The Kowloon House Chili Crisis (A Roger K. Rebosado Mystery)

I was enjoying beef noodle soup one warm afternoon at the Kowloon House along Matalino Street behind Quezon City Hall when the waitress brought me bad news.
“This is the last you can ever have for the day,” she said, giving me a look that reduced my balls into a pair of sun-dried raisins.
With a flick of the wrist, she flung a small bowl on my table.
It glided on the formica tabletop — a UFO breaching an interplanetary speed limit — and was about to crash on the floor. Good thing my old yet dependable Nokia 5110 blocked its path.
I took hold of the bowl and discovered that it contained a serving of chili so small you needed an electron microscope to see it.
And before I could complain, the waitress turned around and raced to the cashier where she exchanged the latest about difficult customers.
As I scraped whatever bits of chili I could find into my beef mami, I could tell that she kept glancing in my direction. And it wasn’t because I looked like Piolo Pascual.
It was the chili.
Or more accurately, my third serving of chili.
Made of garlic, small dried chili peppers, and a sprinkling of sugar, the chili was the restaurant’s best-kept secret.
It also happened to be the very reason why I was there at the al fresco dining area along the restaurant’s front.
Believe it or not, I was eating on the job, confirming whether what my client told me to investigate was true.
Mr. B. wanted me to find out whether the restaurant was deliberately withholding its chili from its patrons.
So far, I had no reason to believe otherwise.
I just experienced it first hand.
I now had to figure out why.

Minute amounts of chili served at the Kowloon House's al fresco area along Matalino Street in Quezon City

So I summoned the same waitress and asked for another serving of chili — my fourth.
“I always liked your chili,” I said out loud. “But this time, I’d really like them in a bigger container. Like a vat or something.”
An old geezer at the next table who was filling his glass with beer glared at me, shaking his head side to side. He looked like those foot-long, decorative canines glued on taxicab dashboards.
“How about I buy you a tube of Preparation H?” he hollered. I wasn’t amused.
After all, the poor drunkard wasn’t exactly volunteering to settle my bill.
In the meantime, my requests for extra chili servings were rejected.
“Only half a kilo of chili is made everyday,” she said. “That’s why we limit the servings to customers.”
“Why?” I asked. “Is there a chili shortage? Is someone monopolizing the chili supply in this country?”
She shrugged, leaving me with the bill.
As I saw her saunter back to the counter, I knew that this was the start of another difficult case, especially since I had to keep track of receipts.

Beef mami served at Kowloon House's al fresco area

I spent the next morning and the early afternoon moping around the office, thinking about the case and this month’s rent, which was due in the next few days.
And then the unexpected happened.
Mr. A., my landlord, suddenly paid an unannounced visit. He was in a foul mood — he threatened legal action and eviction proceedings if I failed to pay rent on time.
But he simmered down when he learned that my latest client was willing to pay me a fortune if I could clear things up regarding Kowloon’s Chili crisis.
“Just stop eating Chinese food and start paying me,” he told me.
“I’ll do that,” I replied. “But you really got to try Kowloon’s chili. It’s heaven.”
Suddenly, something in him changed.
From a strict, hot-headed landlord, he became — all of a sudden — my BFF.
I wasn’t sure whether it was the result of my charm, my gift for gab, or his actual hunger.
He invited me to lunch at Kowloon.
But this time, we ate inside the restaurant itself, not outside, as I usually did.

All-you-can-eat chili served inside the Kowloon House restaurant premises.

After he ordered chop suey, sweet and sour pork, and a large plate of fried rice, I asked the waitress for some chili.
It came in a mid-sized steel container that was filled to the brim.
Immediately, I knew that I cracked the case wide open.
I excused myself, called up my client, and explained everything.
“Customers who stayed inside the restaurant paid higher prices and were likely to be served unlimited chili,” I told him. “So next time you want more free chili, eat inside the restaurant.”
“Never thought it was that simple,” my client replied. “I’ll drop off your check next week.”
I pressed the end call button and walked back in to sit with my landlord.
“Who was that?” my landlord asked, as he munched on a piece of marinated pork.
“Nobody,” I said. “Just another satisfied customer.”
“Well, good for you. Because I think it’s about time I raised the rent.”
I put some more chili into my bowl and dug into beef mami.
As I enjoyed the soft chunks of meat and noodles and the mild spice of the chili, I began to entertain a strange thought: Never has a condiment brought so much trouble, even for a private detective such as myself.
But then again, for a delicious meal such as this one, it was well worth it.

Half-finished bowl of beef mami after so-called photographer forgot to take pictures BEFORE the meal.

