The Grumbling Gourmet

I love to cook and I love to try new recipes from different cultures and countries. Learning about these different cuisines is fun and the pièce de résistance is making something that doesn’t make anyone turn green and double over. Of course I know that my endeavors may not taste authentic especially since I usually have trouble obtaining spices or ingredients you just can’t find in my gastronomically challenged area. Nothing gets in the way of my trying to make tasty things, however.

Until recently I kept myself busy with Indian, Pakistani, Spanish, Mexican and whatever other dishes caught my attention. Food from the Southwestern region of the U.S. is also great and might as well be foreign here (unless you count Taco Bell as food). Even with that track record I never thought that I’d be making dishes from a place that a year ago barely registered on my cooking radar.

This all goes back to what some friends of mine call “that Philippines thing you have” with a bit of befuddled amusement. What they refer to is that through my hobby of using and collecting fountain pens I’ve made friends with a number of Filipinos who have shared (or have been prompted by my incessant questions) a litany of information on their culture and food. Armed with this I usually spit out facts at a rapid fire pace when anyone gets snarky about me knowing people on the other side of the planet. “Did you know we were at war with the Filipino people and were de facto colonial rulers?” “There are over 7100 islands in that nation.” “Manila is both a city and a metro area made up of a number of cities with over 11 million people. It’s the 11th largest metropolitan area in the world and one of the most densely populated.” “Yes, they speak English there but also Tagalog and a number of other regional languages.” By the time I get to that point everyone is usually politely excusing themselves before being bored to death and leave me in peace.

Nonetheless when presented with a new culture or place I always go for the food. I learned early on that a food called adobo in the Philippines is not the Hispanic dry seasoning or tomato based sauce we are used to here. Over there it is a vinegary stew with pork, fish, or chicken as the meat component. So I looked up some recipes and discovered one thing after another about cooking Filipino staples. For example: Everything has a name I can’t remember. I have trouble remembering what things in Spanish are called and I’m a lot more familiar with that language. Additionally there are a lot of vegetables I’ve never heard of which pop up on ingredient lists. Bitter melon? Can I use any melon since I’m a bitter man? Using authentic cane or coconut vinegar when cooking this stuff really helps the flavor. See? You got one real tip out of this and you thought you were wasting your time.

The best part is  that I like the dishes I’ve cooked a great deal. It took me two tries (and the aforementioned vinegar) to get the adobe to taste decent so there is a learning curve. Liver is something I seem in the minority enjoying in these parts so finding it in dishes such as menudo (not the same stuff we are used to here redux) and caldereta put a smile on my face (arteries say “no comment”.) I made a sugar free version of a baked meringue dessert called brazo de mercedes as well. Afritada and arroz a la cubana I’ve made with no regrets but major problems with getting up after eating.

What made this all possible was a few more of those kind presents that I accumulate from people who for no known reason send them to me. Yay for cookbooks directly from the Philippines! It is hard not to be incredibly grateful for such wonderful food enablers.

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Two indispensable cookbooks from Leigh.

If there ever was a contest for the person who has put up with my curiosity for the longest time then the lovely and mega-talented Leigh would have been crowned Miss Answer Stupid Questions 2008 and 2009. She was the first to generously share her store of knowledge to satiate my many inquiries about her country. She also told me what adobo was then sent me a whole book of adobo recipes! Yep, there are a lot of variations. I’m making my next recipe (embutido) from the other cookbook pictured, which covers a wide swath of Filipino cuisine.  It’s another wonderful resource Leigh sent.

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Hazel supplied this incredible book on food and society in the Phils.

My friend Hazel is another pug owner, avid fountain pen user and art collector but also a witty cultural resource.  The book she sent me is an amazing amalgam of history, society, food, life, and more. It’s a fascinating book that really gives a feel for the way people lived in many regions of the Philippines. It also has more words that I don’t understand than a physics textbook. Still, there are some recipes included that I’m eyeing even if I have no idea what some of the ingredients are.

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This beautiful book was Jenny's doing.

