When in Cebu: A Gastronomic Dive into Filipino Work Culture

When in Cebu: A Gastronomic Dive into Filipino Work Culture
Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Imagine this: you’re an office-going, coffee-addicted American suddenly transplanted into the warm, communal canteen of an InfoTrust Philippines office in Cebu City. The experience? Well, it’s less like stepping into a new office and more like reuniting with old friends. 

First up, the communal eating. I quickly learned that in the Philippines, sharing meals isn’t just about refueling; it’s a sacred team-building exercise. Forget grabbing a sandwich to chomp down at your desk; here, it’s about long tables, laughter, and loads of food. And oh, the food!

Let’s talk about Jollibee. If America has McDonald’s, the Philippines has Jollibee, and it’s not just a fast-food chain; it’s a part of the culture. Chief People Officer Polina Panich and I were told that we were not flying back until we experienced this national treasure and became introduced to the cult of Jollibee with a Chickenjoy drumstick in one hand and a forkful of Jolly Spaghetti in the other (yes, it’s sweet and comes with hotdog slices and ground meat—don’t knock it till you try it!). It’s like someone decided that what spaghetti needs is a sugar rush.

And then there’s the adobo, sinigang, and lechon—the holy trinity of Filipino cuisine. Adobo is anything cooked in vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic. It’s so good that it will bring tears of joy to your eyes. And the lechon, oh the lechon! This is a whole roasted pig that’s all crispy skin and tender meat, and it’s as festive in the Philippines as Thanksgiving turkey in the States.

But back to the culture of eating together—this is where the magic of community and collectivism comes to life. It’s not just about the food; it’s about the shared experience of enjoying that food together. Conversations over these meals often drifted from work agendas to personal stories, creating bonds beyond the typical professional relationship. It’s like being part of a family reunion where you are excited to see everybody.

The idea of ‘Bayanihan’, the Filipino spirit of communal unity and cooperation, was palpable. Decisions are made with everyone’s input valued, and you feel genuinely cared for by your colleagues. It’s a far cry from the ‘eat-or-be-eaten’ vibe you sometimes get in hyper-competitive American workplaces. Here, it’s ‘eat and help eat’—a philosophy I quickly grew to admire and, honestly missed when I returned to the States.

Now, the most important conversation …

I am very serious about my desserts. So, when I first encountered halo-halo, the Filipino dessert that means “mix-mix,” I knew I was in for something monumental. This isn’t just a dessert; it’s a symphony in a glass, a culinary kaleidoscope, and a beach party for your taste buds.

Imagine this: you’re presented with a tall, inviting glass filled with what looks like a treasure hunt on ice. There’s shaved ice, which in any other dessert might be the main event, but here it’s just the chilly canvas for a wild array of ingredients. You’ve got sweet beans (yes, beans in a dessert, and it works; jello cubes in Technicolor, green, and red; creamy coconut strips; and chunks of jackfruit that add a tangy zing. But wait, there’s more! Atop this mountain of sweet glory sits a generous dollop of leche flan, a scoop of ice cream, and a sprinkle of toasted rice flakes for a bit of crunch.

Eating halo-halo is like experiencing glimpses of paradise. Each spoonful is a surprise. One minute you’re enjoying something familiar, like the comforting creaminess of the ice cream, and the next, you’re diving into the exotic textures of purple yam or the surprising pop of sweet corn. It’s like a dessert buffet compacted into one glass, and the only protocol is to dive deep and mix everything up. The more you stir, the better it becomes a sweet, creamy concoction that’s blissfully confusing yet harmoniously delicious.

As I dug into my first halo-halo, I felt like an archaeologist uncovering layers of an ancient, sugary civilization. Each layer offered new insights into how you can surprise your palate. From the photo, I was smiling on the inside. On the outside, it took a lot of focus and dedication to endure this journey of flavors that felt almost too adventurous for a dessert, but that’s halo-halo for you—a delightful sensory overload in a glass!

So, if you’re serious about desserts like I am, halo-halo isn’t just a recommendation; it’s a rite of passage. Dive in, mix it up, and enjoy the ride. When you think you’ve tasted all that desserts can offer, halo-halo says, “Hold my ice cream.”

My time with our Filipino team was a delightful eye-opener to the power of community in work culture. It’s where business meets bayanihan, and where every meal feels like a scene from a feel-good movie. I miss this reunion, and I can’t wait to bring my kids with me for my next visit. (Though I may want to consider fasting for a month before my trip to Cebu City.)

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Author

  • Alex Yastrebenetsky

    Alex Yastrebenetsky is a founder (and CEO) of InfoTrust. Known as "The Brain" (Pinky and the Brain) around the office, he enjoys traveling with his wife and young children.

    View all posts
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Originally Published: April 29, 2024

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April 29, 2024

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