(Repost from blog of Nov. 27, 2017)
Today, I’m in my brother and his wife’s home in a suburb in Las Pinas, Philippines, for a week’s staycation. I’m sitting in the patio converted receiving room. To my left is a tall and wide grilled window bordered with pots of bougainvillea bearing newly opened fuchsia, white, yellow and pink blooms. True to its reputation, the orange one is slow in flowering. Sitting on my favorite polished molave wooden chair, I savor the aura of a Philippine setting. An observation suddenly loomed. I’ve always assumed that roosters crow at the crack of dawn. Now, I realize that cock-a-doodle-doos sporadically toll all times of the day. Chicken calls echo from various distances like a continuous repartee, and at times, like choral refrains. The resonance doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, it delights me. After all, I don’t hear symphonies of cock-a-doodle-doos back home in Palo Alto. Perhaps, I should record them for nostalgia’s sake.
Just outside the terrace, tricycles with small passenger carriages occasionally chug by, spuming exhaust off their engines, and riders loudly chatting. I don’t mind. They augment the authenticity of the ambience that I’m presently enjoying. More zest to the environs. A noisy walking market has enlivened the street. Approaching vendors yell out the goods they peddle. Their calls accentuate the busyness outside, their voices lilting musical notes in their raw advertising mantra. And a little sway in their steps to attract curious residents. “Taho-taho!” I’m tempted. The peddler is selling a dessert of soft tofu sweetened in thick, dark syrup.
Then rings out “Balut-balut!” I look out and see a young man holding a big, round rattan basket with a brown sack cloth gathered on top. Underneath are dozens of warm duck eggs partly hatched. I remember having eaten only three in my adult years, and I don’t think I’d like to add to that number now, not just yet. My limited understanding of balut processing is that the eggs are buried with salt underground for a controlled period till they’re “ripe”, or until a tiny feathered chick evolves. The chick lies pressed against hardened yellow and white egg parts within the shell. The broth is the only thing I like about the balut. Break the shell on one end and spill the broth into your mouth – it tastes like elixir, lightly salty, savory extract oozing from the miniature chick inside, bones, feathers and all. Hmmm … I’m considering buying one just for the broth – won’t break the shell further to expose the rest of the balut — but who’ll eat the rest?
“Mais – Mais,” shouts another peddler. Boiled yellow and white corn enclosed in thin layers of light green husks are stacked up in a basket. Minutes after, bellows another call – “Mais con yelo!” Kernels of corn swimming in iced sweetened milky water. I’m tempted again. A perfect refreshing beverage for this warm, humid day. Then a teenage boy walks by, crying out “Saging, lacatan, latundan!” Two of my favorite bananas: lacatan, slim and orange-like in texture; latundan, whiter, plump, finely textured and sweeter.
But wait! A middle-aged woman is trudging by with a basket slung on her right arm, her load resting heavily on her right hip – “Turon – turon,” she announces in a rich alto voice. It’s saba, a variety of banana thickly sliced and placed inside lumpia wrapper (thinly processed flaky dough) neatly folded around the banana and deep fried till golden brown. My gaze cravingly follows the turon basket passing by, until I hear “Isda – isda!” Fish! An elderly man is pushing a small bamboo cart bearing a barrel of grated ice with tilapia, mackerel and heads of salmon spread atop an icy mound. Strong, pungent smell precedes the portable fish stall. Not an unpleasant odor, just whiffs of the sea, or river, or of wide-eyed fish languishing on thick layers of ice.
The street outside is a vibrant stage. Life pulsates. I’m the spectator, entertained, moved and amused by the continuous real drama outdoors. Peddlers’ voices create a euphony accentuated by cock-a-doodle-doos. I’m thoroughly enjoying this live stream, and I know I will miss this when I’m back in Palo Alto. So, I write about the spectacle, hoping that this throwback narrative will be sufficient panacea to nostalgia when it creeps in.
Oh no! I wanted that turon! But the woman with the burdened hip sauntered off so quickly. Blame it on the boldly staring fish. I got mesmerized.