Kowloon House Revisited

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. Continue reading

Happy Meal: The Alan Robles version


Tasty callos and brown rice serve as delicious payment for the witty put-down.

Alan Robles is a genius.

And I’m not saying that because he’s the only Filipino lecturer at the Berlin-based International Institute for Journalism. Nor am I saying that because he has a hilarious website (www.hotmanila.ph) and has also written articles for Time Magazine, the South China Morning Post, among other foreign publications. [See: International Journalism Institute, Alan Robles]

I am saying that because I am a big, fat liar.

That is of course a joke, something that the nutty professor can very well take.

After all, he has cracked more than a couple at my expense.

He has alleged on various occasions that I have tapeworm (not true) and that I have an IQ of a troglodyte (hey, we have rights too).

Herr Robles has made these allegations on his Twitter account which is followed by more than eight hundred people around the world, including – unfortunately – myself.

So what’s the upside to all this for me?

Simple.

By playing the court jester, the proverbial George Costanza to his Jerry Seinfeld, the Panchito to his Dolphy, I get to enjoy a unique set of fringe benefits. [See: Panchito, Dolphy]

Besides getting free tips on technology and writing, @hotmanila – that’s his Twitter handle – also shows his other, lesser-known side: that of being a really good cook and a generous host to people that he likes.

I’m still unsure whether I’ve made it to his A-list, which includes media professionals here and abroad and personalities too famous to mention.

But thanks to my natural ability to act like a buffoon, I’ve occasionally hit the big time by being invited to break bread at his place, usually to provide pre- and post-dinner amusements.

As expected, the responsibility involves being at the receiving end witty insults and funny put-downs.

But I don’t mind.

I get free food – and some morsels of knowledge – in exchange.

Take the early Thursday afternoon meal to which I was recently invited.

It started with a glass of Lambrusco, a kind of wine made from Italian grape – except that this was from Australia, my host explained.

He then brought out a bowl of brown rice and a container of callos, the first batch of which “doesn’t satisfy his integrity.”

“You have to understand that this is not a healthy meal,” he said. “This is a happy meal.”

The intestines that he got were all cleaned up, taking out the fat and gristle that could have been used to add flavor while the dish was being prepared.

The main course was prepared using a Le Creuset-branded pot which he bought in Paris. The pot allowed simmering for as long as eight hours on end, he added.

However, he was unable to make full use of it when he prepared “the first batch” of callos, which he only makes during Christmas.

Instead of being cooked for eight hours in the pot for five days, this batch only simmered for two days, he said.

And that, to him, makes for a sub-par batch of the dish.

I looked at him and nodded, pretending that I was more interested in his pre-dinner remarks than, for instance, dinner.

As soon as the lecture was over, I swooped down on the dish, like a vulture on its prey.

Slowly, the natural flavors of ingredients began to emerge – the smoky texture of Spanish sausage, the rich tripe, and the garbanzos, which were cooked separately from the rest of the dish.

In short, the callos was delicious, one of the best I have ever tasted.

And I’m not saying that because the food was free nor because I consider Herr Robles as my friend.

I’m saying that because I am a big, fat liar.

_______

From the Complaints Dept. Sought an email clarification regarding the first draft of this piece from You Know Who. Below is what he had to say:

Nothing to complain about

1. aside from the fact that the correct name is International Institute FOR journalism

2. and that “troglodyte” takes an article

3. and that Lambrusco is an italian grape, but in this case the wine was made in Australia

4. and that I said I wasn’t happy with the callos’ integrity, not mine (I have none)

5. and that the pot’s brand is Le Creuset, which is more famous than the word “doufeu”

6. and that I bought the pot in Paris market district, Les Halles, in an old and famous shop called E. Dehillerin

7. and that I didn’t authorize you to say you’re a big fat liar twice, but who am I to object
other than that nothing to quibble about

