“I’m not really into food,” Ajay told me. “In fact, when I travel, I think food is a waste of time.” I tried not to be personally offended.
At that moment, I challenged myself to make my new friend see the error of his ways. Ajay is an award-winning photographer and was recently named one of the best photographers in all of India. I wondered how someone from a country so famous for food could not be a foodie. I decided to make a believer out of him. Someone with such fine taste in all things related to photography had to have foodie potential.
Fortunately for me, I would have help in winning Ajay over. Ajay was a part of my FAM trip in the Philippines during my recent TBEX experience. If you recall, the event organizers did a phenomenal job of wining and dining with us.
But even so, I knew it was going to be a challenge. In his one and only post about food, Ajay actually wrote “food is a necessary evil we have to waste time on during our travels. In my nomadic stints, I make do with whatever takes the least time and provides enough energy to keep moving on.”
We were set to attend a lunch at the world-famous Zubuchon, which became internationally acclaimed after famed chef Anthony Bourdain declared that they served the best pig he’d ever had.
This lunch would highlight the very best of Filipino food, and I strategically positioned myself in a seat across the table from Ajay as the dishes began appearing onto the table before us.
First up, an easy introduction to Filipino food. A pineapple mint shakes is typically served as a welcome drink. Universally loved, this one needed no help getting everyone to agree how great it was.
Grilled scallops served on the shell were up next. These were breaded with a panko-like topping and tasted buttery. This is another dish that most everyone can agree to appreciate.
Then, servers carried out the next course–fish skin tacos. I was eager to try these because I had never heard of them before. Deep-fried fish skins served as taco shells, which you added freshly made ceviche to before enjoying. Personally, I loved the ceviche, but the group agreed that the fried fish skins were just okay.
Platefuls of sotanghon guisado came out next. This dish is made of spicy noodles and served with lime to squeeze over the top before mixing and eating.
After each of these universally enjoyed dishes, the restaurant finally threw us a curveball– dinuguan. Diniguan is a savory pork stew simmered in a dark gravy of garlic, chili, vinegar, and pig’s blood: pig’s blood soup. I was anxious to see how Ajay would respond to the dish.
Ajay surprised me by jumping right in, seemingly curious to try the new dish. After his first bite I asked him to describe the taste: “warm, salty than sour, smooth in consistency with a slightly bitter aftertaste,” he said.
Next up was the dish that made Zubuchon famous. I could write an entirely separate post just about Lechon. I could probably write an entire novel about Lechon.
The dish is roasted suckling pig, skin on, fatty. Lechon is actually the national dish of the Philippines, and the region we were in is famous for having the best. What’s more, Zubuchon itself is famous for having the best in the region, perhaps the best in the world.
We were served not one, but two types of Lechon. My favorite was the boneless spicy version. The Lechon was a Filipino food winner that everyone at the table could agree on.
I was a bit apprehensive of this salad because of its salted eggs. I don’t normally like salted eggs, because as the name implies, they’re usually (too) salty. This dish is known as ensaladang kamatis it log na maalat at tinapang bangus. That translates to smoked Bangus with salted egg and tomato salad. Bangus, also known as milkfish, is the national fish of the Philippines. In the end, I enjoyed the dish and thought it worked well because the tomatoes cut the saltiness of the eggs.
And finally, dessert. We were served biko, which is a traditional Filipino food served as dessert, made of sticky rice, coconut milk, and brown sugar. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not much of a dessert person, and this dish didn’t sway me much. It was very sweet, probably as desserts should be, but was not to my taste.
By the end of the meal, Ajay had declared that he liked nearly every dish. But would he call himself a foodie now? Perhaps not yet. Still, I did notice that he recently checked into Newtons, a popular local food center, during his recent visit to Singapore, so maybe he’s on his way.
Which dish looked best to you? Tell me the dish you would most like to try in the comments section below!
Click here to check out Ajay’s website.
All photos credited to Ajay Sood.
Travel writer and owner of the blog. My work has been featured on Fodors, Eater.com, International Living, and Great Escape Publishing, among many others. My story? Nearly six years ago, I left my job at an Oklahoma City law firm and embarked on a journey around the world. At the time, I thought I would only be gone for 6 months, but the more I traveled, the longer my bucket list became. Flashpacker describes how I travel. Rather than traveling as the normal world wise backpacker and staying in hostel dorms, I prefer a more comfortable experience, and typically stay in private rooms, take Ubers instead of taxis, and now use a suitcase instead of a backpack. Foodie, on the other hand, describes one of the key reasons why I travel. I love to pick a central “base camp” and then explore the surrounding area, really immersing myself in the culture and interacting with the people, and enjoying and exploring the food of an area is an essential part of this experience.