Local Eats

The cotton candy here is not quite finished. When done, it’s massive, several times larger than your head. They also serve some delicious schwarmas, a pork sandwich with an aioli sauce to die for, some tacos that are not worth of the name, and cheese sticks which are greasy but amazingly delicious.  On wednesdays you can get two orders of the cheese sticks for the price of one.  They are kind of pricey compared to other fare.  They offer great wifi (most places don’t have it) and the decor is trendy and kind of LA or Hollywood.  It’s within walking distance from the house.  Our language teacher is kind of addicted to the Mozzarella sticks now that she’s tasted them.

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All this and more for less than 8 dollars a day

Having a katabang (helper) is marvelous, I am not going to pretend otherwise.  But also, there are these little social implications and requirements and while it does free me up from cooking or dishes the days she is here (sort of, I still do breakfast dishes before she gets here because it’s a habit I cannot shake but hope to soon), it doesn’t exactly free one to do whatever one wants.

I am blessed to have had this current one recommended to me by friends and former missionaries here, so I know she’s reliable and I can leave the house while she’s here.  But a lot of people can’t.   Petty theft is a real problem here, and sometimes not so petty.  So lots of times, people who have a helper come one or two days a week cannot leave the house on those days until they are sure of their help, or until they are sure their valuables are inaccessible.  So I am more fortunate because I totally can leave.

I cannot leave the Cherub however because of her allergies.  I have explained them before, but corn and wheat are complicated when there is a language barrier and keeping the Cherub out of food is also difficult when there is a cultural practice of indulging children with snacks and goodies.

When you have a helper, you feel kind of awkward about having a jammy day.  Maybe that wears off when you become accustomed to it, or if you grow up with it.  But I feel funny about just wearing my pajamas and slouching all day when she’s here (that’s not all a bad thing, of course).  In the morning I brush my hair with a comb instead of my fingers, and I put it up in a ponytail and put real clothes on instead of the pink sleeping shorts with the owl pattern and a rubberband knotting one side of the waist to tighten it up (read keep them on, because I’ve lost weight since we got here and also because the elastic is shot but mostly because the elastic is shot), and an old white cotton t-shirt from the Men’s oversize department of Walmart.  I read books and ostentatiously take notes, and I do my Spanish and Korean lessons aloud instead of in my head, and also use the time to sew up the rips that show up in the seams of our pillow cases and pillows and clothes purchased here because they are flimsy and the tropical sun is hard on them.  There is always something to sew.

I have to provide a snack twice a day as well as food she’ll eat for lunch, which means I really need to have rice around even though I don’t want it for lunch every day.  She’ll cook, I don’t have to do that, but we’re still feeling our way around what she can make and what she thinks we’ll eat.  I have asked her several times what else she can cook, and the menu has not been terribly varied, and then she found out this week that I like chicken liver afritada very much, and she was shocked.  Hopefully, that was a bit of a break-through.   Also, when I say food she’ll eat, I don’t mean she turns up her nose and says “I don’t like that.”  But you know, I  can tell, and she’s working hard and food is important and I don’t want to give her food that is going to leave her feeling unsatiated and unhappy and even a bit gaggy (refried bean burritoes were not a hit with the previous gal).  And, keep in mind, it’s not really comfortable for her if I ask, “Tell me what you want and I’ll have it around.” There are other ways around this.

For example, during a more casual conversation I could talk about my favourite food since I’ve been here, and then I could ask her what her favourite foods are, and go about it in that more oblique manner. I could ask what our mutual friends, the family she used to work for, liked to eat and figure things out from there.   It’s hard.  I’m known as blunt and tactless among Americans, so you can imagine how much of a bull in a China shop I am here.

I do sometimes feel like a Victorian Lady of the House.   She comes and we exchange good mornings, and I explain what I thought we’d have for lunch.  At around ten I set out the first meryenda or snack.  At noon or 12;30 lunch is ready whether I want to eat it or not.  At around 2 there’s a second meryenda or snack, although she does not often take that one.  She washes dishes and  starts dinner, while I sit at the table and visit with her a bit about how her week has been, food, and I ask questions about my Visaya homework and she laughs gently as I try to figure out how to get the accent right.   She finishes dinner and leaves it on the stovetop, turning the gas off.  I’ll reheat it when we’re ready to eat, which is surprisingly early here.  She asks if I want her to start some rice.

