Friday, February 28, 2014

Freshly Baked! Pork Chops


Some time ago, a friend wrote about this little hole-in-the-wall silogan in the Little Baguio area for Pepper.ph. Quirkily named the “Yakitate Pork Chop House”, I encountered this little shack in the woods—so to speak—quite often, especially back when I was commuting to the Greenhills area on a daily basis. I’ve never had the time (or, truth be told, the guts) to give Yakitate a shot, but after Nico’s review, I knew I just had to stop by and check out what they had to offer.

You may be wondering why I would be so interested on a roadside eatery like Yakitate. The reason behind this is the fact that the restaurant is named after a popular anime called Yakitate! Japan—which is all about making bread. But the disconnect notwithstanding, the name Yakitate translates to “Freshly Made!”, which is unusual when it comes to something as pedestrian as pork chop.

But that’s where the, shall we say, uniqueness of Yakitate Pork Chop House begins. On the outside, it won’t seem that different from any other roadside eatery you’d find here in Metro Manila.

yakitate1

When you enter the store, it’s easy to imagine that cleanliness isn’t one of their strongest areas, since the plastic tables and chairs are old and scruffy, the floor is stained and faded, and the walls are such a dirty yellow that it wouldn’t be surprising if the color was a mix of the paint and the smog from both their kitchen and the pollution from the traffic along the nearby Pinaglabanan road.

The dismal interior, however, isn’t enough to deter the droves of people who visit the restaurant regularly. The local neighborhood of Yakitate is populated by the old rich, affluent families who built their homes in the Little Baguio area when it was still quite the remote location. Nearby are two of the more prestigious schools of the Metro, the Immaculate Concepcion Academy, and the Xavier School for boys. These people lining up aren’t there to dine in the eatery; they’re there to buy several porksilogs—a portmanteau of pork chop, sinangag (fried rice), and itlog (a fried egg), and bring them home to their walled houses. Often you’ll see a classy car in the sidewalk next to it, with the driver waiting patiently for the meal of his charge. In other words, despite its appearance, Yakitate serves a decidedly uppercrust clientele.

yakitate2

If you choose to dine in the premises, however, you will be given the choice of eating either at the bar overlooking the kitchen, or on one of their tables. If you’re alone, you will most likely choose the bar, which will give you an additional treat of seeing how your meal is done. Majority of the cooking is done on a burger stove overlooking the street; the pork chops are deep fried on one of two side burners. After placing your order, the cook will dip a piece of pork chop in a vat of flavored flour—flavored with salt and pepper, I would imagine—and then plop it in a pan of gently bubbling oil.

Afterwards, she scoops up a cup of freshly cooked rice from another vat, and places that on one side of the burger stove. The stir frying commences, during which she sprinkles a mixture of what I imagine to be salt, garlic powder, and MSG onto the rice. Most people might find this a bit unnerving—what the hell, after all, are they putting in your rice?

Once you get past the initial shock of seeing a couple of tablespoons of Mystery Powder being sprinkled onto your fried rice, however, you will notice that by then, the cook has now placed an egg ring on the other half of the stove, and was quickly cooking your egg. She doesn’t sprinkle any salt on this, strangely enough, but the amount of salt found in the rest of the items on your meal should more than make up for what was left out of the egg.

yakitate3

Once the cooking process is done, the sinangag is once again placed into a cup, which is transferred onto a plate. The pork chop and the fried egg are then arranged on top of it. Well, perhaps arranged isn’t the word for it. But at the price you’re paying for your meal, you don’t expect an artisinal plate to be presented for your inspection.

After the first bite, you will discover that whatever it was they placed on the pork chop and the fried rice, it works. The flavor of the meat is immersive and rich (although it did have the tendency to be a bit dry), whereas the fried rice doesn’t taste like artificial flavoring at all. There’s a hint of the garlic powder, but nothing that would overpower the taste of the pork chop so much to inhibit your enjoyment of the main dish.

The egg, on the other hand, was the star of the show. It is very difficult to get an egg fried on both sides without drying up the yolk in between; the timing required to get this done is really difficult, especially for a fry cook handling anything from two to five orders at any given moment. But if there’s anything that Yakitate does right, it would be the egg. Fried on what looks like melted butter to an almost crispy brown on either side, the center of this humble side dish was liquid gold oozing out from an otherwise toughened exterior. I found myself thinking that this wasn’t the cooking skills of somebody you’d expect to find on a roadside eatery. This was quality cooking!

While the service staff of Yakitate was what you’d expect from a silogan, the quality of the food, and its popularity, made my visit quite the exciting little trip. I am willing to go out of my way for a good deal on good food (what Pepper calls its “ghetto grubs”), and it can be really difficult to improve on what Yakitate has to offer. Now if only they served bread.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Life and Leisure—and Everything in Between


Oh that wonderful feeling when you hit a dry spell, and you can’t do nothing about it. So, rather than not writing at all today, what I will attempt to do is to write at least 300 words of drivel in a desperate pitch to try and maintain my posting schedule. Bear with me guys, there’s a chance that this post is going to run away from me.