(This is a highly fictionalized account of my recent visits to Kowloon House along Matalino Street in Quezon City, Philippines. These visits led me to discover that generous servings of chili are available to customers who dine inside the restaurant where prices are higher. Meanwhile, those who choose to eat outside — along the restaurant’s front area — where food is cheaper and dishes are smaller are only allowed limited servings of its chili [made from garlic, sugar, and bird’s eye chili, also known as siling labuyo]. Beef mami outside is P85 while inside its more than P100.
So what’s the deal with Kowloon’s chili? I think it’s the best chili I have ever tasted. Disclaimer: I paid for all my meals and didn’t receive any preferential treatment from Kowloon.)

A New Year’s Congee Angst at the Red Palace Seafood Restaurant

Interior of the Red Palace Seafood Restaurant along Malakas Street, Quezon City

(Disclaimer: No consideration, financial or otherwise, was solicited, offered, nor accepted for this blog entry. Plain English: I paid for the food that I ate.)

It was a slow day.
The waiters could sense that more than anyone else.
The streets were deserted, the surroundings were quiet, and virtually everything stood still.
It was no different indoors.
The restaurant was empty and no amount of cool, processed air and loud, tacky music could ever hope to fill up the tables. It was as if it was already the wee hours of the morning except that the sun was up and its rays brought a patina of sadness, of desolation to the dining area.
But then again, all this was expected.
After all, it was New Year’s Day.
And on that late afternoon, it was assumed that corporate bigwigs and cubicle warriors alike were still taking it easy, spending additional hours in bed, reading, watching television, or hanging out with their families and friends.
However, employees at the Red Palace Seafood Restaurant along Malakas St. in Quezon City’s central district had no such privilege.

The only setback of this delicious-looking congee? It didn't use ground rice.

On that day, the restaurant was open and workers were expected to fill in their regular hours.
Good thing that their duties were light, thanks to the inactivity, the general ennui, and the lack of traffic — vehicular or otherwise — during the first day of 2011.
At the same time, this was no excuse for lower food and/or service standards.
Fortunately, I had none of that when I paid a visit at the establishment on the same day.
Which is not to say I didn’t have any misgivings about their offerings.
I did, as I usually do with many other things which, in turn, are best discussed in another blog entry.
I took issue with the restaurant’s Pork and Century Egg Congee (P135).
For its price, the ingredients — raw egg and slices of pork and century egg  — were just about standard, no better or no worse than those served elsewhere.
Except that the congee itself didn’t use ground rice — the not-so-secret ingredient behind the dish — making it no different from nor better than those offered by more inexpensive establishments.
That’s all — end of congee angst.

Red Palace's asado siopao looked so yummy the idiot picture taker was prompted to take a bite first before attending to his duties.

Meanwhile, the two-piece asado siopao (P80) that I ordered was great.
It was larger — and arguably even tastier — than those served by its rivals, including Kowloon House, which has a branch around the corner along Matalino Street, and Jade Valley in the Timog Ave. area.
But next time I drop by for a visit, I’ll try other rice dishes, hoping that the cook has come around to realizing that ground rice makes for excellent congee.
Until then, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Guy walks into a bar

Thanks, Fotosearch

Guy walks into a bar, inspects whatever passes for the decor, and asks how much for a beer?

The waiter, all-too-accommodating, proceeds to give a number, which appears reasonable, so the guy — who is accompanied by an acquaintance — sits down.

Guy orders one round for both.

Suddenly, the speakers go full blast.

Guy is irritated because he may be unable to hear the story of his new-found acquaintance.

Fortunately, management has immediately deemed it fit to turn the volume down to a more tolerable level. After all, waiters are trying to listen into the exchange taking place at the other table.

Some white-haired, middle-aged geezer wearing a loose T-shirt, a pair of shorts and slippers appeared to have arrived late for his date, a young, female hottie with upper body advantages. As the middle-aged guy slips into a seat in front of her, they both smile and laugh.

Guy who just walked into the bar and asked for the price of a beer is not amused.
How come, he asks himself, he’s stuck with male acquaintances on a Saturday night while old geezers like this one — swift dagger look to his left — bags the babes?

He is mystified.

The mix of contempt and regret quickly evaporates as the ice-cold beer arrives.

Both guys proceed to exchange life stories.

First guy is drinking just a few hours of the night away until he gets lubricated enough to write something, he says, without mentioning that he maintains a website.

It’s far too complicated, he says to himself, thinking of some people whom he occasionally meets, asking him: “Website, what’s that?”

Meanwhile, during his turn to talk, his acquaintance tells him that he once drove a BMW out of a twenty-foot metal container.

He says he was assisted only by his wits and two thin planks of wood.

Two planks of wood, he repeats. Two planks of wood.

It happened twice, he says, forgetting the name of the other sportscar.

Guy nods.

Interesting life you’ve led, he says, as he catches old geezer and the girl get into a cab.

