I’ve always believed that good food can elicit great memories. And there are also times when the reverse is true–memories can trigger a longing for a particular food, the ones you grew up with or spent an inordinate amount of time gorging on at a particular stage in your life. (Say, your instant noodles phase or the time all you kept eating was toast with Cheese Whiz or toast with bacon for breakfast because your roommate gets an endless supply of both. And you were college seniors doing your thesis who had no time to cook but bacon.)
Last Saturday, as a much-needed break from work and writing assignments, P dragged me out of the house to meet up with some of his college friends at our old university’s beloved eating joint. Known by different names–Manang’s, Country Club and Clubhouse–it’s a carinderia within the university, an open-air eatery right next to the basketball and tennis courts. Students and faculty form a long queue even before lunch for the inihaw na liempo (grilled pork belly) and breaded pork chop. There’s also Lechon Kawali (pan-roasted pork), bistek (local version of beef steak), fried chicken, lumpiang togue (mung bean sprouts springroll), lumpiang Shanghai (pork springroll), and number of other pork dishes (we Filipinos love our pork) and a token vegetable dish. I just order the inihaw na liempo every time.
So when I found myself in front of the counter with the same familiar spread of Manang’s, I knew what I wanted.
Getting nostalgic over anything–whether it be food, a person, or a place–carries with it the possibility of getting disappointed once it’s revisited, of not having the reality of it live up to the memory anymore (because, let’s face it, memories have a tendency to get romanticized through the years). But that wasn’t the case with Manang’s.
The liempo didn’t disappoint. It still had the same salty-sweet flavor from the marinade and the layer of fat that clung to the meat. It still had the same charcoal-grilled taste. And doused with soy sauce, vinegar and the occasional tiny piece of chili–it was a little (and cheap) piece of happiness on a plastic tray. With every bite made better by the memories connected with it.
Another Saturday morning, P and I decided to go to the Shopping Center (SC) in the UP Diliman campus and have breakfast at Rodic’s. Rodic’s was another college haunt, because I lived nearby with Cheese Whiz-and-bacon roommate. When I wasn’t eating those two important food groups and there wasn’t anything to cook in the apartment, I would walk over to SC and have my dinner in one of the eateries there.
Rodic’s became a favorite. It was known for its tapsilog, a dish I’ve written about here but the Rodic’s version of this popular cured beef breakfast staple in the Philippines (tapa) is all crumbly and the beef is a bit sweet. I know of some UP alumni who used to joke that the tapa got to be that soft and crumbly because a bunch of old ladies were chewing it at the kitchen before being served.
I know that doesn’t sound appetizing (your food feels like it’s already been chewed!) but when it’s dumped on top of fried rice with fried egg on the side, it turns into such a satisfying grease-fest. Unlike the Manang’s experience, on our last visit to Rodic’s I realized I didn’t like it so much now as I used to, it was too sweet for my taste, the beef was either too soft or too tendon-y. Maybe the regular cook was off that day. Maybe it was already like that before. Maybe it just tasted better and better in my head.
Okay, so if you’re heading to the Diliman, Quezon City area in Metro Manila, these are two eateries where you can get a cheap and decent Pinoy meal: Manang’s inside the Ateneo de Manila University campus along Katipunan Ave. in Loyola Heights, Quezon City (if you’re taking public transportation you can take a tricycle from Katipunan to go inside the campus and asked to be dropped off at the covered courts, Manang’s is just beside it); Rodic’s is located in the Shopping Center in UP Diliman in front of the church (the Ikot campus jeepneys pass by it, as do the the Philcoa- and Pantranco-bound jeepneys)