Archive for February, 2008


Throughout the trip, we ate, ate again, snacked and then at ate some more. The Filipino term for a mid-day snack is Merienda. Well, it seems to me like they “snack” a lot. They aren’t big people, so I don’t know how they can do all this eating without being really overweight.

We passed countless food stands and vendors EVERYWHERE. Along roadsides, throughout villages, every place we visited and passed seemed to be selling food.

Funnily enough, there were also lots of burger stands. Being a fan of old-fashioned drive-ins, I found myself enamored with one burger stand in particular – Burger Machine. It was so charming with it’s stainless steel counter, bar stools and a weird little santa-like mascot.

When I finally had the opportunity to try out the burger at the Burger Machine, I wasn’t as enamored. It was more of a pork patty than a beef patty. Like breakfast sausage if you will. They served it with cheese, loads of “special” sauce and ketchup. I guess it was banana ketchup, but was not as good as the banana ketchup I’d had earlier in the trip. It was so sweet it was almost like jam. It wasn’t great, but the experience was worth it.

There were lots of stands selling fresh fruit and fresh steamed corn on the cob. We also saw lots selling buko – young coconut.

I asked Marie what her favorite street food is and she said fish balls. Evidently these are really popular with school kids, so you can always find the stands near schools.

Well, sure enough we found a fish ball stand. This was actually located near Florin’s school in Manila. We made it past there on a shopping excursion to buy some pirated DVDs.

The fish balls were indeed very tasty. They are basically white fish mixed with flour and then deep fried. You get a little skewer full of them and then your shoice of dipping sauces. All this for about 50 cents.

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Fork and Spoon

I had a lot of assumptions about Asian people before my brother married Filipina. I’ll admit now that I assumed all Asians ate with chopsticks. OK it’s not like I actually put that much thought into it, but in the back of my mind that is what I assumed.

When Marie’s family first visited us in the U.S., I was surprised to see that they eat with cutlery – but only with a fork and spoon, and mostly with the spoon.

They actually use the fork for pushing the food into the spoon or for pinning down the food while it is cut (or torn) with the tip of the spoon. This works surpringly well. Every meal is served with rice. The meat and veggies served are usually already cut into bite sized pieces before being cooked. Traditionally – Filipinos eat with their hands, but most modern people here eat with cutlery.

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Bohol Sightseeing

We hired a mini-van for a one day tour around the island. There is essentially a circuit the tour buses run, but it is a good one.

First – we drove up to the “Chocolate Hills.” There are 1200 of these cone-shaped hills spread over one section of the island. They got their name because they turn brown in the summer. It is still spring here (summer is March-May), so the hills were green.

Next, we stopped at a suspension bridge that crossed over the Luboc river. The crossing was a little slippery, but we were rewarded with a little souvenir shop that sold young coconuts with a straw for 50 cents, grilled bananas and a crackpot local that tore the husk off a mature coconut with his TEETH!

Later, we went on a cruise down the Luboc river. The riverboats serve lunch and have some ridiculous semi-live music, but it was good food and great scenery. We stopped at a couple of points where groups of school kids played ukulele versions of Abba songs. There were also some kids along the way that would jump into the water off the banks and swim to the boats. They’d grab hold – and look woefully into passengers’ eyes in hopes of a few coins – and then jump off and swim over to one of the other tourist boats cruising down the river.

After the cruise, we drove back across the island. We passed lots of rice fields and they were harvesting the rice at many of them. Along the sides of the road, the rice was laid out to dry on tarps. This rice was then sold to cooperatives on the island for milling (in fact, we saw 50 kilo bags of it being loaded at the port the next day).

We also made a stop to see the Tarsiers – little bug-eyed, nocturnal critters. They kind of reminded me of Gremlins. They moved slow and were pretty cute, but you probably don’t want to feed them after midnight. Not so long ago, you could visit game farm places on Bohol and hold the Tarsiers. They are endangered now though, so you can only look at them.

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Fish for Breakfast

I’ve been trying to eat local as much as possible, but somehow fish for breakfast just doesn’t agree with me. Sure it’s tasty, but for even for Scandinavian girl it just doesn’t taste all that good first thing in the morning.

Some of the breakfast buffets have had various sauteed or deep fried fish. One even had tartar sauce! Marie’s favorite are the small dried fish (above) that are deep fried until super crispy. These are essentially finger food. You dip them in a vinegar and shallot sauce and then crunch away. Somehow I think these would go better with a martini, but that’s just me…

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After a painfully early 5am flight, we arrived on the island of Bohol. It was worth the earl morning to get here and get to the beach. The sand here is incredibly fine and the water is really warm – probably 80 degrees.

We spent a total of 3 nights on this island, which is famous for its endangered population of tarsiers – cute nocturnal prosimian primates. OK, I had to look up that last part. I thought they were marsupials.We had a couple of relaxing days, but also spent a full day sightseeing around the island. I took full advantage of the R & R time thought – enjoying fresh mango smoothies with rum.

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Go Bananas

Let me tell you a little about the bananas here. There are several different varieties. Some are the small mini-bananas. I’ve tried two varieties so far. One is sweeter than the other and both are more concentrated and a bit starchier than the bananas we usually get in the US.

Bananas grow everywhere here. I remember seeing my first banana tree in Hawaii and just about flipping out. It is the coolest looking tree and the bananas grow in massive clusters.

Bananas are used here for just about everything – banana leaves are used to cook food in; they make banana ketchup and several banana desserts. I imagine they distill it into alcohol, but I have yet to find it.

My favorite dessert here so far is the banana fritter, or turon. Marie makes these at home and I think I’d known her a couple of years before I ever tried them. I accused her of keeping these a secret from me. I am totally addicted to them now. As far as I understand, these are filled with banana, brown sugar and jack fruit (a huge tropical fruit that is shaped like a pear but is all prickly and about 4 pounds). You wrap these in a lumpia (or wonton) wrapper and deep fry them. I’ve had them served with ice cream and also a coconut sauce here, but I think they are just fine plain and warm.

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Manila – Part Two

Manila is a sprawling urban jungle. It isn’t exactly a place for a walking tour. Ching arranged for a mini-van tour that could whisk around the city and then out to the suburbs to visit a cousin’s fish farm.

We started off the morning at the “wet market.” This indoor market is one of the largest in Manila. You can buy rice and dry goods, but also fresh meat, sausages, vegetables and fresh fish. By fresh fish, I mean live fish. I wandered around – careful not to slip on the wet floor – while I filmed the vendors and sounds. It was a great market. It didn’t really smell much. Not rotten at least. The fish and meat vedors had chopping blocks where they were cleaning and filleting fish and butchering the meat. Those blocks didn’t look too sanitary. Other than that, the market was pretty clean. The floor was slick and wet though – hence the name, “wet market.”

In the afternoon, we traveled a bit outside of metro Manila to visit a cousin’s fish farm. We rowed out in canoes, through the pens, out to the caretakers hut. You need someone to look over the pens at all times so people don’t come in and steal your fish. This is also where the fish feed is stored. This farm raises milk fish – the national fish of the Philippines. They mostly feed on stuff (seaweed, plankton?) in the water, but they are also fed Cheetos. OK, not exactly Cheetos, but the mills that make the Filipino snack chips, cheese puffs and other salty snacks, donate the seconds and expired stock to the fish farms. Nothing wasted, right?

We had a couple of fishing poles along and managed to catch a couple of small fish before rowing back to land.

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