The Oyster Man

Trinidad offers some of the best street food you can find. From breakfast to dinner to midnight snacks, the food you can get from the various stalls and carts outside will rival just about any restaurant’s standard fare. For me, when the late afternoon hours stretch into dusk, the sight of a stall lit with a cloth wick in a fuel-filled bottle can only mean one thing: the oyster man is open for the night. Or at least as long as his day’s catch lasts.

Trinidad street food oyster man

Caribbean dreams

I’ve always loved traveling. It doesn’t matter much if it’s somewhere new, or some place that I’ve been to dozens of times. The whole process of leaving home, putting miles between me and the familiar, breathing in new air, and naturally becoming more observant because everywhere my eyes rest there is something different, something to be noticed … it exhilarates me, recharges me and makes me tingle all over, literally and figuratively.

(Apparently, it also makes me write really, really long sentences.)


Filipino cuisine is a colorful blend of Malay, Chinese, Spanish, and even Indian influences. Most meals are served with a wide selection of condiments and dipping sauces, often laid out in little bowls or dishes, so each person can fully customize the meal to his or her heart’s content.

One of my favorite condiments is achara, or Philippine-style pickles. Different regions of the country have their own versions of achara, using different vegetables and slightly different pickling liquids. I prefer the kind of achara served in Aristocrat restaurants—a crunchy, sweet and tangy version using green papaya. And so when my mom mentioned that our family recipe for achara was just like that, I got excited. In fact, I think I might have looked forward to the achara a wee bit more than the Filipino chicken barbecue, because I asked Tom to hunt down a green papaya for me a full two weeks before my planned grilling date.

green papaya for achara

The recipe is straightforward and simple. The most labor-intensive part of the recipe involves preparing the green papaya. The flesh is usually scraped or shred into long strands, almost like spaghetti noodles. In the Philippines, we use a handheld tool that looks like a larger version of a citrus zester. I imagine a mandoline would also make quick work of it, but since I had neither, I settled for the shredder attachment of my food processor. (Be sure you don’t shred it into small pieces like slaw; we want strands or strings of vegetables.)

The papaya strands are squeezed until they releases their juices or sap, then drained and spread on a baking sheet left out in the sun to dry. After that, everything else is fairly straightforward. You prepare the pickling liquid, mix everything together, and store the achara in clean jars in the refrigerator. Some folks say you have to let it sit for about 4 days, but I started sneaking tastes after just 1 day and it already tasted perfect to me.

Okay, I may have snuck in a taste even sooner than that.

Filipino achara or pickled green papaya


Achara (Pickled Green Papaya)
Serves 12


1 medium green papaya, about 3 pounds, peeled, seeds removed, and julienned, sliced, or shredded into thin long strands
1 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar, or more (up to 1/4 cup more) to taste if you want a sweeter achara
2 heaping tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1 medium carrot, peeled and julienned, sliced, or shredded into thin long strands
1/2 small red bell pepper, julienned
1/4 cup pineapple chunks, halved
1 piece ginger, about 1/2″ long, julienned (optional)
1 to 2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly (optional)
1 tablespoon raisins (optional)

Put the green papaya in a colander and squeeze until the papaya releases its juices. Spread the papaya on a baking sheet and let dry in the sun, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, combine vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small sauce pan and simmer until sugar is completely dissolved. Add pineapple juice and mix.

In a large bowl, combine dry papaya shreds, vinegar mixture, and the remaining ingredients. Mix well. Transfer to clean jars and store in the refrigerator. Let sit at least one day before using.

Filipino achara or pickled green papaya

I’m telling you, this stuff is so good that someone who shall remain nameless used to make a whole meal of a bowl of achara and fried rice.

I love being anonymous sometimes.


Filipino chicken barbecue (Inihaw na manok)

Filipino chicken barbecue or inihaw na manok

I recently joined the Kulinarya Cooking Club, which consists of a group of bloggers who share a love of Filipino cuisine. What started in Sydney, Australia grew into a truly international bloggerhood, and I’m thrilled to be part of it. A monthly theme is chosen, and for June, it was (appropriately so) barbecue.

