COOK OF THE WEEK: Filipino transplant enjoys preparing native dishes for husband

MANTACHIE – Cristal Bunch moved to the United States from the Philippines in 2007, and she hasn’t been able to go back home to visit yet.
Certainly, she misses her family and her friends. But she also really misses the food.
“In the Philippines, there is lots of ocean fish different than what we get here,” the 26-year-old said. “There, you buy fish in a market and take it home and clean it, fillet it and cook it. Here, it’s already cleaned and in a package. In the Philippines, everything is more fresh.”
Bunch lives with her husband of three years, Michael, and their big yellow kitty, Iduy (pronounced Eye-Dewey), in a home outside Mantachie. But every couple of months, they travel to Memphis, where Bunch has discovered two specialty food shops: Viet Hoa Food Market, an Asian food market, and VGM Foods & Deli, a Filipino store.
“That’s where I buy my rice, tropical fruits, vegetables, seasonings, noodles and sauces,” she said. “I can cook a little bit of American food, but mostly I cook Filipino food. My husband really likes Filipino food. He prefers it. He requests it of me.”
No matter what the petite brunette is preparing, you can rest assured there will be rice involved.
“Back home, we eat rice three times a day,” she said. “Rice with meat. Rice with vegetables. Our McDonald’s in the Philippines serves rice, even at breakfast. Rice with sausage. Rice with eggs. Rice with hotdogs. In the Philippines, we have hotdogs for breakfast. You don’t do hotdogs for breakfast here.”
More rice, please
Bunch, who works at Countrywood Plantation, an assisted living home in Mantachie, grew up cooking with her mother. The fifth of six children, she learned to cook not so much because she wanted to, but because she had to.
But as she matured, her interest grew and she ended up taking some culinary classes in college in the Philippines. She even learned the basics of fruit and vegetable carving, which is evident in an ornate cucumber and tomato salad she prepares.
“We serve this salad when we have grilled fish or grilled meat,” she said.
Bunch figures she prepares home-cooked meals at least three times a week for Michael and sometimes she cooks special meals for her in-laws, Marcia and Paul Bunch, and for friends.
But she also enjoys dining out.
“I like New China and Kyoto in Tupelo,” she said. “I like the barbecue pizza at CiCi’s and I love fried chicken. That’s kind of a Filipino food. But usually when they ask me where I want to eat, I say, ‘Anywhere that has rice.'”
Do you know a good cook? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can fax them to (662) 842-2233 or e-mail them to ginna.parsons@djournal.com.

Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal