One thing I will always miss about the Philippines are the mangoes. The saccharine flesh is so golden, it’s as if you are eating sunshine itself. As your spoon glides gently through, you can’t help spill its juice onto your fingers and clothes, so succulent are they. Ah, matamis! After all the greasy, fried food I’d been eating at breakfast the past week, I was ecstatic to find them at the breakfast table; Guimaras mangoes, no less, which Jen assured me were the best. Eating them, I felt I was able to detox from the hotdogs, toccino, omelette, and fried rice that had preceded it.
I have a love-hate relationship with Filipino food. Half of it I love, half of it I hate, and most of the dishes I love, I love in moderation. When in England, I sometimes pine for it. My mother didn’t learn how to cook properly until after she emigrated to England, so Filipino food was a rarity growing up, but for a few simple dishes, and was mostly experienced at Pinoy gatherings or parties. One Tita in particular served such lavish spreads I didn’t know where to begin. Much of it looked strange to me: sauces of every colour, thin noodles, thick noodles, sweet meat, rice in deserts. It baffled me, but liked most of what I tried. That being said, many Filipino dishes are awfully greasy, and after months of healthy eating before the trip I could almost hear my stomach crying out after being bombarded with fried food.
Jen had also cleaned up her diet, and her efforts in the gym had started to show real results. This all went out the window now she was back home, and she despaired at the weight she was gaining, but couldn’t resist her native favourites.
“Fuck it, I’m on holiday,” she’d decided.
Most of the day was spent running errands, so all in all, it was uneventful.
For lunch, we stopped in a local restaurant. Jen ordered sisig, a sizzling meat dish, usually made from pork, and dinuguan, a stew of offal and blood, like a liquid black pudding. I ordered a dish labelled ‘mixed vegetables’ to go with my rice, but found that it also had meat in – vegetarian options are almost non-existent in many restaurants in the Philippines, and when they are available they tend to be sub-par and over-priced.
We had head into the city so Jen could change money, and so her brother and sister-in-law could go grocery shopping. We trawled around the supermarket, Jen’s tubby nephew sat in the kid-seat of the shopping cart, pushed by his parents. In the snack aisle, he grabbed a tub of chocolate with dipping sticks and wouldn’t let go, his crying equal parts annoying and cute. His parents eventually succumbed, and allowed him to open it, paying for an empty carton at the check out, at which point the babies chubby cheeks and fingers were smeared in chocolate.
Back at the house, Jen and I were sent on an errand to pick up some isaw (barbecued chicken intestine), a popular street food, from a vendor in the neighbourhood. I wouldn’t be partaking, but was happy to go on an evening walk. It was golden hour; the village tranquil, but for the odd dog barking from behind its metal gate. One, possibly a stray, stood stock still in the street, eyed us suspiciously as we passed. We gave it a wide berth.
Few people were around. A couple of Kuyas wheeled a pedicab across a wooden bridge. The last remnants of a bonfire weakly wheezed smoke to the cloudless sky, serenaded quietly by the shrill cries of small insects. I hadn’t seen a cloud in days. I wondered if they still existed.
The lights of the local fitness centre shone through square windows; heads bobbed in and out of sight as people pounded along on the treadmills. I hoped the place had AC, for their sake.
It felt like a summer evening back home: golden, green, and peaceful.
We found the food stall. A husband and wife stood under the low-hanging cloth roof, the latter braising the meat while the former fanned the flames of the grill. Jen ordered her favourites.
As we walked back, the sauce and grease of the isaw seeped through the paper bag.
In the evening, we sat in front of the television, attempting to keep cool on another muggy summer night (maiinit!). An episode of Kapuso mo, Jessica Soho happened to focus on Iloilo, showcasing popular tourist spots (mainly churches), and some less frequented cafes and restaurants, including the birthplace of La Paz Batchoy, a noodle dish I had never tried before. It gave Jen and I ideas for when we were once again free to adventure on our own. But that was still a few days away…