Oh, what a great five years it has been! Whoever thought that writing about food would be exciting, emotional, enjoyable?
This is the last issue of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine as a weekly rag. Starting next month, the Inquirer will only have SIM every first Sunday of the month. For those of us who have gotten used to the habit of Sunday reading, it’s a little sad. But oh, what a great five years it has been!
Whoever thought that writing about food would be exciting, emotional, enjoyable? Requiring intellect in what appears to be mundane, I have learned that beyond flavors, food is art, a cook’s expression of his or her ideas, identity and influences, an evidence of one’s mastery of culinary skills, and for us, the audience, an experience to remember (or not).
And behind the flavors, a story: how the taho vendor learned to yodel “tahoooo!!!” from his father so that the whole village would hear; how a gardener, after helping out during his employer’s many parties, was sent to Hong Kong to learn how to cook authentic Cantonese cuisine (“The Heart of Entertaining,” SIM, 3/22/09); how a young Ed Quimson would come home from school during recess to enjoy a meal with his Lola Consuelo (SIM, 5/25/08); how Beth Romualdez would tag along with her father when he went to the market, and come home to find a freshly slaughtered goat in their backyard (SIM, 10/05/08).
The past five years have compiled stories of successes, losses, adventures and finds. Success stories have come in different packages: Margarita Fores closed Pepato but “20 years into the business, she is still youthful, laughing as heartily as ever, and at the top of her game.” (SIM, 11/18/07). She has since opened Lusso and a few more Cibos. Malou Fores, not a chef but “definitely a gourmet (with) exquisite taste” (SIM, 10/07/07), has opened Mamou Too at Rockwell. Charlie Esguerra of pritchon fame served pritchon at President Noynoy Aquino’s vin d’ honneur (SIM, 12/10/06). Celebrity chef couple Rob Pengson and Sunshine Puey opened the degustation restaurant The Goose Station (SIM, 05/16/10). Chef Carlo Miguel left Mezza Luna (now closed; SIM, 01/14/07), moved to Sala (SIM, 04/13/08) and now Opus. Tonyboy Escalante’s Antonio’s has twice been regaled as one of Asia’s Top 5 restaurants. Myrna Segismundo (featured in SIM, 07/29/07) has opened a Private Kitchen, while Claude Tayag has started serving 5-Way Lechon in his (featured in SIM, 01/11/09).
Tears included those for loved ones lost: Larry Cruz’s passing brought tears to the eyes of many a foodie, including fellow artist cum chef Claude Tayag, Cafe Breton’s Mariela Luna and SIM’s own Alya Honasan. Tita Cely Kalaw of Bicol Express fame likewise passed on and brought grief to her many sukis and admirers. We joined the Gamboa kids as they mourned the death of Julie Gamboa, founder of Milky Way. Nana Meng, my personal guide, aside from my mother, to the definition of “masarap” passed away (SIM, 07/04/09); so has uncle Louie Vargas, who enlightened us on the ordeals the poor piggie goes through that we may enjoy lechon (SIM, 12/10/06).
We also mourned the passing away of Uva, Tangerine, Le Souffle, Terrace at the 5th, Schwarzwalder, Lavigne, and the Magnolia Ice Cream House, among other greats. We saw the death and resurrection of Max Brenner (from Greenbelt 3 to 5), Chateau 1771 (from Ortigas to Greenbelt; and also Cafe 1771), Antonio’s Breakfast (from its stand-alone home to the extension of Antonio’s Fine Dining), Nanohana (from Salcedo to the Fort), and McDonald’s Twister Fries. And we saw the birth of Sweet Bella (finally!) and the mushrooming of Bibingkinitan, Mary Grace Cafe and Conti’s. And that’s just a third of the story.*
SIM has truly come a long way, baby. In the very first issue of SIM on March 9, 1986, with no less than Letty Jimenez Magsanoc as editor-in-chief, Maurice Arcache did a summary of restaurants that were “IN” or “OUT.” “Roma at the Manila Hotel is more IN than any other place in Manila,” he wrote. (And I thought, What’s Roma??) “(But) the Champagne Room is OUT – food lousy, luncheon buffet’s too dull for comfort – only the ambience remains,” he continued. Happily, the Champagne Room is back IN, with Chef Christine Zarandin’s beautiful creations, as well as the Tap Room which has been revived as a jazz lounge with no less than Sandra Viray and Romy Posadas playing on Saturdays.
Half of the restaurants Arcache mentioned are no longer just OUT but RIP: Cappricio of the Silahis Hotel, then IN for its “excellent food, excellent service, super view.” Prima Vera on Legaspi Street. Mama Mia. Nielsen Towers at the Peninsula, which Arcache said was not just OUT but “OUT OUT OUT,” has been replaced by Escolta, beside Salon de Ning which today is IN IN IN. Hugo’s of the Hyatt Hotel; Sud of the Sheraton; Abelardo’s at the Philippine Plaza; and “All the restaurants of the Midtown Plaza are OUT-OUT-OUT.”
He described Bistro Remedios as “an overrated restaurant,” Abelardo’s as “trying hard but just never succeeds,” Restaurant L’eau Vive with “French speaking nuns… now has deteriorated into a semi-Vietnamese refugee camp;” Cowrie Grill as mediocre and with “service so slow you have to come for lunch to be served supper;” and Los Hidalgos as “not measuring up to the Intramuros elegance.” And for the renowned Esperanza’s: “bring a big magnifying glass if you want to see what you’re getting and get ready to declare bankruptcy when you get the bill.” All that in one page! And I thought I was harsh.
But then again it was 1986. The year freedom was regained. Pardon the exuberance, SIM was celebrating free speech.
Another Aquino presidency later, SIM continues to celebrate the power and pleasures of the pen – on all topics including food. And we will continue to do so in the coming years. To our readers, thank you for being a part of MENU’s literary gastronomic experience. I hope you keep your Menus. To the chefs, cooks, restaurateurs, food lovers and the like, thank you for sharing your stories with us. To LJM and Alya, thank you for the big break and continued support. Leica, we miss you! To the SIM Team—Pennie, Ruey, Eric, Sharon—as we begin the journey of SIM as a monthly magazine, may we continue on with the tradition that the great writers of 1986 started.
To good food, good writing and good times, raise your glasses, everyone! Cheers! •
* More restaurant births in the first issue of SIM’s monthly version on the first Sunday of October!