Upon first meeting me, most people would never guess just how exotic my food resume is at my young age. My family’s love for travel has allowed me to open my mind (and my tastebuds) to interesting food choices that I would have otherwise balked at.
Last summer, I traveled to the Philippines for a vacation. First stop was in Laguna, a rural but progressive town half an hour south of Manila. It is known for its fresh produce, meat, and dairy. Here, I had my first taste of Carabao milk. A carabao is a black water buffalo with large horns that is native to Southeast Asia. As a beast of burden, it also provides rich, creamy milk. I have never tasted such naturally sweet milk! It was thick and velvety and very easy to drink, despite being only half-pasteurized.
My next stop was my mother’s hometown, Angeles City, formerly home to the now defunct Clark military base. I never quite understood why my grandfather always told me me not to wear tank tops or shorts in public until the day my cousins and I took the bus to go to town, where people kept staring at me. I later realized that sadly, the Phillipines still holds a very colonial mentality, wherein the European standard of beauty was preferred. Because I have Western physical features, I attracted a lot of attention, though not necessarily in a good way. But I digress—my reason for braving the public transportation system? The Holy Grail of food destinations: Aling Lucing’s Sisig—a makeshift eatery situated over railroad tracks that offers the most out of this world gustatory experience: Sisig. This delicacy is pig snout roasted to a sinful crispiness, chopped, mixed with vinegar, diced onions and peppers, served on a sizzling plate. Cholesterol be forgotten; this was pure heaven!
The following week I flew to Boracay, an island in the southern part of the country. It is home to the most amazing sunset I’ve ever seen—not only for its beauty but also the ambiance. People flock to the beach in the midst of music, dancing, and bonfire to watch the sun set every evening. Its beaches have waters which, if visited at the right time of year, were as clear and calm as a swimming pool. It was here in Boracay where I tried the infamous balut. In theory, balut could be the most disgusting food in the world—a partially developed duck embryo, steamed or boiled in its shell. But once I tasted the broth, I immediately understood just why people would even consider putting this seemingly abominable substance in their mouths. It is an intoxicating elixir, made even more perfect with a pinch of salt.
My mother was worried to death that I would get sick from all the peculiar food I tried. Understandably so, because some of it was risky. But sometimes life is about taking chances. Sometimes it’s about coloring outside of the lines to make it a masterpiece. Traveling does this. It makes you want to try things you might never have considered. And it makes you appreciate the things that you do have to be thankful for. It’s easy to take the almost sterile food environment of the U.S. for granted. When I return home, I can crave a big juicy Carl’s Jr. Burger and not have to worry about it meeting health and sanitation standards. For that I’m grateful and content—until wanderlust calls my name again with the promise of succulent, seductive food from far, far away.
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