21 August 2008

A Matter of Taste by Matthew Sutherland

Recently, I have read an email about a British expat's take on Filipino culture. The article in the said email is actually two articles joined together so I tried to dig out the original articles in the internet. It turned out that these articles are in many Filipino blogsites, particularly The Chronicles of Ramny.

Matthew Sutherland

I have now been in this country for over six years, and consider myself in most respects well-assimilated. However, there is one key step on the road to full assimilation which I have yet to take, and that’s to eat BALUT. The day any of you sees me eating balut, please call immigration and ask them to issue me a Filipino passport. Because at that point there will be no turning back!

BALUT, for those still blissfully ignorant non-Pinoys out there, is a fertilized duck egg. It is commonly sold with salt in a piece of newspaper, much like English fish and chips, by street vendors usually after dark, presumably so you can’t see how gross it is. It’s meant to be an aphrodisiac, although I can’t imagine anything more likely to dispel sexual desire than crunching on a partially-formed baby duck swimming in noxious fluid. The embryo in the egg comes in varying stages of development, but basically it is not considered macho to eat one without fully discernable feathers, beak, and claws. Some say these crunchy bits are the best. Other prefer just to drink the so-called ‘soup’, the vile, pungent liquid that surrounds the aforementioned feathery fetus… excuse me, I have to go and throw up now. I’ll be back in a minute.

Food dominates the life of the Filipinos, People here just love to eat at least eight times a day. These eight official meals are called, in order: breakfast, snacks, lunch, merienda, pica-pica, pulutan, dinner and no-one-saw-me-take-that-cookie-from-the-fridge-so-it-doesn’t-count. The short gaps in between these mealtimes are spent eating Sky Flakes from the open packet that sits on every desktop. You’re never far from food in the Philippines. If you doubt this, next time you’re driving home from work, try this game. See how long you can drive without seeing food and I don’t mean a distant restaurant, or a picture of food, I mean a man on the sidewalk frying fish balls or a man walking through the traffic selling nuts or candy. I bet it’s less than one minute.

Here are some other things I’ve noticed about food in the Philippines. Firstly, a meal is not a meal without rice – even breakfast. In the UK, I could go a whole year without eating rice. Second, it’s impossible to drink without eating. A bottle of San Miguel just isn’t the same without gambas or beef tapa. Third, no one ventures more than two paces from their house without baon and a container of something cold to drink. You might as well ask a Filipino to leave home without his pants on. And lastly, where I come from, you eat with a knife and fork. Here, you eat with a spoon and fork.

You try eating rice swimming in fish sauce with a knife. One really nice thing about Filipino food culture is that people always ask you to SHARE their food. In my office, if you catch anyone attacking their baon, they will always go, “sir KAIN TAYO!” (“Let’s eat!”) This confused me, until I realized that they didn’t actually expect me to sit down and start munching on their boneless bangus. In fact, the polite response is something like, “No thanks! I just ate!”. But the principle is sound – if you have food on your plate, you are expected to share it, however hungry you are, with those who may be even hungrier, I think that’s great. In fact, this is frequently even taken one step further, Many Filipinos use “Have you eaten yet?” (“Kumain ka na?”) as a general greeting, irrespective of time of day or location.

Some foreigners think Filipino food is fairly dull compared to other Asian cuisines. Actually lots of it is very good: Spicy dishes like Bicol Express (strange, a dish named after a train); anything cooked with coconut milk; anything KINILAW; and anything ADOBO. And it’s hard to beat the sheer wanton, cholesterolic frenzy of a good old-fashioned LECHON de leche feast. Dig a pit, light a fire, add 50 pounds of animal fat on a stick, and cook until crisp. Mmm, mmm… you can actually feel your arteries constricting with each successive mouthful.I also share one key Pinoy trait —a sweet tooth!! I am thus the only foreigner I know who does not complain about sweet bread, sweet burgers, sweet spaghetti, sweet banana ketchup, and so on. I am a man who likes to put jam on his pizza. Try it! It’s the weird food you want to avoid. In addition to duck fetus in the half-shell, items to avoid in the Philippines include pig’s blood soup (DINUGUAN); bull’s testicle soup, the strangely-named “SOUP NUMBER FIVE” (I dread to think what numbers one to four are); and the ubiquitous, stinky shrimp paste, BAGOONG, and it’s equally stinky sister, PATIS. Filipinos are so addicted to these latter items that they will even risk arrest or deportation trying to smuggle them into countries like Australia and the USA, which wisely ban the importation of items you can smell from more than 100 paces. Then there’s the small matter of the blue ice cream. I have never been able to get my brain around eating blue food; the ubiquitous UBE leaves ube cold. And lastly on the subject of weird food, beware: that KALDERETANG KAMBING (goat) could well be KALDERETANG ASO (dog)…

The Filipino, of course, has a well-developed sense of food. Here’s a typical Pinoy food joke: “I’m on a seafood diet.” “What’s a seafood diet?” “When I see food, I eat it!” Filipinos also eat strange bits of animals — the feet, the head, the guts, etc., usually barbecued on a stick. These have been given witty names, like “ADIDAS” (chicken’s feet); “KURBATA” (either just chicken’s neck, or “neck and thigh” as in “neck-tie”; “WALKMAN” (pigs ears); “PAL” (chicken wings); “HELMET” (chicken head); “IUD” (chicken intestines), and BETAMAX” (video-cassette-like blocks of animal blood).