When I think of Filipino barbecue, my mind first turns to our wonderful street food classic: barbecued pork in skewers. It’s the kind of food you can’t get enough of, no matter how sticky everything gets: your fingers, lips, mouth, cheeks … then you run out of clean napkins and try to sneakily wipe your grubby hands on your jeans. (Or, if you’re subtle enough, on the jeans of the person standing next to you.)

Unfortunately, Tom doesn’t eat pork. So I decided on another Filipino classic on the grill: chicken barbecue.

The first step to finding your path and your voice

Alternate title: There’s more to this blogging thing than my corny jokes. Really, there is.


Last Thursday, I attended TECHmunchNYC with fellow blogger Maggy Anderson of ThreeManyCooks. I have to mention her because if not for her prompting, my dorky intimidated-by-strangers self likely wouldn’t have gone. And I’m so glad I did. It was a day packed with panels that had me scribbling down notes, trying to get as much as I could from the day-long event.

I was also trying not to think about the cupcakes in the snack room.

There was so much information to digest, from SEO tips to food trends to building relationships with traditional media and other brands. There was also a 5-minute segment by Cathy Brooks on “Storytelling: Connecting the Who with the What,” and at the end, one person asked a question that made me sit up even more attentively, awaiting the answer.

The question asked was this: If you have varied interests and many different passions, how do you blog about them without giving the perception that you’re all over the place? Cathy’s answer: Make a list. Write down all your interests and passions, and the reason each one is listed. She said that, often, a theme becomes immediately apparent, and it is that theme that will help you find your focus and be able to write about your different passions in a consistent voice.

On the ride home, I thought about my list, and my reasons. I thought about my interest in food. Photography. Travel. Writing. Music. And wouldn’t you know it, an underlying theme emerged: they’ve been my passions from a very young age. None of them are new interests, nothing I picked up later in life. These are all childhood passions that I put on hold as I got older and went about the business of becoming a “responsible adult” and pursuing education (medicine first, because I had no interest in business, computers, or technology) and a career in more traditional fields. Creative passions that I thought I had tamed and put to rest.

But dormancy and extinction are not the same. They may appear to be identical, and to someone thousands of miles away, the difference may not matter. But to the one who lives in the village at the foot of the volcano, the rumblings matter. Oh, do they matter. And only a fool would go about her business as if nothing happened, as if the mountain wasn’t starting to wake up.

Blogging turned out to be my mountain’s alarm clock. As I read some of my oldest posts, I can see just when the realization started sinking in. In 2006, after three weeks in the Philippines to end a 13-year-long absence, I sensed the re-awakening, but apparently chose to hit the snooze button. Three weeks later, still unsure of what to do about the secret burning wish to switch gears and get back to my creative pursuits, I wrote Of Secrets and Pearls. It’s still one of my favorite posts. Then, many months later, I wrote a post about writing, still battling feelings of inadequacy and misplaced guilt (because writing somehow felt like a selfish pursuit, purely for my own enjoyment).

Now I think I’ve finally worn down that snooze button. I feel like the past year has been the world’s longest wake up. I’ve started writing more. Photographing more. Cooking more. I’ve even begun writing music again. For me, it’s an important first step to recognize that this is what’s right for me, and allow myself to continue. I feel like a child again, simply because these are the same things I loved as a child. Yet it is this conscious choice to shake the dust off my childhood dreams that actually makes me quite the grown up. And I am laughing at the irony of it all, how I entered college as a pre-med student, convinced I wanted nothing to do with business or computers or technology. Now, all these years later, because of my computer, I’m finally doing all the things I’ve dreamed of but never gave myself permission to do.

And I finally made sense of it all at a technology conference. Go figure.

Wait. Maybe self-contradiction is an underlying theme of mine, too.


“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.” (Joseph Campbell)


about me

I write, cook, play music, and make pictures. Not necessarily in that order. I was born and raised in the Philippines, and it shows. That means I eat rice with every meal, love my cousins like my own siblings, and firmly believe that avocados are best eaten with cream and sugar.

If you want to learn more about me, here are 43 things I'd like to do. Here's a little something about my name, in case you were wondering. Here are some other places you'll find me:

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One summer night in 2010, our house burned to the ground and we lost everything we had. This is the story of what happened and how life and hope can always rise from ashes.

I'm proud to belong to an amazing community of Filipino food lovers. Together, we celebrate this often-neglected Asian cuisine, sharing our family's treasured recipes and discovering new ones along the way. This is our club.
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