Food Porn: Home is where your liempo is

Robert Uy
We see a photo of a meal, and a Pavlovian response kicks in that triggers our saliva glands and engages our olfactory memory cells – an out-of-body experience that projects us into the photo

KING OF THEM ALL. Tapa King is among the top-sellers of this famous Filipino dish. Photo by Cherie Altea Bitanga.

SINGAPORE – Food has amazing powers. Not just of the nutritional kind, but an almost psychic ability to transport you to times, lands and places past and present. Food bi-locates you. 

We grab our favorite snack and get transported to a time when as a younger version of ourselves, we enjoyed musing about the rest of our lives. We see a dish today and pine for a time when we could indulge without needing medication by our side. We see a photo of a meal, and a Pavlovian response kicks in that triggers our saliva glands and engages our olfactory memory cells – an out-of-body experience that projects us into the photo.

This is the power of food. Any kind of food. Simple, lavish, road side, 5-star, home cooked or out of a box, instant or slow roasted.

IN SINGAPORE. Tapa King brings a piece of home to Singapore. KING OF THEM ALL. Tapa King is among the top-sellers of this famous Filipino dish. Photo by Cherie Altea Bitanga.

Cutting our meat

It was therefore cause for a mini celebration when Tapa King opened in Singapore two years ago. Would it really be a slice of home for the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos based in the island state? Would they have the same menu? Would it be pricey? This is comfort food for many Filipinos and a discussion about Tapsilog will turn any Filipino into an instant food critic more quickly than hot water turns instant noodles into something edible.

They have since opened 3 other branches on the island. The latest one opened in November 2011 at Changi City.

With three other Filipinos in tow, we headed for “home.” The meal began on the cab ride. We spoke of our expectations as if we were prepping to review a thesis. A friend spoke of the bigger portion sizes he had a few weeks back. We wondered if the differences in local ingredients would change the dish. We wondered (aloud) and the digestive juices kicked in as the cab hit the speed limit. We wanted to arrive at our destination – NOW!

It was easy to find. The food court was on level 2 and there she was…an oasis, not a mirage. It was real. Under a generic sign saying “Filipino Cuisine,” was the familiar Tapa King sign but with the word Singapore now added to it.

Choices. Too many things to eat in too little time. Strategy? Pick a dish, get the extra rice, order another dish to share…and still share everyone else’s food. Decide later on if we want another dish to top things off…just before dessert.

THE QUEEN. Tapa fit for those with smaller appetites. IN SINGAPORE. Tapa King brings a piece of home to Singapore. KING OF THEM ALL. Tapa King is among the top-sellers of this famous Filipino dish. Photo by Cherie Altea Bitanga.

It was home. It hits the right spot. The portions were indeed bigger. The prices were very comparable to Manila prices (and standard food center price for Singapore). The tapsilog was succulent, the egg was perfectly runny, the garlic fried rice tasted great with the fried garlic toasted perfectly and dry (not oily as is usual). The bangus was a welcome sight since you can’t get that in most Singapore shops. King, Queen and Prince provided a royal welcome. But the star was the Crispy Liempo.

AND THE BANGUS. Not only meat, but good old bangus at Tapa King. IN SINGAPORE. Tapa King brings a piece of home to Singapore. KING OF THEM ALL. Tapa King is among the top-sellers of this famous Filipino dish. Photo by Cherie Altea Bitanga.

LECHON LIEMPO. Crispy, succulent meat brings back memories. IN SINGAPORE. Tapa King brings a piece of home to Singapore. KING OF THEM ALL. Tapa King is among the top-sellers of this famous Filipino dish. Photo by Cherie Altea Bitanga.

Where have you been all my life?

Huge deep fried (or turbo broiled) succulent chunks of porky goodness. Just the right crispiness, the required layer of fat, a thin crunchy skin and loads of meat. Most of the dipping sauces were available – vinegar with garlic and chili, local pickled chilis, lechon sauce and even soy sauce (which when mixed with the vinegar mix gives you an ultra-high).

We needed more rice. Cutting into the meat was easy. Good sign. Ensuring that the right proportion of rice, meat and sauce were on your spoon, the journey to mouth was deliberate. The first point of contact was magic.

Why now? Why did you not reveal yourself to me much earlier in my life? Why did I waste multiple calories on lesser beings? The crispy liempo wrapped its arms around my tongue and said “I love you.”  I had to respond. And I did, with another spoonful. The meat’s juices oozed out with every bite. 

It was home, transporting me back to my mom’s cooking as I was growing up…remembering her laboring over the family meal — turbo broiler being the miracle tool of the kitchen, dad teaching me how to mix my dipping sauces, siblings arguing over extra portions and then cleaning up after.

It was home — bright fluorescent light staring down over the circular dinner table with a lazy susan in the middle. It was home. Hearing the dogs bark in the background, the buzz of a black and white TV set playing back Martial Law programming only to be interrupted by the ringing of the black rotary dial phone set which signalled to us that the partyline was using the shared account.

It was home. And that is why I said “I love you” back. – Rappler.com

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