The fact of the matter is, I have a ton of article ideas sitting in the back burner. The problem is that I don’t have the time or the inclination to research / work on them since, well, I was feeling under the weather over the weekend, and I just really haven’t had the time to actually get anything aside from work done.

I know, I know. That’s the usual complaint. Life gets in the way of living. But anybody past the age of 21 knows how true this is.

Work-till-you-drop-1

Taken from The Badass Blogger.

There are contrasting points of views when it comes to the whole life versus play argument, actually. Most people who live and breathe in the rank and file believe in balance; you work hard, and you play just as hard. This is, if we are to take my Facebook feed into account, the predominant attitude towards life. And it’s easy to see why; the whole concept of hard work being rewarded is comforting in the midst of the harsh realities we have to encounter day in and day out. Hard day at work? Dude, prop up your feet, pour yourself a cold one, and rest the night away. You’ve been burning your brain for the past few months on a project? Take a week off, man. Go to the beach. Get drunk. Unwind.

This is, at its core, very Pavlovian. The sight of the prize is enough to make you salivate. And if there’s anything we humans are capable of, it’s working hard when we’ve got our goal in sight. Runners and bikers go their fastest when the finish line is just off the horizon. The man adrift in sea for days gets a sudden surge of power when he sees land, and swims like a superhuman. They’re spent and tired when they reach their goal, and they’re not even sure if they’re going to achieve anything—they could still be overtaken at the finish line, or the island off the horizon might be a desert with very little chance of supporting life. But that doesn’t really matter.

At the other end of the spectrum, are the tycoons, the empire builders. The people with a consistent goal in their mind. These are the people who don’t compromise. One of the richest men in China spends no more than the equivalent of $20 a day. New entrepreneurs and CEOs go without sleep for days because they’re busy making money. This is how the elite roll, people, and they believe in postponing gratification for a much bigger pay off at a much later date.

These same people, instead of blowing their money on things like good booze, good food, and nice vacations, put it into retirement savings. They invest in stocks that pay decent dividends per month, thereby increasing their net earnings per annum. They wear cheap clothing, because expensive clothes are, well, expensive.

Perhaps the same analogy I used earlier can be applied here, expect that these people have better sights than the rest of us. These are the people who can see their goal from a mile away, and plan accordingly. But goals take a lot of work, and if you add that on top of your real work, I guess one can question if you really are living a life, or if you’re letting your life control the way you live.

I don’t know how to end this post properly without waxing cheesy or non-partisan, so I’m going to do myself a favor and cut my rambling here.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Little Chef


So today I’m going to write about cakes. Because I love cakes. If they weren’t bad for me, I’ll eat cakes by the truckload. Especially cheesecakes, because they’re made of cheese, and cake (not exactly accurate). To be precise, I’m writing about a cake baker—otherwise known as a pastry chef—I encountered quite by chance.

the pastry chef

Lara dela Torre is the Little Chef, and is a personal friend of Nina. In my mind, she’s what I call a bona fide pastry chef, and is one of the reasons why I remain fat. I have had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of some of her creations, and I can say I am quite impressed.

And by making the acquaintance, I mean demolishing them. Just last week, she sent over a solo choco caramel cheesecake, and I think I devoured at least half of the cake by myself in one sitting. I’d post a photo, but I don’t have any decent shots of the cake before Hurricane Martin happened. But I can tell you this: it is, hands down, my favorite cake to date. I love a good cheesecake that’s not too thick, but has a dense, creamy consistency and a nice Graham crust. It gives a bit of a fight when you cut into it—but not too much that it makes eating it a struggle. The chocolate and caramel toppings of this particular cheesecake were—fittingly—the icing to the cake; it could have just been a normal cheesecake, and I would have been perfectly happy.

She also makes great carrot cakes that’re a bit different from the ones that you’re used to. I don’t now if this was by design, but the mini carrot streusel cupcakes (because they looked like cupcakes; they could just be plain miniature cakes) had a moist, mushy interior that went really great with the toasted exterior. I enjoyed it immensely with my morning coffee, and the streusel, although messy, was a neat addition to the texture of each forkful.

Nina swears by her mango cheesecake (pictured below), although her personal favorite is Lara’s brownie cheesecake, which I have yet to try. Meanwhile, I am looking forward to trying more of her cream puffs later this weekend. I am also interested in what looks like a leche flan cake (I forget what it was called), which is also pictured below. Whatever the case, (or, in this case, whichever the cake), though, I know one thing: the Little Chef is a treat for my personal sweet tooth, and I know I won’t stop buying whatever it is Lara has to offer.

If you’re interested in inquiring about her cakes and prices, her contact details are in the calling card I posted earlier on this post. Meanwhile, you may see more photos of her pastries after the jump.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Carmageddon


It's a busy morning, so I'm writing this from my mobile phone. Bear with me, folks.

