The Good Stuff

I remember some birthday celebrations when my parents would take us on a day trip to Manila to shop and eat. After shopping at COD department store, my dad would take us to Hong Ning Chinese Restaurant in Cubao, Quezon City. Hong Ning packed the restaurant with patrons as if it was the only Chinese restaurant in town. The restaurant had wooden chairs and tables with marble tops. There were huge electric fans everywhere, which helped very little with cooling the humid atmosphere of the place, but circulated warm air around the room. The upstairs section of the restaurant was air-conditioned for customers who are willing to pay extra. There may have been one time when my dad splurged and we sat upstairs. They had a large menu laminated in plastic but the specialty dishes that I remember ordering every time we went were hototay soup (meat and vegetable soup), pancit canton (long egg noodles stir-fried with meats, seafood, and vegetables), and whole roast chicken. I can still picture in my mind the platter of pancit canton loaded with soft noodles and vegetables in a silky sauce. The hustle and bustle of the place added a special touch to the experience. We also went a few times to Tom Sawyer Krispy Fried Chicken, a fast-casual restaurant that offered the best-fried chicken I’d ever had at that age. Their chicken was so light, crispy, and flavorful. I would order the combo meal, which came with two pieces of crispy fried chicken, steamed rice, and butter gravy

We also frequently bought favorite street foods from local food vendors down the street from my grandparents’ house. My dad would buy us fish balls on a stick in vinegar dipping sauce, freshly cooked penoy with sea salt (unfertilized boiled duck egg), crispy fried okoy (sweet potato or squash fritters), and my sister’s favorite, karioka (deep-fried coconut rice balls with caramel sauce). These would all be consumed as we walked back home. Only sticky fingers and sauce-stained faces and shirts were proof of the good eats.

There were also those summer afternoons when my dad would take us to a local congee shop, Aling Luring’s Gotohan. They served classic piping hot rice porridge with tripe and hardboiled egg, which my dad and sister loved. I would usually order one with pork chicharron or tofu. Aling Luring’s Gotohan was enjoyed by locals for its great food and large portions. However, I think my sister and I loved this place not only for the food but also for the time spent with my dad. We would walk out of the gotohan with full happy bellies and contented spirits during those hot summer days.

Those were wonderful moments, and it makes me happy when I think of them. Even with my distant and silent father, food was a huge part of our past. I guess eating can sometimes make up for the lack of conversation. If I was being generous, it could be that we were bonding through food.

Life resumed for all of us after my parents divorced. My dad went on his new path. My sisters and I continued to grow up in my mother’s care. We learned all the important things we needed to learn. Still, there were times when I wished he was there for support and guidance, or even to just know that we could count on him anytime. Nevertheless, my sisters and I turned out just fine.  Nothing was missed, other than each other.

I think it is important to hold on to the good memories. Therefore, for Father’s Day, I will remember these good moments…and only these moments about my father. I hope my dad feels fulfilled and loved. I hope he is grateful for and proud of all his kids…even the three daughters he let get away. I want to wish my dad a very happy Father’s Day. I will always be there for him when he needs me.

In honor of the food memories I have of my dad, I am sharing with you some recipes we enjoyed from the past. I hope you get to share a meal with someone you look up to on Father’s Day.

Bon Appétit!

Click HERE to download Chef Mayet’s recipes.