Soul Food Midnights

As I am still in a dark slump, the details I’ll probably write here at some point, but not just now, my thoughts turn to one of those rituals I seem to have unwittingly forsaken for convenience – preparation and cooking meals – even for just one – me.

But I was craving for something not as fancy as an entrée on a restaurant menu, nor some costly exotic dish, though the thought of hunting for some tasty morsels of  slow cooked Bulalo sends shivers to my salivary glands, I contented myself with a pack of chicken noodle soup, some onions, and garlic. Some finely ground imitation white pepper might have been great , but alas, here in Quezon city, the only establishments open at midnight are beer joints with girls hanging out just outside, a few Tapsilog ,  Internet cafes and a Balut vendor that’s always asleep every time I pass by.

There is a small Lugawan along Seminary Road, but I don’t dare ask if it was good. Also, just to be on the safe side, the place is almost always filled with gay bystanders. Not that it matters, but they I don’t feel the need to squeeze myself among the throng of loud guffaws and choking face powder smell just to see what the lugaw looks like.

Lugaw , if you must know, is not as plain nor as simple. I have come to know lugaw at Inang Luning’s . And boy, the mere mention of it brings me home: white, well cooked lugaw, with small chunks of pork, pork fat, just a hint of ginger, black pepper and maybe just a drop of patis, for good measure. The lugaw of my youth.

Of course there is Arroz caldo, yellow from the Asubha fronds, chicken meat, my Ina’s own recipe includes potatoes, but basically the same methods of cooking. But then Goto came along, which is also, lugaw with beef meat, or innards, stronger tasting and more flavorful, and the ginger seem to have increased in portions, but  also another form of delight.

So I settled for something doable.

Chicken Noodle Soup, despite what it says on the package, should be cooked with love. I have learned to add some veggies, or what’s available in my pantry, in this case it was lotsa onions and garlic. Dissolved the contents into water, stirring so that everything that needs to be dissolved get it’s way, done right, while setting the fire on low. Sliced the onions and garlic and added them to the pot, still constantly stirring so as not to leave any lumps and clumps. I love soup, specially at night, when I work on something. And I may have measured the water too much so a pinch or two of rock salt takes care of that.  I Put on Greg Howe‘s Introspection CD to further enhance this almost ceremonial like preparation.

Does it bother you to eat on styrofoam plates and bowls, plastic spoon and forks? it bothers me. A lot. I have this distaste for convenient food packaging stuff, makes food look, feel and taste less.  That’s why even if it was just sardines straight from a can, or something I bought at a canteen, I would want to eat with proper utensils and heavy ceramic plates, and bowls. makes up for the utter blandness of store-bought meals.

Frugal though it may seem, soup’s ready and I turn off the stove, letting the pot cool a bit, while cleaning up the sink, guitar music fills the room, and I can’t help but feel a bit more languid and calm. And in about 5 more minutes I have my bowl in front of my workstation, Desiderata played and the food and music warmed me up, and soothed me down.

Life’s simple pleasures.

A moment of solace from the day’s instabilities, the daily grind, the complications of interacting with people, the loneliness, frustrations, the gripes – all seem to have some vestige of getting better – as I savor the broth, chew on the noodles, listen to the music and settle down.

The night is darkest just before the dawn, and even with the rain clouds hovering, the sun is sure to come up in a little while.

Life is good.

Instant Noodle Mentality

Sustenance in plastic packs

Typical instant noodles without the flavor packs.

Let me tell you something. I’d you to know that  me and my friends could have written and published a book with a title that sounded like –

“101 Ways To Cook Instant Noodles”

And we could have made a killing, catering to most college students and ‘syanos who rent roach infested, stale smelling, gin blossom patterned, cramped rooms around the University Belt – Morayta, Dos Castillas, Carola, Bustillos and that most loved hole-in-the-wall dwelling we had in Lincallo, a small alley along Legarda, in Tanduay.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

You see, nowadays whenever I resort to instant foods, a couple packs of instant noodle does the trick, but not without added trickery, too.  Oh, there  has to be some veggies to add to the  monosodium glutamate that comes with the 60gm pack, along with the requisite egg to make it “special”. A chicken flavored noodle goes well with Pak Choi (Petsay for the uninitiated) or Malunggay. Beef noodles are just begging to be boiled with Cabbage. With Pancit canton, you can use any of the three, plus some Squid Balls to add fun. And if there are no more veggies to add, because your budget just doesn’t allow for extra (it could be that your salary went south about a week ago) or there was no time to drop by your local market or talipapa, chopped onions or garlic will certainly make your eating-solo worth the time to prep for. You should try sprinkling those beautiful, finely chopped raw garlic on freshly cooked pancit canton and you can never go wrong.

But during college, and I was going to Far Eastern University at the time, a group of seven hungry promdis scrimping and saving for everyday expenses, the usual solution was pool small amounts of money, specially near weekends when allowances just can’t seem to get through the week, and try to make a feast of the measly budget – barbecued chicken neck + head, lavishly dipped in vinegar and soy sauce concoctions, or two cans of Red Ligo Sardines, sauteed in garlic, onions, extended with water and egg, because the sauce is thick enough. Now how could you feed 7 hungry college students with just 3 packs of chicken noodles? Easy. Okra, kangkong or saluyot might just add variety and flavor  to your gastronomic adventure.

We used to put a single tinapang Galunggong, deboned, shredded, along with garlic and onions so that leftover rice can be enjoyed without the usual Ulam, black, powdered pepper enforcing the taste. I still do this every now and then.

Speaking of leftovers, don’t throw away those unfinished potato or corn chips. Grind them, and throw them into a couple of beaten eggs add some chili sauce. That’s why I never throw away those unopened chili pizza sauce packs away. You never know.

Why am I rambling about food? Continue reading