By David Haldane
Oct. 4, 2018
As some are won’t do, I have at times entertained fantasies of fame. What I never imagined, though, was achieving it as a salad. And yet, at a certain restaurant in Surigao City there it is in big flashy letters on the menu right up front; “SPECIAL OF THE MONTH; DAVID SALAD, 200 pesos.” Oh fame, delicious fame.
It all started as something of a joke. One day I walked into a place called Andreani’s on Surigao’s main tourist drag – referred to locally as “The Boulevard” – because, well, I’d never seen the place before. I was kind of hungry, but not enough to be enslaved by the restaurant’s menu.
“I don’t see any salads,” I said to the server after perusing her offerings. Turns out she wasn’t just a server, but the owner.
“We can make you one,” she quickly responded, “what would you like in it?”
“Hmmm, lettuce,” I said. “And how about some carrots?”
“Sure,” she said easily. “Fish?”
“Sounds good,” I said.
She promptly marched into the kitchen and began issuing orders in Surigaonon, the local version of Bisaya. And almost immediately, I could hear the sound of earnest chopping, probably on a wooden block.
While the two of us waited for the chef’s ingenuity to present itself for our inspection, we had a pleasant chat. Her name was Ellen Bonilla Schmid, she informed me, a native Surigaonon now married to a Swiss national with whom she resides in Singapore. But they still had property in the Philippines, including this restaurant which had opened just months before. And so far, she said, business was only so-so. One of the main challenges; how to attract the many foreigners who frequented this part of town.
“Well, this foreigner likes salad,” I offered and, as if on cue, up walked a young girl – the real server – toting a salad the likes of which I had never seen. Not only did it have lettuce and carrots without meat or seafood; it also sported fresh cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs, onions, sliced mangos, and shredded coconut. Not to mention, a lovely green mustard dressing that beckoned my tongue like a siren beckoning a sailor. And here’s the topper; they actually served it with a fork instead of a spoon.
“Wow, this looks great!” I stammered, digging in. Bottom line; the chef’s ingenuity did not disappoint. “You should put it on your menu,” I suggested. “You could call it David’s salad.”
OK, fast forward a week; I walk in, and there it is. “We’ve had so many requests,” explains Bernadette, Ellen’s sister who manages the place in her absence, “that we made it this month’s special.” Then she introduces me to some of the other cast members: sister number two, Catherine; niece Angelica, the server; chef James, a cousin, and official David Salad chopper, Gemuel Cagasan. “Mostly foreigners order it,” Bernadette continues. “They all want to know who David is.”
Take a guess as to what I ordered for dinner that night.
Being known as a salad, of course, is heady stuff. But there’s a deeper message in all this and it comes in three parts. The first has to do with the utter ingenuity of Filipinos; given the proper incentive, they can fix, create, put together, cook or eat anything with whatever materials are on hand. The second message is more universal and about the country itself; it’s a place where strange and wonderful fantasies have a way of coming true, at least that’s been my experience so far. And, finally, there’s this; if you happen to be in Surigao City anytime soon, check out Andreani’s on The Boulevard, just up from the Tavern Hotel. The place serves an awesome salad!
A former Los Angeles Times staff writer and winner of a 2018 Golden Mike award in radio broadcast journalism, David Haldane fell in love with the Philippines on his first visit there in 2003. A few visits later, he also fell in love with the beautiful young Filipina to whom he is now married and, with whom, he has returned many times. David has written extensively about his experiences in the Philippines for several publications including Orange Coast and Islands Magazine. Today he and Ivy, along with their eight-year-old son, Isaac, divide their time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Surigao City, Philippines. His award-winning memoir, Nazis & Nudists, recounts, among other things, the courtship of Ivy and finding a place to call home. For David that turned out to be at the tip of a peninsula marking the gateway to Mindanao where he and Ivy are building their dream home next to a lighthouse overlooking the sea. This blog is the chronicle of that adventure.
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Hi David –
I enjoyed reading this unusual article, but I came away with the feeling that in concluding that there was a deeper message regarding your interactions with the owner and staff of Andreani you failed (intentionally?) to mention the “other” deeper message out of politeness. Oh, I’m sure the owner created the David salad from scratch in the name of good business, but down deep inside, her actions were purely instinctual. Like many Filipinos, there is a natural tendency to be in awe of white foreigners in general, especially those whose physical appearance and demeanor are such as to command respect.
Were I, for example, a Filipino in appearance from head to toe, to walk in to Andreani, do you think she would create a salad bearing my name – John salad? LOL Blame it on the “colonial mentality”, David. 🙂
You’re probably right…thanks for the input!
Nice legacy, David!
There are a couple of upscale restaurants in our neck of the woods that serve salads. One of them has a selection of different ones. We don’t have much of a tourism trade here, so most of the foreigners patronizing these places are either expats, or the husbands visiting with their Filipina wives.
I think the biggest demand for salads at these places comes from Filipinos who have spent many years living and working in North America or Europe. Quite a few of those folks seem to have retired here, or frequently visit local families. The owner of the restaurant you mentioned is a good example. I disagree slightly with John that the famed Filipino politeness drove the creation of your salad, though it certainly had a role.
I suspect that more than ingenuity was involved in the kitchen. The chef could have been trained by the owner. Or just as likely, done an apprenticeship on a cruise ship, a high end hotel, or upscale restaurant. The son of one of my wife’s childhood friends became a chef. Not a food preparer, or cook. A chef. He learned the craft from a culinary arts school, and then working for a cruise line. He hated working on the ship. Compared it to prison. But he stuck it out. Now he earns his living training kitchen staff for a Filipino restaurant chain, called the Farm Table.
John, I have a feeling that many of the Filipino diaspora are coming home. They seem to be bringing their acquired tastes with them.
Hi Pete –
I read and re-read the first sentence of my comment above, and I am scratching my head trying to figure out how the sentence could have been read wrong. Reading too fast, perhaps, Pete? What I tried to say is that David is being polite (not the “famed Filipino politeness”, as you stated) in not mentioning the “other” deep message behind his interaction with the owner that subsequently led to the creation of the salad.
That “other” deep message to which refer, and which I am trying to put across, is the deep-seated perception held by many Filipinos even to this day, far removed from the years of American colonization, about white foreigners in general. Such Filipinos may not realize, much less acknowledge, the fact that they are easily awed by the appearance of a white face among a sea of brown faces and their instinctiive willingness to walk the extra mile in deference to the white foreigner.
As usual, this is opinion only.
You can stop scratching your head John. You are correct, I misread your comment. And I do see that reaction from time to time. Marlyn says “They want to be seen with you.”.
You may be right about Filipinos returning home, Cowboy. Be interesting to see to what extent Filipino culinary tastes and habits change as a result in the coming years…
David: Funny article. I have never had a food named after me except friends who called me “Burger Boy” when I was about 12. I think if I had a food named after me, I’d want it to be a burrito. -Rob
Come with me to Southern California one day, Rob, and I promise we will find a burrito with your name on it…
Great story David, and I love your turn of phrase – “being known as a salad is heady stuff”!
Maybe I should try and make my own mark here in Davao City. Pete’s Pizza perhaps??
Congrats on your culinary fame!
Pete’s Pizza sounds great, my friend. Let me know when I can come to Davao to try it…
David, the next time we are visiting we will stop by and I will be sure to have a salad as I enjoy them very much. Thank you for the heads up. Great article.
I look forward to it!