Angel loves Nilaga. I manage to cook that easily because onions and peppercorns are staples here in the US as well. I can actually procure patis from the Filipino stores in Woodside, Queens, the Chinese groceries in Flushing or nearby Union Turnpike, and even the neighborhood Keyfood. (Owing to the huge Asian population, this American grocery chain actually has a few shelves devoted to Asian condiments, including our own Lorin’s Patis, Datu Puti Vinegar among others.)
It’s getting the beef and the bone marrow that’s a litte tricky. I think I had written here previousy that I regret not having paid attention to our Work Education classes in high school when we were discussing meat cuts — but out of common sense, I discovered the part I liked best for Nilaga was Beef Shin. Bone marrow is practically given away here at $1 per bag of cut up bones with marrow intact in the Chinese Groceries, or in much smaller cuts at similarly give away prices in Waldbaum’s, my favorite grocery which is comparable to the Unimart I grew up with.
Although access to fresh seafood is very limited (usually confined to the Chinese groceries), you have a choice of frozen or fresh fish or lobster, they will actually clean the fish for you, so I never had to actually gut seafood. Of course I always inspect them before cooking and I find something they failed to cut out, but whatever it is that’s left is something I can stomach and deal with. So in that respect, we’re spoiled. I remember the wet markets back home and I did have occasion to walk through them those few times I went with Mom or when I ventured out on my own when I was preparing a dish I needed specific ingredients for.
Vegetables are mostly seasonal and you won’t stand a chance of getting sitaw from the regular groceries. Sayote or Chayote as it is called here is imported and not locally grown. Squash is readily available, but not always the orange pumpkin variety we use for our favorite sitaw dish. Staples like onions and potatoes come in different varieties and can be bought in bulk from 3-5 lb. bags.
Pork is also not readily available in the usual cuts except for pork chops and pork loin, and not in the liempo cut we prefer for our various Pinoy dishes. I have to watch out for ground pork because unlike ground beef which comes in various varieties (from 80-93% lean), it’s not always on the grocery shelves.
So when I want to try and pull off a Filipino dish, I have to be creative. It’s just one of those things that one must do to adapt when you are far from your country of birth. Adobo tastes a tad bit different but just as yummy with white wine (even just the cooking kind) instead of using good old vinegar. Or one can just cook according to what’s available locally. It can be a challenge.