Friday, April 15, 2011

Comfort Food Away from Home

Since I am back in Manila, I can easily have access to my favorite Filipino dishes Kare-kare, Adobo, Pork Barbecue, and Lumpia every single day if I want to. Living away from home for the past four years, I romanticized eating these dishes.  For this OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker), no bowl of Laksa or Hainanese Chicken Rice satisfied as much as mom’s home cooked Chicken Adobo, rice, and itlog na maalat (Salted Duck’s Egg). 

Two days ago, I found myself in a small Thai Bazaar at Ritz Towers.  There were only about seven food, clothing, and jewelry vendors in a small function room of the Makati Condominium.  It was past 1pm when my mom and I arrived at the venue.  We were both starving and all shaken up by the bumpy ride from Quezon City to Makati via UP Manila.  As expected there was Phad Thai, Tom Yum Goong, and spring rolls for sale. But what looked most appetizing was the Ho Mok Pla, a most delicate fish curry, cabbage, all steamed in a banana leaf.  I firmly believe the flavors of banana leaves and coconut milk are ardent lovers.  They bring out the best in each other.  The steamed fish was delicate, complemented by the shredded cabbage base. It came alive with a bold spicy punch from the chili.  I asked the lady who made this dish, where it was typically made. “Bangkok” she answered, explaining you can use chicken or pork instead of fish. She recommended eating with it steamed rice. But I craved for sticky rice, rolled into tight bite size balls as they do in Northern Thailand.  A vendor next to her game me a bag of sticky rice to eat. It was delightful!

Ho Mok Pla

Another winning product from this bazaar was the Bagoong Rice Sushi.  The Thai Fried rice with salted pork, chili, and strips of Green Mango is conveniently rolled into sushi. 

Thai Fried Rice Sushi

Later, I saw the vendors, the half dozen or so Thai homemakers, huddled together around a plastic table. They ate their beloved dishes with much gusto and banter as if they were in their own home country.

We had to return to UP Manila to pick up my father. On the way home to Quezon City, I quieted my hankering for Samosas by stopping by ASSAD Mini Mart in United Nations, Paco (yes, across the Unilever office).  It is probably Manila’s compact version of Little India.  I’ve stopped here several times before for this potato crusty dumpling.  My mom tells me, on her way home from mass in the Senate along with an Indian priest, he asked to stop by ASSAD for his fix of authentic Indian food.

The grocery had the pungent aroma of spices. There were rows and rows of bottled curries and chutneys and stacks of Papadums, garlic naan and other Indian breads. But the busiest portion of the mini mart was the bakery section.  Warm Samosas were for sale for P15, +P5 for Chole.  Unfamiliar with Chole, I asked the petite Filipina behind the counter.  It is a chick pea curry, she explained.  Next to me was an Indian man, dressed in motorcycle gear.  He was enjoying his snack of Samosa and drinking what appeared to be Lassi.
Samosa with Chole

My curious mother asked about the three layers of various sweets on display. The accommodating sales lady boxed a sample of a few pieces for P165.  I then remembered a round dessert in syrup. “Gulabjamun?” she said showing me a huge vat of these balls floating like bobbing apples in light golden syrup.  After two weeks of meditation classes, our little ‘enlightened’ tribe had a vegetarian feast ending with this sweet treat.  An Indian man asked for six pieces.  I followed suit.  It tastes just like doughnut holes swimming in sugar syrup.  It is actually milk solids and flour rolled together then fried, served in a sugar syrup flavored with cardamom seeds and rose water or saffron. 

Gulab Jamun

Samosas, the Ho Mok Pla, sticky rice, and Gulabjamun all brought back happy memories of my stint in Singapore and Thailand.  My mom politely sampled these too, but they did not excite her. My dad found them either too sweet or too spicy. My sister took one bite of the Indian sweets and quickly commented, “I’m not in the mood for exotic tonight.”

The meaning of food is so personal and so individual.  For some it can evoke many fond memories.  But without the memories, food becomes simply judged by its flavor, calories, and nutrition.

Copyright Maida Pineda 2011. No part of this blog or the photos may be used without permission of the author.

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for reading... drop me a line here. Cheers!