Pagpag! Proof that there are foods out there so rancid I will not even try! Pagpag, have you heard of it? As the self declared Street Food Guy, and of course a regular visitor to the Philippines I am not averse to getting myself down and dirty with the street food scene. I have tried all manner of guts, intestines, the obligatory balut, birds nest soup, and even tamilok. Tamilok is a food so god damned awful they decided to make it a “challenge” to eat it. Yet it is nothing compared to pagpag.
What does pagpag mean?
Pagpag in Tagalog literally means “to brush of the dirt”. In regular context it can also mean left-over food after you’ve eaten, but then reheat and eat again. When it comes to “restaurants” though, pagpag literally means to get leftover food from dumpsters, “brush of the dirt”, cook it and serve it. When people use the phrase pagpag in Tagaolog, they are usually referring to food taken from rubbish.
How do you make pagpag food?
There is a whole process to stocking up and cooking pagpag which involves getting yp extremely early.
People go out to collect and ind the leftover food, before the rubbish collectors come to take it away. This means pretty much going through bins in the middle of the night.
Where does the food come from?
Its food from a dumpster, so there really is no hard and fast rules for where it comes from. In reality though it tends to come from fast-food restaurants, like Jolibee, KFC, or McDoanlds. In these places people tend to leave the most “untouched” and clean food. It is also thrown away in a container, thus keeping it cleaner.
The pag pag part
The food is then taken to the “chef”. The chef then goes through it to decide which is OK to be cooked and served and what needs to be thrown out. Again pagpag literally means to brush off the dirt, so what can be brushed off is brushed off and what can be cooked is cooked. Many chefs take great pride in how meticulous they are with preparing the food and their levels of cleanliness.
How do you cook pagpag?
Again there really are no hard and fast rules, but considering you are dealing with a bunhc of leftovers it tends to be fried together into something that can then be sold and eaten. Think less a reconstructed burger and more Filipino bubble and squeak, just much more gross.
How much does it cost?
In a country with so much poverty the dish is obviously born out of necessity. The person who collects the food is usually a family member of the chef and the chef merely needs oil and a way to cook it. This means it is an extremely cheap dish, costing 10 or 20 cents per portion, but again there really are no hard and fast rules to this.
Is pagpag food bad for you?
Unsurprisingly there are a huge number of health concerns associated with eating pagpag, from typhoid to cholera, and in general it is discouraged, sadly though it is very much a ncessity.
To give a stark example of the wealth disparity that exists in the country, the rich can afford to literally throw away food, whilst a huge proportion of the country suffer from a lack of food. A 2015 report even sadly stated that pagpag had massively helped reduce malnutrition in parts of the country. A truly sad state of affairs.
Why do people eat it?
The Philippines is sadly a nation wracked by poverty. We have seen this first hand when visiting the notorious slum that was “Smoky Mountain”. They have since rebranded as “Paradise Heights”. Now whilst the local government have big plans, it is not proving easy.
A vast majority of the people in these slums earn their money through garbage. Largely through collecting and recycling it for money. It is not uncommon to see kids swimming in Manila bay collecting cans and the like. With this in mind most peoples main object is survival. With this city within a city also surviving essentially through garbage, it is not that hard to understand why they have much less resistance to eating it. A very sad, but indeed true state of affairs.
To read more about “Smoky Mountain” and “Paradise Heights” click here
Why is it not banned?
The main plan to reduce the proliferation of pagpag was a broad stated idea to “reduce poverty”. Obviously fairly obvious, and a great idea, but its the reducing poverty part that is literally the hard bit! The current President was brought in a broad platform to do this and is well regarded by the working classes of the Philippines, sadly there has been little in the reduction of poverty yet. And whilst there is poverty there will always be pagpag. That is the reality of things.
Yet away from the slums you will not see pagpag, and it is unlikely as a foreigner visiting the country you are likely to come across it, but its worth noting whenever you are enjoying yourself in any country that suffers from poverty how the other half actually live! Ironically this throws up the question of whether it is right, or wrong to throw away left-over foods. As a rule of thumb if you do leave stuff, pack it in the box before throwing it in the garbage.
Are there any idiots who advocate eating food from dumpsters?
I am so glad you asked that question. Not long after writing this piece I was to discover a chap called the “Gutter Gourmet’. You can read what I think about this idiot here. You can read the drivel he wrote here.
To summarize though he advocates going through garbage to get food to eat, you know Ike with pagpag. In his mind it is a middle-class way to stick it to the man in London. Yes a whit middle-class due advocating what so many people have to do merely to survive. The guy is an offensive moron.
With everything that has since occurred in the world regarding Covid-19, I feel this makes him look extra stupid, but hey this is just my personal rant.
Would YOU try pagpag food?
Before the world went Covid-crazy it had been my plan to go to the Philippines. Alas things changed. In the interests of going the extra mile I would certainly try pagpag. Sure I am grossed out by it, and yes it might well make me sick, but I would give it a go. I would not be doing this to mimic the “gutter gourmet”, but more to have an understanding of how these people survive.
I actually tried to make my own version of the dish via a bucket of chicken from KFC. Obvioulsy I did not have to go through the garbage to get it, but I was interested to see how it would taste. You can read about my home made Pag-Pag here.
Ideally though I’d rather live in a world where people did not need to go delving in dumpsters in order to get another calories to survive. Alas I feel the world is not quite there yet.