His quest not only examines what each culture has to offer the culinary world, but leads to discoveries about society as a whole and, most importantly, about himself. Noah’s 81st consecutive new dining experience finds him at my home for “Philippines Day.” To follow is an excerpt from our time together.
A desire for loneliness is a strange phenomenon. “Alone” is not a terrible thing to be. I’ve wanted it, even craved it ever since I was a kid.
But things can change. The right people, the right setting, the right reason – and you slowly find yourself turning into someone that actually likes company. You start finding scenarios that you enjoy and then try to surround yourself with people who make you feel better as opposed to worse.
It’s not something that I saw coming, but it’s something that’s managed to happen anyway. That, for me, has been one of the most dynamic and mindset-altering developments of this entire Personal Food Project in Blog Form.
The sense of community that food creates, the number of people who happily welcome me into their circles and even become my friends is staggering. When you enter a place with that sense of community, you can tell right away.
So when Yuri invited me over for Filipino food, I agreed, but didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. It turned out to be one of those gatherings that – regardless of the fact that you’ve never been there before, never eaten the food and don’t know a single other person involved – makes you feel like you genuinely belong.
Friends come in (bearing a bounty of Filipino beer, San Miguel), and we huddle near the kitchen over Lumpia Shanghai, addictive pork spring rolls, fried golden and served with a sweet chili sauce. I consume at least 10, already feeling like I’m relaxing with old friends.
Once everyone is assembled and the food is ready, we each grab big serving bowls and walk up to a table in the back yard. Everyone packs in happily, with little mention or care as to why this dinner came about. They’re here because of each other, and I get the distinct feeling that even if it weren’t “Philippines Day,” they’d still be hanging out and having dinner together anyway.
The bowls are passed around family style as we start piling food on our plates. Adobo may be the most well known dish of the Philippines, and after one bite you know why. We’re having Chicken Adobo, which is simmered in garlic, vinegar and soy sauce, and has an uncanny taste of familiarity to it.
Pancit Bihon is a cornstarch-based, stir-fried noodle dish with vegetables and tiny slices of sausage. We eat Kare Kare, oxtails braised in a spicy peanut sauce (a wonderful combination of fatty proteins), and Afritada, Spanish influenced stewed chicken with bell peppers and potatoes, reminding me of a lot of South American cuisine, which often mixes similar elements.
There’s a tamarind-based soup (Sinigang) with whole shrimp, antennae and all. I get a few style points for chewing them up head, brain, exoskeleton and all. The fruity, sour tamarind really makes this soup interesting. Tamarind is used primarily in Asia and Latin America, but finds its way just about everywhere in the world, even as an ingredient in basic Worcestershire sauce.
We head back inside and have a cup of tea with dessert. I try Hopia, a small, round pastry made from mung beans. The hopia are crumbly, buttery and pleasant, but my favorite desserts of the night are unusually purple and made primarily from ube.
Ube is a purple yam and gives both the ube ice cream and Ube Macapuno Cake a distinctively bright and vibrant, deep purple color. Both desserts have a wonderful, earthy flavor that is unlike any I’ve had before. The ube tastes like what would happen if you crossbred a sweet potato with a blueberry – definitely worth trying.
Time has flown by, and the three hours I’ve been here feels like 45 minutes. There’s a closeness to this group that, once combined with a plate of wonderful food, starts to seem an awful lot like family.
So go to restaurants, cook at home, have a picnic or do whatever it is you and the people around you like doing together. I for one, even after this project is long over, will be throwing a heck of a lot of dinner parties for the great people and friends I’ve collected since this all began. I guess the company of others can be pretty darn nice after all.
Noah is accepting meal invitations and donations in the hopes of extending the project through 100 days. For more information, visit manbitesworld.com.