Talking about Bittergourd & Other Filipino Foods with Albert Santos (Episode 210 Podcast Transcript — Grounded by the Farm)

July 6, 2021

Get the audio, see photos, show notes, etc on this episode at Bitter Gourd, Pinakbet and Great Filipino Foods



philippines, eat, people, food, rice, vegetables, albert, grow, bitter gourd, cucumber, agriculture, big, fish, area, fruit, bitter taste, seeds, corn, janice, plant


Grounded by the Farm, Albert Santos


Grounded by the Farm  00:01

Food is more than just what’s on our plate. It’s the places where it’s grown. It’s the people who grow it and so much more. Join me, Janice person, your host on Grounded by the Farm every other week as we talk about the foods we love. Hey, everybody, this is Janice. And this week, we have an episode that I have been looking forward to, even though I didn’t tell this person. And so now this morning, I’m scrambling, because I had some technical problems with another episode. And so what do you do when you’re scrambling at the last minute to accomplish something, you call your closest friends and say, Hey, can we do this right now. And so that’s what I’ve done today to my dear friend, Albert Santos. Albert is originally from the Philippines. He’s been in the US for a long time. But he’s actually gone back and forth a little bit to work with people in agriculture, in the Philippines and other parts of the developing world. So we’re going to talk about the Philippines, we’re going to talk about one of his favorite vegetables, which is one as a name that a lot of Americans would think I don’t want to try that first. So our Thanks for getting on here so quickly with me this morning. And I know you have so much information about the Philippines agriculture that you don’t have to study up.

Albert Santos  01:18

Well, Janice, I’m honored to be here. And as you know, I always always say was our friends for if not the use and misuse. So anytime, you know. Okay, so

Grounded by the Farm  01:34

the Philippines agriculture. I mean, in some ways, the Philippines is still considered a developing nation. And so like many other developing nations, it’s really focused on agriculture and food security for its people, right? Yes, yes. And they’ve still been putting some land in production. It looked like, as I was doing my research, it looked like they like us had a lot of people who decided to start gardening during COVID. And things like that. So people might be a little bit closer to agriculture in the Philippines than in the US. Or would you say urban people are pretty far from farming? Generally?

Albert Santos  02:15

Well, I would say that the, the rural folks are really into agriculture, because that’s their, that’s for sustenance. And at the same time to make a living, the obon people, it’s more of like a, like a passion. You know, they love remembering because we used to have this traditional song, the say, Bohai Kubo, which is my native hat, and then you decide all the different vegetables that grow around it. And everybody knows that song. So it’s sort of like links, everybody to growing some kind of vegetables or food. That’s amazing.

Grounded by the Farm  02:57

Most Americans would know Manila. They may know some of the other areas. But when you think of agriculture, what are the places that really pop to the forefront?

Albert Santos  03:07

Well, the first of all, the most important thing is really rice. You got to have rice. Every meal is about rice. There is the device where they grow rice a lot, and that would be traditionally it was the central plains of Luzon, which is like the swampy areas, you know of Pampanga, and Reversi. Bula Han, which are all to the north of Manila, and then, you know, other places have opened up like the Cagayan Valley region and Isabella, more to the north east of Luzon. That is a big rice growing area and then some big parts of Mindanao mainly the flat plains that can easily grow rice that are grown with a lot of water. So that’s it and then that’s the other thing that pops to you is like to me is like the areas in the mountains which is by Gill, all the cordilleras that’s where most of the temporary vegetables come from. Broccoli, cabbie, celery, all those things. And then some areas grow like a lot of tomatoes or like in Mindanao in buki known they would grow there are the pineapple plantations. negros will be you know, you’re thinking about sugar cane, because that’s where all the sugarcane plantations are. And then in the Bicol Region, is mostly the what we would call the hemp it’s a different kind of hemp it looks like like the banana tree, but it’s the Philippines was famous for these natural fiber to make ropes for boats. So that Those are the things and then the aquaculture, you know, which is in cavity or around the Laguna Lake, growing the milk fish, all those things. Wow.

