I was sick. No, not like Michael Jackson, more like a patient needing a doctor. No, not a "special" doctor, a real one. I was ill. Down with flu and nightmarish fever. That was two weeks ago. However, I had lost much of my healthy appetite back then as I was reduced from shoveling food into my mouth with relish into merely troweling something, anything, into me.
There was once a story, a very cheesy one, to be sure, but indulge me. There was a story about a man, a cook, actually, who dreamed of being a highly-paid chef in a five-star hotel but ended up cooking for patients in a hospital. You know the sort, sick, whiny people who bleed at the merest touch of a scalpel or panic at the few pints of blood when they puke. In any case, these were, in his view, people who could hardly appreciate his works. Those who have ever been sick, including Michael Jackson, would know that almost any disease kills appetites. It also kills people but more on that maybe later.
Alas, our good cook had to be human and fall ill himself. In a sterile white bed, illuminated by heavenly light and accompanied by a chorus of soprano angels that have yet to reach puberty, he had come to the realization that he had been a very bad person and needed to be... disciplined. Tsk, tsk, tsk. *whipcrack* In the end, after he recovered, the dishes that came out of the hospital's kitchens were appetizing, scrumptious and still largely unappreciated by their dying recipients. I suppose they skipped the part where he cursed heaven for his hospital bill and rushed straight to the part where he turned a new leaf. Last I heard, he's turned to Scientology.
In any case, I got well after enduring five days of sweltering winter heat and five sleepless nights of nightmarish visions punctuated by the unnaturally rapid thumping of my heart manifesting in my temples. I suppose those bright and colorful little pebbles the doctor had me swallow regularly helped in recovering my health, though, I'm afraid the same could not be said for my appetite.
Oh yes, I still eat one and a half servings at lunch, though I can say with a clear conscience that I am not consciously tasting what I eat anyway. Much of my recent gluttony is actually driven by hunger, not by... well, gluttony. You get the picture, I hope.
Oh, how I have searched high and low for the ambrosia that would restore my appetite. There was this soft and mildly sweet frosted carrot cupcake topped with colorful sprinkles, pork asado in sweet and fragrant anise sauce and grilled blue marlin stewed in a butter spiked with lemon, served with a thick, brown sour-and-spicy sauce I had at this party just last weekend, washed down with several glasses of chilled sparkling white non-alcoholic grape juice, not to mention the servings of dark, almost-opaque ordinary Coca-cola screaming with mediocrity, bubbling with much-unneeded and unappreciated fizz, topped with a newly dented tansan and served with a plastic drinking straw but, sad to say, none of those worked to rouse my slumbering passion for food. It's like a part of me had died and I'm trying vainly to revive the dead.
Thus, it was in desperation and foolishness that I had run to the nearest Rai Rai Ken branch two nights ago. Surely, you can't go wrong with ramen, right? I ordered Chicken Ramen and Kani (crab) Salad, along with calamansi juice. Over the years, I have found that soda does not go well with sisig or bicol express, white wine does not complement baby back ribs and coffee laced with cinnamon and brandy does not sit too well with light cakes. I have also learned that a good glass of ice-cold calamansi juice goes well with nearly everything, except, perhaps, sour dishes like paksiw and sinigang.
Indeed, I was not mistaken as the cold sweet-sour nectar slid down my slimy, pleghm-coated throat. The ramen was great, as usual, though the broth did not seem as flavorful as I last remembered it. The noodles, too, were limp and did not squiggle as much as when I slurped them before. The leeks, heaven be praised for their existence, did not lend quite the kick I was expecting. I suppose the inconvenient cough I acquired lately from thin air had not been of much help in bringing my appetite back to life.
The salad, though, was as excellent as I expected it. The greens were fresh, cool and crisp, the mangoes were as sweet as though it were high summer and the crab meat, oh the crab meat! It was juicy and tasty and clean! Not that I was expecting them to be sewer-caught, but, with seafood, there are some dishes that still taste too much of the ocean's brine and smell too much of a harbor's fish baskets. I don't know how Rai Rai Ken prepares the salad but it was simply... delicious. It did take a toll on my wallet too so I walked out the store poorer than when I came in, a whole lot less hungry, smiling, no, beaming wider than the scowl I wore earlier that day and still no better off with my appetite.
Last night, I had planned to get myself a decent haircut but the salon was closed as its employees were elsewhere celebrating some nonsense foolishness like Easter or Jubilee. Right in the middle of winter, I know! Pft, the idiots! I am a believer that things, somehow, happen for a reason, and that there must be a very good reason the salon was closed on the very night I had more than five hundred bucks in my wallet. Who am i to question a higher power that compels me to crave for pasta? Where noodles have failed, perhaps pasta might prevail, right?
