And typhoon timeswhen the winds would howl outside and there were floods all over the place, and our parents and grandparents would tell us not to step outside because it was dangerous. Mrs. Malubay's house already had her roof blown off. And ours was groaning and complaining and about to give up its fight against the elements. When one, however was only seven years old, it was not scary. It was a great adventure. First, there were no classes and everybody was home. What did that spell? Party. And party meant food. We had lots of gabi in our backyard. So Lola made "tinuto" as it is called in Quezon province where we're from. The fresh coconut milk, the tender and succulent gabi leaves with fish and a hint of garlic and sili is still a taste that lingers, if not in my palate, very clearly in my mind. Or is it sensory memory? Whatever. So the tinuto with oven-baked pork chops was our typhoon fare, together with the pancit sotanghon that was my father's specialty. Our pantry was always stocked with sotanghon for what my father called, "emergencies." So whenever he wanted to eat sotanghon, I guess it was an emergency.
But back to comfort food for breakfast, lunch, merienda, snacks and dinner, because one never knows at what time of the day one needs comfort. To me, comfort is needed not only for momentous events. Comfort food is needed when a day is simply out of the ordinary. That is why I am a comfort woman.
For example, when my father would say we were going to Baguio the next day at five in the morning, we all had to get out of bed at 4:00 to shower and dress and be ready for breakfast at 4:30. Of course we all had to pack the night before. The ordeal of getting out of bed before the dawn "cracked" (or was it before the neighbor's rooster crowed), was always offset by the comfort food for breakfast. First, there was always sinangag. And tuyo that my mother liked to fry with vinegar and olive oil. Then there was hot chocolate, cooked in those tall, narrow pots and stirred with a batidor until it was so thick you could slice it with a knife. That went with the ensaimadas which were so finely made and covered with grated queso de bola that came in the red round can.
The queso de bola was so plentiful, osteoporosis wouldn't dare think of coming near any of us. The queso de bola, by the way, that we liked, was the crumbly kind, not the smooth kind. I found out later on that that kind of cheese was old because it had to travel by boat, and that took a long time. This last information is supplied by my brother Tony who married a Dutch lady who is an authority on Dutch cheeses. What things we get used to.
Anyway, there were also those ubiquitous slices of ham, and to complete the comfort breakfast food to sustain us on our journey, my father would open cans of Mabuti sardines. I remember the tastes and flavors mixing in my mouth. I'd wet my sinangag with the thick chocolate, and take spoonfuls of the rice with ham and sardines.
The next mouthful would include the tuyo and the sardines again. Then I'd top off my meal with the ensaimadas dunked in the chocolate. Of course we kids always dripped the chocolate on our clothes. So we never did leave at 5:00 in the morning. There was all that changing of clothes after breakfast.
My mother never wet her rice with the chocolate. She always wet her tutong with the carabao's milk which was always ready for her. I never got the hang of that. I couldn't understand how a rough-skinned animal could provide good milk. At any rate, we would then, thus comforted, pile into the cars nearer to 6:00 than to 5:00 and be on our way.
The comfort provided by breakfast would only last, however, until San Miguel in Tarlac, which was about two and a half or three hours from home, depending on the pee stops we made along the way. Or how my sister Emily could hold her breakfast while in the car. But my father always said that halfway to Baguio was always a good rest stop for the car, the drivers, and us. There was a restaurant in San Miguel owned by a Chinese gentleman, and every time we stopped there we always had a meal.
|I guess that's why my mother always dutifully ordered the chop suey. She figured we had to have vegetables that we kids always pushed around our plates and cleverly hid under the pigeon bones.
My favorite was the camaron rebosado con jamon. All Chinese food then was always described in Spanish. To this day I wonder why. Anyway, my brothers always ordered morisqueta tostada and pichon frito. I guess that's why my mother always dutifully ordered the chop suey. She figured we had to have vegetables that we kids always pushed around our plates and cleverly hid under the pigeon bones. Or so we thought. My mother would always say, when we got to Baguio, that we had to eat a lot of broccoli because this was very fresh there, and besides we didn't eat the chop suey in the Chinese restaurant.
