That’s what the menu said. I was surprised and flummoxed because I honestly thought I knew every kind of salad there was, and I certainly hadn’t heard of this one. “What’s quinoa?” I asked the woman behind the counter at the Green Waves Café in the notoriously hip town of General Luna on Siargao Island.
“Oh,” she said, “we also have a green salad.”
“Yes, but what’s quinoa?”
“Oh,” she said, “well, that salad has lettuce, chickpea, tomato, basil, apple, balsamic vinaigrette and, of course, quinoa.”
“You’re not understanding me,” I said, trying to be patient. “What is quinoa?”
“Oh,” she said for the third time, now looking flummoxed herself. There followed a long discussion involving several employees in a language I didn’t understand. “It’s a kind of bean,” one of them finally piped up.
Now it was my turn to say “oh.” Then I ordered the damn thing to find out what it was for myself.
Salads and I go way back. As a child, in fact, one of the few things I would eat was salad made with lettuce and white Miracle Whip mayonnaise. “Eat more!” my mother always insisted. “Leave him alone,” my father always responded. “When he gets hungry enough, he’ll eat.”
The strange thing was that I never got hungry enough to eat much of anything that wasn’t green. Which is why I’m often viewed with bewilderment here in the Philippines, where fish and meat are king. “He’s a lettuce eater!” I’ve heard more than one Filipino mutter under his or her breath. Before I got them properly trained, some of my relatives even dreaded having me over for dinner. “But what will we feed him?” my distraught mother-in-law once asked my wife after learning I would be at their table. “We have no food!”
In recent years, my relationship with salads has sometimes turned wobbly. Back in 2018, one got named after me at a startup restaurant in Surigao City trying to attract foreign customers. For me, it was a moment of unprecedented pride. Then, two weeks later, another salad put me in the hospital for several days with an extremely nasty intestinal amoeba.
“Perhaps sharing your name with a salad is kind of like a marriage,” I later wrote of that unseemly experience. “Being unfaithful can cause a calamity.”
Since then I’ve changed my ways and would never even think of two-timing my steady salad. Which is why I seldom eat one outside the confines of my home. Except, perhaps, one as provocative and mysterious as Quinoa.
Turns out it’s a flowering South American plant with edible seeds rich in protein, dietary fiber and B vitamins. So I closed my eyes and gobbled it down quickly, hoping no one would notice.
Despite my occasional indiscretions, however, the situation at home is improving. My Filipino family now serves me at least two salads daily without being asked. And the global status of salad seems to finally be improving as well.
A recent Wall Street Journal story ran under the headline “McDonald’s Customers Love Salads—Who knew?” When the company famous for hamburgers stopped offering salads at the beginning of the pandemic, the Journal reported, “many restaurant operators rejoiced. The hand-assembled mélange of greens was cumbersome to make. Diners wouldn’t miss it, they thought, as they imposed the menu change.”
Much to their astonishment, however, many diners missed it a lot. “McDonald’s very much has lost me,” one of them told the newspaper. And tens of thousands converged on Twitter to demand that salads return. “Who knew,” the Journal concluded, that “some of the throngs going to McDonald’s every day were there for the lettuce?”
The lettuce mania is even spreading to the Philippines where, recently, my sister-in-law, without being prodded, asked for a helping of the green stuff. “I think it must be healthy,” she announced.
Hallelujah, I thought, God is good!
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David Haldane’s latest book, “A Tooth in My Popsicle and Other Ebullient Essays on Becoming Filipino” is due out in January. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an award-winning journalist, author and radio broadcaster with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Mindanao Gold Star Daily.
Friends who went to Pakistan for a school year learned to grow their own greens in pots on the porch. I’ve never tried that, nor needed to, but when in need, why not?
That’s an excellent suggestion, my friend. I will explore it…