Thursday, December 17, 2009

Manila- Reunited with Familiar Food, a Homecoming Story


It is the season for reuniting with what is familiar in our lives. As I flew from Singapore to Manila last Saturday night, one friend was flying from Singapore to his hometown in Canada. Another friend was crossing the Atlantic to head home from London to his folks in New Jersey. My journey to Manila was only a little over three hours. There is no time difference between the two cities. And it is only one or two degrees cooler in Manila, and a tad less humid than Singapore.

But there is nothing like eating food you grew up with. Landing a few minutes before midnight, the airport was less chaotic than usual. My parents picked me up at the airport. They greeted me with a warm welcome, and a hearty appetite for a late dinner. At this late hour, there were only a few choices open conveniently located on the way to our house. My choice was JT’s Manukan. This outdoor eatery owned by Filipino actor Joel Torre serves hot off the grille Chicken Inasal. This specialty dish of Bacolod is spit-roasted native chicken marinated in garlic, vinegar, and salt and brushed with achuete oil (steep the oil in annatto seed). It is served with garlic rice and a dipping sauce of vinegar, soy sauce, chili, and calamansi (Philippine lemon).

 Chicken Inasal Pa-a ( Drumstick and Thigh) and Baticulon (Chicken Gizzard)

We arrived an hour before closing time, with only a few items of the menu available. They had only the Chicken Inasal Pa-a available, the drumstick and thigh skewered and grilled on a stick. There was also Baticulon, chicken gizzard grilled to perfection, achieving the delightful exterior crunch to the otherwise chewy innards. I indulged in the gizzard bringing back fond memories of an Aussie flatmate Jacqui who shared the love for this chicken part. But tonight my big indulgence is the Inihaw na Liempo, grilled pork belly.

   Succulent Pork Liempo (Pork Belly) means its vacation time for me

The mere  scent of grilled pork brings a smile to my face. Many summer vacations in the beach had this for lunch along with grilled seafood. Tonight, despite the city setting, the scent of the sizzling pork fat instantly turned on the vacation switch in my head.

 Garlic Fried Rice, gives you a bad breath but who cares in the country where rice is a staple! 

No meal in the Philippines is complete without the sawsawan, sauces to suit the taste to your liking

Everything was washed down with Royal Tru Orange. A bright orange carbonated drink Coca-Cola produces only in the Philippines. Another happy memory of my youth included many moments with an orange moustache, when I often failed to wipe my mouth after drinking Royal Tru Orange.

The diners in the next table were having a loud and animated conversation in Tagalog, a language I understood. Next to the outdoor eatery, a row of parols, Christmas Lanterns blinked endlessly creating glorious patterns in Manila’s streets. The evening air was a tad bit cooler and crisper than usual. The conversation flowed. There was no need for explanation for I was catching up with my beloved parents, talking about old friends, relatives, and mostly familiar topics.

When my parents would arrive home after a long trip from the US to Manila, I started a tradition of cooking Pancit Molo, the Philippine version of the wonton soup. Its warm chicken broth magically soothes weary bodies after a long flight. The plump and filling dumplings satisfies after many meals of airline food. The condiments of toasted garlic, green onions, black pepper and some fish sauce liven up the already tasty soup.

As I chewed on the last morsels of chicken gizzard, garlic rice, and pork belly, I wondered what my friends would be eating when they land this holiday season in their hometowns? What familiar food would they be reunited with soon after the plane hits the runway?

Post me a comment and let me know what’s the first dish you eat when you head home. And yes, no matter how long the trip or where the familiar is for you, Welcome Home to your own favorite comfort food!


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