The only flavor in the thing I am loathe to call batchoy was provided by the small packet of McCormick ground black pepper that came with the bowl.
I don’t use condiments with batchoy, I enjoy them as they are – a flavorful mix of chicken stock, miki noodles, pork strips and offal topped with cracklings. I’m not one of those who would add soy sauce and pepper. I don’t even add eggs. Eggs ruin a batchoy or even sisig. But that’s just me.
At the first few spoonfuls last night in this food hall at the City of Naga boardwalk, I immediately reached for the stick sachet of McCormick pepper placed on the saucer. At least there’s this, I thought to myself. I can have pepper tea with some noodles (mika not miki) and 11 slices of chopped spring onion while waiting for the grilled porkchop and barbecued pork and chicken breast that we ordered. The packet was already open, a corner of its tip snipped off. I only noticed this when I spilled ground pepper on my pants when I picked the sachet to tear it open.
The bowl was P60 – a ludicrous price considering how much Vcente Batchoy or even Casa Ilongga sell theirs. They offered a “special option” for P70 – the added P10 pesos for cracking an egg, I suspected. Ilara ko tits. The stall also sold instant cup noodles and I regretted not ordering those instead. There must have been a batchoy flavor.
I noticed that the woman at the stall, which was across the food hall from where we were seated, would often glance in my direction. Was she checking out my reaction and whether I liked the food? Was she checking me out?
After I finished the bowl – my guilt at leaving leftovers on the table egging (in a manner of speaking) me on to finish it – I looked around the hall. A man at a nearby table seemed to have a better bowl of noodles – was it batchoy?
The short reverie was interrupted when the woman from the batchoy stall approached our table. I couldn’t hear what she was saying amid the cacophony of people ordering food, talking to each other, and generally having fun over dinner.
She reached out to pick up that stick sachet of McCormick ground black pepper – gesticulating that it still had some left to flavor another bowl of that thing. Or four.
She asked whether I was finished and I gestured to her that she could pick up the spoon, fork, saucer, and bowl.
The stalls share tables in the food hall and the servers keep a close eye on soft drink bottles, plates, and cutlery to make sure that these are returned. It wasn’t me or my reaction to the sad batchoy; it was the bowl and cutlery.
It was a good thing that the grilled pork we ordered arrived soon after. It wasn’t exceptional – not Yakski or Larsian Smileys by the Sea level – but it sated our craving. After a quick tour of the boardwalk, we picked up our designer friend for a coffee nightcap. He shared food, this time, for thought: More than the cake, coffee, or that sad batchoy, what’s important is the happy company.