Lasang Pinoy is on its third month, and things are getting exciting. Our host Kai of Bucaio has chosen the theme street food! I can’t wait to see the other entries, as I’ve always been fascinated with Philippine street food, having tried only some of them, because the others were either forbidden or simply unaccessible where we lived.

Of all the Filipino street foods, “dirty” ice cream is my favorite — it’s called that in Manila, presumably because they’re not made by the big ice cream manufacturers. Elsewhere they’re called sorbetes, from the Spanish. The flavor I always ask for first is queso (cheese), and I still remember the disappointment when the vendor tells you he’s out and you’ll have to settle for chocolate, vanilla or ube. Some people may find the cheese in ice cream unusual, but for Filipinos who naturally love contrasting tastes in their food, the combination of sweet-slightly salty just works. Kai asks, if you were a Filipino street food, which one would you be? I guess I’ll be queso dirty ice cream as I can be pretty schizophrenic — very sweet and malambing one moment and mataray the next — and in the heat of the summer, I can be really cool (or at least, I’d like my kids to think so). Perhaps next summer, I’ll post a recipe.

Since I don’t have access to the vendors myself, I’ve googled some for you. Here’s a pic of a dirty ice cream vendor — see the teeny-tiny ice cream cones? They’re so cute! You’ll have to eat at least 3 of these to equal an American sized one-scoop serving — and probably 10 to match the gelato serving sizes in Italy.

I didn’t like taho much growing up. Not very often a taho vendor — scroll down if clicking on the link — would make it into our subdivision, but only once or twice did we buy taho — I just wasn’t into the silky feel of it on my tongue. Until I married a taho lover and decided to make him some at home — easy enough since taho mixes are available at Asian stores. All I have to do is add some brown caramelly syrup (yum) and some sago. Ironically, it is now my hubby who somehow through the years developed an allergy for the stuff, so his stomach can’t handle it anymore, poor guy. Here’s more information, plus recipes, from Ellen’s Kitchen.

And then there’s manggang hilaw (green, unripe mango) with bagoong, which absolutely cannot be duplicated here in the US unless you have access to what we call “carabao mangoes” (no idea why it’s named after our water buffaloes, perhaps the size?). Philippine mangoes are reputed to be the best, so there is no acceptable substitute where Pinoy foodies are concerned. I’ve only been able to find this variety of mango here in the US twice, I believe once in San Diego and another in Houston. It is larger and more elongated than the mangoes commonly found here, and when green, is unbelievably sour — and I should add, when ripe, is unbelievably sweet. Our green mangoes are heavenly with a dip in salty shrimp paste (bagoong). My 14-yo who was lucky enough to go home with us in ’97 fell in love with it — so when we find green mangoes here, authentic or not — she has to be indulged. In a moment of desperate craving, I’ll reach for a granny smith apple and make do with that:(. In the Philippines, street vendors push carts laden with these beauties, and they’ll peel and slice it up for you, and give you the accompanying dip (some offer bagoong, others just sea salt, at least when I was there). More manggang hilaw pics from the market.

Say “streetfood” and a lot of people will automatically think, FISHBALLS! Here’s a fishball vendor picture from Ann Cortez). I’ve posted about fishballs in the past so I won’t go into it here. Experimentation on this has ceased — but will probably be taken up again as soon as our lives get back to normal, right Karen? which probably won’t be for a while LOL….

Chicken Skin Chicharon

The street food I’m offering you today isn’t one I had when I still lived in the Philippines. But I’ve heard that street food options keep expanding, and that this is now a “regular” offering. I usually discard the chicken skin either before or after cooking, for health reasons. But every now and then, I keep the skin and prepare this as a treat. All you need to do is slice up the skin in bite-sized pieces. Toss with a bit of salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat in a covered nonstick skillet, until all the fat is rendered. Pour out the fat from time to time if you want (as you can see, it is akin to cooking bacon). When all the fat has melted out of the skin, uncover, increase heat a bit and stir frequently to crisp all sides. I double- or triple-drain these before serving. My kids like it as is, but I have to have my dip of vinegar and garlic, chili peppers optional.

Lastly, I’d like to leave you with some words from the late writer Doreen Fernandez, best-known for her work in Pinoy food anthropology:

Of the factors that make street food a lifestyle in the Philippines, the most visible one is economic. [snip] It is a day-to-day, cash-to-cash, person-to-person, small enterprise suitable for developing countries like the Philippines, in which a large portion of the population is below the poverty line, and constitutes the potential sellers and buyers of street food.

From Doreen’s book Tikim, in the section about balut, she quotes Eddy Alegre:

Seventy-six percent of Filipinos live below the poverty line, and it is they who do the trail-blazing for others like them, as well as for all the rest. They bring ‘exotica’ to our tables and new additions to our usual food fare… They can start fads, such as the goto a few years back. They make day-old chicks and chicken viscera ordinary. They expand our options. They are the true voyagers and explorers, and thus the true discoverers of our culinary world.

It may be that street food originates from those whose options in making a living are fairly limited, but Pinoys from different walks of life have come to enjoy the great variety, to the point that it’s a treat when we find them in our restaurants, and we take the time to prepare them in our homes. There is the common perception, still prevalent in some areas, and justified in a lot of cases, that street food can be unhygienic and a health risk, but they’re an undeniable part of our cultural identity — and more important than anything else, they just taste GOOD.

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