Tag Archives: Philippines

Why Filipino Americans do it better

Why Filipino and Filipino Americans do it better
and other findings on Filipino American health


I recently heard a disturbing story from my aunt, a nurse with a Bariatric surgery team in CA. She recently got injured from holding up the weight of the fatty flesh of a patient undergoing reduction surgery for hours. My aunt was prescribed pain killers, and is on indefinite sick leave. (It sounds like a scene out of a surreal indie film, not reality.) Obesity is an epidemic in the US. I knew that, but I never heard of the field. Bariatics is “a field of medicine encompassing the study of overweight and its causes, prevention, and treatment.”

I noticed many of my relatives had health problems and wanted to learn about the causes and solutions. I found that Filipino Americans as a group are at risk for obesity — along with conditions such as diabetes and cancer. Tita Loreta, my hero and a breast cancer survivor, recently alerted me to the alarmingly high breast cancer rate among Filipina Americans. Tita Loreta is a nurse, manager, and facilitator of a breast cancer support group at UCLA.

Research: The bad news

Here are some research findings regarding Filipino American health issues. Note the interesting comments on Filipino American males and females, respectively.

“Filipinos had the highest incidence and death rate from prostate cancer and the highest death rate from female breast cancer” among Asian American groups in CA, where most Filipino Americans are based.
Source: “Cancer Incidence, Mortality, and Associated Risk Factors Among Asian Americans…,” A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, American Cancer Society

“Filipino adults are 70% more likely to be obese as compared to the overall Asian population.”
Source: “Obesity and Asian Americans,” US Dept. of Health and Human Services

“Filipino immigration to the U.S. is associated with changes in eating patterns and tendency to develop eating pathology. Eating disturbances are important to examine since Filipino Americans show high rates of hypertension and type-2 diabetes relative to other cultural groups. Research on Filipino Americans has indicated a surprising gender difference in risk of eating pathology. Filipino American males show a pattern of eating disorder symptoms and body dissatisfaction similar to that of White American females.”
(footnotes omitted)
Source: “Eating and Acculturation…,” North American Journal of Psychology

To add to this, there is the “colonization” of the Philippine culture by the food and pharmaceutical business. (I have observed that processed white bread, white rice, white milk etc. is often perceived and presented to be superior to the nutritious whole foods of the traditional Philippine diet.) I’ll save this topic for another time, since I’ve already presented an overwhelming amount of information.

Research: The good news

“Working as a plantation doctor between 1973 and 1976 on the Big Island of Hawaii gave me insights that saved my life and the lives of many others. My first generation Filipino, Japanese, and Chinese patients lived on rice and vegetables (foods they learned to love before they moved to Hawaii) – no dairy and little meat – and they were my trimmest and healthiest patients – no diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or prostate, colon or breast cancer. Their children and grandchildren, who were raised from birth in Hawaii, learned the American diet, and as a result became fat and sick.”
Source: “Logan Ginger,” Dr. John A. McDougall

Dr. Mc Dougall observed Filipino men thriving on vegetables, fruits, and rice. They had, what he describes as, “natural Viagra.”

“Men in their 70s and 80s were starting new families and demonstrating physical functions many American men only fantasize about after their 50s. These Filipino septuagenarians also expected to see their young children grow into adults, and they did. This virility and optimism was from their simple diets.”
Source: “Basic Nutrition from My Plantation Patients,” Dr. John A. McDougall

For Filipino Americans (and other populations) to thrive, Dr. McDougall makes a compelling case for nourishment from meals based on vegetable, fruit, and grains.

Related links
FiLipino American Vegetarian Association (FLAVA)

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Food adventures in the Philippines


Can anyone ID this sci-fi looking fruit? Photo: R&J Meyer

Can anyone ID this sci-fi looking fruit? Photo: R&J Meyer

Here are our vegetarian-friendly top picks for Manila, Cebu, Dumaguete, and beyond. One of my favorite things about Filipinos is that they take their meal times and snack times seriously, so there are a plethora of quality restaurants and eateries in the archipelago. I eat fish occasionally, and have dined at these places with my vegan spouse, and veg-loving, meat-loving, Filipino and non-Fil. friends.  These are nice places to take families, dates, and your favorite aunt. Regarding cost information,  when I say a place is expensive that means moderate if you are spending in dollars.


