Leffler on the meal of a lifetime on the Island of Mindanao.
Nestled away on the coast of the Island of Mindanao, the friendly town
of Salay sits basking in the Filipino Sun. Salay is far from the island
hopping tourist routes, and even further from the hustling Manila. I had
found myself in Salay to visit the family of my Filipina-Australian fiancee.
It was a long way from my home in Melbourne.
||There are many things that I will remember
about this time, but at the top of the list is the unexpected lunch
of kings. Clearly our friends had been working in the little stone
kitchen in the scorching-thermometer-cracking temperatures for much
longer than we could stand on the nearby beaches and we were slowly
turning from an askance white to a crimson disgrace. Our hosts had
us seated in the dining room, an arm off the kitchen into the open
air. Our seats were made from local timber cut into long benches.
The shade was only a partial reprieve from the relentless heat.
I was sitting alongside my future-relations and seeing the uncompromised
friendliness that they had to offer. Two fans at each end of table pushed
the piping hot temperatures of the dishes on the table in a crazed cyclone
of aromas, spices and gorgeous unforgettable memories. We sat down; sweat
uncomfortably beading on our foreheads. Grace of course preceded our inevitable
dive into the plates in front of us then arms went flying. Dishes passed
from left to right, drinks scooting by in the opposing direction. The
rice by the end of the lunch had been passed the equivalent distance of
the Tour de France, and still didnt look like flailing. I can comfortably
say that it never actually sat on the table during the entire meal.
As soon as the first spoon entered our mouths, our consciousness of the
uncomforting heat was replaced almost instantly with the soothing of culinary
satisfaction. Rice of course formed the base of the meal. No microwave-quick-cook-long-grain
rice for us, straight from the boiling flame cooked pots. No one but the
Asians do this with such skill. There was always more rice coming out
of the bottomless magic pot. The fish soup complemented the
rice perfectly as we allowed it to be soaked up by the rice on our spoons
before sucking down each mouthful. The Kinilaw is probably my most favourite
Filipino dish close to my favourite sea-food dish ever. Raw fish,
marinated unforgettably in a manner irreproducible anywhere else in any
country. Such a unique flavour. The succulent pieces literally felt like
they were melting in our mouths. The dish seemed so smooth; the secret
I was told in between mouthfuls, was that the raw fishy bite was removed
by the sour taste of the local Calamansi juice. That, in conjunction with
the sheer freshness of the fish straight from the local fishing
boats. I later found out that the dish was made from a method of cooking
called kilaw, which cooks not with fire, but with vinegar
perhaps extracted from the seemingly endless supply of buko (coconuts).
The feast could not possibly be a feast without a few pots of pork adobo.
Perhaps this dish could be considered the national dish of Philippines.
Each mouthful delights the taste buds as you can hear your arteries clogging
up with sheer delight. Adobo is a style as much as a dish, a stew of
in our case Pork based on vinegar and soy marinade. Meanwhile the
word had spread around the insect world, and the flies had started to
join in with our feast. Quickly our hosts signaled one of the helper boys
to stand on the side and continuously wave the flies from our meals with
a make shift horsetail. Excellent Crispy Fried Chicken also graced the
table. Its a dangerous place for fowl to grow up, born a female,
you are doomed for the deep fryer, born a male, and you are doomed for
a Sunday afternoon at the cock-rink. Salay is definitely no Florida for
poultry expecting a peaceful retirement. Of course the condiments included
bags full of fried chips of which our hosts apparently traveled
three hours to the closest city and back to purchase especially.
The meal was topped off with a selection of the juiciest freshest tropical
fruits to fill what little space remained in our stomachs. Dripping Mangoes
and Sweet, sweet, Bananas. The pace of the meal slowed inversely proportionately
to the expansion of our bellies. The mercury was still soaring; the fans
still whirring; sweat still dripping down the well-worn routes of least
resistance. Our hosts were still in the kitchen, which was easily an extra
ten degrees warmer than the dining room their dedication for perfection
and our enjoyment was touching. Our psychological escape from the heat
for the duration of our meal was slowly creeping back but it didnt
matter, everyone was filled with satisfaction. My fiancees father,
with the catalyst of his childhood tastes and aromas, reminisced by continuing
on his goal of emptying as many plates as possible. In his jovial manner,
he asked each dish to be passed down the table so he could share them
with his friends when we each refused, as he knew we would, he
would scoop another spoonful onto his plate. Between mouthfuls he would
cheekily throw one line disclaimers Im on holidays
and We can not waste the food.
There was one more course to go, down by the beach. Out into the bright
early afternoon sun we headed. Along the road to our Titos house
by the beach. A few pesos later, one of the harvesters clambered up the
coconut tree, machete clenched in his teeth. As the ferns on the tree
rustled, the cracking of a bunch of baby coconuts slammed on to the ground
below. A few swift stabs of the coconut husks, and our tropical cocktails
were ready. The perfect way to finish off the meal; an endless supply
of coconut milk and meat of the coconut. In our travels we have come across
some unforgettable culinary delights. For me, the benevolent hospitality
and excellent preparation of such fresh food on that Saturday afternoon
in the south of the Philippines, is to this day, unrivalled.
© Chris Leffler 2001
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