Just some talking points on the so-called "trafficgeddon" that's poised to sweep over the metropolis starting today:

1. Why are they undertaking projects of this magnitude all at the same time? Why couldn't they have started on some of them - perhaps the ones that have been in the drawing board for some time now - a few years back? What's so special about 2014?

2. To that point, just how efficient is their implementation plan, for both the execution of all the projects, and the contingency plans? I don't think I speak for myself when I say that I have plenty of doubts for the local governments to efficiently deal with the amount of traffic that will be rerouted. I mean, that's what all the highways they're improving are for, right?

3. They're improving both the LRT and the MRT, but what of the PNR? I've been taking the old at-grade railroads a bit frequently for some time now, and I can say with finality that the only problems with that train are accessibility, number of trains, and the equipment. I don't think the government is utilising this line enough, and that's quite sad, given it's potential.

4. Why are they overdeveloping Manila? Given the amount of resources they're spending on all these PPP road projects, you'd think they'd have plenty to improve the economy of other non-Manila cities. Cavite, or Laguna, for example. The problem with Manila isn't that the traffic is terrible - well, it isn't the MAIN problem - but that everybody's going into the metro. What's wrong with developing other cities so that the population shifts from Manila to elsewhere?

5. What is the government's plan to counteract the pollution all of these new roads are going to bring? An elevated skyway passing through the very heart of the capital? A new highway connecting both north and south expressways? Another interchange? Moar cars, moar traffic, moar pollution. What're they gonna do about it?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Short Story: Twilight in the Center of the World


Since this is the day of hearts—or Singles Awareness Day, for those of you who celebrate that other holiday—I thought that it’d be fitting to post the only love story I’ve ever written. This was written way back in 2002, won a minor award that same year, and was published in 2003 or 2004 in the Philippine Graphic Magazine. Note that this is my first short story, and there are plenty of things wrong with this piece. But I hope that it manages to entertain you somewhat today.


God_and_Me_by_d4_md
God and Me by Olivier Agustin

The earthquake began when he put on his woolen socks to go to school.  I swear, I have never ever seen anyone jump as high as he did, only to fall back down flat on his buttocks right afterwards.  His books scattered on the floor beside him, and the baked potato lunch-bag near flew to the dining table, where his two sisters cowered from beneath which, scared to fits they were by the ‘quake, being the blessed four-year olds that they were, the sillies.
Bobby’s father uttered a curse from the second floor, followed by a yell.  “Chelsea!  Make sure the twins’re okay before you take Bobby to school.”  I replied with an affirmative, dragged the twins out from under the table, and deposited them in the arms of the big, black cook.  “Bobby!  We’re going in a few!  Get yourself fixed up proper,” I yelled.
Bobby’s family was often that helter-skelter, on their best days; they were pure pandemonium on their worst.  He was the second child in a family of four.  The parents were both high-strung, swore freely and fluently all the way from home to their work (or at least I think they did) and were sometimes too impersonal to really figure greatly in the lives of their children.  The eldest son was in graduate school, taking up his masters in philosophy.  The twins were an anomaly.  They had light-brown eyes, an adolescent sense of humor, giggled like a pair of grown-ups, and listened all day long to Sesame Street minus one cassette tapes.
Bobby was the self-proclaimed black sheep of the brood, a young boy of seventeen working his way through high school with a job at a nearby hobby store.  His folks were rich, but he settled on the idea that a little bit of extra money wouldn’t really hurt.  Plus, it gave him something to do.
One of his quirks was pretending that he could see ghosts.  Bobby made up names for the different “people” he said he saw all around him, but there were three that popped up more often than the others.  These were Midas and Rapunzel and Clementine.  He’d tell me, while I was driving the car to school and complaining about how hungry I was; “Clementine says we should stop by the McDonalds at the outskirts of town for breakfast.”  And this, while chewing on some pancakes he had swiped from the table that morning.  I found it cute, his parents found it irritating, and the twins would probably flip out if they even knew about it.
I was Bobby’s senior in school; my folks happened to be his parents’ friends back in the city, so they asked me if I would be kind enough to bring Bobby to school, since I had my own car and all.  I was only too happy to oblige; I was paid a regular weekly stipend for my trouble.  This was a big help getting through the week for a latchkey kid.
Bobby watched me drive with a silent look that could win me a Nobel prize if I could decipher what it meant.  “How strong was that earthquake this morning?”
“Well, we can’t really be sure,” I replied with an air of authority.  I always sound like I’m saying something big whenever I’m talking to him.  “That depends on a lot of things.”
“Like what?”  Bobby had this inquisitive voice that left a huge impression of a question mark whenever he asked you something.  He was no shallow Hal, this kid; that was the biggest problem I often faced whenever I had to explain something.
I took a deep breath.  “Well, for starters, your location.  If you were near the ‘quake’s center, it’d be pretty violent.”
“Why?” he asked.  “What’s at the ‘quake’s center that makes it so special?”
I gave him a sideway glance. “That’s the ‘quake’s origin. It’s like standing on top of a table while one of the twins is hammering away underneath. If you’re sitting on a chair beside the table, you’re not going to feel the hammering, but if you’re on top of it, you’re going to feel the ground beneath you shaking.”
“Oh.”
“I’m surprised you don’t know this, a smart kid like you.”
“I guess I never saw it that way.  Sort of like a ripple in the river, right?”  We were driving a point that overlooked the bay at this exact moment, and Bobby stared out at the water.  He saw a branch, a gull, and some kids splashing about.  Bataan Bay was picturesque this time of the morning.  Children of fishermen and boatmen from the beaches often waded in at this hour, splashing around for their morning play.  “And so, as a pebble can turn the tide of a flood,” said Bobby, “sturdy steel buildings can sustain an earthquake. My darling Clementine.”


