Eat + Pray + Love ( But Eat 1st )

Spit barbecue meat hanging on Avenue C in the ...

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[ NOte from NOel : not to take advantage of the halloweeny mood the last few days, but there is a distinct possibility that one or more of the items discussed below may gross you out, make you pass on lunch or dinner, depending on when the next meal is, or at least make you feel queasy. Thanks in advance for reading ! ]

Dear batchmates, brods, schoolmates, officemates, kabayan & friends :

THE WORST possible combination of traits conspire to condemn our Food IQ to the lowest percentile or decile ranking among the 45-year old male demographic. We eat almost anything placed on our plates, and in turn, even boiling an egg would be a culinary challenge for us.

In our dutiful daddy days ages ago, we could prepare simple dishes like sinigang, pritong GG and ginisang ___ ( fill blank with whatever canned meat available ), but beyond that was twilight zone or a no-fly zone for us, and the suplings knew better than to ask for anything creative. Couldn’t blame them, they had their entire lives ahead of them, and no sense in cutting it short just because the misguided dad tried too hard in the kitchen.

But we digress. In the last few days, we noticed a few things about eating habits, not just ours but among those who share our climate, color and language, that our temporary hosts find either quaint, strange or eye-poppingly eerie, depending on how exposed they are to Asian culture, which of course includes cuisine.

If not for their observations, we would not have taken a rhetorical step back and realized, oo nga ano, Pinoy nga naman ( yup, that’s the Pinoy, loosely translated ), there are things that we have accepted as normal as the sun rising and setting every day and yet would definitely raise eyebrows ( and sometimes goose pimples ) of those not familiar with Pinoy customs and practice :

By far the single aspect of our eating culture that causes the greatest consternation among our First World friends is the urban legend that Pinoys are connoisseurs (pardon the spelling if ever) of dog and cat meat, brought about by both sensationalist internet and the ADD-prone news cycle that gobbles up and spits out (pun intended) strange and oddball bits of news.

Our otherwise macho supervisor gets conflicted and crinkly-faced ( he will never admit that he’s grossed out ) whenever he remembers that Pinoys ( and other Asians, for that matter ) have no compunction about eating Man’s Best Friend and Puss in Boots. Conflicted because he doesn’t know which to do first: punch out the nearest Pinoy or Asian around (unfortunately, that’s us) or rush to the nearest toilet and hurl.

Crinkly faced because he wants to wax sarcastic about said culinary predisposition, but his nausea is in danger of cramping his style. Not even our earnest attempt to convince him that this otherwise barbaric practice is limited to a tiny fraction of the population and prevalent usually among those in our northern provinces (no offense intended Lakay, live and let live po) is enough to dissuade him from his self-righteous indignation.

It doesn’t help that where we are now ( and probably elsewhere in the 1st World ) pets are often considered members of the family, figuratively and literally, sharing bedspace and living cheek-by-jowl with their human masters.

The few times we remained unashamed of our country’s dog meat/cat meat eccentricities were when the same supervisor mocked us once too often : like when, seeing our spicy baon (packed lunch) one night, he asked if there was any piece of Brownie or Moning that we were savoring, whereupon we answered : not tonight boss, and just in case you’re wondering, YES we’ve tasted dog meat, and it wasn’t TOO bad. . .

We don’t think Mastah had much to eat the rest of the night.  🙂

Another food aspect that not just Pinoys but plenty Asians share is that in meat products , very little is wasted for the actual cooking, and you know what we mean when we say very little.

We once accompanied our Igorot ex-flatmate ( another Northern anecdote ) to the butcher’s shop prior to his sisig preparation. Admittedly, we hadn’t the slightest idea where the ingredients came from.

Turns out that pig’s heads, while a bit unsightly and gory, serve a dual purpose for the aforementioned specialty. Not being a popular portion of meat, they are relatively inexpensive ( NZ$3 a head ); however the cheeks are a fleshy and tasty component of sisig, albeit a bit time-consuming dish to create.

( We’re not sure if there’s a tangible connection, but it seemed to us that the higher the amount of alcohol consumption involved, the more indiscriminate the meat selection became, particularly if the issue was availability. Just guessing here. )

Don’t forget fish heads ( years back, Mother didn’t mind everyone else taking the rest of the fish, as long as she got the head ), intestines for chicharon ( cracklets ), “adidas” / chicken feet, a popular Chinese dimsum item, ears ( “tenga ng daga” ) and other unusual body parts which we’re sure are also eaten elsewhere in the world but are given more than their due attention in our corner of the jungle.

Undoubtedly, in our case the exotic cuisine has as much to do with economics and and home-grown remedies : when meat is in scarce supply ( and it usually is ) you learn to be creative and make do with what’s on the chopping block (tadtaran), and many of our potions and elixirs are supplemented by fluids and secretions from the animal world.

[ By the way, we hadn’t even thought of discussing these last juicy tidbits with Mastah, just wait till we get the chance.  ;)]

But back to our penchant for saving everything edible : highly debatable, but we save literally till the last possible moment left overs, takeaways and remnants of meals long past in the hope that we will (1) recapture the magic of spectacular cooking (2) conserve cooking energies for another day, and (3) pinch pretty pennies for a rainy day.

The only problem/s with this logic is that the magic of a tasty dish doesn’t necessarily translate to tasty magic the next day, week or month ( yikes ! ), the energy we preserve might be wasted in recovering from an upset stomach, and who can tell if the pennies we save won’t get swallowed by a mindless pig-out the minute we give way to a weak moment.

We confess that in wild, wanton days of youth, we had a relatively simpler rule when it came to devouring doubtful dated food : if it didn’t move, it was edible. 😦 Many a time we could have saved ourselves from a tumultuous case of indigestion or food poisoning if only we were a bit more discerning when it came to questionable kakanin, discolored siopao or sticky rice ( that wasn’t supposed to be sticky in the first place ).

But when you’re young, you’re supposed to be doing stupid things. We just did a little more than our share.

Nevertheless, we still wrap up food, especially the lauriat kind, if it looks too good to waste and some house mates are coming home from night shift. Besides, if worse comes to worst, there’s always the next door (Caucasian) neighbor’s too-friendly pussycat, who recently developed a devoted preference for Pinoy cooking.

For all the yums and slurps of pinoy ulam (dishes), we can’t blame the pusang gala, who, not to worry, will always remain our dinner guest and not our dinner.

Thanks for reading !


7 thoughts on “Eat + Pray + Love ( But Eat 1st )

  1. hi noel. roasted pig head sa no.1 chinese resto dito sa auckland is a must try (specially when the hub makes paksiw out of it) on top of steam rice sure is the best way to keep our kids on the dinner table longer. =)

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