A couple of years ago, when I was living in Singapore, I got over my fears of being poisoned by “the enemy” and tried some Indian Muslim food at a hawker center in Pasir Ris. Indian food basically means curry. There’s a lot of different types, but all the curry I had was delicious! I finally got tired of reminiscing about how great the curry was and my wife and I decided to try our hand at making curry ourselves.
After a little trial and error we finally got it down right, using a recipe from a local Indian spice store as a guide. It was a lot of fun and it’s great to know that we can throw together some curry whenever we want. It’s amazing how many different types and how great a quantity of spices go into one meal.
I wonder how the first Europeans felt when they got to India and tried the local food? I mean, obviously they loved it, or the spice trade wouldn’t be what it is today, but what I’m getting at is, were they surprised? Shocked? Amazed? Or did they not like it at first and then it grew on them? I suppose I’ll research that when I have time, but for now, I’ll just enjoy the goodness that India’s spices create.
Well, it happened yesterday so this isn’t so much a post about looking forward to observing it as it is about, “Oh look. Llamas and donkeys. Why are those in Campos Plaza?”
This immediately reminded me of a joke I heard about Singaporeans. A teacher (in Singapore, with Singaporean students) asks her young students (think, 8 years old) to draw pictures of farm animals. So, the students happily sit around drawing for awhile and then present their work to the teacher. One boy walks up and proudly shows her his drawing of a chicken, and it looks really good, except the chicken he draws has no feathers on it. She asks him why he drew the chicken without feathers, and he asks, “Chickens have feathers?”
This is funny, but I completely understand the reality behind the joke. In a place like Singapore, which is highly metropolitan, it would be very rare for kids to see any chickens other than the plucked and cooked ones hanging on hooks at the hawker centers. Even when I lived in Georgia, I would get excited at seeing horses or cows or other farm animals.
Anyway, when I was heading home yesterday, I smelled animals and I saw a lot of people in the square between a set of buildings so I went to investigate and these guys in the photos above were the first thing that pulled my attention. It was fun!
I didn’t investigate all of the booths, but the one to the right in the second picture above had face painting, which is why the line was so long. I imagine the table on the left in the above picture had something to do with distributing literature regarding crime prevention, since it was manned by NYPD officers.
I was, of course, drawn to the set up in the photo above. I was curious to see what the recruiters were up to, having been in the Army myself. I wound up spending about half an hour chatting with Sergeant First Class Chen. He’s a pretty nice guy. We traded a few stories. I told him about my time in service and he talked mostly about the benefits and stability of joining the Army Reserves after leaving Active Duty, but that’s his job after all. We did talk a bit about some of the things that make you say, ‘WTF?’ while you’re in service. It was nice to reminisce for a while, about the time I spent in the military. It wasn’t all good, but it definitely wasn’t all bad either.
It was a pretty nice event overall, and it was good to see something positive taking place in the square for a change. The area is known for violence and drug related shootings. Ironically, the ‘Night Out Against Crime’ booths started shutting down and wrapping up as the sun set.
I went up to the food court at the Newport Centre Mall for the first time last weekend. I saw some old favorites that I hadn’t been to since before I left the US for Kuwait in 2007 and I was pretty sure I was going to wind up eating at Sarku Japan. It’s not real Japanese food, but it tastes pretty good. Then I saw a place called A Taste of India: Authentic Indian Cuisine. I went over and they were handing out free samples of chicken. It tasted pretty good, but I wasn’t really convinced. Then I saw that they had chicken biryani, and I wondered if it was anything like the nasi briyani I’d had in Singapore. I asked for a sample and while it wasn’t exactly the same, it was really close and really good. It was really spicy too!
I wound up getting a bowl of it, with spicy curry on top. It doesn’t look too appealing in this photo, but most of the foods I ate in Asia tasted better than they looked anyway.
Something about the restaurant was kind of jarring. They all seemed to be first generation immigrants, judging by their accents, possibly from the same family. The way they were working the crowd and cajoling people into taking samples and then buying food from them reminded me of street vendors in the Asian countries I’d visited. They could have just as easily been on a street in Kuala Lumpur or a food court in Singapore. The weird part is that they were all wearing cheesy looking, brightly colored, standard uniforms. I guess it was something about the authentic taste of the food and the authentic behavior of the employees clashing with the American franchise store and uniform designs that threw me off. I suppose it doesn’t matter though. I paid for good food and that’s what I got.