The next day, Bobby was in low spirits.  “Do you have any idea how difficult it could be, living with those people?” he asked me on our way to school.  He’d been grounded for talking to his “friends” in front of the twins.  The girls were scared to death, thinking that Bobby was talking to ghosts. The little twerp said that he was, and that didn’t go too well with his sisters, or his parents.
“So what happened?” I asked.
Bobby shrugged.  “There was this long argument about how I was too old to be having imaginary friends.  They can’t seem to come to terms with the whole thing.”
His “friends” each had their roles. Midas was supposedly his shrink, Rapunzel was a lunatic.  Clementine was a girl he loved.  But I knew better than to believe in the things he said he saw, and called him out often.
“But you don’t really see them, do you?”
“That’s correct.”  Bobby kept quiet for the rest of the ride.  He played with the door handles, pulling them and then letting go, creating a sudden snapping sound.  Before he climbed out of the car at school, he snapped the handles one more time and said, “But what they don’t know won’t hurt them.”
I didn’t see how this was helping him unless he wanted people to leave him alone.  He wasn’t socially inept, though.  From what I saw in school, he was pretty popular, not exactly famous, but he had enough of a following around the campus.  But we rarely spoke to each other during breaks.  I seldom met him in the hallways, and when I did, he always sounded as if he was in a hurry.  We usually talked on the way to school, and going back home.


Our homebound talks were longer than the morning conversations, due to the steady build-up of traffic.  We had this long conversation once when a dead carabao and an overturned cement truck blocked the main road.  Bobby was telling me about the sijo, a poetic form he had discovered this morning while surfing the Internet.
“It’s a three-line poem, see,” he was saying, while the sun beat down on the dusty main road going to our town.  “It’s usually thirty-three to forty-five syllables in total length.  The first line starts a topic, the second broadens it, and the third line ends it.  There aren’t any language or rhythm restrictions, but you have to remember that the third line’s the most important.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“The third line is the pivotal point of the poem.  You have to sum up the whole piece with that line, but you also have to do it in such a way that there’s a certain twist.”  Bobby stopped talking as the traffic moved along.  The truck had been moved from the road, and it now lay in the cogon field to the right.  The dead carabao, however, was still sprawled on the gravel.
Bobby continued after we passed the carabao.  “Just like a ripple in the water, the center is where the ripple is the strongest, but the wake is what you usually see. It’s the same with the sijo. The start, and the end, are the most important parts of the poem.”
He wrote a sijo which he let me read.  It was about this high ridge in the mainland Bataan hills that he called Malang Bagsak, after the dead artist;


On Malang Bagsak we spread our wings
to cultivate our intimate pleasures.
The swift winds and the view achieves in us
a fire so red and so fulfilling that proves us of our life.
Oh only if I could grab the singlest emotion
and keep it with me as I fall over the edge.


That was pretty neat, so I gave Bobby a thumbs-up.  He grinned and balled up the piece of paper, and tossed it out the window just as we passed Malang Bagsak ridge.  “Someday, I’d want to really just look over this ridge and see the whole world.  Both Midas and Rapunzel think that if you concentrate deep enough, this ridge would become the center of the whole world.”  
I found this odd and said so.  Bobby just grinned.


One day, I found Bobby in a huff.  He slammed the door as he went outside, and kept quiet all the way to school.  I didn’t see him at all that day.  Then again, that wasn’t really anything out of the ordinary, since I rarely saw him at all.  I got really worried when I got to my car in the afternoon though.  His mood had worsened.  Bobby usually calmed down during classes whenever he was in lousy spirits in the morning.
“I talked to Midas in front of my friends today,” he told me as I drove out of the town.  I concentrated on the road since we had gotten out later than usual, and night was peeking in through the clouds.
I asked him, “Why’d you do that?  And how’d they take it?”
Bobby watched me as I drove.  “I don’t know.  It just happened, natural as breathing.  You know how it is – these things start from something insignificant, then starts snowballing.”
“How did they take it?” I pressed.
“They thought I was crazy.”  Bobby was playing with a black pen.  “They thought I was just being wacky at first, but when I told them I was serious, they began to look at me like I was some sort of freak.  I started doing this a couple of days ago. They’re avoiding me now.”
Why he was trying to alienate himself from people was beyond me.  I asked him why he was doing it, but he just shrugged and said he didn’t know, it just happened.  That was when a stoplight turned red just as I was about to cross to the barrio’s main road.  We had just passed Malang Bagsak.
“Look, Bobby.”  I took the opportunity to look him in the eye and try to get something through.  “I personally think that Midas and Rapunzel and Clementine are all pretty amusing, but that’s me.  You’ve got to realize that the rest of the world has its own say to things.  You can’t expect everybody to take it like I do.”
“That’s exactly what my dad said last night.”  I could imagine how his father did it.  Small wonder that he was in such a bad mood that morning.  “Some people just can’t seem to fully grasp the whole idea.”  I told him I had no idea what he was talking about.


