Editor’s Note: Normally written by our monthly columnist, Vince Bagoyo, Jr., this month’s Maui Pinoy column is guest authored by Joena Grace Galacio, a recent IT graduate from Bohol, Philippines.
Food maintains our life and growth. Every human stomach needs food every day. A little bit of crunch, a taste of sugar, salt or vinegar, a savor of a favorite chicken soup will trigger your normal cravings. We live with food and we die without food. Have you ever heard the phrase “you are what you eat”? I think the phrase simply means that if you eat healthy food and put discipline to every edge of your eating habits, then you are likely to be healthy and strong. But if you are a bad eater, and don’t value what your body needs to be healthy, then you are bringing yourself into trouble. You will end up wishing to see your doctor for good diet advice. Seriously, every food that we take into our body is important. It reflects your body shape, your curves and even your size. Believing that each of us has our own body type, your daily meals and snacks can save your hungry tummy or help you choose what street food to stop for after work.
Let me ask you a simple question. Have you ever tried taking an unforgettable challenge in your life, and said to yourself, “I want to do it one more time,” or perhaps you’ve said, “I will never do it again.” I am talking about a food eating challenge. And to be clear, I am referring to your first bizarre food from any part of the world or any bizarre food you want to try in a different country. To those who have tried already, did you mind knowing where it came from or how it was cooked? But to those who want to try for the first time, are you really interested to know? If you want to take my little challenge, I want you to reset your expectation to make your stomach strong and bring you to the fullest anticipation. You must try some of the most highlighted Pinoy Bizarre Foods. To others, these may already sound familiar. To those who want to take my “I dare you to eat” challenge of ants, worms, beetles and insects, let us rediscover different Pinoy Bizarre Foods from different provinces of the Philippines. So let’s get it on!
Abuos or ant eggs is mostly found in parts of Ilocos Norte in the Philippines. It is one of their most exotic delicacies. These ants are most certainly found in the branches of mango trees where they form colonies and multiple nests as their homes. The ants stitch leaves together using the silk produced by the ant larvae. Harvesting weaver ant eggs in abundance is seasonal, usually sprouted in the last quarter of the year until summer season. People get their eggs by attaching a flat basket under the branches and the trees are shaken vigorously until the eggs fall into the basket. Since it is seasonal, the eggs are sold in the market at 300 pesos per kilo which is a bit expensive for the local town people. Abuos is rich in protein and cooked with very minimal ingredients. They cook it in many different ways. Ant eggs can be fried in butter, cooked as an omelet, fried adobo or sinigang and can be an ingredient for pizza and pinakbet cuisines. But others eat it raw to experience the incredibly delicious juicy eggs. Ilocos towns celebrate the Panagabuos annual festival. Panagabuos is an Ilocano term for gathering the eggs of weaver ants that usually happens in the month of April.
Kinilaw na Tamilok
Kinilaw na Tamilok or wood worm is a famous delicacy in Palawan. These wood worms live in muddy parts of a rotten mangrove. It may perk your appetite since it tastes like an oyster. Some say that it’s not actually a worm but a mollusk. It just looks like a worm with a regular size of 12 inches long. According to folk lore, the word tamilok was coined by two Americans. One American started saying to his friend, “Tommy, look” and when the local people heard them, that’s the term they called the wood worm they were eating, tamilok. Since the tamilok hide their silky bodies in a trunk of a rotten mangrove, the locals hack it open to harvest them. The word kinilaw means eating it raw, marinated in vinegar with slices of chili peppers, onions, garlic, calamansi juice and sliced tomatoes. Tamilok is sold across the wet market of Palawan for only around 150 pesos. There are also many restaurants that serve tamilok in Palawan.
If there is a wood worm in Palawan, then a wooden footstool is also known in San Fernando, Pampanga. Kamaru or mole crickets are another famous delicacy in Pampanga province. It is a long creepy muscular insect known as the rice field cricket. It is found mostly in the rice fields and are typically 3–5 cm long. These are pests to farmers around different parts of the Philippines, but to Kapampangans it is one of the best edible foods. Crickets are in abundance before planting season. These insects are a good source of protein to be enjoyed in a slightly-crispy adobo style that is simply cooked in soy sauce, vinegar and sautéed with tomatoes, onions and garlic. For me, it’s great for dinner because I love adobo. These exotic foods truly brings great pleasure to my palate.
Beetle Larvae is also known as coconut rhinoceros beetle or uok in native terms. It can be found in Angono Rizal, Philippines. It is also known as fried tateg. These beetles happily live in a dead log of a coconut tree. Locals collect them and bravely eat them raw. These innocent fatty beetles have interesting texture, are whitish in color and have a taste that most tourists and Angono locals enjoy in an adobo style. They are sometimes deep fried in generous amounts of garlic. One of the restaurants in Rizal Angono, named Balaw-Balaw, serves this dish for only 280 pesos per serving.
