Embracing this plethora of pleasures

I love breakfasts, and have been blest with memorable ones all through my life. There was, first of all, the Ilonggo family breakfast: calo-calo (sinangag), sometimes with tiny dried shrimps (kalkag) mixed in, scrambled eggs with or without burong mustasa, some wonderful salted fish (binuro, pinakas) or sausages (longganisang hamonado, de recado or hubad); sometimes bas-oy, a soup of ground pork, onions and ginger.

Rice porridge

Rice porridge with a variety of toppings including fried tofu, fried wonton dumplings, salted egg, tripe, pig's ears, and shredded adobo. (Photo by K. Santos, scentofgreenbananas.blogspot.com)

Or breakfasts in the marketplace, which are not identified by special food, but are open to all lunch or dinner dishes: like bachoy, the famous market dish of noodles, broth, spleen, liver, heart, kidneys, etc.; or, in the Cebu market, tiny boneless daft fried crisp; or in the Dumaguete market, suman with thick chocolate; or in Bohol, suman ginger-flavored, with strong tsukwate. And in Pagsanjan, a sweetish, tender suman sa ibus of malagkit, with ripe golden mangoes.

A few weeks ago, my class of young Jesuits and I started a round-the-lake tour of churches with breakfast at Balaw-Balaw in Angono. Perdigon Vocalan, founder, chef and artist, is gone now (from heart complications at age 56), but his widow, Luzvimin Layok Vocalan, runs the restaurant with verve and imagination and, she swears, the loving guidance of Digon.

Here’s what we had: arroz caldo from a giant palayok, beside it a carved sungkaan holding condiments and toppings: chopped scallions, toasted garlic, kasubha threads, chicken, eggs, tokwa’t baboy, goto strips, etc. Mix, match, invent, dare, enjoy. There were as well apa-apa, crisp Angono shrimp okoy, and hot native chocolate with suman of malagkit and pirurutong (violet) rice, a crunchy accent. With that to start the day, we were energized to visit the churches of Angono (stations of the cross designed by National Artist Botong Francisco), Morong high on a hill, Baras, Tanay, Pakil, Paete and, finally, Pagsanjan (for lunch as well).


The Chinese breakfast was the ancestor of our arroz caldo and goto, and still makes tremendous sense. The soft rice (not just boiled in more water than usual, but whipped and whisked and flavored till velvety), with fish, chicken, pork balls, chicken balls, Tsientsin vegetables, etc., and of course dumplings and noodles and steamed buns. These keep the North Park noodle houses going all day. I’ve had Chinese breakfasts in Hong Kong long ago, in a bird-fanciers’ haunt, where the birds in magnificent, jade-fitted cages hung in the sunlight to converse, just as their owners did.

Nor should we forget the Spanish breakfasts at Dulcinea and La Tienda: churros and chocolate, if you wish: or bread/rice and spicy chorizos. Try as well the Chocolate “e” at Larry Cruz’s restaurants, which can come with Spanish or Filipino breakfast food, like flaked adobo, paksiw na tilapia, tapang usa.

Breakfasts in our country have evolved from the peasant fried rice-fish (especially paksiw, good hot or cold vegetables left over from the night before); through the Chinese (lugaw, siopao, siomai), Spanish (chorizos, churros, chocolate) and American inputs (ham, bacon, toast, bagels, jams), to embrace all of the above and produce this plethora of pleasures — the unending possibilities of Filipino fast-breaking.

~ from “Start the day right — like a king” by Doreen G. Fernandez, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 3 April 2002 


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