What The Philippines Can Teach Us All About Food

One of the most exciting things about travel for me is the food.  Getting a taste for the culture, the history and the people.

There are whole shows on this concept (Anthony Bordaine anyone?...Dream job!).

Each time I travel someplace I pick up a new culinary idea, ingredient, or technique.  Experiencing cuisine from all over really opens a whole new world of food.

The Philippines offered simple foods, but their practices around food were far from what we are used to in the US. I bet you will be shocked at what lessons I brought back with me.

The 'Danger Zone' isn’t as important as you think

If you have ever worked in the food service industry you know all about the danger zone.  It’s really drilled into your head.  Basically it’s the temperature that food can start to bread pathogens.  Here’s the thing though; the food I ate the entire time in the Philippines was in the danger zone. The traditional eatery or restaurants are called turo-turo translated to ‘point, point.’

Here’s how it works: large batches of multiple dishes are made in the morning and then displayed on the counter in uncovered, unheated trays all day until it either runs out or they close for the day.  The food literally just sits on the counter.  Then you point (get it?) to what you want and they scoop a bit on a small plate and hand it over.

When I first arrived I thought they would give it a quick stir fry to heat it up, but I was mistaken. Rice and soup were kept heated, and BBQ was cooked fresh but other than that luke warm danger zone food was the norm.

I seriously think all our crazy over concern about the danger zone is just so people don’t get sued, but that’s just my opinion.  Yes people get food poisoning, yes there is such thing as travels diarrhea (which i didn’t get this time!), but those things can happen at home too.  It my be that your digestion isn’t optimal, in addition to being exposed to new bacteria.

It was a bit worrisome at first, but then I realized it wasn’t that big of a deal! All it did was make me really appreciate warm food.

Am I encouraging you to eat ‘danger zone’ food?  No.  All I’m saying there’s no need to be overly paranoid about it.  Remember there is always a possibility of getting sick, but maybe that is a sign you need to look into your digestion.

Pro tip: If it smells weird, looks weird, or has fuzz of any kind growing on it’s bad.  Do not eat.

Don’t be afraid to use the whole animal!

Eating snout to tail is not an option in the Philippines, it’s nutritionally and fiscally a necessity.

Often it was more difficult to find straight muscle meat than offal or organ based dishes.  Liver and intestines were all the rage.  Simmered in soup to being BBQ’d on a stick.  I even got a little adventuresome and had BBQ’d chicken head.

We are so afraid of the organs and odd bits here in the US, but after traveling abroad it seriously seems ridiculous.  Most of the world eats these parts and has been forever.  It’s where a great majority of the nutrients lie.  When did this fear and disgust even start?

The preparation is important to ensure good flavor and since cooking offal may be new to you, the first time you do it it may not be amazing. Try, try again.  Thankfully offal is super cheap.

As with trying anything new sometimes it does take a bit of time to get used to.  When our minds tell us it’s disgusting, most likely it will be.  So go into it with an open mind.  The worst that can happen is you spit it out.

There’s no such thing as kid food

In the US certain foods are marketed for kids and there’s a separate kid menu at every restaurant.  The kid food is junk food lacking nutrients.

Go somewhere else in the world and everyone eats the same stuff.  It’s human food, kids are small humans and they eat what adults do. There’s no differentiation.

I hear laments about how kids won’t eat anything else, but really we as adults set the standard.  What were we feeding them from day 1?  Was it processed junk?  Did we give them kid food and then expect them to like ‘adult’ food?

Kid food is sugar and sugar is addicting so you can’t blame them.

In the Philippines it was normal to see the little ones at the BBQ stand choosing the liver stick or nomming on the chicken intestines.  Which just showed me that kids can like healthy things, even seemingly ‘gross’ things.  It’s all about what they are offered and given.  I highly doubt that American kids are born with a special set of taste buds that only like chicken tenders, mac and cheese or white bread.

So to sum things up.

Nutrition lessons from the Philippines:

  1. No need to freak out if your packed lunch ended up not be refrigerated for a few hours.  If it smells alright and there’s nothing growing on it, it’s most likely alright.
  2. We should stop being afraid of organs and acting like they are garbage.  Offal is food too and actually is more respectful to the animal and cost effective to use it all (not to mention it’s a superfood)
  3. There’s no such thing as kid food.  It’s a modern American invention.  An invention that has made a whole new industry creating more money for the companies at the expense of children’s health.

I realize all of these things will probably be met with resistance.  When things have been ingrained into our upbringing it’s hard to open our mind to another way.  Just give it a thought, without judgement, and allow them all to be possibilities.  I can tell you they are all very, very true.  If you don’t want to take my word for it then it’s time to plan your own trip abroad!