I loved my time in the Philippines. The weather’s great. The people exude warmth and a contagious joy for living. The scenery, once you get out of Manila can compare, with any ocean/beach climate in the world, including California, Greece or Australia. I will definitely go back, both to the places I went (Palawan, Coron) and those I didn’t (The Visayas, Boracay, Northern Luzon.)
But the food sucks.
Because I loved my time their so much, I can make some excuses for this hideous flaw. Island nations generally aren’t known for their ability to grow produce or support animal husbandry. Salt water and volcanoes, for you Civ 4 players. The swampy climate produces some high-quality fruit like bananas, papayas and mangoes but if the fruit is out of season, it can get quite expensive. And then there’s the pesky problem of island transport. Anything that’s imported needs to go through one of the main two islands (Luzon or Cebu) then boat or plane to outlying islands. And that’s before you deal with the less then pristine condition of Filipino roads. And the fact that temperature hovers at a solid 88 degrees every day…in the cold season. No wonder I got sick!
The Good: Fresh seafood of course, although to be honest I expected better. As a New Englander, I expect any ocean area to be able to produce multiple high quality fish, shellfish and crustaceans. The Philippines hits this standard, but barely. The extremely warm and salty water apparently excludes some of the tastiest dishes, but you can still get great grouper, tuna, clams, oysters and the infamous spicy crab (which even if it destroyed my gut was pretty damn delicious.) There’s little diversity in terms of preparation—start a charcoal fire, throw your whole fish on the fire and wait until complete.
Your average Philippine Fish Fry
Accompaniments were rice (Filipinos eat more rice than anyone else other than maybe Indians,) and dipping sauces. These were either soy-based with ginger or lime juice based with perhaps some cilantro. Peppers were added as needed—and I recommend adding some spice unless you’re a pussy. When particularly fresh and well prepared, the results are solid, but it’s still fish and rice. And no fish exuded the fresh taste I associate with a fresh catch, although that could just be the types we were eating.
The pinnacle of cuisine in the Philippines, however is the booze . Alcohol consumption is controlled by the monopoly San Miguel which distributes all the beer and most of the liquor. San Miguel isn’t bad, but it’s Red Horse that melts the heart of alcoholics everywhere. You can buy a liter that’s right a liter bottle of Red Horse for 64 pesos (about a 1.50$). Did I mention it’s 6.9 percent? And tastes better than 90 percent of U.S. Factory lagers? One of those bad boys and you’re done. And if hard alcohol’s your thing, simply pick up a 750 ml bottle of Tanduay Rum, which will put you back a solid 85 pesos (2.00$). Plus all this cheap booze makes the food taste better.
The Meh: The other Filipino staples, Barbecue, Luchon and Sipsic. I tried every kind of barbecue I could: ribs, chicken, fish, beef, pork, intestine you name it. Meat quality generally was low, and there’s nothing I had that I didn’t think to myself “I can make much better on my Weber, thank you very much.” I did go to one good restaurant that made a quality sipsic, (rice and fried meat with eggs and various spices) but I expected more.
The luchon (pig on a spit) I had was similar to your average pork roast, but not quite as tasty. I did not seek it out, so it’s possible I’m missing out and that luchon is actually amazing, but again, I’ll take an Indiana corn roast pig over what I had in two seconds.
The Bad: The street food was really disappointing. It’s not like there aren’t plenty of people trying, but compare to Bangkok where you need four stomachs to get your fill of the quality. Again, it comes down to ingredient quality, getting fresh meat and produce and being able to diversify. Or maybe they just aren’t as good cooks.
The Best: Probably these oysters which were thrown on the grill until opening and dipped in a lemon sauce. Tasty as hell.
The Worst: Whatever made me sick. Or the fast food I found myself eating a little too often. There are all sorts of KFC ripoffs as well as ubiquitous mall food courts that ripoff your local suburban outlet. Or the bbq intestine. Lots of choices.
The Weirdest: Fish eggs. I guess one of our fish was preggers and I tried the eggs. Not too bad, but probably not something I’d be on the lookout for. Did I mention I got sick?
Anyways that concludes my review of the food of the Philippines. Look for the country to appear in my Country Food Power Rankings in the near future!
Edit In honor of The Smoking Section I realize I need to rate these countries on a one to five system. Thus I give the Philippines