He takes another pull at his bottle of beer.

It’s cold and crisp, just about every bottle of beer he’s had since he started drinking regularly at the age of 20.

“At least you were good enough to bring the car out safely,” guy says to his companion.

“You don’t know half of it,” the other guy replies. “Two planks of wood. They were thin — like plywood.”

He nods. The other guy nods. They drink.

In a fit of inspiration, guy says to himself, “Hey, why don’t I write about this cool restaurant?”
———————
This piece of “fast fiction” — for the lack of a better definition — is an unpaid piece for Chickenalicious Restaurant, a newly-opened bar at 22 A Matapang corner Malakas Streets in Barangay Pinyahan in Quezon City. Forgot the price of the beer but you can call them up to ask 227 4323. It’s open Monday to Saturday from 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM. House specialties (which is served with rice) include Chicken Inasal (P83), Liempo Inasal (P70), Pork Inasal (five pieces P100), Grilled Boneless Bangus (P105), Pinaputok na Pla-Pla (P110), Sirloin Oversized Steak (P120), Pansit Canton/Bihon (P75). Chickenalicious Restaurant also takes bulk orders, its says in its flyer.
Just to make it clear: No consideration, financial or otherwise, has been made between the owner of this website and any employee, relative, owner, or stakeholder of Chickenalicious Restaurant.

Attack of the killer bee

SCORE one for humans. And zero for the bees.
Or whatever insect it was which bit me on my neck Monday morning while I was out for a drive in those tight, two-lane highways in Quezon City where tricycles rule the streets and pedestrians casually walk along areas especially reserved for roadkill.
But then again, it was a good thing that the bee bit me when it did.
After all, this humble, patient, law-abiding motorist was at that time reduced to first gear, moving at the pace of a three-legged turtle. Because when I felt something sharp digging into the left part of my neck, I applied the brakes all of a sudden, putting the car at a full and immediate stop.
Had I been cruising along Commonwealth Avenue — by far, one of the most dangerous thoroughfares in northern Metro Manila — I would have created a vehicle pile-up from Tandang Sora to Fairview, elicited a special traffic alert on the radio, and incurred the perpetual scorn of irate motorists.
But since I was only negotiating a stretch of road filled with so much people it might as well be EDSA during any of the two peaceful revolutions, my sudden stop only caused the the tricycle driver behind me to grunt, curse, and spit (in that order).
Dismissing the thought that Count Dracula was in the back seat, I reached out for my neck, grabbed the creature with my fingers, squeezed it until it was sufficiently incapacitated.
In an unparalled stroke of genius, I threw the irritating insect on the floor, right by where my feet was, giving it another opportunity to have a go at my lower limbs if ever it decides to wake up from its coma.
Fortunately, the insect didn’t bother me any longer.
It either stayed dead, flew out of the window, or still trapped in all the gunk and caked dust collected by the car’s floor mat.
Meanwhile, the tricycle driver behind me revved up his engines, took a quick left, and sped on.
As he overtook me, the driver gave me a look usually reserved for cheapskate passengers and irritating people in general.
Nervous insect in hand, I forced an apologetic smile while pointing to my neck, a gesture which I knew he understood to be the universal sign language for either
a) “my neck hurts,”
b) “I have sore throat,”
c) “I have lost my voice,”
d) “I am thirsty,” or finally,
e) “I have swallowed an insect.”
Moral of the story: have the aircon fixed so that foreign objects — inanimate or otherwise — would be disallowed from entering the car through the open window.
Either that or simply close the windows and endure the heat.
Stupid bees.

———————

This was written two years ago in a separate blog.

Space — The Final Frontier

And it’s not just for crewmembers of the USS Enterprise.
It’s also for every budget-conscious entity looking for decent living space within the areas near, beside, and/or adjacent to the University of the Philippines.
The task might not be as difficult as resisting the Borg but the challenges remain formidable enough to shock a starship captain into attention.
To stake your claim on a clean, well-lighted place that has a fully-functioning flush toilet within the UP/Teachers’/Sikatuna Village area, one must have the charm of James Tiberius Kirk, the fortitude of Jean-Luc Picard, and the balls of Kathryn Janeway.
Wily landlords, devious property managers, and suspicious building superintendents are all out there, offering monthly rents that would spark outrage among the Ferengi.
High prices are, of course, part of the overall strategy, a gambit designed to separate the insane from the desperate, the tightwad locals from the moneyed Koreans, many of whom have taken over pocket neighborhoods within the area. But that’s another story.

