A BREAKFAST SURPRISE
My culinary voyage of discovery begins on the very first evening of my stay when my Filipino business partner kindly picks me up at the airport. “Are you hungry?” he asks. As a lover of Asian cooking and a newcomer to the Philippines, I can hardly contain my excitement. On the drive into town, he explains how Eastern and Western cuisine meet in perfect harmony in his hometown. As well as regional specialities from the country’s different ethnic groups, some dishes also date back to colonial times. The Spanish brought tapas into the country and then came the Americans with their burgers and hot dogs. Of course, it’s the Filipino specialities that interest me most. The person on the table next to me recommends kinilaw. It’s a raw fish delicacy, marinated in vinegar, with ginger, garlic and chilli. It is served with rice seasoned with garlic. I try both – very agreeable and surprisingly mild for an Asian dish. It dates back to colonial times. My companion gives me a few more tips before we say goodbye for the evening. Filipinos have a very strong street food culture. The street vendors are called turo-turo and you put your own menu together by pointing at the dishes you want to try (the word turo means to point). I’m really keen to taste Filipino mangoes – considered to be the best in the world.
And the next morning I pass on the continental breakfast at the hotel and try a turo-turo. Once I have overcome my initial reticence – I’m not accustomed to gazing into cooking pots and then pointing at what I want – the aroma of garlic rice wafts towards me. There is also fish, sausages, kebabs and pancake rolls – not exactly my typical breakfast! I opt for the pancake rolls, the little sausages and I also discover a pot with eggs. To quench my thirst, I point at the green coconut juice. Delicious! It’s not the sausages that make feel a little queasy – they remind me of Spanish chorizo – it’s my supposed breakfast egg...
I arrive at the morning’s first meeting with beads of sweat on my forehead, feeling somewhat green around the gills. My Filipino business partner is a little concerned for my well-being. “Are you not feeling well?” he asks. “No, I’m fine,” I assure him, but I have to tell him about my street food adventure. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I cracked open what appeared to be a normal breakfast egg: out popped a duck embryo that was almost ready to hatch! Had they sold me a bad egg? My business partner sets the record straight with a grin: balut is a traditional Filipino snack. They are, indeed, almost fully incubated ducks eggs that are cooked for 20 to 30 minutes. You are meant to slurp the liquid from the egg first and then eat the solid part. But I didn’t need to worry too much – in the Philippines it’s not considered impolite to leave some food uneaten!