Though I spent most of my time in the rural areas, the last few times I had business in Manila I stayed at the moderate AIM business hotel. (Tip: If you look remotely Filipino, ask for the discounted Balikbayan rate. You’ll just need to show a form of ID that shows that you are either employed or have some kind of residence in the PI. Places like the Manila Peninsula also have deals for local residents, including meals and room during times like Christmas.)  It is clean and professional and within walking distance of some of the finest dining in Makati City, right across from the Greenbelt mall and a small branch of Rustan’s supermarket.

Greenbelt, Makati area
1) **Max Brenner, Ground Level, Greenbelt 3, Ayala Center, Makati Avenue. Excellent chocoholics breakfast and a wonderful breakfast/lunch. Convenient walk to the Ayala museum, which would be pleasant to visit after lunch/brunch. We love this place!  By the way, the nearby Ayala museum cafe also has a nice healthy-looking, upscale cafe menu, and modern design. (I’ve never eaten here — only visited museum.)

Max Brenner resto. Photo: R&J Meyer

Max Brenner resto. Photo: R&J Meyer

Euro style breakfast at Max Brenner. Photo: R&J Meyer

Euro style breakfast at Max Brenner. Photo: R&J Meyer

Hot choco was da bomb at Max Brenner. Photo: R&J Meyer

Hot choco was da bomb at Max Brenner. Photo: R&J Meyer

2) **Kai, Unit 13, Greenbelt 2 (may have moved to GB 5 by now), Ayala Center, Makati City, 757-5209 to 10, 0917-852-3654. Nouveau Japanese, light, expensive. Excellent quality fish and other foods. If you like Bond St and Nobu in NY, you’ll enjoy Kai.

3) **People’s Palace, Greenbelt 3. Modern Thai food.  If you enjoy modern interior design and fine Thai food, you’ll like People’s Palace, another great recommendation from our foodie friend Richard U. of Cebu.

Photo by Chotda, via Flickr.com

People’s Palace photo by Chotda, via Flickr.com

4) Sugi, Greenbelt 3.  Japanese, traditional, expensive. Good lunch specials & high quality japanese food in a nice setting.

5) Zhongnanhai, Greenbelt 3 mall, ground floor, Makati – Chinese restaurant (near Bizu pastry shop & Sugi Japanese restaurant). Has nice teas and tasty tofu dishes. Nouveau Hong Kong style with pleasant modern atmosphere. Moderate prices.

6) Hue, Greenbelt 3, Makati – Vietnamese cuisine. Light. Try veggie crepes. Vegetarian

7) Chimara, Simple, delicious Neo *vegan* fast food eatery, Greenbelt 3, top floor, cinema level. Good pre-movie quick food or light meals. We ate here many times! There is also a smoothie/fruit shake place one floor down.

8)  Dencio’s, Power Plant mall location, Philippine food. Good quality chain restaurant. Ask for the delicious meatless version of kare kare, as well as vegetable side dishes.  My aunt Peggy took us here and recommended this place.  It was the nicest, newest Dencio’s we saw on our last visit.

9) Bizu, Greenbelt 2 & other locations. Café/Patisserie. 02-757-2498. French style amazing desserts & coffees. Try the tea service with three levels of tea delights. Not vegan. Eat here sparingly 🙂

Tea service at Bizu. Photo: R&J Meyer

Tea service at Bizu. Photo: R&J Meyer

*Rich* French-style pastries at Bizu. Photo: R&J Meyer

*Rich* French-style pastries at Bizu. Photo: R&J Meyer

UP / Ateneo area, Quezon area – Vegetarian
Simple but good, clean places serving healthy Philippine food.

1) Greens vegetarian restaurant and cafe, 92 Sct Castor (between Scout Tuazon / Tomas Morato, near Max Chicken House), 02-4154796 – Veggie restaurant recommended by Dessa (fellow veg, native of Manila). This is in UP/Ateneo University area.




Photos via: Greens


2) Likha Diwa, C.P. Garcia, Krus na Ligas, Metro Manila, Quezon City, near University of the Philippines campus Tel: 02-9255522 – Veggie eatery featuring healthy Philippine cuisine. Who knew veg. Phil. cuisine could be so tasty. It is cozy and has an outdoor eating area, but beware it is near a busy, polluted roadway. (Charita, this is the place where we dined with Deb, Hannah, and John.) Recommended by Dessa.


Photo: via Likha Diwa


Shopping for healthy food
1) Rustan’s supermarket – a chain that sells regular supermarket items as well as imported goods. Best one I’ve seen is in Glorietta mall. It has an organic section and also sells soy milk.

