Food and Leisure

My breakfast wish

Mary Ann Quioc Tayag - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - I wish my body wasn’t so slow in the morning. My brain does not come fully alive till 10 a.m., and my stomach is too lazy to even feel hunger till then.  I admire people who can get up early and have a full breakfast.   Just this morning, I woke up to the sight of hubby Claude taking big spoonfuls of his congee breakfast buffet. He has the energy to get up early and the patience to prepare six toppings.   I just stared at him with envy, got a pinch of the nice maho and made my first cup of Americano coffee.

On our first trip together, I was surprised — shocked, actually — when he wanted to have breakfast in the public market.  I am very okay with eating in any hole in the wall provided it is not my first meal. An elaborate breakfast buffet on crisp white linens to me is the best way to start the day. I love the smell of good coffee and bread baking in the oven. The sight of eggs taking shape and color on a skillet next to oily bacon strips is lovely indeed. When on holiday, hubby complains because I only eat toast and coffee, while he says he will only eat fruit but ends up eating half of the choices in the buffet. To me I am paying for the feeling of luxury. And if I only could afford it, I would want our dining room set up like the Mandarin Oriental’s Paseo Uno breakfast buffet every day. Everything looks so fresh and right.

Very recently I met Mignon Ramos, who dropped by our house with mutual friend Cyrene de Rosa for breakfast. That’s rare because if I cannot get up for breakfast, what more host a breakfast? But when I saw their happy, smiling faces, their energy rubbed off on me and I, too, was wide awake.   Mignon related that their mother insisted they all get up for breakfast no matter what time they came home. If I were a member of that family, I would surely be the black sheep with such a strict rule.

I grew up in my Apo’s (grandmother’s) house. We even shared a room. She was Chinese and a foodie, which is why we grew up making maho. In her house, breakfast was always served twice. One was early and light, which was just boiled coffee and pandesal. Then, at 10 a.m., it was more complicated, with rice and what was bought fresh from the market, which we often ate with carabao’s milk on hot steamed rice. Obviously, I was always at the second breakfast. 

I inherited from Apo my passion for food and attention to detail as to what food goes with what food. Among many other things, I learned from her how to age vinegar, which is a must for her quarter pounder-size crisp okoy. She taught me how to eat and savor the precious duman from Sta. Rita, Pampanga.  (In 2002, duman was P880 a kilo and now it is P2,800 a kilo.  Thanks to Andy Alviz, who aroused the interest of people everywhere with his barrio’s duman). Apo had prepared me for my now-exciting food writing days and a happy marriage with Claude, because he and I are so compatible in our love for good food.  That is my valuable inheritance without having to pay for estate tax. If some were born with silver spoons in their mouths (lucky them), I was born with MSG on my tongue (luckier me). For money can buy you the food but not the appreciation.

Every year on our parents’ death anniversaries, we attend the early 6 a.m. mass and then share a breakfast of our parent’s favorite breakfast foods.  It is amusing to hear the next generation identify who among them inherited lolo’s or lola’s taste buds. Simple food preferences lead them to talk about their shared personality traits, which allows them to better understand and appreciate themselves and each other.  It is history learned and deliciously shared over a simple breakfast table.

If we are indeed what we eat, how and what we eat for breakfast must best define us.  Once I served my Canadian houseguests our typical Kapampangan breakfast of steamed rice, pindang damulag (seasoned cara-beef) and carabao’s milk.  He was horrified and instinctively covered his rice with his big hands when he saw me pour the milk on my rice. “But you put milk on your Rice Krispies,” I said. It’s the same thing.

After an enjoyable full meal, one asked me, “Maryanne, is this your typical morning meal?  I am so full I just want to go back to bed!”

Could this be why we Filipinos tend to be slow at work? Americans gulp coffee from tall mugs with an overly sweet doughnut. Is that why they are energetic and hyper? To the French, day-old bread is considered stale. They only eat croissants baked that morning, which they butter patiently one small, crusty morsel at a time, as if each piece of bread is a work of art that they treat with artistic reverence.  Could this be the reason why they outclass the rest of the world in terms of art and beauty?  The hardworking Hong Kong people eat congee with bichu bichu, which is filling enough to last them till lunchtime and light enough that they don’t feel sluggish at work.  Maybe it is this discipline that transformed China from a country with a closed-door policy to one almost ready to conquer the world.

In the church where my sisters go to for their daily Mass, the chaplain often hosts breakfast for their small group of eight churchgoers. There are six Filipinos, one Indian and one Korean.  They share a bilao of assorted suman and kalamay with hot coffee and chocolate.  From strangers to familiar faces, now they know each other’s names and even their concerns and prayers.    It is the conversation we share as we each verbalize our hopes and expectations for the day; that will linger on in our minds for the rest of the day.  Don’t they say that the first song we hear upon waking is most likely the same one we will be humming the rest of the day?

At home, I notice that if hubby Claude and I start with a calm breakfast, we also finish our day and work peacefully.  We are also kinder and gentler to each other till bedtime. But until today it still remains a wish of mine that I would develop the habit of waking up early and enjoying a relaxed breakfast with my family. But our family of three has different waking hours. A Cabalen, Elvira Bangit, who lives in Washington, DC, recently posted on her FB page:  “Eat like a king for breakfast, like a soldier for lunch and like a pauper for dinner.” I sleep like a king and I want to eat and be served like a king for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I must have been royalty in my past life. Someone asked me recently what would get me out of bed early. “A  breakfast with Napoles and Kim Henares together!” I said.  I want to pick their brains.  Oh, but then again my brain is only useful after 10 a.m.


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