Good Eats

September 22, 2008 - Filed under Eats

We’ve managed to get ourselves set up in a small studio apartment near the beach. Most importantly, with a furnished kitchen! While Kelly and I are often more inclined to head out for a meal than prepare something at home, after three weeks of restaurant food we’ve been craving simple comfort foods.

There’s no lack of familiar ingredients here. Rice and noodles, coffees, teas, and spices. Most are readily available. The basic meat groups are the same… and usually fresher than at home. The seafood is plentiful, colourful, and sometimes confusing. Many types of fish and shellfish are unfamiliar, and will require some experimentation. Vegetables are similar, but of varying varieties. Tomatoes are orange or green. Carrots are short and fat. Oh, the selection of fruit! Banana and mango trees are everywhere and during the storm last night at least 3 coconuts fell onto the roof, scaring the wits out of us. The papayas are amazing.

Breakfasts have been fairly simple affairs. Eggs and toast with bacon or ham. The occasional banana pancake or crepe. Omelets and roasted potatoes. Incredibly, instant coffee is the norm here. Though brewed coffee is almost always available, it must be specified when ordering. Many Filipinos often have Tapsilog for breakfast which is dried beef and onions marinated in soya sauce, then fried and served with garlic rice and an egg or two. It’s quite good. Pan de sal (sweet buns) are usually at hand. Breakfast isn’t complete without having a fresh banana shake or mango juice.

Lunch has many typical North American options with the ever popular ham and cheese, tuna, and chicken sandwiches, as well as hamburgers and fries. All vary in quality from place to place. You might end up with a warm ham sandwich on homemade German style bread, or something that looks like it spent time in a vending machine or cafeteria. Spaghetti is another common dish with a variety of tomato or cream based sauces. Often, the tomato sauce is quite sweet.

Some Filipino food options include Bicol Express, a spicy pork dish with coconut milk. Sinigang, a sour, fishy soup with shrimp or pork and vegetables. Or ihaw-ihaw (meat or seafood skewers cooked over charcoal) is commonly available from street vendors and restaurants. On special occasions, lechon (stuffed, roasted pig) might be found. We came across some at the Malapatay market last week, but at 9am I was more interested in finding coffee. Chicken and pork dishes with Pancit (thin egg noodles) or vermicelli noodles are common. Chicken and pork adobo is marinated in soya sauce and vinegar and served with plain or garlic rice.

Fast food options are plentiful with McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts and Jollibee (a large local chain) in nearly every mid size town and city. Most are comparable to their North American equivalents… the food never looks like the picture and is usually regrettable 30 minutes later. Though I have gotten one emphatic recommendation to try Jollibee fried chicken on my next trip to town.

Dinner is of similar fare to the lunch trends. Noodles or rice dishes with meat or seafood. Plenty of European schnitzel dishes are often on the menu, as are a variety of pizzas. Many Thai dishes are available, but lacking some of the Thai spices and herbs, local substitutes are used. Often not nearly as spicy as the Thai equivalents. Beef steak isn’t common, but is available at a premium. Tuna or chicken breast is more likely, though finding a restaurant that will cook it to the requested degree of doneness is somewhat of a challenge. Most larger portions of meat tend to be somewhat over cooked. Bangus and lapu-lapu fish are sometimes available with a vinegar based dipping sauce. We haven’t seen many appetizers, but the restaurant at the El Dorado resort in Dauin makes fantastic pan fried garlic shrimp served with slices of garlic bread.

There’s a few specialty restaurants in town serving Chinese, Italian, and Mexican foods. The Chinese restaurant in Dumaguete was very good. The Mexican however, was terrible. A lack of spices, and an attempt to serve Mexican food as well as pizzas, Filipino dishes, and European dishes has placed it into general mediocrity, not to mention the watered down drinks.

I have a hollow leg for junk food and snacks and the Philippines does not disappoint! Cheese rings, shrimp chips, and all varieties of potato chips are available at the sari-sari stores (corner stores) on every block, even in the rural areas. My favourite being Piattos which are little hexagonal chips coming in varieties like bbq, sour cream and onion, and ‘spice’ flavour. Alas, dill pickle chips do not seem to exist here.

Filipinos love their desserts. Parfaits and cakes both big and small, cookies and pastries are in every coffee shop. Ice cream is sold both in stores and by street vendors, but I’ve been warned of the refreezing of ice cream by some of the vendors. Halo-halo is a mixture of young palm fruits preserved in a sweet sauce, ice cream, shaved ice and milk. It’s definitely… unique. :)

All in all, North American food has been a bit of a challenge, mostly due to preconcieved notions of how it should be prepared and served. Local dishes have been quite good, as can be expected. We have many more foods and flavours to try in the coming months. I’m particularly looking forward to trying ube (purple yam) ice cream, lechon (roast pork), dilis (anchovies) and pusit (squid) snacks, adidas (chickens feet), and maybe even balut (a half formed duck embryo)… well, maybe I’ll skip that last one.

Posted by: Shim

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