Kari sa karinderia-A A +A
By Betsy Gazo
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
THE mere mention of "French cuisine" often brings to mind a certain snootiness and elegance.
There are tables that need reservations, the intricacies of preparing the dishes and the wines to match them. Even the warm invitation to "bon appétit!" evokes the selection of cheeses and heavenly desserts to cap the meal.
Yet, despite that high-brow image of Old World cookery, connoisseurs in France would refer to other connoisseurs. A British francophile who fancied himself one of the connoisseurs got a precious tip from locals after he relocated, settled in and tried to do as the French did in Provence. For good food, they advised him, follow the truck drivers when they go for lunch, which he did to the delight and endless satisfaction of his palate and stomach. Secret places no tourist had ever set foot often yielded delicious surprises for British author Peter Mayle.
As in any country, the real stuff is found somewhere beyond sanitized restaurants with ample parking spaces. To explore folk cuisine is to venture where the hoi polloi goes to appease the gods of hunger. This is not to say that the middle and the upper classes do not get their fill of "authentic" meals in their kind of eatery. What I'm trying to say is that there is a certain thrill to shedding off pretensions and flourishes and just going ahead and fulfilling that most basic need for food.
The carinderias of the Philippines offer such a thrill. Venturing to where the masa eat can be a refreshing change from air-conditioned enclaves with place settings.
On my latest trip to Silay City for my weekly visit to the Balay Negrense, a vendor of farm implements and basketry at the public market suggested that I lunch at that carinderia just next door to a corner coffeehouse.
In Silay, chophouses to go to are El Ideal, 1925, and Sir but this time, I felt like eating a cheap and good repast. Down the alleys I marched until I found what the tindera meant. JS Refreshment was the place. Nondescript. The farthest in a row of carinderias with the similar glassed estantes displaying cooked viands mostly wallowing in sauce to extend the dishes.
If Madame Market Vendor hadn't specified JS, I would have gone to any of its comrades in the industry for they not only looked similar but offered almost identical fare.
And I bet almost identical prices. My two meals there so far had cost me P57 - two viands and rice. Service water is free, of course, plus complimentary caldo still with little bits of meat settling in the bottom of the smallish bowl it is served in. P57! At these prices it made me happy to know that the hoi polloi is eating well. Sometimes, the hoi polloi spends less as I observed a father and son sharing one viand and flavoring their rice with caldo.
The caldo is hot, flavorful and soured by batwan. You can ask for seconds. The slice of pagi or manta ray (P35) I had was adobado and I scraped the flaky flesh and gelatinous parts until only the flat translucent bones were left. The salty vinegary sauce browned by achuete provided the zing for my white rice (P7). I also had laswa (P15), that stew of local vegetables with a thousand and one variations. These I ate in the presence of strangers at my table.
Tables are shared with everyone resulting to elbow-to-elbow seating. The tables, by the way, are wiped clean. The surfaces do not have the stickiness associated with carinderia tables. Your spoon and fork are presented in a clear drinking glass half-filled with hot water. There are no cobwebs hanging from the ceiling. The waitresses are alert as they expertly maneuver their way through the narrow spaces.
At JS Refreshment, people-watching took on a different meaning for me. The common tao is as fascinating to watch as any member of any class. There's the self-sacrificing father who opted to have more of the caldo so his son could have more of the single dish he had ordered. There's this tiny frail old woman who sat down to a lunch of a humongous bowl of linaga. When I left, she was still happily slurping and chewing through it.
There's this young girl who looked me up and down with disdain for I was better dressed than the other patrons. (Discrimination cuts both ways.) There are the noisy exchanges among cooks, servidoras, and owners so we customers can get fed on time and quickly. On my first lunch, the soft-spoken male owner Mr. Ngo greeted me profusely. On my second, he had toned down his greeting with a polite mien that showed acceptance of me as a regular now. Just like a visitor to a household who had just been considered part of it and no longer a guest.
Our carinderias have not been totally replaced by westernized eating places, thank goodness! Give me a bowl of laswa, a platito of takway (that slippery blend of taro runners and guinamos), a bowl of piping hot caldo, a dish of ensaladang rabanos, or guinisa nga amargoso! Give me carinderia fare anytime over the common unhealthy fried chicken-gravy-rice combo of fast food joints-"Do you want fake fries with that?" There's nothing like good ol' home cooking grown by nature, nurtured by God, and prepared the right, healthy way.
"Taste and see the goodness of the Lord."
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on March 14, 2013.