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Doing the RP justice

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I’m very pleased with the Philippine episode of No Reservations.  Back in October, “Tony Bourdain in the Philippines” was the ultimate hype.  The NR production team made sure that the itinerary was kept secret, but of course there would always be those random little birdies dropping teasers here and there (“He went to Cebu!”; “I heard he went to Bacolod, too!”; “He’s in Pampanga just right about now.” ; “He says that sisig should be our national food!”; “He’s at the freakin’ Intercon lobby smoking!”), which made the long wait seem even longer.

Finally, I got to watch it tonight during its American TV premiere.  It kicked off with the Ivan Man Dy walk (or should I say, “wok”) in Food Street, Chinatown.  On top of the YouTube teaser I posted previously, Ivan also brought Tony to a wet-market-slash-foodcourt, a place where you get to choose ulam straight out of your suki food stall and have it cooked whichever way you want.  Tony had adobong hipon, crabs cooked in coconut milk, and pinakbet.

After Manila, they drove two hours down the road to Pampanga, where he met with witty Claude Tayag.  It was where Tony first had his decent bile meal (papaitan), a bunch of other kinds of laman-luob, sisig (his “come to momma” moment), barbecue, and of course, Claude’s amazing array of homecooked dishes (which includes sinigang sa bayabas, kare-kare, and adobong pugo).

He then went to Cebu, where he enjoyed stuffed crabs, bulalo (of course he excitedly dug through the marrow) and a warm, Cebuano dinner with Augusto Elefano (from the FAN-atic series, the guy who actually convinced Tony to do the Philippines) and his family.

The show was wonderfully capped off with yet another Cebuano feast of lechon (whole roasted pig) and other notable Pinoy dishes, al fresco.  And tonight, on his blog, he officially announced what he called the Hierarchy of Pigs.

It can now be said that of all the whole roasted pigs I’ve had all over the world, the slow roasted lechon I had on Cebu was the best.  This puts the standings in the Hierarchy of Pigs as follows:

#1: Philippines

#2: Bali

#3: Puerto Rico

If Tony Bourdain says that when it comes to the Philippines, “it’s all about the food”, tonight made me realize a lot about how I viewed, not just Philippine food culture, but being Filipino in general.

Tony’s running question about the Philippines was: “Why is it that the Philippines is almost always a blank page in international cuisine?”  Some Filipinos would say that the world hasn’t quite experienced the Philippines as they should experience it.  They haven’t tried the food they should try or go to places they should go to. In short, the world is just flippin’ ignorant.

But tonight, when Augusto opened up to Tony about not knowing who he really was, being Fil-Am, it kind of hit a spot, so I put that judgment on being ignorant to myself, and I believe that I can speak for some Filipinos too;  not all, but some.

Last week, I did an essay that wasn’t exactly due until next week.  The professor instructed us to write something about our culture.  I didn’t think twice and instantly (and quite jadedly) entitled my essay: “Borrowed Identity.”

I kicked it off by expressing how I didn’t exactly know what to say about my culture except that it confused me.  I wasn’t sure that Filipinos truly had a cultural identity, and finally admitted that I didn’t fully believe in the term “Filipino” at all.  We were invaded by Spaniards for over 400 years, bullied by Americans into believing that they saved us from Japan, and let the Chinese, and eventually, Koreans, run schools, communities and businesses.

In short, not that I wasn’t proud, but I just didn’t know where the word “Filipino” stood in this sea of different cultures.  We can be Spanish, American, Chinese, Malay and sometimes, even Polynesian.  Tony Bourdain said himself in an old interview for the PDI that he was surprised with the strong fusion of flavors in our food.  Where is the “Filipino” in this?  Who are we exactly?

This episode of No Reservations nailed it.  Tony composed his monologue with the exact same theme: finding out who we really are.  I know this’ll sound cheesy, but I’m just using his words: “Who you are is where the heart is.”  Yes, we were all surprised with how Tony was so mellow, nice, well-mannered, and, *gasp* humble, all throughout the segment.  I bet he was surprised himself.  But, yes, that was what he said, and it’s very true.

