nibbling at the realities of a pinoy fortysomething dieter

the lunch I bring to work, twice a week (sigh). the sausage roll is a concession to the rice-free and meat-free qualities of my new diet guidelines. ūüė¶

YOU KNOW you’ve reached that netherworld of neither-old-nor-young when health and fitness has supplanted sports and entertainment as your top Yahoo! article¬†topic; when the holiday/birthday/media extravaganza all-nighter has become rarer and rarer, almost a thing of the past; when you scour Facebook and alumni updates for news of lifestyle diseases whose incidence seems to increase every year; and when the concept of a healthful, nutritious and energizing daily diet is becoming less and less theoretical and more and more inevitable.

Before I continue, a little bit of domestic background : esposa hermosa enjoys twin humongous advantages that abandoned my ship a long time ago.  She will eat what she fancies, and what she fancies she can usually cook.  On my end, I can no longer eat with reckless abandon, and even more sadly, I have no notable culinary skills save boiling eggs or opening sardines or pork and beans.

But even this disparity of gastronomic fortune has further gone against me : esposa has recently laid down new guidelines to which I w0uld do well to adhere food-wise : at least two riceless meals a week, at least one salad day, and beloved¬†greasy Pinoy breakfasts of Mighty Meaty, sinangag (fried rice) and tostadong itlog (fried egg) limited to one weekend day.¬† In addition, I’m to discard the daily ice cream habit (sob) and step up my fruit and veggie intake, as if the previous rules weren’t punishment enough.

The crime?¬† Long years of excessive, irresponsible eating,¬† sedentary weekends and an infatuation with beer and pizza for any and every occasion, a love for pastries, pies as well as all things sugary and starchy.¬† My personal chef and nutritionist has gone so far as to say that observing my formerly irresponsible diet has become a matter of life and death, so that what I eat (or not eat) for the next few years will determine if I live the balance of my life healthily, if at all.¬† Now that’s an incentive for me to eat wisely and well.

Fortunately, she has the discipline and creativity to prepare our meals.¬† Given the option to observe her rules at home or for my baon, I happily opt for the latter, knowing that I have work to distract me during my shift.¬† That’s why my colleagues look on with amusement at my colorful lunches. each hue of the rainbow represented in my salad, each fruit in the¬†painting transferred to my lunchbag.

That’s not all.¬† Remember the illegal greasy breakfasts?¬† Swept under the rug, they’ve now been replaced by bran with fruit bits, cereal with berry, and multi-flavored oatmeal.¬† Regardless of the variety and the effort to prettify my morning repast, I can’t help but recall the spartan breakfasts of Dad and the regular fare in all those rest homes and retirement villas manned by my caregiver kabayan, when they talk shop among each other.

The bland menu and what passed for food that I thought I would never even consider eating, I now had to include in my regular schedule of consumption, if I wanted to clean out my indoor plumbing and purge myself of the poisons of all those fats and sugar accumulating years.

My chef, nutritionist and diet constable is not totally unreasonable though.¬† If I’ve been a good boy during the week, I get my just rewards, be it a Kiwi Big Breakfast, a Double Down at KFC or dimsum and noodle festival at Asian takeaway.¬† It’s a worn-out cliche, but I have to say it : Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!

Utterly domesticated but no longer utterly clueless

Typical Pinoy dishes that Mahal would create, and which we would devour ūüôā

I REALIZED IT when she was asked to work late on Late Mall Night Thursday.  No merienda when I got home, no dinner, and no updates on any replacement meals.  My response to such a development was telling.

I stared at the empty dinner table, went away for a quarter of an hour doing nothing, and came back to stare at the same dinner table.  Repeat process until around half-past nine, when she returned.  Mercifully, she brought takeaway sushi and katsudon, which of course I gobbled up, without forgetting to ask why no food was around.

I was taken aback by her response.  Anong ginawa mo bago ako dumating Mahal, and in a mock-gesture of indignation pointed out that I should at least be considerate enough to improvise as she did all the cooking : breakfast, straight through lunch and supper.

