The following is from a British journalist stationed in the Philippines. His
observations are so hilarious!!!! This was written in 1999.
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
assimilation, 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 issue me a
Filipino passport. Because at that point there will be no turning back. BALUT,
for those still blissfully ignorant non-Pinoys out there, is a fertilized duck
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 an aphrodisiac, 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, in
order: breakfast, snacks, lunch, merienda, pica-pica, pulutan, dinner and
no-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 from work, 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
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 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.
One really nice thing about Filipino food culture is that people always ask you
to SHARE their food. In my office, if you catch anyone attacking their baon,
they will always go, "Sir! KAIN TAYO!" ("Let's eat!"). This confused me, until I
realized that they didn't actually expect me to sit down and start munching on
their boneless bangus. In fact, the polite response is something like, "No
thanks, I just ate."
But the principle is sound - if you have food on your plate, you are expected to
share it, however hungry you are, with those who may be even hungrier. I think
that's great. In fact, this is frequently even taken one step further. Many
Filipinos use "Have you eaten yet?" ("KUMAIN KA NA?") as a general greeting,
irrespective of time of day or location.
Some foreigners think Filipino food is fairly dull compared to other Asian
cuisines. Actually lots of it is very good: Spicy dishes like Bicol Express
(strange, a dish named after a train); anything cooked with coconut milk;
anything KINILAW; and anything ADOBO. And it's hard to beat the sheer wanton,
cholesterolic frenzy of a good old-fashioned LECHON de leche feast. Dig a pit,
light a fire, add 50 pounds of animal fat on a stick, and cook until crisp. Mmm,
mmm... you can actually feel your arteries constricting with each successive
I also share one key Pinoy trait ---a sweet tooth. I am thus the only foreigner
I know who does not complain about sweet bread, sweet burgers, sweet spaghetti,
sweet banana ketchup, and so on. I am a man who likes to put jam on his pizza.
It's the weird food you want to avoid. In addition to duck fetus in the
half-shell, items to avoid in the Philippines include pig's blood soup
(DINUGUAN); bull's testicle soup, the strangely-named "SOUP NUMBER FIVE" (I
dread to think what numbers one through four are); and the ubiquitous, stinky
shrimp paste, BAGOONG, and it's equally stinky sister, PATIS. Filipinos are so
addicted to these latter items that they will even risk arrest or deportation
trying to smuggle them into countries like Australia and the USA , which wisely
ban the importation of items you can smell from more than 100 paces.
Then there's the small matter of the blue ice cream. I have never been able to
get my brain around eating blue food; the ubiquitous UBE leaves me cold.
And lastly on the subject of weird food, beware: that KALDERETANG AMBING
(goat) could well be KALDERETANG ASO (dog)...
The Filipino, of course, has a well-developed sense of food. Here's a typical
Pinoy food joke: "I'm on a seafood diet. "What's a seafood diet?" "When I see
food, I eat it!"
Filipinos also eat strange bits of animals --- the feet, the head, the guts,
etc., usually barbecued on a stick. These have been given witty names, like
"ADIDAS" (chicken's feet); "KURBATA" (either just chicken's neck, or "neck and
thigh" as in "neck-tie"); "WALKMAN" (pigs ears); "PAL" (chicken wings); "HELMET"
(chicken head); "IUD" (chicken intestines), and BETAMAX" (video-cassette-like
blocks of animal blood). Yum, yum. Bon appetit.
"A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches" -- (Proverbs 22:1)
WHEN I arrived in the Philippines from the UK six years ago, one of the first
cultural differences to strike me was names. The subject has provided a
continuing source of amazement and amusement ever since.
The first unusual thing, from an English perspective, is that everyone here has
a nickname. In the staid and boring United Kingdom , we have nicknames in
kindergarten, but when we move into adulthood we tend, I am glad to say, to lose
The second thing that struck me is that Philippine names for both girls and boys
tend to be what we in the UK would regard as overbearingly cutesy for anyone
over about five. Fifty-five-year-olds colleague put it. Where I come from, a boy
with a nickname like Boy Blue or Honey Boy would be beaten to death at school by
pre-adolescent bullies, and never make it to adulthood. So, probably, would
girls with names like Babes, Lovely, Precious, Peachy or Apples. Yuk, ech ech.
Here, however, no one bats an eyelid. Then I noticed how many people have what I
have come to call "door-bell names". These are nicknames that sound like -well,
doorbells. There are millions of them. Bing, Bong, Ding, and Dong are some of
the more common. They can be, and frequently are, used in even more
door-bell-like combinations such as Bing-Bong, Ding-Dong, Ting-Ting, and so on.
Even one of our senators has a son named Ping. None of these doorbell names
exist where I come from, and hence sound unusually amusing to my untutored
Someone once told me that one of the Bings, when asked why he was called Bing,
replied, "because my brother is called Bong". Faultless logic. Dong, of course,
is a particularly funny one for me, as where I come from "dong" is a slang word
for well; perhaps "talong" is the best Tagalog equivalent.
Repeating names was another novelty to me, having never before encountered
people with names like Len-Len, Let-Let, Mai-Mai, Ting-Ting or Ning-Ning. The
secretary I inherited on my arrival had an unusual one: Leck-Leck. Such names
are then frequently further refined by using the "squared" symbol, as in Len2 or
Mai2. This had me very confused for a while.
Then there is the trend for parents to stick to a theme when naming their
children. This can be as simple as making them all begin with the same letter,
as in Jun, Jimmy, Janice, and Joy.
More imaginative parents shoot for more sophisticated forms of assonance or
rhyme, as in Biboy, Boboy, Buboy, Baboy (notice the names get worse the more
kids there are-best to be born early or you could end up being a Baboy).
Even better, parents can create whole families of, say, desserts (Apple Pie,
Cherry Pie, Honey Pie) or flowers (Rose, Daffodil, Tulip). The main advantage of
such combinations is that they look great painted across your trunk if you're a
cab driver. That's another thing I'd never seen before coming to Manila -- taxis
with the driver's kids' names on the trunk.
Another whole eye-opening field for the foreign visitor is the phenomenon of the
"composite" name. This includes names like Jejomar (for Jesus, (Joseph and
Mary), and the remarkable Luzviminda (for Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, believe
it or not). That's a bit like me being called something Like "Engscowani" (for
England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).
Between you and me, I'm glad I'm not.
And how could I forget to mention the fabulous concept of the randomly inserted
letter 'h'. Quite what this device is supposed to achieve, I have not yet
figured out, but I think it is designed to give a touch of class to an otherwise
only averagely weird name. It results in creations like Jhun, Lhenn, Ghemma,
Bhong, and Jhimmy. Or how about Jhun-Jhun (Jhun2)?
How boring to come from a country like the UK full of people with names like
John Smith. How wonderful to come from a country where imagination and exoticism
rule the world of names.
Even the towns here have weird names; my favorite is the unbelievably named town
of Sexmoan (ironically close to Olongapo and Angeles). Where else in the world
could that really be true? Where else in the world could the head of the Church
really be called Cardinal Sin(Rest In Peace)? Where else but the Philippines!
Note: Philippines has a senator named Joker, and it is his legal name.