Grounded by the Farm  05:14

That’s that’s an awful lot. But as you think about the country, the thing that people need to remember is, is it’s an island nation mainly formed by like volcanoes and things, right. So it’s got these hills occasionally, right? Occasionally volcanoes and these incredible valleys and big. So

Albert Santos  05:34

people are trying to take advantage of the different kinds of climates to produce all the things which you just listed, like such an incredibly long list. And well, the other thing also is, the Philippines is part of Southeast Asia. And so it has some endemic species. It’s a center of diversity for a lot of food crops, like banana, nose things. But then, when the Spaniards came, immediately, I only realized is when I was an adult, we have these other fruits and vegetables, which are like, like, for example, the sejati, we call it and it turns out, it came from Mexico, the coyote, oh, really, and the guanabana, which is GRI abano, we call it and we I thought, you know, and then I realized, I don’t find it in the other Southeast Asian places. So it turns out, these were brought by the Spanish, you know, to the Philippines from Mexico, because there was a trade between Acapulco in Manila. So they were exchanging and then when I was in Mexico, I saw they have this mango, they call it mango, the Manila is actually the type of mango that we have. So all these exchanges, so there’s all that diversity in different kinds of foods. That’s very cool. That’s the question.

Grounded by the Farm  07:00

I read a book called The food Explorer. And it was about some people who explored the world for different foods that can be grown in the US for the USDA, and brought seed back or brought plants back. And that idea of finding different things that would work in different places, is a part of our food heritage, that a lot of times we don’t think about probably, I would assume Louisiana has some things that were brought in by the French traders are things like that. Right. Right. Right, right. And sometimes we don’t know the history. So that is, that is kind of cool to learn about it. As it goes. You mentioned tomatoes, did you mention sweet corn because I remember when we were in the Philippines, and your friend has a vegetable seed business, we went to a big field day and saw all these different vegetables. And I can remember people eating sweet corn, especially because they cut it in a unique way to make it so we could try a lot of different times right?

Albert Santos  07:55

Corn becoming something that’s popular over there. Yes, corn has always been popular. It was brought from the Americas. And we have also the different kinds of coins. We do the same things like the Mexican do like making hominy on white corn, and in the central part of the Philippines where it’s mostly islands like in Cebu and then parts of Mindanao where he used to be they didn’t really grow a lot of rice because there was no place to grow rice. So they they grow corn. And they used to eat corn in place of rice as a as a staple. So that’s why there’s a saying back home that most of our great boxing heroes like Manny Pacquiao, he went he came from the southern part. And we always said that Oh, he’s scoring fat that’s why he’s so strong. I don’t know. Yes, a Filipina say, maybe there’s some

Grounded by the Farm  09:04

it’s funny, but rice is really the thing I can remember a nephew when he was quite small one of your nephews really being upset because he didn’t know how to eat dinner with because there was no rice on the table. Exactly. So for most Filipinos it’s rice but in the southern area where Peck owl is from maybe corn.

Albert Santos  09:24

Right? It may be corn but but the nowadays I mean they’ve also been into rice now Yeah, you know, but the corn was more like their staple over in in that area.

Grounded by the Farm  09:40

Yeah, that’s funny.

Albert Santos  09:41

I know because my mom my mom comes from Cebu

Grounded by the Farm  09:45

that’s where the good mangoes are from also

Albert Santos  09:47

right because it’s all heli and then it’s dry. There is a very distinct dry season. So the mangoes they they do well over there.

Grounded by the Farm  10:00

Yeah, one of the uniquely Filipino foods is bitter gourd. And can you tell me a little bit about that? Yes. So

Albert Santos  10:09

you know, if you’re a Filipino, you have to know how to eat bitter gourd. And I used to work for a vegetable Seed Company back home. And in our survey, there was like three or four main vegetables that the Filipinos eat like the eggplant, the bitter gourd, the long beans or the steak beans that they call which we call Sita and then the trying to get the English word we call it It’s a type of pumpkin, but more like the calabash type of pumpkin that we have in the US now, which comes from Mexico, those orange, really heavy ones, we call it calabasa. Okay, so those are the most important vegetables in the Philippines. bittergourd everybody, it’s better good. And it’s an acquired taste. You have to like it, because it’s really bitter.