This one time, in 6th grade (around 1990), I brought some cupcakes to class. Ya, this was back before schools started banning cupcakes and other sweets, and we weren’t fat back then either. Not many of us anyway, but that’s beside the point. I only vaguely remember why I brought those cupcakes to class, but I think it was part of an event, probably my birthday. I’m pretty sure that back then, when a student had a birthday, they brought in goodies and we had some free time. No one brought in poisoned food. No one cried that they were being forced to eat cake instead of having study time, and no parents tried to sue the school district for encouraging obesity, because we all had common sense back then. Not like today, where morons sue and win for spilling hot coffee on themselves. Retarded crap like that makes a mockery of our justice system and our country.
Anyway, back to the story! My mom made two batches of cupcakes and sent me to school with them. One batch of cupcakes was ‘normal’, and one was ‘weird’. The ‘normal’ batch of cupcakes were made of white cake and vanilla frosting. The ‘weird’ cupcakes were strawberry cake with chocolate frosting. They just didn’t look right, especially since I’m not a girl and people who are not girls shouldn’t have a pink cake, or cupcakes in this case, at their birthday. It’s not manly. The strawberry cake / chocolate frosting combination my mom used for those cupcakes is so unusual that I didn’t find a single result for it on a Google image search. I found a lot of chocolate cake with strawberry frosting cupcakes, but not the other way around.
The cupcakes looked like the image above, but unattractive, and reversed, with pink cake and melty chocolate frosting on top, the kind you get from the grocery store that’s flavored, rather than the fluffed sugar crap you get on ‘fancy’ confections. (This picture of lovely cupcakes is from the Sweet Indulgences Cakes blog.)
I remember thinking that if I had enough ‘normal’ cupcakes to go around, I would have hidden the other cupcakes. That wasn’t the case, and when it came time to open the two tupperware containers to present the cupcakes to the class, I could immediately see the same reaction I had to the pink/chocolate cupcakes in the faces of the other boys in class, and in the faces of some of the girls as well. A line formed, and as students walked past, they picked up a cupcake. One of the first girls that went by picked up the pink/chocolate cupcake, but everyone else took the ‘normal’ cupcakes until they ran out. The disappointment was obvious.
So, no one, except maybe for that first girl, wanted the ugly cupcakes, but since there was no choice, the kids at the end of the line had to take them. I had to take one too, since I took what was left after everyone else had taken a share. I know that’s sort of backwards from the usual practice of the birthday boy getting the first piece of cake, but that’s how it was.
The odd thing is that after biting into the cupcake, I realized that it tasted great! I heard other students commenting on it as well, and then the burden of disappointment shifted to the people who had taken the ‘normal’, and ultimately more boring, cupcakes.
I’m sure that I didn’t think of this at the time, but I wonder if, on some subconscious level, this experience reinforced the idea that being adventurous and taking chances can pay off? I’ve taken a lot of chances, some which paid off and some which ended in disaster, but up to now, I don’t regret those choices, because I’ve seen and done things that a lot of people will never see or do. To me, that’s special. If I were more conservative and I were the type to always take the ‘normal’ cupcake, I wonder how boring my life could have been?
Don’t always take the ‘normal’ cupcake. Take chances and enjoy life.
Once upon a time, before I actually visited a mostly Chinese ethnic country, I thought I knew what Chinese food was, and it looks like this:
Imagine my surprise to not find egg rolls over there. No one knew what an egg roll was, unless they’d been here. There’s something similar called lumpia, but it’s not quite the same.
Chinese food in the US has been thoroughly Americanized, to make it more appealing to the local palate. The Chinese food I ate in Singapore was a lot blander in most cases, with most of the flavor coming from dumping lots of chili sauce on everything. That or eating green chilies along with each bite of food. There’s also a lot of MSG used. (Just a note, I’m basing this on the common Chinese food found in food stalls that a person would eat at on a daily basis, not expensive restaurants.)
[Update: It was very rudely brought to my attention by some piece of shit Singaporeans that I accidentally uploaded the wrong photo from my folder. I'm quite aware that this is ramen, a Japanese dish, most likely from that Japanese food court in Tampines 1. I can't remember its name.]
That’s not to say that the food there, the ‘real’ Chinese food, was bad. On the contrary, a lot of it was awesome, and thankfully I did read about a place in NYC where I can get chicken rice and pork rice. The pictures looked similar to the dishes I grew to love in Singapore. I’ll blog about it when I find it and try it out myself.
One other thing, the orange duck sauce that you can find at most Chinese restaurants in the US? Ya, that’s nowhere to be found in Singapore that I saw.
The last time I was in the wet market in Antipolo I didn’t take a lot of photos because I was worried about offending the stall owners. Well, that and thieves. The place was really crowded at the time. On our last trip I realized I had my camera with me and the place was relatively quiet, so I started snapping photos. The reactions were different from what I expected. A lot of the girls behind the counters smiled and laughed. Then the guys started laughing at them for getting so excited over a picture being taken. It was fun!
