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This time I'll be sweeter!

By BARBARA GONZALEZ- VENTURA, The Philippine STAR Published Jul 25, 2021 6:00 am

How I loved typhoons when I was young. I would wake up to the sound of wind howling, the splashing of hard rain on the puddles it was forming in the garden of my grandmother’s house.

We had high ceilings and large windows with sliding panels of frosted white glass in medium-sized squares framed by wood painted a light gray. Until today, I can still see the shadows of trees outside bending this way and that dancing recklessly in the strong wind.

I would not get up. I knew my mother would not let me go to school in that kind of weather. The thought of being allowed to sleep until whatever time I woke always made me burrow into my bed deeper, cover myself with the sheet, and fall asleep again. 

Now I still love typhoons, though they’ve taken a different form for me. I love the light sound of hard rain as it hits the glass panes of our condo, little prickly splashes no matter how hard the wind; not loud because we’re so high up we do not hear it splash on the ground far below.

I sit and look out the window and all I see is an expanse of glass full of rain spatter and a solid sky of gray. It strengthens my love of privacy. I can pretend that I am alone and the rain is grumbling, muttering outside my window and I don’t want it to stop. 

But there is a mood for me. I sit and look out the window and all I see is an expanse of glass full of rain spatter and a solid sky of gray. It strengthens my love of privacy. I can pretend that I am alone and the rain is grumbling, muttering outside my window and I don’t want it to stop. 

Today, for some unknown reason, I am enjoying waves of my childhood replaying in my aging mind.

Our driver, who is also our cook, did the groceries this morning. I remembered that last Sunday I had gone to a mall and there found burong pajo, a variety of really tiny mangoes with a strange flavor, wonderful in my mouth. My grandmother always bought it when it was in season and pickled it and we ate it with fried bangus or milkfish.

I loved the flavor of plain fried bangus. I can’t describe it. It was a somewhat delicious, earthy flavor common only to fried bangus. We always ate it with pickled green mango, or pickled pajo, the tiny mango with a distinct flavor; or, once, my grandmother visited a friend who had a blooming mango tree. She picked a frond — that’s what mango flowers look like — and made me a salad of mango flowers, tomatoes, onions, and a bit of patis, our clear amber fish sauce. This happened only once but it was so good, I never forgot it.

This was before they invented sprays that made the mango trees bloom and bear fruit beyond season. This was before chemicals invaded nature and destroyed most of the natural flavor of everything. 

This noon, I fried fileted bangus. I perked up at the sight of it, looked forward to the taste of it eaten with the pajo I had bought at the mall. It didn’t taste the same. The bangus did not have the earthy flavor I remembered.

My grandmother’s burong pajo was halved lengthwise before pickling to remove the bean-shaped seed inside. This pajo was pickled whole, so you had to hold it down with a sharp fork, cut off the top with a tiny stem and then slice it open, remove the seed before eating. It also tasted lighter than I remembered it when I was young. 

Once I strayed into an adobo restaurant. I did not enjoy their sweet adobo. On my palate, adobo is — and always should be — sour and garlicky, like my other grandmother’s to-die-for adobo. It was never sweet.

Has my memory exaggerated the flavors of food I thoroughly enjoyed when I was young so that tasting them again now, I find their taste to be moderately flat? Is it my memory and not my tongue that has wronged me?

Every time I taste food that I remember to be sour but is now sweet, I remember a time in my 20s when I started work in advertising. We were going on a photoshoot. Our meeting place — with models, makeup artists, photographers, and the ad agency people — was at a coffee shop. Everyone was late except the photographer and me. We ordered food while waiting. 

 The photographer and I ordered spaghetti. He took the sugar dispenser and heavily poured white sugar over his spaghetti. “But that’s sweet,” I could not help saying. “Spaghetti should be sweet,” he said. “That’s the way my mother makes it.”

Is it that flavors have changed or that my palate has seriously aged? Has my memory exaggerated the flavors of food I thoroughly enjoyed when I was young so that tasting them again now, I find their taste to be moderately flat? Is it my memory and not my tongue that has wronged me?

But this does not apply to other things. I still love really delicious pastillas de leche with a touch of dayap or lime. Or wonderful leche flan. Or superb guinataan. But those are desserts, always sweet. Maybe, very slowly, our palates are changing, trying desperately to make us all so much sweeter.

Illustration from https://novocom.top