She goes to the hall bathroom and I think does a quick spray with the cold shower nozzle (there’s no hot water heater for any water but the master bedroom bathroom), and changes her clothes.   We sit down and review accounts. She goes shopping for us at the palengke (pah ling key, with the g almost not heard), the open market in the morning before she comes to the house.  She gets better prices than we do, and I really cannot take the Cherub there.  Trust me.  Cannot be done. I couldn’t shop there and shepherd her at the same time, and teh floor is dirt and mud and vegetable or fruit scraps and very slippery in places.  So she goes over the list I gave her previously, notes prices, figures out my change, or conversely, what I owe her, and passes me the list.  I look it over and pretend I know what I am doing and then I say ok if she owes me, and she counts out the change, or I say, “So, I owe you 28 pesos?” and she confirms or explains it if I am wrong, and I pay her.
Next, I hand her the shopping list that I have already written, and she looks it over and asks for clarification if needed- usually on weight, as in do I want a whole kg, or half, or what of something, and sometimes my spelling, because I try to write as much as I can in Visaya.

Spelling- onions in Spanish are cebollas and in Visaya it sounds exactly the same.  So I heard it and have been saying cebollas for onions for months.  The thing is, I usually had to say it because I would forget to write it down.  She would have the list and the pen and as she was going over it, I would add, “Oh, and cebollas, I forgot.  4 cebollas, pulong cebollas (red onions).  One day I remembered in time and wrote them down.  Oh, my.  The confusion.

In Visaya it sounds like the spanish word, but it is spelled sibuyas, and it’s sibuyas  whether you have one or ten (the pluralizer is another word you add before the word, so more than one is mga sibuyas) .  Also, I may still be spelling it wrong.  The i and e aren’t all that different in sound, and the o and u often sound the same to me as well, but this is still an improvement over a word that looks like cab-bol- lass at best.

She will also look it over and tell me if something on the list is out of season, or ask if I want some particular fruit or vegetable newly in season, or if I would like to try some fish this week.   She will also tell me we are nearly out of laundry soap or I need more tomato sauce if she is to make afritada again, or I need fresh garlic (she doesn’t like to use the dried stuff).  Those are things I buy at a regular grocery store.

Anyway, we review the lists, I pay her and make sure she knows I have written down I much I paid her.  I thought this was kind of rude, but our language teacher tells me no, it is reassuring. It tells her we take the money seriously, we are not careless with our money , and that we are not going to have an argument someday where I accuse her of of claiming I’ve given her 20 dollars (1,000 pesos) when really I only gave her ten dollars (500 pesos).  So I write it all down in a little notebook for that purpose which I now have misplaced and have to scramble to find.

And at last, she gets up to leave and we say our thank-yous and good-byes and she steps out to the patio to put on her shoes and I go to the door and wave good-bye and close the door and I am at once truly thankful and delighted that my floors and dishes and bathroom and laundry are clean, and very likely the windows as well, and maybe even my fans, and on alternate weeks my patio, and supper is made (at least the main dish and the rice), and I sink down to the barely-cooler-than-the-ambient-temperature-of-a-sauna-tile floor (because she doesn’t like the air conditioning on, so I am sweating and have been for at least the last hour) and along with my gratitude and delight, I am also relieved and I absorb the silence and solitude into my very introverted soul,  combining both deep gratitude and deep relief in the same.  I may also stretch out a languid foot to the fan and turn it in my direction as I stretch out on the floor and try not to dissolve into a salty puddle in this heat.


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Bamboo stand

The trees here are as big around as my arm.  Which is amazing when you consider that bamboo isn’t a tree, right? It’s supposed to be a kind of grass.

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These are the brooms preferred by our housekeeper.  They are about as short as they look.  The one on the left, or a newer version of same, is preferred by most of our Filipino guests who visit and want to sweep something their child spilled.  I have two American style brooms, one a mistake and too short to use, not must taller than the ones above. There are a couple Filipino friends who will use the shorter of the two, but nobody wants to use the tallest.This is my outside, or ‘dirty kitchen’ as they call it here.  When you buy ice-cream from a guy on a bike with a cart and his own ice-cream maker, that’s called dirty ice-cream.  What I have is the counters you see and the sink, and a light. There’s no outlet.  The cupboards underneath kind of give me the shudders and I don’t store anything in them, and if the helper does, I don’t know about it.  The grill is also back here, as well as part of the clothesline, and, in fact, my washing machine. There is no dryer.  Washing machines are nearly always outside, provided you even have one.  And some of them must be rather different from my experience.  Long story, we hired a new helper to come on Fridays, mostly because he’s a young man from church who needed a job and he had helped us out quite a bit previously so we kind of have an obligation to help him back.  Anyway, he had previously been a helper at another house, a much larger one, he tells me.  But he thought to use the washing he had to fill it with buckets of water from the sink.  He was amazed that it fills itself.  he doesn’t like it, though.  He thinks it takes too long and he would rather use it to wash the clothes up to the rinse cycle and then he wants to pull them out, wring them by hand and hang them to dry.  He asked two weeks in a row.  I finally let him.  The clothes took almost two days and a night to dry.  In his defense, there was rain so half of the time they had to be hung on the racks in our covered and screened inside patio (I guess our other patio is more of a courtyard?) where we get no breeze and they always take longer to dry there.

