Friday, May 18, 2012

brave, stupid and well fed

I do not fear food beyond my native shores. I'm comparatively nimble when it comes to the gastronomic dance that nearly partners bravery and stupidity. What goes in my mouth is a way to become familiar with people and their place, and so I've learned the two-step. But oh golly did I bring two left feet to the table last night. We organized a gathering of Filipino mayors (peers of the mayor from Abra de Ilog studying at the University) and participants in the rice course. The local restaurant couldn't keep up with the conversation.

A menu for an impromptu gathering of Filipino government officials and foreign rice studiers
Filipino beer - San Miguel and Red Horse 
White pizza - featuring local water buffalo (carabao) cheese
Crispy pata - deep fried pork thigh

The Carabao - draft animal and milk source.
A face that screams "I'll make your pizza taste better," and do
they deliver!
Crispy fried pork thigh - Pata

Pork sisig - minced pork, traditionally made with meat from the head. It's been reinvented as simple grilled pork accompanied with a fried egg, onions, chili, liver, the local citrus fruit "calamansi" and vinegar.
Mangos and bagoon - green picked mangos dipped in a shrimp paste mixed with chilli, soy sauce 

Sisig traditionally used everything, now just a bit of things

Confession: best part of this dish are the mangos

And then brave and stupid didn't look too different. "Balut" is a common Filipino street snack found in food stands that provide income to women who cook from their homes. The Filipino people are proud of their Balut. I'm avoiding telling you what Balut is. Balut is a fertilized duck embryo that is boiled and eaten from the shell. Yep. And the Abra mayor materialized a HUGE bag of Balut just as the pork and beer and cheese were settling; the ultimate cultural exchange. I exchanged, but not with eyes open. This morning I instituted a lemon lime soda cleanse and food fast just to give the insides a rest. To be fair, the taste wasn't bad and I really challenged my vegetarian stomach before the Balut. I will not recommend not Baluting, but dang, bring your dance moves.

Moreover, I don't want the Balut to speak for the night. 20 of us from very different places sat for hours using food as a bridge to discuss Jefferey Sachs, local rice markets, President Obama, boxing, Filipino politics etc. The generosity of our Filipino hosts cannot be overstated. They fed us so well, and asked superb questions about our interests and encouraged our curiosity. Despite the fact that I'll never Balut, ever again (ever), there is great joy in acknowledging that it's important to dance.

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