Mementos of a Foodie
The journey begins...
Enforced “siesta” was something we kids could not escape during the weekdays of summer. A tradition carried over from our Spanish heritage – that is probably why I grew up well beyond six feet tall. Approaching my early teens, I occasionally managed to somehow escape this ritual and scale our wall perimeter and patiently waited for that familiar voluptuous figure of the lady vendor carrying her basket in her arm like a handbag. The “bilao” with all the goodies was propped up on top of her head that made her walk ram-rod straight like a Philippine Military Academy (PMA) plebe.
I could hear her from the distance calling out becoming crisp, loud, short of a Gregorian chant as she drew closer, “PUTO, KUTSINTA, PALITAW, BUCHI, CARIOKAAAaaa…” The “palitaw” (a gooey delicay made of glutinous rice) never ceased to amuse me. The texture was so sticky like melted bubble gum that it stuck to the roof of your mouth and the other half was racing half way down your throat.
Lazy Sunday afternoons were for the boys. My grandfather and father would take me to Baclaran along Dewey Boulevard (now Roxas Boulevard) dotted with barbecue stands in bold red colors with a huge Coca-Cola logotype. I would sink on those familiar folding wooden beach chairs lined with rainbow colored canvass similar to a hammock. This was where I first tasted pork barbecue threaded on bamboo skewers that were paper-thin, sweet, spicy and just the right acidity. The barbecue had a slight reddish color from the banana catchup baste that smeared the corner of my lips and cheeks and was sooo good. I would suck on the bamboo skewers and then stick them into the sand just to count how much I had consumed – a dozen. An ice cold “sago at gulaman” normally was a refreshing accompaniment to quench the thirst. To this day, this experience became a basis for some of me specialties in Barbecues, Grills, and Roasts.
As I was left to gobble up all those barbecues the two elders would go fishing at Manila Bay – yes fishing (nowadays you fish out dead human bodies). For some reason that I cannot fathom to this very day, my grandfather always brought with him his vintage World War 1 “larga vista” (binoculars) and he would hang it around my neck. Certainly it was not for him to see the fishes up close since an inverted periscope will get the job done. I viewed through the binoculars the low flying aircrafts that were about to land at the airport that it magnified the airplane up close I could see the rivets at the belly of the plane. Again a first - in experiencing vertigo!
I can still smell the sea breeze and feel it marinating my school boy cheeks as I watched both my grandfather and father fishing with their fishing rods hazily silhouetted against the famous Manila Bay sunset.
HOTDOGS AND ROOT BEERS
Summer time in the late 1950’s was spent with my cousins in Quezon City and being the only thorn among the “Gumamelas”, my Aunt without fail would take us all out on every Saturdays to that famous hat and sausage logo outlet –Brown Derby that was located on Quezon Boulevard near Sto. Domingo Church. It was my first encounter with jumbo hotdogs. All of us kids were drenched with mustard all the way up to the tip of our noses from the sausage in hot buns and chase it down with ice cold A & W Root Beer. All these were served on trays that the waiters hang on the side of your automobile window.
CHOCOLATES, PASTRIES, MILKSHAKES, ASPARAGUS AND ENGLISH BANGERS
JUSMAG somewhere near Timog Avenue In Quezon City was the place to get “PX” Tootsie Roll which now shrunk with the Philippine economy, KitKat, Full of Almonds wrapped in gold tin foil, Van Houten, and of course the Lollipop that had a chewy chocolate core. I would get impatient licking and sucking ....oopps that did not sound right.... the lollipop that I would smash it against the wall just to get to the chewy part.
Living in Ermita as a kid, I often looked forward not to the Sunday Masses but the trip to either Aristocrat or Chocolate House adjacent to Malate Church. Mom would buy these nuts covered with chocolate like Baby Ruth and placed in a wax paper take out bag similar to the ones you see with popcorn vendors illuminated by their kerosene lamp, you would think there was a procession as it passed your street. My personal favorite was the green colored mint covered with chocolate in the form a huge thick coin.
Sombreros in Ermita was the Goldilocks of today. You could enjoy the macaroons topped with cashew nuts or pili and the boat tartlets which I still cherish to this day. Let's not forget the Brazo de Mercedes that slides through your throat effortlessly and the sugary “Tocino del Cielo”.
At the corner of our street at Alonzo in Ermita was your typical Chinese “sari-sari” store where we would risk getting run over by “karitelas” by crossing the street just to get that Fat and Thin Champoy “Haw flakes” that was, thin, red, and resembled a playing card and so sweet it gave you a throbbing toothache. The “kiamoy” which had a brick red color had a salty sweet taste guaranteed to give you kidney stones. The black “Dikiam” on the other hand was sweet and sour. How can you forget that stinky squid that came in a transparent white plastic with blue letterings and a red graphic of the squid? I always reserved my favorite for last, spicy and sweet “Cow Label” beef jerkins that can literally blow your socks off!
Milky Way had just screens for walls to ward off flies and mosquitoes during those days. I often related Milky Way to chicken asparagus sandwich and oniony tuna sandwich. Acme Supermart at M.H. del Pilar, was one of the very first super markets to get a splendid dose of thick and creamy milk shake (chocolate, strawberry and ube) and English Bangers after a good movie at Gaiety Theatre minus the “pulgas” (fleas).
