â€œTitaâ€ Cely Kalaw must certainly qualify as one of the icons of Filipino food and cooking. At 69, still a â€œMissâ€ and as spry and energetic as someone half her age, she is an absolute joy to behold. She was mentioned in this blog early on when I featured Bicol Express and some discussion ensued about her â€œinventingâ€ the dishâ€¦ Well, she certainly named it, and while her version is based on a long-standing Bicolano dish Gulay na Lada, it is her version that has spread like wildfire to local restaurants who have adopted her wonderful name for the dish as well, based on the trains to the Bicol region, not any other silly suggestions like an express trip to the John after eating itâ€¦ At any rate, my parents were frequent customers of Ms. Kalawâ€™s restaurant, The Grove, in Malate in the 1960â€™s, where my father would get a taste of Bicolano dishes, where his father was born and raised. She is not my biological tita, but she prefers that she is everyone’s tita, if you know what I mean… after all, she called me “Tito” Marketman, which cracked me up no end…
Yesterday, at the Salcedo Market, Ms. Kalaw spotted me and invited me to a food event she had going on at Westgrove Heights at lunch today, which unfortunately I cannot make. At any rate, we decided to purchase some dishes from her stall at the Salcedo market so that we wouldnâ€™t have to cook much for lunch yesterday. We occasionally like to buy pre-cooked food at Salcedo and other markets because it makes it easy to taste many different dishes without much effort or mess. Since I have been sick for weeks, my tastebuds were â€œdulledâ€ and I wanted to â€œwakeâ€ them up a bit. So to add to a fried bangus and some homemade acharra that we were preparing at home, I picked up take-out containers of guinataang langka (unripe jackfruit stewed in coconut milk), guinataang gulay at alimango (vegetables in coconut milk with mud crabs with roe), ginisang alamang at kamias (sautÃ©ed krill (small shrimp) with belimbi fruit), laing (taro leaves with coconut milk), and ukoy (crisp fried shrimp).
When I tried to pay for the dishes, Tita Cely refused, and a small heated exchange took place. I was mortified, particularly after just writing my piece on not accepting freebies. Normally, I would put the food back on the table at this stage, but it just seemed inappropriate and rude, so I arranged a â€œbarterâ€ of goods instead. The five dishes I took home in exchange for a bottle of my homemade kalamansi marmalade and a bottle of mangosteen jam. That we agreed to. And I rushed home to get the jams so that the exchange would be immediate. Frankly, this is the main reason I would rather be totally anonymous, so that I wouldnâ€™t have to deal with these kinds of situationsâ€¦ but at any rate, I was not disappointed with my haulâ€¦
The sautÃ©ed krill or alamang with kamias was excellent, not too salty and with that just right amount of briny-ness and hint of sourness from the kamias fruit. The guinataang langka was also well seasoned and while rich because of the coconut milk, it wasnâ€™t too rich, too sweet or too salty. This was really very good. The vegetables in coconut milk was also delicious but I hesitated to consume the oodles of crab fat/roe that would almost certainly sink me into a bout with gout. The laing was good, though I regret not buying the bicol express to go with it, as I do like that hit of chili heat. Finally, the ukoy, while tasting good, was a bit makunat (chewy), which I attribute somewhat heavily to the incredibly wet weather yesterday that affected several food items I purchased from the market. Overall, this was a solid 9.00-9.25/10.00 â€œtake-awayâ€ meal.
At the end of our lunch at home, both Mrs. MM and I agreed that there was a refinement to the dishes that could only have come with someone who has been cooking and tasting for decades. This is not fancy cooking at all. But this is some of the best pinoy cooking by someone with incredible heart and passion for what she does. If you want a taste of Tita Celyâ€™s food during the week, catch her and her yummy food at the foodcourt of Market!Market! Mall at her stall called â€œTita Celyâ€™s Sinigang Bar.â€ Telephone number 8867629. Maraming salamat Tita Cely!!!