There are narratives everywhere and finding them always has some valuable lesson to spare. For this food adventure, the story of the homegrown food business, surviving Covid-19 challenges, and cancer are the parallels that will run with it.
This little food corner that is named after the five children of Annette de Vera begins its barbeque history in the last decade opening mid-afternoons offering popular street food fare like pork barbeque, isaw, day-old chick, fishballs, and the likes.
Annette said the difference could have been the sauce that husband, Bobby, and the family tested on their customers until they came up with the best formula. At the time, the enterprise was run by the family without external help and Bobby at the helm because she had a 24/7 job at the Verzosa group of companies.
Soon after, customers were requesting for lunch and that led to the opening of a few lunch tables in the garden to accommodate diners. From a few home-cooked dishes, she now has a menu of Pinoy favorites and a staff to cater to customers because the children have their own jobs, except for the youngest.
Until 2017, when Annette slowed down to be main consultant while going through her chemotherapy for cancer, did the enterprise become serious business and of late, with Covid-19 protocols discover plant-based disinfectants and kitchen dishwashing liquids to keep operations compliant. This was not just for customers but most for her fragile nature. Like everything else, these were Divinely provided at a perfect time. She has survived her tests and the food business coped with the al fresco and distancing requirements.
The barbecue will always draw attention with the sweet scent of grilled meat. Annette asked which one I preferred but I said, what about those ones I have not tried as starters. She convinced me that they have their own Betamax and prepare the specific parts for grilling in their standards because she and the children want to make the street food favorites safe if not safer.
My first bite at Betamax proved my prejudices wrong. The coagulated blood is actually smooth and tasteless. I imagined it to be gritty and salty, but I was wrong. It must be because of how this looks when it is sold by regular grillers, these are black blocks in twos or threes on a stick. The pickled cucumber sauce makes this snack enjoyable.
Tasting the grilled chicken tail for the first time makes me regret why I didn’t have it before. At 5Bs, these are cut in triangles and angularly skewered on a stick, the caramelized candies or burnt edges are delicious. Annette confessed that this is boiled before it is grilled to make sure that all food preparations are salmonella-free. I never imagined that I could eat so many on a barbeque stick. I forgot to say that this is tender and chewy. You can actually eat the soft bones if you like.
The isaw editions of pork and chicken intestines are not the regular street experiences. These are more tender versions because these are pre-cooked. In truth, those who don’t like the musky smell of this food can be reassured that this has no offensive scent. The extra care given to the meat should be appreciated by the picky eaters. You can ask for a little more grill time if you want them a little gummier.
Pork barbeque at its best is the meatier edition. Of course, without the fat, this would be boring. The meat is properly selected in each stick so that you get enough of your caramelized candies in the proper places. The limited fatty portions give you the best flavors and tenderest grilled meat. Of course, if you request for them to grill it a little longer, you get the sweeter version of the meat.
Grilled stuffed squid at 5Bs has earned its reputation for its being tender more than rubbery like other squid dishes elsewhere. This does not disappoint. This is truly tender from the tentacles to the tail that has a catsup and soy basting to go with the grilling, I think. Stuffed with tomatoes and onions, the sea scent or fishy smell of squid is greatly diminished. The flesh is akin to eating buko or young coconut. Sweet in its freshness this grilled seafood is paired with a vinegar and soy mixture with onions.
Fresh lumpia is delicious and different because the crepe made to wrap the sauteed fresh vegetables is divine. The reason is that commercial wrappers have their long journey to get to the plate. Unlike other counterparts, this does not have a salty sweet sauce to go with it but a sweet-sour vinaigrette to perk it up. The mix of beans, carrots, sweet potatoes, tofu, and turnips cut in long strips also has some bearing on the food. Not in the menu, you can ask for this.
The dinuguan or chocolate meat is truly a home recipe. The smooth blood sauce and the tender meat with green chili pepper for the scent and spice is how we cook this at home. There are no additives or added extenders to this. I am unsure if part of the meat is from the innards, which is the original ingredient used for this Pinoy dish but using that part of the pork meat gives the dish a different texture. What one looks for in this dish is the silky dark gravy that is saltier than sweet and tender meat.
Igado is another lunch dish. The popularity of this dish must be its Spanish influence of having some sweet peas, carrots, potatoes, and raisins with the cubed slices of pork and liver. I often choose this dish for lunch too because it does not leave a dark stain on the lips like dinuguan. It is sweet when you get a raisin in the spoonful and salty when a slice of liver is mixed with the meat. Altogether, the pleasant play of flavors in the mouth makes this savory.
For dessert, coffee was the better option since it was coffee drip from the selection of coffee beans from coffee growers in these parts of the country and other places. This according to Annette is a way of collaborating with friends who have online businesses after the shutdown.
Open now in its allowed protocol limits, the takeout and the delivered lunch packs are still the busy things for Annette who keeps on her toes as her cancer is in remission. She was able to devise a five-day menu for the offices that she caters to, so employees don’t get tired of the fare. She even says that the care to details has given the family business some recognition from the Gintong Sandok Awards given by some government agencies for small and medium restaurants where they landed in second spot.
The award recognized the details in the operation of the food service to include the kitchen, dining area, food servers, cleanliness, maintenance, and toilets. She was told that she got the second prize because she had only one toilet for both sexes.
To that she said, the limited space in her garden is all she has and knowing that it was the only reason for losing makes her proud that the family efforts at keeping their standards in their corner food stop have earned distinction. (Photos by Mau Victa)