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At Jollibee's: Fries or a side of rice and gravy?

DRIVE-BY DINING

October 05, 2006|Dog Davis | Special to The Times

REMEMBER how John Travolta's character in "Pulp Fiction" enjoyed the little differences between American fast food and fast food abroad? Well, we bet he would have loved Jollibee, the Philippines' largest fast-food chain that's recently begun its migration to the United States.

At first, Jollibee seems like any generic American joint with a giant bee, presumably jolly, as its mascot. But then you start to notice the little differences. The fried chicken is called Chickenjoy, and the Amazing Aloha Burger comes with pineapple. They serve French fries, but the preferred side dish is rice and gravy. And they have a delicious dessert called Halo-Halo, with shaved ice, milk, ice cream, flan, tropical fruit and beans. Yes, beans!

The least American dish on the menu is called Palabok Fiesta. It's a bowl of cornstarch noodles covered with a thick pork-shrimp-garlic sauce, topped with crumbled pork cracklings, juicy ground pork, baby shrimp, green onion and two hard-boiled egg slices. A packet of lemon juice comes on the side. Will Americans learn to love it like a Big Mac?

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Jollibee's Palabok Fiesta

*** Taste

Calling this dish a fiesta may be an exaggeration, but it's certainly a fun addition to the world of fast food. Where else can you pull up to a drive-thru and get pork, shrimp and egg served in a single dish? There are plenty of tastes and textures to enjoy; the contrast between the salty, crunchy cracklings and the mushy noodles feels good on the tongue.

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* Diet Watch

The American obsession with nutritional information has apparently not made its way to the Philippines. Jollibee doesn't yet provide any caloric information for its food. And though it's obvious that the Palabok is loaded with calories, it does have one thing working in its favor: this 13-ounce portion feels a little small by gluttonous American standards (though normal for the rest of the world).

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* Portability

The Palabok is best eaten at the restaurant because it's served in a simple foam box with a loose-fitting lid. If you drive like a maniac, the lid will pop open and Palabok will slosh everywhere. Also, you won't be able to eat this while driving, unless you like noodles in your lap.

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** Hype-o-meter

Check out the website, www.jollibee.com.ph, and you can find its nearest location and watch a silly commercial. Dig a little deeper and you can compare the Filipino menu to the American one. You'll discover that the Filipino Palabok Fiesta is topped with flaked fish while the American version is not. Guess that's just another one of those funny little differences between American fast food and overseas fast food.

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* Ratings are on a scale of one (lowest) to four (best).

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