“Wait, where are our fries?” I questioned the sweet honey behind the counter at Jolibee’s in the Island City Mall in Bohol.
“Sorry, out of stock.” the cute cashier answered.
“There are no fries in Bohol.” I stated with disbelief.
“The ship that was bringing fries was delayed, because of the recent typhoon. We substituted rice for fries. Filipinos like rice with everything. Sorry about your fries.” the adorable cashier cheerfully explained and apologized.
“No problem.” I accepted the explanation and apology.
I headed back to where my wife and two young boys were sitting and waiting for their meals. When I got to the table with the cheeseburgers and rice, things got ugly. My boys protested wildly and my wife questioned the cashier’s explanation that I relayed to her. Somehow this debacle had to be my fault. At first I did not get why such a big fuss was being made over the lack of freedom fries. In the USA, I don’t even order fries. I order a sandwich and a cup of tap water. In the Philippines, I do not feel comfortable with drinking tap water, so I order the meal deal because the price is about the same as a sandwich and a drink. Then I remembered how much I liked fries as a boy and I realized why they were so disappointed. Even my wife who after years of living in the USA still eats rice with almost everything refused to eat rice with a cheeseburger. I ate a lot of rice with my burger and it did seem strange.
Rice = Life in the Philippines
Like the cashier said Filipinos eat rice with pretty much everything. I noticed on my first visit that every meal breakfast, lunch and dinner had rice. Rice is actually essential for survival in a country like the Philippines. It packs life-sustaining carbohydrates at a price Filipinos can afford. I looked it up and saw from several sources that the average Filipino family makes 22,000 pesos a month. I could not find an estimate on the median wage this was an average which is skewed upward by the few wealthy Filipinos. I would say the ones I have encountered make a lot less. On 22,000 pesos of family income one cannot afford bread, corn or potatoes for a carbohydrate source. Rice is the primary food source for the Philippines and most of the world’s poor countries. I like rice and I understand the importance of rice, but I also like to eat a variety of foods.
Filipino food compatibility with rice
I have grown accustomed to eating rice with steak, but would rather eat steak with a baked potato. I eat scrambled eggs with rice, but pancakes make more sense. I eat hotdogs with rice, but a bun feels more logical and convenient to me. Some foods seem to naturally go with other foods. Most Filipino foods go with rice. I have a hard time imagining eating: adobo, caldereta, sinigang, dinuguan, etc. without rice. Some Filipino foods like lechon and Filipino barbecue, meat on a stick, would be better served with some form of bread. Other foods really seem incompatible with rice like pancit, lumpia, and Filipino sweet spaghetti because these foods are already starches. Even though some foods seem to not belong in the same meal I don’t really believe in complaining. Plenty of people at least as deserving of food as I are lucky to have a plate of just rice. The last time I remember complaining about what is put on my plate, I think I was 9 years old and I did not want to eat liver. Over time I developed a taste or at least a tolerance for liver and likewise I am used to eating rice with most anything.
Non-Filipino foods compatibility with rice
Other Asian foods of course go well with rice, but if I am at a Chinese restaurant and I have the choice of rice or noodles, I go with noodles because I eat rice pretty much every night. Most Mexican food includes rice with refried beans. Cajun foods like red beans and rice, and jambalaya are very good with rice. Italian foods like lasagna, spaghetti and pizza are not compatible with rice in my opinion because the food and the rice are both starches. Many “American” foods hotdogs, steak, and hamburgers don’t seem to naturally go with rice because they do not easily mix. I do enjoy chili and Eastern North Carolina chopped barbecue with rice.
Last night my Filipina wife grilled steak. She served it with rice and a soup with spinach, horseradish leaves and okra. We had strawberries cut cantaloupe and pineapple for dessert and drank water with the meal. For me this was an ideal meal, except I would have liked baked potato instead of rice. It was a very balanced meal. It had all the food groups except dairy and I have milk with cereal for breakfast so I feel covered. The reasons I find rice incompatible with steak is that steak is somewhat of a dry food and it has to be cut to mix with the rice. I rarely eat rice without mixing it with other food. Other food incompatibility is created when rice is mixed with another starch like pancit or lumpia. I have eaten rice with these foods, but again it seems a little weird.
What is your point, Jay?
The point of this article is that if you are going to travel to the Philippines or visit a Filipino you are very likely to be served rice. Most Filipinos will serve or eat rice with pretty much any food whether it seems compatible or not. I personally choose to accept this and not complain. Even after living in a foreign country for years many Filipinos feel that a meal is not a meal if rice is not included. There are many reasons for this phenomenon. One is force of habit. A second reason is that rice is reminiscent of home. I believe that a third reason is the recognition that in the Philippines the ability to afford to put rice on the table is the difference between life and death. In Filipino families with the means to afford other starch choices, I feel they also recognize the importance of rice for the less fortunate. Lastly some debate the ethnicity of Filipinos. Some feel Filipinos are Pacific Islanders or Hispanics. I think all the Filipinos I know feel they are Asians. Eating rice is an integral part of most Asian cultures including Filipino culture. This article like almost all things I write my opinion and you are free to agree or disagree in the comments or write your own article. Peace and bon a petit!