Grounded by the Farm  11:17

How would you explain the look of a bitter gourd cuz I have my way, but what does it look like for people who aren’t familiar?

Albert Santos  11:26

It’s like a cucumber that has gotten old and wrinkled. It has that wrinkly skin, you know, it’s kind of it has grooves but and then it’s like a cucumber, then it has seeds. The seeds are different though it’s it’s bigger. And then the fruit itself is really has a unique bitter taste. Naturally, it’s the whole plant has been, it’s a medicinal plant, it actually helps control diabetes. So it’s being sold at herbal stores. Tea, or as a tablet was shut down. Or how to say that ch a. Okay, I send you the spelling chavannes Yeah, something like that. Okay, and it’s in tablet form. So you can take that as an herbal for diabetes, is it? But it’s very high in iron. You know? So you have Yeah, that’s what adds the bitter taste the I think the iron content. So if you’re like anemic, you need to eat ampalaya because it’s high in iron. But then for pregnant women. Malaya is that

Grounded by the Farm  12:51

word in a native tongue

Albert Santos  12:53

for bittergourd. Right. ampalaya is the Tagalog, I say the garlic because there’s like other dialects in the Philippines, but the main one, and people will understand if you say I’m Bulgaria. Then I’m married. I married an Indian, who comes from Kerala. And actually, in India, they call the ampalaya kerela, which is almost the name of her state. So they eat it there too. But really the small ones that we call it in the film, we used to call that the dinosaur type, because it looks like the the crinkles of the skin or the dinosaur. And they’re small, you know, and it’s very bitter, the kind of ampalaya or kind of bitter gourd they eat in India. And it’s also an acquired taste. My wife doesn’t like it. Sad to say you say

Grounded by the Farm  13:52

it looks like a cucumber that’s been withered away or something. I also think it looks a little bit like a zucchini. Right? Right. It’s been really, really dried up exhibits that grow on

Albert Santos  14:04

grows on the vine. Yeah. And it’s, I, you know, I grow it in my backyard. Because I like it. I like it fresh. I actually have some good recipes for it. And one thing I found out the Cardinals, they loved the thing. When the fruit ripens, they would open up the fruit and then the seeds come out. And they are big seeds. And Cardinals love that. And they spread them around. So now I have this. And this volunteer, right, it survives with the mulch cover. And then I have these volunteer unbelievers coming out and the bees they love the flowers too. So it’s a it’s very interesting.

Grounded by the Farm  14:50

Is it a big flower like a squash flower is

Albert Santos  14:53

no it’s a small, it’s like the flower of a cucumber. Okay, and then there’s a male flower And then there’s one that that produces the fruit. So what the plant does, initially, it will have a flash of the male flowers to attract the bees. Oh, nice. So once once the bee starts coming it starts producing the, the female one that will bear the fruit

Albert Santos  15:20

because they can drop the pollen on it from the male flowers, but it needs the bees to cross pollinate just like the think the cucumber very interesting. Yeah.

Grounded by the Farm  15:31

Yeah. Is it as prolific as cucumbers are, you know, like, it seems like yeah, cucumber plants just will not stop producing. Yes.

Albert Santos  15:40

Right. But well, the cucumber plant will stop when the summer really is very hot. But the ampalaya or the bitter gourd it will not stop it keeps on producing until until the fall. You know, so later, I would just let the fruits mature on the plant and then let the Cardinals have fun.

Grounded by the Farm  16:08

But that’s why you have seeds taken all over your yard and unbelievers showing up everywhere.

