Much of the reason I like many of the food items on the menu this side of the International Dateline (Far East) likely has much to do with my early exposure to Asian foods. Once I arrived in the Western Pacific (see My Enchantment) at the ripe age of 19, I was immediately exposed to the likes of foods I had never even seen before…like rice. Sure I’d heard of Rice-A-Roni, the “San Francisco Treat,” but I grew up surrounded by corn and soybeans in Illinois. Nobody ate rice except the Chinese…so at least we were all led to believe, and anyone that did eat rice could likely be labeled a Commie Pinko Fag (a catchall insult in the 1950’s and early 60’s that could come attached with a beating or dossier; usually said to or about out-of-staters, folks in need of a haircut, or people who were different ~ Urban dictionary).
CHOW HALL #1
My first trials with eating rice was in Navy boot camp. What I learned is it had no taste, just like everything else provided to us to eat at the chow hall. Whether it be oatmeal or hamburgers or steak, it might as well have been mud due to the fact that we were literally required to shovel our food down in short order so we could quickly return to our ranks for more verbal abuse. I can’t remember the food at boot camp really. Non-significant other than it was a necessity of life…basically keeping us alive.
CHOW HALL # 2
When the Navy sent me to Guam, the exposure to rice for most meals continued (now on a daily basis) but this time the big difference was we could eat and savor our meals at our own pace. Filipino and civilian cooks managed and ran many of the Navy’s food facilities back then, and where at our choosing, we could eat three full, hot meals per day. While some guys would always feel the need to escape to the comfort of fast food joints on and off the base, I and others realized the cost effectiveness of eating closer to home, learning to enjoy full course and cheap meals (free!). Because I sacrificed myself to the betterment of eating well-balanced meals, I enjoyed the added benefit of having more money to spend on recreational activities. Today the modern military puts much more effort into designing “warrior nutrition” with better and improved dietary plans for service members. Back in my day, we were treated to just about every delicacy a chow hall cook could conjure up, from Chop Suey to Rice Pilaf, from sauerkraut to exotic cake desserts. Hence my exposure to foods I not only ever heard of, but foods I couldn’t even spell. It wasn’t long before I came to the realization that my Mother’s menu was a rather limited edition of traditional “Americana” foods. Don’t misunderstand me here…I loved my mothers cooking, I just never realized that culinary experiences could be taken to such great heights.
CHOCOLATE MILK ALWAYS!
Not only did the Navy expose us to a world of food, I actually loved most everything they dished out. I was almost never late for a chow hall opening and some of my chow hall mates would chide me from time to time with comments like…”he must have been underfed as a child” or “maybe they didn’t have food where I came from.” Nonetheless, I was like a kid in a candy store (no pun) when it came to trying new foods, not to mention I was always hungry. A great thing was the opportunity to enjoy second helpings with an added and real bonus – Chocolate Milk was always on the menu. I think it was Navy law.
LIFE IN ASIA
Living on Guam provided me with an opportunity everyday…to witness, live in and learn a new culture. Because Guam was “America” in a sense, I could enter the “cultural waters” on my terms and at my own pace. So, I jumped in head first. My
first Chinese restaurant and Mexican restaurants were experienced here. The introduction to the Chamorro cusine…red rice, pancit, lumpia, BBQ ribs, roast pig, keleguen (most were Filipino inspired/Chamorro prepared foods), and a host of other local exotic dishes like coconut crab and seafood and fish delicacies. In addition to
all that food, beer was considered a staple drink at every fiesta. It all made me feel like I was in paradise. Actually, I was. My exposure to these foods came early and today with my filipina wife, I still enjoy many of the foods I’ve been exposed to over all these years.