Aristocrat. Yes Aristocrat was the place to be in. All memorable occasions, events, weddings etc political, coup plots, meeting “di avance” and what nots was the venue for Aristocrat. It was the place to be in second to The Manila Hotel.
AUTOMATION AKA HIGH TECH THEN AND HAMBURGERS, FILLET MIGNON, PIZZA AND LASAGNA
In the early sixties, our place near “Cash and Carry” was a “Barrio” then and catch a glimpse of the few high-rise buildings at the skyline of Ayala Avenue. I never really knew what this area was until my other aunt brought me there before going home. Rizal theater was the first of its kind in Makati city (where Makati Shangrila Hotel now stands) where I would always ask my mom to buy me those grease-less super spicy peanuts. I always thought that my mom’s “pancit luglug” was the only variety that existed and to my astonishment, Sulo Restaurant served this noodle variety. I also tasted my first pork Satay which somehow resembled the barbecue in Roxas Boulevard but not quite.
I was in awe at the wonders of technology then. At Automat, you insert a coin, yes a coin, and you either got a sandwich hygienically packed or a drink in Dixie cups. You actually had a choice of hot or cold sandwiches or drinks and always thought these vending machines were robots we normally see on television that can prepare your snack. What I loved here the most was the cold chicken potato sandwich that was not mushy and the crispy Russian salad with smoked ham. On a busy weekday during lunch hour, I actually witnessed the young executives in their flat top haircuts with rectangular, black, thick rimmed eyeglasses wearing white short-sleeved polo shirts with very thin neckties, dark pants, and white socks in black penny loafers. The women wore their beehive hairdos like an Aztec temple, horn-rimmed sunglasses, smart tight fitting skirts and deadly stiletto high heels. The scene seemed surreal now and reminded me of the personnel at NASA control in the film Apollo 13.
Makati Supermart was like an airport hangar compared to Acme due to its immense size. The supermart had everything from hardware, groceries, lawn furniture, toy department right at the entrance and a small diner. The first time I ordered a Hambuger I was suspicious that it was meant for a “capre”. The burgers were thick and juicy with no gravy but condiments and came with huge potato wedges that were crisp on the outside and velvety on the inside. The parsley garnish had a liquorice taste and a hint of dill flavor. The steak was always accompanied by a root beer, 7-up, and Coke float. Occasionally I would feast on their generous serving of spaghetti with meat sauce topped with grated cheddar cheese. Right after meals I would visit the toy department and head straight for a launch in the Apollo capsule.
The cozy Swiss Inn beside Maranao was where I had my first bite of steak-Filet Mignon. As I sliced through the steak the juices of blood oozed that would have quenched Count Dracula’s thirst.
The Plaza was the Aristocrat of Makati City (same owners) where the elite wined and dined when The Manila Intercon was non-existent. The lasagne looked strange to me and wondered if it was a hybrid spaghetti but creamy. The lasagne was al dente, had meat sauce with béchamel and layers of Italian flat leaf parsley (does anyone ever wonder what parsley is called in Memphis?...Elvis Parsley). At the corner of the facade of The Plaza was the take out counter-Gazebo. Not once did I perceive it to resemble a Gazebo but more like a Moslem dome with a steeple. I saw this strange looking disk at the counter that was paper thin with tomato sauce and all sorts of toppings including anchovies. I was appalled and in doubt why they ever placed “tuyo” (dried salted fish) on that strange looking cake and after my first cautious bite on the hard crunchy crust, my youthful hormones had instantly accelerated to puberty like experiencing a first kiss!
THE WET MARKETS, SUPREMES AND TEMPTATIONS TOGETHER AND FRESH LUMPIANG AMOY
A weekend never goes by without a bribe from my mother dearest whenever she
asked me to accompany her to the wet markets of Cartimar , Echague, Ils de Tuls (Ilalim ng tulay) or Divisoria.
Nauseated from the smell of the wet market in Cartimar, she would leave me at the Chinese ham store and buy me Mentos. Not the mint kind but the crusted sour, chewy pastel colored ones like yellow, pink, green. If I got lucky she would buy me a pair of tear drop blue shades similar to Michael Cole’s of Mod Squad.
There were instances that the long wait for her to finish her marketing was like the mysteries of the rosary that I threatened to throw a tantrum and demanded a penance from her. An album of the Temptations together with the Supremes Album..."I've got sunshine, on a cloudy day, When it's cold outside, I've got the month of May...I guess you say.......".
Contended with my loot, we would ride home in a converted tricycle from the Japanese occupation. I could not help but notice the old and weathered driver's big calf muscle ready to explode with angry varicose veins it could break and slingshot your forehead like an aircraft carrier’s catapult. Not wanting anyone to recognize me I would cover my face with the record album.
In Divisoria, my mom would always leave me with the old Chinese vendor of fresh lumpia. This old guy in his “sando” and “pantarorong/puruntoy” shorts which actually looked more like an “Andador”(walking trainer), reminded me of James Krupa but instead of his drum sets, he had a set of drum like containers similar to “taho” vendor and would be so adept at preparing a dozen orders of fresh “Amoy lumpia” simultaneously. The “Lumpia” (Chinese spring roll) had cilantro leaves, “hoti”, roasted peanuts and hot chili sauce. I would munch on the spicy “lumpia” as we rode the “Karitela” home nursing on my lap a new argyle cloth for pants
Today, my epiphany continues as a professional learning the ever changing culinary lifestyle and trends. Once the learning ceases the apocalypse of my career begins.