Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Englishman in Manila: thoughts on Pinoy culture

This article is a hilarious read! We got this via email from a friend and couldn't wait to share the laughs here. Enjoy!

The following is from a British journalist stationed in the Philippines.

Matter of Taste
by Matthew Sutherland

I have now been in this country for over six years, and consider myself in most respects well assimilated. However, there is one key step on the road to full assimilation, which I have yet to take, and that's to eat BALUT. The day any of you see me eating BALUT, please call immigration and ask them to issue me a Filipino passport. Because at that point, there will be no turning back. BALUT, for that still blissfully ignorant non-Pinoy out there, is a fertilized duck egg. It is commonly sold with salt in a piece of newspaper, much like English fish and chips, by street vendors usually after dark, presumably so you can't see how gross it is. It's meant to be an aphrodisiac, although I can't imagine anything more likely to dispel sexual desire than crunching on a partially formed baby duck swimming in noxious fluid. The embryo in the egg comes in varying stages of development, but basically it is not considered macho to eat one without fully discernible feathers, beak, and claws. Some say these crunchy bits are the best. Others prefer just to drink the so-called 'soup', the vile, pungent liquid that surrounds the aforementioned feathery fetus…excuse me; I have to go and throw up now.I'll be back in a minute.

Food dominates the life of the Filipino. People here just love to eat. They eat at least eight times a day. These eight official meals are called, in order: breakfast, snacks, lunch, merienda, pica-pica, pulutan, dinner, and no-one-saw-me-take-that-cookie-from-the-fridge-so-it-doesn't-count. The short gaps in between these mealtimes are spent eating Sky Flakes from the open packet that sits on every desktop. You're never far from food in the Philippines. If you doubt this, next time you're driving home from work, try this game. See how long you can drive without seeing food and I don't mean a distant restaurant, or a picture of food. I mean a man on the sidewalk frying fish balls, or a man walking through the traffic selling nuts or candy. I bet it's less than one minute.

Here are some other things I've noticed about food in the Philippines. Firstly, a meal is not a meal without rice - even breakfast. In the UK, I could go a whole year without eating rice. Second, it's impossible to drink without eating. A bottle of San Miguel just isn't the same without gambas or beef tapa. Third, no one ventures more than two paces from their house without baon and a container of something cold to drink. You might as well ask a Filipino to leave home without his pants on. And lastly, where I come from, you eat with a knife and fork. Here, you eat with a spoon and fork. You try eating rice swimming in fish sauce with a knife.

One really nice thing about Filipino food culture is that people always ask you to SHARE their food. In my office, if you catch anyone attacking their baon, they will always go, "Sir! KAIN TAYO!" ("Let's eat!"). This confused me, until I realized that they didn't actually expect me to sit down and start munching on their boneless bangus. In fact, the polite response is something like, "No thanks, I just ate." But the principle is sound - if you have food on our plate, you are expected to share it, however hungry you are, with those who may be even hungrier. I think that's great. In fact, this is frequently even taken one step further. Many Filipinos use "Have you eaten yet?" ("KUMAIN KA NA?") as a general greeting, irrespective of time of day or location.

Some foreigners think Filipino food is fairly dull compared to other Asian cuisines. Actually lots of it is very good: Spicy dishes like Bicol Express (strange, a dish named after a train); anything cooked with coconut milk; anything KINILAW; and anything ADOBO. And it's hard to beat the sheer wanton, cholesterolic frenzy of a good old-fashioned LECHON de leche feast. Dig a pit, light a fire, add 50 pounds of animal fat on a stick, and cook until crisp. Mmm, mmm… you can actually feel your arteries constricting with each successive mouthful. I also share one key Pinoy trait —a sweet tooth. I am thus the only foreigner I know who does not complain about sweet bread, sweet burgers, sweet spaghetti, sweet banana ketchup, and so on. I am a man who likes to put jam on his pizza. Try it! It's the weird food you want to avoid.