My grandmother died the next day, and I had to go to Manila to attend her wake.  I was gone for a week, and I told Bobby’s family that I wasn’t going to be able to take Bobby to school.  Bobby sent me an e-mail every day, mostly describing how being picked up by his brother was nothing compared to the stimulating drives he had with me.
I got back to Bataan on a humid, stormy Friday.  I passed by Bobby’s house on the way to my own apartment, and decided to stop by to say hello.
Bobby’s brother waved out to me as I came up the drive.  “Hey there!  Glad you’re back.  Bobby’s been crazy the past few days.”
“Crazy?” I asked.
He shrugged.  “He’s been talking nonstop to his imaginary friends, he calls them Midas and Rapunzel I think, as if they were with him all the time.  He even talks to them while he’s in the bathroom.  It’s really weird.  My parents have threatened to have him thrown into the nuthouse if he doesn’t stop it, since he’s driving the twins and his teachers up the wall.  There’ve been complaints from school, you see.”
My eyes widened with what I heard. He had never mentioned any of his friends in his letters.  “It’s that bad?”
“Yeah,” he replied with a nod.  “I think you should talk to him.  He listens to you.”
“Where is he?”
“We don’t really know.  He hasn’t come back from school, although he said he was going to go home late today.”
I made my way to the school, but was stopped short at the main road.  A car had been speeding and had run over a carabao and hit a hydrant.  The traffic was heavy; nothing I hadn’t gotten used to in Manila, but it was infuriating to be stuck at the intersection when you were in a hurry.  A whole fifteen minutes had gone by the time I was able to make the turn going out of the village.
It was raining when I got to the ridge, but I was able to make out a small figure at the precipice.  On a hunch, I turned into the parking area of the overlook, and peered through the downpour.
Sure enough, Bobby was there. He had his back turned to the road, and was sitting on a small box he’d brought with him, staring out into Bataan Bay.  I put the car on park, brought out an umbrella, trudged up to him and said, “Hi.”
“You’re back,” he replied, without turning around.  He was holding a small envelope in his hands, which had my Manila address on the back.  “I was going to send you another letter today.  A real one, too.  But I’m glad you’re here. ”
“I appreciate your letters.  I got all of them, every one.”  I paused to pick my words carefully.  “How come you never told me you were talking more and more often to Midas and Rapunzel?”  I shook my head.  “Don’t you remember what I told you?  About other people?”
He turned the letter over and over in his hands.  “Midas and Rapunzel – did you notice, I didn’t talk much to Clementine?  I didn’t see Clementine at all during the past week.”
“Oh yeah?”  I asked gently.  Something didn’t feel right.  “You remember that one time in the car? You told me they weren’t real, that it was all just pretend. Now come on inside the car. You’re going to get sick.”
“Oh yes, they are very real.”  Bobby stood up and turned to look at me.  He looked more haggard than I had ever seen him before; I could imagine old people who looked less emaciated.  His eyes were red, almost as if he had been crying.  All traces of the easygoing glow in the pupils were gone; the last time I looked at his eyes this intently was during the earthquake.
There was still his silly grin on his face, but this was accompanied by a sickly pallor and deep shadows under his eyes.  His left cheek quivered, a muscle twitching on its own volition.  “Midas and Rapunzel.  And Clementine.  They are all very real.  Just as real as Bobby and Chelsea are real.”
I shook my head. The rain was really pouring now, and we were both going to get sick if we stayed out here any longer. This boy was getting to my nerves.  “Then where are they?  Tell me where they are!  Show me where Midas and Rapunzel and Clementine are, if they’re real.  Can’t you see what these ‘friends’ of yours have done to you, kid?  You’ve scared off your family, your friends.  You even look like you’re sick!  If there’s anybody who looks like a ghost, it’s you! Come on, let’s go!”
“They are. . .”  Bobby raised his right hand and pointed up to the stars that were hidden by the heavy downpour, then slowly brought it down to point at himself.  “They are here.  I am the smartypants that is Midas.  I am the crazy one, just as Rapunzel is.  And Clementine . . ” He broke off, musing softly, half to himself.   “Yes, Clementine.  It’s funny how you never noticed.”
“Noticed what? Bobby! Let’s go!”  I stepped forward to grab him, but he stepped back.  “You’re acting like an idiot! Come on!”
“Clementine . . . Chelsea, I had enclosed directions in this letter for you to give it to Clementine.”  Bobby now held out his hands, gesturing to the letter he had addressed to me.  “Please.  The next time you see Clementine, should she want to go to a McDonald’s again, please give this to her.  I loved her so much.”
“What?”  I was confused.  “How could I give this to Clementine if I don’t know who she is or how she looks like?”
“Take it,” said Bobby, and he pressed the letter into my outstretched hand.  “Open the letter and read it.  I’m sure you’ll find out who Clementine is once you read the letter. Then we’ll go.”
“Bobby, you… Argh!” I tucked the umbrella in between my shoulder and chin, and opened the letter.  The wind from the bay was making it difficult to keep the envelope from flying away into the highway, so I turned away from the ridge to shield my hands.
It was a letter all in sijo, different sijo with different dates, and different topics. It spoke of the earthquake.  It ranted about the Bay, about poetry, about psychotic tendencies and illnesses, about having fun.
Above all else, it spoke about love.
I read the letter, even as it got soggier and soggier in my hands that stormy Friday night. The letter ended with the sijo Bobby had shown me, the one about Malang Bagsak.  And it slowly dawned on me, as I stood there surrounded by the cacophony of the wind and the water, who Clementine was.  I turned around, with my mouth agape, to an empty box sitting by the precipice of Malang Bagsak.
I found out who Clementine was. But I was too late to do anything about it.
But I’m pretty sure, that – as Bobby fell down the ridge and into the waters of Bataan Bay that night – I’m pretty sure that, whatever had happened, he’d managed to become the center of his own earthquake that night, just as he had become the center of the world, even if it was just a moment.

