Saturday, May 10, 2008

Let's Talk Pinoy Streetfood

I lived in a paradox of sorts when I spent my formative years (seven years of grade school, three of high school) in San Beda College from 7AM-3PM and Sta. Cruz, Manila the other odd hours. The weird thing, which I will most probably expound on in a different piece, was that I went to school that charged 20,000 pesos a year while my friends took five pesos to school with them for their daily sustenance. That meant that after school, around the sons of lawyers, businessmen and other affluent families, I went home to a street where my friends and I brought out any leftover lunch; read: Black, burnt rice at the bottom of the pan and half a piece of salted fish, for a communal dinner capped by an eight-peso 800ml bottle of local cola.

So, in San Beda, I learned just how the good life tasted -- though those rich kids NEVER acted like the snotty air-headed morphlings of today's pricey schools -- and in Vision Street, Sta. Cruz a couple of blocks away from the then San Lazaro horse racetrack (yes, I knew that place before it had air-conditioned department stores and Starbucks) showed me how the good life... is over-rated.

Okay, okay...

I know you like your hors d' oeuvres and your bite-sized pieces of pastries and cured meats, hell, I know what you're talking about when you say amous bouche and pancetta, but do you know the's-damn-good delight of monosodium glutamate showered dirty oil deep-fried cow fat? Sebo, my dear cabron. Street food, for the average, subdivision-bred insolent means rubbery calamares or the classic 50 centavo fishball now relegated to second-stringer status due to rise of pretentious chicken balls. Some people recall banana-que and kamote-que. I even hear stories of "south" (ParaƱaque ain't no St. Luis or ATL mah boys... the real south is Cebu) grown girls in elitist schools who have not tasted balut. Seriouly, I understand the paranoia surrounding the gloriously germ infested fishball, but an egg is a perfectly clean life-support system designed by nature to protect the continuance of a species-- the point is, it won't make you sick and it's such a sin to carry a Filipino passport and not know how it tastes like. Dang.

Living in a street filled with horse-racing fanatics, a dash of addicts, a sprinkling of street ballers and computer addicts, my life at home was classically urban Pinoy. Fishball vendors were friends I even drank with one after they sold out the day's wares, always saving a fourth of a pack of fishballs and three one-day-old ducks for our pulutan. When I was a kid the most famous lady in the community was the Yakult vendor followed closely by the Magnolia Chocolait-in-a-bottle milkmaid.

I know street food. My circle of friends are street food connoisseurs.

Though some lament that our street food scene is not as eclectic and streamlined as, say, Hong Kong or Singapore, two Asian foodie havens whose cuisine is pushed forward and made famous by hawker stalls, I still think our street food scene deserves a more detailed look. And no, we are not going to talk about fads like buko shake or those crappy fried siomai, let's talk about the staples, the foodstuff of recently old, progressing from the suman, belekoy and panutsa - sugar, coconut and glutinous rice dominated delicacies, moving toward quick, filling and easy on the wallet fare purpose built for the hardworking Filipino. Many of these items can have different names, depending on the location, which is just another little quirk I love about Filipino street food.