The first time I ever travelled outside of Europe was in 1996, when my parents, brother and myself travelled to The Philippines. Here we travelled around for 6 weeks and this country and with that, my very first real travel experience became the benchmark to which I would compare every other journey that would follow.
I still remember the smells, oh, the smells! It takes just a scent of warm garbage and I am right back in Manila, a city that will leave a lasting impression but should not be seen as an ambassador for a country as diverse as The Philippines. Amidst the chaos, there were colourful army vehicles left behind by the Americans, a vast amount of little street stalls selling peculiar looking snacks and restaurants with plastic furniture selling intriguing (and somewhat intimidating looking) stews and broths. There were never-ending traffic jams at all times of day, and with that, a permanent cloud of smog one really can’t dodge. Walking sidewalks make you feel like you are back in PE at school playing monkey bars, Shania Twain’s “Your Still The One” played on every radio station and finally there were the amazingly polite and caring people.
After our time here, I came home with a new perspective and a (positive) culture shock that lasted me all throughout my childhood. Here I saw how well we have it in the West and that how we live is definitely not the norm. Moreover, at that time, I did not share the appetite for unknown foods I have today and I pretty much survived on rice, chicken and an all-time Filipino ‘classic’, spaghetti… The first time I visited The Philippines was 18 years ago and last September I returned to see and experience the country as an adult and to try some of the foods I missed out on when I was little. Having compared every other country I travelled to since, I returned with high expectations. The one thing I did not hold high expectations for, however, was the food. I had already been told, warned if you will, about the Filipino kitchen. It is safe to say that these low expectations were indeed met.
The Philippines, and with that Filipinos, are changing. The typical Western influences are and more prominent and it is clear that the country and its people are trying to find their flow in the modern day life. This desire for a Western world has brought changes to all aspects of the country and its culture, but the influence couldn’t be any more obvious than in its modern day kitchen. Stews, curries, soups and broths have made way for burgers, fries, hotdogs and pizza.When asking a local what their favourite Filipino dish is, the answer will almost always be spaghetti, a national favourite. Now, ignoring the fact that this is definitely not a Filipino dish, and that the pasta they serve can hardly be called Italian due to the tomato jam like sauce, this really says something about the change the country is going through. Kids no longer eat dishes like Kaldareta and Estafado but nowadays eat fried chicken, pancakes, hotdogs and a particularly happy, some may even say Jolly, Bee’s spaghetti.
In my time in here I really struggled to find something, at least, semi-healthy to eat and actually found myself wandering through the supermarket on more than one occasion, trying to find something other than the greasy foods offered by the famous fast-food restaurants we all know (and the Filipinos love so dearly). On a typical day, I would eat a mango for breakfast, a banana with peanut butter for lunch and plain rice (bought at one of these well-known fast-food chains) for dinner. When in major cities I would make my way to an SM supermarket in the hopes they’d offer a fresh (raw) lumpia, eat my weight in Belgium waffles, you know as a “healthy” alternative.. I would try to find something like a Kaldareta (stew with potatoes and carrot) and finally, devour a serious amount of grilled Chicken from a well-known grill restaurant. The latter I, rather, unfortunately (although not so unfortunate for my health and the chicken population), only discovered a few days before departing the country.
The health repercussions that this increasingly fatty diet bring along is starting to show more and more. The growing number of obesity, especially in young children, heart disease and the all-time favourite – diabetes seems to be brushed aside and simply taken as a slight unpleasantry. So much in fact, that there is an appointed diabetes corner in every drug store.Never have I struggled so much to find decent or even acceptable foods to eat. Nonetheless, travelling through this country is fascinating and when it comes to food, one will just have to adjust accordingly and deal with the inevitable risk increase for diabetes afterwards.
Challenging kitchen aside The Philippines is a country of incredible natural beauty and is bound to leave you astounded by the wide variety in landscape. From the fertile Banaue Rice Terraces, the lush greenery in the southern region of Bohol, mountainous splendour and the clearest waters you will find, in Palawan, to the vast amount of flora and fauna the country has to offer.
Not only the outstanding nature will thoroughly impress you, tourism (outside of the obvious Palawan and Boracay) doesn’t really exist – we only encountered 11 Westerners in a month, and the Filipino people are some of the friendliest and politest people you will ever come across. Combine this with the fact that they celebrate Christmas for a hundred days a year (you heard right, get your stocking out) and you’ve got yourself a hell of an unexplored SE Asia destination!
All this context(except the photos) gathered from http://www.storyofmyworld.com/2016/04/100-days-christmas-foodie-nightmare-philippines/