I’m sure that it was enough to make him happy.  And I’m confident that he took that emotion with him as he fell down Malang Bagsak.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

On Tado


It’s been a while since I drank more than three bottles of Red Horse. This changed when I met up with my friends last weekend. I wasn’t intending on drinking more than my usual at the time, but then I read on the news about Tado’s passing. I decided that I was going to drink to his memory (and to the memory of those who perished with him).

tadlibro

Shet pogi. Mamimiss kita meyn. From the Brewrats blog.

The night before his bus crashed, I remember I had this strange compulsion to watch an episode of Strangebrew. You can see the episode – “Inidoro Factory” – below after the jump.

Today, if I’m not mistaken, is the day of his cremation. I’m still at a loss for words. Which is weird, since I don’t think you can call me a big, big fan of the man; I didn’t follow his more publicized work after Stranbegrew was cancelled, and I didn’t like the fact that he was in the show of Willie Revillame, whom I despise. But I did like the fact that, despite his celebrity, Tado didn’t let his fame get to him; in fact, I don’t think he celebrated his fame at all.

Instead, I now hear news about his work as an activist, a humanitarian. I’ve read stories his actual friends in the industry had to say about him. And you know what? The way he lived his life doesn’t seem that much different from the way he acted in Strangebrew, albeit in the show, he was the master, and Erning—the beautiful and talented Angel Rivero—was the driver.

And that’s how Tado – Arvin Jimenez – will always be emblazoned in my mind. Not as that scene-stealing pedicab driver from Silip, or as part of Willie Revillame’s stage crew. Strangebrew’s Tado was the real-life Tado, and that’s what I celebrate. I watch clips from that show regularly from time to time, and the comedy is still fresh, the questions still bizarre, the acting still natural and quirky. I couldn’t have asked more for a successor to GMA 7’s Ating Alamin.

Godspeed man. You made my college years strange, and ultimately, happier. And always remember kids: the secret to success, according to Tado, are: Perseverance, Study Hard, and Good Sleeping Habits. TAMA!

Monday, February 10, 2014

What Was That Again?


Before I started writing this post, I had an idea for a great article forming in my head. It crossed my mind while I was browsing through my HootSuite feeds, so I immediately minimized my browser, and fired up ye ole Windows Live Writer so that I could start working on it. You know how it is with these sudden bursts of inspiration; they’re as fleeting as the Madagascar golden fly (not actually a thing), and if you don’t get the details down as soon as you can, poof! they’re gone.

Which was what happened to that awesome idea I mentioned. Within a few seconds of absent-minded thinking, it was gone. Poof! Like a genie, only I didn’t get to make any of my wishes. Or a wish, even. All I did was open a stupid application.

improving short term memory loss

Is it just me, or is the ad selling something counter-intuitive? Taken from Progressive Health.

Don’t you hate it when your short-term memory (or STM, as my girlfriend calls it, which, surprisingly, is not an acronym for Stamina, as fantasy role playing games would lead you to believe) trolls you so hard that by the end of the hour, you’re pulling your face off trying to remember even a hint of what your brilliant idea was? I know I do. I hate it with such a passion that I want to flip tables in disgust and annoyance whenever it happens. If I could flip my desk, I would have already. Instead, I throw my cat (to my bed, whereupon he immediately curls up into a ball and sleeps).

