Jill: We’ve mentioned that the best food we had in the Philippines didn’t come from restaurants, but from homes. As I remember our April journey (almost six months later), one of the meals that stood out as incredible came from the kitchen of Bethany’s dear friends, Ellen and Verna in La Union province, south of Baguio City.
Maya: After the most terrifying bus ride I’ve ever experienced—I’m no stranger to this kind of thing, remember, but I really thought we might die en route—we arrived in the tiny town of Caba with appetites whetted. We only spent one day there, but be forewarned: It was such a full day that it’s going to take us several posts to describe it.
Jill: Bethany’s friends graciously opened up their home to us; they greeted us with a feast (one we’ve documented well) and slept on the floor so that we, their guests, had mattresses for the evening. They became mother hens, shoving food at us, offering to do our laundry and getting flustered should we try to lift even a finger to help.
Maya: I don’t usually do so well with being spoiled like that—I have guilt issues—but these women were more stubborn than I am. We had no choice but to give in.
Jill: We found that although most people spoke English in the Philippines, they stress their words differently than we do, which at first confused us, but quickly made all of us laugh. In my warm memories, we didn’t stop laughing at all that day. What is essentially “Have a seat and eat some food,” comes across as, “You SIT. You eat NOW.” Our hostesses were very commanding in their hospitality.
Maya: To be honest, when the meal is as good as this one was, it’s not a hardship to obey.
Maya: As we mentioned, our vegetable intake was negligible during our time in the Philippines, which made this mildly flavored chop suey even more special. I couldn’t get enough of the bok choy-like leafy green stuff in the mix.
Jill: Next, the squid. I have to admit that at first I was a little wary about biting down on something that still had its eyeballs attached, but I didn’t want to refuse their hospitality. (At this point, I didn’t know that I’d already consumed pigs brain, nor did I realize that pigs blood was on the menu for dinner; fresh squid was the Kraft Dinner of my culinary challenges.) I still remember that first bite. Nothing like the rubbery previously-frozen squid of the midwest, each bite was filled with tender meat that almost melted into its stuffing of tomatoes and onions. I liked it so much, I went for a second. (Though I did manage to discard the eyeballs before swallowing.)
Maya: To be honest, I was so busy inhaling that I didn’t even notice the eyes until after I’d finished my first skewer and Jill mentioned them. That’s when the lightbulb came on—I did recall one supremely chewy bite in there. For my second round, I made sure to put my knife to good use before digging back in. I doused each bite with the accompanying soy-vinegar-garlic sauce, and especially enjoyed the char on the tentacles.
Jill: Rice. The standard of any Filipino meal. Whenever either of us left rice on our plate, we were accused of not eating enough. Never, in my experiences in the United States (especially with Maya) am I accused of not eating enough.
Maya: I have to admit, I kind of loved it. It’s not often that I hear that my appetite is insufficient, but as I’m not much of a rice eater, my plate was often less full than it usually is. Talk about justification for my greed.
Maya: Similar to an escoveitch without the heat, the fish (mackerel, maybe?) was secondary, for me, to the ginger-and-garlic-spiked broth and shredded carrots. I spooned both over my (small) portion of rice, but I would’ve been happy to eat it alone as well.
Jill: The meal lingered on as more dishes appeared at the table. Incredibly ripe mangoes are a mainstay at any Filipino feast. We experienced some that were so sweet, we actually wondered if sugar had been added to them. These were wonderful and a perfect end to the meal.
Maya: It was a finale that we would experience throughout our trip, but not one that ever got old. You could actually see little beads of natural sugar on the surface of the fruit.
Jill: Just when we thought we couldn’t eat any more (again, a feat for Maya and me), we were presented with a salad of young coconut, sweetened condensed milk and fruit.
Maya: Amid all of the dessert’s sweetness, there was a bite or two of something salty; the secret, we soon learned, was a local delicacy: Kraft cheese from a can. Who knew there was such a thing? And, also, that it would go so well with coconut and papaya?
Maya: We worked off our meal with a leisurely stroll around the property—this bird, though not of the maya persuasion, was one of the highlights. Though a nap was truly in order, there was no rest time built into our busy schedule. We’d been going since early that morning, but the day was only beginning.