JUNE 28, 2008
(STAR) By Wilson Lee Flores Sunday, June 22, 2008 There is no love sincerer than the love of food. — George Bernard Shaw

Sacred cows make the best hamburger. — Mark Twain

Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian, wine and tarragon make it French, sour cream makes it Russian, lemon and cinnamon make it Greek, soy sauce makes it Chinese, garlic makes it good. — Alice May Brock

Anhui province, China — Philippine STAR readers James Sumner of Wales and his girlfriend Francesca Boza of England, recent tourists to the Philippines, e-mailed this writer to say they found lots of Philippine foods delicious and exotic, like that 20th-century concoction halo-halo, the Kapampangan-invented sisig (please e-mail where we can find the best sisig in Metro Manila), the Bicolano laing, the Ilocano pinakbet, “the unforgettable green mango shake” (their favorite), sour soup of sinigang, “the sweet Filipino-style spaghetti with hotdogs at Jollibee,” and many others.

They lament — and I agree — that it’s a tragedy so many Western tourists come to the Philippines to explore Banaue Rice Terraces, swim with the whale sharks of Donsol, Bicol and visit the diving spots of various isles but are less adventurous with foods and almost always prefer the familiarity of Western-style fast food. They, however, describe our balut as “inscrutable” and also lament the fact that some of us eat man’s best friend — dogs.

When they learned that I’m ethnic Chinese, they said they’ve never tried chicken feet in dimsum restos and they lamented the fact that we love to eat shark’s fin soup.

I apologize to them and other environmentalists, but I couldn’t restrain my love of shark’s fin soup (the authentic one, because there are some cheap fakes), also bird’s nest soup (El Nido in Palawan produces some of Asia’s best) and others.

It’s also quite unfair and a bit of a Western double standard, I e-mailed my new friends, that they are not lamenting the puzzling French tradition of cooking and eating horsemeat. No kidding: the cultured and civilized French do eat horses!

I have a French friend who explained to me that after the earth-shaking French Revolution in 1789, the people took the thoroughbred equines maintained by their aristocracy and cooked the horsemeat to alleviate poverty among the French masses. She explained it’s as if we in the Philippines were to take away the prized fighting cocks of our local elites and cook them as fried chicken! She claims horsemeat is delicious — low in fat and high in protein.

Jokingly, I e-mailed back to James and Francesca in the UK that if they continued to complain about our Philippine balut or the Chinese love of shark’s fin soup, I would have to fly to England and cook their swans, roasted style, and also get swan eggs to incubate into swan balut! Of course, they were aghast and scandalized, asking via e-mail how I came to know that it’s illegal to eat swans in the United Kingdom. I’m not kidding: I am planning to join a tour package of Europe from October to December this year, and then afterwards travel to Latin America early next year to explore history, birthplaces of literary writers, poets, ancient battles and, of course, exotic foods and wines.

To confirm that the British are prohibited from eating swans due to a royal decree (in the same way many Indians cannot eat cows due to religious restrictions), British Ambassador to Manila Peter Beckingham texted me: “Wilson, I believe it is true that swans are protected under a royal ordinance. That may even go back to King Henry the eighth!” Pardon me for saying it, but what a waste! Large, healthy and delectable-looking swans are not being eaten or exported as processed foods by Britons, as they are with Beijing ducks, Canadian salmons or Kobe beef? Arrrrgh!

My research does confirm that the Roman emperor Julius Caesar once observed that the ancient British tribes thought it “unlawful” to eat or kill wild geese and swans.

Sayang! I’m sure the huge population of protected British swans would taste so good in Philippine-style adobo or tinola cooking! Or I could just imagine how delectable swan feet are if cooked Chinese-style or as Philippine-style chicken feet! And why not swan balut, too? If they eat cows and pigs, why not swans for Britons?

The British couple’s e-mail to this writer came during my recent trip to Shanghai and Nanjing cities in east China. They would be more perplexed if they knew that while I was in bustling Nanjing, a former imperial capital and pre-war bastion of Kuomintang regime’s General Chiang Kai Shek, I decided to detour to quaint, ancient Bozhou City of rural Anhui province which has probably the world’s biggest herb market.

Occupying 85 acres in area and open mornings until early afternoons, this Chinese Medicine Market (zhongyao sichang in Mandarin) of Bozhou has over 6,000 traders selling herbs, ginseng, roots, rocks, leaves, mushrooms, seahorses, deer antlers, minerals, animal skins, tortoise shells, dried insects like scorpions, all kinds of dried snakes, dried bats and other exotic medicinal foodstuffs that would leave anyone quite awed, speechless and flabbergasted.

A young trader told me that among the herbal medicines sold there for all kinds of ailments are many “natural aphrodisiacs” (no wonder there are 1.3 billion Chinese in mainland China alone despite the Communist state’s modern-era strict one-child policy!).

Whenever people ask why I visited Bozhou City, which is not exactly a tourist destination, I explain I’m not a herbs trader or looking for aphrodisiacs, but I am a history buff.

Unknown to even most well-educated Chinese, Bozhou is the birthplace of many great individuals in history — the female warrior heroine Hua Mulan who disguised herself as a man to save her elderly dad from military draft and fought valiantly for her nation (yes, just like the Disney cartoon); the cunning warlord Cao Cao (pronounced as “Zhao Zhao”) of the Three Kingdoms epic; and Laozi who founded China’s only indigenous religion Taoism.

Bozhou is also the hometown of Hua Tou the wise doctor and pharmacologist who also invented some animal-inspired exercises similar to Tai Chi, and almost like those in the Hollywood cartoon Kung Fu Panda. By the way, Po the Panda who becomes an exalted Dragon Warrior in that fun flick is not only a kung fu master, but also — like me — a passionate, incorrigible die-hard food lover!

Before reminding all you folks it’s Sunday and we should all go to church before surrendering to temptations of sumptuous lunch, let me share an almost Biblical story. Adam and Eve wouldn’t have caused mankind from falling into sin due to the nefarious influence of that evil serpent in the Garden of Eden, if only Adam and Eve were ethnic Chinese. Why? Instead of violating divine prohibitions and eating the forbidden apple, if Adam and Eve had been Chinese, they would have eaten the serpent and sold the apple!

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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