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More than 10 lbs of chicken thighs skinned and deboned for AdoboAidTO. What to do with the discards? Ask the butcher at Sanagans to vacuum pack them, of course, for future use in the kitchen. The skin makes sinfully crunchy chicharron that’s great as a pulutan (like tapas) with beer or cocktails! And the bones make a better broth than you can ever buy in the grocery, just what you need this winter to make a hot bowl of chicken arroz caldo (Filipino rice porridge), or chicken noodle soup. It’s always handy to have chicken broth in the fridge anyway.

1454920_10151769253601884_1701295425_nI shared some chicken chicharron with a friend last night and got a tweet about how she crushed it over her sunny side up, which she then liberally anointed with Diablos Fuego Hot Sauce. So many ways to crunch a chicharron, if you ask me. How about smothering it with maple syrup? Candied bacon, you’ve met your match!

How-To: Defrost chicken skin. Flatten individually on oven rack. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake (I hate frying) at 350F for about 40 minutes or until desired brownness and crispness. Remove from oven and drain on paper towel. Keep uncovered until thoroughly cooled, to keep crispness. Can be kept for a couple of days without refrigeration. If needed, re-crisp by reheating in oven (I use the oven toaster for small batches) and draining on paper towel again. Best served with a dipping of vinegar and bird’s-eye chilli. The vinegar cuts the grease, so munch on.

(Thanks, Catherine Mangosing, for the chicharon-on-egg photo. Beautiful!)

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Would anyone really pay $24 for a plate of spaghetti with tomato and basil? At Scarpetta, people apparently do and in fact say they’d happily (pay and) eat this simple dish again. Scarpetta, that restaurant with a New York pedigree and of Scott Conant’s fame, opened in Toronto a couple of years back. The reviews were mixed, some even harsh, but that plate of spaghetti with tomato and basil was always singled out as excellent – and, as one food critic said, “irreproachable”. It was for this reason that I always had my eye on Scarpetta: just how good can pasta with nothing else but tomato sauce and basil get? But in Toronto, where the food scene is quickly evolving and new restaurants are opening practically every month, plans for such a splurge can easily get sidetracked by news about “electric” $3.75 tacos, nonna-style chicken liver agnolottis being served in Parkdale, and grilled pulpos that leave Toronto folks awestruck.

That’s why when my neighbour, Andrew Starling, announced that he was hosting a pop-up dinner at his place, I quickly responded with a “Please count me in!” Of course, not before I checked his menu and made sure a pasta dish was part of his 5-course dinner. Why? Because Andrew Starling just happens to be Scarpetta’s pasta chef!

Screen Shot 2013-12-01 at 1.44.00 AMThe pasta he prepared wasn’t spaghetti with tomato and basil as I had hoped, but a ricotta+parmiggiano-reggiano ‘agnolotti dal plin’. Was I disappointed? Not at all. On hindsight, Scarpetta’s spaghetti with tomato and basil – excellent as it is – is, after all, just another “template” dish. I was more interested in Andrew’s take on pasta in general and even more on how he’d roll out a 5-course dinner that didn’t rely on pasta alone. 

I knew the dinner would be good the moment we entered his house. The wall along the stairs to the basement was stacked high with jars of preserves – berries and fruits picked during his bike rides. The kitchen, partially seen from the dining area, had a calm and readiness one usually didn’t expect from a dinner staged at home. The courses featured local, sustainable ingredients, some Andrew himself foraged in Don Valley, like the crabapples in the appetizer and the dessert. The home-made 5-spice ketchup was delightful and I thought, yeah, Heinz could pack up and go for all I care! The man knew and was passionate about food, and I was rather embarrassed that up to this moment I had only thought of Andrew as a pasta chef.

Overall, the menu was well thought out, the courses building from one to the next with precise cadence and good progression. More importantly, Andrew and his wife Francine created an ambience that was convivial – a surprise for me as my first impression of Andrew was that he was one very formal guy. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and I’m sure the other guests had a great time too.

Another thumbs-up for Toronto’s food scene, and what luck it’s just a couple of doors away from me.