Salagubang or June Bug is the best treat in the Nueva Ecija Region. The scientific name of the June bug is Luecopholis Irrorata. Salagubang can be found growing in mango trees. They are 16–30 mm long and are plentiful during the June rainy seasons in the Philippines. They are thumb-sized and also considered the number one enemy of farmers because the adult salagubang eats the leaves of the crops. Nueva Ecija locals catch the salagubang by climbing the tree, causing plenty of salagubang to fall on the ground. Locals will then collect these into buckets. Before they cook the salagubang, they discard the head, legs and carapace, and rinse the body well. Again, salagubang is best cooked in an adobo style. From the farmers’ enemy to the best pulutan or appetizer, salagubang is rich in protein and it is available in some of their markets. Because it is seasonal and rare, the price fetches in the range of 400–600 pesos per kilo.
Paniki or fruit bat is another common bizarre food in many parts of the Philippines. A good juicy paniki barbeque can be found on the island of Guimaras. These flying witchy creatures have wings that meet along the midline of their bodies. They are very agile fliers that roost in caves. Guimaras locals hunt the bats during noon time because it’s their sleeping time. Bat hunters put headlamps on their heads since it is dark in the cave. They use spears or a sharpened bamboo to hunt them. Before cooking the bats they carefully remove the soft hairs. The best way to cook the bat is by grilling it on the barbeque or stewing it in coconut milk, herbs and peppers. Grilled Bats in Guimaras are sold in the markets for only 50 pesos. It’s another hit as pulutan or food appetizers, for Guimaras locals.
Here is another crunchy, tasty bizarre food—fried grasshoppers that can only be found in South Cotabato in the Philippines. People believe that grasshopper is a healthy insect food. Its taste, like a shrimp, may challenge you to have a try. Most grasshoppers live in a dry open habitat where lots of grass and other low plants grow. Many of the grassland species invade farmer’s fields. That’s why they are considered a nuisance because they can bring plague and eat the farmers’ crops. So it’s another pest-to-fried situation here. The best season for catching them is between the months of June and July. During hopper season, natives use large nets arranged with netting placed over a hop to which is fixed a long handle. The native takes this handle, and with the mouth of the net towards the grasshopper, rushes back and forth until they catch them in great numbers. Fried grasshoppers are one of the most loved delicacies in south Cotabato, and it’s now being sold in many places in their local town for only 25 pesos per cup. There are a lot of vendors selling them along their national highway. Wow! I was wondering how abundant grasshoppers are in their locale.
Sasing or peanut worm is a common bizarre favorite in coastal villages in the Visayas and Mindanao regions. In Bohol, Cebu and Surigao, it is known as saypo but in most parts of Mindanao, it is known as tasing. Peanut worms burrow under the sandy clayish soil by the seashore. They are called peanut worms because their texture looks like an empty peanut shell. Locals of the region clean the worm using a bamboo stick to invert it inside out, then wash and drain it. They eat it raw, seasoned with vinegar, spiced with chopped onions, ginger, chili and salt to-taste. It is a kind of fresh leathery food to most locals there. They usually gather some tasing during low tide, since they are just hiding along the seashore.
Look at these muscular frogs done in a crispy fried dish style. If chicken adobo is your beat, I think you will freak out once you dare to try a little bit of these crispy froggies. You may request to have more of these froggies on your plates. It’s absolutely my favorite though. Batute or stuffed frog safely lives in the rice field. These batute are like the soldiers on the farms. They eat harmful insects in the rice field. San Fernando, Pampanga, has wide rice farms, so no wonder they have lots of stuffed frogs available for food. It’s actually seen in different areas of the Philippines, but only Kampampangans really make it more valuable in their kitchen. They even celebrate Frog Festival in their town every October. Frogs are usually harvested during the rainy season in the Philippines. The frog is deeply skinned, intestines are removed, feet and head are cut off and cleaned too before it is deep fried in oil. During frog season, they are available in their wet market, and cost 220 pesos per kilogram. Frogs are not only limited to deep frying it can be cooked in any way you want them to be.
At your first look, tarukog definitely looks like scary creepy caterpillars. These can be found on the island of Eastern Samar. Tarukog is a type of marine mollusk with a dark green hairy body. They live attached to rocks and they graze on algae. The valve shells and innards are removed through boiling in water. The locals usually get them during the night; using screw drivers, they gently remove them from the rocks. Tarukog is not that easy to find because it is camouflaged with the rocks. Tarukog is best cooked with coconut milk or even eaten raw. These are popularly served to tourists in the little island of Samar, and it’s also the locals’ favorite food. Cleaned tarukog cost 20 pesos per pack in the market.
If you notice, many Filipinos cook their food in the adobo style, even with bizarre foods. So I hope you have already decided what kind of bizarre food you want to try when you come back and visit the Philippines. May you have a good “I dare you to eat” in your future bizarre foodie list experience.