bon appetit

You know, there are so many delectable foods in Filipino cuisine. There’s adobo, served sizzling like fajitas and with just the right amount of spice. There’s pork barbecue that could trump anything served in Tennessee or North Carolina. There’s pancit canton, a pleasing mixture of noodles,vegetables, shrimp, or meat. There’s puto (Spanish speakers will giggle), some kind of sweet rice ball thing…I don’t really know what it is but I like it. And bico, the sticky sweet dessert bar with caramel that leaves your fingers lickably gooey.

There are sizzling meats, delicious noodle dishes, every imaginable combination of rice, an innumerable amount of fish, and then there’s the fresh fruit, the coconuts, the juice…

So why, why, I ask, with so many enjoyable dishes to choose from, do they have to go and invent some of the most disgusting foods imaginable?

Let’s start with:

1. Cheese ice cream. Yes, it’s real. No, I don’t mean a sweet cheese like neufchatel or marscapone, or even ricotta. Just plain cheese. Ice cream. I actually bought some because I was so horrified to see it in the case, I couldn’t resist. The actual flavor is something like a mild vanilla-almond, until you remember it’s cheese flavored and then you gag a little bit. I thought cheese ice cream was bad enough, until, next to the frozen carton in the ice cream section, I saw…

2. Corn ice cream. Enough said. No, I did not try it. No, I will not try it. For the more discerning palate, I have also seen served, as a dessert, fresh sweet corn over ice. Like a nice corny popsicle. That’s just wrong. Corn should not be part of dessert, and definitely not ice cream. It also should not be part of a hot dog, but…

3. Corn hot dog. No, I don’t mean a corn dog, that lovely (if inwardly disgusting) carnival favorite involving food that is 1) covered in breading, 2) deep fried, and 3) served on a stick. …Well, actually, if we want to talk about hot dogs, we should start with regular, “normal” hotdogs in the Philippines. One night, on a long bus ride up north, Santi and I got out at a rest stop, and, looking over the meager food selection, found our mouths agape at a display of hotdogs that were quite possibly the brightest red color I have ever seen. We’re talking fire-engine, lipstick, cherry – apple – strawberry red. And they’re ALL like that. It’s bad enough to imagine that your food might be radioactive, but then they go and add sweet corn to it! Like, they mix whole kernels into the hot dog meat! When I see the billboards for this monstrosity that passes as actual food, I can only think one thing: that it will look exactly the same going out as it did coming in. If you catch my drift.

4. Halo Halo. Back on the frozen side of things…most of the Philippines’ crimes against food seem to be of the iced variety. Halo halo always looks appetizing from afar. A giant dish full of ice cream and fruit, bursting with colors and flavors….like red bean. Okay, red bean desserts are really popular in China and other parts of Asia, but for me, beans belong next to the corn (on the cob!!!) and the (pink, corn-free) hot dog on my plate at a backyard barbecue. Or in a tasty autumn chili. NOWHERE ELSE, and especially not on top of my ice cream (usually grape flavored, by the way)!

5. And…balut. I already explained a few entries ago exactly what balut is, but let me refresh your memory: You know ducks. You know eggs. Well, this is something in between. Balut is usually described to me this way: “It’s delicious!……Just….close your eyes!” I don’t know…admittedly, oatmeal is not the most attractive food, and no one thinks beef stew should win a beauty contest, but the idea of having to close my eyes in order to stomach something…well, I think I’ll stick to the basics, the good ol’ undeveloped embryos and fully-formed adults we know and love.

Minor offenders – things that are gross but which Filipinos cannot claim exclusive credit for:

6. Chicharron – basically fried puffed pig fat. A tasty treat any time of day!

7. Salty fish snacks – tiny dried fish that have neither flavor, texture, nor nutritional value. And they still have eyes.

Luckily, I think there are more amazing than repulsive foods in the Filipino culinary repertoire, but let’s just say, the next time you order an ice cream, make sure you know what you’re getting!

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