Free lunch

Next best thing to free beer is a free lunch. Unfortunately, both don’t exist.
That’s according to free market economists who continue to insist — with some fair amount of logic — that air, water, and perhaps even love has a price.
But these theoretical concepts only apply to the real world, which — fortunately or unfortunately — exclude certain facets of my life, depending on circumstances.
Take this Saturday.
Contrary to the laws of nature and social convention, I was invited to lunch.
Yes, an invitation. For lunch. From actual people (as opposed to entities passing themselves off as pretty women who follow me on Twitter).
I accepted it without thinking — something I am famous for doing — for reasons mentioned below.
Not only was lunch free, it would be held at a place that was just a tricycle ride away from where I lived.
I had absolutely nothing else planned for the weekend, save for staring at the ceiling, one of my favorite office pastimes.
On top of all that, the invite came from Alan and Raissa Robles.
Besides being two of the Philippines’ sharpest journalists, the couple has been known to serve the most delicious lunches this side of Metro Manila.
Or at least that’s what comments on their guest book indicate.
Some of their previous guests — journalists Vergel Santos and Paulynn Sicam and television host Pia Guanio — all attest that the meals prepared, cooked, and served by none other than Alan himself were fantastic.
Now, when did I ever become part of such esteemed company? How did I ever finagle an invite to the famous Robles luncheon? And, most importantly, why did my name even come up?
I don’t know and I don’t even intend to find out.
Ever the gracious guest, I told my hosts to cancel the limousine service and expect me at the appointed time.
And as soon as I sat myself at the table, I knew that lunch would exceed my expectations.
I was correct.
The midday meal began with a bottle of champagne, slices of salami and cheese, and pieces of french bread.
It was followed by breakfast sandwiches — meat and melted cheese in between toasted pieces of bread — from a recipe of Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy.
These items alone were worth more than the price of my tricycle fare, I can tell you that.
Next came three other courses, this time, predominantly Asian.
Hainanese chicken, shrimp sambal, and fried squid were served, accompanied by all manner of sauces, enhancing various flavors heretofore unknown to people such as myself whose taste buds were blunted by canned goods and fastfood.
Our chef, Alan, talked as he cooked, dispensing professional advice, witty one-liners, and difficult pop quizzes in one go (i.e., Question: What drink was invented in Harry’s Bar? Answer: Bellini’s.)
In the meantime, Raissa paid attention to everyone’s needs, bringing plates and various other dining implements.
She even sliced parts of chicken for me while telling me that she once managed a cafe called 222 Baker Street along M. H. del Pilar in Manila.
If food was exceptional, the quality of the conversation was not far behind.
Joining me on the table included three other guests — a co-worker, an award-winning female journalist who now runs her own real-estate company, and her companion.
We talked about particular demands of our craft and the pressures we were all willing to live with, if only to get the job done.
The lively discussion was accompanied by fruit salad topped with strawberry ice cream, a fitting end to one of the best meals I have ever had in recent memory.
Thanks again, Alan and Raissa Robles.
And yes, I’ll remember to bring a bottle of wine next time. That is, if I ever get invited again.

A big bowl of wrong

Larry David and Jeff Garlin (www.performink.com)
PRIMETIME television hardly imitates life.
If it did, many males—especially those of my age and temperament—would be spending their carefree days and nights in the pursuit of scantily-clad starlets, hoping for wardrobe malfunctions.
Unfortunately, real life—such as we know it—involves working two jobs to make rent money, ensuring that the cat gets regular visits from the vet, and avoiding the nosy landlady who has expressly disallowed animals in her apartment.
In short, the life and times of a happily-married, submissive, and faithful Filipino male such as myself has none of the excitement and the drama found on soaps currently broadcast on television.
However, when my wife and I had an unpleasant experience at a mid-market Chinese restaurant, we found common cause to turn to television to exactly describe what we went through.
Our dining experience, to borrow a colorful phrase from award-winning cable television show Curb Your Enthusiasm, was “a big bowl of wrong.” The phrase was originally uttered by Jeff Garlin, (shown in the right of the picture from performink.com) who plays the manager of Larry David, (on the picture’s left) Seinfeld co-creator, whose fictional life is what the show is all about.
Even before we entered the establishment—located at Gateway Mall in Quezon City—the arrangement and the decor gave us the impression that the restaurant was not your typical, inexpensive hole-in-the-wall which offered fly soup as a side dish.
While it was not an upscale restaurant, it nevertheless emphasized that it was neither fastfood establishment especially since we were made to wait before we were ushered to our tables. Which wasn’t any trouble at all until we realized that we were seated beside a gaggle of noisy, middle-aged women who applauded anytime any single one of them uttered a syllable.
In the meantime, the waitstaff was as responsive as government employees taking their daily two-hour lunch breaks. Whenever we tried to call their attention, in our vain attempt to inform them of our orders, they seemed to pretend that they were busy serving other customers.
To ease hunger and to ward off our growing impatience, we simply munched on the complimentary dish of kropeck crackers immediately made available after we were seated. Fortunately, before anyone took the last piece of kropeck, a waitress came by. Noticing that my wife and I had were both eyeing the last cracker, the waitress, gifted with tremendous powers of perception, asked us whether we had ordered already.
My wife, hungry and irritated, replied in the negative, especially when she found the last kropeck missing.
Her irritation was later compounded when she discovered that her order—a beef and wanton noodle soup—was far too salty for her taste. I didn’t doubt her culinary assessment one bit, knowing fully well that she eats everything—from adobo to kare-kare—with patis.
But since I needed to fill myself up, I nevertheless took generous bites of the pieces of beef and the noodles that came with my brisket noodle soup.
While it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t exactly the best noodle soup I ever had. After forking out P150++ for each dish, we were convinced that we were served two big bowls of wrong that night. And don’t even get me started on the matronas.