The batchoy of my dreams Living with diabetes with the Filipino food we eat By desiring to have my Filipino dish and eat it too, I now realize that there is indeed a need for someone to devise a Filipino type menu for diabetics and, if we come to think of it, for everybody else.
By Simeon G. Silverio, Jr. Publisher & Editor San Diego Asian Journal San Diego, California September 16, 2006
I had a talk with my kumpadre, retired San Diego State University Assistant Professor Riz Oades recently and he intimated to me that his Kalusugan Community Services has just received a grant for a project to monitor and study the eating habits of Filipino Americans. KCS is an on-going project he organized together with another Filipino American SDSU professor, Dr. Ofelia Dirige as well as other associates that caters to the health concerns of the Filipino American community. I told my kumpadre that the eating habits of the Filipinos have long been at the back of my mind as a possible topic for a column. As a person suffering from Type 2 diabetes, I blame the Filipino dishes I eat for my ailment, although more than anything else, I only have myself to blame. I am very fond of eating food that I now tell my friends I have already eaten my quota of good food during my lifetime. Now I have to scale back, refrain from succumbing to the temptation of over-eating, if I want to live longer. In fact, living with gout, means, I should not eat peanuts, liver, sardines, fatty foods, beans, eggplants and others. In short, I should not eat anything. As a diabetic with gout, I have adopted one rule on what food not to eat. If the food is delicious, it is bad for me. I am doomed to eating oatmeals, salads, bran, wheat and other so-called health foods identified by so-called experts. Unfortunately, however, new studies sometime contradict long-held beliefs. Remember the Food Pyramid? Guess what. People that are supposed to be in the know now say that the pyramid should be inverted. Meaning, the food at the bottom of the pyramid is supposed to be bad for you and the top ones good. Oops, we made a mistake, they are now saying. Too bad for the past generations who religiously followed what turned out to be the wrong advice of experts! Can you still reverse the situation and resurrect the ones who perished by the old pyramid rule? The Atkins diet people recommend that we should eat a lot of meat, which I like. The old school still insists that meat is a no-no. Guess what I like to believe is true. My good friend Ernie Delfin declared the ultimate irony. He said that “now that we can afford to eat the food we want, we can no longer afford to eat the food we want. This may sound contradictory, but what he meant was that when we were young, we did not have the financial capability to eat the delicious food we want. And now that we are financially established and have the money to buy them, they are already bad for our health. Coming down with diabetes was a wake-up call for me. I thought all along that I will never have the disease since we do not have a history of diabetes in our family. Hence, I drank as much soda and ate as many desserts as I wanted. I thought I was Superman, immune to the disease because of my “lucky genes. I never even believed that I was overweight. In my subconscious, I often pictured myself as the slim guy in college. I do not see the overweight guy in front of me in the mirror. Lately, however, whenever I look at old pictures, I was surprised how slim and good-looking I was before. This may explain the reason why unlike before, girls no longer give me a second look these days. My doctor once showed me a pale yellow slab of plastic the size of a brick. This, he said, is what 2 pounds of fat in your body look like. While watching the sports program “The Best Damn Sports Show Period on television, one of the hosts, retired National Basketball Association player John Salley mentioned that he weighs 145 lbs. And he is seven foot tall! I am 5 feet and 5 inches tall, yet I weigh 185 lbs.! If I were a boxer, I should be a heavyweight! How would I fare with the likes of Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and other heavyweight boxers?
The first time I was diagnosed with diabetes two years ago, I was advised by my doctor to attend a one-week diabetic education class. In the class, we were told how much and what kind of food we should eat if we want to at least maintain our good health. When I was told that I am only allowed to eat a matchbox size of meat for the day, I immediately concluded that the class was not for me. During those early times, I met a group of friends feasting on fried chicken at the former Max Restaurant, which has since changed its name to Villa Manila. Although it changed its name, the cook of the restaurant insists that he still uses the famous Max Fried Chicken recipe. My friends invited me to join them, but I told them I was on a diet because of my recently discovered diabetes ailment. They dismissed my excuse and said: “Just ignore it! We have diabetes ourselves and if we go on a diet, what would be our reason for living? Among them were two doctors wives and a doctor herself. I found the encounter to be a bad influence on me. Whereas before, I was really religious in sticking to my diet because of my concern for my health, I started using that “bad testimonial as a reason for enjoying a steak or two. As much as possible, however, I always try to keep my eyes on the prize. I always warn myself that I might end up with a stroke just like what my father suffered causing him to remain bedridden until his death twelve years later, or have my legs amputated just like what our next door neighbor in the Philippines, Mr. Nic Tiongson had, or submit to a dialysis every other day just like what my cousin Carding has to undergo. But the delicious Filipino dishes conveniently and cheaply available from Filipino fast food restaurants are of no help. Since my wife and I already have an empty nest, it is always easier for us to just buy combination plates at the Filipino eatery located next door to our office or other nearby Filipino restaurants in National City. For only about five dollars, one can have two dishes, rice and a soup. As you pay the cashier, your eyes will be riveted to the caramel coated turon (sweet banana fritters) or ginataan on display beside the cash register. You will find yourself buying them since they only go for a dollar for three pieces of turon or a bowl of ginataan.