Anyway- the broom to the right is made of coconut branches.  I am not sure what it’s for.  The Monday and Wednesday helper doesn’t use it inside.  Maybe it scrapes loose dirt off the patio, or is used for knocking down cobwebs and bagworms off the fence, but I don’t know.  I could watch, but she is kind of shy about working while I watch (except for cooking or dishes, she doesn’t seem to mind me hanging around while she does those), and I admit it does feel awkward.  So while she’s here, I kind of rotate from one room to another so I am not underfoot, or I sit outside in the inner patio with the fan on.  Although, last Wednesday I apparently got my schedule off because she chased me back inside because she needed to wash the patio floor.  I did catch a glimpse of her doing this once, and it was a wonder.  After sweeping very thoroughly she lightly sprayed it with the hose, and then flung a dry rag to the floor and stepped onto it and, literally, danced across the floor, humming to herself.  When she finished, she took a quick glance around to see that she’d not missed a spot, and with a flourish, grabbed the rag with her toes and tossed it up *behind* her, where she turned and caught it in the air.

the Friday helper wouldn’t mind if I followed along and chatted.  He sings hymns as he works and loves it when I join in, and he doesn’t mind an audience at all.  He also doesn’t cook and he’s not as good at choosing fruits at the market as our Monday, Wednesday helper.   He loves the neighborhood children, rascals that they are, and he will gather them together and sing and tell them Bible stories for an hour, which we also think is worth paying him for.


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Signs of company

One of the guests came early and grilled the fish on our grill out on the patio. Note the two bowls of rice, which must appear at every meal.

I figured I’d just serve guests family style- leaving food in the kitchen area, but they won’t have it, our Filipino guests.  It’s interesting.  I tried this two or three times, and every time one of the adults will say something under his breath to one of the teens and the teen goes to the kitchen area and scoops out rice from the rice cooker onto a plate or into a big bowl and brings it back to the table. I quite trying.  When in Rome…

The green spinach looking vegetable at the very bottom is, I think, called Aligbati, or aligobati. I forget. It grows in my backyard.  While they were grilling the first several guests watched and noticed how healthy and full my aligobati plot is.  I said what.  I’ve paid a neighbor to pull them.  They are edible and very healthy.  You pull up a stem, pull off the leaves, and you can use about the last three or four tender inches of stem, too, and boil them briefly, then mix with soy sauce and lemon juice or calamansi.  You can also use a fish sauce which I did nto have. One of the women cooked some up on the spot to show me what to do.  It’s like spinach but without any bitterness at all.


A pile of shoes in front of my door makes me very happy.

Half the guests came on the motor bike form of public conveyance (motorcycle with a cab which could hold three Americans comfortably, five Americans who like each other pretty comfortably, or ten Filipinos if that’s what is needed), or they drove their own motorbikes. I do have friends here who own cars (always large, diesel powered heavy duty things that carry several passengers and loads of cargo), but most of them walk or motorbike it.  Then they need a place for the helmets, which was almost as cool as the pile of shoes.

Clean dishes.  Our Filipino guests generally wash dishes for us while we’re still eating.

Various random observations on meals:

In addition to rice at every meal (McDonalds’ comes with rice) , here they generally eat with a large spoon and a fork.  Butter knives are so seldom used that my house help won’t put butter knives with the other silverware (I use a canning jar) but puts it into the crock that holds stirring spoons, whisks, and spatulas.

They called the cooked aligbati a salad.  Most of the food here is hot. Cold main dishes or main dish salads don’t really seem to be a thing, but maybe I just haven’t gotten out enough. There is a cold dish called kinilaw that’s pretty good when done right.  It’s diced fish which is  cold ‘cooked’ by soaking in a vinegar sauce and then cucumbers and onions are added.  We’ve had three or four places.  If the fish is still pink, we don’t love it.  There’s a small restaurant, carry out place near the school and my husband orders their kinlaw. One of the Jeepney drivers who eats there all the time told him she makes the best kinlaw in the city and we believe it.  So good- it’s like a relish, not fishy at all.

The company we had was a group for church for a Bible study and singing.  We don’t get invited a lot of places, but our language teacher says it is because Filipinos are shy and embarrassed to show their living conditions to Americans.  I know that a couple of our guests have raved about my kitchen and said they wished they had it.


Not pictured: a wire rack on the wall to the left of the picture (behind me when I wash dishes) for a pantry and extra shelving, the plastic folding table that holds my two burner stove, and the small refrigerator.  The counter now holds my blender, electric water heater, tiny toaster oven, and rice cooker and it’s full.

I have been invited over to another friend’s house a couple times, but she lives in one of the gate communities and she has a really, really nice house.

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