I recently attended the 8oth birthday of my husband’s sprightly aunt. It was held in Tanauan, Batangas. And because 80th birthday is quite an achievement these days we couldn’t miss that. Going there, I began to look forward to different viands that Batangueños are known for like menudo, dinuguan, caldereta, embutido and at the same time sample their sweets like their savory leche flan and their airy gelatins embedded with fruits. I should know this, my father is also from Batangas, Ibaan, particularly.
But maybe times are changing because the family opted for a catered meal, taking in a caterer who hailed from Manila. I missed the parade of viands on a long table with mismatched bowls. The food wasn’t bad but I felt a little let down like some of the neighbors I’m told. Obviously, this wasn’t the usual Batangas fare. Good thing, the lechon arrived, entering the scene like the awaited bride.
When I was a little girl, my fiesta experience in Ibaan would include being awakened by the squealing of a pig at the break of dawn as it is being chased or held down for its final destiny, the fiesta table. And since I don’t go to Ibaan as much, these memories rushed to me again as the covered lechon entered the gate.
In Manila, we don’t expect an entire lechon to be carried inside a restaurant. It is usually served in dainty strips on the table. And unless you live in La Loma, you can’t just satisfy your craving by going to a street corner. It is usually ordered a day before from a specialty store roasting and selling these.
So when a plate was laid on our table showcasing chunks of freshly carved lechon, one roasted in a pit in the backyard, I began to smile. I can't wait to get my hands on these chunks of hot and crispy lechon ready to be dipped in brown sauce made from a combination of pork liver, sugar, vinegar and other ingredients.The skin was crunchy and sinful and the meat was quite lean. So what, if menudo, afritada, dinuguan and embutido failed to show up, the belle is here anyway.
And after filling ourselves in the buffet table with lechon, morcon and other tasty dishes, we went out as new guests arrived and we sat down on a dusty jeepney parked in front. Then a pedicab carrying “dirty” ice cream passed. I was about to hail it because I wanted to buy a cone for my son but it entered the premises, it was part of the celebration. Yes! We went inside and scooped some on these blue itsy bitsy cups. They were so tiny!
Why it is called “dirty” ice cream and we still eat it is beyond me. Why not “homemade’ ice cream? Anyway, it had been awhile since I had taste of this. There were two flavors, ube and langka. I chose the latter. The langka flavor was faint but I appreciated the hardened langka bits strewn there, maybe an attempt for texture. It wasn’t the best ice cream but the memories of eating these when I was younger while being shushed by aunts for eating something unsanitary in their eyes more than makes up for it. Haha :)
As we drove home, a light rain fell and a mist enveloped a mountain as we passed by STAR tollway. I felt peaceful. There was something relaxing going home to the province, I noted their unhurried pace and the folks' unassuming ways, they don't seem to have a need to impress there. I especially liked their deep sense of neighborliness. They know their neighbors and they attend each other’s birthday unlike in Manila when you can’t even recall your neighbor's name.
I’m glad I was able to attend the party. It was a great chance to eat some of these food delights again, something I have missed in the city, the authentic lechon and the “dirty” ice cream . And more than that, I'm quite happy and privileged to witness someone’s 80th birthday.