Lockdown fallbacks: Cooking and gardening

KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - August 24, 2020 - 12:00am

An enforced change of lifestyle has made us all adapt to novel ways or fall back on familiar ones for which the vacuum of social interaction has opened up time and space.

Creatives, teachers and corporate personae pick up on digital apps to address communication requirements. Everyone else seems to have taken up a cross, figuratively, between old and new.

A former massage provider texted me recently to offer home-cooked food. Thankfully, my barber is back in business, in compliance with the pinwheel arrow pointing at an acronym-sorted variation of community quarantine.

But for many others, food delivery has become a thriving business. And even those who don’t need to supplement their income have spent time at home, mostly in the kitchen.

As a result, everyone and their sister has tried their hand at baking ube pandesal with cheese and other fillings. To a lesser extent, the same is true with burnt Basque cheesecake, while variations expand with regards pizza, empanada, chocolate cake, carrot cake, cheesecakes, brownies, donuts and a plethora of assorted sweets.

In the year 2020, the metropolitan Filipino can actually go for weeks coursing through a gamut of international cuisine, while staying home. To add to inestimable local fare that continues to be tweaked, e.g. bagnet pinakbet, tofu sisig, corned beef sinigang, seafood kare-kare, one can eschew ever-towering burgers and go Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Singaporean, Indian, Middle Eastern, Greek — while also occasionally reverting to Italian and French. Well, British fish and chips, German knuckles, Swedish meatballs, Argentine steaks and Brazilian spit roasts are also available, though presently hardly online.

The bounty that shaped up even well before the pandemic has taken decades of increased cosmopolitanism. Even regional cookery hasn’t always been with us — that is, here in Manila. Looking back now, each decade brought in something to add to the groaning table.

I recall that sometime in the early 1980s, I picked up a couple or orders of sisig at Trellis, which was walking distance from my neighborhood at the time. It was a new dish that had only started to captivate beer drinkers and rice eaters keen for an uncommon viand. That sisig I contributed to a potluck party drew wonder and hesitation from the convent-bred girls, until the guys whooped it up in rousing acceptance.

It was like making the schoolboy acquaintance of Spam in the early 1950s, to add to bacon, ham, burgers and canned corned beef that were all a legacy of American triumphalism — along with Tome sardines.

Before all that, growing up in Manila meant a steady diet of traditional home cooking — mostly by way of Pampango/Spanish dishes and well-entrenched comida Tsina.

The array included adobo, tinola, sinigang na baboy, nilagang baka, kare-kare, bistek, tapa, tocino, longganiza, lechon kawali, paksiw na lechon, mechado, pochero, humba, kaldereta, afritada, pecadillo, albondigas, torta, embotido, paksiw na pata, arroz Cubana, potato salad, chop suey, fried chicken, pancit, lugaw, goto, arroz caldo, tokwa’t baboy, dinuguan, adobong pusit, relyenong bangus, lapu-lapu agro y dulce, kilawin... Plus halabos na hipon, alimasag, alimango, banagan, the last if rarely.

These were the standards of boyhood, before the ingress of regional specialties and foreign fare. Dining out en famille meant a special treat at Savory by Jones Bridge, or in what became vintage restos like Smart in Chinatown — for pata tim and camaron rebosado con jamon.

Mommy celebrated milestones by laboring on callos, pastel de lengua, chicken galantina, bacalao, and eventually, paella Valenciana. I don’t recall starting out on spaghetti until the ‘50s, or shortly before Di Mark’s wooed the Manileño palate with pizza and other pasta dishes.

Bulanglang or pinakbet made an occasional appearance, as with grilled hito with buro and mustasa. But it wasn’t until much later that danggit came as an “export” from Cebu, and lamayo until only recently.

Tilapia (thence “pla-pla”), and for a time golden kuhol, eventually showed up, I think at about the time that I would scour the military supply shops near Quiapo for boxes of K rations.

Bachoy came in from Iloilo, and we were introduced to laing, pinangat, gising-gising and Bicol Express from Bicolandia, papaitan and poque-poque from the Ilocos, balbacua and chicken halang-halang from the Visayas.

It wasn’t until the ‘80s that I got to taste pancit habhab from Lucban, long after we learned to tell the difference between palabok and pancit Malabon, just as we earlier had with bihon, miki, miswa, molo and bam-i.

But bagnet and the Ilonggos’ KBL or kadyos-baboy-langka came to familiarity much later, long after tapsilog et al were already competing with tempura, sashimi, sushi, sukiyaki, uni, ramen, satay, Hainanese chicken, char kway teow, nasi goreng, beef rendang, pad Thai, kebabs, felafel, shawarma, roti, Tandoori and biryani. Add pho and banh mi, before bibimbap ushered in the daily samyupsal K-drama.

I can’t recall when crispy pata became a family and barkada favorite, but It must have been long after my boyhood, at about the same time as sisig, and followed soon after by beef pares. Another relatively recent acceptance has been that of sinuglao — that tasty mix of sinugbang baboy and kinilaw na tuna or tanguingge. But of course we had to appreciate tuna belly and panga from GenSan first.

Trends have included chicken inasal and lechon Cebu, and of late, peri-peri chicken, poke mixes, salmon dishes, and the controversial baked sushi.

Mastering the marbled cuts of graded wagyu, as against those of black onyx Angus ribeye, appears to have become the male’s dominion, while making one’s own pesto and crafting ganache are the female’s kitchen privilege. All genders can take turns trying out soreche or arroz de leche (preferably with carabao milk, rice flour and hard-to-find dayap rind) or ternate tea (also pukinggan or blue pea vine), a challenger for milk tea.

And since not everyone who ventures into cookery can hope to turn out easy-peasy CroNaps (part croissant, part Napoleones) or the Breton cake Kouign-amman, then there’s gardening to fall back on.

I’ve been noting how even mean cooks and foodies have also been sharing their efforts with greenery online. Among these admirable plant lovers and collectors of philodendrons, anthuriums, alocasias, calatheas, calladiums, begonias, jade vine and succulents are our friends BenCab, Milo Sogueco, Beng Dalisay, Wig Tysmans, Phyllis Zaballero, Patis Tesoro, Ginny Mata, Little Wing, Merlie Alunan and Cesar Aljama — whose gardens lush and/or secret are so enviable on screen.

Our young friend Ana Adriano of Dumaguete, besides running her Vanilla Farm label of delicacies, takes time out to pot and offer such hot new items as the Elephant’s ear, locally called gabi-gabi or badjang.

Why, if less ambitious, then one can just grow pots of basil for pesto, or the Ternate for tea. Other than that, another option is to offer yoga lessons via webinars.

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