Tales Of An American Cowboy Lost In The Philippines


The Quest for Mexican Food

No person, gringo or otherwise, who is born and raised in any of the American states that share a border with Mexico can comfortably go very long without good Mexican food.  It is so essential to a Southwesterner's well being that on the list of life's necessities it is subordinate only to air and water.  And cerveza.  Being from New Mexico is a special disadvantage when living abroad because the absolute best of all Mexican food genres is New Mexican style food and we all tend to get rather spoiled on it.

So, of course one of my first orders of business upon landing at Ninoy Aquino International Airport was to mount a search for Mexican food.  Six weeks later, I'm still searching.  Despite the fact that there are plenty of historical links between the Philippines and Mexico, the food thing didn't seem to catch on. 

However, tonight I happened to catch a bit of the Filipino equivalent of our NCAA basketball tournament on a local television station and in the background amongst all the signs advertising the names of the tournament sponsors, I happened to spy a Taco Bell sign.  Now, Taco Bell could hardly be considered high quality Mexican food, but it is tasty and by now my muscles had started to atrophy from a lack of nutrients found only in tortillas - and it was certainly the nearest facsimile I had even heard of in Manila.  For me, it represented the rough equivalent of what a methadone clinic is to a heroin addict. A quick check on the Internet revealed three locations (in a city of 14 million!).

The closest location was about 8 miles away, so after a 1 hour 20 minute cab ride in the kind of rainstorm that made Noah famous, I arrived.  All this was happening a few days after Typhoon Xangsane had torn the crap out of Manila and much of the city was still without electricity.  Taco Bell was located in a mall which had partial power, but not enough to run the air conditioning system.  No matter, I needed it and the hellish climate inside the mall wasn't stopping me - 100% humidity be damned!  To their credit, the Taco Bell staff was among the heartiest of mall vendors because they were indeed open while their more faint of heart competitors had long before closed.  It didn't even bother me like it should have that the cook wasn't wearing a shirt.

I placed my order and shortly it was served up.  It looked just like it does at home.  My hands trembled as I unwrapped the first item and took a bite.  It was good!  Damn good, in fact.  Unlike water, milk, and every other thing in the Philippines, all of the Taco Bell items - and I had many of them - looked, tasted, smelled, and felt just like the real thing from back in the Motherland.  It was divine and certainly worth the effort.  The roundtrip cab fare was about $17.00, which is a fortune in Manila cab fares, but that's what it took to entice the drivers to make such a long trip in the driving rain.  The meal itself was a paltry $4.00, so all in all, it was the best $21.00 I've spent in a while.  It has given me the strength to carry on the search for good Mexican food a while longer.

Peace, love, and green chile!

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