In addition to duck fetus in the half-shell, items to avoid in the Philippines include pig's blood soup (DINUGUAN); bull's testicle soup, the strangely-named "SOUP NUMBER FIVE" (I dread to think what numbers one through four are); and the ubiquitous, stinky shrimp paste, BAGOONG, and it's equally stinky sister, PATIS. Filipinos are so addicted to these latter items that they will even risk arrest or deportation trying to smuggle them into countries like Australia and the USA, which wisely ban the importation of items you can smell from more than 100 paces. Then there's the small matter of the blue ice cream. I have never been able to get my brain around eating blue food; the ubiquitous UBE leaves me cold. And lastly on the subject of weird food, beware: that KALDERETANG KAMBING (goat) could well be KALDERETANG ASO (dog)…

The Filipino, of course, has a well-developed sense of food. Here's a typical Pinoy food joke:

"I'm on a seafood diet.

"What's a seafood diet?"

"When I see food, I eat it!"

Filipinos also eat strange bits of animals — the feet, the head, the guts, etc., usually barbecued on a stick. These have been given witty names, like "ADIDAS" (chicken's feet); "KURBATA" (either just chicken's neck, or "neck and thigh" as in "neck-tie"); "WALKMAN" (pigs ears); "PAL" (chicken wings); "HELMET" (chicken head); "IUD" (chicken intestines), and BETAMAX" (video-cassette- like blocks of animal blood). Yum, yum. Bon appetit.

"A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches" – (Proverbs 22:1)

WHEN I arrived in the Philippines from the UK six years ago, one of the first cultural differences to strike me was names. The subject has provided a continuing source of amazement and amusement ever since. The first unusual thing, from an English perspective, is that everyone here has a nickname. In the staid and boring United Kingdom, we have nicknames in kindergarten, but when we move into adulthood we tend, I am glad to say, to lose them.

The second thing that struck me is that Philippine names for both girls and boys tend to be what we in the UK would regard as overbearingly cutesy for anyone over about five. Fifty-five-year- olds colleague put it. Where I come from, a boy with a nickname like Boy Blue or Honey Boy would be beaten to death at school by pre-adolescent bullies, and never make it to adulthood. So, probably, would girls with names like Babes, Lovely, Precious, Peachy or Apples. Here, however, no one bats an eyelid.

Then I noticed how many people have what I have come to call "door-bell names". These are nicknames that sound like - well, doorbells. There are millions of them. Bing, Bong, Ding, and Dong are some of the more common. They can be, and frequently are, used in even more door-bell-like combinations such as Bing-Bong, Ding-Dong, Ting-Ting, and so on. Even one of our senators has a doorbell named Ping. None of these doorbell names exist where I come from, and hence sound unusually amusing to my untutored foreign ear. Someone once told me that one of the Bings, when asked why he was called Bing, replied, "because my brother is called Bong". Faultless logic. Dong, of course, is a particularly funny one for me, as where I come from "dong" is a slang word for well; perhaps "talong" is the best Tagalog equivalent.

Repeating names was another novelty to me, having never before encountered people with names like Len-Len, Let-Let, Mai-Mai, or Ning-Ning. The secretary I inherited on my arrival had an unusual one: Leck-Leck. Such names are then frequently further refined by using the "squared" symbol, as in Len2 or Mai2. This had me very confused for a while. Then there is the trend for parents to stick to a theme when naming their children. This can be as simple as making them all begins with the same letter, as in Jun, Jimmy, Janice, and Joy. More imaginative parents shoot for more sophisticated forms of assonance or rhyme, as in Biboy, Boboy, Buboy, Baboy (notice the names get worse the more kids there are-best to be born early or you could end up being a Baboy).

Even better, parents can create whole families of, say, desserts (Apple Pie, Cherry Pie, Honey Pie) or flowers (Rose, Daffodil, Tulip). The main advantage of such combinations is that they look great painted across your trunk if you're a cab driver. That's another thing I'd never seen before coming to Manila — taxis with the driver's kids' names on the trunk. Another whole eye-opening field for the foreign visitor is the phenomenon of the "composite" name. This includes names like Jejomar (for Jesus, Joseph and Mary), and the remarkable Luzviminda (for Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, believe it or not). That's a bit like me being called something like "Engscowani" (for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland ). Between you and me, I'm glad I'm not.

And how could I forget to mention the fabulous concept of the randomly inserted letter 'h'. Quite what this device is supposed to achieve, I have not yet figured out, but I think it is designed to give a touch of class to an otherwise only averagely weird name. It results in creations like Jhun, Lhenn, Ghemma, and Jhimmy. Or how about Jhun-Jhun (Jhun2)? How boring to come from a country like the UK full of people with names like John Smith.