Now we come to lunch. I'm sorry to say I'm not much of a lunch person because around noon is my waking-up time these days depending largely, of course, on my nocturnal activities preceding. However, let me tell you about lunches I cannot forget.
When I was about five or six, and Manuel L. Quezon was the inhabitant of the big house by the Pasig, we would have most Sunday lunches there. You see, my maternal grandmother was the sister of Mrs. Quezon, and also the first cousin of the President. (President Quezon and his wife were first cousins, which was why they had to get married in Hong Kong, and to get a dispensation from Rome.) So Sundays we always got gussied up. Can you see me gussied up? Of course I was only a kid and didn't know any better.
Anyway, Saturdays preceding those Sundays, I would get interminable lectures on table manners. And lunch at the Palace was always me with two cushions under because apparently they didn't have high chairs. And what I remember so distinctly is how I loved the Royal Tru-Orange served to me by the Chinese butler, on a silver coaster, the tall glass glistening with the moisture from the lots of ice in the drink. I don't remember any of the food. I only vaguely remember the Tisoy at the head of the table. I don't remember anything except the cushions under me and drinking the cold, delightful nectar that was Tru-Orange.
When we got home, I asked for more Tru-Orange but it never tasted the same. Even if they gave it to me in exactly the same way, it never tasted the same. It was my comfort food when I would get so sleepy waiting for those Sunday lunches to be over. The adults uncles, aunts, grandparents, parents seemed to talk and laugh a lot, and I certainly had no inkling as to the cause of the general hilarity. Maybe it was because there were no coups then, but I still turned to the Tru-Orange for comfort.
When it comes to merienda, I am a decided suman woman. It's the Pinoy soul that seeks this "nowhere-else-in-the-world-to-be-found delicacy. And when one feels that "the world is too much with us" there's nothing like the lift that suman can give.
As we all know, there are many kinds and varieties of suman. There's the suman sa latik that has a greenish tint due to the banana leaves in which it is wrapped. And it has a sauce that is something like a "pourable" coconut jam. My paternal grandmother used to make this to perfection. If you wanted to die of sugar shock you could smother your suman in it. No, not smother. Drown. And be instantly transported to heaven.
|From 4:00 to midnight is when I do my serious eating. All health buffs, dietitians, doctors and other allied contrabidas of pleasure will tell you this is the worst thing you can do. But there it is. And the result is that I look "intimidating" to my actors.
Then, of course, there's the suman they sell in Antipolo, which is wrapped in coconut palm leaves, and the other kinds of suman wrapped in banana leaves, some cooked with brown sugar, others cooked in white. In the Visayas there's a suman they call budbud that is equally comforting. I'm told it's made from birdseed, hence is very fine.
From 4:00 to midnight is when I do my serious eating. All health buffs, dietitians, doctors and other allied contrabidas of pleasure will tell you this is the worst thing you can do. But there it is. And the result is that I look "intimidating" to my actors. ("Intimidating" being the Repertory Philippines euphemism for "fat" especially when referring to directors who cannot be persuaded to give them roles.)
Now my favorite evening comfort food is lentejas or lentils. Which is why I always have a supply of lentils that you can buy anywhere. My mother taught me a recipe for lentils which even a non-cook can easily whip up. I guarantee you'll be a lentil lover after you've tried it. First, toss the lentils into a pot. Add water, of course, like you would cook mongo. Then add slices of Spanish chorizo. Then quarter some onions and slice up some tomatoes. Add a whole head of garlic without peeling it or anything. Just toss it in the pot with the rest of the ingredients. Put the pot on a low fire, and leave it alone till it is cooked. When it's almost ready, just add salt and pepper to taste, and voila, your lentils are ready for your comfort.
My mother told me this is what Spanish mothers always cooked for their families. They could leave the pot to simmer, and assorted children and husband could just get a bowl of lentejas and have it with a piece of bread. They could then have a hearty meal that hardly needed time to prepare.
I sometimes eat my lentils with bread. But when I'm in need of real comfort, I take it with rice and daing or tuyo or danggit, which turns this Spanish dish into something very Pinoy. Anyway, I just love to eat. Eating is comforting. But I give comfort, too, to family members and friends with my cooking. I am truly a comfort (food) woman.
© Zeneida A. Amador