THE HYBRID MENU
Departing the far east around the middle of my military career, my wife and I settled
in the U.S. where she was exposed to the multitude of culinary delights found across America. She really missed her traditional Filipino foods, as almost ALL Filipinas do when they settle in the west to live. It didn’t take long for her hunter/gatherer instincts to take control and she soon was able to locate distant Filipino food markets with her nose up to 90 miles away. Over the years though, much like I did early in my life, she tried and experienced many different foods. While she initially gravitated towards Chinese foods early (due to some similarities in Asian cooking styles), she eventually evolved into a steak and potato lover. We have completely crossed over our own food galaxies over the years and it has inspired us to concoct a menu that is unlike any other…the Kano/Pinay Hybrid Food Menu. We do use mostly rice as our main staple food and will occasionally substitute that with potatoes. We have taken a blend of Asian and American heritage type dishes and cooking methods and simply cross-bred them. This worked well while living in the U.S. and now that we are living in the Philippines, we have had to make some revisions to the ingredient side of things due to non-availability of some items. We began our lives enjoying opposite foods, and prior to moving back here to live, we had evolved into staple food opposites; I would choose rice over potatoes and her, potatoes over rice. Today, she has assembled a sufficient hybrid menu that keeps us both satisfied. No more separate cooking to satisfy each-owns tastes (which simply is not very cost efficient).
I have met several expats living here in the Philippines who simply will not eat Filipino foods. They demand their western foods and while many western foods are available, it can consume a large part of a budget trying to maintain a western diet as most imported items tend to be expensive. My suggestion is to open your mind to alternative foods. Rice is so plentiful and relatively cheap, and when combined with this style of cooking, can be more acceptable as a staple food and can go a long way towards satisfying most anyone’s appetite (and easier on the budget).
To best explain hybrid cooking, I will describe a few of our favorite dishes.
Bratwurst (sausage) Stew
This simple dish is economical to make and can be made in large portions to feed a large family or can be used as a leftover meal item. Begin with sautéed onions in a little oil until tender. Then ad uncooked bratwurst, sliced into small pieces and cook until browned. Add green beans (canned or fresh), diced tomatoes, and cream of mushroom (or cream of celery soup). Season with garlic and onion powders, black pepper to suit, and some Thyme for flavor. Sometimes I might add a little Italian seasoning. Simmer for 15 minutes and serve over a bed of rice. A variation includes adding peeled and quartered potatoes to the mix, cooking until tender. (Here where we live in the Philippines we cannot get bratwurst, so we have substituted a locally found Hungarian Sausage. Not as good as bratwurst, but still not too bad.)
Hamburger and Peas
Similar to Bratwurst Stew, this can be cooked the same way using cream of mushroom or celery soups. You can even substitute ground pork instead of hamburger. Try substituting green beans for peas. Try it on the more dry side by eliminating the creamed soups and using a beef bouillon based flavoring. Add ingredients the same as for Bratwurst stew and season to taste, simmering for 10-15 minutes. Serve over a bed of rice. Very filling.
Creamy Chopped Chicken
Depending on where you live, you may have to eliminate an ingredient or two, but it will not change the overall dish much. First saute chopped onions and skinned and boned chopped chicken in large skillet. Add large-diced bell peppers, sliced carrots, and chopped cabbage. Again, use your favorite creamed soup base (we usually use Cream of Celery), soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, chicken bouillon, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper to taste. Experiment with different spices. Serve over rice.
Cabbage and Potato Soup
Fill stock pot half with water. Add halved or quartered peeled potatoes and bring to boil. Add chopped cabbage, celery stock, chopped green bell peppers, and chopped tomatoes. Add your choice of tomato paste and tomato sauce based on availability and what you like. Season with Caraway Seed, or if not available, you can season with Italian Seasoning (oregano, thyme, basil, and a pinch of rosemary). Sometimes we will add pasta noodles and slightly thicken with cornstarch. Meat options are pork short ribs or sausage and this really adds to the flavor. Serve as soup stock or thicken for serving over rice.
We save it for breakfast. Fried rice with eggs and bacon. Easy to make – saute onions and garlic in butter, add rice and a little soy sauce to taint with color and flavor. Add seasonings like pepper and celery salt or other favorite spices. We stir in chopped ripe tomatoes when almost finished. Top bed of fried rice with eggs cooked to your liking with a side of bacon. (over easy for me and don’t break my yokes!)
These are all really simple recipes that can be altered, easily size adjusted, and seasoned to taste. It’s really hard to mess up these recipes so don’t be afraid to experiment. Living in the province in the Philippines has proven a challenge to some of our recipes but we are learning to substitute some of the main ingredients when we cannot find our first choices. And when I do happen across Red Kidney Beans on occasion, well there is nothing like making a good old fashioned pot of chili! Eaten with rice of course!
Got any menu suggestions for fussy expats? Please share your easy to make recipes with us.