How wonderful to come from a country where imagination and exoticism rule the world of names. Even the towns here have weird names; my favorite is the unbelievably named town of Sexmoan (ironically close to Olongapo and Angeles). Where else in the world could that really be true? Where else in the world could the head of the Church really be called Cardinal Sin? Where else but the Philippines!

Note: The Philippines have a senator named Joker, and it is his legal name.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Stranded in Siargao

Hu-Waw Philippines

Riding the no-frills travel tide is probably the best way to experience Siargao.

First, I suggest you take the cheapest available flight to anywhere in Mindanao. Promo rates from PAL or Cebu Pac or SEAir or Asian Spirit or Air Philippines are ALWAYS available, if you book on the right time or hit the right season.


Once in Mindanao, take any bus that brings you to the Surigao pier. As long as you are in Mindanao, I believe there will be a bus in any town that would pass by and take or connect you to the Surigao pier. Ask around town, I'm pretty sure the locals would know and be more than happy to help you get there. Your bus ride alone is a eye candy in itself. The scenic view is simply amazing. From little barrios to to rural areas to fishing villages to rice paddies to bustling towns to emerging cities.

en route

Take the local 3-hour boat ride from the Surigao pier and you will pass mangroves and islands. There are probably other ports but the one I took was probably one of the "fastest" ways to get there. The boat was not anything like the quintessential tourist ride, instead it was a life line connecting commerce with locals transporting goods.


white road

Upon arrival, take the route to where the cement road ends and see the island present itself with one of its most blinding characteristics, sun-drenched powder white roads. I have been to places that have such prestigious claims of white sand, but only a few have the right. Siargao and its little towns uniquely have the best white roads I have ever seen.


got milk?


Let the roads be a testament to life in the island. At time of travel, which was back in August 2005, I saw nothing but white sand roads. No asphalt, but instead nature created its natural road which was probably caused by the tropical climate of intense sunshine after a short rain shower. In the course of time, wet to dry to wet to dry, it turned itself to one huge ass white brick. There were probably only a handful of cars in the town, I just saw two in my entire four-day escape. No I am not stupid enough to make such a judgment without backing it up. I was located in one of Siargao's main towns. 'Nicer' houses were starting to be built but still the most dominant and easiest mode of transportation was the motorcycle/scooter/bicycle. It was a two-wheel barrio.


Although the island of Siargao may have its share of luxury resorts such as this and this. It is still best experienced as a Philippine backpacker's sanctuary.

J Spot

I stayed in J-spot. A simple abode that has a bar on the ground floor and a sleeping area above. Nothing fancy but the host was great! Just like most of the locals.


You really can't expect much from the town to have fancy places to eat when you see omelets having some 'unions'. Nonetheless do not get me wrong, just head on to the wet market and grab the freshest catch of the day. Continue the no-frills vacation by grilling your own meal. Then prepare a pitcher and pour the San Miguel Pale Pilsen, gather around and let two half-full/half-empty glasses circle the shots of beer so that everyones gets the same amount at the same drinking pace. Remember this is the Philippines' surfing capital, everyone here is a surfer who enjoys singing, strumming their guitars and pounding the local Kahon to Jack Johnson. This is what I have come to experience as the so-called surfer's lifestyle. Simple and down with nature.

pirate Pete
Head on to Pirate Pete's bar and find out why it has such a name. A local resident of the island who everyone probably knows.


Cloud 9



tropical shower


Wet or Dry



afternoon chill

A meets B
point A to point B

Siargao maybe best known for its surfing spots, but let it be known that it has more to offer. a bounty of pristine islands a few minutes away while steady bathing waters on the other side of the tide. I was not able to go, but Siargao also offers a jellyfish lake, similar to the one in Palau.

I suggest you experience the island by stripping yourself from vacation luxury.

KISSS! Keep Siargo Simple Stooooopid!

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Kain, Bianca's!

Bianca's Cafe and Vinotek is one of the gems that is surreptitiously hidden in the enclave that is Yakal St. in Makati. One of those quiet and charming little places with unassuming facades but takes you to a whole other world because their food is that good. Seriously.

