Saturday, September 12, 2009

Nostalgia for Good Food

I think the complete lack of good food nowadays is making me fat. (Please allow me to make excuses, just this time.) I'm swallowing heaps of stuff that are either as bland as board, loaded with enough sugar to make my pee attractive to ants, marinated in a tub of MSG for two months, or soaked through with reused atherogenic animal fat. I'm eating and eating and eating stuff that really isn't that palatable or that delicious because my taste buds are hankering for those real, solid flavors that were introduced during childhood. It's just not the same food anymore.

Milk used to be a source of comfort. I remember one of my grand-aunts handing me a creamy glass to enjoy on a lazy afternoon and thinking to myself, they must have this milk in heaven. Throughout my childhood, I must have guzzled enough milk to fill a large lake. Nowadays, I'm starting to abhor the milk that's available everywhere, and it's a bad thing because now is the best time to get all bone-building goodness that milk provides. Commercial milk tastes nothing like the milk I had when I was a kid. Are the cows too stressed to produce good milk? Are companies trying to cut down costs by watering down their products? (Of course, it doesn't help that I developed lactose intolerance after a bad gastro bout in high school, but there really comes a time every week that milk becomes a nagging craving.) Too bad the milk nowadays tastes like liquid cardboard. Or flavored with enough artificial stuff to give me all sorts of horrible diseases or worsen pre-existing ones.

Another foodstuff that's been growing worse is bread. Bakeries seem to just lump the bleached flour, lard, yeast, water, and sugar together then serve up sad lumps of carbs. Whatever happened to warm pieces of bread, with its sweet smell wafting up with its steam? Pandesal used to be something as big as an adult man's fist and substantial enough to drive away mid-afternoon hunger pangs that couldn't be shooed away by biscuits. We used to toast pandesal to that point before it hardens and pat really good and authentic butter on the halves. It was fascinating how those golden pats of butter melt into the fragrant pandesal and add to the slightly yeasty smell of the fresh bread. The rich flavor of butter flirting with a hint of sweetness from the pandesal always put a smile on my face until the day ended. Now pandesal looks no larger than a marble, and it takes about four of these small critters to satisfy the tastebuds.

Even the honey being sold in supermarkets today is adulterated with refined sugar or caramel coloring. Sadness, sadness, sadness. I love honey on those oven biscuits I used to make or paired with a soothing cup of tea. The best honey I had was a palmful given by the generous indigenous Mangyans we visited in Romblon last year, after a challenging hike through the lush forest and up the steep mountains. The honey served as our dessert and pick-me-up after a meal of a starchy purple kamote (no, it wasn't ube), stewed gabi leaves, and freshly caught river shrimp, sweet and plump. The honey smelled something like vinegar, so I thought it was fermented and a bit like wine, but it was like drinking nectar straight from the wild flowers. It wasn't the type of sweetness that would make your teeth ache or your throat sore. It went down so smoothly and at that time, it was like some rare gift from heaven, so fragrant, so light, and so uplifting.

The paternal side of the family spoiled my tastebuds, I think. My grandmother, bless her soul, made the most spectacular dishes at home, and those dishes trump those sold in restaurants any time. Lola never failed to indulge us in our favorites every time we had gatherings in any of the homes. She'd always try to serve my favorite steamed crab when I was in high school and living away in a dorm that served otherworldly (strange/alien) creations; she had a knack for finding crab that was just plucked from the depths and had the sweetest meat to be enjoyed on its own. (I hated aligue and fished them out for other relatives to mix with their rice. I think that is partly the reason they also enjoy eating crab when I'm around. I'm selfish with crab meat, but not the aligue.) I can't trust crab anywhere else because the time I had it from some place, it tasted just like those fake crab sticks used for pretend sushi. All the other ulam we enjoyed that Lola lovingly created in her busy kitchen are unforgettable: her bola-bola (made with shrimp) and sotanghon soup, the piping hot sinigang with the gamut of vegetables and soft fatty pork in all its sour glory, the unparalleled adobo flakes that go well with fragrant grains of perfectly cooked rice, the succulent roast beef + creamy mashed potatoes + thick homemade gravy + steamed vegetables combo, the perfection that was her free-range native chicken and asparagus soup, the chunky cuts of tuna swimming lemon butter sauce, the crispiest and tastiest fried chicken minus the "lansa" because it was marinated in patis-calamansi and dropped in the hottest oil, and that kare kare that wouldn't leave that thick aftertaste of cholesterol because Lola had the beef cooked in a special way. The desserts are best left for another entry on this blog, and I'd have to say, I love my mom's baked desserts the most.

Dear heavens, I could go on and on, but I'm stopping here because I'm thinking of raiding the fridge for a late night snack, and I need to get back to reading my textbooks.