The thing that annoys me the most about these lapses in short-term memory is the fact that there’s virtually nothing you can do to prevent it. Stephan Pastis, the author of Pearls Before Swine has gone to exhaustive lengths to prevent ideas from disappearing without a trace. He carries a notebook with him at all times. Every room in his house—every room—has a notebook for when these flashes of lightning brilliance strike. And it still fails.

When the ideas come at night, just before you’re about to catch up on your sleep, you’re hard-put to write it down coherently. I have my phone with me all the time, with a shortcut leading to a document dedicated to chronicling these ideas. Sometimes, though, a few seconds is all it takes to forget everything about that genius thought of yours, and you’re left standing there, looking like an idiot, mouth agape and scratching your head while looking at an empty document on your phone.

Damn you, short-term memory lapses. Damn you and your Facebook friends.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Siomai Mami


Okay, so my last post may have been a little rough on ramen. To even things out, here’s a post on my favorite noodle soup: the Filipino Chinese mami!

Mami was coined by the now-legendary Ma Mon Luk when he started calling his “gupit” noodle soup as “Ma’s Mi”, or Mr. Ma’s noodles, if this article from Coconuts Manila has its facts straight. Along with soipao, siomai, and kikiam, mami is now so ubiquitous that even local packaged instant noodles use the term for their brand names.

lucky me

Introducing Lucky Me’s Instant Native Chicken Mami. Taken from Punked Noodle.

I am a fan of Fil-Chi noodles. Namely, mami and lomi. The two places I go to for my Fil-Chi noodle fix are Dragon Noodle Center in Malate for mami, and Mann Hann Kafei for lomi.

The thing about Dragon—it looks like a Chinese triad front, but it’s a fairly legit Chinese tea house that’s been around for decades. That said, it has to be noted that it isn’t for everybody. I happen to like the hard consistency of their noodles, something I picked up from watching too many Cooking Master Boy episodes, and the soft beef brisket. Their wonton isn’t bad either.

The best thing about Dragon’s beef mami is that the broth is just amazing, especially when you add a lot of the customary Chinese chili oil. I’m crying into my soup whenever I’m there, but the hot chili soup is just the ticket for a cold night. They supposedly have the best congee in town, but you can’t quote me on that. I’ve never tried it.

The coolest part about Dragon itself is that it is almost always perpetually quiet. The location doesn’t make it conducive for traffic, so the “it” crowd won’t gather here. So it’s a perfect place for that Valentine’s date (I included this in the top five places to take your date in an article I recently wrote for Talk Talk Tilaok; that’s how highly I think of this little tea house from the past).

As for Mann Hann’s lomi—this one is a favorite because my girlfriend and I came upon the restaurant quite by accident. SM’s Mezza condominium was fairly new, and we were looking for somewhere to eat before we headed back to Manila (interesting to note: Mezza is at the border of Quezon City and Manila), and since there weren’t many restaurants open at the time (and SM Centerpoint was just too far for two lazy butts), we decided to give Mann Hann a try.

Several visits later, we were hooked, but it was half a year later when we discovered the one dish that would keep us coming back there for months on end: their glorious bowl of lomi. For a price that can’t be beat, Mann Hann Kafei’s lomi is big enough to fully satiate two people, and can adequately feed three people with no trouble at all.

mann hann lomi

Ohm nom nom. Taken from this Twitter user.

And the taste is just heavenly. If you like a lot of vegetables in your soup, then you won’t be disappointed. This isn’t one of those MSG-laden soups, so you can just imagine my surprise upon discovering the strength of the broth’s flavor. The memory alone is making my mouth water.

So while I may be more scathing of our dear country’s take on the Japanese noodle soup, I have absolutely nothing bad to say about mami. Mami is great on its own, with a variety of sahog, and even when mixed with rice. What’s not to love??

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Ramen Mo Mukha Mo (Or Napakaraming Ramen)


I have nothing against ramen. Ramen is an amazing food group, and I appreciate the artisan who makes good ramen—wherever he may be. But what I don’t get is this sudden interest in the dish. In the past year, expensive ramen places have begun popping up like mushrooms all over the city, and Facebook’s elite have been making a list of which ramen places are good, which are terrible, and which ones can do in a pinch.

Puhleeze.

ikkoryu fukuoka ramen

This is from Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen. This ramen is good. It is also expensive. Taken from Dude for Food.

Back in 2007, I was living on my own down in Mindanao. Part of my routine was to treat myself out every Sunday, and if I were on my own, my feet would lead me to the only source of ramen in CdO: Limketkai Mall’s Rai Rai Ken. Apart from restaurants in Makati’s Little Tokyo, and Kimpura in Greenhills, Rai Rai Ken has been one of the more accessible restaurants with (somewhat) authentic Japanese fare.

