs and a selection of restaurants will beg you to let them cook 'em upstairs for a small fee. We snatched up 4 crab (1 kilo- 300 pesos [$6.34]) cooked two different way. Garlic butter in the forefront and alimango sa gata (crab in coconut milk ginger sauce) in the background. I'm down for this, although getting to all that flaky meat required elbow grease aplenty. Bring bandaids. Sheeze can I get a Skipper crab boil?

The Philippines is the number one exporter of coconuts on the globe, but they keep a few around to cook up domestic eats. Bibingka. Rice flour, coconut milk, sugar, banana leaves. It seems every country in this region does something with a combination of these ingredients. The cakes were even grilled inside the coconut husks. It's amazing how nothing goes to waste in these literally starving countries.

Bicol Express. Pork, shrimp, bell peppers and chilis simmered in a ginger coconut milk sauce. This is a specialty of the Bicol region, an area known for spicy grub- unlike the rest of the 'pines. You can cover just about anything in fresh coconut milk and I'll down it. You will, too.

Now this was globalworthy. Pork Sisig. Looks like crap but tastes just a touch better. Trust me it'll be huge in the U.S. one day. Created back in the day as tasty way to use leftover [and inexpensive] pig's head, nowadays this dish is a classic food for beer drinkers everywhere. Pork cheeks and parts are chopped, boiled, grilled and then set atop a screaming hot cast iron plate. There, the underside of this pork, onion and liver-mayonnaise mixture gets brown and crispy. Squirt some green calamansi on top and get to clogging the arteries. Chase with lipitor.

What can I say about this country's cuisine? At one point it seemed hopeless. But I can attribute some of this to the fact I was in remote locations for a good portion of the trip. Food usually suffers if you're staying in generator powered towns for some reason {read: fried rice or omelette?}. So Filipino food might not hit you in the face from the start like other countries, but a little diggin' will do a lot of good. With endless islands and an equally expansive number of un-tasted regional specialties, there's no way I could count out this country despite a less than memorable debut. I feel the 'pines has got grub to offer for those who dare to dive deeper than the average gastronomist. Is that you?

Stay Global.

1 comment:

TayCarnie! said...

i fuckin love your blog!


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