SO I found myself one day with a Chinese-speaking clique partaking what could be the best pata tim I’ve ever tasted. The chef, a quiet fellow, sat across me, exuding a kind of mysticism present only among mortals who have the world’s best-kept secrets in their custody. He’s over seventy years old, said a seatmate, but he has to leave us to whip up some feast for us.

Pata tim is a kind of enlightenment after three meticulous steps, each of them having its crucial seconds when one can seize the right spirit and flavor. Cooking is no different from meditation, and spices and herbs are your keys to the universe. Done right, a dish could be the oozing Milky Way on a platter. When you eat, you’d feel the Emersonian “I become part and parcel of the universe” thing.

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So this pata tim prepared for us by this septuagenarian mystique was simply cosmic, and to take it in bearable morsels, you have to tuck it in a pao, a bun that can pass for an angel’s pillow. A bit later, I realized this was the same chef whose great cooking I haved tasted in a famous restaurant when I was a kid. He had retired, possibly passing on bits of his secrets to younger cooks.

The circle spent the next hour talking about their favorite presidential candidate. “He’s a regular guy,” one said. He told me about that one Friday when he was with him on a very late night. “He told me he missed his bed and his sando that had holes on them, that was all he talked about, very down-to-earth,” he said. “You see, that’s the guy who doesn’t need so much, simple, and that’s how I know that this man is not the kind who’d steal our taxes.”

He was talking about Noynoy Aquino. This was the best quote he got from Noynoy, “Pasindi nga.” He was then holding his cigarette. Another in the group, one of the more active leaders in Cebu’s SME organizations, recalled Noynoy arriving at a forum venue and saw a glass of soft drink on the table before him. “Sa ‘kin ba ‘to?” He said yes, and Noynoy drank the whole glass and said, “Nauhaw ako.”

I took the knife and dug into the tender pork, the cut bringing forth a gushing of rich brown sauce that tasted like the history of China. With that in the pocket of a pao, I felt the succulence of a country without Arroyo. The business sector, he said, simply wants fair game. “That’s why we’re for him,” he said. “And these chambers are actually a minority.”

You do not, of course, measure a candidate’s worth by how he misses his sandos with holes or how he gulps a glassful of Coke. Worth, however, boils down to a candidate’s humanity. While all the other candidates are busy trying to play God and Superman, here’s one who kept his humanity with unfazed modesty.

I want to vote for somebody I can talk to, who doesn’t give me bull. I remember that one radio program where Leo Lastimosa, after an interview with Noynoy, said his reservations for him was reduced to 10 percent. He said that, off-the-air, the man was brutally frank, which is to say he’s not one who’d say one thing and mean something else.

But I was there to listen to this clique as we feasted on pata tim. There were attempts, but no cook in town has quite captured the taste of this hefty feast. This is a classic unto itself, stuffed with the spirit of meticulous tradition and history's greats. Oh, such could be the richness of people power.