#30DayWritingChallenge: The best meal of my life.

Day Twenty-Three: The best meal of my life.

It is a common joke among former residents of the Chairless Apartment that whenever we start cooking pasta, it means we are running low on money.

Day 03 - Favorite Place

Normally when we buy groceries, we would include two kilos of dry spaghetti noodles and cans of fried sardines. We also always keep lots of garlic and pepper in the kitchen cupboard.

On days when we have enough money among ourselves, we would eat out or order food delivered to the apartment. If we feel like cooking, we would think of comfort food we miss and prepare them: pork sinigang, kare-kare, menudo, ginisang munggo. Nearly everyone in the house can cook, and we help each other in the kitchen.

On lean days, we bring out the pasta.

#30DayWritingChallenge: The story behind the last text I sent.

Day Sixteen: The story behind the last text I sent.

Lio's text message.

Last week, my friend and previous housemate Lio sent me a message asking if I was available this weekend. He said he has a friend who wanted to have her cards read. We agreed that I will drop by his place near Cash and Carry on Friday afternoon (yesterday) for the tarot reading.

I met Lio through a gay forum website which I admin. We met in person when he, I, and a few other members decided to meet up and exchange porn movies. Some time after that, when I was desperately looking for a housemate for my old apartment, Lio volunteered and we started living together.

Lio was, at that time, a slightly spoiled single child who had little concept of housework. He didn’t cook and his main contribution to the apartment was mostly bottles of alcohol in the fridge. He did mature over the years.

He is now living on his own in Makati. He fetched me outside Cash and Carry; when we arrived at his place, his boyfriend Drew has just finished cooking dinner: an unusual combo of plain pasta, spicy laing, and garlicky longganisa.

More: A frequent joke I threw at Lio was how he was one of the few Bicolano I know who has a low tolerance for piquant dishes.

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The Great Tinapa Hunt adventure of Mandaluyong (and a recipe for tinapa and pesto spaghetti).

Tinapa by Johann Espiritu

Since I will be working on New Year’s Day, I promised the co-workers that I will be bringing some pasta for a little post-New Year celebration. I decided I’ll cook some tinapa pesto spaghetti.

Tinapa is a local preparation of smoked fish, typically using galunggong (scad), and is an typical part of the Filipino poor man’s diet. Not that I am looking down on it: tinapang galunggong has a rich smoky flavor and is great when fried and served with rice, chopped fresh tomatoes and sliced salted eggs.

A few months ago, the occupants of the Chairless Apartment ended up in a restaurant called Lime 88 which served humble street food prepared like haute cuisine. One of the dishes we tried was a smoked fish and pesto pasta that used tinapang galunggong. Lime’s tinapa and pesto spaghetti was very good so we decided to imitate the dish a few weeks later. It was surprisingly easy to prepare.

The day before the New Year, I went out to buy ingredients for the dinner with the housemates that I was preparing. I decided to buy the wet ingredients (meat, veggies, etc) in the local wet market instead of the supermarket so I could get them cheaper. Except that I was not able to find a vendor that sold tinapa.

I actually went out twice and went to two wet markets partly to look for tinapa. All the usual tinapa vendors I see on normal days are missing and were replaced by fruit vendors. It seemed that because tinapa is known to be a poor man’s food, it isn’t likely to be included in holiday dinners and no one was selling it.

It wasn’t a big deal for me yet; the pasta could wait until tomorrow and I could always look get them from a supermarket. The following day (i.e., yesterday), I was shocked to find out that the nearby supermarkets were closed for the New Year. The wet markets I passed looked like deserted ghost towns, with very few vendors opening their shops. None of them were selling smoked fish.

In the end, after going visiting three supermarkets and four wet markets, I decided to alter the pesto recipe.

Tinapa and pesto spaghetti

  • Chop some garlic and flake some tinapang galunggong, carefully removing all fish bone. Two medium-sized tinapa is good for 1/3 kilo of dried spaghetti.
  • Saute the garlic and tinapa flakes in oil. Lower the heat and add some pesto, three or four tablespoons for every 1/3 kilo of spaghetti. Ready-made pesto works fine.
  • Add a little water to the pesto to make the sauce creamier. Add the pre-cooked spaghetti and mix it thoroughly to coat it with the sauce. Season to taste.

I promise I will not write about tinapa again for at least a month.

Image: Tinapa by Johann Espiritu on Flickr

Street food na pina-sosyal.

Macy contacted me and asked for a tarot reading last Friday. We finished around midnight and she offered to drive Bern and I home. I suggested we have a night cap first at Lime 88, which was really near our apartment.

I’ve heard of Lime 88 from another friend, Alvin. He also heard of it from his cousin, who said it featured street food presented in fancy ways. The restaurant’s logo describes it plainly: Street Food na Pina-Sosyal. It turned out Macy was also familiar with the place, and had been there before.

A few days before, Bern and I saw Lime 88 when we went to China Bank which was at the same street the restaurant was in. Lime 88 open at 6pm, so we could only see the restaurant from the outside back then. It was really just a house converted into an eating place.

