Friday, May 1, 2009

Claude Tayag's Book, "Food Tour" is a Delicious Read, Indeed

As I read the first twenty pages of Claude Tayag's book, "Food Tour," I couldn't help laughing out loud, to the extent that my daughter, who was using my desktop computer a few feet away from where I sat, would give me a look that said, "is he off his rocker?" It would be patronizing to say that the man could write. But I will say it anyway. Claude Tayag, the chef, sculptor and artist can write. And he is very engaging, funny and witty to boot. Many, many years ago, I got into a reading habit because I was very fortunate to begin with the novels of Nobel Prize-winning writer John Steinbeck. I particularly loved his novel, "Cannery Row," which was about a coterie of middle class Americans who lived and worked in the town of Monterey, near Salinas, Steinbecks' birthplace. But what made this novel more unforgettable to me was the fact that the storyline would have passed for a Filipino's own story. John Steinbeck was a down-to-earth kind of novelist and he had a simple, tongue-in-cheek writing style that readers found very engaging. If you had read his memoirs, "Travels with Charley," you would know what I am talking about.

But, let's get back to Claude Tayag and his equally gifted wife, Mary Ann. Claude calls her darleng, and, given the opportunity, as in the article that she wrote in "Food Tour," titled, "She Said, He Said," she held her own versus her husband when she defended the culinary traditions of her side of the family from the ribbing that it got from Claude in his article, "He said, She Said."

The journalistic jousting between husband and wife could be compared to a poetic duel, an ancient Balagtasan tiff, if you will, in which the protagonists brought each other down with words in stead of swords and pistols.

The other thing that enamored me with Claude Tayag's book is that it opened up in me a bulwark of nostalgia, (which I have a lot of) and it tweaked my journalistic fervor to continue writing about food. This blog has been dormant for about two months, and a foodie friend who had encouraged me to write this blog in the first place had chastised me recently for slowing down. Thank you, Claude for your book. It gave me the tap on the wrist that got my creative juices flowing again.

While I was reading the first article in "Food Tour," I was reminded of parallels in Claude and Mary Ann's partnership with my own family. My wife too is a writer, although she never tried writing about food and cooking. She assistant-edited the Life and Style section of the defunct Philippine Daily Express with Tere Orendain, but the closest she got to writing about food was to make the headlines and captions for some of the "packaged" food and cooking feature articles that their section printed weekly. Which reminds me, she caught my attention, when she called me at my office in the public relations office of San Miguel Corporation and asked me for a recipe that used some of the SMC products.

I took that call as an invitation to get to know each other better. During those years (early 80s), I was just one of her many corporate contacts; one of the "glamor boys" of the SMC PR department. I usually came into their office in the Port Area, press releases in hand. After I had paid homage to Pocholo Romualdez, the paper's editor-in-chief, I made a beeline to her desk and handed her a press release. She dutifully printed most of them. We PR writers were careful not to make the press releases blatantly commercial. Back then we called the practice product publicity. In reality, they were designed to sell more San Miguel food products, sans advertising costs.

At any rate, after I sent her the recipe that she requested, I asked her for a dinner date. To my surprise, she took the lead, and we dined at Josephine's Restaurant along Roxas Boulevard. That was the first surprise. The second surprise was that she offered to pay for our dinner. Those were the women's liberation years. I called it beginner's luck. I still remember to this day what we ate at Josephine's: inihaw na baboy (grilled pork) and corn soup and rice.

The first time I visited her at her family's house in Pasay City, she cooked dinner, and one of the entrees she prepared was camaron rebosado. She was unaware that I cooked. She obviously used too many eggs and very little flour in the batter, so it was very thin. The rebosado looked like an omelet because the batter formed around the shrimp in a large thin circle.

The second time I visited, I readily won the approval of her dad when I cooked a fish dinner for the family. I can't recall what particular fish entree I prepared. But his father took the bait, hook line and sinker. He was an avid fisherman and a cook too. I may have impressed him as a rare bird.

Needless to say, that from the time we got married, a little less than one year after we began dating, I assumed the role of the family cook. Having seen her initial attempt at the kitchen (the failed camaron rebosado), I knew that I would be the dominant cook in the family.

In their family yard there is a kamias, a guava, and an alagao tree. But I remembered the alagao, a rare tree (in the city) that sprouts fragrant leaves. My mother used alagao leaves as an ingredient in pinais na pagi (skate) when we were living in Samal, a coastal town in the province of Bataan. I had learned to cook pinais na pagi by watching my mother prepare them when I was a high school student. The public market was a ten- to fifteen-minutes walk from our house, and she would buy the fresh skates, already cleaned, but the liver, which was made into a sawsawan (dipping sauce) with patis, was still in the cavity. But the slimy outer membrane had been scraped off by the tindera.

One day, my girlfriend and I --her name is Tet Santos -- took the jeepney to nearby Baclaran market, where we were lucky to buy a whole skate the size of a bandehado (serving platter). I cooked the pagi, using some fresh leaves of alagao that I plucked from their tree, and that cemented my preferred status in the Santos household. Tet, who is citified, did not eat the pinais na pagi, but her father, an avid fisherman and cook, was quite impressed at my culinary demonstration. (Please search past blogs for my recipe of pinais na pagi).

Unlike Claude and Mary Ann, Tet and I did not duel very much over food and how they are cooked. I pretty much made the cooking and marketing decisions. We both loved to eat the same things: Chinese, Filipino, and Japanese food, especially sashimi, which, when we could not afford the prices in the Japanese restaurants, we would buy one to two-pound chunks of fresh tuna at the Baclaran market; grab a pound of fresh seaweeds for salad, and we would feast on sashimi to our heart's content. Our only luxury were the large bottles of Kikkoman soy sauce that we bought from the Cash and Carry store in Makati.

When we moved to California in early 1986, we readily found the same foods and produce that we used to buy in Manila markets, and in bigger sizes: the largest bangus (milkfish), white shrimp and prawns, even bisugo (golden thread), that I cook into paksiw, with slices of talong (eggplant) and ampalaya (bitter melon). Hasa-hasa (mackerels), pompano, bacoco (goo) and large and small pusit (squid). We moved from cooking camaron rebosado to cooking tempura.

Nothing has changed much since we got married in 1983. I continue to be the cook, and she has stopped cooking camaron rebosado, and most everything else. Except the occasional dessert. She makes an excellent fruit and buco (young conconut) salad.

I do crave feedback. Please e-mail me at if you liked or hated my blog. Thanks. Rene Villaroman

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