With the nearest TOSH (ye olde abode of spaghetti) closed for renovations and the nearest Spaghetti Factory (ye olde maker of spaghetti) spirited away to hell knows where, I was left with a choice that was no choice at all. I could pit my five hundred bucks against Italiannis (ye old spaghetti of Italy) and lose miserably, grab myself a pesto linguine, spaghetti pomodoro, asian linguine or tuna fetucinne from World Chicken (ye olde fowl of ye earth) and eat what I just ate, oh, just last week or get a too-large serving of Charlie Chan Chicken Pasta at Yellow Cab (ye olde charlock carriage) and eat what I just ate, oh, just two weeks ago.
Searching for alternatives, a dim memory surfaced in my mind of a cold Monday bus ride in Edsa, of a billboard screaming with the color orange, of a cute wavy-haired Asian lady wistfully gazing at the ceiling and of a fork held against a smiling mouth. Ah, Pancake House. I vaguely remember the voice of my friend telling me six years ago, "Yes, they do serve things other than pancakes," in a tone that admonished the mortified surprise that must have shown on my face back then.
Most importantly, I do recall that beneath that ceiling, beneath that beautiful woman and beneath that silly fork, there was a dish that held orange-sauced pasta lightly drizzled with finely grated parmesan cheese. Beyond that, my poor memory fails me but most important to me was the fact that there is pasta to be had somewhere new.
So, last night, for the first time in my life, I entered a Pancake House branch. It was orange, as expected, with a rather warm, inviting and cozy atmosphere, though not as homely, cozy or tacky as TOSH and not as frightfully minimalist-capitalist like Spaghetti Factory. There was soup to be had, though I declined their soup for the day. I am not in the mood for Knorr Cream of Asparagus, though, I must say, they are being rather blatantly honest with their menus; I appreciate that I don't have to wonder what their soups taste like. I did, however, order a bowl of Almondigas, which, it turns out, was nothing more than Pancit Molo, only remove all the greens, replace the siomai and wanton wrappers with pork meatballs, vermicelli with thin rice noodles (misua) and peppercorns with chopped spring onions. It was a rather refreshing appetizer, though, which, like a whetstone, sharpened my hunger into an edged anticipation.
For the main course, I ordered something called Gambera: spaghetti and tomatoes drowning in an orange oil topped with shelled shrimps and grated Parmesan cheese. A test taste of the sauce yielded no memorable flavors. Gambera, I must say, looked a lot more appetizing than it actually tasted. The shrimps tasted... well, unclean is too strong a word so, to put it creatively, it tasted and felt like chewing on a grilled prawn, one that had been caught in a mosquito-infested marsh. I am afraid to do much injustice but, really, the shrimps tasted like they were freshly netted from salty mud. I found myself wondering whether that lady in the Edsa billboard was pitifully out of her mind to be smiling like that or if she had ordered a different pasta dish, one that looked similar but tasted, as evidenced by her dreamy gaze, blissful.
After the last strands of spaghetti settled into my stomach, I frowned at the considerable pool of orange oil left on my plate. It certainly did not smell or taste like olive oil or sesame, my two favorite edible oils. I shudder at memories of cooking oil recycled beyond salvation in some of our university's kitchens and was not too pleased to note that those were of a similar orange hue.
To wash down the slick, tainted feel of orange oil and green phlegm in my throat, I sipped at my calamansi juice. Really now, would you expect me to order anything else in a new place? Well, guess what, at Pancake House, they serve calamansi juice better than at Rai Rai Ken! I received a tall glass of calamansi juice mixed with ice cubes, a small pot of some sweet liquid (Thank God, Satanas Luciferi Excelsi, it was not honey) and a short glass of iced water. Elsewhere, a man dying of thirst would collapse before a servant brings a small cup of semi-chilled water. This small consideration for the customer, the privilege to suit one's drink to one's taste and the convenience of not having to demand for water, certainly earns Pancake House an approving nod from me.
Now, as I write this post while the hours are small, reminiscing the cool, sweet calamansi juice I had with dinner, I cannot yet say whether I have found my cure. To be sure, an itch in my throat forces me to cough ever and anon, yet, more important to me is whether I shall relish what I eat tomorrow or merely drop chunks of bolus down my esophagus.
By the way, yes, I did leave the servants a tip, apart from the what they explicitly charged me for their service.