In August I spent some time in the Philippines. One thing that kept me from visiting this country sooner was the food. I’ve never really liked Filipino food. At least not the stuff I’ve had in the U.S. I find it overly greasy and too meat-focused. And without interesting spices. But I want to be fair and not judge a country by the American interpretation of its cuisine. So on this trip I was determined to try a diversity of Filipino food and give the country’s cuisine a fair shot.

I scheduled a Traveling Spoon meal in Manila because I’ve had some great experiences with this network. They facilitate peer-to-peer meals that often involve cooking lessons, market visits, and information about the cuisine, in addition to fabulous food. I picked one hosted by an American man his Filipino partner. This may seem odd, but it was the most convenient location, and the cooking was by Filipinos. So I thought it would be interesting to get the expat perspective as well as the local chef and food knowledge.

I have tried a lot of variations on peer-to-peer meals during my travels. But the general idea is connecting travelers with locals who prepare a meal of local foods to share with you. Some of these meals are for groups, but more often I end up alone (or with whoever I’m traveling with) with my hosts. I always enjoy the conversations with my hosts, who share insights about local culture and tips about things I might want to do or see in the area. And of course the meals are consistently incredible, and usually a really good value for the money. While a bit more expensive than some of the other peer to peer food networks, the Traveling Spoon highly vetted experiences never fail to impress me.

This was actually the best meal I had in The Philippines. Although I ate at some very good restaurants, I still found the food too heavy for my taste. And the seasoning was generally uninteresting. But this was not the case for my Traveling Spoon meal.

Oscar, our chef for the evening, prepared two delicious dishes. The first was pinakbet, a vegetable and pork dish that was quite complex and had a tremendous depth of flavor. I did try pinakbet elsewhere while in the Philippines but it wasn’t nearly as good as Oscar’s version (and it was a lot greasier). The second was paksiw, a fresh whole white fish prepared in vinegar. This simple preparation was remarkably tasty and something I’m already experimenting with at home.

I opted for the meal with cooking lesson, which meant I got to help Oscar prepare the food and he taught me how to make these dishes.┬áIn addition to the delicious meal, I learned a lot from Greg, my American host for the experience. Both about his long history living in the Philippines and his perspective on the food, politics and culture. It was a very fun evening and measured up to the incredible experiences I’ve had with Traveling Spoon in other countries.