Eating in the margins

About September of this year, I stopped by a little carenderia in Mandaue City on the way home. I asked the taxi driver to take me to the best eatery in town. Cebuano drivers are the food trend setters of the island, so it is quite customary to talk about food while in the cab. Wherever you find taxis cramped near a makeshift shed, you’re pretty sure that food there can be had at the cheapest price and at its tastiest.

Well, I did imagine that I was some badass Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern, just coursing through Mandaue streets, stopping once in a while to indulge in food voyeurism. Exotic is not the word for these street food items. Tourists call strange food exotic. I am no tourist. I am a local who got that strange weekly urge to gorge on food not found in fastfood chains.

So I stopped by this small carenderia where the taxi driver dropped me off. It’s off the main highway, nestled amongst residences and high-walled factories. Outside was a half-naked man grilling barbecue over coconut shell charcoal. I passed by him and went to look at the estante, where food was displayed. I looked up and saw their specials: lansiao, a bull’s genitals soup, and goat’s head caldereta. Aside from the soups, they had octopus sauteed on its own ink with spring onion and minced garlic. There’s also fried pig’s ass (lubot sa baboy), that resembles a desiccated ginseng root.

I sat down and ordered pig’s ass and lansiao with a cup of rice. The lansiao has a nutty and rich tomato flavor with the meat having a gummy texture to it. In Cebuano lore, lansiao is supposed to increase one’s vitality, strengthening one’s knees for the days ahead. For the naughty, this soup enhances sexual performance and could act as an aphrodisiac of some sort (if served to the man of your dreams).

Lansiao (bull’s or horse’s genitals soup)

The pig’s ass (actually the rectum and the large intestine) is served deep fried and chopped. This is then mixed with red onion, tomato, spring onion, lemonsito, vinegar, and soy. They’re crunchy as chicharon and in some parts chewy like rubber. The thing with this dish is that the smell constantly reminds that you’re really eating an ass. So, I have to drown the smell with a substantial helping of chopped onion.

Deep-Fried Pig’s Ass (Chopped)

This is how the pig’s ass looks like when sold

After eating, I brought with me a goat’s head caldereta for my friend Aloy. In Cebu, this dish is much sought after and more expensive than caldereta made from other goat parts. I do not know if this is connected to any Cebuano belief but people partake of this food for one thing: the goat’s brain, a delicacy in this part of the Philippines. Many small restaurants in Cebu have been built around this dish as the main attraction. The most notable are in Pasil, a fishport village, and in Panganiban. Now, Mandaue has been the central food area for this kind of dishes.

Goat’s Head Caldereta

These are not the food that you find in fancy Philippine restaurants. Snotty restaurateurs would never offer these to customers fearing that its strangeness would offend the sensibilities of elitist snobs and tourists. I could understand why the head or the genitals are not considered food in other cultures. Food is cultural. Your food might be taboo in ours. In the Philippines where scarcity is a rule of thumb, everything is deliciously prepared. No part of the animal goes to the trash bin, it goes straight to the pan and voila! a dish like no other.

With fastfood chains sprouting everywhere, I am amazed at the resilience of this Cebuano food culture. If you go by the streets of Mandaue City, next to a MacDonalds is a makeshift stall (with wheels) sheltered by a beach umbrella, offering deep fried pig’s ass and an assortment of fried internal organs.

Looks like this food culture is alive and well despite the onset of Western tastes.

So, penis soup anyone?