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Saturday, November 6, 2010


It's not what you're thinking. Stop snickering. Sorry no eggplants in this chapter. Everyone remembers playing with their food at one point in time. And who can forget the lashing we all got from such activities. My friend Dondi told me of how he and his siblings would gather by the dinner table, each with a spoon in his hand. As the hot rice was served they would all place the back of their spoons on the scorching rice and wait a few seconds. As the spoon would heat up they would then 'brand' each other on the face or other exposed body parts. What a racket they would make till their yaya or mom would break up the fracas and thus they would begin to eat. Day in and day out. Same routine until they got older and tired of the silly game. 

Aside from the bahay-bahayan and tinda-tindahan my cousins and I used to play, we loved play-acting as well. We would peel suha seeds or patani and with its natural adhesiveness attach these at the base of our inner eyes and pretend they were teardrops. On and on we would emote and ape the dialogues we would hear on the radio dramas. Improvising our very own soap operas. Red chiclets were our lipsticks. We would lick our lips and generously rub one chiclet on them until the chiclet was plain white. Our lips were now coated with the red coloring. Sometimes Nips would be used and we'd end up with yellow, green or even brown lips. But chiclets had a moist better quality, enough to rival Mama's precious, imported lipsticks. I would cry out "Mama, I didn't try your lipstick, I ate chiclet!!!" Every time we had chiclets my younger female cousins and I would play Charlie's Angels.  

Sometimes we would lock ourselves in a room, and with blankets and bed sheets as gowns, we'd play Ms. Universe with Lolo's rattan cane as our scepter, the piano's keyboard muffler as our sash and from old shoebox cardboards we fashioned a crown. Chiclets of course served as lipstick but were also now used as rouge and eye shadow. Santol or any hard, round fruit in season we would tuck in our shirts for breasts. That's why we had to lock the door. For jewelry we had Jack 'N Jill Chippy. The curved ones we would attach to our earlobes as earrings and insert some in our fingers to serve as rings. I believe my mother knew of these games and would prevent us from locking ourselves in the room lest we scatter crumbs on the bed. But of course I knew the real reason was that she didn't like the idea that her son had dreams of becoming a beauty queen.  

One favorite food my cousins shared was the Nissin Cheesesticks. These came in a plastic bag tied with a gold string. The cheesesticks were really salty and went well with cold soda. My cousin Carla discovered a great prank with these. Once she quietly hied off with some cheesesticks in her hand. When she returned she gave a big smile revealing cheesesticks arranged vertically inside her mouth. She looked horrible at the same time funny. She was like that evil nemesis of James Bond -- Jaws. Recalling it now, she resembles Hannibal Lecter with the steel helmet and the steel bars covering his mouth. I would later repeat the cheesesticks prank when I was in college and it was a sure-fire hit among friends in the canteen. (Folks hoping to try this should have a glass of water handy just in case they choke from all the laughter once they try it). 

In sophomore year at the UP Baguio High School, we were introduced to Greek Mythology by our English teacher Ms. Leonida de Leon. We marveled at the stories of Medusa, Arachne, Pan, and Narcissus among others. Batches before us told of the culminating event of Greek Mythology class, a Greek-inspired foodfest. This was one of the highlights of sophomore year. The class would be divided into several groups. Each group had to come up with dishes inspired from the stories we learned in Greek Mythology. We would then invite other teachers to  judge which group had the most appetizing, original and inventive dish. Batch after batch had 'Medusa's Hair' or spaghetti with meatballs, the presentation or execution making the difference. The redder the sauce, the more terrifying, but spaghetti nonetheless. 'Ambrosia' was fruit salad served on a carved-out watermelon. During my time, Ms. de Leon banned spaghetti and fruit salad altogether and admonished us to be more creative and original. I forget now what my group cooked but here's a proposed menu to top all other entries. Batch '84 should be proud of me. 

For starters I'd have 'Narcissus Soup'. A clear vegetable broth flavored with thyme and oregano. So clear you could see your reflection in it. Perfect for the ever self-conscious adolescent. Next course would be 'Aphrodite's Bread & Fava'; freshly baked bread with dollops of pureed, creamy, yellow split peas as homage to the fair Goddess of Love. Alongside I'll serve 'Arachne's Fritters' (or critters); deep-fried locusts (okay, okay locusts are not spiders, I know) accompanied by avgolemono; a lemon-and -egg sauce. After which I would lay-out 'Poseidon's Eels'. Eels fresh from the Greek Streams (-Of- Consciousness). Poseidon must have had, I surmise, domain on inland bodies of water as well; the eels spit-roasted with tomatoes, their drippings mixed with ground nuts, sesame seeds and crushed garlic as sauce. Next course, 'Perseus' Guts'; or Garthoumba -- chopped liver and innards wrapped with lamb intestine fresh from the oven. Main course: 'Zeus Moussaka'; a hearty meat and vegetable stew. For dessert I'd serve 'Atalanta's Golden Apples'; poached apples with a rich chocolate sauce enhanced with gold flakes from a famous liquor. YUMMY! 

Back in the mid-80's my mother and I once decided to catch a screening at the old Pines Theater along Session Road. It was still early evening we had just come from the market with some ripe bananas and a bag of bread, but decided to catch the comedy despite not having seen it from the start. Upon entering the dark aisles we could hear laughter from our right side, slowly and slowly, the entire balcony had begun laughing. I wondered what was particularly funny with the scene when there was no dialogue exchanged but was merely a montage of traveling shots. As my mother and I found our seats, the viewers in our aisle were snickering uncontrollably despite their efforts to suppress their laughter. It then dawned on me, the entire second floor was laughing at us for as we traversed the aisles, our silhouettes had clearly shown we were each carrying a bunch of bananas. The movie being shown was 'Bad Bananas Sa Puting Tabing'. Terribly embarrassing.  

Speaking of movies, don't you ever notice how Filipino cinema has incorporated the partaking of food as a major development in a movie's plot? Consider 'Lollipops and Roses at Burung Talangka'', one scene shows Nora Aunor stubbornly eating burung talangka, licking her fingers mockingly as Don Johnson complains in the background about her nasty habit and the stench from her preferred food. This was the precursor of events that would  lead Nora Aunor to end up with Cocoy Laurel. In 'Madrasta' the eating of lobster was used in two separate scenes to divaricate the steaming animosity between Sharon Cuneta's nuclear family against the one she had tried so hard to fit into. Although  lobster was cooked the same way in both instances; in the former, lobster was relished with a casual almost comical ambience as opposed to the latter wherein they ate the crustacean formally and in a  stiff manner. These dramatized Sharon's character's ever-growing alienation. 

The love affair between food and cinema is not totally Filipino. Western movies have exploited food in their themes as seen in '9 1/2 Weeks', 'Like Water For Chocolate', 'Chocolat' and even 'Fatal Attraction' wherein Glenn Close cooks Michael Douglas' daughter's pet rabbit to prove her point that she wasn't 'game'. Lately in the Philippines however, we have taken the relationship of food and storyline to extremes. With 'Patikim ng Pinya' and 'Kapag Ang Palay Naging Bigas, May Bumayo' , I rest my case. Have we so lost our cinematic tastes? And will we ever produce another great movie chef the calibre of Brocka?

(I wrote this essay ca. 1999 - 2000)

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