American Food Stereotypes vs. Filipino Food Stereotypes

It’s fun to travel places and get an understanding of how the outside world views your country.

The Filipinos have a lot of stereotypes about American eating habits. One is that we eat a lot, which is true. I mean, even when we aren’t sitting down to a day and a half worth of calories in one meal, we typically consume more calories than the average Filipino. We tend to be larger people in generally, so that’s not surprising. Some Filipinos will look at trying to fill-up an American as a personal challenge. Don’t be surprised if you show up at someone’s house for dinner and they insist you keep eating.

Secondly, for some reason, many Filipinos think we eat no rice. I don’t know why. I mean, Americans don’t eat nearly as much rice as Filipinos, but some seem genuinely surprised to hear that we eat it at all. Why? Because there is this stereotype that we eat a lot of bread. Like, a lot. There is an assumption among some Filipinos that since we eat little (virtually no) rice, and we like bread, that we must eat tons of bread to make up for our shortfall of rice. I blew some lady’s mind once when I told her that a loaf of bread would sometimes go bad before my family of 4 could eat it and that we are much more likely to get our carbs from pasta in our household.

The thing is, Filipinos actually eat quite a bit of bread themselves. There’s plenty of bakeries around and sandwiches are common for school or office lunches. People snack on filled breads, and pandesal is a soft-fluffy roll that is a typical breakfast food. (It’s often sold door to door by a child of the local baker before he goes to school for the day.) So, the fact that many think we eat so much more bread than they do really blows my mind. We’d basically have to live exclusively on the stuff to eat tons more of it than the Filipinos.

On the other side of the coin, there’s some stereotypes out there that some Americans have about Filipino food. First, remember that the Philippines is similar to the US in that it is a blend of cultural influences. Filipinos are a blend of the indigenous ancient island dwellers, the Chinese and Arabs who came to trade, the Spanish who controlled the islands for 400 years, and some American influence thrown in, both as a result of our time controlling the country and because American culture influences many countries these days. Filipinos are very loyal to their roots, much like your stereotypical Texans. Ask a Filipino where they are from, and you will easily get as many answers as state-proud Americans give. These different cultural subsets are at least as distinct as the American subcultures. Imagine a Texan and a Vermonter and you’ll know what I mean. They have different food norms, different celebrations, different clothing and housing needs, and in some cases may even speak different languages in the home. So, it is hard to say Filipinos eat _______. Because while some may, others may find it disgusting or just not the norm.

Case in point would be dog. First, you should never eat dog as a visitor. You should never eat dog here, period, because many people don’t vaccinate their animals against rabies here and cooking won’t necessarily kill the virus. Just don’t eat dog. But I digress. It is actually against the law here to kill a dog other than for a health reason, like it has rabies or is super old and you’re putting it down. Unless there is a cultural reason why. Benguet province allows indigenous peoples to still kill and eat dog, and even sell the meat, because there is a cultural precedent for it. There are also small pockets here and there where people will eat dog meat, and some people will turn to it in desperation. But as far as it being a nationwide norm, it’s simply not. Most people I’ve talked to find the idea repulsive and wouldn’t consider it.

Beef can be very expensive here, so most people only eat it rarely, but in the areas where beef is raised, it can be quite cheap, so it’s a main food stuff in those areas. Other than that, though, the most popular meats here are fish and seafood, pork, and chicken, possibly in that order. Hot dogs are fairly common, but lunch meat is not, though if you live in a major city, you’d likely have access to it somewhere.

Spaghetti here is mostly seen as something you feed your children, and it usually has a sweetened tomato and banana ketchup sauce on it with hot dogs chopped up in the sauce. It’s actually pretty good. You often see it at parties. Filipinos know that other people eat a different kind of tomato sauce on it, but not necessarily how it’s different. So, they will sometimes make a big deal about how their sauce is sweet, goading you into acknowledging how very sweet it is. But, to be honest, if you eat pasta sauce out of a jar in the US, like Prego or Ragu, the local sauce is about equal to them in sweetness. The difference is that we season our sauces with oregano, basil, and parsley. You should be aware as you shop for tomato sauce in the store, though, that if it’s labeled Filipino style, it has sugar added. Traditional or Regular flavor is just plain tomato sauce. (You can find jarred American style spaghetti sauces here, though to may only see Prego options or Ragu options in a particular store.) I made some Italian style spaghetti for my daughter’s birthday party one year and my kids and the few kids who had lived in the US gobbled it up, but the other children had about 2 bites and quit. So, keep that in mind if you decide to try to broaden the pasta horizons of the young people around you.

Local sweets and desserts generally aren’t as sweet as their American counterparts. And it’s not uncommon to find that one of these only slightly sweet cakes has been topped with shredded processed cheese. There are exceptions to the lack of sweetness, though. Fruit salad here is made by pouring condensed milk into canned mixed fruit and is very, very sweet. And halo-halo (mix-mix) is a pile of jello, sweetened beans, tapioca balls, ice cream, fruit, I don’t even know what else, on top of shaved ice. I know some who just sip at the resulting sweet goo that forms at the bottom while others will scarf the whole concoction down.

Dairy exists in the diet here, but in different forms and to varying degrees. It doesn’t seem to be the norm at any income level to find people who would just drink a glass of milk, though. Upper income families often will use fresh milk if they have access to the dairy or a supermarket that imports milk from California or Australia, eat real cheese, have ice cream desserts, and have yogurt from time to time. But, as you go down the income brackets, dairy consumption takes on different forms out of necessity. Cost is the biggest factor, though access to refrigeration is another issue. The majority of people who live in a “proper” house will have a fridge, and you will find them in some “squatter” homes as well.  But there just aren’t many dairies in the country, so most milk has to be imported. The cost of transporting fresh dairy products can simply make it cost prohibitive. Middle class families often get their milk from shelf-stable boxes that don’t need to be refrigerated until it’s opened, or they will buy refrigerated milk that has been reconstituted from powder. Ben and Jerry’s, Bryers, and Blue Bunny ice cream is all available here, but, again, are very expensive for the local market. So, local ice cream brands keep costs down by using reconstituted milk. I’m not a fan, but my kids can’t tell the difference. There are also shelf-stable brands of cheese that don’t need refrigeration until opened (or at all, if you use them fast enough.) The poorer working classes often will get powdered milk for their kids to eat. They generally don’t bother to mix it with water. The kids instead eat it lik-m-aid style by dipping their fingers into their serving of milk powder and licking it off.

I feel like this post has veered off into Digression Land. Let’s call this the end for now!

PS– One last thing: if you are in a restaurant and ordering a hot dog or a sandwich, you may want to specify that you do not want mayonnaise on it. Otherwise, expect it.

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One thought on “American Food Stereotypes vs. Filipino Food Stereotypes

  1. i’d say wow! because you mentioned the province of Benguet – i come from here, and in fact i’ve been commenting to your posts while in Baguio City, dubbed city of pines or summer capital of the philippines… right now, there are many korean students here and they, too, eat dog meat, as do some chinese… 🙂

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