For the Love of Food: A week’s worth of culture keeps returning to a plate

My quest to understand as much of the Philippine culture as I can while I’m here is quite interesting. For every one question I ask about food, history, customs, and the day to day, I probably receive five or more about America and school/life/people/everything back home.

“So is it really like Mean Girls?” Is probably one of my favorite questions yet because it means a movie from 2004 is still that good to be common knowledge across an ocean. Before being asked if I like to cook, someone asked, “Do you like cooking pancakes?” “What about regular sweet cakes?” 

Meanwhile my brain is spinning as I try to relate my answer back in terms free of American slang and as straightforward as possible, I’m converting American dollars to Filipino pesos, miles to kilometers and pounds to kilos in my head as I try to explain a culture that comes as natural as blinking but this goes both ways as cultures are slowly starting to bridge together.

And the answer is yes. I do love pancakes. And every time I cross the street I feel like I am going to turn into a pancake. The closest thing I can compare it to is this scene from Elf when Buddy tries to cross the street for the first time in the City. Difference being the only top you cross in front of a stopped car is if traffic is congested, otherwise you Frogger your way across traffic. The first time I crossed the street here it was across a multi-lane roundabout to see what the Fuente Osmeña statue looked like. You don’t just look both ways before crossing the street here. Your head is constantly on a swivel as you inch your way across in font of motorbikes, cars, and jeepneys, sometimes, stopping in the middle of the road waiting on traffic. Just watch when I return to the states that this method of crossing the street has become a habit. I have a suspicion it will.

From somewhere outside my apartment Journey’s “Separate Ways” is playing loud enough that I don’t hear the rooster that crows throughout the day or the church bells I hear every morning. Urban Sprawl is intermittent with fires, last Friday we could see a cloud of black smoke that turned out to be over one hundred and fifty homes being leveled by in Barangay Mambaling (a neighborhood about 5 kilometers from work), in another part of the city. “Fires are common here,” several people at work told me as I looked on in awe.

I sometimes walk out of work or my building in any direction and am swarmed by beggars- mothers and children who pull at my shirt sleeve or dress hem asking for money with hands out and palms turned up or shaking cups at me that rattle with a lone peso. Whether it was “Santa” or “Santo” (saint), I didn’t have time to decipher as I kept walking.  I found out today at work that it is a fine-able offense to give money to people on the street and that often times the people begging aren’t in as much need as they lead you to believe, but are instead working as part of a scam for a boss.

The world is very different here. For dinner tonight I made Pinoy style sweet spaghetti (think SpaghettiOs sauce with more ketchup and BBQ sauce) and with the local favorite hotdogs. Of all things to be a local staple from American culture, I would not in a million years guessed it to be hotdogs. Food is just another way local life is being put into perspective. It’s something all conversations keep falling back to. And it just proves how much of a focal point food is here. After all, we all have to eat.

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