The Philippines - vegetarians and kosher Jews need not apply...

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May 7th 2009
Published: May 7th 2009
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Pilgrims of 2009Pilgrims of 2009Pilgrims of 2009

Tourists in the Manila Catholic Basilica.
I love the pursuit of strange food. So far my list of 'accomplishments' includes the following:

It goes on, but right now my iPod's new playlist (cool names for songs - 'Backseat Love', 'Antichrist Television Blues', 'Gay Bar', 'I Am The Walrus', 'NiggyTardust' etc) is distracting me from the task at hand. I digress. Weird food is clearly a completely subjective thing. It only took sharing a bus seat with a Cambodian who spent 8 hungover hours munching on deep fried tarantula to convince me of this. Hell, Fam insists that I am a freak for smearing Vegemite on my toast! So it does take a definitely alien dish to make me feel the urge to write about it! The Philippines have been a treasure trove of culinary 'delights'. And it has only been 5 days...

Firstly, there seems to be a chronic allergy to vegetables and vegetarian dishes. Everything is meat/rice based. I know many people that would be salivating at the prospect of 234 variations of cooked pig, but after a while it does get tedious. All of the vegetable dishes that we have sought out have been flecked with hunks of pig skin with 2cm of fat attached. All good if you have slight carnivorous tendencies (like me), but if your direction is a little greener, you either have to pinch your nose and swallow, or take the hunger strike option in the hope that a stray broccoli can be found in a market somewhere.

Second, and a true delight I may add, is the abundance of fresh fruit. We are staying 20m from a small market that is stocked with the freshest and most delicious fruit I have had access to. Today has seen me devour 4 mangoes, 5 rambutans, 3 bananas and 1 apple. And 3 pork-based dishes, but see above for more about that. It’s a blessing to know that a bountiful supply of uncooked vitamins and minerals only $1.50 away.

Thirdly, and perhaps most joyously - the beer. San Miguel is the local brewery, and they do a magnificent job of keeping their product readily available and affordable for the local population. There are none of the Islamic hang-ups over alcohol here that I encountered in Indonesia and Malaysia. Here, you are rewarded with 2 bottles of liquid gold for paying the 100 peso ($2.80AUD) entrance fee to a community party. Here, drinking on the side of the road with a steaming hot pork satay and a 500ml stubby of Red Horse isn't a precursor to a public whipping (I'm looking at YOU, Sumatra). It even tastes good! I'll happily shout the virtues of a cheap bottled beer from the rooftops, but it’s a serious bonus when it is potable. Take a bow San Miguel, I salute you.

Back to the weird food. Way back in Vietnam last year, my travel buddies and I set the slightly illegal standard of the weird food olympics. We had heard that in a small mountain village near the Chinese border, it was possible to be served monkey brains. Think Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Unfortunately Sapa yielded fog, rain and no monkey brains. Maybe it’s a good thing... Anyway, our attention shifted to a local snack that is touted as a delicacy. Fertilised duck egg. I was keen, but none were procured. Well, I am happy to say that as of 2 nights ago, I can confirm that fertilised (like with a visible fetus inside) duck eggs taste like boiled puss and poo, with a tablespoon of salt added for complexity. Never in my life have I experienced such a horrible eating experience. It has the consistency of warm oyster, is garnished with charming additions such as duck beak, feathers and bones, and the white of the egg is a dirty yellow colour and is wired with twisted systems of veins. YUMMY! It was that bad that the barbequed pig's tongue that I found in my hand immediately after was a welcome relief. The tongue actually tasted good, but maybe that was just because it contrasted with pickled poo and puss.

Last night yielded another 'delicacy' I can now lay claim to having eaten every part of a chicken, INCLUDING the beak. My dinner of barbequed pork satay in bread wasn't doing a great job of filling me up, so I went in search of fresh vegies. I came back with a cheeseburger and the crowning glory of my chicken eating experiences thus far. Chicken heads on a skewer. The chef had kindly plucked the poor beasties, and then had taken the cleaver and split their skulls between the eyes, spread them and barbequed them. The eyeballs squished, the brain was firm, the skull took some chewing and the beak was swallowed whole. Once again, I can only really thank San Miguel and their full strength 'Red Horse' stubbies for

So, here is the updated list of awful, tasty, and most importantly weird dishes that I have swallowed in pursuit of strangeness:

There will be more, but I shudder to think wha they might be as this would appear to have taken care of most of the 'conventional' dishes going around. From now, things will be getting disgusting.

