Usually I am more reserved, hiding behind metaphors or jokes. But when writing about home, I guess it merits a little bit of frankness. Although admittedly, I don’t have a “home” in the city where I grew up anymore. Good thing it is always fun looking for new hotels around Metro Manila.
This is a list for the next time I’ll be in my most cherished country, which will never be too long from now- that’s for sure.
1. I miss the beer. I miss the beer. I miss the Red Horse that I downed by the buckets back in college, when I didn’t know what to do with my life and it was okay. I miss the San Miguel that I shared with friends over long nights and endless conversations about nothing. I miss the rare times that I would have Pale Pilsen-only when beer is cheaper than water. The last of which, I was wearing a sweater in the ethereal Island of Fire, Siquijor, knowing that in three months I would have a different life. Even if I loved that moment I probably wouldn’t have a Pale Pilsen again- since it tasted like a glass of cool and refreshing cat piss.
2. I miss the putok-batok Chicharon bulaklak, the deep-fried pork rinds that shortens my lifespan faster than a hundred packs of Marlboro Reds. The pleasure is Freudian- it activates my death drive and with every last bite comes smudged with regret- until I take another piece and succumb to my beautiful addiction. Best eaten in a carinderia, maybe on your stop-over during a 12- hour bus ride to Northern Luzon.
3. I miss the homemade Sopas- it’s so simple, so ubiquitous. But I can never replicate it anywhere else. I think it’s the secret ingredient; Tender Juicy hotdog, chopped up into tiny squares giving the cream a slight red tinge. I would kill for a pack of Purefoods Tender Juicy hotdog even if my Mom thinks it’s drenched with the devil’s blood.
4. I miss sisig. It has no direct translation but I could explain it as a heavenly menagerie of otherwise unwanted pork parts sizzled into a cast iron plate. My most beloved version is found in Cebu, topped with a raw egg and sprinkled with chicharon. It would be the most honorable way to execute an unfaithful lover. The man closed his eyes for the last time, and the coroner mused. “It is the classic victim-less crime, Death by sisig.”
5. I miss Pancit. It’s just noodles, but there’s a million different ways you can have it. Pictured here is the popular Pancit Malabon. It is not my favourite. The process of choosing one’s pancit is very regionalistic, every city will claim that their version is the best. It’s the bane of the borough, this thing called Pancit Pride. I don’t have a favourite pancit and I think that is the best way to have it.
6. I miss the manok. Be forewarned that it is not about the picture that you see now. I will tell you a story when I was a nasty and naughty three year old, visiting my Mom’s hometown in Mina, Ilo-ilo. It was mountains and fields, bucolic and breezy. I refused to eat vegetables, so my Mom’s step-father killed a chicken for me. They cooked it in atsuete, and called it adobo– but a world’s away from the sour and salty, soy sauce and vinegar, recipe that we are all familiar with. This one was made with only the best native chicken. But, my Grandmother has passed on, and I may never have this special adobo– at least not one as good as what she made. This dish is probably what I miss the most.
7. I miss the inihaw. Grilled flat in coals, it is the most perfunctory of all gastronomic pleasures. Evident in how it is made by the boatmen who ferries you to islands, each one more beautiful than the next. This inihaw is from an emerald heaven called Coron, in Palawan. A paradise that Thailand’s Koh Phi Phi can only hope to measure up to. I miss the charred seafood, the salty pork and the grilled talong paired with tomatoes, onions and salted eggs. However, this time around I won’t be having it in Coron, but on the other side of Palawan, in a place called El Nido- whose beauty has eluded me for five years.
8. I miss my most favourite panghimagas, Leche Flan. It is sweet and creamy, and unlike the blandness of the Italian Panna Cotta this one is just beneath being cloyingly sweet. And instead of the torched caramel glass of the French Crème Brûlée, Leche Flan has a soft and liquid syrupy bottom. It’s the most perfect dessert to represent the Filipinos. We are sweet, and so soft and delicate that even a spoon can slice us apart. This is a great thing in a dessert, but perhaps not so much in the business of nation building.
9. I miss home-cooked recipes. I miss eating on a round table. But I used to take it for granted, instead I would have McDonald’s, or Jollibee‘s 1 piece Chickenjoy with Spaghetti. Even better, I would eat out in the street and have my beloved skewered meats- isaw, bbq and baticolon. But meals are made to be shared, cooked by a family member, using recipes passed down as a matriarchal birthright. The best thing is that in the Philippines, everyone is treated like family; skip the restaurants, the best way to see the beauty and art of traditional Filipino cooking is in the home.
10. I miss the. I don’t know. I miss the unknown, I guess. I am going where home isn’t the same, and when I am not the same.
I guess it should not be the act of missing it that I feel but excitement. I can’t wait to see what happened to that pocket of eternal sunshine called The Philippines, and this time around I am not coming home alone. I’m bringing someone with me who is just as excited about Filipino food, and all the adventures that come packaged with it, as I am.