Thursday, August 27, 2009

Part 8 : The S and the F words

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."

~ George Bernard Shaw

"Surely, I said, knowledge is the food of the soul."
~ Plato

Although it may not seem possible, I actually did find time to squeeze school in the first five years we were in the Philippines.

I attended a local elementary school in Quezon City and was taking Calvert Home Correspondence courses as well. But I was having a tough time with Tagalog in the grammar and spelling departments. Dad got into it with the teacher which resulted in them failing me even though I was passing all my other classes.

When we got to Tacloban in 1967 I went to a new school and this time my parents insulted the principal and they would not let me return the following year. Not only that but we were black listed from all schools within Tacloban and surrounding towns! That was fine with me, I was still doing the Calvert so I would take the classwork with me when I traveled with Dad.

We really traveled far that year going south to the island of Mindanao, visiting the cities of Cotobato, Davao and Zamboanga. There we visited the vast rubber, pineapple and banana plantations. The amount of waste was shocking. Bananas that were too short or too long were loaded into boxcars and dumped in the river. The river was choked with bananas. We went west to the island of Negros, going to see Dr. Behrens and his veterinary vaccination program at Silliman University in Dumagette City and we went north to see Dick Fagan's Heifer International project at Dasmarinas, Cavite.

In May of 1968 my brother Steve was born so Mom was around to work with me on the home correspondence courses.

When Mom went back to work I ended up going to a little barrio school an hour away. I would head off to school every morning with my little tin
bento box of steamed rice and tuyo ("aromatic" whole small dried fish). After half a day in a hot classroom, opening that bento could really knock you off your feet! I had to get up extra early every morning to catch a public bus or Jeepney and would get home around 6 or 6:30 every night. I learned to carry 10 centavos in my ear for my fare. Some days there was no space to sit inside so I would stand on the back bumper and ride on the outside all the way home. One day I got out of school and waited but no buses passed the school for hours. Soon I was standing in the dark and beginning to panic. Finally a Jeepney came by and I was able to get home by 9:00. Auring of course was waiting for me in the street in front of our home. Mom and Dad were oblivious to the fact that I had not been home for the past 3 hours.

Bethany Hospital had a little canteen where I would go for my afternoon fix of Royal Lem-O-Lime, Royal Tru Orange or Royal Ginger Ale. I would get my candies there too, chocolate Curly Tops, butterscotch White Rabbit and crumbly powdery ChocNut.
Locally made Tamarindo (made from Tamarind) and Polvoron (a powdered milk candy) were some of my favorites too.

I had begun taking piano lessons the year before at the local convent. I had my first piano recital one Friday afternoon, and came home to change into my Sunday best. My parents, just back from work were reading the newspaper.

"you look fine the way you are!"

So they sent me off in my t-shirt and blue school shorts. I walked in and the hall was filled with parents and relatives, everyone was dressed like it was First Communion. I could hear the buzz of whispers and was so embarrassed I tried to sneak out but Sister Clare, for whom I would do anything, smiled her mesmerizing smile at me and said "go on and play, you will do fine". I went out and played my number without mistakes and then hurried home.

"How did it go?" said the voice behind the newspaper.

Everyone was dressed up in Barong Tagalogs and Maria Claras, I was the only one in shorts...

"Ha! That's funny. Imagine that."

Auring, however had made for me an extra special dinner that night to help make up for the lack of interest in my endeavors.

If I haven't mentioned it before, Auring was an excellent cook. Besides Filipino food, she was handy at American style dishes. Her fried chicken was always crispy and not greasy, and served it with mashed potatoes dotted with butter. She also made these wonderful potatoes that were parboiled, then browned in butter and then roasted which she served with roast beef and gravy. Meatloaf served with boiled potatoes tossed with fresh chopped parsley. A potato and hamburger soup with kalamungay leaves in it. Man O man she could cook!

Aah, the Food. The Philippines has its own culinary cuisine unique to Southeast Asia. From beverages to desserts, it was a mixture of Malaysian, Spanish and Chinese styles.

Dad would eat just about anything, while it took quite sometime for Mom to accept and enjoy the local delicacies. As for the kids, we loved the new foods and our stomachs quickly went native.

