Ongpin is where the heart is

16 03 2009



THERE REALLY are just days when you feel like your warm blanket has been soaking wet.  You throw it in the dryer.  And it has been taking long for it to really dry up and shrivel from the complete loss of moisture.  Which is the perfect time for you to take it out, and cozy up in the couch – covered with its warm fluffiness.


At times, waiting for comfort – or at least the feeling of getting awashed in it – can be the bane of my existence.  Only that as an independent-minded person, I am wont to take charge and look for it.  Yes I know, moments when you wait for comfort tend to be those when you’re on the edge.  But fortunately for me, I have always been on the good side of the edge, enough for me to tip toe my way back to comfort.  And once away from the edge, I run towards it – mostly,  to food.


But I don’t really binge.  Let me just be clear with that.  I just go to a place where food can remind me of the good ol’ days.  Where I don’t really care about the ambience and just eat.  And you have to know, in moderation!


One such place is Ongpin in Manila.  And its backyard, so to speak.


Growing up, Fridays were usually spent hearing mass at Quiapo Church.  And right after, we’d grab something to bite at the many restaurants dotting the area, some of them favorites through the years.  These were places where I felt at home – I was almost like a star – as the wait staff would always greet me the very moment I stepped in to their establishments.  I didn’t know if I was just a cute kid (which, believe me, is a claim that has no relation to reality!)…  or if I was just, even as a kid, already a “difficult” customer.  Yes, I would complain about the seasoning, the saltiness, the tenderness of the brisket.  Everything!  But the waitresses loved me just the same!


Right across Quiapo Church, there used to stand Wa Pac Panciteria.  Everytime we’d go there, I would joke that we should seat ourselves near the door so that we could make a mad dash outside just in case the building collapsed.  Yes, the building was that unsound structurally that the façade looked like a face with a smirk on it.  But the pancit guisado (stir-fried rice noodles with meat and vegetables) was worth risking life and limb for.  Unfortunately, Wa Pac Panciteria had closed since.  On Quezon Boulevard was (and still is) R. Ma Mon Luk Restaurant.  The place hasn’t changed and the crown on its signage only rightfully signifies the fact that it has remained to be the king of mami (Hongkong- or Chinese-style egg noodles in a piping hot broth with meat and vegetables).  We’ve been contemplating visiting this landmark again but parking could really be a problem.  But their food could be worth all the hassle.  As the worn-out plastic menu board – on which you can slide blocks for numbers for the prices (though scratch paper has taken their places) – proudly claims, “Ang mami dito ay unang imbento.  Una sa lasa.  Una sa sarap.”  (“We invented the mami.  We’re first in flavor.  First in deliciousness.”)


On Ronquillo Street, there was La Perla Restaurant.  That for me was the home of the best beef mami of my childhood, as well as the best “diniguan” (Blood Stew with Pork Innards) and the best “lumpiang sariwa” (fresh crepe of stir-fried vegetables with a thick peanut-garlice sauce).  I miss La Perla so much.  We never missed a week without eating there!  My mother would even send me off to campings or a night at the Planetarium with a lunch box filled with their goodies!  Along the same street was Automat, famous for their pancit guisado.


On the street parallel to Ronquillo, there was (and still is) Delicious Restaurant.  We patronize them for their saucy pancit guisado.  And further down the road (I forgot which one) was (and still is) Sun Wah.  It has been renamed Wah Sun but their bestsellers haven’t changed a bit.  My maternal grandmother (Mommy!) love their “camaron rebosado” and green peas with shrimps.


But on my own, now that I’m all grown up – and because a lot of the places of my childhood gastronomical adventures had already closed shop – my idea of comfort food in Ongpin has been confined within the walls of only one place – Kim Hiong Food Garden, right on Ongpin Street.  I continue to go there when all I want is to EAT and not care about the ambience.  But by Ongpin standards, their place is not bad at all.  And it’s all about the food, remember?









When I’m with family or a huge group, we order a lot of dishes and eat family style (I love their Yang Chow, Beef with Brocolli, etc.).  But when it’s just me, I ask for my usual – steamed tofu (lots of fresh onion leeks, please!), “beef mami hiwalay ang sabaw” (toast mami, soup on the side), plain noodles (like extra rice!), beef sauce (really strong beef broth… and this is complimentary), and lemon iced tea.  Straightforward and no fuss.