Albert Santos  16:16

Hmm, oh, sorry, let some fruit become mature because what I have is an oak is an open pollinated variety. So I need seeds for for next year. Right. So and then I give it to people other people who may want it. I’m telling you it’s a it’s an acquired taste. My my neighbors they tried but you know they’re they’re struggling

Grounded by the Farm  16:47

so how do you cook it then? What what are some of the ways that you cook

Albert Santos  16:51

the the way that Filipinos cooking is like a an everyday food everybody makes that it’s called peanut butter is to have eggplant that long bean and that squash and and some okra and you know that they cook in sometimes they put the flavor it with ginger or some some little bit of meat. And some regions they put coconut nail others don’t. Others put fermented shrimp or fermented fish make it stinky. But they like it gives that umami flavor. Okay, so right, there’s a lot of variation of that dish. I mean, every place you go the ELO canos have a way of cooking it. The bicolano is coming from Southern fried on the sun. They make it more spicy and in the desires. They cook it differently. Some call it Lang Lang, or Pina bit. All these regional names, but that is a very, that’s an everyday thing. homes or people. Sometimes they’ll go special, you know, it will have some fermented shrimp in it. All that weird stuff. But it’s good. When the Philippines does, it hasn’t really taken off like the other Southeast Asian place like Thailand or some other places because the Philippines have a unique food is really very unique. You know, we use a lot of vinegar in in our food. So very regional, and very specific. I would say


he likes fish sauce and some of the other things too, right. And then the more stinky it is, the

Albert Santos  18:48

better. There is this kind of thing that they eat. It’s fermented crab, small, tiny small crabs, fermented. They mix it with rice. And it’s really stinky. I mean, I cannot eat it. But they say that it tastes good. They eat it somewhere in the central part of the zone in the Philippines as a regional thing, and I can’t I can’t even handle that.

Grounded by the Farm  19:19

I think those foods that you’re born with, you know, like you’re born into an area where they’re eaten a lot, it’s very different than to come in and try it from other places. Right? I can remember trying bittergourd and I wasn’t a fan. And it’s the thing where you know, it’s an acquired taste. Well, I have other sources of iron and other other vegetables. So right so why myself eat it and acquire the taste when it’s not automatic for me, but I appreciate that, that there are different ways to get iron in your diet because it’s one of the things that a lot of people when they go vegetarian or something

Albert Santos  19:59


Grounded by the Farm  19:59

It’s a big part of how can you get that in your diet? Because beef and other things are such a great source of iron.

Albert Santos  20:09

Right? Right. So if you’re going to go vegetarian, because the Filipina diet before is mainly, it’s not really a lot of meat is really fish, vegetables and rice, because the fish you’re never more than 50 miles from the coast, you know. So I remember before we never ate the frozen fish, it was sort of like, how can you eat frozen fish fisherman and catch every day fish every day. And then and then hear well, I got used to that now. But otherwise, I never, I never will eat fish that’s frozen. And the other thing is like, there are 13 indigenous times back home, where when they eat fish, they actually they want to see the hand, they want to see the fish. So if you give them a fish fillet, they will not eat that they would say something is wrong here. We need to see the head and the tail. So different cultures different. You know, and then, you know, we have a common friend. I’m not going to say who. But when she sees the fish with ice, it freaks her out. She can’t eat the fish with a head.

Grounded by the Farm  21:36

I grew up with my family going fishing and stuff so I can take them either way. It doesn’t matter. And I also eat things like crawfish, right. So you know, I know I eat things that other people think well, that’s weird, or that’s not something I want. So, you know, it’s kind of where you are. But yeah, I don’t want my food looking at me Is it normal reaction for some right here is a child I can remember. I went to a Cuban birthday party. I can’t remember what year it was. But it was a big year in the life of a Cuban boy becoming a man in Miami when I was when I was quite young. And they had roasted a pig and they put the pig’s head on the table. And for me that was very odd and not something my family had ever showed me is like done. But now I’ve been in a lot of different cultures where you know, seeing rifle pig that’s been pig roasted is part of it.

