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.