2) Healthy Options – next to R’s supermarket in Glorietta. There are other branches at other malls. These small stores specialize in health food and natural beauty items (rice milk, shampoos, insect repellent, sunscreen, organic flours, organic pancake mix, etc.) imported mostly from US. Largest selection is at this branch. Get discount card from them (Green card). They also have soy milk from the US, but it is cheaper to get this locally at most major supermarkets. (Please, somebody open up a version of this store with organic Philippine goods for the city people!)

Outside of Manila
The Farm
, San Benito (2 hours south of Manila) Here’s the upscale new spa/resort (written up in the NY Times) with a live foods restaurant. It’s owned by the same company who owns the eco-luxe hotels in Bali. I haven’t been yet, but if I win big at the lotto, I’ll invite all of my friends and family to go there with me!

There’s a chain called Bodhi in many of the malls, that serves vegetarian, Chinese fast food. It serves dishes mainly with fake meat (wheat gluten or tofu) with veggies. The veggies aren’t that fresh, but ok if you are in a hurry. My cousin  took us to the best Bodhi, that was a new, stand alone restaurant. (Mutya where was this again?)


Thanks to our friend, Cebu-native and sometime Austin, TX resident Richard for introducing us to all the best restaurants and wine bars in Cebu.

Crossroads – Outdoor mall featuring veggie-friendly restos: Persian Palate, Banri noodles (Japanese), and some Thai places. At Persian Palate, We avoided the yogurt products at all locations because they disagreed with our stomachs. The Crossroads is five minutes away from Ayala mall by taxi. On same road as Gaisano country mall (halfway between Gaisano and Ayala).

Yumeya Kihei — Pacific Square Building, F. Cabahug St., Mabolo, Cebu City, in Castle Peak hotel area (it is on 1st floor of office building, look for name of ofc bldg or you might miss it), 032-231-7886, 234-2388.  Authentic Japanese restaurant with extensive menu. Recommend: tofu dishes esp. yudofu, agedashi tofu, miso soup, veggie sushi rolls.

Various Korean restaurants around town. (There seems to be many Korean businessmen in Cebu for some reason.) Ask for vegetarian Bi Bim Bap, rice topped with egg & various veggies, served with a hot past and sometimes served in a stone bowl. Foodie friend Richard knows of small eateries, but recommends the restaurant in Lahug as best one (where business men eat).

Big Mao, Ayala Mall — A healthy, clean Chinese restaurant with really good fried tofu with steamed mushrooms and bok choy.  Note: Aside from Starbuck’s, we have tried and generally avoided the other Ayala mall food.

Bok choy & mushrooms

Bok choy & mushrooms at Big Mao. Photo: R&J Meyer

Fried tofu at Big Mao

Fried tofu at Big Mao. Photo: R&J Meyer

Golden Cowrie – Good quality, inexpensive Filipino food. May accommodate requests for veggie versions of Filipino dishes. Locations all over Cebu including SM mall.

Gaisano – Ayala mall
SM supermarket  – SM mall
Koreana – Cesar’s Foodland Building, corner Gov. M. Cuenco Ave. & Paseo Saturnino, Banilad,  A Korean supermarket. Next door is a little Korean restaurant.

Healthy Options – Health food and beauty product store. Ayala center location in Cebu is good, but has smaller selection than Manila branches.



When in town, the best place we have found to stay is Coco Grande. It offers a/c, cable, warm décor, clean rooms, marble bathrooms, a friendly staff who remembers frequent visitors, and a good lounge for meeting friends. Look at rooms in order to choose newly renovated rooms. Best/campus downtown option. The restaurant not recommended, unless the European chef returns for a special appearance.

Persian Palate – Lots of veggie options, like hummus. We avoided the yogurt products at all locations because they disagreed with our stomachs. Close to pier, around corner from La Residencia hotel.

Why Not — The bar, restaurant and internet stations are generally populated with older European men and their young Filipina companions.  However, the cafe has less of this scene most of the time and has good quality European cafe food. (Of course the only times the sexpats were out in full force at the cafe was the time I brought my mom and she was super uncomfortable.)  Recommended: breakfasts, apple strudel, chocolates, tofu schnitzel.

Desserts (local non-vegan favorites)
Ana Maria – beside DHL office. Coco Amigos & Grande order their cakes from here
Sans Rival – Local desserts

There are no health food stores in Dumaguete that I have visited.  However, at Lee supermarket, one can find good coffee, organic brown rice grown in Negros made for export, soy milk, organic spaghetti, and meusli.  There was also a Japanese store near La Residencia that sold quality soy sauce, nori, and soba noodles.



