Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Philippines: More Food!

I seem to be pathologically unable to travel without penning long, pointless blog posts about food. If only there were some way to transmit tastes and smells over the internet, these posts might be marginally interesting to our readers, instead of just rambling and self-indulgent.

Anyway! Here goes.

The produce in the Philippines is absolutely amazing. Not only are the islands home to a significant percentage of the mangoes, pineapples, and bananas eaten around the world, they're also home to a host of other fruits, including varieties of the above, that are hard to find elsewhere.

One of our best meals of the trip was really just a simple showcase of fresh Filipino ingredients. It was in Tagaytay, outside of Manila, at a place called Sonia's (also known for its toilets, apparently).
If you squint enough to see through the dim lighting, you can see chunks of fresh pineapple, mango, and papaya, plus some yellowish slivers of jackfruit, which has a texture sort of like thick artichoke but tastes something like a mix of Asian pear, mango, and banana. And that was just for our salad! Later, we had bread and pasta with various sauces, including sun-dried tomato, pesto made with fresh basil, and green peppercorns in olive oil. Dessert was a plate of banana spring rolls with a side of honeyed sweet potato, capped off with tea made from sprig of tarragon.

Honestly, one of the best meals I can remember. The simple trick? Pretty much everything on the table was grown within walking distance of the restaurant. More easily done in the middle of a tropical paradise, of course.

Sonia's was a great showcase for the natural abundance of the Philippines, but how about actual Filipino cuisine? Well, our lovely host, Beia, and her family treated us to a full Filipino breakfast one morning. Quite a feast:

Fresh fruit featured prominently (that's papaya and mango), with generous helpings of mushroom omelette, corned beef hash, and a local roll called "pandesal." We washed it down with mugs of drinking chocolate.

Nana learned the stabby method for eating the middle slice of a mango . . .
. . . and I discovered the joys of coco jam, which is basically like peanut butter, but made with coconut instead.

Beia's family also hosted us for a family potluck to celebrate the various auspicious occasions we happened to crash.
Here, you can really see the odd fusions of American and Spanish cuisines with the Filipino palate. We have Filipino spaghetti, a stew of red peppers and chicken bits, a kind of spiced meatloaf, and garlic sausages with . . . marshmallows. Tasty, if somewhat puzzling!

Finally, a dash of traditional Filipino cuisine, sampled at a well-known eatery near our friend's place of work.
The centerpiece was a big bowl of simple beef soup (upper left) with a plate of veggies and seafood in Filipino "curry," which is actually a peanut sauce. We also had a side of crispy fried pork rinds in blood sauce. Totally awesome, but too rich for more than a couple bites!
Overall, Nana and I really liked the food we ate in the Philippines. In many parts of Asia, to get a lot of flavor, you have to put up with a lot of spiciness. Not so in the Philippines!

Final verdict? If we lived in the Philippines, we would get HUGE.

*Special thanks to our hosts, Beia and Romel, who found us some awesome stuff to eat!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My First Male Prom Date

I've been to prom before - three proms, actually. I went to my junior and senior proms, and then went back up to the city where I lived before in Michigan as a senior and did their senior prom, too. In all three of these situations I went with a date, but unfortunately for my high school social life, they were just female friends who paired up with me so we could get the ticket discount. So this was my first prom in which I had a date. Isn't he cute?

The theme of the FIS prom was "Celestial," hence the moon and stars overhead here:

The tables were decorated with star ornaments and cookie cutters. There were cards scattered with pictures of Venus, the Solar System, etc. Justin and I invented a game like War in which you played these cards and won based on whose card had the greatest probability of life - as in, Mars defeats Mercury. If you had a tie (say, Space and Earth, or the Astronaut and E.T.,both at 100) you kept playing until somebody won. If you play Saturn or Jupiter, you get to count the moons. I still think Justin shortchanged Venus. He is so carbon-normative. Give sulfur-based life forms a chance!

Edited to add: Coworker Katherine took this picture of our card game, just in case you thought we couldn't possibly REALLY be nerdy enough to play it. If there is one thing you can learn from this blog, it is never to bet against how nerdy Justin and I can be.

We also had glowsticks. I made a bracelet, then a hat, then a belt, then a belt with a dangly bit, and then a bandolier. Think of me as a four-year-old with marginally better motor skills.

Coworkers Sarah and Tim helped with photography, and these are their pictures above. Their camera suffered a tragic hairline fracture on their trip to Vietnam when the lens got sideswiped by a motorcycle (which, on the other hand, is probably one of the better cocktail party stories about camera problems. Much better than ours, anyway, which involved the zoom lens breaking because Justin kept accidentally turning the camera on while it was in his pocket.) This is me demonstrating genuine, commiseratory sorrow at their loss. Also being the Monopoly Man.

Like two of the U.S. proms I went to, there was a dinner first. Unlike the proms I went to, there was very little dancing and it was over at 10. Think of it more as a senior banquet with a bit of dancing at the end. We had slide shows of senior photos, a great video of friends and former teachers around the world, and musical performances by some juniors. We all got emotional, and the tenth graders took advantage of this to eat all the dessert.

The evening was just fantastic, thanks to the yeoman's work of coworker Robert, the junior class advisor, who has been fundraising and organizing for months. I think the only bad part of prom for all of us was that this means Robert won't be forced to cook giant pots of chili to sell at lunch anymore. Unless he needs spare cash. I'm not above a little burglary to try to make this happen.