MY idea of the Filipino breakfast is someone else’s. I’ve lost track of the times I lost track of my thoughts because the aroma of someone’s breakfast wafted by.
Recently, when I took out my purse for the second collection, the husband viewed me with some concern. Are you alright? he asked. Did the priest’s homily move aside the boulder of your objections about second collections?
I started to hiss—my issue is with the church’s lack of accounting, not the frequency of its mass collections per se—when there it was again, the ambrosial whiff of salted dried fish turning brown and crunchy in a pan of sputtering artery-clogging, stone-forming oil. What was the point I wanted to make? Ahh, the Filipino breakfast.
Even if I were to be strapped immobile and my eyes taped wide open ala “A Clockwork Orange” before a looped recording of my gastroenterologist, holding up a plate of Filipino breakfast with one gloved hand and a scalpel with the other, while reciting, “fried or sliced?,” I cannot repress what comes instinctively after the first whiff of someone’s Filipino breakfast: that tango of salt and oil automatically clicking a six-burner stove under the old belly, churning up the gastric juices, inflaming memories of golden feasts at the breakfast table of childhood, also known as the days of paradise before school started and brought all that nonsense about eating a balanced meal of go, grow and glow foods.
Let me be clear, though, that by “Filipino breakfast,” I do not refer to the pale facsimile hotels offer as an alternative to continental or American breakfast. These hotel versions do involve an orgy of frying but their choices—“tocino” with eggs, “daing” with eggs, “longganiza” with eggs, corned beef with eggs—do not move me.
To be sure the upscale Filipino breakfast’s combination of salt, oil and preservatives can still kill a horse or comfort a Pinoy. But the Filipino breakfast my heart (and the rest of my insides) craves for has to be the home-cooked one that attempts to tiptoe past my nostrils (and fails magnificently, of course).
This is the Filipino breakfast cooked by construction workers at their worksite, the salted fish in their pods of scales rolled around on glowing embers under the pot of rice, the clinging ash blown off but leaving a tinge of acridness, because, notwithstanding the cancer scare, the Filipino male will never be caught packing a frying pan and buying a tube of edible oil when he leaves home. This is the Filipino breakfast cooked for breakfast, lunch, dinner, a.m. and p.m. merienda or at any time the person wearing pajamas all day at home wants to pair stale rice with something filling. This is the Filipino breakfast that is never announced to the neighborhood (ever heard the folks next door holler, “let’s fry ‘buwad’ for dinner, dear”?) but everyone within sniffing distance is instantly alerted about anyhow.
So it is not a minor misfortune that where the husband and I live, no one has heard of a Filipino breakfast. This can happen only if: a) one has lived overseas for too long, the mere idea of frying “buwad” inside one’s dwelling may trip off sensitive pollution monitors; or b) one cannot cook. I belong to the latter. I have mightily strained my nostrils during my walks around the neighborhood, but I might as well be in Middle Earth where a Pinoy has yet to set foot on.
So imagine the scene when the husband and I walk in a deserted roadside diner for a late, late dinner. I order the P60-meal only because someone has written on the whiteboard “daing (new look)”. I think for P60, I will go for even a Zen version of “breakfast-all-day” just to quell the brewing rebellion in my gut.
When the Bicol lad served our meals, I smelled before I saw my Filipino breakfast: three butterfly slivers of crispy eat-from-head-to-tail New Look, the Bicolano cousin of the Cebuano “danggit”. It came with a runny-yolk sunny sideup, the Tagalog requisite of sliced ripe tomato, the all-Filipino mound of garlic rice, and Bicolano scimitars of red chillies in a saucer of vinegar that was just calling out to the New Look.
Before dinner came, I was planning yearend medical checks. But like I said, the Filipino breakfast has a way of derailing thoughts. What doctor?
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s December 14, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”