Truth be told, I had been spoiled rotten since esposa hermosa arrived. ¬†Where my diet was limited to McDonald’s¬†, meat pies and mooching from my flatmate whenever I had a craving for Pinoy fare, since Mahal reached NZ shores I could now ask for (almost) anything on the Barrio Fiesta menu, and as long as she wasn’t tired and the ingredients were available (usually soy sauce, cane vinegar, ginisa mix, menudo mix, tomatoes, sinigang mix or ginger) she would readily sashay to the kitchen and magically whip up a dish that made me misty-eyed (and moisty-tongued) for home.

In return, all that was asked was that I complement her tasks, and follow intelligently her tips and cues to make her life easier. ¬†By complement I mean this : when she prepared her inspiring meals I was expected to fill the rice cooker (which a first-grader could do) and wash the dishes. ¬†If she did the laundry and made every article of clothing fresh and fragrant, it was logical that I would hang them on the clothesline for drying (we don’t have a dryer), and later fold everything for the aparador.

I hardly realized it, but she had taken over every useful activity around the house, devised simple ways to make the latter easier and more efficient, and turned me into a content worker ant in a self-contained colony of satisfying household chores.

And because she’s OCD about toilet being spotless, she prefers that nobody else clean the bathroom and does it herself. ¬†Who am I to rain on her parade? ¬†Even Kuya Flatmate gets out of her way on that one, especially since the lavatory always ends up looking like a 5-star facility afterward.

Such dependence I sometimes took to extreme lengths, as I told you about in the first paragraph. ¬†I no longer went out without her, or at least asking her first. The few times I ventured out alone were to the library (she chooses cooking over reading anytime, who’d complain about that ???) and to look at action figures and McDo Happy Meal toys at weekend markets to update my toy collection (she likes toys even less than reading).

E.H. hates it when I waste time looking for toys like these, but at least I leave her in peace to cook. ūüôā

Filling the clothesline, folding laundry, flicking the rice cooker switch, taking out the garbage and checking the mail. ¬†Odds and ends, bits and pieces and making sure everything’s in place. ¬†For doing these small favors, I get three squares, my stomach’s never lonesome for homeland and homestyle cooking, and did I say the bed’s always warmed up, sheets Downy fresh and pillows patted down? ¬†Not a bad bargain.

Thanks for reading !


You know a foreigner’s been exposed to Pinoy DNA when…

A Filipino stew, using tamarind and pork. Mmmm.

the famous sinigang na baboy, with all the trimmings including gabi I hope :p

There are many ways to be infected with Pinoy DNA (Di Na Awkward), but the most popular are to have a Pinoy girlfriend (or, less frequently, boyfriend), to have relatives by affinity and big groups of friends (known as barkada back home) who are Filipino, and lastly to bear the preponderance of Filipino colleagues or workmates at the workplace.  Below are strong signals that an erstwhile dayuhan (foreigner) is no longer considered an outsider, for not only do Pinoys eagerly love to welcome a former outsider into their fold (misery loves company); once a (or an honorary) Pinoy, always a Pinoy!

S/he no longer finds adobo/menudo too salty, sinigang too sour, ¬†Bicol express /ginatang gulay too spicy, or leche flan too sweet. ¬†I know just the thought of these home cooked dishes, especially to Pinoy expats, causes some of us to salivate and drool, but I can’t imagine how most aliens who are used to more bland, un-spicy and un-spiked dishes would react. ¬†It seems that most of them develop a taste for tangy, sharp-tasting and strongly seasoned foods that we are used to, for I have not found a dayuhan who hasn’t liked our food or at least understood why we prepare our dishes the way we do.

Either that, or they are too courteous to make comments about their wives’ / girlfriends’ cooking. ¬†Of course we can’t expect them to take in adidas, balot, IUD or dinugaan as we’ve been born with these treats, and especially since it’s an acquired taste, but I do know some Kiwis who’ve gotten used to and actually included sinangag, pancit and boneless bangus in their regular diet / menu. ¬†I even had to tell a mate that the chop suey he had gotten used to was a less spicy version of the chow mien and nasi goreng across the South China Sea.

