public health

A foreigner’s response to ‘I’d rather go hungry’ girl

Nathan Allen
One foreigner responds to another foreigner's comments that she would rather 'go hungry' than eat Pinoy street food again

Editors’ Note: This was written by travel writer Nathan Allen in response to traveler Agness Walewinder’s comments about how she would rather go hungry than eat Filipino food again, which was later modified to ‘Filipino street food.’ Nathan’s post initially appeared on his website, I Dreamed of This. With Nathan’s permission, Rappler is publishing his essay in full.

Thanks for your honest opinion about “Filipino food.” Thanks for not holding back. Mostly, thank you for making me (another foreign blogger writing about the Philippines) look good. I mean, you’re making me look really good. Yes, I wrote a “letter to the Philippines” a few weeks ago, and I worried it might be misinterpreted – possibly angering some Filipinos. 

However, now that I have the perspective of reading your blog about Filipino food, I realize that I had nothing to worry about. My blog was received VERY well in comparison. You are receiving a lot of very negative attention, and I am usually a compassionate person, but in this case I think you may know exactly what you are doing.

In fact, it seems like you might be intentionally trying to antagonize Filipino people in order to bring attention to your blog, and here is why:

A full month ago you wrote another blog about your “impressions of the Philippines,” and you included a few negative sections about the food. Then, perhaps you sat back and watched all the comments slowly start coming in. When you realized how sensitive and proud Filipinos can be about their food specifically, you decided to take advantage of the situation and write another inflammatory post all about the food

THIS IS THE LIFE. Fresh squid, rice, and the best iced tea I've ever had for just P100 pesos – all with an unforgettable view at Las Cabanas, Palawan. All photos courtesy of Nathan Allen

Knowing how many comments came the first time, you chose to make your opinions and wording even more abrasive (offensive?) the second time…and guess what? The comments did indeed come pouring in! Yes, they’re almost all negative, but look at all that blog traffic! Of course I can’t say this is exactly what happened, but it certainly seems to be a possibility. Yes, you have a lot of eyes on your blog, but is this really the kind of attention you want? You hurt a lot of people to gain a few followers.  

Aside from all that, I would give you more credit if your observations resembled the actual reality of being a foreign tourist in the Philippines. It pains me to read how you describe Filipino people and cuisine. You mention that people asked you to pay for a photo of them, and I’m curious as to how I spent an entire year all over the country (as a photographer), but have never been asked to pay for a photo once? Am I being nicer to them? Better luck?  

As for being “ripped off,” you seem to be a seasoned traveler, so you must realize how dishonest taxi and tuk tuk drivers are in other countries – in fact, much more so than in the Philippines. It’s not fair of me to comment on China (from experience) because I’ve only been to Hong Kong, but from what I’ve heard, it’s actually very bad there (and I think that’s where you have spent the most time!). 

You also mentioned how the different forms of public transportation are unsafe because of no seatbelts – well (with the exception of airplanes) most people know that seatbelts aren’t used in public transportation anywhere in the world. Basically, honesty is great, but not at the expense of fairness

If you don’t want to be treated like a tourist, stop acting like one

Speaking of fairness, to be fair, at first I did not enjoy the food in Manila or some of the touristy areas I visited. I agree that some of it was over-flavored and unhealthy. The irony is that in my opinion, that’s because these specific foods were very WESTERNIZED. Though it’s not nearly as bad as you make it seem, the “obesity problem” you mention (in my opinion, and only in Manila) comes from the American-style fast food culture.  

Other than that, in touristy areas, they serve food to…guess who? Tourists! In a place like Thailand, for example, that means you see these “Western” fruit breakfasts, pancakes, French toast, hot dogs…etc. The same thing is happening in the Philippines. A lot of backpackers are looking for western foods after traveling so long. Demand creates supply

FROM THE SEA. Left: fish so fresh I practically had to kill them myself. Right: kinilaw na tuna aka 'Filipino Sushi'

As you should know, if you want the “real deal,” you must escape the tourists (and vendors who sell to them). It’s simple. “Street food” in the Philippines is not the enemy, and I don’t believe you have to go to fancy traditional Filipino restaurants to get great food.

