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 asimilation, which I have yet to take, and that's to eat BALUT. The day any of you sees me eating balut, please call immigration and ask them to turn me back.
BALUT, for those still blissfully ignorant non-Pinoys 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 anaphrodisiac, 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 discernable 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, inorder: breakfast, snacks, lunch, merienda, merienda ceyna, dinner, bedtime snacks andno-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 fromwork, 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 (food in small container) 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.