The item pictured last isn’t a cookbook but it’s a book I love. This is a pictorial panoply of the Philippines which has helped me visualized much of the beauty there. Taking the time to find and send this to me for no reason other than the fact I was curious is another example of unconditional giving I certainly don’t deserve. Jenny, who sent this, is yet another incredibly sweet person and I normally never, ever say that about anyone since I’m a curmudgeon and try to dislike everyone. I wish I could end here but this book had greetings and signatures in it from other folks I know there. Made me have to walk outside to regain my grumpy demeanor.

The first thing I say about my experience with those I know in the Philippines if asked (and before I get to the stuff intended to bore them away) is “they are way, way too nice.” I hate to say anything so hackneyed as “I live a richer life because I know them” but it certainly is true I eat richer food now. Oh, there’s lots of liver in many things I’ve made. Did I mention that?


Here’s the embutido I made. I certainly loved making and eating it.

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  1. September 17, 2009, 6:32 am

    You made brazo de mercedes? *enthusiastic applause*

  2. TAO
    September 17, 2009, 6:57 am

    Mona: Yes I did make brazo de mercedes and in sugar free form. I was rather proud of myself, LOL! I shared it with friends and everyone liked it a lot. Writing about it here makes me wish I had some right now (he says as he is formulating a plan to make it again soon). I had a picture of it but I can’t find it now. Darn!!

  3. September 17, 2009, 7:08 am

    I hope your embutido is equally successful 🙂 Lots of people make it toward Christmastime. Some people serve it with gravy, some don’t, but it’s really good as a main course or a side dish or a snack with bread and some salad on the side. Oh no. Talking about it made me hungry. *sneaks off*

  4. TAO
    September 17, 2009, 7:27 am

    Mona: Thanks for the food well wishes. I’m already sure it will be good since I prepped the meat last night for it. 😀 I hope you found some food.

  5. September 20, 2009, 6:17 pm

    tom, you’re incredible! 🙂 the embutido photo you sent looked so delicious. what’s next on your list?

  6. TAO
    September 20, 2009, 7:20 pm

    Clem: Thanks for the compliment on the dish I made. It tasted very good too. I don’t know what I’ll make next. I’m always open to suggestions. LOL!

  7. September 24, 2009, 8:30 pm

    tom, i know what you can try next: TINOLA!!! …or… you have tried that already?

  8. TAO
    September 24, 2009, 8:54 pm

    Clem: I’ve not tried it and I’ll take a look. Thanks!

  9. JennyO
    October 27, 2009, 7:51 am

    Love this post! Congrats on the embutido and other dishes you’ve made before and since. And sugar-free Brazo?! Whoa, that’s culinary superpowers. The embutido looks yummy! Yay! :))

  10. TAO
    October 27, 2009, 6:07 pm

    Jenny: Thanks for the kind words.

  11. Beth
    November 1, 2009, 10:57 pm

    I love this post. You have a great sense of humour.
    I’m interested in food too and, living in New Zealand, it can be very difficult to get ingredients here. The internet is a great source for suggesting acceptable and available alternative ingredients.

  12. TAO
    November 1, 2009, 11:10 pm

    Beth: Thanks for the compliment but I’m not sure if I’m funny or just odd. New Zealand is somewhere I’ve alway wished to visit (however, I admit there are a lot of places I’d like to visit.) The hardest thing is finding vegetables and fruits here from far away places. I doubt that will ever change so I just have to cope.

  13. November 7, 2009, 4:46 pm

    Happy to have found a foodie post from you Tom! although,I’m a bit disappointed as I was hoping to find a link of your food blog.Please tell me,if you have any? or if you are planning to launch one soon? 😉

    I’m a foodie person myself so I’m totally with you when it comes to nam nam food.Your embutido looks perfect! I’ve been drooling for it since I saw it in FB.It has been an ages since the last I’ve tasted embutido. Will surely make one to our next potluck party.I’m tired of spring rolls for now lol

    I think the queries that has been roaming in my brain lately has just answered appropriately in this post.Thanks!

  14. TAO
    November 7, 2009, 5:04 pm

    Cheh: I’m certainly not skilled enough for a food blog! There are so many good ones out there I’d never even consider it. Thanks for the compliment on the embutido and I’m glad it gave you the idea to makes some. It was one of the most interesting things I’ve cooked in a while. I hope you don’t have problems finding what you need for it in Deutschland. Oh, just made some adobo last night so I am still at it.