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With Chef Starling at the AdoboAid-Toronto

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I think it will be months before I start cooking adobo again. Not after the AdoboAidTO dinner fundraiser, not after I cooked more than 20lbs of pork and chicken and fed more than 50 donor-guests, not after I spent three days chopping meat, seasoning, marinating them overnight and finally braising them for hours in the kitchen. Days after the event, the house is still redolent of garlic and vinegar. But there’s a reason why adobo is a staple in town fiestas, the dish to serve when feeding an entire barangay. Much like the “5 loaves and 2 fish” that fed a multitude of 5,000 and left enough for the twelve disciples to eat, adobo doesn’t seem to run out. And there will be, inevitably, adobo leftovers.

The good thing is, there are many amazing ways to reprise the adobo.

1. Fried adobo

This is actually how I like my adobo. Unfortunately, for the AdoboAid dinner, I didn’t have the time and the right-sized skillet to fry big batches of adobo. My mom, a capampangan, would braise the meats for hours and then, right before serving, fry the meats in extra oil. The result was adobo with layers of flavours and a dark, delicious crust.

A breakfast of adobo flakes, adobo rice and achara

A breakfast of adobo flakes, adobo rice and achara

2. Adobo Flakes

Sometimes we cook adobo just to make adobo flakes. This has been Rama’s favourite since she was 4, when her Yaya Melindi would coarsely “osterize” leftover adobo and fry it to crunchy bits. What I do, though, is shred the meats and fry them. Great with fried egg, fried rice and a little achara on the side. How Filipino can breakfast get?

3. Adobo Fried Rice

I often have more adobo sauce left in the pot than I know what to do with. Well, I’ve learned to pour them on cooked rice, stirring in just enough sauce to coat the rice evenly. I then set the rice aside in the fridge overnight or longer, allowing the rice to “lose moisture”.  You don’t want to use soggy rice for fried rice; wet or soggy rice turns limp when it hits the oil and you get clumpy fried rice. Ugh! That’s the reason only left-over rice is used for fried rice. The Chinese have a descriptor for the perfect fried rice: jumping rice. Yes, nicely “dried out” rice literally jumps around on a hot, oiled wok or pan. You can almost hear the rice go “Wheee! Wheee! Wheee!”

So, heat oil. Add smashed cloves of garlic. Throw in small chunks of left-over adobo (if any). Add the rice. Add vegetables, like peas and carrots, if you wish. Mix. Plate. Eat. A meal in itself.

I’d love to learn of more ways to reprise the adobo. Maybe a Pulled Pork Adobo Taco?

(Top photo: ingredients of the classic adobo – vinegar, garlic, peppercorn, bay leaf)

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AdoboAid was the brainchild of Maida Pineda, a blogger, whose call to help raise funds for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan was posted on Facebook. The idea was to cook adobo, gather friends for dinner and pass the hat around for donations. Better yet, for Filipinos – wherever they are in the world – to host those adobo dinners at the same time, on the same day, November 23. Imagine the Philippine diaspora – more than 10 million Filipinos living abroad – watching helplessly as news coverage of the worst typhoon disaster of the century unfold on tv. Herself a Filipino expatriate, blogger Maida Pineda knew exactly how it felt to be away from home and wanting to help. Well, here was a way Filipinos living abroad could reach out and share in the on-going disaster relief efforts…”one adobo dinner at a time”.

I thought it was a brilliant idea, one that would surely appeal to that uniquely Filipino character in us. Didn’t we always love a party, turning even a People Power revolution into one? Didn’t we rather be jovial than angry or somber, even as we took on the most menial of jobs in even the most inhospitable country? And didn’t we all have that weekend, that birthday, that town fiesta, that Christmas holiday we always looked forward to as a time to gather with friends and family? And wasn’t food always in the centre of these gatherings? If we had been described as a resilient nation – with photos of smiling kids against a backdrop of devastation as proof – this must be our secret.

Which is why adobo made so much sense. A “resilient dish” was how Maida Pineda described our national dish. Adobo’s main ingredient is vinegar, which keeps it from spoiling, even without refrigeration. It can be kept for days, tasting even better the longer it stays in the fridge.

If there’s a dish we can truly call our own, it’s adobo. It predates the arrival of the Spanish on Philippine shores, perhaps even the earlier days of trading with the Chinese. The Spanish called it adobo, after a Mexican dish, although there were hardly any similarities between the two. The Philippine adobo is a much simpler and austere dish: meat – usually pork – braised in vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper, cooked for 1-2 hours over low fire. The addition of soy sauce is, clearly, a Chinese influence. There are also as many variations of adobo as there are regions in the country, such as adobo sa gata (coconut milk) in Southern Luzon. In the Visayas, they prefer their adobo dry, with a little oil. In Pampanga, where my mother hails from, the adobo is braised and then fried, which is the way I like my adobo done. Vegetables make very good adobo, too: adobong kangkong (swamp cabbage) and adobong sitaw (long beans). In fact, every Filipino family boasts of its own adobo recipe – innumerable tweaks to an immutable dish.

