By Seb Taylor (SERVE Philippines Volunteer 2013 and owner of Cafe Temple in Galway).

The first thing I remember upon arriving in Cebu city was the amazing smells and aromas that wafted around the city –  and of course the heat! All around were street vendors selling an array of local delicacies, smoke coming from different stalls dotted around the city, with Jeepneys flying past beeping their horns. After a long flight we had finally arrived in the hustle and bustle of Cebu, the second largest city in the Philippines after Manilla.

I did not realise upon arriving how much of our volunteering experience would revolve around food! Food is the substance of life, we need it for energy, however what we forget sometimes is just how much we as humans connect over food. Having worked as a chef for a large part of my life food is something that I have always been especially passionate about. I love how something we do every day, eating, is so different from person to person, place to place and country to country. When we think of culture, food plays a huge role in this, and people are usually immensely proud to teach others about dishes that are original to their country or culture.

In Cebu, SERVE do amazing work alongside the Badjao tribe through their partnership with the Presentation Sisters. Lack of education, clean water, housing, and unemployment are just a few of the issues facing the Badjao people, a nomadic tribe of fishermen, who face discrimination every day in the Philippines. However, spending time with the Badjao you would never realise the issues they face on a daily basis, as every person you came across would connect with you through a friendly smile and no language was needed to make you feel welcome and comfortable. Playing with the children in the school yard at break time was always such a great experience, as they ran around playing games, happily singing and shouting, without a care in the world!

One of the things I loved about volunteering in the Philippines and working with the Badjao people was to see how the children were encouraged to come into school everyday by getting a meal. This staple hot meal that the children got everyday when they went into school meant that their parents knew that their child was getting get fed something nutritious that day. This also meant that the children could spend the day learning, instead of fishing or working.

Some of the happiest memories I have whilst volunteering were of helping my host family and the teachers in the school to cook some traditional dishes. After a morning of volunteering, the teachers in the school would come together with the volunteers to prepare lunch. Everyone played their part in chopping, peeling, cooking, and cleaning. Every bit of food was used, and nothing was wasted. I remember the first time the teachers taught us to make Crema de Mango (mango float), how they gave us pieces of the freshest most succulent mango you’ve ever tasted, and how proud they were of the delicious tasting Mangos they produce in the Philippines (one of their most produced crops). I remember the Wok dancing in flames in my host family’s house as we all waited at the table for Bam-I noodles to be served. In fact, reading the SERVE cookbook brought back so many great memories of sharing stories over food and learning so much from amazingly kind and warm people.

On our final day at the Redemptorists where we had stayed for the first and last week of our volunteering, all the host families came together, and we shared the traditional dish of Lechon (a whole roasted pig). We laughed about the great times we had had during the time we had spent together. We shared stories of culture, learning from each other as we discussed things over this delicious feast.

That is the best thing about food. It brings people together and when people from different cultures come together to talk and learn from each other it can only lead to a better world. I feel that above all my experience volunteering with SERVE taught me to respect other cultures, to always try and learn from others, to always be grateful for how lucky we are and to give back whenever we can. Sometimes in the madness of life we can lose track of how lucky we are to have what we sometimes consider ‘basic luxuries’ like food in the fridge, running water, or a roof over our heads.

Volunteering with SERVE was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had and I am proud of the cookbook that we have produced that not only contains plenty of tasty recipes, but also shows all the amazing work that every volunteer has done in so many amazing places throughout the world. The smell or flavour of food can bring you back to an exact time and place in your life. Every time I make something from this cookbook, I know that I will be brought back to the amazing time I had volunteering in the Philippines with SERVE.

The recipes for Mango Float and the Lumpia (Philippines Spring Rolls) in our SERVE’d Up Cookbook are sponsored by Temple Café, Galway City, owned by Seb Taylor, a SERVE volunteer who spent a month working in the Badjao tribe in 2013.

Temple Café is a ‘Social Business’, meaning they give back to the local community. Their aim is that, by coming in and supporting their local business, you are also supporting local suppliers and, in turn, local charities. They pride themselves on using fresh, organic, and local ingredients wherever possible. Feed the mind, fuel the body, free the soul! To find out more, visit cafetemple.com