Pittsburgh apartment living room

If you’re an apartment hunter looking for long-term yet temporary refuge within the area, it can’t hurt to have a little good luck and good karma on your side.
However, depending on them too often may result in consequences that can severely distort your time, space, and rent continuum.
More than five years ago, my wife and I found – and immediately took – a one-floor, two-bedroom affair within Teachers’ Village.
Situated within a gated compound, the unit sported new dark green tiles and a fresh coat of paint that was on the creepy shade of yellow.
Rent was reasonable for two adults and a fat cat. The fact that the owner’s son’s family lived right beside us left us with no doubt that we made the right choice.
But that was until we received the electric bill a month after.
It was huge.
We entertained the notion that our cat may have taken liberties with our airconditioner since he wanted to replicate winter weather to which he was accustomed.
An electrician my in-laws hired to check on our cables – and our power consumption – disabused us of our cat’s guilt.
He discovered that the compound’s water pump was directly wired into our apartment’s electric connection.
Our meter went full throttle everytime anyone staying within the six-unit complex peed or pooped.
As soon as we collected and secured evidence – colored photo print outs of our electric meter – we stormed into the landlord’s office, demanding reduced rent and an explanation.
We got the former, never really having cared about the latter.
Although the dispute was settled amicably, my wife and I decided to leave after the six-month contract expired.
Only after two big moves within one year were we able to find a place that suited us perfectly.
But then again, I may be speaking too soon.
After all, we might decide to move again and venture into places where no one among the three of us has gone before.

Holiday Road Rage

For those unaccustomed to the intricacies of Quezon City traffic, C.P. Garcia is the fastest route to Loyola Heights, Marikina City, Antipolo, and even to the famed C-5.
Since the four-lane thoroughfare has become everyone’s little secret shortcut, C. P. Garcia has been transmogrified into the street that traffic regulations forgot. (Then again, that could be EDSA but I digress.)
During rush hour, C. P. Garcia is thoroughly inhospitable, a mish-mash of flashy SUVs, dilapidated trucks, overloaded tricycles, and motorcycles carrying everything from oven-hot pizzas to day-old babies.
The holiday season only made it worse.
Any vehicle that dared enter C. P. Garcia during rush hour immediately fell prey to a kind of mechanical catatonia, in which anything with at least two wheels were absolutely incapable of forward movement.
One morning, while on an errand to buy beer, I avoided C. P. Garcia with the stealth of an errant Ninong on the run from a long-lost inaanak.
Instead of taking the avenue on the way to Cubao — where I was headed to buy party provisions — I took Commonwealth Avenue from UP, where I had earlier dropped off my wife.
All I had to do was to make a U-turn at the nearest slot, make another U-turn at the intersection of Commonwealth and Quezon Circle, bringing me to the Philcoa area.
Once I made a right on Masaya Street, I would be able to reach Kalayaan Avenue, which would then bring me straight to Aurora Boulevard.
But on that fateful day, my short trip to Cubao seemed like the road to perdition.
As I approached Masaya, I hit the signal light, indicating that I was going to make a right.
My intentions were casually ignored by a bus that cut me off.
It cruised right by, confident that its sheer size and heft allowed it to flout road courtesy.
I stopped and immediately made a left, thankful that the brakes worked, allowing me to avoid a collision.
Besides saving my life, the strategic move helped me fulfill the important role of providing joy and goodwill to my wife’s beer-drinking buddies that night.
But that would come much later.
When I veered away from the uncouth six-wheeled behemoth, I struggled to keep my cool.
After all, it was holiday season, a time when road rage and murderous intent is muted because spending Christmas in a funeral home is not a fate wished on even your worst enemies. (The arrangement sits well with undertakers working overtime though.)
But I absolutely blew my top when another bus immediately came barreling down on my left, intending to invade the lane I had already occupied halfway.
There I was, avoiding a bus-driving jerk on my right, and here was another bus, on my left, driven by a similar Neanderthal, threatening to plow into an old, rickety Toyota.
What was I to do?
I went absolutely postal.
It ticked me off, got my goat, made me fly off the handle, and countless other idioms that pop up whenever I type in the word “angry” in my laptop’s thesaurus software application.
I swerved to the left — immediately blocking the bus’ path — got off the car, and showed everyone else why I was the best argument for tighter gun control, and to a lesser degree, legalized abortion. (I’m not a gun owner, never will be.)
I went up to the bus, pointed to the driver, and asked him to step out of his vehicle. Although apologetic, he refused to open his doors and his companions — a bunch of conductors and ticket inspectors — gave me a look that said: “Would somebody please give this man his medication?”
Now, what good did that outburst do?
Absolutely nothing.
By the time I simmered down and eased the car out of the bus’ way, I was too far off to take a right at Masaya.
I was forced to enter C. P. Garcia, the very same road I had planned to avoid minutes before.
As I sat there in traffic, looking at the congestion brought about by the holidays, I said to myself: “Bah, humbug.”

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Also published at GMANews.TV.