Filipinos love to eat. We say “Kumain ka na?” (“Have you eaten?”), by way of greeting. Visit any Filipino household, and your host will hand you a plate of snacks and a glass of orange juice before you’ve even sat down. And any foreigner who’s ever visited the Philippines during fiesta time can attest to the sheer mass of food that even the tiniest makeshift kitchen can produce.
Of course, just about every country in the world has a distinct food culture. Yet the sort of obsession that Filipinos have when it comes to food has given rise to a handful of eating habits that may not always make sense to the typical Aussie spouse, such as:
1. Rice in every mealA Filipino might eat five or fifteen slices of pizza, but even then, the meal will only be considered a “snack,” because, you guessed it, there’s no rice. Whether it’s because the Philippines is one of the world’s top rice growers or because many native dishes are too saucy or too salty to be eaten without rice, Filipinos are simply convinced that they won’t feel full if they don’t consume at least a cupful of the stuff.
Pro-tip: If your Filipino spouse is cranky and you have no idea why, try feeding them rice. It doesn’t matter if you serve it to them in a bowl of noodle soup, they’ll still happily devour the carbs-on-carbs mixture before your (pick one) amused/horrified eyes.
2. Smorgasbord-style plating
This is especially evident during fiesta time or whenever there’s a celebration. Food may be plentiful then, but if you look at how people load up their plates, you might think that there’s a shortage of the latter. Filipinos simply just pile appetizers, entrees, and desserts onto one big, groaning dish. Then again, I suppose that eliminates the need to keep going back to the buffet table for a refill.
Strangely enough, it all still tastes good. Try it.
3. Using spoons instead of knivesYep, you read that right. While knives are a mainstay at just about every Western-style table setting, they’re completely supplanted by the almighty spoon at the average Filipino table.
Filipinos are quite adept at bringing out the full potential of a spoon. It’s used to scoop up rice, soup, or the ever-present fruit salad. More impressively, we even use it with a fork to twirl spaghetti noodles for neater eating or to cut up soft bits of meat or vegetables.
See? Once we figure out how to use a spoon to carve up a big roasted chicken or to peel an apple, there will no longer be any need for knives.
4. Eating with the hands
Sure, Aussies also eat certain kinds of food with their hands. Chips. Crisps. Toast with Marmite. Perhaps the odd sandwich every now and then.
But Filipinos take manual dexterity at the dining table to a whole new level. Try eating a breakfast of cured pork sausages and rice with your hands. Or how about deboning an entire grilled fish using just your fingers?
Apparently, this particular skill dates all the way back to when forks and spoons were an expensive novelty. Since many Filipinos could not afford them, they eventually learned to eat with their hands. But because there’s this singular, tactile pleasure that comes with wrapping your lips around a couple of fingers bearing food, a lot of us still carry on with the practice to this day, kitchen drawers filled with cutlery notwithstanding.
5. Condiments overload/weird food combinationsSpeaking of Marmite, Aussies are known to smear just about everything from toasted bread to meaty stews with the dark, yeasty paste. Given that, they might not be too freaked out by the Filipino inclination to drown almost everything in condiments, be it soy sauce, vinegar, fish sauce, or the famed banana ketchup.
Still, even the most rabid Marmite fan might pause at the sight of an unpasteurized duck embryo (i.e., balut) drenched in spicy vinegar or a rice cake (i.e., suman) piled high with ketchup.
The experience of eating and sharing food is such a crucial part of any civilized society that any culture is bound to come up with their own set of idiosyncracies surrounding it. So, while the dining practices discussed in this article may shock or perhaps even intrigue your Aussie spouse, there’s really no reason to hide or suppress them. When asked, you can simply provide a charming explanation or story behind why you pile food on your plate or wield your spoon differently.
If nothing else, unusual eating habits can serve as conversational pieces, the sort that spices up any savory, intimate meal shared between two loving partners.