Food has been one of the biggest personal struggles of my service. Part of the housing agreement that the Peace Corps made with my host family includes them providing me with meals, which is lovely because it’s one less thing that I have to worry about in my day-to-day existence, but at the same time it’s been difficult to give up control over my diet. Everybody in my host family works so during the week meals are purchased from a carinderia, brought home in plastic bags, and dumped into bowls for serving. As an American I’m used to a lot of variety in my diet, both in terms of ingredients and style of cooking, and that variety just isn’t widely available in the Philippines. There are only so many times you can eat mushy stir-fried meat in brown sauce over rice before you start daydreaming about all the food you took for granted at home: burritos, real cheese, vegetables of any kind, good burgers, pickles, lasagna, strawberries, blueberry pie, and millions of others that I can’t think about now because I’ll go crazy. What was I talking about? Filipino food, right. The point here is that it’s fine, but there are few things that I really enjoy eating. Occasionally, however, I try to take matters into my own hands and actually try to cook something that appeals to me.
While I love food, I’ve never enjoyed cooking. It’s not entertaining to me, and I’m not particularly good at it, and it’s a lot of work, especially in the Philippines. Refrigerators are uncommon so fresh ingredients can’t be kept in the house for too long, meaning you have to make a trip to the market when you need something. (To be honest, food safety isn’t a big concern here. Leftovers get left out and eaten at some, sometimes distant, point in the future, a fact which my bacteria-fearing self finds hard to deal with.) This weekend I’m home alone so I have to feed myself like a grown up, and instead of going out to eat for dinner tonight I decided to try this recipe for pineapple fried rice. Most of the ingredients are available in the local market, so I set off.
I returned from my outing an hour after I set out, having walked two miles and made stops at the pharmacy where I bought the cashews, a department store where I bought the knife (none of the knives in the house are sharp), and the market. Here’s what I paid:
Knife: 45 pesos ($0.90)
Vegetables (carrots, green onions, white onion, garlic, ginger): 55 pesos ($1.09)
Cashews: 95 pesos ($1.89)
Pineapple: 40 pesos ($0.80)
Mangoes: 102 pesos ($2.03)
I didn’t need to buy rice or soy sauce because they were already in the house. The cashews were kind of expensive but they were delicious and added a bit of crunch so I think they were worth it. And when I stopped to buy a pineapple I realized that I have no idea how exactly you tell which one is a good pineapple. What qualities am I supposed to look for? The vendor clearly perceived my confusion because she looked at me, plucked a pineapple from the pile and handed it to me. It’s a method that’s gotten me through a lot here: look confused and wait for help. It doesn’t take long.
The mangoes have nothing to do with the recipe; they’re for dessert. I could have gotten less expensive mangoes but I prefer it when they’re newer so I was willing to pay a bit more. Soon it will be mango season and I’ll practically live on them, but for now they’re a bit of an indulgence.
After a short rest to recover from the emotional exhaustion that comes from having people stare and shout at me for an hour I decided it was time to get started. With a soundtrack provided by a 90’s playlist from Spotify I chopped, diced, sauteed, and stirred.
If you look at the recipe you’ll see that it claims the prep time will take ten minutes. Lies. How does anybody do that? I’m slow with a knife, but ten minutes just seems ridiculous.
Approximately a billion hours after I started from the market I finally had dinner. It was tasty and the cooking part wasn’t difficult so I’ll probably make it again sometime. I’m not cooking tomorrow though. Tomorrow I’m going out to eat.
Also: this knife isn’t sharp either.