Food writing contest winners
KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson () - November 17, 2008 - 12:00am

The Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Contest, which had its start in 2002, took a leave last year after its first five editions. But it was revived this year, thanks to the efforts of food columnist and magazine editor Micky Makabenta.

Last month, the judges’ panel composed of Felice Sta. Maria, Karina Bolasco, Maya Besa Roxas, Mol Fernando and this writer received the entries on this year’s theme of “Merienda.” Reading through these, we applied our individual evaluation on rating sheets provided by Micky. To discuss our respective assessments, we met over a food table, of course — provided by Shangri-La EDSA hotel’s elegant super-buffet restaurant Heat.

That was two Fridays ago. Last Wednesday, Nov. 12, the three winners received their prizes at awards rites held at Restaurant 9501 at the ELJ Center, ABS-CBN Complex.

First-prize winner was the essay titled “PURBOY (Merienda in the Time of Crisis),” a rather witty, excellently articulated piece by the pseudonym Green Mango, who turned out to be Viol de Guzman of Phil-Am Homes in Las Piñas. It was the top vote-getter among four of the five judges, so it was a no-brainer to install it as a nearly unanimous choice for the top prize. 

Here’s sharing some excerpts:

“Not all meriendas are created equal. Some are for the haves; others for those who have-barely-enough; and still others for the have-nots. I’ve sampled all three.

“My mother was a GI — a genuine Ilongga, who migrated to Manila when she was 16, the offspring of a prolific family tree with roots in Jaro, Iloilo City and branches as far away as Bacolod, Kabankalan, and Bago Cities in Negros Occidental. To her seven children her most memorable culinary offering was authentic pancit molo, cooked only for major family celebrations which usually lasted from lunch, punctuated by a mahjong session, and ending on a high note with our special merienda.” 

The writer then proceeds to describe in detail how pancit molo is cooked for “30 plus people (relatives by blood and by affection),” before moving on to a second memorable merienda of bygone years.

“As a young activist during tumultuous martial law years, my merienda of choice was Divisoria lugaw or porridge. It was cheap, tasty, hot and fast! Just the thing for people who wanted to still the pangs of hunger while awaiting their evening meal. Fifty centavos paid for a bowl and access to bottles of patis and calamansi juice and shakers of black pepper. An additional fifty centavos got you a piece of meat or intestine (isaw). Lugaw with isaw was filling enough to take the place of both merienda and dinner for people trying to live on the minimum wage.”     

Follows a little lament on the spiraling prices of rice.

“It is 2008.... There is no peso-porridge to be had in Divisoria, with or without isaw. Increasingly, what passes for merienda, in the time of crisis, for poor working people, is a cup of hot coffee.”

This leads to the third and main subject of this entry.

“It is named Purboy because it is something that ‘poor boys and poor girls’ can afford; a small bowl costs only P10. It is cheap because its main and unique ingredient is cattle or carabao hide, sans hair, and supplemented by lips, tongues, tails, and ears. The addition of cattle and carabao ‘balls’ makes it a dish ‘for the boys,’ believed by customers to be an aphrodisiac, a more accessible version of Soup No. 5. 

“Purboy is a reddish, thick, meaty stew, made by cooking cattle or carabao hide (and the other odds and ends) until almost tender. They are cut into small strips which are sautéed in garlic and onions until fragrant. The cook then adds the reserved broth, white beans, sliced red and green bell peppers, carrots, flour as thickener, a little tomato sauce or tomato paste for color and flavor, salt and pepper. Lastly, the dish is spiked with chili peppers or siling labuyo to give it heat and kick.

“Purboy is extremely versatile. It can be eaten as merienda, perhaps with a slice of bread, or as a viand (you just add rice and it’s dinner). It can also take the place of the usual pulutan or tapas, to accompany the people’s favorite drinks — Tanduay rum, tuba or a tuba-Tanduay cocktail that can and often does bring the ‘boys’ down and out for the count. If you are a foodie or curious or short of cash (or all three), and find yourself in Kabankalan, you can ask any tricycle driver to bring you to the houses that serve huge pots of Purboy from three in the afternoon. By dusk, the pots are empty....”

