Going through food blogs, or blogs in general, one always comes across posts that elicit a certain nostalgia from the writer, or the commenters that have likewise read the essay. On many a Marketman post, comments from overseas based Filipinos mention that the food or fruit or vegetable in question is impossible to find, or they'd mention finding a facsimile of it. And with a future trip looming for another blogger, she recently listed the places she'd miss the most while away.
When I left to go to college, I was not as homesick for Manila as others, probably because I believed I'd be back, although there was no guarantee of that. And it was 5 years before I did return. In that time, I did miss many a dish, or the fruit I couldn't find overseas. But I wonder what I'd miss now, older, not necessarily wiser, but with more food experiences. And what do I miss from other places that were my temporary homes?
What I remember missing the most included:
- mangos; this probably is on most Pinoy lists. And having tried to enjoy other mangoes elsewhere, there's no mango like our mangoes.
- boiled peanuts. I remember getting weird reactions when bringing this up. I couldn't get boiled peanuts in LA. Luckily when I moved to China, they were a lot easier to find. "Mani", especially the boiled form, was a regular snack and bonding ritual with my dad and me. He'd come home from his mahjong games, usually with a bag of boiled peanuts. Either the same night (if I was awake watching tv) or the next day, we'd shell the peanuts, read the newspapers or just contemplate a quiet moment together. Peanuts make me think of my father.
- PopCola/Sarsi. Another weird, eyebrow raising reaction. I once came across 6 bottles of Sarsi at an Asian store in LA; bought them all, and hoarded them for moments when I wanted a taste of home.
- Calamansi; see mango above, but perhaps even more so, since soy sauce and lemon don't have the same bite as toyo+calamansi.
Other things I also missed included ube ice cream and ube jam, pastillas de leche (I got a German friend hooked onto pastillas, and had to send a box over one year), and sineguelas. The first dish I made sure to have when I came home was kare-kare with bagoong. Of course our longtime housekeeper had to make it since I wouldn't have it any other way but hers. Now that she's moved on, I also miss her adobong pusit, but I can find that in many places these days, with some general persistence. In those days, it wasn't a craving as I did with the other things mentioned above.
Away from the US, China/HK, several food things I miss include: good Persian food, the soft tacos in Los Angeles (our tex-mex places come up short), amazingly cheap and tasty chinese dumplings (especially from Beijing), walking at 3 am around HK for a steaming bowl of shrimp dumplings and cheap beer. And very good Indian/Sri Lankan food. Xinjiang lamian, made with mutton and homemade stretched noodles. Buying kumquats, lychees, and the tart strawberry like haw berries during season. I miss cherries and strawberries in the US (although a friend in LA told me that the all you can pick strawberry buckets in Oxnard are now $8.00 a bucket! They used to be $2.00 when I was there!). Going to jewish delis, and in-n-out burger drivethroughs after a long day of school, then a long day at work. And while not a food item, I really miss road trips. In my old job, I'd tell all my students to make sure to use their time wisely but never pass up a chance to get into a car and drive and drive and get lost along the way. You'll surely find wonderful experiences to treasure by leaving things to chance.
Off to make new memories...