Although Auring now cooked exclusively, Mom still approved the menu for the week. She tried to make sure that we had a least 3 American style meals a week. I think because food was her link to "Home", when we first got there we ate mostly western style menus 6 or 7 days a week. But slowly Auring began to incorporate Filipino foods into our diet. The one area where Mom put her foot down was desserts. She insisted on cakes and pies, although sometimes she would let the delicious caramel custard called
Flan slip through. Another one was Auring's fried bananas. She would fry whole bananas in oil, then take them out and roll them in sugar. They were so good. But we never had any of the rice desserts like puto or suman. Those we would only get if someone brought some over.

So, fresh fruit like bananas, caimito, guavas, Jackfruit, lansones, mangoes, papayas and pineapples began showing up at all our meals. Then in the mornings we would have pandesal, little rolls, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. With all the students now living with us, rice was now cooked morning, noon and night. It was only put on our table at lunch and supper, but was available for breakfast if someone wanted it. Even when we had potatoes at supper, there was always a steaming pot of rice in the kitchen. Soon I was introduced to the dried fish called tuyo and bulad served with garlic fried rice and fried eggs. Then fresh fish began to be a regular entree, like escabeche, a crispy fried whole fish with a slight tang from vinegar.

We had all kinds of fish, which Auring bought directly from the fisherman the day she cooked it. All of our beef was bought fresh. We raised our own chickens and hogs, so we never bought those at the market. Auring would go early every morning to the open air market to do the days shopping and I would go along. If we were having fish that day we would head over to the wharf side of the market to see what the fishermen brought in. She would go up and down the rows looking at this catch and that, checking the eyes to make sure they were fresh. Eventually they got to know what she liked and would send over a selection to the house for her to pick through. If we were having meat we would head over to meat market where the meat was freshly butchered. She would look everything over then tell the butcher what cut she wanted. He would grab a side of beef and chop off whatever Auring ordered.

One day we got on a jeepney to go to the market. It was half full and we sat down next to a man who was taking up most of one side of the bench seat. He was wearing a long t-shirt pulled down to his knees. Auring slid over to make room for me bumping his legs. He cried out in an agony stricken voice,
"Please Manang, kakatuli ko pa lang.
He had just come from being circumcised and was in great pain!

One of the dishes that Auring made was
Paella. Chicken, shrimp, rice, Chorizo, hard boiled eggs, peas, green pepper, garlic, onion, cooked together. Yowza! I loved the way the flavors blended together.

Another great dish she made was
Pancit Canton. It is a noodle dish with bits of meat and crispy pieces of stir fried vegetables.

Then Auring began serving Adobo. Adobo is a kind of stew which can be made with beef, chicken, pork or seafood and served over rice. The meat is browned in hot oil, then added to a pot with fresh grated ginger, minced garlic & onions, shredded carrot, bay leaf, soy sauce, vinegar and cracked peppercorns. Adobo became a regular part of our diet and her Beef Adobo was my favorite.


  1. Oh my goodness. This one is painful to read. All these great food memories crashing down one after the other. Wow! Auring! Lanzones-duhat-jackfruit-guava. Great read, Mark. Pancit and Paella. The Paella dish was called Arroz Valenciana in our house. Thank you Mark for a wonderful food memoir.

  2. I was lucky enough to experience Auring's beef adobo when we went there to visit a few years ago! Unfortunately, there were too many people and so I had to share the dish with others! It was soooo good!!

  3. That made my mouth water, and I don't even like Filipino food all that much.
    Similarly to your mom, mine insisted on "home" food at the dinner table, so I probably tasted a terrible concoction of what our Filipino maids passed for German cooking. We even had Apfelkuchen (apple cake) made from Chayote!
    I drew the line when they started making sauerkraut -it was aweful.

  4. Yowza is right!!!And I noticed the San Miguel next to the adobo - double yowza!!

  5. We had apple pie made from green mangoes, actually tasted pretty close. My parents also made Avocado ice cream, which I never got the taste for!

  6. i love that you can remember the details. i have blocked so many of my details out.

    I wish they would have at least faked making a big deal, put down the newspaper, or, heaven forbid, attended the recital.

    thanks Mark.

  7. Worse than them not attending was thinking it was so unimportant that they sent me there in my school clothes. If they had allowed me to change at least I would not have stood out as much.

  8. The fried bananas were actually plantains, I believe.

    I stopped eating avocado after seeing Linda Blair in The Exorcist... the green stuff she puked reminded my cousins and I of my Lola's pureed avocado with condensed milk that she would freeze in ice trays.

    YUCK! Great post though, Mark!