i remember having such a big appetite as a child. in spite of my father’s meager wages as a government lawyer, my mother (she had to quit her job as a public school teacher to raise me and my siblings) managed to find creative ways of feeding me regularly. however, because of budgetary constraints, i practically ate the same things from primary school to high school.
for breakfast, i normally consumed bowls of oatmeal as well as pan de sal with guava jelly. for lunch, i ate bistek tagalog (sirloin steak, filipino-style), dulong (dried anchovy fry), bangus (milkfish) or tocino (cured pork or bacon marinated in a sweet red sauce). for dinner, i greedily ate pork barbecue from a suki beside the tailoring shop along dapitan, between carola and don quijote streets. for dessert, i ate bananas or mongo beans dipped in evaporated milk with sugar. there were days when my parents could not provide me and my siblings with more sumptuous meals. duirng such occasions, we make do by boiling eggs and mixing these with fried rice.
in school, i was quite notorious for not buying my food at the school canteen. my family was really on a very tight budget. my parents were then sending some of my cousins to university. consequently, i was forced to bring baon to school. quite frequently, i had calamansi juice (acid orange, calamondin or panama orange) in a sealed tupperware glass and bread loaf with guava or peanut butter filling.
of course, there were occasional breaks in the routine. five apartment doors behind aling mameng’s store at the corner of dapitan and carola, i remember dropping by another store tended by an old lady selling a bilao of puto (rice muffins), kutsinta (sticky brown rice cake) and palitaw (glutinous rice mixture topped with sugar and sesame seeds). with the family helper, i carried several pieces of puto for my mother and siblings to take some pleasure in. then we washed the puto pieces away by drinking gazillions of freshly-squeezed calamansi juice.
other times, i would go to a small apartment unit beside the chinese store at the corner of dos castillas and pi y margal. the unit’s façade became a haven of students from dominican school, university of santo tomas and ramon magsaysay high school the moment the make-shift store owner uncovered gargantuan pieces of home-cooked, sugar-coated and deep-fried turon (brown sugar-coated, deep fried banana spring rolls), banana cue (brown sugar-coated, deep fried bananas in skewers) and camote cue (brown sugar-coated, deep fried sweet potatoes in skewers). we also passed by the chinese store to soak up bottles of sarsi cola, sunta orange, rc cola, mirinda orange, teem, lem-o-lime, mountain dew or magnolia choco vim.
after playing siyato, soccer baseball (kickball; it's like baseball but you kick a soccer-sized ball instead of swinging a bat), tumbang preso, patintero, taguan (hide-and-seek) and agawan-base in the streets, my friends and i satisfied our craving for things cold and sweet by grabbing cones of cheese, chocolate or langka-flavored rolando ice cream from one of their roving carts. in college, i would learn from my upper class friends that i had actually devoured what they considered as dirty ice cream.
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as i got older, my family became more comfortable. as a result of his honesty and clean living, my father got promoted eventually as an assistant government corporate counsel for government-owned and controlled corporations. he held the rank of a judge. mother, on the other hand, worked for a major insurance company and was amply compensated because of her numerous corporate clients. my family came to travel quite extensively and i was finally introduced to the more luxurious outer space of fine dining bistros, cafes and restaurants.
these days, i often get invites to dine in restaurants my family couldn’t afford to hang around in when i was younger. wherever i go, a recollection of my childhood’s culinary repertoire continues to greet me with never-ending glow and wonder.