Melbourne Showgrounds Grand Pavilion
Having missed the previous year’s Philippine Fiesta through illness, and having only heard about this year’s bash the previous night, and having somewhat lethargically got myself out of the house and into the rain, it’s a pleasure to be striding towards the showground’s Grand Pavilion, where – happily – the entire proceedings are taking place.
My pace picks up as I hear the music and inhale the tantalising aromas caressing my nostrils.
Inside, the entire pavilion is hazy with smoke from barbecues.
Who needs dry ice?
The fiesta has been going a good few hours already, will continue quite late into the night and on into the following day, but there is a good size crowd on hand already.
There’s all the commercial stallholders you would expect – travel, insurance, immigration services, real estate and more.
But your blogger, of course, heads straight to the food section.
It’s not as big as I expect, but more than big enough, with all the stalls – maybe about 10 in all – all doing a roaring trade.
Except the Spanish paella folk, who seem to be suffering from attention deficit disorder. Such a shame, as their goodies look the goods.
As if almost in an unintended rebuff to them, I start my afternoon’s eating with a serve of paella and chargrilled chicken from one of the Filipino stalls for $10.
The rice is good, the chicken better – chargrilled to a crispy outer and juicy as can be, although pretty much unseasoned.
All the tables adjacent the food area are packed, so I make do with some plastic storage containers out the back of the coffee caravan set-up. Despite its deliciousness, I leave much of the chook uneaten in the knowledge I’m up for some serious grazing.
By far the most popular food item are the barbecue skewers – there are at least four places selling them.
I grab a pork number for $4 and feel a bit shattered.
It looks insanely delicious, but it’s SO fatty. In this sort of context, such a thing would not ordinarily disturb me. But in this case, the fattiness is as much a textural thing as it is flavour or health related. That I don’t like pork belly – at all – may give you some idea of my dismay.
I see people all around me happily consuming skewers – pork, chicken and beef – that appear to be meatiness defined in a way mine is not.
It’s time for time out from food, it’s time to take in some of the more cultural aspects of the fiesta.
At the entertainment stage, I quickly surmise that it’s mandatory for female Filipino pop singers to wear dangerously elongated high heels.
Gwen Zamora (pictured above) sings two songs, the first pleasingly close to the sunshine pop so close to my heart.
However, as the entrants in the Miss Philippine Fiesta of Victoria and Charity Quests and the Mrs Philippine Fiesta of Victoria and Charity Quests strut their stuff, I quickly learn that vertigo high heels are pretty much the all-round go.
Except, maybe, for the wrestlers, none of whom appear to be Filipino, be they male or female.
High heels may be part of their private lives, but they put on a good show anyway.
Even a sport fan and pop culture creature such as myself normally finds “wrestling” of only the most passing interest.
But it’s surprising how visceral, loud and – yes – violent it seems when you’re standing a few feet away.
I order a serve of callos.
It’s only when the deal is done that I fully realise the contents of what I am about to consume.
Thus this, of all places, becomes the first time EVER I have tried tripe.
I don’t like the tripe; I don’t really dislike it, either.
But a lifetime of wariness is a big hurdle.
I push it all to one side and enjoy the remaining stew of pork, chorizo, greens beans, peas and chick peas.
I have room and money for one last hurrah – churros!
These are much less chewy and of much less substance than I am familiar with.
So light, so very evil and so very delicious with the chocolate dipping sauce – and truly perfect with a brew from the Three Beans Coffee folk.
It’s my best coffee for the week by a mile – bravo!
I have a ball at the Philippine Fiesta.
But I am by now accepting of the fact there is something of a disconnect between me, my tastes and Filipino food. There are numerous dark, lusty and mysterious dishes at the food booths that I don’t even consider.
I suspect that at a similar event hosted by the Indian community, just for instance, I would not feel a similar distance.
But that’s cool, too!