When I was growing up, how I loved spending time with my lola in the kitchen. It was such a convenient place for us to just talk, laugh, and be together. Sometimes, she would scold me for being naughty.
My loving grandmother, Lydia Kelly Gomez
Every time my lola would cook our meals (she would cook enough for lunch, and the leftover would be reheated for dinner), I would always ask her questions about how she prepared the food we ate—from simple local dishes like tinolang manok, pinakbet, adobong pusit, sinigang na baboy, to the more sophisticated paella, cocido, bacalao, even curing hams. I was so interested to find out how she cooked them. I was already very curious as a child, and you could say my favorite question was “why?” I always wanted to know about how things were done.
I would join her in the wet market during Saturdays. We would go to Cartimar in Pasay. And as a very inquisitive child, I listened carefully to how she would select her meat cuts from our suking matadero. From the liempo to the kasim down to the pata ng baboy, she would carefully inspect them for freshness, color, and smell. Of course, after doing all that comes the tawaran portion to get the best deal for the day.
Going to the wet section did not bother me, even carrying the big woven basket and/or bags while choosing items in the market was not a problem for a little boy like me. It would always amaze me the way some tinderas often put calamansi on the fish pile, and have red reflectors on the lights, so that the fish would appear bagong huli at sariwa.
But what amazed me more was how my lola could never be fooled. She would smell the gills, check the red, foggy, frosted eyes, that were sure signs that the fish was no longer fresh. She would touch the body if it’s soft or “lamog na,” a sign that it has been kept frozen over a period of days already. Parang siyang FBI pag namimili! Again, at the end of all the scrutiny comes the tawaran portion.
All these were fun and worthwhile experiences, and I realized several years later that they would influence me.
Whenever I have free time, I want to go to the grocery.
I was not really aware about how much I apparently like doing it, until Lucy noticed early in our marriage that for every small thing we lack in the kitchen, I would offer to go to the grocery and get it myself. She would prepare a list and if she forgets anything, I would gladly go back the following day to get it for us. The thing is, I would usually always end up coming home with just as much stuff as I did the previous visit. Sometimes, I would think I confuse and amuse her because she’d just laugh and smile at me and whatever I brought home.
Whenever I travel with Juliana and Lucy abroad, our first stop is usually the grocery. Maybe I like it because it is a quiet place to shop with thousands of selections—from canned goods to fresh produce, chips, candies and chocolates. The choices are fun and overwhelming. We buy all sorts of food and munchies that we stock up in the fridge of our hotel room.
I do the grocery here in Manila as often as I can. I’ve been to Unimart in Greenhills a couple of times, but I find it so overcrowded nowadays, and I noticed that there are too many sales reps in every aisle. Not that it is a bad thing, but sometimes, it just seems overstaffed. The good news is, it is always well-stocked and the choices are wide. It is a well-engineered building designed by the dad of my good friend, Jay Heredia.
Rustan’s supermarket is also a nice place to do the grocery. But the place I truly enjoy going to is S&R. They have a wide variety of goods, it is neat and clean, the space in between aisles is wide. You can buy the items in bulk, and they always have food samplings along the aisles, especially on weekends. The counterpart of this grocery chain in the USA is Costco.
I buy the fresh meats and have them cut the way I want them to from S&R. The fish section is not so big but the choices are equally good and fresh. If you are looking for imported meats, they also have Australian and New Zealand choice cuts. They also have a good selection of processed meats and dairy products.
More than anything else, I really enjoy going to the grocery because it is there where I can unwind, relax, and have a quiet time. I even go to the grocery alone just to have some peace and quiet.
I enjoy preparing food for friends and family. I hate it when people can’t put extra effort to make the food appealing by styling it with a little ‘arte.’ As a matter of fact, I would always remind our maids at home to present the food well, make it enticing to the people who are about to enjoy the food they prepared. At least, ‘kung hindi man malasa ang pagkain, maganda naman siyang tingnan,’ I always say to them.
When I was young, my grandmother was not very expressive when it comes to saying ‘I love you’ to me. But I always knew it for a fact because I felt it. On hindsight, I realized that she would express her feelings and love towards me and other members of our family thru her cooking. There was a lot of love in every recipe, no matter how simple the dish was. Maybe that’s why her cooking was always so good.
Now that I’m all grown up, I do the same. I share and show my love to my friends and family through cooking. But unlike my grandmother, I make sure I verbally express my love to Lucy and Juliana.
Our house is open all the time to friends and loved ones, and whenever they drop by the house and they haven’t eaten or they just feel like eating, again, I am never too tired to make a quick fix in a couple of minutes. I make use of whatever is in our pantry, whatever leftover we have from the day’s earlier meals in our refrigerator. Come to think of it, maybe that is why I like going to the grocery and buying in bulk, I want to be a boy scout in the kitchen, laging handa!
The last time I went to S&R, I brought along my friend Jay Wambangco, who studied culinary arts but doesn’t practice it anymore. Sayang, because he can really cook well. I decided to make paella that night because Lucy’s dad was craving for it. The only thing missing in S&R for my paella was saffron, it was a good thing I had enough at home.
There, I bought squid, fish, clams, big shrimps, chicken, Spanish rice, green peas, paprika powder, and some bottles of white wine. I had some chicken stock and used it to boil the heads of the shrimps—this would add more flavor in the rice. I cooked the paella in our griller in very low heat. Cooking time took me about an hour.
That night, I served my paella with a touch of love to my family and some friends who happened to drop by. That night, they said the food was good. Well, like my lola, the secret: I cooked it with a lot of love.
P.S. Remember I mentioned a few articles back that Juliana made mango ice candy? I found some pictures in Lucy’s computer that night. I’ll be sharing some of them with you soon. Like me, she enjoys preparing food in the kitchen.