Monday, September 25, 2006

Eating as protest

I BELONG to a generation admonished never to protest what was placed before me to eat.

With this upbringing, I consumed copious volumes of what would be considered as unspeakable during mealtimes with my own children.

Howls of “eeewww” always followed my pointed reminiscences about some childhood dish. Whenever what I served was underboiled or overfried, I noticed that the boys were always too willing to swallow a whine just to stop me from recalling the goat eyes I once plucked from lash-less sockets swimming in tomato paste.

They winced when I smacked my lips in remembrance of plump fish lips that never tasted a tooth brush.

But when I was modest about the number of turtles I tucked away—only because I chose to first pull out the black nails from the little boiled legs unlike my much faster cousins who would eat first and just spit out the nails later—the boys would just quietly turn the shiny bile-green shade of fragrant turtle broth.

When they were growing up, the boys never gave me a hard time during meals. As I did with my grandaunties, they learned that the dinner table can be a battle field where only the deserving prevail.

So when I read a news report that 400 farmers marched from the countryside to try to dump rotting vegetables at Mendiola Bridge, the significance stopped me with the force of 100 water cannons opened full throttle.

If the farmers wanted to show how difficult their life was under this administration, it was a strange way of expressing discontent.

Old-time recipes call for decomposition to sharpen the flavors, if not the memory, of eating. Take hawaya, for instance.

My mother recently gave me a jar filled with the mess fermenting at the bottom of a pot prepared by a grandaunt.

One night, to accompany adobo pinaputok, I opened the jar. The boys instantly went into paroxysms of coughing.

It smelled, they said later as they gulped air, like an invasion of stinking wet socks.

I argued that in repasts of old, a good host always kept a side dish of hawaya so that even if the guests reduced the lechon to a few desolate ribs, there would be no morning-after regrets or worse, death precipitated by gluttony.

It was a pity that neither looks nor smell give away the hawaya’s true intentions. Slimy-green in a milky white bog, hawaya looks like something the cat threw up after a night of too many rat cocktails.

Those inclined for the exotic would still not find this spinach look-alike in the market. As luck would have it, my grandaunt Ma In tends several bushes; it is reputably difficult to grow one from seed.

Ma In still has in her employ a helper from way back, Nanay Pilang. Nanay can consume voluminous amounts of porridge. The lanot that rises when the porridge boils is the broth poured by Nanay in a clay pot holding fresh-picked hawaya.

After it has rotted for months, hawaya is finally good enough to grace the table.

A dish like hawaya that requires patience in the maker and the recipient is to be shared with friends, not enemies.

Much as I admire the farmers for marching all that distance to reach Mendiola, I do not agree with their intention to dump rotting vegetables as a symbolic insult to Malacanang.

For this president of the Garci tapes, calibrated preemptive response (CPR) and expanded value-added tax law (EVAT) does not deserve the vegetables that people took time to plant and pick and carry all those miles.

Certainly, the table at Malacanang will never be graced by my grandaunt’s hawaya.

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