Albert Santos  22:37

But we do we do the same thing. We got it from the cake from the Spaniard we call it the lead Sean. It’s like the whole the whole page, then, you know, with the with the mouth, the head with the mouth. And usually we put an app on the mouth. And then and that was that means like there’s a big feast, you know, that’s during weddings or go home to visit special locations or a big Fiesta? Right? Oh, that’s so Oh, like me, for example. First time I had kimchi, the smell. But now I like it. So slowly you you build up when I first arrived in the US, and I think I was in graduate school and then the hour. We were planting corn in the eastern part and they took me to a barbecue restaurant where the meat was chopped together with some fat. And then they put the certain type of vinegar on it. And I couldn’t I could not eat the thing. Because it smells different. They look different. Yeah. Yeah, they used to eat but now I like vinegar based barbecue and then corn grits. The you know, the having grits in the morning. Yeah, that’s fine.

Grounded by the Farm  24:13

Yeah, that’s very southern US thing, the kind of barbecue you’re talking about. That’s Carolina’s barbecue. I’m a Memphis barbecue Pro. We’re not going to argue about I really appreciate your spending this time with talking through Filipino cuisine and especially the bitter gourd because it is something that’s unique to the Philippines. A few other Southeast Asian countries obviously have it but it’s not something you see much here in the US. You can only buy it at Asian markets, usually global markets or something. Or it could be like Albert and grow it in your backyard. Yes, yes.

Albert Santos  24:53

Yes, right. Right. You know that the Indians Indians from the South Main The South Asians from the south like maybe just Sri Lankans, also they eat that and, and then mainly the Southeast Asians in the thighs, they have their own varieties. If I see the shape of the food, I know that it’s from Thailand, and the Philippines like it a certain way in a certain size. And then there’s those also those little ones doesn’t look like a dinosaur. They grow them also in the Philippines, and they don’t mainly for the elocon laws, mainly the people in the north because they like their the bitter taste. Yeah. And they actually have some others too. You know, they squeeze the gall bladder, onto this to give a bitter taste. So it’s each one. So in some cultures, you know, they really practice that. sweet, sour, bitter, salty, you know, here in the US, it’s mostly sweet. People here are very, they like, sweet a lot.

Grounded by the Farm  26:06

Yeah. And then we bring in other cultures for the spicy or whatever, right? Americans love like the Mexican ballot, also, but not as spicy as some of the places in the world. Right, right. Yeah. Thank you so much for joining us, everybody. This is I think the first time you’ve done a podcast, right? Our

Albert Santos  26:26

Yes. And I know, and then I realize I’m just filled me up, which is fine.

Grounded by the Farm  26:32

No, no, no, you’ve been on the list for a long time. I just didn’t tell you because I thought he’ll be ready to go whenever and I’ll need him in the clutch situation. So I’ll wait because I know I can count on you. I’m going to just let everybody knows so far, Albert has not really done much social media. But we’ve been thinking about getting him to start like a cooking channel on YouTube. So if you think that people like Albert with that immense, amazing knowledge about food, and cuisine, he makes the greatest empanadas and makes me pancit noodles, he makes all the Filipino foods. And if you think somebody like kimata, the teaching that on YouTube or some website or something, go ahead and hit me up in the comments. And I’ll use them against Albert, as we try and encourage him to do a bit more of this information sharing because I have a nephew who is Filipino also so Albert can trade information and make sure Josh gets to took that next thing that maybe he didn’t learn before. So, Albert, thank you for coming. I’ll see you in person really, really soon. Okay, bye. Okay, thanks, Jen is by check us out on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and I’m even off clubhouse so feel free to look us up. Also on our website Grounded by the Farm calm wherever you want to get in touch we’re trying to be there. Shoot us a message about questions you have about farming and food. I hope you enjoy these episodes enough that you’ll share them with friends, whether that’s via social media or in a conversation. Love to think some of that as while you’re having dinner with friends and family. This is a production of Graphic Communications. Editing is by two guys talking. Thank you

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