I don’t fit in here. I mean, that was a given before I came over here. I’m a born and bred central Canadian, armed with southern US spirit. Against the backdrop of the Philippines, I am a total fish out of water. Of course, I didn’t realize I quite literally didn’t fit.
I’m a bona fide giant. At home, I’m considered a little big; at 6’1″ and 235 pounds, I’m above average, but not obscene in any given direction. Over here in the Philippines, I may as well be Shaquille O’Neal. Which is likely what the poor sales lady was thinking when I walked into the men’s department at the SM Store (SM standing for Shoe Mall – the biggest chain in the country, and NOT a leather fetish emporium!).
She made her presence felt when I started looking through the shirts, and in a friendly, but blunt manner, she informed me there was nothing in there for me. I pointed the XL shirt, and she said no, that’s a Filipino XL. Apparently, sizing is only global by name, and doesn’t actually mean anything. She grabbed me by the hand, and led me to the Big and Tall section.
I tried on a couple of shirts and discovered I fit comfortably in to their version of the 2XL. Given that I’d like to leave the country in the same shape; a chore given that all my meals are in restaurants, I asked if she could direct me to the shoe section so I could find something appropriate for the gym. Her eyes grew big, and she looked genuinely afraid – though I couldn’t figure out why. Still, she appeased me, and directed me to their shoes, where a salesman stood, eyeballing me in a puzzling manner; the same look I imagine Donald Trump gives when he’s asked to point out Syria on a global map. He asked what size I wore, and when I said 13, he shook his head with enough force to not only let me know that his store didn’t carry what I needed – but NOBODY is going to carry my size anywhere on this side of the Pacific ocean.
I had started to get hungry anyway, and I figured if I was going to be different because I was a North American, the damnit, I’ll embrace my inner North American! I was going to Zark’s!
Zark’s had caught my eye the first time I’d visited the mall, and was somewhere I’d been waiting to hit up the minute I started to feel homesick. Notorious for their oversized burgers and fries, it was exactly the kind of grease pit of Americana I was craving. While I had enjoyed all the Filipino staples from their many noodle dishes, crunch lechon, and deeply flavored adobo, it was time to get a little taste of home.
The menu immediately won me over, because they were quite possibly the unhealthiest restaurant in the city, and they were embracing it hard. Half the food was deep fried, including the hot dogs, and half the burger options. They had the infamous Luther burger, named after Luther Vandross, who would substitute the buns for a melt-in-your mouth Krispy Kreme donut instead. They even featured their own eating challenge, where you’d be given 10 minutes to down their 2 pound cheeseburger with a half pound of fries on the side! If that wasn’t enough, their burgers were either named after famous WWE finishing moves, or NBA stars. None of it made any sense! This place was the greatest place on earth!
I settled on the Maverick burger, a half pound monster topped with deep fried bacon. Look, if you’re gonna clog your arteries, do it right. All burgers come garnished with lettuce, tomato, and onion, and while I’d have given my kneecaps for a tangy dill pickle, I was just happy to be getting some classic American staples into my gut.
Sadly – the picture doesn’t do justice to how good this burger really was. I was genuinely surprised at how much flavor the meat carried; perfectly seasoned with salt and pepper. It had been cooked hot and fast, allowing a nice charred crust to keep it together, but stay super juicy in the middle. The crunchy deep fried bacon was straight up sinful. And, I hate to admit just how excited I was by this, but the waiter even brought me my own bottle of mustard. I have been searching high and low for mustard since I came to Iloilo City, with absolutely no success. Getting some of that tangy, vinegar laden liquid gold on my burger made my day.
Even the fries were very good, with a generous sprinkling of coarse salt. I’m not easily impressed by fries as I usually find them bland, but these were really good, and deep fried to a golden crisp with no sogginess.
While I ate, I took in the restaurant. Very “sports bar”, with a couple of TVs on the wall, and relatively open concept space. Most customers were enjoying a beer while an old NBA game played on the big screen. I would be thrilled if these guys were open at 1:00am on Sundays during football season (which is 1:00pm back at home), because I would have been prepared to make this my home for Patriots games all season long. Alas, no such luck.
Also catching my eye were the fantastic t-shirts worn by the wait staff. “The Greasier The Better”. Look, if you’re gonna get into this kind of business, you may as well own your product – and Zark’s fully embraces exactly what they are. Fatty, greasy, oh so delicious food. On a day where I was missing home more than most, Zark’s managed to bring a little bit of it to me.