LUNCH IS SERVED. Grilled fish, rice, and fresh fruits. Lunch while sland-hopping in Palawan

My masarap na masarap love affair

Me? Once I made an effort to get “off the beaten path,” I found that traditional Filipino food was in fact quite unique and delicious! My love affair started when I collected fresh clams with a family in Palawan. They made halaan sa tanglad (ginger clam soup). Next I got hooked on tocino each morning for breakfast, fresh, delicious mangos for lunch, and tangy sinigang soup for dinner. From there I went to the BBQ stalls of Cebu and enjoyed puso (hanging rice) and of course adobo, lechon, crispy pata…and lastly: pork afritada and mechado (two of my favorites).

Oh, and Agness, I have two words for you:  HALO-HALO.

HELLO, HELLO. Left: Buko Halo-halo in Dumaguete. Right: fresh clams in Palawan

Yes…ice cream, fruit, and cornflakes may seem like and odd combination to us in the West, but I can assure you that the delicious buko (coconut) halo halo on the left is a unique and refreshing dessert – and it was exactly what I needed on a hot day in Dumaguete (Negros Oriental). Around this time I finally tried chicken inasal as well, and promised myself I would eat it in Bacolod someday. 

From there I journeyed to Siquijor island, where I was thrilled to eat fresh kinilaw na tuna. After that, it was time for Baguio and Banaue, where I tried strawberry taho, lugaw, bulalo, and “pinikpikan” chicken

GREAT ADVENTURE. Left: BBQ stalls in Naga, Bicol.  Isaw on the left, chicken heads in the middle.  Pork BBQ on the right.  Very adventurous eating! Right: Lumpia Sariwa at Triboo Grill, Naga, Bicol

Next, I decided to go back to give Manila another chance. There I discovered another favorite: pininyahang manok (pineapple adobo, I think?). Then came Bicol. Ohhhhh Bicol, how I love you.  Spicy, delicious dishes such as bicol express, pinangat, and laing. Add to this lumpia sariwa, famous Guinobatan longganisa, and toasted siopao, and I was in culinary heaven!!  

I even enjoyed foods that I was hesitant about: infamous “balut” and also “dinuguan” (savory meat stew consisting of lungs, kidneys, intestines, ears, heart and snout)…it’s simmered in a rich, spicy dark gravy of pig blood, garlic, chili and vinegar. I loved it!

All this, and I know I just barely scratched the surface.

I know it’s not fair to compare my experience to yours, because it seems you may have only been in the country for a week or so. However, your short stay is exactly why I (and many others) hope you will be more careful with the “impressions” that you put out into the world in the future. You may be doing a real disservice to a country and a culture that has a lot to offer international travelers – and a country that could surely use the money generated by tourism. 

PUSO. Puso, or "Hanging Rice" in Cebu. (Rice is packed tightly into woven palm fronds)

A possible diagnosis for you?

As for Filipino food making you sick, I must admit that I have a strong stomach. Filipino food (in any form) never made me sick. While I’m sure it happens occasionally, I don’t recall any tourists being sick – and some of them ate balut with me. 

You mention that after eating the food, you felt bloated and tired. You also mentioned that you had massive migraine headaches, and mood swings.

I’m no expert…and forgive me for saying this, but based on the symptoms you have described, it appears you might have been experiencing PMS during your stay in the Philippines. You certainly don’t look very happy in the black and white photo at the top of your post. The tone and mood of your post seems a bit irratable also, so it would make sense if you were uncomfortable during your stay in the country.

If this is the case, it is especially unfair to blame your sour mood on the food of the Philippines. 

Balik sa Pinas

I say come back (just don’t tell people who you are). Give it more time, explore the country more fully, and with an open mind. I’m glad you acknowledge that it’s one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever been. On closer inspection you just might find that this admiration extends to the people and food as well…I know it did for me! 

Filipinos are wonderful people…so wonderful, in fact, that there is a good chance they will let you come back just to prove you wrong about their culinary heritage. 

Just thought I should give another foreigner’s opinion. 


Nathan Allen 

Nathan Allen is a hyper-observant culture-junkie who recently spent a year documenting and living in the Philippines. A long-term traveler, he lives by the motto “spend less, see more.” Follow his journey by visiting his Facebook page here

All photos courtesy of Nathan Allen

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