Bianca's - St. Galler Bratwurst

For appetizers, we shared a St. Galler veal Bratwurst served with french fries and onion sauce. Now this is how a bratwurst should taste like, one bite of it and I'm whipped off to Köln circa 2003 where I chomp my teeth onto one of the finest bratwursts I've ever had. And this was right off a street vendor, friends. Bianca's made me relieve that glorious moment. Bratwurst with that superb onion sauce was so good, so tasty, so delicious you wanted the taste to stay forever in your mouth. Ok, maybe not forever but for a long time indeed. I believe I repeatedly said "Sh*t ang sarap nito" or "Ungh, this is so good" with every bite I took.

Bianca's - Ruccola Salad Carissa
Ruccola Salad Carissa

Bianca's - Classic Ceasar
Old Fashioned Caesar Salad

Bianca's - Cream of Tomato Soup
Cream of Tomato Soup

Bianca's - Barley Soup
Cream of Barley Soup

I really didn't know what to expect when we ordered the Barley Soup over the Roman-style Rice Balls Suppli ala Romana. When I think about Barley, images of fairy tales or fermenting beer come to mind, so we were pleasantly surprised when our soup turned out to be quite a delectable brew. The tender barley grains rest on the bottom of the bowl while they happily absorb the creamy and savory liquid that they're bathed in.

Bianca's - Slow Roasted Hanging Beef

Bianca's has Menu du Jours with a darling price. Shell out Php 520 and you've got yourself an appetizer and an entree, and they're all delicious. Well worth your money. Generous servings too as Carlo and I shared one set and couldn't even finish the entire thing. So with the soup as an appetizer, our chosen entree was the succulent Slow Roasted Hanging Beef served with a Garlic and Olive Oil Pasta and some green beans. The beef, ah, the beef... divine. Juicy, tender and rare in the middle, this is enough to keep my mouth watering for days.

Bianca's - Vercascana

Bianca's - Blue Marlin Steak
Blue Marlin Steak, Sauteed Young Vegetables and Buttered Rice

Bianca's - Mango Crepe
Mango Crepe

Do make sure to ask about the desserts as these aren't written down on the menu.

Bianca's - Chocolat Mousse

This is how meals ought to end, with a killer dessert that is surely to die for. All hail to Bianca's Chocolate Mousse! All hail! Seriously, I don't think I've ever had this good a chocolate mousse, one that melts, no, disintegrates in your tongue into to tiny morsels of luxurious, chocolate goodness. Life is indeed good.

Bianca's Cafe and Vinotek
7431-B Yakal Street
San Antonio Village
Makati City
+632 815 1359

Kain, Guava!


"Mmmmm... Interesting..."

Our meal starts off with their Prichon (a house specialty). The cholesterol-loaded deep fried suckling pig served with three small wraps and six various dips / sauces -- sour cream and chives, black bean sauce, peanut sauce, chili garlic and garlic sour cream. Nothing really spectacular there, and I thought I was being cheated because there were only 3 miniscule wraps to satisfy two adult people, but on the second thought, this is just for starters.

The Pandan Wrapped Ubod in Watercress Salad is delectable and indeed interesting. The pandan-hinted wrap played extremely well with the fresh yummy ubod and the complimenting sweet glaze of a Wansuey sauce plus watercress leaves was a delight to my tastebuds. Something different, something new. Delicious. This pleasant veggie dish was great accompaniment to the Baby Back Ribs and Chicken Thighs in GUAVA (!!!) glaze.

I would've gladly given up the baby back ribs portion for some more of the chicken thighs as meat wasn't all that well. I like my ribs tender... as in almost-falling-off-the-bone tender. This cut wasn't at all near that for we actually had to saw the meat off from the bones with a knife. In contrast, the chicken was cooked very well -- deliciously juicy and very tasty. And of course, the Guava glaze was the perfect touch to the saltiness of both the meats. Yum!

Aaaand to wrap things up --- The Cassava Cake with Gruyere Cheese on which we both had set eyes on even before ordering the main course. But gee, cassava cake indeed with what, 4 tiny strips of the gruyere? There was hardly enough to call "hints" of the cheese. Nevertheless, the cassava cake was MASARAP --- soft and nice which almost melted in the mouth.

the resto still needs a bit of improvement. The service staff is nice and accommodating but it takes forever for a customer to get noticed. Price-wise, good I guess but still quite steep for some of their dishes considering the serving size. Snaps though for the ingenious use of the fruit in different dishes -- from beverages
to appetizers to main course.