Could this be true? Yes, sir! But ‘Only in the Philippines’

Only in the Philippines

Editor’s Notes: The following article is from a British journalist stationed in the Philippines. His observations are so hilarious. This was written in 1999. One of the websites where this first appeared is in February 2000.

We are reprinting this article, not only because it is funny, but it is really what makes the Philippines and the Filipino cultural practices unique and an “Only in the Philippines” phenomenon.



Matter of Taste
by Matthew Sutherland

I have now been in this country for over six years and consider myself in most respects well assimilated However there is one key step on the road to full assimilation which I have yet to take and that is to eat BALUT.

The day any of you sees me eating balut please call immigration and ask them to issue me a Filipino passport because at that point there will be no turning back.

BALUT for those still blissfully ignorant nonPinoys out there is a fertilized duck egg.

It is commonly sold with salt in a piece of newspaper much like English fish and chips by street vendors usually after dark presumably so you can’t see how gross it is. It’s meant to be an aphrodisiac although I can’t imagine anything more likely to dispel sexual desire than crunching on a partially formed baby duck swimming in noxious fluid The embryo in the egg comes in varying stages of development but basically it is not considered macho to eat one without fully discernable feathers beak and claws. Some say these crunchy bits are the best Others prefer just to drink the so called soup the vile pungent liquid that surrounds the aforementioned feathery fetus excuse me I have to go and throw up now. I’ll be back in a minute.

All about food

Food dominates the life of the Filipinos. People here just love to eat. They eat at least eight times a day. These eight  official meals are called in order breakfast, snacks, lunch, merienda, picapica, pulutan and dinner. No one saw me take that cookie from the fridge so it doesnt count.

The short gaps in between these mealtimes are spent eating Sky Flakes from the open packet that sits on every desktop. You’re never far from food in the Philippines. If you doubt this next time you’re driving home from work, try this game. See how long you can drive without seeing food and I don’t mean a distant restaurant or a picture of food. I mean a man on the sidewalk frying fish balls or a man walking through the traffic selling nuts or candy. I bet its less than one.

Here are some other things Ive noticed about food in the Philippines. Firstly a meal is not a meal without rice even breakfast. In the UK I could go a whole year without eating rice. Second it’s impossible to drink without eating.

A bottle of San Miguel just isn’t the same without gambas or beef tapa. Third no one ventures more than two paces from their house without baon and a container of something cold to drink. You might as well ask a Filipino to leave home without his pants on. And lastly, where I come from, you eat with a knife and fork. Here you eat with a spoon and fork. You try eating rice swimming in fish sauce with a knife.

One really nice thing about Filipino food culture is that people always ask you to SHARE their food. In my office if you catch anyone attacking their baon they will always go Sir KAIN TAYO. Let’s eat. This confused me until I realized that they didn’t actually expect me to sit down and start munching on their boneless bangus. In fact the polite response is something like:  No, thanks I just ate

But the principle is sound if you have food on your plate you are expected to share it however hungry you are with those who may be even hungrier I think that’s great. In fact this is frequently even taken one step further.

Many Filipinos use: Have you eaten yet? KUMAIN KA NA as a general greeting irrespective of time of day or location.

Some foreigners think Filipino food is fairly dull compared to other Asian cuisines. Actually lots of it is very good. Spicy dishes like Bicol Express strange a dish named after a train anything cooked with coconut milk anything KINILAW and anything ADOBO. And its hard to beat the sheer wanton cholesterolic frenzy of a good oldfashioned LECHON de leche feast. Dig a pit, light a fire add 50 pounds of animal fat on a stick and cook until crisp. Mmm mmm, you can actually feel your arteries constricting with each successive mouthful

I also share one key Pinoy trait a sweet tooth I am thus the only foreigner I know who does not complain about sweet bread, sweet burgers, sweet spaghetti, sweet banana ketchup, and so on. I am a man who likes to put jam on his pizza. Try it.

It’s the weird food you want to avoid. In addition to duck fetus in the halfshell items to avoid in the Philippines include pigs blood soup DINUGUAN, bulls testicle, soup the strangely named SOUP NUMBER FIVE, I dread to think what numbers one through four are and the ubiquitous stinky shrimp paste BAGOONG and it’s equally stinky sister PATIS. Filipinos are so addicted to these latter items that they will even risk arrest or deportation trying to smuggle them into countries like Australia and the USA which wisely ban the importation of items you can smell from more than 100 paces.

