Bicol, Music and Food
“What will I cook?”
My brother and his family have been in NY for several days already and they are coming over for lunch. They’ve had enough of burgers, steaks, pizzas, and other American food. They are expecting Bicol food for a change.
I turn on my computer and go to the FB group “Masiram na Manga Luto Bicol atbp.”
“Masiram na Manga Luto Bicol atbp” is a group page of “Memories of Naga and Bicol” founded by my Bicolano friend Alfred Vergara Yrastorza. “Memories” is one of my favorite pages. Each time I open it I wax nostalgic. It is a decent and wholesome page which includes events and places of our Bicol past captured in pictures and presented in short narratives by Bicolanos who are next of kin of first hand witnesses of Bicol’s history.
I scroll through “Masiram na Manga Luto Bicol atbp” and pick up some ideas on what to cook from three of my kababayans’ postings. Rellenong Kasag posted by Eden Tam, Ginataan na Pusit by Mariclar Badong Ancheta, and for starters, Halaan (Clam Soup) with kalungay leaves by no other than Alfred Yrastorza. Eden is the daughter of Temporo M. Dy, former beloved Naga City councilor for 20 years, and Mariclar is the daughter of my former beloved NPS principal. I am sure the food they are cooking now have been handed down from their illustrious parents.
Although good food is good food no matter from what culture it comes from, I found something interesting in what a friend advised me many years ago, when I was still single.
“Manny, it is always good to get married to a kababayan.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because small quarrels begin with the food you eat at home. A Tagalog cooks salty foods. A Bicolano cooks spicy foods, and always with gata. Regional tastes may not always be compatible.”
It made sense. Our Philippines is made up of several regions each with their own unique cultures and traditions. That is evidenced by the varieties of Filipino dishes from way up North to way down South.
No problem. My wife is from Malabon and she loves Bicol food. In fact, she loves spicy foods.
Anyway, cooking is a talent. It can be taught, but no matter how faithful one followed a recipe, the taste will always turn out different if it came from someone without talent (or someone with talent). Elvie, my sister-in-law, entered a cheesecake food contest and won first place among fifty other contestants. She has never taken formal lessons in a cooking school. It’s just her hobby to bake and cook for the family.
I remember another person with a great gift for cooking. His name was Domy, from Daraga, Albay. He was neither chef nor hotel employee, but when it came to cooking, he was legend. VIPs from all over Bicol would hire him for special occasions. This included the late Msgr. Belleza. Penafrancia in the parish of St. John the Evangelist was not Penafrancia if the cooking was not done by Domy. I wish he was still around to share his excellent cooking in “Masiram na Manga Luto Bicol atbp.
It is now 10am and I am back from the market. All the ingredients are ready for cooking. I am already tired but I know what will perk me up: Music! Food and music must go hand in hand. In my youth, lunch always came along with the “Trio Los Panchos” or Xavier Cugat in our “turntable.” It somehow enhanced the flavor.
So I go to my FB page again and open another page of “Memories of Naga and Bicol” – the group page “Let’s All Get Up and Dance to a Song that was a Hit Before.” I see a posting by my poet friend Odin Ibalon of old Samba music, and play it while I cook, and somehow I am not tired anymore.
We have a great lunch of Ginataang Pusit, Rellenong Kasag and Halaan – all taken from “Masiram na Manga Luto Bicol atbp” posts. Over the background music from the group page of “Let’s all Get Up and Dance to a Song That was a Hit Before,” my wife asks why the Ginataang Pusit is not “maharang.” We all laugh at the realization that she has become more Bicolana than the rest of us. Dessert is Leche Flan which I incidentally posted several months ago in “Masiram’s” page.
After the “iristoryahan,” the sharing of memories, and the music, I wish time would just stand still, because in a while it will be time to say goodbye. Soon they will have to fly back to our beloved Bicol.
The dishes are done. My wife goes upstairs to our bedroom to check out some pasalubongs from her sister. I am left alone downstairs in my corner office facing my desktop computer.
I travel back to Bicol in Alfred’s “Memories of Naga and Bicol” and listen to Odin Ibalon’s Samba music from “Let’s All Get Up and Dance to a Song that was a Hit Before.” It is a catchy tune.
My wife comes down and I pull her to the dance floor. She is startled but amused to dance along with me to the rhythm of Odin’s Samba. One step forward, bounce; one step backward, bounce.
“If you loved Naga so much,” my wife asks, “why did you leave her?”
My quick reply: “Did I ever leave Naga?”