The next morning, I cranked up the rice cooker a friend of mine had given us and fixed Emelda breakfast. She had never been a big eater, but I figured that she would be ready to gobble down a good dose of rice and some pineapple juice. I was wrong. She politely consumed a half a dozen spoonfuls of the seasoned rice, but her heart just wasn’t in it. She did like the juice, but she encouraged me to finish the rice. Before long, it became apparent that the rice I had made was not up to Emelda’s standards. Emelda’s favorite food was rice and I had just failed at trying to prepare it for her.
This led to our first trip to the supermarket. We looked for foods that Emelda would like. The most important purchase was (you guessed it) a big bag of rice. We didn’t find much else that Emelda wanted to try, so we went to a Filipino grocery store (I should have thought of that first, eh?). There, she felt more at ease and we picked up some things that she might like. We found some mangoes, some fish and a few other assorted items. We also stopped off at a nearby Chowking restaurant (Chowking is a Filipino-Chinese fast food chain) and got Emelda one of her favorite desserts: halo-halo. When we got home, Emelda tried to cook the new rice in the rice cooker, but she still wasn’t satisfied, so she pulled out a pot and cooked some rice up the old fashioned way. This time, she was happy.
That rice cooker hasn’t been used since.
In the beginning, Emelda was totally unadventurous when it came to food. She stuck to the kinds of foods that she had eaten in the Philippines. She wouldn’t try anything American. Luckily, we live in the city with the highest number of Filipinos in America. There are Filipino stores and restaurants nearby. I began to get more and more familiar with the options out there for her limited palate. I discovered that she liked the barbecue sticks at the local Goldilocks Bakery (a Filipino bakery chain). Soon, I was heading there almost every day.
I was also constantly searching for good mangoes. Emelda loves mangoes and couldn’t live without them if she tried. While she did enjoy the mangoes we would find at the local Naga Market, something was missing: Bagoong. (Bagoong is a fish or shrimp paste that Filipinos like to spread on mangoes.) When the brand new Maynila Supermarket opened up near our apartment, Emelda was in seventh heaven. Not only did they have good mangoes, but they had Bagoong! They also had a great meat department and an array of fish that Emelda loved. She would pile cans of sardines into the basket and grab her favorite Filipino candy: Maxx. She also liked to buy some of the vegetable at the store which I had never seen before. This new store has been a blessing ever since.
The first non-Filipino thing that Emelda tried to eat here in America was a spicy Thai rice dish that I always order from Nat’s Thai Food in Hollywood. She liked it! I was shocked because this rice was mixed with green peppers, mint leaves, onions and red peppers whereas the rice she always fixed for herself was plain. No matter; I was happy that I had found something that she liked.
As she got more and more comfortable here, she got more adventurous with American food. She now likes Big Macs (from McDonald’s), Western Bacon Cheeseburgers (from Carl’s Jr.) spaghetti and some Chinese food. Still, she mostly eats fish, Lechon Manok (roasted chicken) or some other Filipino main course with her perennial plain white rice. Some habits die hard.