Then there’s the small matter of the blue ice cream. I have never been able to get my brain around eating blue food the ubiquitous UBE leaves me cold.

And lastly on the subject of weird food beware that KALDERETANG KAMBING (goat) could well be KALDERETANG ASO (dog).

The Filipino of course has a welldeveloped sense of food. Here’s a typical Pinoy food joke. I’m  on a seafood diet. What’s a seafood diet? When I see food I eat it.

Filipinos also eat strange bits of animals: the feet, the head, the guts,  etc. usually barbecued on a stick. These have been given witty names like ADIDAS chickens feet, KURBATA either just chickens neck or neck and thigh as in necktie, WALKMAN pigs ears, PAL chicken wings, HELMET chicken head, IUD chicken intestines, and BETAMAX video-cassette like blocks of animal blood. Yum yum Bon appetite.

What’s in a name?

A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches Proverbs 22 1

WHEN I arrived in the Philippines from the UK six years ago, one of the first cultural differences to strike me was names. The subject has provided a continuing source of amazement and amusement ever since.

The first unusual thing from an English perspective is that everyone here has a nickname. In the staid and boring United Kingdom, we have nicknames in kindergarten but when we move into adulthood we tend I am glad to say to lose them.

The second thing that struck me is that Philippine names for both girls and boys tend to be what we in the UK would regard as overbearingly cutesy for anyone over about five. Fifty five year olds colleague put it Where I come from a boy with a nickname like Boy Blue or Honey Boy would be beaten to death at school by pre adolescent bullies and never make it to adulthood. So probably would girls with names like Babes, Lovely Precious, Peachy, or Apples Yuk ech ech.

Here however no one bats an eyelid. Then I noticed how many people have what I have come to call door bell names. These are nicknames that sound like well doorbells. There are millions of them Bing, Bong, Ding, and Dong are some of the more common. They can be and frequently are used in even more door bell like combinations such as BingBong, DingDong, TingTing, and so on.
Even one of our senators has a son named Ping. None of these doorbell names exist where I come from and hence sound unusually amusing to my untutored foreign ear

Someone once told me that one of the Bings when asked why he was called Bing replied because my brother is called Bong. Faultless logic. Dong of course is a particularly funny one for me as where I come from dong is a slang word for well perhaps talong is the best Tagalog equivalent.

Repeating names was another novelty to me having never before encountered people with names like LenLen, LetLet, MaiMai, TingTing, or Ning-Ning. The secretary I inherited on my arrival had an unusual one, LeckLeck. Such names are then frequently further refined by using the squared symbol as in Len2 or Mai2. This had me very confused for a while

Then there is the trend for parents to stick to a theme when naming their children. This can be as simple as making them all begin with the same letter as in Jun, Jimmy, Janice, and Joy

More imaginative parents shoot for more sophisticated forms of assonance or rhyme, as in Biboy, Boboy, Buboy, Baboy. Notice the names get worse the more kids there are best to be born early or you could end up being a Baboy

Even better, parents can create whole families of say desserts. Apple Pie, Cherry Pie, Honey Pie, or flowers Rose, Daffodil, Tulip. The main advantage of such combinations is that they look great painted across your trunk if you’re a cab driver. That’s another thing I’d never seen before coming to Manila. Taxis with the driver’s kids names on the trunk.

Another whole eye opening field for the foreign visitor is the phenomenon of the composite name. This includes names like Jejomar for Jesus Joseph and Mary, and the remarkable Luzviminda for Luzon Visayas and Mindanao, believe it or not. That’s a bit like me being called something like Engscowani for England Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland.

Between you and me Im glad Im not.

And how could I forget to mention the fabulous concept of the randomly inserted letter H. Quite what this device is supposed to achieve I have not yet figured out but I think it is designed to give a touch of class to an otherwise only averagely weird name. It results in creations like Jhun, Lhenn, Ghemma, Bhong, and Jhimmy Or how about JhunJhun, Jhun2.

How boring to come from a country like the UK full of people with names like John Smith. How wonderful to come from a country where imagination and exoticism rule the world of names.

Even the towns here have weird names. My favorite is the unbelievably named town of Sexmoan ironically close to Olongapo Where else in the world could that really be true. Where else in the world could the head of the Church really be called Cardinal Sin Where else but the Philippines.

NOTE: Philippines has a senator named Joker and it is his legal name. #

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