S/he no longer minds or raises hell when everybody talks Tagalog/Visayan/Ilokano in her/his presence.  This used to be a real issue with me, being a purveyor of  political correctness, not to mention sympathy for the husband of a new Pinoy friend who visited our flat frequently.  Everybody would speak Tagalog and all its permutations (Batangueno Tagalog, Bulakeno Tagalog, Caviteno Tagalog) while the Kiwi barely had a chance to follow any of the simultaneous conversations that Filipinos , whenever they get together, frequently conduct.  I would vainly attempt to translate the numerous phrases flying through the air, when his wife once told me : hayaan mo na Noel. Sanay na sya.  I slowly learned to give up after that.

S/he knows most of the obscene / curse words from our language / dialect, and moreover knows how to counter them, for example, when someone sez do you know p-ina mo, they come right back and say yes, and p-ina mo rin. ¬†Sort of makes us blush to learn what they already know, but it’s one way to break the ice, especially in front of salty-speaking beer-drinkers and lambanog-shooters. ¬†Even the objectionable language from different dialects all over the archipelago are fair game, particularly when the foreigner in question has made the rounds of the Islands. ¬†Because foreigners love to hop around the islands, learning a few words here and there seems to be an indispensable part of the travelling experience, and they are all the richer for it.

I've heard that unauthorized DVDs of "Magkaribal" have English & Samoan subtitles. Cheesy!

S/he has at least working knowledge of the Pinoy fondness for telenovelas, not only the homegrown kind but from everywhere tearjerkers abound. ¬†Used to be in the old country, ¬†TV prime time was filled with canned shows from the US, and maybe a weekly special or two from Superstar Nora Aunor or Star for all Seasons Vilma Santos. ¬†Nowadays right after the 6:00 news, you are expected to watch three hours of soap operas featuring homegrown talent like the Baretto Sisters (Gretchen and Claudine), love teams like John Lloyd and Bea or Piolo and Angel, or can’t miss blockbusters from Korea (Boys Over Flowers) and Taiwan (Meteor Garden) or even reboots of proven winners from Mexico (Marimar, ¬†Maria Mercedes, Echabelita, etc).

The simple formula of poor-girl-meets-rich-boy (or poor-boy-meets-rich-girl), fantasy epics or rags-to-riches sagas spanning three generations is run through the mill again and again, across language barriers and cultures and Pinoy viewers will lap up whatever is served them. ¬†Evidently we do our local recipes well, because Samoans, Fijians, Tongans and other Polynesians love our telenovelas, to the extent that whole seasons of pirated DVDs are available, if you know where to look, in Islander communities in NZ, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the same were available in Aussie. ¬†Now, as someone with a significant other, girlfriend or GFF/BFFs from the Pinoy community, you should be prepared to put up with endless viewing of these drama staples, especially if the Pinoys in question are new migrants and/or are Gen X or Gen Y members, who were probably still in the Philippines when the soaps reached or near the peak in popularity.

Just a tongue-in-cheek warning to our guests and white-skinned mates : keep in mind those behavioral observations above and you can’t go wrong in getting along with us Pinoys. ¬†Have you any other tips in mind?

Thanks for reading!


Moning Whisperer

[ NOte from NOel : My gosh, all those general and mini batch 82, Judenite, Alphan, Auckland Pinoy, NZ Maroon and other reunions recently held, with all the gastronomic and karaoke delights ! Happy holidays and kudos ! Our paternal pride is close to bursting level right now, love and congrats to Elijah Brent Emmanuel Bautista for passing his DLSU and AdMU entrance exams ! Awesome ! ]

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

Of all the things, GF (please indulge me, I’m not used to calling her mi esposa yet) has recently developed a skill, and for lack of a more accurate, less glamorous term, the best way I can describe it would be to call her a sometime cat whisperer. But that’s getting ahead of myself.

