Category Archives: Filipino Food

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.

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!

The not so desirable quality of Filipino food in the Philippines

Filipino food in America is not as good as Filipino food in the US. It’s kind of ironic. But that is what we found out in our stay here. And why is it not as good? Because good food is only as good as its ingredients could make it.

Back in the US, my American husband really loved Filipino food. And how I loved cooking for him. But here in the Philippines, he complains that the Filipino food here is somewhat off, sometimes even yucky.

At first I thought that it could just be the way the maid cooked. So, I told the maid to use less oil, less salt, and cut out fatty portions of the meat. The flavor improved, but not by much. Even with me cooking, it still wasn’t as good as the dishes I prepared in the US. Eventually, we discovered that main culprit was the quality of the ingredients, more especially local meats.

Meat here is generally more fatty and tougher. Chicken is slimy and fatty even the leaner potions like breast meat. Whether you buy a premium brand from the grocery or from the wet market, or palengke, it’s still fatty. And when you try to fry it, it easily becomes tough. A bit pricier “native” chicken is less fatty, but it’s also tastes a bit more earthy.

Pork meat, is somewhat lighter in color as that in the US, and it’s marbled all throughout with a web like whitish pattern more prominently. I had to keep skimming the top of a stew or soup as fat continuously rises to the surface.

Beef is the worst. It is really really really bad. With cartilage intertwined with tough stringy meat, that you might end up spitting it out after trying to chew it. Even with pressure cooking, it is still tough. (I read an entry from an expat that he had to put his dog on a diet because it got fat, as its caretaker was feeding it beef caldereta stew.) Recently, we tried out an established restaurant at SM Mall which serves grilled steaks. The outside has a weird grayish brown color. And the steak was bone-dry.

It’s not the cook’s fault that the food turns out not as good as we would expect. I think the chefs here are the best when it comes to cooking Filipino food, but they could only do so much considering the quality of the meat they have to work with.