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Food and Leisure

25 truths about being 'luckily' married to a (great) 'kusinero'

- Mary Ann Quioc Tayag -

MANILA, Philippines - Once, our lunch guests asked if they could stay overnight.  

“No, and why would you want to do that?” I asked.  

“We want to know what you eat for breakfast,” one said sheepishly, which made me smile. My friends often say they cannot even imagine what must be on our dining table daily. Even some wives married to famous chefs (one to a French hotel chef) says I am lucky because their husbands cook all day at work for other people and come home too tired to even open a can of corned beef. I can only say it is because they married true-blue, well-decorated chefs, while I “only” got Apung Claude, a probinsyanong kusinero. But am I really lucky? Tell me after you read the 25 truths below.  

1. I never dare Claude in cooking and I learned that early in our marriage. Once I said, “Can’t you think of a dish other than paksiw na lechon? You know, I do not eat paksiw.” We were, of course, talking about what to do with the leftovers of our first lechon. He got up and, as if possessed by culinary spirits, ripped the fatty belly, shredded it and deep-fried it; he pulled off the ribs and grilled them over charcoal; he cut off the trotters and backbones and boiled them with tamarind and with so much passion (anger, actually); he chopped off the head and sizzled it; he struggled with the hind leg and sautéed it. That night I had lechon tortilla, grilled coriander ribs, sinigang na lechon, crispy sisig and asadong pata. Thus the birth of our now-famous five-ways lechon. “Now eat that all,” he said with an attitude. I never challenged him again.  

2. If at past 11 at night he feels like cooking and eating steak, I have to get up and keep him company and of course to clean up after his mess. Cooking alone he says is fine but eating alone is sad. And he has the nerve to ask me why I have no waistline. 

3. He is always in the kitchen, where I must not upset him or argue with him, which I don’t, only because he holds the knife and he who holds the knife naturally rules.  

4. Our meals depend on his mood. Once he was in the mood to cook Middle Eastern food after reading a book about Arabs. He bought all the ingredients for five different dishes. The next time he will want to cook those same dishes again will be after the expiry date of the remaining ingredients.

5. Contrary to what many think, we often have no food for lunch because he cannot decide what to cook. At times like these, we end up eating sardines, which he says is healthy. But mind you, he would open at least three kinds of sardines. I call it a sardine buffet. 

6. Eating can be disappointing. Once I was craving for ginataang halo-halo, which I love, especially the bilo-bilo or little glutinous balls. He disappeared into the kitchen and excitedly came back with a steaming bowl of nothing but. One bite and I had to ask, “What happened to the bilo-bilo”? He was in one of those inspired moments, filling pastillas inside every bilo-bilo! It became so very rich in flavor but all I wanted was the simple gummy barrio style. 

7. Eating can be a pleasant surprise: In our home, our bulalo or even simple nilaga is specially flavored with Chinese ham bones and we take the soup with chili and patis. Most homes and restaurants do not prepare this dish the same way. So I asked Claude to make me chili with Chinese ham that I could take everywhere. And he so very deliciously did it. It is now our bottled Claude ‘9 XO (Xtra Ordinary) Chili Sauce that even the legendary Anthony Bourdain liked. I use it on practically all my dishes.

7. We have four independent kitchens in the house. One is solely for his exclusive use. I had to fight hard and long when he wanted to put up a fifth kitchen. 

8. In his private kingdom, half the wall is his cupboard with sliding doors that cannot close fully because of his over-stacked stoneware collection. Just last week, poor me was forced to give up my small cabinet (for our cleaning implements) because he has acquired more stoneware. Hay, my ever shopaholic hubby. He finds so much joy in the buying! 

9. We are still arguing (short of fighting) whether to tear down a hardly-used powder room to have more cupboard space. He sees the space, while I see the unnecessary expense. 

10. I would clean the car and garage anytime than clean his fridge and kitchen. There are so many implements and ingredients. For something as simple as salt, he has fine iodized, rock salt for cooking, kosher salt for roasting, black lava salt from Hawaii and pink fleur de sel from France for topping. Isn’t a salt a salt? 

11. A kusinero can be particular and territorial. There are two fridges at home. One is huge with 12 shelves. Still, I had to negotiate for one tiny shelf space. And he ain’t a cheerful giver. His solution to lack of space is buying a bigger ref while stingy me thinks the only solution is simply buying less food. 

12. He would buy a new cooking range just because it is a nicer model. 

14. A trip to the wet market is always a must wherever we are. Relatives in America open their doors wider to us because Claude enjoys cooking and experimenting with the abundant ingredients available. And they enjoy the end results.

15. He’s obsessed with duck breast (after suckling pig) and that explains why whenever we’re in Hong Kong, he orders duck at every meal. 

16. During our first trip to China, he rushed out while I unpacked. He excitedly came back with a whole duck. I did not finish unpacking and he finished the poor duck. 

17. He bought a messenger bag just because the brand was Fortune Duck. 

18. I cannot shop when we travel because food and wine always take the bulk of our money and our baggage allowance.  

19. His idea of a souvenir is not a keychain but a special cooking ingredient from every country. Never mind if we do not use it.

20. Our suitcases always reek of food. One suitcase I decided to give away when detergent and disinfectant and a week of sunbathing did not clear it of the ginamos (Iloilo bagoong) smell. 

21. Coming home from a recent trip to Spain, he brought me chorizos and quesos and the best olive oil I have ever tasted, which was dark green in color. But still I was hoping at the stroke of midnight, they would turn into leather shoes and a bag. 

22. I have to always be extra-nice to the waiters for fear that they will do unseen “wonders” with my food. He almost always revises what is on the menu. And his chirashi sushi is a perfect example: first he sprinkles the rice with the pink powder (oburo or sweet fish powder), kampyô (sweet soyed dried winter melon) and finely chopped spring onion, before putting the assorted sashimi. And since he’s allergic to crustaceans, he’ll substitute the shrimp with more uni (sea urchin). And instead of the miso soup that goes with it, he wants clear soup but piping hot and topped with tempura crumbs (tanuki). I can only imagine the conversation between the waiter and the cook back in the kitchen. 

23. I learned how to deadpan staff who give us ugly stares. At one hotel’s weekend barbecue night special, Claude almost finished an entire duck (US duckling no less, which costs a fortune in supermarkets here). We went back two weeks after and they had removed the duck from their buffet barbecue. 

24. He will sweetly get up early to make me yogurt from scratch in time for my breakfast. But two things he does not know how to do: bake and cook sweet-and-sour pork. Make that three things: he can’t clean up his mess. 

25. At this point if you still think I am lucky, try paying for his monthly food and grocery credit card bills. Teardrops once stained the check when I paid for a box of 12 bottles of wine he ordered without asking for the price. 

And the whole truth I reveal now is that I am the better cook. But being a good wife, I let hubby shine and do not rain on his parade. If all these truths don’t bother you and you still think I’m lucky, try sleeping next to someone whose breath smells of garlic (sometimes), burps endlessly and often passes wind under the matrimonial blanket. I have learned how to live with that all. Still, yes indeed, my huggable kusinero makes me happy and I love him, farts and all.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN APUNG CLAUDE CHILI SAUCE CLAUDE COOK COOKING DUCK ONCE I ONE
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