Childhood Food Memories is the selected topic for this monthâ€™s Lasang Pinoy 10 hosted by Chef Sam de Leoz at Buhay Cocinero, who will have a round-up in a few days of all the entries by Pinoy food bloggers and food enthusiasts from around the world. The topic is destined to be a classic. And I feared I had already exhausted all of my potential â€œentries.â€ If there is anything that I have learned from this blog, it is that food and childhood memories are inextricably linked. Over the past 18 months, I have received hundreds of comments and e-mails related to various posts that featured a recipe or fruit or place that readers recalled from their own childhoodsâ€¦whether munching on duhat picked from a neighborâ€™s tree, eating pospas when down with the flu, or perhaps it was a special way a mom or aunt prepared a holiday dish, and the clarity of their memories is totally amazing. For the most part, the food-memory link results in an apparent rush of good endorphins that flood readersâ€™ psyches wherever in the world they may be. The smell of frying daing, the stickiness of suman, and the smoke from a barbecue are all triggers for the mind. It has certainly made me think harder about my own childhood and what I recall as the â€œfood highlights.â€
I donâ€™t recall too much about school before say 12 years of age, except that I used to play marbles on dried packed mud behind our school buildings, or that I saved up my meager allowance to buy nice big green spiders that we used to â€œhouseâ€ in wooden matchboxes before we challenged each other to spider fights. I do, however, distinctly remember buying contraband green mangoes and bagoong, sampaloc with salt or dirty ice cream through the wire fences just near the gates of school. I do recall that occasional treat of a bottle of coke (remember those shorter curvy ones?) with those opaque wide plastic straws that everyone said were washed and recycled (yech!). I do recall the early 1970â€™s when my dad used to come back mid-morning to Matabungkay beach after a night out fishing near Lubang Island laden with several huge coolers filled to the top with enormous fish and the resulting kinilaw that was served for lunch. I recall fainting in Farmerâ€™s Market when my mom dragged me through the meat section. I can picture specific moments when consuming indian mango with salt on the verandah of our Nipa Hut beach house. I do recall the smell of tuyo that we frequently had for breakfast at home in the city. The lechons that used to be flown in from Cebu when one of us had a birthdayâ€¦
I recall the kaings of mangoes and sineguelas that my grandmother used to buy during summer vacations we spent in Cebu. The huge langkas that used to hang from the ancient tree outside our bedroom in Cebu, redolent with a smell you can never forget. The huge Bangkok santols that were the size of baseballs that used to ripen by the hundreds in our front lawn in Quezon City before the santol trees all got that weird affliction that has deformed their leaves to this day. The consilva, broas, otap and rosquillos sent from the provinces of Cebu and Bohol. The hot chocolate made from tablea grown on land of relatives in Bohol that my mom used to patiently twirl until it had achieved the desired smoothness and consistency (that I now know to be watery). I distinctly recall I ate nothing green except for cucumbers (?!) before the age of 11. I freaked out when I saw dinuguan being made from scratch and have never eaten it since. Pospas or lugaw was only eaten when I was sick and if I was REALLY sick, I also got a small pack of Hersheyâ€™s chocolate kisses and unlimited 7-Up and Sky flakes to help make me feel better. Beefsteak Tagalog is perhaps my oldest long-standing Pinoy dish favorite, and soaking my rice with the sauce and the onions is perhaps a taste that must make up one of the last 10 things I would request to eat if I was ever on death row. And life would not be the same without Del Monte tomato ketchup. And yet, re-reading what I am writing, I must add that I was actually a scrawny, gangly kid who didnâ€™t really pay that much attention to what I was eatingâ€¦I think I just ate to fuel the body. I couldnâ€™t cook a pot of rice at age 15 if I were starving.
So what is my strongest childhood food memory? Oddly, I would have to say it is a toss-up between candied sampaloc in all its different forms and red kiamoy. What?!? Yup, thatâ€™s itâ€¦it appears across the entire range of childhood from perhaps 5 to 12 years of age. If I had extra money I would buy those large sampaloc candies with lots of rock salt that were wrapped in yellow (salty) or clear (sweet) cellophane right outside my grade school. I also purchased it at Mercury Drugâ€™s snack food section many years later. I took sampaloc on day trips, weekend trips to the beach, long holidays, on the plane, on the boat (remember those ferries to Cebu with dopey names like Sweet Hope, Sweet Faith, etc.???). I ate it sugared, salted, in large bags, drier, wetter, and even in those white boxes that included the â€œribsâ€ or â€œfibersâ€ around the fruit so you had to eat it like you were removing the flesh from a herring. It is a taste that I have never tired off and to this day I probably do not go a month without some sort of candied sampaloc though my tastes have evolved to this slightly spicy seedless version photographed here that is actually made in Thailand. There is something about the balance of acidity, sweetness and saltiness that makes this one of my favorite munchies ever.
Almost as impressive in my memory is red kiamoy (which I grew up incorrectly calling champoy) of which I have consumed literally thousands of pieces by the time I reached 40. Forget the warnings that they were made in the armpits of sweaty folk from the mainland, hence their saltiness or the fact that they might be dirtyâ€¦ I absolutely adored red â€œchampoy.â€ Its black sticky cousin dikiam was okay for me but the red one was the best. Every time I got to Tropical Hut groceries they had a counter of preserved fruits and getting a 100 gram bag of red kiamoy was such a thrill. Otherwise, I bought it pre-packaged with such thick gauge plastic it was incredibly difficult to tear open. I never knew the uncolored version was an option at that time and I actually enjoyed the fact that my tongue and fingertips would turn red while eating it. I could eat this by nibbling or popping entire fruit into my mouth. While others would soak theirs in Coke, I liked to eat them by themselves. My parents thought I had an unhealthy fixation on sampaloc and champoy but I now realize I was probably just self-medicating an un-diagnosed case of anemia and low blood sugar that I was â€œregulatingâ€ with sweet sampaloc and salty champoy. These snacks were not encouraged by my parents, which probably made them taste even better. Not even a naÃ¯ve 7 year old would believe that the Chinese would color their armpits red so that my champoy would look and taste so goodâ€¦
I recall eating sampaloc and champoy just about anywhere. At school, home, on the street, in cars, in planes, boats, at the beach, in Baguio, while well, while sick and after being sick. When desperate, I used to crack open the kiamoy seeds and eat the kernel inside! I also recall that I had huge supplies these goodies once my older brother and sister started dating as their dates used to ply me with the stuff to keep me happy as a their unofficial chaperone. If we went to the movies I inevitably got a huge bag of either goody and it was stocked for the next week or so! Today, I have shied away from the colored stuff but still frequently eat the uncolored dried plums from Aji Ichiban, seedless if possible. Yes, these are the absolute favorite childhood food memories for Marketmanâ€¦not a meat of some sort, a special paella or a rich dessertâ€¦just some nice sampaloc candy and red kiamoy!