I love the firmness of the tofu that is rendered almost silken by the steam.  It is perfumed with the strong flavor of star anise, among many other aromatics.  The mami, on the other hand, is tops for me (I’ve had a lot since a child!) because of the texture and the flavor of the noodles themselves.  And I like it that they make their own noodles, upstairs (where a lot of the cooking also happens).


I enjoy all these with the dipping sauce I make with lots of calamansi, soy sauce, and Kim Hiong’s very own chili-garlic.  That to me remains to be unrivaled.  I haven’t enjoyed any bottled supermarket-bought chili-garlic as much as I have enjoyed Kim Hiong’s.


Brothers’ birthdays

16 03 2009

BIRTHDAYS ARE magical.  So a lot of people say.  Why so?  It’s because on our birthdays, the energy that the universe invested in us sort of gets renewed.  Does it make sense?  Okay, I’m not so sure.  It just sounds so profound to me.  Hahaha!


But seriously, I think that birthdays are quite special in the sense that it is on those dates (okay, days…) that special people in our lives came forth to this world.  I for one am very thankful for the people in my life.  I am so grateful for them that I try really hard not to miss out on remembering them on their special days.


They have blessed my life so much that I feel the least I could do is greet them on their birthdays.  For the five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes they have made me feel that I matter, I thank them.  We may not get to see each other – or even hang out with each other all the time – but there is nothing like the thought of them “being there,” at the back of my head, that gets me through some of life’s toughest moments.


March 13th, Friday, marked Brother’s (Edu) birthday.  And this is one person with whom I really go way back.  I count them as 13 years.  And he would always snap back to declare: “Ten lang.  Ayaw mo pa akong friend nung simula!” (“Ten only.  You didn’t like me at the start!”)  Hahaha!  And that sense of humor is actually what has anchored our friendship through all these years.  He even has a running joke that he has always stayed on the No.2 slot of my friendship “hierarchy,” with the No.1 reserved for whomever is my favorite.  It’s not really true, but that kind of humor sort of sums up the kind of brotherhood we have.


Very few people get me – really get me, and Brother has proven time and again that he is one of these very few.  He is one of those who can finish my sentences.  And with the way I look at things or people, he could very well read my mind…  So much so that I can only liken it to him snatching the contents of my thought bubble even right before they could finish forming on top of my head.  And if there is one more thing that I can really thank Brother for, it is his genuine generosity.  Yes, a lot of people think I am generous.  But for the life of me, I haven’t met anybody as generous as Brother.  With him, I fight as to who foots the dinner bill (yes, I do!).  And there have been a lot of times that he would ask me what I want for my birthday.  Hahaha!


But more than anything else, I admire Brother’s being a good son and a good sibling.  Not too many people may know but he has stood firm amidst a lot of things that have come his way recently.  And his family is all the much better because of him and his goodness.  I hope for him more success at work!  And I believe that there is no other way but up for him.  He is intelligent, and really smart.  And nobody can do his job but him.  Trust me.




March 15th, Sunday, marked the birthday of yet another good friend of mine – Kuya (Jay).  Yes, I know Kuya, you don’t like me calling you that because of the connotation that you are years older.  So I’m going on record here to say that our age difference is just a year.  (Remember, we’ve settled this the last time I saw you.)


I guess the best way to describe Kuya is to say that he is the kind of guy every gentleman should aspire to be.  A well-educated young man…  A good son…  A responsible son…  An accomplished achiever in his chosen field(s) of specialization…  I will go out on a limb and say that NOTHING in life seems to faze him.  Everytime I see him – whether it’s the best of times, or the worst of times – he has always remained unruffled.  Now, if only I could be even just a tenth of that…  I’d be contented.


And for someone who may have grown up with a little more privilege than most, Kuya is so endearingly simple.  He is not one to flaunt the finer things in life.  And he is never one to restrict his mingling with only those of the – ehem – the privilege few.  This to me speaks so much about just how well he was brought up.  And even what he wants in life are really simple.  As a matter of fact, he spent his birthday by having dinner with his family…  and…  playing basketball!  See, just basketball, which to me, seems to be the only thing he really cares about.  Hahaha!


Of course, I have to say I am very thankful to him.  For all the confidence he has had in my abilities.  For giving me the avenues to further improve my skills and my self in general.


And of course, for just being my friend.