An excellent piece of meat and bite of Americana
The latest in my nostalgic ramblings is a memory of myself as a young boy riding to National Book Store on Quezon Avenue. I preferred Alemar’s, which was diagonally across on the other side of the road, but from our house near Sto. Domingo Church you reached National Book Store first, so that was our first stop.
There was a vendor outside who sold apples; as a treat my mother would buy one for me to have later when we got home. I didn’t particularly like apples, and I still don’t, but the rarity of it made it special, just like strawberries, which were available only in February when we drove up to Baguio.
One day my mother went to the vendor and came back without an apple. What happened? She shook her head and said, “Too expensive.”
The devaluation had hit the peso, which climbed to P20 to a dollar. Imported goods became a luxury. In those days for the middle class, the bangus was a luxury that one had only occasionally. Far more common was the hasa-hasa, a medium-sized fish which, fried in oil and dipped in vinegar, went well with boiled rice.
Today hasa-hasa is harder to find and ridiculously overpriced; it’s all bangus, all the time. I’ve actually never liked bangus, with its fiddly bones and parched skin, the little layer of translucent fat in the stomach area the only saving grace. Stuffing it with ground pork makes it even worse. It’s like trying to rescue something uninteresting by putting something uninteresting inside it.
These days, too, there are apples everywhere: if you go to a fruit stand in a market in Cebu you’ll see the same selection of woody, tasteless apples you see in the fruit section in a supermarket in Manila. They’re good for stuffing into the mouth of a pig after roasting or, barely, for making apple crumble, but not much else.
I remember having fruit trees in our garden as a boy. I remember the joy of watching the fruit ripen, and the rage of having someone with a long pole and net come and take them away the night before you had planned to eat it. On windy nights, the caimito would fall onto our roof like little grenades, waking everyone up with a start.
This is the second week of some sort of malfunction at Customs, or so I’ve been told, so that fresh milk, chocolate, vegetables and delicacies are festering in refrigerated containers somewhere in Manila Bay, while we find ourselves in the ridiculous position of not having access to all the local fruits and vegetables that we had spurned in favor of cheap produce from China or exotic produce from around the world.
The name of the game in the food world is franchising. This is the opposite of the kind of restaurants that I like to feature in this space, but for an entrepreneur with limited funds and wants a quick return on investment, I can see the allure.
Not everyone is interested in or able to replicate his grandmother’s cooking; even fewer have the luxury of foraging for ingredients or developing a philosophy of Filipino cuisine.
Angel’s Burger offers franchises for just a little over P500,000 and will probably make more money than a restaurant serving fine French cuisine. From a purely utilitarian point of view, they feed more people and do more for the public good than any outpost of haute cuisine française.
I didn’t think I would like Pink’s Hot Dogs, but I do. I would probably like an outpost of Katz’s Delicatessen in Manila as well, just as I’ve been screaming at the tycoons of the food world to please bring in a franchise of Nando’s into the country.
It’s hypocritical of me to insist on local produce, independent restaurants, individualistic philosophies, and to rejoice when a foreign franchise of something interesting comes into town. Or when I enjoy Pink’s Hot Dogs so much; I even enjoy the kitschy atmosphere of the place, with American trash television playing on the monitors and the relentlessly upbeat music piped in through the speakers.
I take my daughter there, but honestly I think I have a better time than she does. It is, after all, an excellent piece of meat and bite of Americana. Their burgers are excellent as well (some would say even more excellent than the hot dogs). You can then finish up with a milkshake at Farmacy, which is in the same room: apparently Farmacy, Pink’s and Wildflour are part of the same food conglomerate.
But it’s also a pretty expensive hot dog, considering you can get an entire pack of 10-inch hot dogs (no giggling in the back, please) for the same price. The desire for exotic imported food is unlikely to die out soon, but at some point, like my mother with the apples, we’ll find ourselves turning away, shaking our heads: “Too expensive.”
For us, perhaps, but there will always be a market at the high end that is impervious to price. As one moves to the luxury end of the spectrum, there is a small group of food products for which demand is relatively inelastic: Petrossian caviar, Dom Perignon champagne, Petrus and so on, simply because they are hideously expensive and there will always be oligarchs or, more likely, arrivistes and corrupt officials squandering their wealth on these.
Some foreign franchises might be able to coast along the tail end of this spectrum. For others that fall in between the high end and Angel’s Burger, a time will come when we’ll simply say, “Too expensive.” —CONTRIBUTED
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