A few months ago shortly after GF arrived, a forbidding black cat began lurking around the grassy backyard. We assumed she (pasexy earns a she) was one of the neighbor’s pets, so we paid little mind.¬†Around mealtime, and especially after we had fish, Moning (we had to call her something) would pretend to be chasing some invisible rodent or insect closer to our backdoor, then rub herself against whatever was available (tree stump, clothesline post, human legs) giving her the previously incongruous attributes of being hair-raising and irresistible, hoary and endearing. It didn’t take much for us to discern that the fishy smells were attracting her to our territory.

As soon as we issued her the requisite fish bones and remains that she initially inspected with caution but later gobbled up with feline gusto, she would wander away, gradually so as not to reveal that food source was all that we were to her, and later drop ninja-like out of sight. Which was fine with us.

As weeks passed, Moning became less picky, but her wariness and slow starts to dining continued. We noticed two extremes : she never ate beef (was probably friends with a few cows on a nearby pasture), and the only time she started eating without reservation was when the menu was daing or smoked fish, not easy to come by in these parts but an open declaration of olfactory war on our whole UCB (United Colors of Benetton) barangay. And of course, the first to attend the pow-wow was Moning.

Later we realized that she was wary of indiscriminate eating because other cats or more aggressive creatures might come to challenge her for the spoils of charming us to pieces. No amount of convincing, viz Moning, walang kalaban or “you have the exclusive license to mooch here” would sway her from the food-&-premises inspection ritual.

To be sure, there were other cats, although they were not as friendly, and Moning was the only one who truly adapted to our (naturally) Filipino cuisine. There were also hedgehogs, seagulls, swallows, and other types of birds, although as I’ll tell you later, the latter hovered over the vicinity at their own peril.

We were likewise aware that we were not the only benefactors of our new friend for whom the more pungent or spicy the food was, the better. Who was her human master/s? Weren’t they looking for her whenever she practiced her food-tripping around the block? And why were we her favorites?

Obvious naman diba? (Isn’t it obvious) our flatmate quipped. Type nya mga putahe natin (She prefers our food).

Indeed, compared to the blase’ protein granules that guaranteed meowy nutrition but weren’t that appealing tastewise, the snapper (tilapia counterpart), tarakihi ( pritong galunggong ) and discounted salmon fillets must have been irresistible to Moning.

I almost forgot the reason for the email’s title : the only downside to tolerating a pusang gala on the family estate was the mysterious appearance in our backyard of birds falling from the sky : nope, not Arkansas, not Louisiana, not Stockholm, just a sheepish look from the newest member of the household, sneaky green eyes, fur-licking, curly footlong tail and all.

It would’ve been understandable if we hadn’t been sharing our turo-turo fare with Moning or if she had been eating the proceeds of her deadly acrobatics, but after playing with her victims half and hour or so, she would abandon the poor birds to the sun, the rain, and the oxidizing elements.

This was, of course, unacceptable to GF, who one day did something about it. I came home from work to a clean backyard, no dead birds today? and asked her what had happened, asawak?

Kinausap ko sya. Pinagdilatan ko ng mata, tinuro ko yung mga pinatay nya, tapos sabi ko di na natin sya papakainin. Mamaya wala na yung mga ibon.

[ OK, here’s paraphrasing what she said : “I told her she would miss the yummiest part of her daily diet if she continued picking on all those birds, and also to get rid of her victims. After a while the dead things were gone.” ]

And just like that, the neighborhood enjoyed its first Moning Whisperer.

** ** **

Moning’s precocious knowledge of Pinoy dishes continues to grow impressively by the day, but doesn’t pick on birds anymore. We still don’t know who really owns her, or why her master allows her so much time outside the house, but I do know two things : that for those who’ve grown up at home in the Islands, homecooked ulam is irreplaceable, and that even our mamallian cousins down the food chain know this instinctively.

Thanks for reading !


Eat + Pray + Love ( But Eat 1st )

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

Image via Wikipedia

[ 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.¬† ūüôā

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. ūüė¶¬†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 !