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Footnote: AdoboAid Toronto served 50 plates of Adobo, with rice and a side of homemade achara (pickled green papaya, carrots, green bell pepper, raisins and ginger).  It raised $1750 in donations from friends and neighbours. The donations were forwarded to GlobalMedic, a Canadian organization which responds to disasters with a Rescue Unit, Water Purification Unit and Emergency Medical Unit, so badly needed in the typhoon-devastated areas. Since GlobalMedic is a qualified charity organization, the Canadian government will match the donation, dollar for dollar, thus bringing the total donation of AdoboAidTO to $3,500!

Maraming salamat!

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Not one you’d want to cook, especially if you lived in a condo. But in this case, nostalgia for tastes of home trumped neighbourly considerations. Hence these home-dried, home-cooked fish.

Smelts, when butterflied, resembled danggit enough, so…

I split, deboned and marinated them overnight in some salt, vinegar, water, salt and pepper, then laid them on a rack for a slow, 2-hour heat-drying in the oven set at the lowest possible temperature (170ºF in mine). I waited till the fish were dry, but made sure they weren’t browned or cooked.

Finally, when both fish and I were ready, I popped them in the oven toaster, at Bake. Ah, the smell of it just took me home!

Suggested serving: with fluffy scrambled eggs (cooked on very low heat, with lots of butter), fried rice (with lots of garlic) and a vinegar-chili dip.

Tried and Tasted

Clockwise, from top right: Callos, Prawns in Aligue Sauce, Achara, Sisig, Chicken Empanada, Ukoy.

Laing

The one dish my mom cooked that never failed to impress guests was laing. Her laing came in small packages – pork, sometimes fish, wrapped in taro leaves, tied securely with a string, then stewed in coconut milk spiced with bird chillies. At the table, she would serve the guests a package each, first making sure there was enough sauce on every plate and then, with a bit of flourish, snipping off the string, thus unravelling the meaty, spicy, coconut-y treat.

Laing is a popular Filipino dish using taro or gabi leaves. These leaves are huge – almost a meter long and just as wide at the base – with a soft, furry surface coating that I found fascinating as a kid. In fact, I thought the gabi leaf looked and functioned pretty much like an umbrella. “Look, ‘ma, it’s water-repellent!” I remember the horror on my mom’s face when she saw me with a gabi leaf over my head. Before I knew it, I was itching all over – thanks to the needle-like crystals of calcium oxalate that occur throughout the plant. Thankfully none of those toxic particles got into my eyes, but the experience was such a trauma that I swore off laing for good.

It wasn’t until my 20’s when I started eating laing again and decided I actually liked it. Even then, I didn’t think I’d ever cook this dish – too many hazard warnings, too many cautionary footnotes about its possible toxicity and the calcium oxalate that could cause itchy mouth and throat.

Then I read a Facebook post about laing made, not with gabi leaves, but spinach.

Tanke Tankeko, an advertising creative director turned restaurateur, wrote about this version of laing that she serves in 1521, her restaurant at The Fort. Spinach! Why didn’t I think of that? I’ve always loved spinach. As a kid I thought all green leafy vegetables were nasty – but not spinach. Spinach was cool. After all, wasn’t it spinach that Popeye ate to gain strength and rescue Olive Oyl, the damsel always in distress? It was spinach that got him all beefed up to beat bullies like Bruto. It was superhero stuff, for sure, as even I stopped being anemic and no longer fainted in churches or crowded spaces.

I decided to write Tanke and ask for the recipe.

“I’m really quite a miser when it comes to sharing my recipes,” she wrote back. “I am completely comfortable, though, to let you into my spinach laing secret. Foodie instinct, I suppose.” And with a smiley, she shared the recipe with me, including tips on ingredients, proportions and serving.

So that’s how laing found its way back to my table, and how I finally found the courage to cook it, even experiment, substituting spinach with kale, for example, as in the laing pictured above.

Now, if only I had my mom’s sense of theater and presentation…

This blog scored 2,700 views in 2012.

