OK, this is a long-overdue post about Philippine foods. The strange ones, at least. Nobody cares about plain chicken, you can get that anywhere. 🙂
The first strange food I tried was Ube Ice Cream. I admit I looked askance at it when this dish of vivid purple ice cream was set in front of me, with the information that it was made from yams. I mean, really? Yam ice cream? That sounds about as interesting as a potato popsicle – not interesting at all. But the family members were eating it, and even the 2 year old was begging for some, so I gave it a try. YUM! That stuff is GOOD! It may technically be from a yam, but it tastes like a fruit. Very delicious, and I’ll get more ube ice cream before I leave, for sure.
The next strange food I tried was Halo-Halo. It’s always served in a large round bowl with a tall stem. It starts with crushed ice, then several scoops of different kinds of gelatin and fruits, topped with mango ice cream and sprinkled with cornflakes. To ready it for eating, you sprinkle it with sugar and pour cream over the whole thing, mix it together, and eat. This dessert is definately a fail to my taste buds. Looks great in the glass, but it turns out the gelatin is flavored like vegetables (unidentifiable vegetables at that), the fruit part isn’t sweet, and pouring cream into ice just gives you watered down cream. I ate the ice cream and the cornflakes and that was enough. The local people we were eating with cleaned their bowls, getting every little bit out. It is apparantly an incredibly popular local dessert. (I just looked it up on Wikipedia. Even allowing for the slight differences between their description and what I ate, the details don’t sound very appetizing. My version DID have kidney beans in it, I just did not recognize them as such since they were buried in a *dessert* of all things. Anyway, here is the Halo-Halo Wikipedia article.)
We’ve also had some very interesting fruits. The first was Marang. Looks really strange on the table, this spiky brown thing the size of a lopsided football. Our host dug his fingers into the skin between the spikes and pulled handfuls of skin off to expose the inside … which looked even stranger. White globules of fruit that had the appearance of small, peeled lemons. Kind of papery and white looking. Our host showed us that you take your fork, stab it into one of the globules, and put it in your mouth. You spit out the seed inside each globule, but the rest is edible. So, with hesitation, I tried a bite. And I really like it! It is somewhat banana-like in texture, but the taste is more acidic and spicy. Very good, especially as a surprise. A new favorite fruit for me.
I’m also learning the various uses for plantains. Those are the super long banana-looking things in the grocery store. They are sold anywhere from green to yellow to spotted with brown/black, and each stage has their uses. I have fried the brown/black ones before and sprinkled them with cinnamon-sugar, but that’s about it. The green ones, however, are great in soups and stews. We had a pork stew last night that was chunks of pork, sliced cabbage, and sliced plantains. Yum! I had no idea what to expect, but it was very good.
Also surprising was jackfruit. A large green fruit, I saw it on the counter but did not know how it was going to be used. That night we had a beef stew that included things that I thought were pieces of mushroom – they were one-inch segments of something with long tendrels. Turns out it was jackfruit! They had a pleasant, musky flavor. I probably would have continued thinking they were pieces of mushroom if I had not been told. I am surprised at how much cooking with fruit is done here, but it makes sense given the numbers of fruits they have to choose from.
Just in case you didn’t see it, we also had coconut water the other day with dinner. It is on my Oops – I drank the water post. Scroll down to the picture on that post if you only want to read about the coconut water.
Of course fish is almost always served whole. Milkfish seems to be a favorite, it’s the national fish of the Philippines. Either the fish itself has a tartness to it, or it’s always cooked that way. Lots of little bones, if it is cooked well enough you can chew most of the bones, but if you aren’t sure it’s best to spend a (long) time picking them out. There appears to be a trick to it that we haven’t learned yet – everyone else at the table is finished with theirs before we are halfway through. Tuna is popular, and the only fish we have seen served without head and tail intact. Probably because it’s so big it wouldn’t fit on the plate with those! There are also lots of varieties of dried fish. Some about the size of a pocket watch, which we were told no Americans ever like. (So we didn’t try that one.) Also some dried, minnow-size fish keep appearing on the breakfast table. Our host hasn’t said anything about them, but he eats a few bites whenever they’re available. I will try those one of these days, I just don’t always feel adventurous at breakfast time.
For a snack one time I was given Sweet Potato Chips. I expected them to be potato chips from sweet potatoes. But no, they were potato chips sprinkled with sugar instead of salt! My husband did not like them, but I did. I couldn’t quite get “used” to them, but I bet I could if I tried. My mouth kept thinking “this doesn’t really make sense, but I like potatoes and I like sugar, so maybe I should have another…”
One note about the food is how low-fat it is. There is rice at every meal, but no butter, salt, or pepper. You either eat it plain or you drizzle some liquid from the main course on top. A lot of bread and similar items are made from rice here, rather than wheat or oats. I can’t find a photo I can use to put here, but here is a photo of Puto Rice Cakes that is on Wikipedia. They look wet and foamy, but they are a slightly sweet-tasting bread, individually sized, often served at breakfast. Very good.
More chicken and fish than anything else for meat. We’ve had pork two or three times, beef only once. This morning our host had to do an errand early in the morning, and when he returned he brought us a treat for breakfast – McDonald’s Sausage Biscuits and Hashbrowns. While eating American food was nice for a change, we could taste the fat in those sausage patties. I mean we could taste the fat more than the flavor. Really weird. More than anything else so far, that showed us just how low-fat our diet had gotten while we were here.
I’m sure I’ll have more new foods to post later. One person I met said I should try the eye of a fish before I go home, since the eyes are cooked along with the rest of the fish when it is served whole. We’ll see if I get around to that one.