I think sometimes I've become fastidious, finicky, even when it comes to food. I would be the last person to restrict good eating to fine dining. As long as I'm eating good, clean, cheap food in a clean, nice smelling place, I'm set. Sometimes, I can forgive the occasional funky odor if the food is worth it. The siopao in Ma Mon Luk, for instance, is worth the sticky floors and pungent air. (Tip: if you're worried about utensils being less than clean, douse them with alcohol, wipe, then air dry for just a few seconds. I'm not sure if it really works, but the psychological duping effect is A-rated bliss).
Like everyone else, though, I have set tastes. And although my gastronomic standards are relatively broader, I still have preconceived images of good eats in my mind. I must confess, eating at a poorly-funded sanctuary for victims of military atrocities was not my idea of gastronomic heaven.
I was wrong. Last thursday's merienda and yesterday's lunch at the said sanctuary deserve a moment in posterity through this humble blog. Thursday's merienda was a bowl of gooey sweet rice pudding with roasted mung beans. I was searching my memory for the name, asking my companions, but no one knew. They didn't seem to care, in fact. They just kept eating. Thank God for my professor's assistant who supplied the lost moniker: lilet balatong. Lilet Balatong! I hadn't eaten lilet balatong since I was a kid, I think. The lilet b. at the sanctuary wasn't all that great. But as I've said before, I like to eat memories, and I enjoyed the feeling of remembrance, of enjoying a bowl of warm lilet b. as a kid.
Yesterday's lunch also featured the versatile mung bean. Munggo is one of my all-time favorites. I can eat munggo every day. In fact, I just had munggo for lunch today. But yesterday's munggo was possibly the best munggo I've tasted. The beans were crushed into a smooth and silky stew with dried fish, ampalaya leaves, and chicharong hibe (dried and fried baby shrimps: infanticide never tasted better) adding layers of salty/bitter flavor.
But balatong, or any food for that matter, also only tastes as good as the company you keep while eating. And the people at the sanctuary made for some of the finest company I've been blessed to dine with. They weren't particularly articulate, and conversations weren't punctuated by middle-class, intelligentia wit. It was more the feeling that I was surrounded by good, decent people who, despite being villified and violated by those in power, and forced to leave their homes and family and go into hiding, are still able to smile and say, with conviction, that things will get better.
I guess mush can sometimes be good for the soul.