Floating in cooking oil
The problem, however, is that almost all fast food Filipino dishes, because of the Spanish influence, float in cooking oil. The delicious adobo with pieces of meat covered with fat and pork rind, the bistek coated with solidified oil (sebo) or even the fatty menudo. To top it off, Filipino dishes are often salty, which is just the way Filipinos want them. Hence you need to balance the taste with rice and in the process you end up eating as much rice as necessary. Salt causes high blood pressure, and rice, because of its sugar content, is a no-no for a diabetic person. But what can an overweight and disease-prone Filipino do? The flavors are an acquired taste. Getting rid of this preference after many years of getting used to it is hard. Besides, Filipino combination plates are so cheap and convenient. You do not have to shop at the grocery and cook the food. With a five-dollar bill, you have a choice of pinakbet, kare-kare, lechon kawali, chicharong bulaklak and paksiw na pata in addition to the regular staple mentioned before. Chicharong bulaklak, by the way is called “Highway to Heaven because too much of it can kill you. When I told a waiter at a Filipino beerhouse that it is bad for me, his standard reply is: “Okay lang iyan, kung paminsan minsan (Its alright if you eat only once in a while). It was obvious that his concern was the restaurants profit, not my health. One time, the drainage of our sink got clogged. A plummer unclogged it by removing one block of solidified cooking oil the size of a fist that got accumulated inside the pipe. That, I told myself, is the amount of cholesterol clogging my system.
Another bad habit I acquired is my penchant to eat out at least six times a week. It was always easy for me to ask my wife to dine out than wait for her to prepare food. My favorite is eating at the Mexican restaurant, Chevys in Mission Valley. I would start with a glass of pina colada together with a bowlful of freshly cooked tortilla chips dipped in hot salsa. Then we would have the spicy tortilla soup and finish it with a steakfajita. I like very much the sweet cornball dessert called tomatillo that goes with thefajita that my wife usually gives me her share of the cornball. The cherry and the sweet pineapple juice in the pina colada as well as the sugar in the cornball which I take in just one meal should be enough to meet my recommended sugar for the week. The extra sugar I take the rest of the week is supposed to be already bad for my health! But I turn a blind eye as if a miracle would happen and hope the indulgence wont have any bad effect on me. In fact, I consider the dinner as my luxury for the week. The problem is, I sometimes treat myself to that luxury more than two times a week, forcing my wife to put her foot down and to order me to be satisfied with the dim sum galore at the Jasmine Chinese Restaurant. It is a different kind of dish, alright, but the deep-fried delicacies have only one other reason for their existence in addition to being delicious: they are destined to clog your arteries! Feeling guilty, I sometimes rinse morsels of meat of an adobo with hot water. That way, I get rid of the salty taste and am able to eat it without rice. By desiring to have my Filipino dish and eat it too, I now realize that there is indeed a need for someone to devise a Filipino type menu for diabetics and, come to think of it, for everybody else. And this is why I am so happy that the Kalusugan Community Services has received a grant precisely to do this. I am looking forward to the time when I can buy delicious Filipino combination plates without getting worried or feeling guilty about my health. Like Filipino food for diabetics or health conscious.
Oftentimes, my loving wife would ask me what I would like to have for dinner. She cooks the best batchoy I have ever tasted in my entire life. But whenever I would say batchoy, she would immediately counter: “Masama sa iyo iyon (It is bad for you). We would end up watching television together since I would not give her a second choice; until I feel so hungry that I would eventually eat whatever leftover food we have in the refrigerator from a restaurant where we dined the night before. We never learn our lessons. She should not ask me for my preference since she would never give it to me anyway, or I should not tell her what food I want since it would be like asking for the moon. But like a broken record, the same scenario happens to us every time. Come to think of it, the last time she cooked batchoy for me was ten years ago. Strangely, I can still feel its delicious taste in my mouth. Maybe, one of these days, I might get lucky and have the batchoy of my dreams, with its milky and fatty soup streaming through my throat. If thats not a hint, I dont know what is. Will somebody remind her that my birthday is on December 18? – AJ