Yeh, yeh, I know. All of you are thinking that, oh no, another one of those goody, goody posts that’s going to sound like an episode of the Brady Bunch.
The truth is, my family could be just as dysfunctional as the next one but there is one thing that always unites us and make things … well … functional again.
For example, my mom and I may not have the easiest of relationships, but when it comes to eating, we’re like Xerox copies of each other; from our love of lechon, to the way we pick apart our food and even our coke addiction (the soda, silly). We may get into a squabble over our choices (yes, mine and hers) in life, but at the end of the day, she’ll make me my favorite dish and all is forgotten. Yes, it’s hard to say you miss her roast chicken because she’ll be cooking it every day for a week (okay, that’s an exaggeration, but you get the picture).
When she broke her hip last year and was hospitalized for weeks, I got a wake-up call that I may not have that many years left with her. I realized that I never fully understood her, and despite our differences, I needed to make peace with how I felt about her.
So I went home to the Philippines and stayed for a while.
All was rosy for the first two weeks but you know, the honeymoon would be over and our old issues would resurface with irritation and impatience rearing its ugly head. But all I had to remember were the tears in her eyes when she saw me again and that would take the wind out of my angry sails. My emotionally detached mom, whom I’ve never ever remember seen crying, was on the verge of doing just that because she saw me, her only daughter, after 5 long years.
Yes, it was not easy. This was my mom: stubborn, independent, walking with a cane, yet would go disappearing down the staircase apparently on her own, giving everyone, who finally noticed her absence, a heart attack. Oh, and her smoking. Doctors warned her of a thinning aorta. She would always try to sneak in a little puffing and when she’d hear me coming she’d try to hide the lit cigarette – as if I couldn’t see the plume of smoke rising from her side, not to mention the smell. When you do reprimand her, she launches into her twisted philosophical views of getting old and enjoying what little time she had in her twilight years.
Despite these episodes, bond we did. Unlike the younger me, when all I was interested in was striking out on my own, my recent interest in cooking brought me home in search of ancestral history. My mom led an interesting life, she grew up in old world Chinese traditions and had several full and half siblings. Tales of family secrets and curses cropped up in our conversations. Intertwined within our long chats about her life before, during and after my dad, were stories revolving around the dishes of my youth and the people that prepared them:
My dad, mom and grandma, 3 cooks in the kitchen, a conflict of wills in cookery, a lifetime in food.
Which is why yours truly can be so easy going in all other aspects of her life, but when it comes to food, there’s a strong opinion there somewhere.
I wanted to share my parent’s roast chicken recipe in this post, but I failed to have it at a point to do it justice. It was one of my favorites, this and my mom’s scalloped potatoes.
Yes, I’ve eaten out a lot in the Philippines but it was the dishes that my mom and my sister-in-law prepared that were the most memorable of all. Here are some pictures of our family gathering during the Chinese New Year (CNY).
My mom was so excited to help prepare for CNY festivities, she snucked out of the house at 6:00 am, walked up the hill of the subdivision all the way to the guardhouse to hail down a cab so she can go to the restaurant and start cooking (Ay-yay-ya!).
Fresh Lumpia or Lumpiang Ubod, as it is called in the Philippines, is a version of fresh spring rolls using hearts of palm (ubod). The pancake wrappers are thin and soft, the sauce is made from palm sugar, soy sauce and garlic.
I made apple pie and ice cream for dessert.
When it was time to leave for Manila, we had one last dinner at Manhan restaurant. My mom couldn’t come down to Manila with us and I’m glad we didn’t do any extended goodbyes because I’d probably cry first before my mom did. Shallow tears, that’s me.
It was scorching hot in Manila but my nephew insisted that we drop by the Salcedo Saturday Market. I was so happy we did. I am impressed with how far gastronomy has evolved in the Philippines.
So much food, so little time. I was in a state of panic.
I dutifully did one round before committing to what to eat. Thankfully, the peking duck was all gone, so I went with fried suckling pig (yes, deep-fried) served peking duck style with green onions, hoisin sauce and wrapped in a deliciously thin pancake.
That was appetizer. For a more filling lunch, I chose a Wagyu shawarma (yes, wagyu) and darn! does it come with the most palatable garlic sauce I have ever tasted. We also tasted fried oyster cakes and pork bbq. For dessert I went with puto bungbong and frozen yoghurt.
If only I lived here, it would be great place to shop for produce too.
At lunch end, one would need a forklift to move me.
That evening, dinner was at a cozy, cafe type restaurant in ritzy Forbes Park. La Nuova Pasteleria was an unassuming-looking restaurant, but looks can be deceiving. After all, I spotted Imelda Marcos a few tables in front of us. Could I have possibly eaten the best pasta of my life? I wish I took more careful notes of what we had eaten. It was a blur, but I remembered an amazing truffle pasta and mushroom ravioli. The sauces were never pooling but simply coated the pasta just enough to let the pasta take center stage.
So what was this carb-loading all about?
We were going to run a race the next day. Whose bright idea was it anyway to let me run a 5k the day before my flight back to the States? My darling brother, that’s who. As an added bribe, he told me that ultimate heartthrob, Piolo Pascual, was also running (turned out not to be true). Heh, what was I going to do, chase him down his 10k run? I was not even sure I could run 5k.
In the end, it’s really all about family. One brother, two sister in-laws, two nieces, two nephews, all were running the Century Tuna Superbods run 2010.
It was worth it. No matter what place I ended up in the 5k, the fact is, I did complete it. The sight of the finish line gave me a rush of adrenaline that propelled me to get there. That feeling of accomplishment, that high, it… was… worth…it. Plus, that gave me an excuse to pig out later.
As for me….
To make my last day in Manila sweeter, my aunt and her family joined us for lunch at Nihon Bashitei on Pasay Road, Makati. We were a large group, so the hostess decided to seat us at the teppanyaki area. Brother did the ordering and soon, an array of sashimi, sushi, tempura, gyoza, unagi and various beef preparations started appearing at our table. My favorite was the sukiyaki; they used shirataki noodles, a sure sign of its authenticity.
So at the end of this trip, I was ready to come home to the “Hungry” hubby. I’ve secured some family recipes that I need to test with ingredients we have stateside but most importantly I’ve come to realize that in matters with my mom, I just had to let go.
Still, I was sad and a little depressed when I fell in line at the airline ticket counter because I never got to do this:
Maybe when I go back in April I’ll pack a fireproof chef jacket and a face shield.