By Vanette Colmenares
New York – When my husband asks me to accompany him to a triip to New Jersey, I normally ask him what’s the occasion. He told me that Poldo, our friend, was cooking paklay, a Cebuano stew of beef and pork innards.
I rarely eat this kind of dish, but my husband swears Poldo makes the best and I do believe him since he brought home some of the dish in one of his earlier visits. So off we went to New Jersey.
We arrived in the beautiful home of Leopoldo and Vicky Montesclaros a few minutes before noon, and while waiting for another couple, I had asked Leopoldo how his recent trip to Australia was and he said, “maayo man, daghan Vietnamese (it’s good, there were lots of Vietnamese), which made me laugh because I didn’t expect that Asians now populate many areas of white controlled countries.
Many countries today are hosts to a large number of Asians or refugees. In Cebu, before I relocated to the US, Koreans were coming in droves. And where are the Filipinos? They’re in America.
Then came our lunch. Our meal of crispy pata, paklay and utan bisaya reminded me so much of home. Their six-seater dining table was set complete with individual ‘sawsawan’ (dipping bowls) each filled with vinegar and slivers of red pepper, an accompaniment for the crispy pata that was so crunchy and well-seasoned. The utan bisaya with its alugbati leaves floating on a meat broth was just perfect to swab on the corn grits which I chose instead of the usual white rice which was an option. There was a follow-up of crispy chicken skin, fried to perfection, which I helped myself with. The crackling it produced in my mouth felt like heaven.
Poldo and Vicky were perfect hosts, since they epitomized the essence of Cebuano hospitality. After lunch, Vicky left for a few minutes only to come back with another sumptuous array of dessert: warm binignit with tapioca balls in thick purple yam sauce, ube halea with toasted coconut, and a pair of kutsinta (one alovera colored, the other pumpkin colored). They all tasted divine in between sips of coffee.
While chatting away our lives in Cebu and in America, someone blurted out the word ‘mahjong’ and since we were a quorum, we all moved to Tony and Joy Racaza’s house. The couple with their mother, and an aunt, were the guests who joined us for lunch and it was an impromptu decision to move the party to their house.
It was just a five minute drive and the mahjong table was ready when we arrived. With Joy, Vicky, the aunt, and myself taking our places, each had a pouch complete with poker chips and jai-alai markers. We played the ‘Tagalog’ version where all the ‘sagbut’ (flowers as they call it) would be down.
We also used the ‘pot’ system of the game where the winner would take all what was contributed in the pot, if she won simultaneously by an ‘ambisyon’ and a ‘bunot’. It would be a jackpot. Then after being emptied to the winner, we would start contributing all over again.
At the end of the game, if there were any chips left, we would distribute it among ourselves. It was a nice way to end the game, especially if one was a ‘pildero’ and this was one way to recoup losses.
After three jai-alai’s, dinner was served. Once again, like true Filipinos, we ate with our hands because this time, we had Joy’s delish barbecue flavored baked ribs and some seafood cajun inspired shrimps and crabs.
In between peeling the shrimps and extracting meat from the crab, conversations turned back to home. Our dessert of ube ice cream on a cone was the perfect match to wash off that salty mildly spicy well-seasoned meal. Then back to business of mahjong.
The evening went so fast, and before I knew it, we were seated on the train back to New York. It was a Cebuano day well spent with friends, food and fun. Reminiscing our past, enjoying the moment, and thinking of the future whether to retire in Cebu, our homeland. only makes us recall of how we enjoyed our laid back childhood, the simplicity of it back then.
The carefree moments of those days, the anxiety of what the future holds, and the insouciant of youth have all been challenged with time. For these replaced with responsibilities, authority and burden of life.
Life is made up of choices that we see fit for ourselves. There are no mistakes, just consequences of our choices. We learn from it, we embrace it, and accept it. It’s like eating paklay, we can have all the less desireable lot in life, yet we can make a delicious stew which everyone can enjoy.
Or we can face a not-so-good hand at mahjong, yet we come out of it by enjoying the game, and nothing else. It is a good life, if only we realize that it is indeed.