Sometimes, the market that is the common man’s food haven is the choice of the day. Food served in budget meal trays are practical, cheap, and actually flavorful. The adventure took us to Bicol Delicacies Eatery at Hilltop at the city public market.
Unpretentious, the twenty-some steps up to the second level of the building, where the food stop is located opens to a hodgepodge kind of dining room with a main center table and two side walls for single diners. The swivel chairs were from a former computer shop and quite comfy but misfit for a dining table. These kinds of places referred to as turo-turo or literally called point-point have no waiting time. They dish out the orders directly into the plastic dishes with divisions for the rice and two viands. Unlimited free soup is their crowd-drawer.
The okoy or vegetable fritter made from squash, malunggay, and small shrimps was the common choice. This turned out to be a good option in its combination of crunchy and chewy in the middle parts. The corn starch binder of the thin squash strips and malunggay leaves gave the mixture its tempura kind of appeal. The cook said it could have been crispier if it was deep fried a little longer. The refreshing sweet cucumber pickle dip for fried foods was delightful too. The julienne cut cucumbers were pickled in sweet vinegarand some chili peppers to give this a mild spiciness. This was midday morning snack for the working media boys on a market coverage.
Famous for coconut milk stewed dishes, the kamansi or breadnut was also a veggie option. The spicy appeal of Bicol cuisine was held back in this dish. Chunky bits of the breadnut were simply sauteed and simmered until tender then the sauce allowed to thicken. The condiments that were added were just right for the tastebuds.
The lightly floured ipusan or smelt fish was nothing less than crispy fried. Perfectly crunchy, this favorite breakfast dish is equivalent to other dried fish favorites like tuyo or dried herring or dilis or anchovies. But this is the fresh fish equivalent. With the sweet pickle juice as dip, this makes the meal a joy.
A carnivore doesn’t miss the pork steak version of this Southern Tagalog tagged eatery. A misnomer for the standard slabs referred to as steak, this came as thin slices of pork minus the fat. The sauteed meat in garlic and onions then simmered in what struck me as oyster sauce was pleasantly salty sweet. Surprisingly, the cook didn’t put extenders like potatoes to make the servings look generous.
Of course, beef soup was a must for the sampling. Without the bone marrow in bulalo or our version of beef marrow soup, the boiled tender beef chunks with slices of yellow corn and Bok choy were also perfect for one person but overflowing with soup for a party of four. The cook’s addition of salt in the broth was perfect.
This adventure in the working man’s alley is summed up in two words, just right! The single item of food with a cup of rice were enough to fill the man until the next meal. Whether vegetable, meat, or fish, the price for the budget meal was right to keep the spirit happy and the body spritely.
This simple Bicol cuisine should make anyone return for more okoy at the least.
– Nonnette C. Bennett