Monday, August 3, 2009

Sabel in San Francisco

I am still jet-lagged after flying in yesterday from the Philippines via Hong Kong. In the cubicle world once more I am planning tonight's dinner. Something for the weary traveller who goes straight to the office with no rest, something soothing and delicious without being too complicated. Something that a tired wife who must go home after a full's day of work can easily prepare for her husband who will be working late tonight. Something that feeds the soul set free, the heart that has broken wide open from three weeks of travel up and down the Philippine archipelago, a dish that celebrates Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao: wild as the fern salad with organic field greens from Ben Cab's Sabel Cafe in Benguet. Bitter as the seed of lanzones I accidentally bit into while riding the Victory Liner bus from Manila to Baguio, hands sticky from peeling my favorite fruit. Sweetish as the giant taclobo clams we saw while snorkeling in the Coral Gardens of Hundred islands. Salty as the same said ocean waters. Sour as the sinigang made with batuan served to us at a sea side restaurant in Iloilo. Savory as the pancit Molo made by our family's cook in La Paz. Sweet as marang from the night fruits stalls of Magsaysay in Davao City. Nuanced as durian, a truly indescribable taste, one that gets lost in translation.

I know that this is an impossible dish to make, a clash of flavors that cannot be swallowed in one sitting. It is the taste of homesickness for what I left behind in Inang Bayan. It is the tang of sadness from the passing of a national icon the day that I also leave Inang Bayan, my Dad and I silently crying together in the car on the way to airport while listening to the radio announcing the death of former Philippine President Cory Aquino. It is the reheated leftovers of What Could Have Been but Isn't. It is the just picked freshness of what is and will continue to Evolve and Become. It is not a dish best served cold; it is fragrant steaming hot and sticks to the bone, a bowlful of forgiveness and redemption.

But back to practical matters: I will go to Molly Stones after work for sushi-grade white tuna and make Davao-style kilawin, with lemons, Thai bird chilis, cucumbers and radish. I will fry up some of the dried squid from Iloilo that passed customs yesterday. And I will make pinakbet the way Mom makes it, Ilokano style with a lot of bitter ampalaya. And when we drink water after the meal it will taste sweet.

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