This wasn’t my first time at Rai Rai Ken—I’d taken people there on dates before—but this was my first time to treat myself out to something that expensive. So I went with something simple: their mabo tofu ramen. It was relatively cheap, so I had no idea that the bowl was sumo-sized.

Of course, my initial shock didn’t last very long. But since that was my first, true taste of ramen, I am hard-put to find something that could equal that mabo tofu ramen’s bang for the buck. I wasn’t able to get it from that ramen shack in Little Tokyo (which was still pretty good), nor from Ramen Bar, and not from Ikkoryu Fukuoka.

Which, of course, goes to show just how many of these ramen bistros I’ve tried, so I’m not really the perfect judge. And I liked what I had in each of those stores. But there it is.

You must be wondering what my beef (mami!) is with all these ramen people. Well, it’s like this: how many high-end ramen stores do we need to have before one of them breaks the camel’s back? I wouldn’t mind if these stores were like that sidewalk ramen vendor along Adriatico who sold the soup for less than a hundred bucks a pop. This would then be this generation’s version of Binondo’s Chinese tea houses, and a whole generation of culture was brought up on the soupy noodles sold by Ma Mon Luk and his ilk.

But Php300++ for a bowl that only one person can eat? Dude, that’s bordering on gourmandism. Sure, some of these ramen bars are legit places with decent grub, but they’re all trying to outdo each other in the same market bracket! When is the average Pinoy going to stand up and say hey, too much is too much! I’m not going to fork over more than Php250 for a bowl of soup! Or when is the entrepreneur going to take the ramen to the actual masses in such a way that they can afford them without spending a whole day’s salary on a bowl of soup?

Don’t get me wrong. I love ramen. I love soup. And I understand that these people eat the expensive ramen because it’s the in thing, just like the cronut (which is silly), and just like the chicken wing (which is not silly at all). And I know that some people actually do the rational thing and save up for trips to an expensive ramen house. That’s perfectly understandable.

I also know that ingredients are expensive, and the chef’s skills are expensive. Also, Makati booths are expensive.

But there’s going to come a point when the ramen market’s going to get oversaturated, and people who aren’t your friendly neighborhood fat man are going to say that all the ramen just tend to blend into each other—and then you’ve got ramegeddon.

If this is just another passing fad, then fine, let the fad die a natural death. But my problem with that is that I have way too much respect for ramen to just have it die an exclusive market food. It needs to be brought to the masses!

komatsu san

You tell ‘em, Komatsu. Taken from Hi Wa Mata Noboru scans.

So the challenge, I guess, is what the next logical step for ramen is. Everybody’s experimenting with flavor, so that’s not the issue here. How about expanding the market? Taking the ramen away from your Makati crowd, and bringing it to the everyman of Manila and Navotas? Instead of just mami, manong guard can be sipping a cheap bowl of good ramen from the ramenhan sa kanto. Instead of a pansitan, we can have the ramen equivalent. And drunks can sleep there too.

And just like that, the idea for something called “Chicharamen” entered my head, which is just what it sounds like: miso based ramen with chicharon bits, pechay Baguio, and a whole hard-boiled egg, and sell it as the ramen for the hard-working man.

Monday, February 03, 2014

A Note on that Dookie


The other day, Green Day’s album “Dookie” turned twenty years old. Read that sentence again. Dookie is twenty years old. Twenty years since people have been banging their heads to Basketcase (undeniably the most successful single to come out of that album). Twenty years since Billy Joe Armstrong’s signature voice broke through the mainstream (at least, here in the Philippines).

Green_Day_-_Dookie_cover

Yes. Taken from Dookie’s Wikipedia page.

Man. Twenty years. I wasn’t even listening to Green Day when Dookie came out. I was just starting to get into my Eraserheads groove at the time, freshly armed with my miniature Lumanog. I only really started listening to Green Day when I stepped into high school, and learned the magical beauty of overdriven guitars, drum and bass pumping pure adrenaline through your veins, and dischordant singing.

Basketcase was always a fun song to play since the chord progression was so simple that you can sing it while playing it on the guitar without sounding like a tool. I didn’t know much of the other songs in the album, either. Hell, I didn’t know how to play that many songs on the guitar at the time, and was better at improv than actually playing (this remains true to this day).

But I knew Basketcase because it was always on NU107, and that was the default radio station in the car ever since Campus Radio (I forget the frequency of Campus Radio) started playing too many pop songs for my taste.

It was later—much later—when I would have the time to listen to the entirety of Dookie and I’d recognize some songs through their bassline (Longview, for example, or She, both had exceptional grooves). Mike Dirnt is an underappreciated bass player, and now, as a reformed ex-bassist, I can’t help but focus on how solid the backbone of almost all the songs on Dookie are because of the tight rhythm section. In retrospect, I probably developed a good ear for dominant chords partly because of Basketcase. And to this day, I prefer playing and listening to songs with an active rhythm section.

So happy 20th birthday, Dookie. (Some) of your songs were cathartic for a teenager of the 90s, and my appreciation of music probably wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for you.