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A Taste of Adventure

March 6, 2017
A fusion dish called the 'Biryinhi' in Pampanga, Philippines
“Is that a slug or a beetle?”

A tourist sitting at the next table turned to ask me this, peering into my plate. I was seated inside a restaurant in a refurbished Spanish colonial mansion, in Manila.

Despite my nervous disposition around all creatures with scales, my 5-course dinner was either amphibious, reptilian or came without a spine. For someone who does not venture far from Italian, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine, the Philippines was a heart-thumping plunge into the unknown.

For me, stepping out of my gastronomic comfort zone also meant uncovering some profound truths.

For example, I learnt that the smellier the fruit (Durian), the more delicious it is, so sometimes in life you just have to literally ‘suck it up and deal with it’. Later, at a local market, I found psychedelic purple eggs sitting alongside spotted quail eggs while being offered yet another type of egg to sample- a portion of Balut. Well, let’s just say I’m glad I ate most of it before asking what it was made of, or I would never know what a semi-developed duck embryo tastes like.

Durian, a delicious, yet smelly fruit. Manila, Philippines

Durian, a delicious, yet smelly fruit. Manila, Philippines

Purple eggs sitting pretty at a counter in a local market, Philippines

Purple eggs sitting pretty at a counter in a local market, Philippines

Next, I travelled to Pampanga, the food capital of the Philippines, where I realized the Filipinos like their frogs stuffed (Batute Tugak), and their mole crickets crunchy (Camaru), but even that’s interchangeable. Just when I thought I had conquered my queasiness, a pot of steaming dinuguan (pork blood soup) arrived on the table. It may have been a regular lunch, but I’d like to call it an exercise in appreciating acquired tastes and controlling natural reflex – builds character, I believe.

On my next stop in Malolos, a dusty historic town, I met a charming veteran who invited me to his 250-year-old mansion’s kitchen, to sample some of his closely-guarded heirloom recipes. Halfway through a densely flavored, delicious fish preparation, the veteran disclosed that his house had hosted the Filipino national hero, José Rizal for a meal at that very dining table, before he was arrested for his revolution against Spanish colonial rule. Intrigued, I wondered if we had enjoyed the same meal, only a few centuries apart.

The heirloom recipe from a veteran's 250 year old kitchen, Malolos, Philippines

The heirloom recipe from a veteran’s 250 year old kitchen, Malolos, Philippines

The room where the Philippines' national hero, Jose Rizal dined, centuries ago. Malolos, Philippines

The room where the Philippines’ national hero, Jose Rizal dined, centuries ago. Malolos, Philippines

Back in Manila, now fully confident about ingesting and digesting an exhaustive variety of forest creatures, flora and fauna, I stopped over at a swanky restaurant and ordered what was now my favorite.
“Neither”, I answered the lady who was wondering what was on my table. “That’s Camaru with hand-rolled cheese,”I said.”Gotta love your mole crickets.” C-r-u-n-c-h!

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