It has become a little gauche to find joy in torrential downpours, because it’s insensitive to those whose houses get submerged or who must endure five-hour commutes when the traffic crawls to a standstill due to floods.
But on second thought, it’s a shame not to pay tribute to one of the few dramatic seasonal changes we have. After a blistering hot summer, just when you thought you couldn’t take the heat and boredom anymore, school starts up again (back in the days when the Filipino summer calendar, which makes much more sense, was followed), families come back from the holiday and everything goes back to normal, just as the first drops of rain fall on the dry, dusty earth.
It feels like renewal and rebirth, the quenching of a parched season. Lanzones, avocados, caimito come into season.
Considering that rainy season comes to the Philippines every year, and has probably done so for the last few thousand years, we still manage to be surprised and shocked every time the storm clouds gather, the heavens open and sheets of rain come down.
It was actually one of the things I missed most when I lived abroad, where you get four seasons, which is nice, but what they call “strong rain” is a drizzle compared to ours that sounds like bullets riddling the corrugated iron roofing.
In the 1970s, when I was growing up, most rain would leave a thin layer on the ground, which drained off into the open gutters on the side of the road.
It was only when typhoons hit that there would be floods. Everyone would change into rubber boots, we would cut off the power lest it reached the sockets, and we would wait a few hours.
Forty years later, the city is much more built up, but we seem to be living more in a state of denial that every year, rainy season comes, and with it comes a great deal of water that needs somewhere to go.
In Binondo, where the rents are among the highest anywhere in the country, the threat of leptospirosis also inches skyward every year. Binondo is actually a series of islands linked by bridges. Its trash, which usually clogs the canals, floats into people’s homes and offices, with giant rats paddling for their lives.
Many of the lowest points in the metropolis are also chokepoints for traffic: Araneta Avenue, Quiapo, Edsa corner Chino Roces (formerly Pasong Tamo). Meanwhile, in complete defiance of the laws of physics which suggest that water will flow downwards, we are building deeper and deeper, and are even planning a subway system, presumably one which will employ submarines.
What a wonderful thing the slight drop in the climate is, however.
It’s for times like these that bulalo was invented, as well as its many offshoots. No one can quite agree on what pochero is, except that it’s a jazzed-up version of the basic bulalo, which is essentially just boiled cow with lots of peppercorns.
I also recently discovered the Ilonggo version, kansi, which is soured with batuan. Manam does a great version with the soup thickened to a gravy, which is presented in a stone sizzling pot like the kind that a bibimbap comes in.
For a more earthy rendition, Pat Pat’s does a cheap, hearty one that comes with a great big bone, like a dinosaur femur, with a stick to help you shake out the marrow, the way an Egyptian priest would liquefy the brain of a mummification subject before pulling it out through the nostrils.
This is also a great time to enjoy the hearth-like dining of Korean barbecue, or the steamy warmth of a shabu-shabu hotpot.
In Chengdu, one of the moistest parts of China, the hotpots are filled with chilies, and a whiff of the steamy, spicy broth was enough to loosen even the most stubborn of coughs.
Since Filipinos’ need to go out for a good meal on the weekend is waterproof, we met in a new mall (new for me, at least) called Ayala Malls the 30th.
I don’t know if it’s Ayala’s 30th mall, or it’s on 30th street, but it has the usual template: an air-conditioned shopping area, restaurants along an outdoor gallery that overlooks a central courtyard. UP Town Center, where Ateneans can finally date UP students after years of segregation, follows almost the same layout. Ayala Malls the 30th is near the old Ultra, where we used to watch basketball games and caught the Sting concert.
Floating Island of Makati Medical Center now has a branch here, in case you’re too healthy and too far north to need to go to the hospital. This is hallowed stuff: the tapa is what you ate to break the fast after a blood exam. The crispy pata was what you ate to celebrate when your internist gave you a clean bill of health. And the kare-kare was many a dying patient’s last meal.
To this day, MakatiMed remains the hospital of choice for Makati’s upper crust. St. Luke’s Bonifacio Global City, oversubscribed as it may be, is the hospital for the artista, political prisoners and arrivistes, in general. This is a class of people who will not suffer the indignity of eating fast food.
Best and unhealthy
We had crispy pata, the best I’ve had in a while, with the skin properly crisp and lots of creamy, cartilaginous bits in between the toes. We had probably the most unhealthy Caesar salad, with equal amounts egg pommade and lettuce leaves, very competent kare-kare with plenty of wobbly bits, and fried bagoong rice. Highly recommended.
We had dessert at Lartizan, which continues to fly the flag for white-tablecloth French dining in the Philippines. What we did have there was very nice, but most of what we wanted, it did not have.
I would suggest a less ambitious menu rather than be told “not available,” “no, not available either,” “oh, sorry sir, the last one was just ordered,” or “we’ve run out of Nutella.” But plus points for the tableware, which is better than what one sees in most five-star hotels these days.
Dining at Lartizan feels like having a meal in a posh hotel in the 1990s, which is not a bad thing at all. We had hot chocolate and speculated about the upcoming State of the Nation Address.
Surely, we thought, after all the excitement of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council alerts and the storms, there wouldn’t be too much drama aside from the usual bloviating? —CONTRIBUTED