Nothing to crow about, of course, considering I’d get that much traffic on my old blog in a week! But that’s what happens when a blog sputters to a stand still. It must have been frustrating for readers to return to a blog that hasn’t been updated for months, with stories and recipes that have gone – in much the same way as an old pizza in the ref – stale.

Click here to see the complete WordPress report.

It’s not that myopenkitchen has closed. In fact, there’s been a lot of cooking during those months. It’s the writing that got stuck – with this writer unable to heave an ounce of effort to yank herself out of what seemed like a writer’s block. Or blocks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Not to mention the endless links that led everywhere and nowhere, but this blog.

Hence the resolve for 2013: cook, celebrate and move that cursor along!

Photo from terra-organics.com

In my mom’s household, the eggplant was the poor man’s vegetable that got royal treatment.

She cooked it like bistek, marinated in soy sauce and kalamansi, then fried and served for breakfast. Sometimes she prepared it as torta or omelet. If time and budget allowed, or if it was a weekend, that torta would include ground meat, raisins, the works.

As in my mom’s household, the eggplant has taken its esteemed place in our tiny but busy kitchen. I’ve recreated my mom’s eggplant bistek and, to Poch’s befuddlement, served it for breakfast. I guess eggplants –  that is, eggplants cooked like flank steak – don’t figure as breakfast fare in many households. But hey, nothing like a solid umami hit in the morning! Besides, Rama – she with the Pinoy palate – loves it.

Our tortang talong, on the other hand, started out as the generously stuffed kind, until we realized the vegetarian ground meat we were using had more chemical additives than real pork or beef. It was also a pain flipping a whale of an eggplant in the pan.

So the plain egg-and-eggplant omelet has since become a dinner staple. The eggplant is first charred in the oven toaster, skinned, and fried before the beaten egg is added. A little salt, a little pepper. We’re not missing the weight and flavour of meat at all.

(Except last night, while the resident vegetarian was away, I found some leftover crab meat in the fridge and promptly stuffed it in my eggplant. Shown above, Rama’s half of the crab-stuffed eggplant omelet. Yum, she said.)

“Three words. In three words I can explain why our food will never see world domination.”

Lee, the only non-Filipino in my audience, pretended to listen; she and my mom were bonding over a bowl of spaghetti. She watched as my mom topped the noodles with an oily, lumpy, yellow-orange paste spooned straight out of a jar.

Taba ng talangka.” I said. “There, three words. Literal translation, the fat of the crab. But that, actually, is not fat; it’s the roe. See, even we are confused!”

“It’s not crab roe, “ my mom said, adding to Lee’s confusion. “What I mean is, this is not from crabs. No, not those blue crabs, or whatever you call those crabs your Uncle Dado brings from Scotia. It’s from small crabs, but not baby crabs.”

She held up an imaginary crustacean between her thumb and index finger.

Talangka are small, no more than 2 inches, and we catch them from rivers in the Philippines. You don’t see small shore crabs here. So this,” her hand shook a bit, “this is special.”

Taba ng talangka. I enunciated each word, demonstrating to Lee how the tongue should freeze mid-mouth on the ‘ba and the ‘ka. Accent on those last syllables, I coaxed, but it was the ng she struggled with. “It’s nang, dearie, as in bang! bang! – except you let the sound bounce a bit on the roof of your mouth, like an echo.”

Bang! Bang-nnnggg! You’re dead!

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My mom stood frozen before the customs officer at Pearson, as if he had pulled out a gun and pointed it at her heart. Her heart happened to be right there in her maroon suitcase, sealed in a small jar, swathed in printed scarves and an old blouse.

“So what’s in there?”

“Sir, I did NOT bring food!”

The customs officer opened her suitcase. “I didn’t ask if you brought food…” She felt the cold nozzle on her chest as he dug through the clothes. The steel instrument peeled off layers – skin, muscles, wall – until it struck glass.

He fished out the small jar and examined its contents. In it was some curd, a ghastly pale orange in color, and it was swimming in oil. His head jerked back, “What is this?”

Eto na naman kami,” my mom muttered under her breath.

Here we go again. When did that begin to be the sound of despair?

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Here we go again! Nena felt a rush of excitement as soon as the skies cleared and the buzz of Japanese planes receded to the west. Her brother, Dado, leapt ahead of her; six other kids followed. “Race to the river!” Nena felt the back of her knees; it was moist with sweat from crouching too long under a pile of felled coconut trees.

