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Paglilihi: What Do Pregnant Filipinas Usually Crave?

In the country, food cravings among pregnant women are a crazy blend of superstition and biology. Pregnant women become notorious picky eaters and especially emotionally sensitive – thanks to hormones going wild that suddenly cause these bizarre food urges. Add to that the deeply rooted belief that a pregnant woman’s cravings must be catered to at all cost or suffer terrible consequences, and this childbearing phase in the life of a Filipino family becomes one roller coaster ride indeed.

When a child is on the way, life isn’t going to be easy and will never be the same again. A child is always a handful, but the couple will also go through the challenges of satisfying the peculiar cravings or “paglilihi” of an expectant mother (in some cases, it’s the fathers who undergo paglilihi).

Old folks say the qualities of the food (or anything) that a pregnant woman desires rub off on to the child. It’s interesting because one of my nieces was born with Werewolf Syndrome aka Hypertrichosis marked by abnormal hair growth much like this girl in the picture. According to her, a spotted pig lived under their stilt house during her mother’s pregnancy.

Worse, if these food cravings aren’t met, it would cause miscarriage, birth defects, and other nasty things to the baby. Since these are not scientifically proven, we’ll just settle to the fact that an angry, dissatisfied, and very pregnant woman is someone you don’t ever want to mess up with.

  1. Chocolate

Although chocolate craving isn’t exclusive to Pinay preggies, we had to place chocolate in our list because preggy or not, Pinay or not, chocolate is definitely one of the world’s most favorite food. Our country however offers some of the finest and purest chocolate concoctions. Case in point: our very own tableya – chocolate in its most unadulterated form, which we usually mix with water and sugar to make “sikulate” or hot cocoa drink, the ultimate pair for the country’s exotic rice cakes, which by the way also made it into this list.

  1. Buko or Young Coconut

Whether it’s for stimulating the pregnant body to produce breastmilk, for having a refreshing, hydrating drink, or for the love of this tropical fruit, it doesn’t matter. Buko juice and its meat are sure to delight expectant mothers’ taste buds, especially when keeping down food becomes a chore. Have them in their rawest form or blended into a smoothie or salad, buko makes a fantastic dessert ingredient.

  1. Ice Blocks

Pregnancy can really make you feel hot and sweaty all the time. Hot flushes are a pregnancy symptom, and this is aggravated by the fact that the woman is going through hormonal shifts and metabolic changes, as well as the enduring the heavy load in her tummy. Who wouldn’t sweat with the constant lifting of weight? That’s why most preggies would gobble up ice blocks in their mouths, chew on them or let them gradually melt inside – it’s a way to keep them cool.

  1. Dirty Ice Cream

Another cold treat that keeps expectant, hot mommas refreshed is ice cream. But it may not be just any ice cream, it could be that dirty ice cream sold in carts pushed by “mamang sorbitero” (ice cream street vendor) or that really fancy brand of frozen dessert in a tub that costs a lot more than a day’s wage. The loving husband can only hope his wife would go for more affordable and widely available brands as Selecta, Magnolia or Nestle. When the wifey clamors for dirty ice cream in the wee hours of the night, gods help the hubby – it’s doubtful mamang sorbitero would be selling at these times.

  1. Rice Cakes or Kakanin

Rice cakes are a staple during Filipino celebrations, and are well-loved desserts and snacking items on regular days. Although they’re now available in groceries and shopping mall stalls, it’s still a hurdle to get your hands on a kakanin if a pregnant woman is especially particular about the type of rice cake she wants to eat. Know that there’s practically one rice cake delicacy in every region or city. Pray that the lady with a bump won’t ask you to shop around the country for some tasty rice cake buffet.

  1. Chips and Salty Junk Food

Junk food is always a treat, but when you’re pregnant, it can be extra yummy. Pregnancy naturally affects a woman’s sense of smell and taste. So apart from craving sweet stuff, she may also go for savory and salty stuff even inappropriate food like chips and fries packed with risky doses of sodium.

  1. Hot & Spicy Food

While Philippine cuisine isn’t as hot and spicy as Indian or Korean, we do have our versions of the flavor. It can be amazing even if a woman who normally has low tolerance for spicy food and chilies would gobble down large amounts of them when she’s having a baby. Bet eating hot and spicy food would validate her cravings for ice cream and ice, huh?

  1. Exotic Pinoy Food

We generally have a penchant for exotic food. So there’s nothing unusual about a pregnant woman eating balut or isaw, right? But pregnancy often makes an already weird appetite much weirder as in the case of consuming sardines three days in a row or several helpings of “kwek-kwek” (battered quail egg).

  1. Food-She-Used-to-Hate

Yup, it would come as a surprise that a pregnant woman will actually crave for food they used to hate so much. I’d have to tell you a story about my aunt who strongly believes in “lihi.” When she got pregnant one time, she kept on asking for the “pan-walay-lami” or the bread that didn’t taste good. She had everyone looking for this lady who would roam the streets selling bread, which my aunt disliked so much prior to her pregnancy. She blatantly called on the woman asking for her bad tasting bread because it was all my aunt ever wanted that time.

  1. Manggang Hilaw with Bagoong

Of course, this Pinoy favorite combo should be the ultimate food craving of a typical Filipina preggy. In his book, CultureShock! Philippines: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette, Alfredo Roces, Grace Roses wrote that “a child’s existence begins with ‘lihi’ . . . She may suddenly express a strong irrational urge to eat green mangoes in the middle of the night; a loving husband is supposed to cater to her whim.” Come hell or high water, the husband must go fetch that green mango, with bagoong if he may, in order to avoid a miscarriage or a midnight brawl with his pregnant wife.

Pregnancy is a scary and crazy experience, but it can be exciting and enlightening, too.  Whatever one’s food cravings may be, it’s best to always put first the nutritional needs of the baby and the mother, and to limit or avoid food that hinders the optimal growth and development of that little child inside the womb.

If you’re a mother, what’s your pregnancy like? Have you had weird food urges? We’d love to hear your story. Well, let me start off by sharing mine: when I was pregnant with my daughter, I felt weird for not craving for green mangoes and santol (you know, the usual stuff), so I tried buying some but ended up throwing them away. I did fancy bread rolls from a local bakeshop at 5 months pregnant.

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