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Laya

I just had inihaw na liempo (grilled pork steak) for lunch. There's something about its aroma and salty-sourness that I never get tired of. At home, we only had it as a rare treat. My mom calls it "sinugba" and it is not served as is-- she always chops it up into bite-sized pieces and adds cucumber slices, onions, salt and vinegar or calamansi juice.

Perhaps I like it so much because it reminds me of something we used to have when I was a child but which my mom quit making in recent years. It is the simplest thing... beef steak sliced thin and pounded with the knife handle till tender, then marinated overnight in salt, soy sauce and calamansi juice. The aroma of it frying was great to wake up to in the morning. She would fry it early in the morning for breakfast and for our lunch boxes-- one slice went a long, long way. It was crispy around the edges and flavorfully chewy in the middle, and went well with hot rice. Placed on top of the rice in my lunch box, its juices would soak into the rice and flavor it. Even now that I am acquainted with many of the world's dishes, nothing still equals the memory of how it tasted.

Another dish from my childhood that still remains a favorite with me is La Paz batchoy. Whenever I go home, at least once every two years, I make an express visit to the town where I grew up, just to eat it, because try as I might to look for really good batchoy here in Manila, nothing ever comes close to the batchoy at home.

Really good La Paz batchoy as they make it at home is not sweet at all, nor too salty. You can season it with soy sauce and black pepper to taste. It has firm yellow noodles and bite-sliced pieces of meat or innards, and is garnished with chopped leeks (which I used to fish out of the broth and leave around the rim of the bowl like a decoration). Some put in crushed chicharon bits. You can opt for regular or special, the latter meaning that a raw egg is broken into the bowl and left to poach slowly in the broth.

In the carenderias at home, you will always be offered bread to go with your bowl of batchoy at a minimal extra charge. When I was a child, it was pan de sal or pan de leche. Nowadays, some of the carenderias also offer puto, for the sweetness of the rice cake complements the broth. I still stick to pan de sal though, because I always tear off chunks of bread and dip it in the soup.

The carenderias at home always have two staples on the menu: batchoy and halo-halo (shaved ice with assorted sweet preserves). A weird habit of mine as a child was ordering both. I would alternate them, half a bowl of saltiness, half a bowl of sweetness. Yes, I didn't get sick doing that either. Batchoy and halo-halo were always great after church, or after shopping on market day.

Another staple on the carenderia menu is balbakwa, or what my family calls "nilaga." It's meat and young jackfruit with various spices including hot green peppers, and it simmers all day in a huge pot at the side of the counter. You can always ask for a complementary bowl of its broth, to go with your order. When you do order the dish, though, the person at the counter will cut up the meat and jackfruit slices into manageable chunks for you, and by then the meat will have simmered for so long that it falls apart at the touch of your fork.

Balbakwa was what we always ordered whenever my school mates and I participated in contests or events, because it is the fastest to be served and the cheapest. Now that I can't get it, though, I find I sorely miss it.

Sometimes I just want to go home to eat all the food I miss. LOL.

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