There was a bar outside, an airconditioned section, and several outside table for smokers. When we got there, the speakers were playing various minor “alternative” hits from the 90s and 00s. The playlist sounded like it came from a mid-twenties corporate type who fancied himself as a rocker.

I contacted Leo to bring Ed and Markee over from the apartment and join us. While waiting for them, we tried some of the food and the cocktails.

Lime 88 sells decent cocktails at rather cheap prices (P60-P85 a glass). The Chocnut martini Bern got was pretty good. I forgot the name of what I ordered (was it Dare to Chill?) but it was decent: vodka, pineapple juice and melon liquer. Macy had a Jack Coke, except that she found it tasted of Bacardi rather than Jack Daniels.

We ordered their version of kwek-kwek: quail’s eggs dipped in orange-colored batter and deep-fried. Lime 88 kwek-kwek removed the food color, used tempura batter to wrap the eggs and served it vinegar and tempura dip. The eggs came in a martini glass with an orchid. Cute.

Kwek-kwek from Lime 88 Kwek-kwek from Lime 88

When the other three arrived, they also ordered several drinks and a few dishes, including a fried street food sampler, which was fish balls, squid balls and kikiam fried on bamboo sticks; the sticks were arranged radially on a large plate, decorated by teriyaki sauce (I think).

I also ordered fresh oysters soaked in youghurt and vinegar, which chopped onions and green mangoes. Those were served in small shot glasses. The dish makes for a good appetizer, except it turns out only Bern and I are willing to try raw oysters. You can’t really eat the thing from a shot glass in one go; kinilaw is too sour to be gulped suddenly.

But the point of the place is the presentation. The kinilaw would have been excellent if served on a plate to accompany pork barbecue and steamed rice, but it wouldn’t look as fancy.

The dish we all enjoyed was the tinapa pasta: tinapa flakes were sauteed in oil with garlic and onion. It was coated to penne and served with a little pesto sauce. Markee and I decided to remember how the dish was made so we could replicate it at home.

Food in Lime 88 are relatively inexpensive, though you’re actually paying more for the fancy plating more than the dish itself. The staff were a little lousy (sending Leo and Ed’s drinks to a different table causing them to repeatedly follow up the order), but friendly and accommodating (having Markee as the client will test a restaurant staff’s patience sometimes definitely).

In the end, we went there for the novelty of it all. We might go back with other friends, just so they could also be impressed with kwek-kwek in martini glasses, but it wasn’t the first place I would go to if I was looking for something more substantial.

The driver had a golden cock. Probably.

In the cab we rode from Fete dela Musique, Markee sat next to the driver while Bern and I sat at the back. Markee, after near-terrorizing the food vendors of Market! Market!, decided to interview the cab driver.

Being interviewed by Markee was like letting yourself face an army of elephants, but the cab driver humored him despite initially complaining how Markee’s incessant questions made him lost track of the confession letter portion of the radio program he was tuned in to.

“But they’ll have a replay by 2 o’clock,” Markee told him.

“How do you know?” the driver asked, skeptically.

“I used to work at that station,” replied Markee, without a pause. The guy could instantly come up with an outrageous lie and say it with a convincing tone. He then changed the subject, “mister, what if a gay guy asks if he could do something naughty with you?”

The blunt question could cause other drivers to be quiet in anger or embarassment, but this one isn’t backing down. He gamely told us of the time a guy got in, asked him to drive from Guadalupe to Buendia and back.

“He asked me how much should he pay me to touch my dick,” the cab driver went on. When we asked him what his answer was, he said 500 pesos plus the normal cab fare.

“Oh wow. You’re so good looking, mister,” Markee said mockingly. The driver laughed it off and said he accepted the money, let the other guy touch the driver’s dick but without opening his fly. Then the driver sped to Guadalupe and back so it’ll be over before the other guy could enjoy his little thrill.

“That was all?” the other guy complained. “Could we have another go?” The driver said the other guy should pay him again if he wanted another round; the other guy decided to get off the cab.

The driver obviously wanted to appear that he can’t be outwitted by lecherous gay men. One time another guy asked him how much he’ll charge to be given a blowjob, the driver answered “2,500 pesos”.

What’s that?” all three of us protested. “Is your dick made of gold, mister?”

He laughed it off and said, “because I’m a driver. I don’t do that shit.”

The inane question and answers continued as we drive until the apartment. The next time we’re taking a cab with Markee, we ought to bring a recorder with us.

“Hey, mister,” said Markee when we only a few hundred meters from the apartment. “Where’s your meter?”

The driver swore and palmed his face because he forgot to flag down his meter. When we got off, we gave him a hundred persos. He was asking for 20 pesos more for the fare. I told him, a hundred is more than enough. “I take a cab to just outside Pateros and that only costs me a hundred,” I sternly told him. “And that’s through daytime traffic, too.”

The guy continued to protest so Bern cut him off. “Since you didn’t have your meter running,” he told the driver, “we should only be paying you the flag-down rate.” He was lucky we gave him a hundred. We got out of the cab and went into our building.

Until then, mister cab driver was boasting how he outwits every gay man who offers him money for a feel or a blow. It gets irritating, really, after some time. Hearing the now desperately pleading tone of his voice, which was (um) cocky just a few minutes ago, was just absolutely delicious.