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MEALS AND CUSTOMS
As in all other areas of Philippine life, the origins of eating customs
can be traced to the history of the islands themselves.
As in most Asian regions, rice is the most respected staple, for hunger is
always a reality. Although many Filipinos enjoy a prosperous life and
happily mingle foods, meal patterns, and eating customs that blend Malay,
Chinese, Spanish, and American patterns, there are still many who cook and
eat their meals traditionally, savoring every grain of rice and the slight
taste of fishy condiment. Native fruits and vegetables in season fill many
Traditional Filipinos begin their day with a meal of fish and rice, others
enjoy fresh fruits and ensaimada, sugary yellow buns that are the
Filipino coffeecake. For others, frothy cups of hot chocolate accompanied
by crusty white sourdough bread (pan de sal) mean breakfast.
Diversity of tastes is less apparent in the other meals of the day,
depending, of course, on economic circumstances. Lunch and dinner tend to
consist of several dishes served buffet style, followed by fruits in
season and then a variety of sweet desserts of which the flan is always
one. The dishes presented often span several cultures, but somehow end up
being unquestionably Filipino.
The merienda, the small, sweet meal served in the late afternoon
with tea or coffee, is suffering competition from the many street vendors,
cafes, and restaurants, as well as quick-snack bars in the American style.
One can snack in almost any language, or at least with enough diversity to
satisfy any taste, whether the hunger pangs arrive in the morning,
afternoon, or late evening.
Despite its penchant for rice, the Philippines do not use chopsticks;
western or European eating customs prevail. Hospitality is always gracious
and the best dishes proudly presented to guests. Many Filipinos will even
temper their own tastes for fermented fish condiments and heavy garlic to
please what they believe to be an American palate, saving their
traditional seasonings for when they are dining with family.