Monthly Archives: September 2011

Food Serving Sizes in the Philippines: 1 Serving for Filipinos is 1/2 for Americans

My American husband and I like watching “Headlines” segment on Monday night episodes of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  On one episode, someone sent Leno a Chinese restaurant menu.  On one of the combo items, it indicated,

No. of Servings:  Asian: 4.  American: 2.

It’s funny, but there is some truth to that.  In the US, food portions are large, such that when Filipinos travel or move to the US for the first time, they are shocked at what they would consider humungous portions, and tend to order more than they could consume. Conversely, in the Philippines, food servings at restaurants are smaller, sometimes even half, the size in the US. An American might have to place two orders of a certain entree to fill him up.

With pizzas, for example, a “family” size here in the Philippines is “regular” size in the US.  “Regular” here is “small” or “solo” in America.  And “personal” size here is non-existent in the states.  When I ask a waiter how big the portions are on a certain dish, he would say, “For one to two people” if I’m with my husband.  But if I’m with other Filipinos, say my mom or dad, the waiter would say, “Three to four”, for the same dish.

The first time my husband ordered a “small” Frosty at Wendy’s, we knew it was going to be smaller than the small size in the US.  But we didn’t expect it was going to be this small:

Wendy's "Small" Frosty

It was the tiniest Frosty I had ever seen, the size of a shot glass, and as tall as a dollar bill. It was not enough for my husband, but he didn’t feel like falling in line again to order a bigger size.  We learned our lesson.  After that, we asked to be shown how big cups are every time we go to a new fast food.

Of Beggars, Panhandlers and Con Artists in the Philippines

It’s around 12:10 pm at my work in Quezon City, Philippines.  Almost everyone was out getting their lunch.  I myself was about to dig into my lunch when a woman came into my office.   The moment I saw her, I knew exactly what she wanted from me.

She walked with a limp.  The fingers on her right hand were all curled up and twisted into each other.  Her shoulders and face were crooked, like she had a stroke or palsy.  She approached me, and in a slurred speech, she asked if I can spare some change.

If I had a customer, I would have given this beggar either a one or five peso coin just so she won’t bother us.  But this time, it was just me.  So, I gave her my usual monologue: “Sorry.  The owner is not here.  I’m just the secretary.  I barely earn enough and I have two kids in school.”  It’s actually believable, because I don’t wear jewelry (except for tiny fake studs to keep my ear piercing from closing up). And though I’m the owner of the company, I often wear the company uniform – a cotton collared shirt with a small logo at front left.  She left.

I had a feeling that she was not what she appeared to be.  Her clothes were somewhat dirty, but they were well-pressed.  My instincts were correct.  A few minutes later, I caught a glimpse of her at the corner gas station.  She was walking straight and tall!  No trace of the disability she had a few minutes ago. It was like a scene out of the comedy movie “Trading Places”, where Eddie Murphy’s character,  a blind and crippled beggar / con artist, regained his sight and was able to walk when he was about to be busted by cops for panhandling.  “It’s a miracle!”

This was not the first time I’ve seen a “miracle”.  There were four before this one.  It was annoying to have been almost a victim of a con artist, but I have to admit it made my day.  Sometimes, the best thing to do is to sit back, put humor into things, think of Eddie Murphy on “Trading Places”, laugh at life.  I might never again experience this anywhere else.

P.S. Just as I was about to publish this post, another person approached my desk.  He had a rosary around his neck.  He claimed he was a faith healer, and he could help cure my dry skin.  I said to him, “No, thank you.  I don’t need it.”  To which he replied, “Why? Don’t you believe in me?”  Gotta love the Philippines.

My Balut Story: one Filipina’s way of eating a balut

Balut has always been a delicacy among Filipinos.  If you don’t know what balut is, it’s duck egg that has been incubated seventeen to twenty days such that there’s a developed fetus inside it and then boiled alive. Once you open it, and have seen the unhatched duckling in all it’s gory glory, you’d probably include it in your list of the worst gross out food you’ve ever seen.  This is probably why it’s sold at night in the Philippines.  So balut lovers won’t see what they’re eating.

I’m Filipina.  And I used to eat balut.  My American husband is still in disbelief how such a dainty woman could have had the stomach to eat this nasty stuff.  But then again, I am Filipino.

From my recollection, balut was actually pretty tasty.  I think this delicacy got so much flack because people focus more on the duck embryo, the part that makes it visually unappetizing.  But that is actually just one part of the balut.  There are actually four major parts: sabaw or broth; sisiw, or duck embryo; pula, or yolk; and puti, or egg white.

This exotic food of sorts had been famously featured in the reality show “Fear Factor” as one of the challenges.  From the show, viewers might think that the way to eat it is to peel and gobble.  But in the same way that there’s a technique to peeling and eating an artichoke, there’s also a technique to eating a balut.

The way I do it is to first wrap it with a napkin, or with the paper bag – usually an origami of recycled newspaper or phone book pages – that came with it, or even the lower part of my shirt,  as the egg is served hot off the vendor’s basket. I would then lightly tap either tip of the egg to see which end is hollow, and which end has the hard rubbery egg white.

I would crack a small hole on the hollow part, and take a whiff of it to see if it’s rotten.  If it smells funky, I’d ask for a replacement.  But if it smells “fresh”, I’d slowly sip the savory broth.  It’s hard to explain in not so many words the technique in sipping the broth, but the video clip below is dead on in showing how.

After emptying the egg of its broth, I then slowly peel off the shell until I get to either the yolk or the duck, which are usually side by side. Me, I prefer to eat the duck first because it’s less filling.  (And may I add that I’ve always eaten this part in the dark.) I would try first pouring it out to my mouth.  If that doesn’t work, I scoop it out using a piece of shell, or my fingers.

After that’s gone, I’d take a bite at the yolk after sprinkling a bit of rock salt provided by the vendor.  After that’s been consumed, I would chip away at the egg until I finally get to the the egg white. This part is usually tough.  If I’m lucky, the shell would come off easily and the egg white would be a chewable.  If it’s too hard, or the shell is difficult to peel off,  I’d either toss it or slowly scrape the surface by shaving it white against my lower teeth.

The last time I ate a balut was when I was around 9 years old.  On that last time, I asked the vendor to give me my usual preference of maliit na sisiw or a younger embryo.  But fate had it that I was never again eat another balut.  As unbeknownst to me, he gave me an older embryo.  That night, the streetlight was brighter than usual, the moon full and big, and the stars out in multitudes.   And I saw clearly what I was about to eat.

At first I was in disbelief.  It looked like a small dinosaur fossil but with feathers and a gelatinous eye.  Was this the thing that I had been eating all these years?  With a piece of shell, I poked it.  And out spilled a murky liquid and tiny  black chunks of internal organs.  It was all dark, except for a chunk that looked like a ball of white string which was its intestines. My reaction was immediate.  I threw up big time before I had the chance to toss it.  After that experience, my balut-eating days were over.

With all that said, anyone care to sample with me some delicious pork stew in coagulated blood sauce?  Or perhaps a bowl of shredded goat meat and liver stew in bile broth? Or a stick of barbecued chicken intestines? My treat!