Rice in the Antipolo Wet Market
We don’t normally get our rice inside the market. We go to a stall just outside it. I haven’t checked to see if the prices are any different, but my wife’s family all buy rice from the same guy, so it just seems natural to go there as well. Besides, the stall owner is always smiling and seems really pleasant.
Man selling rice in Antipolo
I can’t remember if I posted the photo or not, so I’ll post it again here!
Pig feet anyone? No? How about those intestines? Nothing goes to waste in the Philippines and every part of the animal gets put on sale. Someone must be buying it…
A Filipino type of sausage called longganisa. We bought the redder looking kind on the left and had it for breakfast. It was a little sweet for my tastes but it was good anyway.
Fish, crab, shrimp… You can get almost every imaginable seafood here. I think I even saw some sturgeon for sale. I noticed that there were a lot of very large bangus (milk fish) for sale. Some of them were as long as my arm. My wife said that after typhoons the milkfish swim closer to the shore so it’s easier for fishermen to catch them. The prices were low too at 40 PHP (about 0.95 USD) per kilogram.
A row of stalls selling vegetables and random cooking items like oil, spices and sauces.
Going to the wet market is always interesting because there’s so much activity and so many people wandering around.
Jollibee is a fast food chain in the Philippines that’s reminiscent of McDonald’s. It’s a burger joint, but it also serves a lot of traditional Filipino foods. I’ll go more into that later. What I wanted to show in this blog post is the mascot dancing. I don’t remember ever seeing something like this in another country, but apparently Jollibee (the mascot) likes to dance at birthday parties and do ‘dance-offs’ with other mascots. I don’t mean cheesy dancing either. Here are two examples:
Jollibee Dancing at a Birthday Party (Baby Baby, Tik Tok, Single Ladies, You Make Me Feel)
I used to wonder why people seemed so excited to have their kids’ birthday parties at a Jollibee, but I guess this explains it. I bet your average Ronald McDonald can’t pull off those moves!
There are also a few Jollibee franchises in the US in California and I think New York, due to there being a lot of Filipinos in those areas. I don’t know if the Jollibee mascots there dance like this though. This might be a uniquely Filipino thing.
Ok, so one of them isn’t really a juice drink, but I love coffee so I couldn’t resist picking one up. I bought these at a shop in Singapore that specialized in Japanese canned drinks and sake. They were on a 10 for 10 SGD sale so I figured, why not?
They were all pretty good, but I liked the Grape and Apple the best, probably because they’re the flavors of juice that I grew up drinking in the US. The only one I actually didn’t care for too much was the Grapefruit juice. It was a bit rough. I think I could’ve used it to remove paint from the walls. I’ve never liked grapefruit too much though. When I used to eat it at my grandmother’s house I’d have to douse it in sugar to bury that harsh, acidic taste.
Since moving overseas I’ve made it a point to try to be more adventurous in what I eat. There are certain things that I still can’t bring myself to try, like balot, but I’ve just added something new to my list of snacked-on animals: carabao. This is sort of cheating, because it wasn’t a carabao steak or anything like that, but it was still a carabao product.
What I had was carabao chicharon. Chicharon is a Tagalog word, borrowed from Spanish, that is the same thing as pork rinds or pork cracklins (sp?) in the US.
It tasted great! Better than the other kinds I’ve had before, and as far as this type of food goes, it’s supposedly more healthy.
It was served with a vinegar and minced garlic dip which really made it taste great.
In the Philippines, most sizeable towns have a wet market, which is known locally as a palengke. When you want to go to the market, you can tell the driver of your transportation of choice that you simply want to go to the palengke and they’ll know what you’re talking about.
The wet market in Antipolo is pretty big. It actually has two floors, but the second floor is mostly dry goods and household items. The real wet market is on the lower level. It reminded me of the wet market in Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia except bigger. We saw plenty of sea food, from shrimp to huge fish, as well as pork, chicken, and veggies.
The prices at the wet market are usually the best you can find in town. We got a kilo of pork for what would be about 4 USD. I guess it’s because there’s very little mark-up for land rental and employee compensation. The sanitary conditions are a bit questionable by my American standards, but if all the people I saw in the market are any indication, no one dies eating food they bought there. Or at least, not any more than at any other place.
If you plan on living in the Philippines for any length of time and you’re interested in getting good deals on food, you should make it a point to visit the wet markets. I don’t know if there are any in Manila, but I assume there would be.
Here are some photos of the place so you can get a feel for what to expect if you ever visit a wet market in the Philippines:
(Note: I’m testing a new format for uploading a lot of pictures. Hopefully the watermark doesn’t show up huge on the blown-up image after clicking the thumbnail!)