Food is one of the cornerstones of Filipino culture. Imagine the shock of Vegemite on toast.
Think of quintessential Pinoy cuisine and an entire feast comes to mind. We have pancít palabok, adobo, sinigáng and, for dessert, ube, kutsintâ, and bibingka. And thats just for starters. When I think of quintessential Aussie food, I think of well, Vegemite and Tim Tams.
Vegemite is a national icon. Trust the unofficial Aussie national food to be made from by-products of beer manufacturing. Ive heard it likened to axle grease. Vegemite is like bagoóng—you either love it or you revile it. I happen to revile it. My one-year old son, indoctrinated at an early age, loves it with his Cruskits.
Then, theres the sausage roll. Supposedly containing sausage meat encased in puff pastry, Ive never had one that actually tasted of sausages. Buying one from the tuckshop (canteen) is part of the Aussie childhood experience. Most Pinoy kids wont have any problems giving them a try because sausage rolls are best dunked in tomato sauce (ketchup). And if theres one thing our kids love, its ketchup.
The more ‘authentic’ Aussie pastry, however, is the meat pie. As the Spanish gave Pinoys the lechón, so the English gave Aussies the meat pie. Most Aussies prefer not to investigate the ‘meat content’ in their pies too closely. For the best pies, Harrys Café de Wheels is where the rich, the famous and the homeless congregate for a taste of genuine Australian flavour. Imagine, one of the most popular dining experiences in Sydney involves a glorified maglalakô!
For an Aussie-sized feast—which is nowhere near the 200-person minimum in a Pinoy party—theres the good old Aussie barbie. The Weber is a mandatory piece of equipment in the backyard. The Aussie barbie involves plenty of meat, onions, potatoes and salad on the side. Anything else is considered fancy. I knew I was an Aussie when I finally learned to eat a full meal without any rice. I knew I was still Pinoy when I tried to hold a barbie and ended up with a table full of spaghetti, macaroni salad, sapin-sapín, leche flan and puto.
Moving on to dessert, I first discovered lamingtons at a cake stall (fundraisers where cakes and sweets are sold). Lamingtons are cake cubes layered with cream or strawberry jam and coated in chocolate icing and desiccated coconut. Aussies have a long-standing dispute with the Kiwis as to who really ‘owns’ this delectable treat.
Speaking of trans-Tasman rivalries, Aussies also lay claim to the pavlova. The pavlovas slow-baked meringue base is crunchy on the outside and softer than braso de mercedes on the inside. Topped with whipped cream and fruit, its my preferred method of getting my recommended daily intake of fruit.
For a snack, Ive grown to love Twisties. I think of Twisties as the Chippys of Australia and, since theyre almost impossible to find overseas, Aussie expats are very protective of their stash.
But not as protective as they are of Tim Tams. These chocolate-coated biscuits are practically currency for Aussie expats. The Tim Tam Slam is a method of sipping coffee through the actual biscuit. Believe it or not, theres a technique involved in consuming the biscuit before it disintegrates. Ive been known to eat an entire packet of Tim Tams for breakfast. Tim Tams and coffee are—dare I say it?—even better than green mangoes with bagoóng.
What new gastronomic delights have you discovered in your part of the world? And will it ever top manggang hiláw dipped in bagoóng?
This article was first published in the September 2005 issue of PINOYexpats, an e-zine for Filipino expatriates. I’ve made some minor revisions since.