We visited to learn how to surf and found some wonderful places. Restaurants at the small, family-run Sagana, and Ocean 101 inns are good.  Sagana’s chef prepared amazing fresh, thoughtful pan-asian and European-influenced light, satisfying foods.  The friendly staff and owners are local, Australian, and Japanese.  The architecture is breezy, modern, and clean. (The photos of the cottages on the website don’t do the place justice.) This was our favorite place to stay and eat.

Curry at Sagana. Photo: R&J Meyer

Curry at Sagana. Photo: R&J Meyer

Ocean 101‘s restaurant is an inexpensive option for both food and lodging (though the cement block room made me feel somewhat claustrophobic). Pansukian, a fancy hotel inland was also recommended to us, but we never had the chance to try it.

Read about vegetarian restaurants in the Philippines at Happy Cow.

Of course, most of the food we usually had was very simple and some of the best food we’ve had was made at our hut or at homes of friends.

Pita pizza at Batad. The chef was trained by a backpacking Israeli. Photo: R&J Meyer

Pita pizza at Simon’s, Batad. The cook was trained by a backpacking Israeli. Photo: R&J Meyer

The most fresh Japanese-style seafood & veggies I've ever had. At the Harada's house, Siquijor. Photo: R&J Meyer

The most fresh Japanese-style seafood & veggies I’ve ever had. Dinner at the Harada’s house, Siquijor. Photo: R&J Meyer

Andreas prepares the fire pit for our fresh fish and shish kabob dinner in his backyard. Photo: R&J Meyer

Andreas prepares the fire pit for our fresh fish and shish kabob dinner in his backyard. Photo: R&J Meyer

Dinner at Andreas' with Hannah & Shiva the dog. Photo: R&J Meyer

Dinner at Andreas’ with Shiva the dog and Hannah. Photo: R&J Meyer


Happy Eating! Enjoy! Click on “comments” below to let us know about your experiences at these places, updates, and if you’d like to recommend more delicious, healthy restos from your travels through the Philippines!


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The mysterious balete tree

In the Visayas region of the Philippines, the tree is also called balite or dalakit. The balete is a relative of the banyan tree. (They are both a type of ficus, or what is also called a strangler fig tree, since the tree grows around a host tree and strangles it.)  The balete tree has been mentioned during my interviews with healers and sorcerers, for my film project The Shamans of Siquijor.  It has been described as a magical place and as a dwelling for supernatural beings.

Balete, San Antonio, Siquijor

Balete tree, San Antonio, Siquijor

It was a rainy day.  The kind of day where schoolchildren walk home in their uniforms, using giant leaves of tropical plants (the kind we in the US use as ornamentals in our yards) as umbrellas.  Imelda, a native and schoolteacher, showed me the inside of a balete tree in San Antonio, Siquijor. She told me that sorcery rituals are known to take place inside of the tree.  The immense tree had a cool, cathedral-like, Lord of the Rings, mysterious feeling. I found remnants of melted candles, small bottles, and other remains from rituals past on the interior floor and sides of the tree.

In the book Cebuano Sorcery (p. 151), anthropologist Richard Lieban describes angyaw, a sorcery method, where the “sorcerer goes to an enchanted place where  he communicates with a spirit who assists him in his practice of malign magic.”

Source:  Lieban, Richard. Cebuano Sorcery. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.

Examples of such methods, mentioned in the study Illness and Healing by Bishop Julito Cortes, and in my field interviews, are angyaw sa: minteryo (cemetery); langub (cave); ong-ong (haunted pit); dalakit (haunted tree)

The definition of the balite or dalakit is:

“A name given to various species of Ficus which start as epiphytes and strangle their host, assuming tree form.  They are much feared as being haunts of various supernatural beings.”

Source:  Wolff, John U. A Dictionary of Cebuano Visayan. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Library, 1972.

During the course of my research, I found that the balete tree has uses in healing and sorcery in the Philippines. Furthermore, the tree has uses and a fascinating history of significance in major religions and cultures around the world. The following are excerpts of articles on the balete and other ficus trees.

