This is a beef adobo. I don't know what exactly 'adobo' is but its delicous!

One of the things you learn quickly in Hawaii is never arrive anywhere empty-handed. For a recent meeting at a remote elementary, I wanted to make a good impression with the principal. After that, I was planning to“talk story” with a counselor colleague. So, on the way  I decided to grab a box of pastries from Simply Sweets, a bakery right next to (ironically) 24 Hour Fitness.

I got there and Simply Sweets was gone. The hardbodies probably picketed it.  In its place was a hand-carved sign: EV’s FastFood. Since I had no time to scout around for another bakery I decided to go in and see what I could get.

I’m not very familiar with Filipino food—I  know lumpia (delicious deep fried rolls)

I've only had banana lumpia (utter tastiness) but there are all different kinds.

and even adobo (see picture at top, comes in various meat/seafood types).  I was  aware that Filipino food also included bits from vines and organ meats as well as pickled eggs with fully developed ducklings in them (the infamous balut) so I was a little uncertain.

(I went to put a picture of balut but they were so gross I couldn’t do it. Google Images outdid my lurid imagination for once)

On the hand lettered menu, the word “pancit” was featured frequently and I had no idea what it was, so I perused the “bakery” side of the display cabinet.  Nothing familiar. Oddly shaped buns, slices of bread with unidentifiable bits embedded, Long Johns with something brown hanging out.

I turned to the lunch display. More unfamiliar food, swimming in brown sauces, looking like Chinese but… not smelling right. A customer was waiting for me to make up my mind and I waved him forward, and he began getting the Bento One Choice with several kinds of Pancit.

Well, this was too scary for a first impression food, I decided. I sidled  to the door and scuttled to my car, weighing my chances of finding another bakery in time. The other customer followed me out. A middle-aged Filipino man, he carried his bento in a bag proudly.

“Why you nevah buy lunch?” he barked. I startled guiltily, keys in hand.

“Uhmm… I was looking for donuts for my school,” I said.

“They get donuts! Plenny kine, on da side!” he said, glaring.

“Oh!” I said, grinning overly. “I must have missed that! Thanks!” I tucked my keys back into my purse and scuttled back in, having failed this cultural competency test. I decided to throw myself on the mercy of the sweet-faced lady behind the counter.

“Hi. I want to get something for a school,” I said. “Like donuts.”

“Get &^%$#@ ovah heah,” she said, pointing at the oddly shaped rolls.

“What’s inside?” I asked.

“Bean curd, da top one, cheese da bottom one.”

I'm not sure what kind of bean the filling is. Azuki?

The rolls looked harmless enough.

“Ok, six of each,” I said.

I perused the lunch counter while she filled the box. It seemed wrong to not buy lunch, so I looked for the most familiar Chinese food-like thing.

“What’s this?” I asked, pointing.

“#@%^&?? adobo,” she said. It was swimming in something greenish, looked too greasy. I pointed again.

“That one?”

“$^&%*, Beef and onion,” she said. It looked tasty even, and not greasy.

“I”ll have the One Choice Bento with that, and the string beans.”

She served it into a styrofoam container and rang me up. Twelve dollars! Yikes. I went out to the car, feeling redeemed. My colleague had recently married a Filipino guy, and she could tell me about my lunch.

But as I was driving, it smelled good, and I got to the school too early, so I popped open my Bento box.

The noodles looked like chow mein but… weren’t. They had a strange, fishy flavor and were laced with long rice, the slimy transparent filaments reminding me of the strings of toad eggs I used to find in mud puddles growing up on Kaua`i. I skipped them and ate the string beans with gusto, and moved on to the *&^%$#@ beef and onion.

The first thing I speared on my fork was a full-size mussel, the orange lips curled back in death. Taking the cultural challenge, I ate it, remembering that less chewing was better with shellfish. The next bite I took was: LIVER!!!

One only has to taste liver once to forever remember the mealy gray flavor that fills your mouth. I spat it back into the box and probed.

I think this is the dish. Beef liver and mussels with onion.

More liver. More mussels.

This was just not my kind of thing. Takeaway lesson: don’t buy things to eat when you don’t know what they are, as any visitor to a foreign country will tell you. I’ll stick with adobo and lumpia next time.

I went inside the school with my white bakery box of mysterious rolls and gave it to the principal. Being Japanese, she appreciated the gesture of a gift. Also being Japanese, she was too gracious to ask about it.

I couldn’t have told her anything anyway.

My counselor friend laughed her ass off and told me I was lucky I hadn’t ended up with balut. Turns out it’s quite expensive.

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