Looking at the positive aspects of staying at home during this quarantine—aside from the obvious ones of keeping ourselves safe and flattening the curve—another is being able to enjoy the healthy benefits of home cooking while homebound. Unless of course the one in charge of the kitchen is an awful cook. In which case, you can always fast track the learning and take over.
During this crisis when the food supply is hampered by barriers in distribution, many of us are called upon to be creative and resourceful in preparing meals for ourselves and for our families.
A Professional Chef’s Story
Ramon went home on March 5 to visit his Mom who is recuperating from an illness. The enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon left him stranded in Cebu. Although he misses his life in Manila (family, friends, doggo, and even his kitchen), this does not stop him from cooking healthy and delicious meals for the household.
His days are kept busy catering to a picky clientele especially a mother who does not like eating the same dish twice. Note to chef: no leftovers please.
Gifts from the Sea
At the start of his visit, weeks before the quarantine, Ramon posted photos that he took in Taboan Public Market, one of the city’s markets where you can buy the famous danggit (rabbitfish). You can find not only danggit, but also many other kinds of dried fish.
This place is so popular that even Anthony Bourdain visited it when he was in the Philippines and featured it in one of his ‘No Reservations’ episodes.
Taboan is an assault on the senses. The stench greets you even at the fringes of the market. As you move closer, you get the full experience of foul smells, crowds, noise, heat, and the frenzy of commerce.
A few days before the ECQ was declared in Cebu province, Ramon was excited about his finds in the famous Saac Market which is closer to his Mom’s home. Buaya, one of the barangays facing Magellan Bay, is where Saac Market is located. He said,
Magellan Bay is famous for, you guessed it, the famous battle between Kalipulako (Caliph Pulako aka Lapu-Lapu) and Portuguese Fernão de Magalhães. Which raged on while both Datus Humabon and Zula watched from a distance. No popcorn. And here we are, 499 years later, to talk about the wondrously fresh (and obscenely inexpensive) fish and seafood of Saac Market.
Almost everything is less than 100 pesos per kilo. Fresh. Alive.
The first things I saw were— Bungkawil (baby conch), Saang (spidershell), Aninikad (sea snail), Punaw (venus clam), Swaki (sea urchin), Lukot (sea hare weeds), Bakasi (sea eel), Bagungon (telescope shell), Balat (sea cucumber), Pugita (octopus), and other Tritonian minions. All fit for a wok, a grill, a malunggay-chili-ginger enriched broth, or in its own, kinilaw (ceviche).
Ramon has shared photos of hearty dishes made with local ingredients. In his Facebook timeline, he wrote,
Most food I‘ve posted and did before (pre-pandemic), were done in a proper kitchen, with a slew of fantastic global ingredients and tools. Here in locked down Lapu-Lapu, there is none of that. No S&Rs, Rustan’s and Säntis’s. No Wagyus, no European herbs, no Microplane’s, no oven. Just a provincial 1-burner, and a “kalaha”. Not even a proper knife. Ingredients are limited, though very fresh. We pick from our gardens, or from the surrounding neighbours (shhh!). Since a few days ago, eggs are not available anymore (what’s next?), and a pox on the heartless hoarders! We try to do with what we have. No fuss, no complaints. Just a few proper ingredients, to feed my Mother, the help, and the two homecare nurses (live-in, since more than a week, no commuting, no risk), for sustenance and survival.
Ramon is taking it one day at a time. He relies on his creativity to cook the best meals from the limited ingredients available.
Aside from cooking, his other creative pursuit is making studies of food illustrations commissioned by a multinational. The feature image of the fish illustration is one of the studies he drew. With this project, he does not have to totally shelve his work activities.
Go to voodoochef in Instagram to see the dishes that Ramon cooked for his daughter before he got locked down in the probinsiya.
Hearth and Home
The hearth is considered the heart of the home. A hearth, the fireplace and the area around it, symbolizes family life. This space, where food is prepared and where meals are shared, is central to any home.
For us Filipinos who love to eat, we can attest to the importance of the kitchen. Now with the lockdown, the role it plays has become even more important.
Whoever is in charge of food has a crucial part in keeping the family healthy. How to get ingredients is one of the things that has to be planned well, and this is where social media comes in handy. Crowd sourcing, referrals, internet searches, or social media groups are some of the ways to find good sources for veggies, meats, herbs, spices, breads, cakes, and fruits. It might even be a relief for people to know that some restaurants are now open for take-out orders or deliveries for those times when the cook wants to take a day off.
When all markets were closed for Lent, Ramon picked vegetables from his mother’s garden and from around the neighborhood with the neighbors’ permission. What’s not to like about organic and freshly picked vegetables?
We know that a healthy mind and body can help get us through this lockdown. For physical health, we need to eat nutritious food, exercise daily, and sleep eight hours.
Not everyone though has the means or the privilege to do all three during this quarantine.
Share Your Blessings
If it was not clear before how terribly unequal our society is, the coronavirus has stripped away any doubts about that.
Vulnerable communities like the poor, daily wage earners, street vendors, migrant workers, employees who have lost their jobs, are gripped with the debilitating fear of how to hold body and soul together. Financial help and relief goods from government may not have reached everyone yet, and many may not even be on the list.
It is both heartbreaking and heartwarming to see so many citizens starting initiatives to help, like a fund drive, a food distribution network, a share-a-meal feature in an app… Heartbreaking because the inequalities create the need for such actions. Heartwarming because there is such a huge response from the citizenry. Stories like the Cordillera farmers leaving some vegetables beside sleeping street children in Manila, or giving away their vegetables for free for distribution to the poor here in the National Capital Region, are just two of the inspiring stories that shine like golden nuggets during this tragic time.
Let’s be extra kind. We don’t even have to look far. We may even have people around us who provide us a service to make our time in quarantine more comfortable. In return, let’s give them some comfort food to warm their bellies, to ease their burden while they are in the frontline. And most of all, to give hope to all of us that we can prevail over this pandemic with our humanity intact.
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(All images by Ramon A. Antonio)