The balete tree in the Philippines
“Local names: Balete (Ilk., Tag.) salisi (Is.)
Balete is found in Northern Luzon to Mindanao, in most islands and provinces, in primary forests at low and medium altitudes. It also occurs in India to Southern China and Malaya… Balete is planted in Manila as an excellent avenue and graceful shade tree. Rope is made in the provinces from its bast…

Nadkarni states that the bark of the root, the root itself, and the leaves boiled in oil are applied on wounds and bruises. He adds that the juice of the bark has a reputation for curing liver diseases. In rheumatic headache the pounded leaves and bark are applied as a poultice.”

Source:  Philippine Dept. of Agriculture, Bureau of Plant Industry

The religious significance of ficus trees around the world

“Several figs [ficus] have religious associations including the common fig (F. carica), which presumably provided raiment for Adam and Eve…  The sycamore fig…The wood of this species was used by the ancient Egyptians for their sarcophagi. Both the banyan (F. benghalensis) and the bo tree or peepul (F. religiosa) are held sacred by the peoples of India. Hindus believe that Brahma, the Creator, was transformed into a banyan tree. Both Hindus and Buddhists venerate the bo tree. Under one Hindu deity Vishnu is believed to have been born, under another Gautama Buddha meditated for six years and received enlightenment.  Bo trees are planted in India near temples because of their association with the Buddha and near homes to assure happiness and prosperity.  In New Delhi and elsewhere they are used as street trees.  Believers will not prune of cut down a banyan or a bo or a peepul tree.  That work, when necessary, is done by others.  There is a saying in India ‘it is better to die a leper than pluck a leaf of a peepul.’ ”

Source:  Everett, Thomas. The New York Botanical Garden Illustrated Encyclopedia of Horticulture.  New York: Garland STPM Press, 1981.


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Why should we care about disappearing frogs?

A story about extinction

When I was working on my film on Siquijor island in the Philippines in 2004-2005, I met a fellow scholar in my fellowship program, herpetologist Cameron Siler who was studying for his PhD. Cameron was based on a neighboring island called Negros, in the city of Dumaguete.  He studied frogs and other amphibians throughout the archipelago. He collected and preserved hundreds of them for his university.  Cameron explained in a recent email that researchers have to follow “very strict collection permits that were given to us by the Philippine government.”

“The main purpose of our research is to document and understand the full diversity of an area.  So we attempt to conduct really detailed surveys and collect voucher specimens that can represent these unique and amazing species in a museum.  Usually this amounts to only 2 or 3 individuals for a species, and so we are confident that we minimize our impact on their populations.”

The biodiversity of frogs and lizards in the country is incredible.  I saw so many in daily life.  Inside the hut where I lived or whereever I stayed in the country, there were little insect-eating lizards hanging on the walls and ceilings, as well as geckos the size of my hand.  Each morning, while we ate breakfast outside, a giant monitor lizard we named Larry the lizard passed before us. He was probably on his way to snacking on the chickens or chicks, who were feeding on our compost pile in the yard.

During our occasional visits to Dumaguete, Cameron would tell us about his adventures to far-flung islands finding sometimes exotic large frogs or wrestling with monitor lizards which grew to the size of adult humans. He showed us his photos of them on his laptop and told us about how he preserved their bodies for scientific study, which were stored in his room.

As he told us about his research, I wondered why the study of frogs should be of any significance to my life. I started to answer this question for myself after being told a few more stories.  Cameron recalled a time when he was in the rice fields around the city of Dumaguete. He found frogs growing extra legs.  He guessed that this condition may have been due to the pesticides applied to the rice fields.  From then on, I vowed to try only to buy the locally grown organic brown rice, which was mainly grown locally for export to Japan.

In the Aug. 12, 2008 article published last week Dying frogs sign of a biodiversity crisis by Rachel Tompa in “UC Berkeley News,” David Wake, professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley mentions climate change as a cause of mass deaths and says,

“Amphibians have been around for about 250 million years. They made it through when the dinosaurs didn’t. The fact that they’re cutting out now should be a lesson for us.”

Tompa reports:

“In an article published online this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers argue that substantial die-offs of amphibians and other plant and animal species add up to a new mass extinction facing the planet.”

In the meantime, I’ll keep searching for ways to step lightly on the earth and reduce my own contribution to climate change — and extinction.

Articles on this topic:
Dying frogs sign of a biodiversity crisis
Link to Global Warming in Frogs’ Disappearance Is Challenged
‘Last wave’ for wild golden frog

Related articles (updated):
To save ourselves, we need to need to understand why primates face extinction
‘Only 50 years left’ for sea fish
UN issues ‘final wake-up call’ on population and environment

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