If you’re a regular here you know by now that occasionally I’m hit with bouts of homesickness.
I can talk about it all day – how fleeting a week off can be, how it’s always hard give a straight answer to my gramps when he asks me when I’m coming home again, how comfort can sometimes be a foreign concept here in the city, and how food can never, ever, ever compare to what I have back home.
Of course the last bit is subjective. I’m talking about the inherent “soul” a home-cooked meal has. You’re nodding your head, yeah? Food that the goddesses of my kitchen (my mom, grandma and Mama Eng) have been cooking for years in a way, have steered my palate to where it is now.
Yedy, Eugene and I intended to go to Mall of Kitchens just to gawk but it was unfortunate (and annoying) that they were, strangely enough, closed on weekends. But we figured Eugene knew that already. And the ulterior motive was for us to check out Pat-Pat’s, which apparently serves a mean bowl of kansi.
Kansi is like sinigang with its sour broth, but the meat of choice would be beef instead of pork or fish. Their offering is a great hangover remedy and Eugene swears by that.
It was a familiar sight to behold, arriving at Pat-Pat’s. It was nothing fancy. A few tables and monoblock chairs, electric fans mounted on walls and loud, endearing servers. That kind of fixture will never go out of style in the Philippines. Beyond that, you know that food will never be fancy but will almost always be good and cheap.
Of course we had to order kansi. There were two variants, one served with a big piece of bone with marrow (bulalo), and another with chunks of beef meat (karne). They all came with the same sour broth. It’s not that hard to decide that you need to order both.
The broth was deliciously sour, but not overpowering. It was fruity, flavored with what we will only assume to be kamias. It’s that kind of natural tang that I love in a great soup because in a way, one cup of rice will never be enough for me to enjoy it. “More rice, more fun”, Eugene always says.
Now it was time to handle the marrow. It came intact with the whole bone still encased around it. Of course they had to give us a barbecue stick to take it out. It was a challenge, because in a way it felt like a race against time. Marrow is just golden ambrosia made entirely of fat, and when it gets cold it really isn’t palatable anymore. But I prevailed!
What I did was scoop a spoonful of the marrow and mixed it together with a generous drizzle of soup over the little mound of rice. It was time to dig in. The verdict?
It was perfect. I was, in a word, home.
I then added a piece of the beef to the mixture but at that point everything else was just a frill. Delicious, mouth-watering frills.
I thought my night couldn’t get any better. Then coconut water came, and was served to me right out of the shell, very cold to boot. I know I’m getting too emotionally descriptive but if there’s one thing that reminds me of home, it’s drinking ice-cold coconut water. I drink it more than water. It was unadulterated, cold and cleansing. The way coconut water should always be.
It’s natural for us to associate carinderias with good food. 97% of the time, that’s actually true. But there are a few places that raise the bar in their unassuming glory. These aren’t just carinderias but institutions.
The food isn’t snooty. It is as real as the earth, and as steadfast as tradition. It’s not farfetched to imagine that it has been imbibed with the charm and soul of those who man our family kitchens with gusto and love. And because of that, even their humblest soup fills the soul, ignites the bones and of course, brings us home.
Mabuhay ka, Pat-Pat. Mabuhay ka.