Enough rambling. As the details suggest, I am writing this from a small village called Donsol, notable for the 5 months-a-year circus that goes under the title of "Whale Shark interaction activities". Yesterday we set out with 5 other tourists, 4 crew members and 1 "whale shark interaction officer" in our boat, and 12 other boats in search of the gentle whale sharks of the region. It involved 3 hours of aimless circling in various depths of water, 5 false alarms and 4 sightings. It is tough to appreciate just how ridiculous this activity is. One boat will eventually see a shark, motor beside it and have the brew and tourists leap overboard to snorkel with it. Awesome if it is your boat and kilometres of open ocean surrounding you. Awful when there are approximately 120 other people fighting for the same 10mx10m patch of ocean. It was mayhem! One boat would stop, and within 30 seconds every other boat would be on sight pushing it's tourists into the battle. I managed to devise a system of poaching other groups' efforts of detecting the beasts, which netted me some amazingly close experiences with the sharks. The final one was the best of the lot - Fam and I were ahead of the drowning Chinese tourists in life jackets, gung-ho Americans with underwater camera rigs and overweight Russians, and had found ourselves swimming directly over the shark's head. The size was staggering! We were so entranced by the sight that we didn't notice the suicidal act that the skipper of another boat was putting into place. This GOOSE (I am restraining myself in the choice of invective) decided to sail his trimaran between the group of 30 swimmers and the shark so as to give his tourists a good shot at swimming with it. The fucker (couldn't help myself) sailed into our group and collected 5 scalps (literally). It took me 30-odd seconds to realise that Fam wasn't with me anymore, I looked around and found her floating on her back 30m away from the rest of us. She had collected one of the floats on the top of her head and couldn't find her way back to the group. So angry! It really marred a good morning. We had planned to leave early this morning, but she woke with a splitting headache and a very sore neck. Needless to say we have been resting all day in the hope that it is better tomorrow.

Apart from that incident, I swam with what is almost the biggest fish in the world at mind-blowing proximity. Win!

What else to say? Our first night in the country had us setting forth in the search for little people. We found the bar staffed exclusively by dwarves without hassle. Apparently the dwarf population of Manila has no problem making some sweet $$$ on the back of their height and limb lengths. We left disillusioned, but stoked that the toilets were separated by stalls that reached as high as my nipples. Yay for little people!

Manila struck me as a city that makes Bangkok blush. The streets shared a similar odour with New Delhi, mainly piss. Almost all bars in the tourist areas were staffed by G.R.O.'s (Guest Relation Officers), who make sure that patrons of certain bars are entertained in any way that their wallet will allow. Use your imagination, but make sure what you imagine is seedy. Bars, clubs, restaurants, hotels, money changers and casinos are guarded by armed gentlemen who bid you a "Good afternoon sir", while swinging their MASSIVE automatic rifle out of your path. Meh, just another big city with too many people who live outside of any discernable social support systems. But yeah, Bangkok is a blushing virgin compared to Manila!

We are venturing into the central island system tomorrow morning, which will hopefully net us some stunning beaches and more sunshine. I'm liking what I've seen so far here - the people are really friendly and speak excellent English, the weather is good, the streets are alive day and night, and as mentioned the beer is stupidly cheap. $0.50 for a bottle? Gah, perfect!

Complete perfection would be for this nasty little pig-bird-flu virus to avoid the following countries and their international airports - The Philippines, Malaysia, England (damn), Holland and of course, Australia. Wash those hands people!

x temps


7th May 2009

San Miguel and Red Horse
Liquid gold, I tell you! They're liquid gold! Funny blog, mate! Next time, don't stay in the tourist district, which also happens to be the red-light district.
8th May 2009

if you really love veggies
I've had the best veggie dishes in Baguio ~ cheap and very fresh! So if you ever find yourself there, you should try their vegetables ... and maybe you can check out the Sagada rice terraces as well (which i think is 6 hours away from baguio) ... Happy travelling!
14th October 2009

more delicacies
been laughing all day reading your the way the next time you come to the Philippines try the goat testicles looool.

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