My heart is in how I find this melting pot of a nation beautiful and so unlike any other precisely by being the melting pot that it is.  The host of the Cebu segment mentioned that the Philippines has taken the back seat all this time because Filipinos usually mesh well and adjust so fast with other cultures (in his words, though not verbatim, Filipinos can easily get used to shawarma from the Middle East) that Filipinos and Philippine culture in general, eventually blends with everything else.

To me, we can actually make this openness precisely what makes us stand out from the rest of the world.  Tony commented that Filipinos are “too nice.”  And I guess he’s right.  Just like how families welcome visitors with an enthusiastic “Kain tayo!”, even when there’s not exactly enough food to satisfy every single stomach in the room, I think Filipinos stand out by how they welcome and embrace the new, especially in a world that is often unkind to extraordinariness these days.

Tony Bourdain wrote:

I’m all too aware of the fact that the country is made up of over seven THOUSAND islands and that I visited exactly two of them.  The food is intensely regional… I mean, even the difference between the food in Manila and Pampanga — only a couple of hours away — is striking.  So I missed… a lot.

And perhaps I did, too, and it makes it even more embarrassing since I’m pure Filipino.  The essay I wrote for class (and fortunately haven’t submitted yet) clearly proves that.  But I should stay true to what I think being Filipino is all about — embracing the discovery and defense of the new.  That being said, I look forward to revising that darned essay into something that would do my wonderful Filipino-ness justice.  🙂


Written by Karla Mercado

February 17, 2009 at 6:58 am

Preview: Bourdain in the Philippines

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Here’s a little preview of No Reservations: Philippines airing tonight at 9pm on the Travel Channel.

Tony Bourdain takes a stroll along “food street” with Ivan Man Dy (Binondo Food Wok), trying out street chicken balls with vinegar and spicy sauce (no double dipping!), taho (for breakfast) and pansit palabok (which he wasn’t so impressed with).

Written by Karla Mercado

February 16, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Sweet morning

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The day before I left for the US, I went out with my sister for a short food trip.  I wanted to go to Dunkin Donuts before leaving, because there aren’t any shops or stalls here in New Mexico.  I heard though, that it’s in New York.  Anyway, believe it or not, we didn’t find any shop or stall either back in the routes we took all around Quezon City.  I do remember a nice Dunkin Donuts cafe in Powerplant, but it’s just not the same.  They serve gourmet-like donuts there.  I’m looking for the original, the kind that will instantly bring me back to childhood, the kind that is sometimes dry but still mmm-mmm good.

I especially love chocolate honey dipped Munchkins.  Yum!  I miss that.  But my Dunkin trip won’t be complete without their awesome brewed coffee.

So, one of the first things I grabbed from the supermarket when I went grocery shopping was a bag of Dunkin Donuts Dark Roast Coffee.

Dunkin Donuts Coffee


Breakfast today was suh-weet… literally.  For some reason, I like taking sweet things in the morning.  When I was little, taking in sweets in the morning like soda, ice cream or chocolate was discouraged.  Maybe that’s why I look for it a lot now that I’m older.  On the side is a dollop of light whip topped with chocolate wedges.  Yum!


It’s been a while since I last photoblogged about food (yes, all photos are mine, so if you wish to use them, please leave a comment), but today, I actually have time to do it.  I’ve been busy with school and usually spend my free weekdays writing papers and reading my textbooks in advance (so I won’t look like a dunce when the professor randomly calls on my name for recitation; be prepared!).  Starting March though, I will only have one free weekday due to Phlebotomy* classes.

And good morning to you too!

*Who wants to be my guinea pig for practice? I prefer someone with visible enough veins but thin ones for a challenge. 😛

Written by Karla Mercado

February 12, 2009 at 5:23 pm

Posted in Etcetera, Food

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