Raquel C. Bagnol
The luncheon meeting of a civic organization I was to cover for our newspaper at the Penthouse hotel in downtown Koror started late and my stomach was already growling, protesting why it was denied food since the night before. There just wasn’t time to grab something to eat. Deadline was beating down our necks. I just arrived in the island for a couple of weeks and was still in the adjustment stage.
When Maam Lei, my editor told me to order food from the hotel restaurant, I did not hesitate but sat immediately at one of the tables. The menu was written mostly in Chinese with a few translations in English and I didn’t understand most of it so I chose what was very familiar- fried chicken combo meal. One serving costs $7.50++. It’s always the ++ that scares me when ordering food from classy restaurants.
I usually only buy bento, a packed lunch or meal complete with rice and two viands priced from $1.75 and up and it is always enough to fill me. Anyway I was not paying so why the fuss.
When the waitress, a PI (Filipinos are called PI here, short for Philippine Islands) served the food, I gulped for there, set before me was a huge (and I mean HUGE) platter with rice enough to feed me for a couple of days, a mountain of raw cucumber, cabbage, lettuce and tomatoes, and five gigantic slices of crisply fried chicken. Half of one slice was enough for me I swear. The orange juice costing $2.50 came in a huge glass which looked like only a few inches shorter than a regular pitcher.
I looked around apprehensively, expecting to see sneers from other customers because with my 5-ft-98-lb frame, it would seem like I had been denied food for months but nobody was looking in my direction. I picked up my spoon and fork and began eating daintily. If the truth was to be told, I wished to eat with my hands. Food always tastes much better and satisfying that way. I just scraped the chicken skins and popped them to my mouth, (forget the calories, crispy fried chicken skin is just too tempting), one-fourth of the rice and half of the juice, completely ignoring the salad. I’ll never be a vegetarian. (Ever hear that eating too much veges may lure snakes to live in your stomach?)…I had the rest of the meal packed and consumed it for the next couple of days.
Housemate Celina and I ordered fried rice for dinner from a restaurant some distance away from Iyebukel, the poblacion (they call it hamlet) where we are living.
“Just one order for you both?” the Filipina waitress asked. We both said we were very hungry and ordered one serving each. Mine is java rice and hers is seafood. You guessed right, one serving was good for three persons. We were still eating fried rice until noon of the next day.
One time I passed by a couple of Palauans (they’re huge, each weighing not less than 200 lbs) grilling barbeque at a seaside resort where I went to take photos of the sunset. I cast an absent-minded glance at the spit but retraced my steps when I was five meters away to check if my eyes were playing tricks. The two men were grilling fish so big and chicken thighs resembling turkey’s thighs I wondered how they could consume it. One half of a chicken thigh would make me burst. They saw me eyeing the barbeque and urged me to eat.
“You eat, why, you’re soooo skinny!” One of them said, but I politely refused their offer, swallowing the urge to insist that I was not that small but it’s them who were just so big.
Everything in Palau is big. The first man I saw when we arrived in Palau three weeks ago was the Customs officer at the airport. He was not big, he was huge I would disappear behind his shadow!
More than half of the population are sized XXXL here.
It’s normal to see fish weighing 100 lbs or more, bread solid enough that one slice is equivalent to a full meal, garlic and onion as big as a giant’s fist, kindergarten pupils bigger than the normal elementary students in the Philippines, t-shirts (small size) that reached down to my knees when I tried it on, oh, name it, it’s big! (Oh, that may be an exaggeration because I haven’t seen everything yet!). Anyway, three weeks here in Palau has taught me a lesson. Palauans sure serve them big. I mean food. And drinks, too.