SO IN comes a text message prompting the phone to buzz and beep, buzz and beep, buzz and beep. The table trembles a little but it is ignored and so is the red light on the smartphone that keeps on flashing. It is a quarter of an hour before the deadline of a writing exercise and I choose to stick to the routine, a task easier said than done.
After putting in the required number of minutes, I check the phone and I learn that a journalist friend is asking recommendations for a Chinese place nearby that serves good noodle soup.
I text back a few names.
One thing leads to another and before we know it, we agree to meet twenty minutes later at a Kowloon House along Matalino Street in Quezon City. [See: The Kowloon House Chili Crisis]
“Take the tables inside,” I say, adding that the servings are bigger and the prices are higher but the chili servings are unlimited. He also may not like the al fresco dining arrangement outside. While covered in tents, these are mainly for short orders and the take-out crowd. The area also doubles as a beer pub at night.
I realize later that he might have trusted my advice too much.
Even before I’m seated, he’s already rattling off a list of issues against the establishment.
“This place is depressing,” he says, burying his face in hands, as if trying to erase his disappointment. The crusty old journalist is right.
The walls are painted a phlegmatic green, a color familiar to those suffering from the colds and flu. The air is stale since the only exhaust comes from the old double glass doors a few feet away. And the service? It’s only slightly faster than those rendered by city hall employees.
“One David’s Teahouse outlet down the street and this place will die,” he says.
I nod quietly, remembering the last time we ate at David’s. He was hitting an empty plate with a ladle because I was taking so long deciding whether to order another bowl of rice or not. It was obvious that he liked the food at David’s more than the fact that I was paying for it.
When the meals at the Kowloon House arrive — beef noodles for both of us — it fails to make the atmosphere or his mood any better.
After staring at his bowl, he says, “Why am I not surprised.” It was stated flatly without a lilt at the end because it was not a question but a statement.
The noodles look and feel like they were old and soggy, as if left behind and accidentally soaked in water overnight after the cook forgot all about it.
The beef, meanwhile, remains tasty and tender. The chili is still the best I’ve tasted so far.
But the friend overlooks all these.
After all, besides teaching journalism courses abroad, he knows good food, being a gourmet and a good cook himself.
Upon finishing the meal, he says he’s not coming back.
But I will.
Except that I’ll probably just stay outside to keep it real.
(Disclaimer: No preferential treatment was received from Kowloon or any of its rivals.)