Episode 5: Happy Birthday to me!

I’m now 28 years old. My youth has all but passed, giving way to the chance to age gracefully and go down in history. Of course, with old age come responsibilities, bills, clogged arteries, and prohibitions in food. Wait…

Some people say I was abandoned in the kitchen as I grew up, figuratively and literally. I grew up around food and cooking. I was just as fat as any kid with their baby fat in my youth, partly because I ate a lot and enjoyed eating.

The craving for good food never left even as I grew older. This is why I never passed up the chance to have a nice meal wherever I am. Of course, that means I enjoy eating while dodging the dagger looks of my family and anyone who disapproves of pigging out.

I started writing about food only recently, partly because I was looking for an outlet for my food craving tendencies, but also because I was interested in learning the genre. (It doesn’t help that Unlimited Grub Grabs was born on the day my fiancee broke up with me, but that’s another story.) I eventually learned that writing in a blog is not only therapeutic, it also IS a good place to share yourself with others.

Writing also turns out to be a good way to reflect on things about yourself, things that are simple but thought-provoking up close. This is one of them.

I celebrated my birthday last March 26, fighting off the urge to treat it as just an ordinary day at work and the gym. Without my family around, I decided to make the most of what I have to mark the day.

My celebration started Friday midnight at Matsuri Bayashi, now technically my base of operations every time I have a project to finish, or if I wanted to get high on Japanese sake, whichever comes first.

My first meal as a 28 year old is a bowl of oyakodon and miso soup, which I eat there most of the time. The oyakodon, with its juicy chicken and steaming half-cooked egg, was a welcome respite in stressful days.

I brought to the restaurant a bar cake I bought from a nearby bakeshop and gave some to the patrons. The cake is made of chocolate chiffon with a thin, sugary icing. It’s not too sweet but soft to the palate and tasty. Even the people there liked the cake.

That afternoon, I brought to work a tray of pancit palabok, rice flour noodles with crab sauce, eggs, shrimps, garlic, tinapa, (dried fish flakes), and chicharon (pork rind), along with some puto (rice cake). They disappeared in a span of thirty minutes.

Bringing something for the people to eat during birthdays has been a tradition in the office. Pancit palabok and puto has been my favorite combo, most especially that noodles are a favorite during birthdays.

Serving noodles is a Chinese tradition. According to their food lore, noodles represent long life and good health; they must not be cut short while eaten so as not to corrupt the symbolism.

When my mom was still alive, she would help me out in feeding my coworkers on my birthday. She’s very patient when it comes to choosing what food or drink to buy, and how I would bring them to the office. Now that I’m by myself, I had to do all of this on my own, though I didn’t mind. It is, after all, my celebration.

By nighttime, my officemates have gone to another birthday party. My plans to go to Ka Freddie’s got spoiled because work, along with this and that, got piled up. (Thanks a lot.) At the end of the day, I had to spend my birthday alone and without definite plans.

I ended up drinking and singing at Syncopado, a night spot in Malate, Manila. I thought singing in Syncopado was not enough, so I moved to a nearby karaoke bar, which is less classy than other watering holes in the area, and belted out as many songs as I can. The angry strains of “Pasumpa-sumpa” filled Malate’s skies that night.

Drinking reminds me of my life in Baguio, when I enjoyed good friends and company amidst a nice weather, with a beer on one hand and a microphone on the other. This was where I experienced fulfillment, happiness, love, friendship, conflict, loneliness, the whole spectrum of emotions, alcohol-fueled or otherwise. My youth in Baguio was filled with hardships, somewhat sad, but beautiful and rewarding for the the heart.

The night ended at Matsuri Bayashi over sake, chicken yakitori, and gyoza. Thankfully, there were very few patrons there, since by that time I have already had my fill of wine. It felt good to indulge in the pleasures that remind me of my youth.

Before I forget, my Yamaha Nouvo Z motorcycle (whom I have named “Red Hare”) celebrated its birthday with me. I had this motorcycle, the first I invested in with my own money, for my birthday three years ago.

Red Hare is important to me. We crossed hell and high water together. I survived otherwise fatal accidents with it. We traveled as far as Baguio, and visited places I don’t normally see. Red Hare was even my companion when, out of a whim, I drove a long way to see a girl I liked, but that’s another story.

In any case, I owe much of my life to my motorcycle. That’s why as much as I can, I want to take care of it, keep it clean and well fed with unleaded fuel, and watched over. I’m sure Red Hare and I will have so much to go through later on in my life.

The next day, Sam (one of our family friends) helped me buy a new headlight cover and a rear tire for Red Hare. My old tire had too many holes, and seen better days. My headlights? A truck backed up on me and smashed them. Red Hare is now technically blind on one eye, but at least its tire is as good as new.

Sam also treated me to birthday noodles and dimsum at Luk Foo, a Chinese restaurant in Caloocan. He reminded me of the significance of the noodles, and for good reason. Not only is this my extended celebration, and a reminder to live a long, good life, but it was also my father’s birthday.

When I look back, I realized many of the things I learned came from my adventures with food, and the people and environment where I find them. Every dish I have, every cocktail I drink, every place I visit has a story, and I find enlightenment and wisdom from these encounters.

I’m not a good storyteller, but I feel strongly when it comes to my experiences. I became a writer because of my wish to tell my stories, but being a food writer seemed to be where my best interests lie.

I also admit that I’m not as good as other food writers. If I try to write professionally, I might not be able to deliver. Still, I know that my posts cannot always have a personal touch. Someday I’ll be able to share my stories beautifully, but for now, these posts should do, hoping that readers would find a bit of themselves in a traveler like me.

With this, my new life as a food writer has begun. Though my budget is low and my knowledge is limited, my quest for good food will continue. Who knows, along the way I’ll be inspired to eat more, travel more, and learn more. Until my next adventure, I’ll keep my fingers crossed and my chopsticks close.