While the boys splashed noisily in the water, Nena walked to a shallow edge and resumed the day’s hunt. With a piece of coconut shell, she scoured the riverbank for the little creatures that bore in the sand. Of course, she needed at least a hundred of these tiny crabs, a basketful, as Dado alone could eat half of that in one sitting. Her brother tended to be wasteful, scraping their flesh with his teeth and discarding the rest – the crunchy shells and legs which she loved and all of which she ate. “The idiot doesn’t know what he’s missing,” she thought.

The past months had been a good season for these small shore crabs. The warplanes had scared off the birds that usually swooped down and flew away with the tiny crustaceans in their beaks. There were fewer chickens and lizards, too, to feed on the hatchlings that swam near the riverbanks, creeks and irrigation canals. Their small town had been spared from Japanese presence and American bombs, but food became more scarce as the conflict neared its end. Neighbors had stopped raising fowl and hog, lest they attract stragglers from the Japanese Imperial Army or members of the People’s Army against the Japanese, the hukbalahaps, who, at times, trooped down the hills of Arayat for a hot meal. Even the trees seemed shellshocked and had stopped bearing fruit; the rice fields were the most vulnerable and simply wasted away. Down at the river, though, there was still some mudfish to be caught, and the talangka proved to be a hardy species. Every summer, despite the feeding frenzy of creatures from land, water and sky, no matter how the war raged in the distance, the crablets continued to reproduce by the thousands.

That afternoon Nena must have gathered a few hundred tiny crabs. She was so pleased with herself that she didn’t mind if the crabs kept crawling and snapping their way out of the baskets. But Dado wasn’t very happy that he had to pick up after her and toss back the escapees one by one, all the way home. Nena couldn’t help but gloat.

More than the crunch of its shell, it was the roe that Nena loved – and this harvest was big enough for steamed crablets AND taba ng talangka. Her mom could plate just enough for herself and her two children, the rest set aside for later that evening, to be dealt with when the dishes were washed and dried, the windows shut and peace descended on the dark outside.

“Yesss! Here we go…!” Nena made sure she rubbed her thumbs vigorously as she washed her hands. She glared at Dado who refused to do as she did. The thumbs had to be their cleanest, she explained, as they would do most of the work, pushing the roe from the crabs’ small, almost hollow shells, making sure not a bit dropped off the bowl and fell into the cracks of the dining table.

Nena watched her mom toss the tiny nuggets into the heat. Smoke rose from the pan like a cloud, a cumulus redolent with annato oil, garlic and vinegar. It had been sometime since the smell of food – the ones that reminded her of fiestas and rice harvests – enveloped their home.

The aroma wafted past the pile of rotting trunks, crossed the now still river; it grazed the rice paddies, then hopscotched over the hills. The dark mountain seemed to suck it all in. Old people often spoke of a crater at the top of Mount Arayat, a mouth they said led to the belly of a sleeping volcano. Nena wasn’t sure if it was the rumble of its hunger she felt, but the ground where their shack stood trembled.

Craaaaack! A bamboo slat broke under the heavy boots of intruders.

Huks! Nena pressed against the table, immediately sensing her mom’s fear: there was hardly any rice left, nothing else for these men to seize but…!

The men cast such large shadows on the wall that Nena was surprised to find that they were no taller than her mom. They were, in fact, as gaunt and bent from the shoulders as the old men she knew. They had come down from Arayat, some of them soldiers long abandoned by their American allies – maybe survivors of the Death March – who now foraged small towns for food and some kindness.

One of the men had his rifle slung casually over his shoulder, while the rest kept their fingers on the trigger. His face bore a long, ugly scar from a Japanese bayonet, but it was his small, deliberate movements that scared Nena. She could tell he was the kumander.

Leaders usually bore the worst battle scars, or more often, the most bitter personal tragedies; theirs is a sorrow so deep and black, it paced like an animal in the hollow of their chests. When she was six, Nena witnessed how the kumander let loose his monster – with such small gesture as tipping a hat – to seal the fate of eleven men, all alleged collaborators.

Every time a man killed, a bit of him died. If that was true, then Kumander Simon was long dead. People talked in whispers about a wife and a daughter, dragged by hooded men along with other wives and children of USAFFE soldiers and guerillas. They said at the precise moment his family was lined up against a wall and shot, his rage could be heard all the way from Bataan. It was then that he made his escape, breaking away from the March that snaked down its craggy hills. Amid the silent cheers of the wounded and weakened, he struck a Japanese guard, using the same bayonet that tore his flesh. He must have struck the enemy one hundred, two hundred times, before he disappeared into the forest. Now and then he would emerge from the dark, cold and without a soul.

