In my young and maiden years in Gagalangin, I’d munch on a cob of roasted corn while reading Liwayway magazine, curled up on the sofa. If it rained, I let it. That was my idea of a perfect day.
Great food then as now came in binary pairs – dinuguan at puto, mangga’t suman, tokwa’t baboy. Mine was gatas ng kalabaw at tapang baka. You pour a cup of the rich milk over a plate of steaming, pandan-fragrant rice, add a sprinkling of rock salt, and top the caboodle with chunks of fried tapa just slightly fringed with golden fat. You close your eyes involuntarily with every spoonful -- feeling all is right with the world. Though I didn’t know the phrase then, it was to me the quintessential comfort food.
There must be farms near Gagalangin for the milk was delivered to our doorsteps still mainit-init, with the top cream two inches thick, in a coke or gin bottle, stopped by folded banana leaves twisted screwlike.
My Tio Kulas, a wealthy hatter, lived in a big house on Cavite Street three or four streets away. They did not only own the only phonograph (the only place I could play a vinyl record some relative sent me) but also the only authentic lusong that side of Gagalangin, with which they made authentic linupak every month or so.
I’d hop-skip my way over to Tio Kulas’, though it was 20 minutes away, if it was “linupak day,” for it was more eagerly anticipated than an official holiday. Authentic linupak is not mashed cassava but saging na saba pounded on lusong, with fistfuls of grated coconut and sprinklings of sugar quickly tossed in between the rising and falling of the giant wooden pestle. Since the banana is semi-ripe, the linupak is not sweet and soft but tart and springy. This delicacy is rarely commercially available in the city, then or now.
(Years ago, in a fit of craving, I tried to prepare linupak using only persistence and a kitchen almires. To say it was a disaster is an understatement.)
I have other scrumptious memories of Gagalangin.
Sunday morning would find us youngsters sitting expectantly by Aling Tisya’s food stall in the talipapa. Aling Tisya opens only on weekends and was worth waiting a whole week for. She served the best goto in the world -- the bowl big, generous and steaming, the porridge freshly cooked and not yesterday’s bahao, the tripe and bituka pieces succulent and just a bit softer than al dente, and the calamansi-patis sawsawan slightly more sour than salty. Followed by ginatang bilo-bilo with langka strips and a curlicue of kakang gata on top, which young heart could ask for more?
One didn’t even have to go to the talipapa for a food trip. If you waited patiently at home, the treats would come.
Itinerant vendors would stroll by with puto-kutsinta, taho, and fresh produce in the morning, including the freshest talangka my Lola would magically transform into the most savory buro, inside which was red-black sinfulness called aligue. Never mind how she did it. (The SPCA did not go after people who tortured tiny crabs by salt-treatment, did it?)
By three o’clock, other vendors would come in succession, bilao perched on the head, basket tucked in the arm, shouting out their ware. We were always in a dilemma which merienda to buy. Corn on the cob? Binatog? Bitcho-bitcho, butche-butche, sapin-sapin? Kalamay, maja blanca? Turon, maruya, lumpia? Carioca? Sometimes, it could be halo-halo, ginatan, or sweet beans with crushed ice – a stall was always a dash away.
Later in the afternoon, a different set of vendors would be passing by, with fresh saging lakatan and latundan, tuba, and paros, a sweetish kind of shellfish we scalded and ate as appetizer.
Nights are stormy when you don’t hear “Baluuuuut….. penoy, baluuuut.” It took me some time to learn which end of the egg to crack so that it opened fetus- side up so I could drink the savory broth-like liquid – never enough, always bitin -- before gulping the whole egg in two bites. No, I didn’t have to close my eyes and we didn’t have an expression then for “yucky” or “gross.”
Mendoza bakery was where we ran to buy galletas de patatas and Marie-like biscuits by the hundreds, at 35 centavos per, when a horde of children was waiting to be fed.
Botika Santos, a pharmacy-cum-PX store, had Horlicks, Baby Ruth, Lifesavers, and Cadbury chocolate bars with fruits and nuts when our sweet tooth craved for something imported and our father was home to give us extra spending money.
When unexpected company came, my mom didn’t panic. A Chinese panciteria at the corner of Solis and Juan Luna, opposite Torres High School was open 24/7 – well, maybe 16/7 –which whipped up miki-bihon, hototay, and sweer-sour meatballs faster than you could say yi-er-san-si- go.At the Torres High School canteen, there was cake I never could get enough of. It had a chiffon base and a custard-caramel topping and tasted to me like a prelude to something ... uhm .. sublime. Anyway, I would nibble on it morsel by tiny morsel, trying to prolong ... uhm ... heaven. At 25 centavos a slice, and my baon usually only 30, it was often unreachable as the ... uhm ... sky.
Around the school were hawkers unlimited who broke into smiles as soon as the bell rang to dismiss throngs of youngsters. Most of us Gagalangin girls literally ground our teeth on manggang hilaw at bagoong, papayang manibalang at heko, and singkamas marinated in salted water. For the sweeter-toothed, there was ice cream sandwich, tira-tira, belekoy, and Milady (pronounced mee-ladee).
Later, when we were a bit older, after a late-night double-bill movie at Scala Theater on Avenida Rizal, there was no way my sisters and I wouldn't stop at this bamboo restaurant at the foot of Pritil bridge, home of melt-in-the-mouth bibingka galapong and to-die for chewy puto bumbong. Put up in 1938 by Ceferino Francisco, it grew so phenomenally that by the 60s it had outlets all over Metro Manila, including one in the Manila Hotel. Its name: Ferino's Bibingka.
Light years away were Jolibee, McDo, KFC, Pizza Hut, Goldilocks, Greenwich and Shakey’s.
Photo credits: The amazing picture was filched from "Sa Likod ng Bahay Kayumangge," (on which I tried to post a comment to ask permission for use of the picture but couldn't as there was a registration process beyond my ken) which gives a more detailed account of the history of Ferino's Bibingka.
Apologia: Tama ka, Rolly Lampa, it was Ferino's Bibingka! -- not Aling Nena's. Wow, what a memory!
More credits: Salamat po, Mario Silva, for reminding me there was a delectable bibingkahan a jog away from Pritil bridge. Ferino's po pala yun!