Yum, yum. Bon appetit.

Source: The Chronicles of Ramny blog


  1. Bob Ong included that article in one of his books which is Bakit Baligtad Magbasa ng Libro ang mga Pilipino. Have you read that book? It was published in 2002, but there are still copies in bookstores.

    There was also someone who made an article to contradict the opinion of Matthew about Pinoy food.

  2. carla llarenas13 July 2010 at 04:17

    after i have read bob ong's "bakit bliktad magbasa ng libro ang mga pilipino" wherein he included this article, i started looking for this white guy who hates balut and other filipino food..mas mabaho at malansa ka pa sa balut noh!

  3. if you're that disgusted...then why are you still here in the Philippines??? why dont you leave and just go back to your own country?!
    you are even more disgusting than all the things you've been saying!!

  4. how dare you to degrade the filipinos? especially our foods? huh..nagsalita ka.. hoy pinagmamalaki namin ang balut.. mas mabaho at mas malansa pa yang ugali mo sa balut!

  5. why are you so emotional. you are being very ignorant, no one is trying to attack pinoys heere.
    there's no need to be defensive, he is simply saying that pinoy cuisine is different from what he is used to, and that is ok.

    tell me one thing that he lied about.

  6. dont you know the meaning of culture when it comes to food?! duh?! .. im pretty sure that there are also foods in your area wich we will NOT SURELY like!

  7. I strongly believe that Matthew Sutherland has never been to the US.
    Pickled pig feet is a staple loved so much here especially by black African Americans right in the heart of Los Angeles, CA! Louisiana serves "gator tots" or alligator tots, frog legs, snails and river rats! Some parts of Midwest or the "heartland" serves also alligators, boars/pigs, rabbits and rattle snakes!Not to mention road kills - Armadillos and all! And America is not a third world country?!? Now, don't let me get started with theUK! Rabbit lovers! Hmmmpppp! I am a Filipina executive chef currently living in the US, who has been cooking dishes in some of the most remote areas of different countries in different continents of the world! Such ignorance and lack of knowledge of the cultures of the world!

  8. Most of you commentators here are exihibiting another Filipino trait - being thin-skinned. Konting mapuna mag aalma na!
    Come on, the author is writing tongue-in-cheek. He's simply expressing his opinion. Kung ayaw ba niya ng balut eh anong magagawa natin? Ako nga sabaw at yung pula lang ang kinakain ko. Pinapasa ko na sa tatay ko yung sisiw. Hehehe.
    He's just telling us what he likes and dislike in our cuisine. It's not an out and out baseless criticism.
    I personally find the article funny. Lighten up mga pare ko.

  9. i read this article in bob ong's bakit baliktad magbasa ng libro ang mga pilipino.this white guy is just expressing his view/opinion, he's not at all degrading our cuisine and culture..chill po, maybe most of just misunderstood his observations. actually, it's funny.

  10. M Sutherland's articles never fail to amuse me, even after all these years. I first read one of his articles about 15 yrs ago. I found it funny then and I still find it funny now. Especially now as I've been living in the UK for the past 9 yrs. I can truly say now I know where he is coming from. He is not anti Fil at all. He just has a wicked sense of humour!

  11. To those who feel offended by M Sutherland, take comfort in the fact that, here in the UK, where M Sutherland was born and bred, breakfast is called 'breakfast' (as is the norm), but lunch is called 'dinner' (if it's a meal) and dinner is called 'tea'! It does my head in!

  12. don't be so offended, he is just telling the facts about some foods here in the philippines

  13. I think he didn't write this to insult us, he's just sharing his experience eating our food, don't be so defensive.

  14. This is not to insult us or any aspect of our culture. Sa title pa lang na "Matter of taste", evident na what one wants to eat depends on one's culture. Well, maybe the tone he used, being sarcastic somehow,gives a negative connotation on what we have read. At least, totoo yung sinabi niya, right?

  15. Ha ha. I actually liked Mr. Sutherland's article. I first read it five years ago, and I laughed then, as I am laughing now. What he wrote paints a picture of Pinoys' uniqueness and creativity when it comes to food, after all, food is our national pastime. I don't take offense, rather I feel thankful I was born a Filipino and can enjoy all the food our culture has created.

    And to Mr. Sutherland, I raise one balut to you... Cheers!:-)

  16. I guess Mr. Sutherland is so rude for writing an article without considering what Pilipinos might feel. He's absolutely insensitive.. For sure he could write that article of his in more polite way..
    i know a guy from London who eats 'balut' and he never vomit every time he eat 'balut'.
    and it's so unethical for you to write that your going to throw up!

  17. I know Mr. Sutherland personally and I don't think he meant to be rude. In fact, he's married to a Filipino. For those who felt angry about this article, they might be glad to know that Mr. Sutherland has left the country many years ago...

  18. Where is Matthew Sutherland now?? Loved his articles, thought they were hilarious!