Bernie Sanders

Food Porn: Tahoooo!

Robert Uy
It was the ritual of taho that charmed me into levitating off my bed

PEARLY SAGO. Sago is boiled until it becomes a translucent white pearl.

MANILA, Philippines – Imagine a summer morning that refuses to call you out of bed. Sun and sky held at bay by a lack of inertia, cool sheets refusing to part and pillows that pull you back into the fetal position. The Maria Cafra and the Maya straddling the tree branches break into song – a sign that the dream may be over.

The other sounds begin on cue. The sizzle of breakfast begins, accompanied by the temptation of smell. The morning has indeed begun. I shall not stir! I remain locked in the embrace of my bed. No power is strong enough to take me away.

But the siren call had to come. It started from a distance but it was distinct. It had to pass my way. And with a cadence that comes from years of practice, the call inched closer.

The heart races in anticipation. This battle will not be won today. The day was devious. It brought out its heavy guns. The call is now but a few meters away. I race down the stairs, half-awake but muscle memory has kicked in. I grab some cash as I race out the door, swiping an empty glass along the way.

I see him. I hear him. He is now seconds away. His steady call is a good sign. I hear the quiet clanking of a ladle spanking the side of the container as he makes his way towards me. The deal is not done. He has initiated. I must close.

FEAST. Tofu is also said and known to be healthy.

It’s a deal

“TAHOOOOOO!!” he announces as the voice inflects upwards and magically carries further than expected. “Taho?” I respond meekly. And the deal, by mere change in inflection is done.

The deal was initiated before dawn that day. Mang Jun woke up at 5 am and prepared the meal. The main ingredient is fresh soft or silken tofu prepared to a consistency that is close to a fine bed of custard. Brown sugar is then heated and caramelized to create viscous amber-colored syrup called arnibal.

Sago “pearls,” purchased from the local market or palengke, are boiled until they are a translucent white pearl. Pearl sago closely resembles pearl tapioca. It is said that taho traces its roots to the early Chinese traders in the Philippines and is very similar to the Chinese douhua.

He stops and carefully sets the two huge aluminium containers down. These are hung on each side of a bamboo yoke. The bigger container carries the taho while the other smaller vessel is neatly partitioned inside for both the arnibal and sago pearls. He picks up a small plastic cup but I waive it away like an expert showing him my empty glass waiting to be filled. I can’t wait. A spoon has magically appeared in my other hand within seconds.

HOW SWEET IT IS. Sago plus brown sugar syrup are a sweet tooth's dream.

Tradition

Mang Jun’s taho is the regular kind. I have heard stories of strawberry flavored taho in Baguio. There are tales of chocolate and buko pandan varieties. But I am a creature of habit. I am bound by tradition. And the gooey goodness before me is all I want.

He deftly scoops up the silken tofu with a flat ladle (sandok), skimming from the top, slicing the surface and letting it slide into the glass while tossing any excess water onto the street – only the best for this customer! He asks how much I want (price is based on quantity) and I indicate that I want the glass topped up. No negotiation required.

Leaving the lid of the bigger container half open (enticing one for seconds), he then opens the second container as he grabs a thinner and longer handle that punctuates with a tiny scooper. He knows the proportions by heart – three quick jabs at the sago and a generous helping of arnibal. I am a frequent customer, a suki, which is why he doesn’t attempt to mix the concoction for me. He allows me that pleasure.

I conclude the deal by handing payment over but not without having second thoughts about seconds and thirds. I am restrained by the desire to save this indulgence for another day…to, as James Hilton says in Lost Horizon, “introduce myself gradually into the regions of delight.”

Ritual

Mang Jun nods in gratitude as he packs his wares and moves to the next household down the road.

I hold my warm, filled glass and admire the simplicity of a yoked man walking down the center of the road with aluminium tins clanking by his side. Siren calls come in all shapes and forms – the summer sun, the morning song of birds, the sizzling chorus of the kitchen all failed to summon me.

It was the ritual of taho that charmed me into levitating off my bed – for it was a call that once began with my parents years ago. And it went, “Anak, gusto mo ba ng taho?” (Son, do you want some taho?) – Rappler.com

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