In the last post, we introduced you to daily life in the Philippines. We shared many similarities and some differences between Filipino and American culture. We concluded that overall life in the P.I. is somewhat similar to our context in the United States. However this is not the case concerning food. We intentionally did not include “food in the Philippines” not because we forgot the topic but because of its centrality to the Filipino social structure. So we thought that it deserved its own special post. This post is separated into two parts – the variety of Filipino food and its social significance.
An assortment of food – The Philippines has a vast array of fruits, vegetables, and of course full-course delicacies. The indigenous fruits are all the typical tropical kinds that you would expect. Their yellow mango and pineapples are the most notable. The sweetness of these two fruits is unparalleled. The Durian fruit which is located in the island of Mindanao is infamous for its flavor and distinct smell. If you can get past the smell, it is actually a very tasty snack. Unfortunately, the smell is quite strong and difficult but not impossible to overcome. Additionally, they have an incredible amount of diversity among the banana family. These range from the typical plantain/cooking banana to the very small sweet banana which is only found in and around the area of Lake Taal, specifically the city of Tagaytay. The coconut and its dessert counter-part, buko salad, is very popular. Although to most in the West with a sweet tooth, coconut and its meat may taste a little bland; its combination with mixed fruits and condensed milk make buko salad an instant favorite. Vegetables are also very common. These include all the typical kinds that you would find in a mixed vegetable dish – green beans, peas, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.
Now concerning their actual meals, their ingredients are very different compared to western cuisine. Many times Filipino food has been compared with Chinese food. The taste ranges from sweet to a sour/spicy flavor. Rice or kanin is served with every meal, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Whereas we would typically have eggs and toast or cereal for breakfast, their breakfast is composed of fish, eggs, rice, and then some form of sweet bread or mango. The fish is often salted and dried. The entire fish is eaten with the exception of the bones. Yes, that would include the head and the eyeballs. Often many of my Filipino friends have described to me the exceptional tastiness of the eyes. I have yet to share in their enjoyment. Lunch and dinner are often similar. It is served with rice and some form of ulam (side dish) which is placed upon the rice. This side dish is often close in texture to that of soup and has a vegetables and a meat which is mixed into it. A more solid ulam would be manudo or adobo. This is a combination of pork or chicken in a thick sauce with chopped potatoes and various other herbs and spices.
The meals described above are most common in Filipino homes. However there are special occasion meals which are extra tasty. These include a more expensive form of seafood and/or lechon. Lechon is cooked pig. This is cooked over an open fire by rotating it over white hot coals. It is incredibly delicious, but it is not very advantageous for your cholesterol levels. Filipinos also eat various shrimp, squid and crab delicacies along with tuna and other kinds of fish. Most are freshly caught. For most foreigners, there is a time period of adjustment to the differences in cuisine. However once you acquire a taste for it, it is awesome!
Food as a part of community – In contrast to Western culture’s isolation and individualism, the fabric of Filipino society is sewn together with the thread of the common meal. A common meal is more than simply a time of fellowship. It is primarily a means by which individuals, families, and communities come together to mutually encourage another, to share in their support for the other person, and to experience life. To share in a meal tells others that you are for them and united with them in life’s journey. We see the importance of this in the first century church in Acts 2:42-47. Thus, we can say that the common meal is very important for both Filipino hospitality and the social structure. It is impossible for you to visit a church or an individual’s house without partaking in some form of a meal. A perfect example of this occurs after the Sunday service. Whereas most American churches are accustomed to eating Sunday dinner from the confines of their individual homes, Filipino churches almost always have a common meal at the church in which the entire church participates. Additionally, one can rarely escape the prayer meeting without sharing in some form of a snack. Viewing this from an eternal perspective, we are reminded of the great marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation. In it we will all partake together in the great feast, the ultimate example of community, mutual peace, and rest that we share in Christ (Isa. 25:9-12; Rev. 19:6-10). In conclusion, there is only one word to describe Filipino food – “Masarap!” (Translation – Delicious).
Footnote: It may be noted that we left out the most notorious Filipino food, balut. For those interested in the details, we recommend that you simple google it. Once Tim conquers it (Bethany refuses!), he will share his experience.