Taking second prize was “The Practical Pudding” by I’m Not a Plastic Bag, Really, who turned out to be Jenny Orillos of Malate, Manila, a seasoned food writer and one-time managing editor of Food magazine.  

“The bread pudding, or budin, was the center of my childhood merienda memories. In our house, the pudding was a mass of moistened chunks of pan de sal reincarnated as a dense confection. My maternal grandmother, Leonora Perez Barras, began her preparations just after lunch. My sisters and I were her eager audience.

“The pan de sal, left over from yesterday’s merienda, began the life story of this pudding. The bread’s once crisp brown crust drooped and dried out inside a paper bag. Lola tore them into small pieces then soaked them in evaporated milk, sugar and eggs. She never measured the ingredients and just guessed (tantiya) the ratio of liquid to bread so the liquid was enough to moisten and keep it from being soggy or dry.

“Lola would place the mixture inside a huge empty can of Birch Tree milk powder, close the lid and boil the can in a pot of hot water. I later learned the procedure was an adaptation of baño maria (baine marie). Lola stood in front of the stove in her floral housedress and occasionally kept an eye on the pan. The mixture was boiled for about an hour until firm. The surface was pierced with a fork to test for doneness.... Lola served it unadorned with cream sauce or soaked in rich syrup characteristic of Western bread puddings. Its aroma was of sweet milk, warm and comforting, and the light doughy scent of bread. Its texture was dense but soft because of the custard of milk and eggs.

“I remember this merienda the most because it was how simplicity and resourcefulness tasted like....” 

In third place was “La Paz Batchoy: The Soup that Lives Up to its Name,” by Jamie Santiago, the pseudonym of Honorena A. Uy of Valle Verde 2, Pasig City.

“The popularity of the ‘batchoy’ dates back to the 1940s in Iloilo’s La Paz Public Market where an enterprising butcher decided to create a dish out of the nasty bits left over from main cuts of meat. The dish has since evolved and with the array of added ingredients, it has reached a level of perfection that sends you straight to heaven once you finish an order of the ‘Special’ — a really big bowl with the works: a fresh egg, three heaping spoonfuls of chicharon bits plus snippets of chicken liver and pig’s brains, and a killer dose of MSG.

“However, to our family, the ‘batchoy’ has a different meaning. We owe our life of comfort to this humble noodle dish. In the 1970s, my father-in-law set up a ‘batchoy house’ in Bacolod after several failed businesses. He opened a hole-in-the-wall eatery in Burgos Market. Soon, his ‘batchoy’ enabled him to set up a small dine-in in a more populated area along Smith St. and the rest, as they say, is history.

“The brisk sales of ‘batchoy’ in that small diner sent my husband to the Ateneo....”

“In Super Batchoy, the ‘batchoy’ comes with pan de siosa, a soft, sweet bun that blends well with the saltiness of the broth. A bite of the pan de siosa followed by the warmth of the caldo in your mouth will make you want to go down on your knees to thank the kitchen God up above who led us lowly mortals to the discovery of such a spectacular pairing of food.

“... (T)o those who find comfort in a steaming bowl of soup, there’s no better way to treat life like there’s no tomorrow than with a bowl of ‘batchoy.’ For despite its last name, La Paz Batchoy, with all its killer richness, does live up to its first name — La Paz. It is wellness in an instant, aptly bringing to our restless stomachs a sense of calm and peace or ‘paz,’ the town after which it is named. A way to celebrate life through simple indulgence.”

Speaking of the late lamented Doreen Fernandez, in whose honor the food writing contest is named, this coming Friday, Nov. 21, the 14th Paz Marquez Benitez Memorial Lecture/Exhibit will be conducted starting at 4:30 p.m. at the Escaler Hall-Science Education Complex of the Ateneo de Manila University.

The lecture is titled “Doreen’s Feast,” and will be given by guest speaker Ambeth R. Ocampo. Hosting the event is ALIWW or the Ateneo Library of Women’s Writings. Per the invitation, the annual memorial lecture/exhibit “honors the memory of Paz Marquez Benitez as the matriarch of Filipino writers in English.”

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