The heart is highly overrated. It’s easy enough to assuage loneliness and homesickness in the age of Skype and Facetime, but the stomach isn’t as easy to please. Forget the heart, home is where the stomach is. My parents know this, which is why they welcome me with open arms and loads of fresh mangoes, cuchinta, bud-bud and puto each time I come home. Food figures heavily in our hearts.
Most days, I end up making my own home-cooked meals. Not fun when you’re used to buying it at a carinderia but a necessity when a piece of fried bangus is easily $6. A bag of malunggay leaves costs $2.50 + tax. It sucks because it’s mostly ice (they freeze the leaves in water) and I cry in the shower when I realize I’m ponying up $2.50 for a bag of leaves I used to pick off a tree in our backyard at home. But there’s only so long I can go without having Filipino food and if I have to cook it myself, I will. Needs must. Our neighbors are Filipino, and sometimes the hallway smells like chicken tinola. It’s all I can do to stop myself from knocking, bowl in hand.
They have plans to open a Jollibee in Toronto next year. It’s about time too, since the closest one is across the border in Queens. Even my friend Karen heard about it and she lives in Edmonton, which is halfway across the country. That’s how big this piece of news is. She begged me to bring her a box of peach mango pie when I visited her last year and was rather down in the mouth when I informed her Jollibee hadn’t launched yet. Yep. Life in “the abroad” isn’t all that when you’re still hard up for deep fried peach mango pies. Once Jollibee Toronto opens, that place is instantly going to be a fire hazard, stuffed to the gills with people wanting a taste of home. I bet Filipinos will line up for a Chickenjoy the way people camp out and queue for the latest iPhone. Note to self: bring blankets and a bag to pee in.
I miss my friendly neighbourhood carinderia. It isn’t just the food or the rock bottom prices, it’s the fun of going to a poky hole in the wall with mismatched utensils, chipped plates and questionable hygiene. It’s lifting the covers to peer at the food inside, watching manang ladle portions into a thin plastic pouch and taking said pouch home. There is nothing quite like going through an assortment of food still sitting in the pots they were cooked in, bottoms burnt black by continuous use. I’d made it a goal to find one such carinderia but it was pretty much me tilting at windmills because the truth is there really aren’t any over here. Not the kind I adore, anyway. Chalk it down to stringent health codes and a society that lives in fear of the great E. Coli.
My search for the perfect Filipino restaurant has been arduous at times. The worst was the one that turned out to be fusion Filipino – which to my mind is silly, because Filipino food with its Spanish, Chinese and Malay influences, is fusion. Other than presentation, it needs little to no improvement. Anyway, they served us adobo with barley instead of steamed white rice – or garlic rice, I’m not picky. Sometimes there’s only so much fiddling you can do with a tried and true staple like adobo. Even Le Hubs, who thinks rice is a side and not a staple, agreed. I am not quite sure where the barley idea came from, but we never went back. (Call me short-sighted and unadventurous, just don’t mess with my comfort food!) I’m fortunate to be in an area with a few Pinoy stores that do sell Filipino food so I can get my fix, but nothing tastes the way it does in the homeland.