Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Chance Encounters

*Originally published in GMANews Online

As superb as foie gras may be, it doesn’t fill me up quite like my Lola Illang’s estofado and Mama Ning’s dulce de leche. It doesn’t even come close to a hearty bowl of tomato basil soup. Some foods are only for flirting, while others, you just know, are for keeps.

Childhood favorites, for sure, occupy a revered place in the food altar, laced as they are with rich memories of Sunday lunches and family get-togethers. But there’s also a kind of romance in the ones that come to our lives belatedly, often by chance, and never leave.

Take the Spanish chocolate at Almon Marina. Back in the years when I spent an inordinate amount of time at Powerbooks in SM Megamall, I would wait for my friends at the nearby Almon Marina. That particular day, instead of ordering my usual coffee, I ordered a Spanish chocolate because I was craving for something sweet. I didn’t have high expectations. This was Almon Marina after all, not some upscale cafe. By the time the steaming cup was served, a thick skin had already formed on the surface of the hot chocolate. I scooped it up and licked it off the spoon. Clearly, this wasn’t cocoa powder. It was thick, creamy, nurturing. It tasted like molten milk chocolate, thick enough to coat the tongue for a brief but blissful moment, but thin enough to be drinkable. I set the book aside completely and lingered over my drink. Every sip made me feel better.

Through the years, this steaming cup of hot cocoa kept me company through good and bad days. Sadly, I have also witnessed how its exquisiteness slowly wore away. The serving has shrunk considerably, and the consistency has become slightly watered down, although you can still tell by the taste that, sometime ago, this Spanish chocolate was great.

Dulcinea’s version, which was introduced to me by my dad about a decade ago, is my current favorite. That is not to say that my pursuit for that sublime cup has ended, although I am certain that my Lola Illang’s sukulati will remain unmatched.

Another chance encounter led me to something I didn’t previously realize I was missing. It was a Monday night and the sky was pouring. I just had a spat with someone dear so instead of heading home I looked for a safe place to lick my wounds. I chose Bizu. I would normally order a pasta but because I was on the South Beach diet I opted for an omelet. The omelet was served with a croissant. I attended to my omelet right away and decided not to bother with the croissant, primarily because of the diet, and secondly because, after years of looking, I have never found a croissant here that came close to the one I had in Paris years ago. I’d much preferred pandesal.

Halfway through the meal, the argument still playing in my head, I absent-mindedly pinched a piece of the croissant, and popped it into my mouth. Not bad, not bad at all. I broke off a bigger piece and saw the soft, fluffy, buttery interior. The exterior was not as flaky as the Parisian version, but it was equally divine in texture and flavor. I slathered butter over it and gave it another go. That chewy mouthful soothed my nerves like a good back rub. I threw my diet out of the window and finished off the croissant. I felt not a tinge of guilt nor regret. In fact, I found myself smiling. How’s that for therapy on a plate.

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