“It was very pleasant to savor its aroma, for smells have the power to evoke the past, bringing back sounds and even other smells that have no match in the present.”Tita. Laura Esquivel, “Like Water for Chocolate”
Tucked in the corners of Quezon City once housed my grandmother’s small restaurant that started out in the 60s and ran, on and off, until the early 2000s. The main drag: Enia’s Pancit Malabon, my lola Enia’s take on one of Philippine’s version of a noodle dish that hails from the city of Malabon. The restaurant was carved from our garage where my family awkwardly fitted three alternating tables with four chairs each, easing the flow of incoming and outgoing customers. While the small place got filled with dining patrons, the bulk of the business was the delivery of made-to-order Pancit Malabon to residents and businesses around the city.
The restaurant kitchen was our family’s kitchen, and I grew up in it. I remember the house stirring at 5am, even on a Sunday. While the noodles were bathed in warm water, the house-help pounded and ground crabs, the base of the pancit’s sauce; my grandmother cut squid and pork tongue that were boiled and softened the night before; my grandfather trimmed and pasted brown paper that would hold the bilaos (woven serving platter); my mother shelled and de-veined shrimps; my father scrubbed and polished the jeep, ready for the day’s delivery; my aunt halved kalamansi (lime); and my sister, my brother, and I eagerly helped by peeling boiled eggs and pounding chicharon (fried pork rind).
As soon as the ingredients for the Pancit Malabon were ready, we enjoyed an early breakfast of rice, scrambled eggs, and tuyo (dried fish), side served with tomatoes and patis (fish sauce). After washing the dishes, my grandmother would begin preparing the ingredients for lunch, marinating meat in soy sauce and kalamansi and slicing potatoes, carrots, and bell peppers for a hearty Menudo dish. She slow-cooked this until it was time to eat again. After lunch, we would start preparing for merienda (afternoon snack). We rolled saba (sweet plantains), strips of langka (jackfruit), and brown sugar in egg wrappers and deep fried them until golden. After merienda, we would commence boiling monggo (mung beans), which would be sautéed in garlic, onions, and tomatoes in time for dinner. Rice was a staple in all meals, except merienda. And in between these meals, orders of Pancit Malabons kept the stove from getting cold. Each dish was a labor of familial love.
There was a constant smell of food that wafted out of the kitchen, seeping into every nook and cranny of the house, so much so that one can taste the air: the sweet smell of cooked rice spiked with pandan leaves, the aroma of stew accentuated with lime, burnt sugar, cooked crab sauce, ground chicharon.
The years passed, and so did my grandfather, grandmother, and father. My mother also started working abroad, and my family decided to close down the restaurant for good. Not too long ago, it was my turn to leave our family home. And while my aunt, my brother, my sister, and my niece are the only ones left in that small corner of Quezon City, I know that their Sundays smell the same; and it’s the aroma I miss the most.