Kumander Simon took off his buri hat and bowed to her mom. “Did your daughter help you make that?”

Nena eased away from the table. Her mom’s and her own 9-year old frame parted like curtains. And there it was, still warm and glistening with oil, the jar her mom ever so carefully filled with the day’s harvest, the gold her small hands mined for hours, the fat – no, the roe! – of small shore crabs.

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“And to the bin they all went. You’d think my mom would stop after her third attempt…”

“So what got it through Customs this time, your, ah, taba ng talangka?” Lee asked, surprised at how easily the foreign words came out.

“Luck.” My mom shrugged; the pasta was now thoroughly coated in roe.

“Of course it helped that this time the jar was vacuum-sealed in a friend’s factory.” I said.

“Do you think they care if it’s vacuum-sealed or not?” my mom shot back. “They toss out these things, things they don’t know or understand. But sometimes you get lucky… they look at you – and they look you in the eye, which isn’t often – and then they suddenly seem to understand. They see an old lady and they see this jar with weird stuff in it. So God knows what they really see that makes them… kinder. Maybe it’s because we are all immigrants here in Canada. They see the same thing in their mothers’ eyes.”

She reached across the table for a thick wedge of lime. “It’s best to use kalamansi, the small round Philippine lime, but in a pinch, any lime will do… a little squeeze to take away the fishiness of the roe. Here,” laying the plate in front of Lee, “Try it. You’ve never had pasta sauce like this.”

Lee twirled the spaghetti around her fork, making sure the noodles picked up every morsel of roe from her plate. “Won’t you have any?” When she looked up, my mom had already walked to the stove.

“I prefer it simple, with just a drizzle of lime, on hot steaming rice.”

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“Did your daughter help you make this?”

Kumander Simon asked again as he reached for the crab roe. Meanwhile, his men had found the can of rice among the firewood. They also took the salt her mom kept in a small jar. Now they waited for their kumander to hand over the night’s precious loot.

Nena couldn’t help it; she let out a soft cry.

Kumander Simon turned and looked her in the eye. “Did you help your inang make this?”

Nena threw herself behind her mom. His cold stare had softened but still it terrified her, even more so when it settled on her tiny hands, the thumbs stained with roe.

“It’s hard work gathering these little creatures. You can spend the whole day by the river, not noticing the time pass. Before you know it, the war is over and you’re spared of its horrors.”

Kumander Simon placed the jar back on the table. “I certainly wouldn’t mind a little of that crab roe, on a bowl of steaming rice. But not tonight,” he signalled his men to leave. “Perhaps in better times… if I’m lucky.”

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My mom knew I didn’t care much for this stuff. To anyone born in North America, it’s just too exotic, too rich and its smell rather off-putting. But it wasn’t everyday that taba ng talangka would find its way to our home, less so survive the rough handlings at airports, the scrutiny at Customs, and worse, my indifference at the table. So I thought I’d indulge her.

I helped myself to a bowl. When I turned around, spoon in mouth, I caught a glint in my mom’s eyes.

Suddenly, I felt the sharp citric flavor of kalamansi kick in, only to dissolve and open up to what could be the taste of the ocean. The brine softened as it lingered on the palate. Then I noted a taste of moss – or was it fiddlehead – the kind one picked along riverbeds. That too receded, as if rocks and pebbles filtered out the ocean and the river, filtered out Time even, hushing everything – wars, childbirths, journeys, deaths, – down to a narrow and quiet stream.

The reflection of a child’s face blurred as her small hands dipped into the water. From its bed a thousand small shore crabs emerged, each heavy with roe.

Nena’s eyes lit up, like she had struck gold.

*** END ***

This story was inspired by a friend’s anecdote at a party, about her mom’s numerous attempts to sneak taba ng talangka past the Canadian customs. It was hilarious, and I knew every Filipino in the room could relate with her story, as I did. It evoked images of my childhood, of my mom, of us kids gathered around the table, picking the roe from talangka. Yes, we made our own talangka delicacies – more often its buro version. It was a seasonal treat we enjoyed in many ways: as a side dish, as sauce and, best of all, as rice topping drizzled with kalamansi.

Thanks, Gene, for this pasalubong.