Grateful Filipino troops serve up local cuisine for US Marines

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  A Filipino airman prepares a meal to share with U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. John Suyat, 32, of Alexandria, Va., on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, during typhoon relief operations in the Philippines.   Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes
From Stripes.com
A Filipino airman prepares a meal to share with U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. John Suyat, 32, of Alexandria, Va., on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, during typhoon relief operations in the Philippines. Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes

Grateful Filipino troops serve up local cuisine for US Marines

by: Seth Robson | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: November 29, 2013

GUIUAN, Philippines — Meals, Ready to Eat get boring pretty fast, so when a group of U.S. Marines got a chance to try out local cuisine while helping typhoon survivors in the Philippines, they chowed down.

At sundown Thursday, while some of the Marines working in the storm-ravaged town of Guiuan added water to heating bags to warm up MREs, Filipino airmen and truck drivers nearby were making fires to cook their dinner.

The Filipino troops have their own field rations but prefer to buy food from a local market and cook it, said Marine Staff Sgt. John Suyat, 32, of Alexandria, Va.

“It’s better than MREs,” he said. “This is the real food even though it is simple.”

Suyat, who was born in the islands and moved to America with his family at age 11, hung out with the Filipino troops boiling rice and frying fish over a camp fire and preparing local delicacies under a tarp.

Enticing smells wafted over the area as the Filipino airmen mixed pineapple, vinegar and pepper into pork with rice.

“Pork adobo is the national food of the Philippines,” Suyat explained.

Marine Cpl. Rebecca Portugal, 23, of Olatha, Kan., said the Filipinos had to improvise, though.

“They didn’t’ have pineapple juice so they just used a can of soda,” she said.

The best part of the meal was when the group placed all of the food they’d prepared on a new trash bag and ate together with bare hands, she said.

“It was really cool to see how much of a tight-knit group they are,” she said. “They all wash their hands and then dig in together.”

It was fun eating with the locals, but the Marines weren’t allowed to build their own camp fires, she said.

“We are here fixing damage and we don’t want to risk making more with a fire,” Portugal said, although the risk seemed minimal given monsoon rains that soaked the area last week.

The Marines didn’t go hungry, even when there wasn’t an MRE or pork adobo at hand. A meal was as close as the nearest fallen coconut, and their camp was surrounded by coconut groves.

Marine Cpl. Kaycee Morales, 22, of Las Cruces, N.M., fed regularly on coconut milk and the white “meat” inside during more than a week in the disaster zone.

“This is the first one that I’m going to open myself,” she said as she stripped away the outer layer of a coconut with a multi-tool.

The Marines refined their coconut opening technique during their stay. By the time they left over the weekend, most knew how to bore a hole to extract the milk before smashing the coconut on the ground and picking out the meat with a knife.

By Monday, most U.S. personnel had left Guiuan for the comfort of Clark Air Base, where pork adobo, along with American hamburgers, is on the menus of many local restaurants.

robson.seth@stripes.com