[Food Porn] Kuisinero and the first kiss

Robert Uy
There is nothing that will ever be as powerful as that first kiss – and yet, you actually become more vulnerable because of it. And so it is with this dish.

MANILA, Philippines – I confess. Just thinking about this dish has triggered a mouth-watering reaction. Seriously. That’s how primal the response is to these dishes. Nothing fancy – just darn good food. Nothing subtle about it – just spoon after spoon of “come-to-mama” flavors.

There is a confidence that these dishes exude – they know who they are, they know what they bring to the table… and they know that we know it, too. I hate that – like beautiful women who know they’re beautiful and who know that we know they’re attractive. You hate it… and yet you can’t do anything about it because they are indeed attractive. Any leverage has disappeared. You are at their mercy.

Beware then. The first time you try this dishes, remember the experience. Remember what you were expecting, what your nose told you, what your eyes communicated and then, what you felt with that first spoonful in your mouth. That will be the only time that the relationship remains a mystery and on equal footing.

It is that first kiss that we all remember (or try to forget). Not knowing what to expect and yet expecting everything. Anticipation, anxiety, excitement, and fear with a tinge of eagerness all rolled up in one powerful emotion. The second kiss is a product of the first – while less mysterious, it is usually more powerful. Depending on how your first kiss goes, the second one can either be filled with more excitement, anticipation and eagerness, or more anxiety and fear. There is nothing that will ever be as powerful as that first kiss – and yet, you actually become more vulnerable because of it.

And so it is with this dish.

FIRST KISS. That's how it feels like to eat Kuisinero Fried Rice for the first time.

I had been going to Sentro 1771 for breakfast meetings for a while now. Throughout this time, I defaulted to the usual items on the menu – the crispy danggit, the ginisang corned beef, the various pan de sal and palaman variations, and the adobo flakes. All good, all familiar, all safe.

Then, there are the dishes that (to my mind) scream “STAR” – the kesong puti fried in butter, the melted kesong puti and the suman with hot chocolate. They’re great but you know that you can only have them once in a while because you fear that familiarity will breed contempt. You save these gems for special occasions in order for them to remain special.

And so it was until one fateful day I dared to try something new. It has haunted me like a vision that you can’t shake off. It was visceral. It was primal. I ordered Kuisenero Fried Rice.

I was with Rappler’s Maria Ressa when this incident occurred. I was mildly distracted by what we were discussing when the server asked for our orders. Pleading guilty to engaging-mouth-before-brain, I could hear the words “Kuisinero Fried Rice” coming out of my mouth. Surreal – almost like an out-of-body experience (also known as the Ressa effect, but that’s another story). And there it was. I had shot the proverbial arrow into the air, where it fell I knew not where.

While discussing matters of consequence (at least to ourselves), I will now confess that I had quietly slipped into a state of anxiety and fear. What did I do? Was I going to be wasting my calorie intake on a dish that didn’t deserve it? Call it performance anxiety. Then, a bit of anticipation crept in – was I on the verge of a great discovery? Was this to be a morning that would be etched in my mind (and palate) forever? I wondered.

Before you knew it, the dish arrived. As with that first kiss, I pretended that I knew what I was doing.I masked all anxiety and seemed like someone who had ordered this dish deliberately and willfully. I’m a foodie. I have tried many a dish and this was but one of them from years yonder – or so I pretended. But I didn’t know what to expect. There was no peg to this dish. I didn’t even know what dipping sauce would work with it, or if it needed any dipping sauce.

Sight is the first point of contact. It did not look dry. It was hot.

The fried egg was cooked as I asked – sunny side up and runny. It was a good sized portion. I could see bits of tuyo (the local dried salted fish) both on the side of the dish but also mixed into the fried rice. There was a token portion of atchara on the side – the pickled julienned unripe papaya, carrot slices, young onions, and garlic which is usually served to cut an overpowering taste. The fried egg was thoughtfully positioned on top of the mound of rice – saving me from one step in the breakfast ritual.

Smell is the next interface. This means I am close enough now. I couldn’t quite make it out.

I knew one thing though – it was appealing. It was unfamiliar and familiar at the same time. I could make out the scent of tuyo but that was it. Hmmm – what was I getting myself into? Ohhhh… and then there was garlic. Garlic – that long standing aphrodisiac was present. That’s a good thing.

Touch is the final frontier. As I spooned the dish, eagerness, anticipation, anxiety, and fear made their presence felt.

I was smiling on the outside but slightly clammy with an elevated pulse within. I guided the spoon closer and the excitement kicked in. I try to savor these moments. It was a slow, deliberate journey that I initiated. The spoon slid into my mouth and onto my tongue – what was I experiencing? This was new. This was unexpected. This was… amazing!

It was all there. The tuyo was not dry. It was meaty – miraculously close to a no-bones experience. It had the right amount of saltiness with a tinge of vinegar, garlic, and a whole bunch of stuff that I couldn’t decipher. I did not know what was there – but now, I didn’t care. The fried egg was the only familiar taste but even that felt new and unfamiliar mixed into this magical mystery. The mouth feel was rounded and encompassing. The rice was not oily. There were no clumps of rice to handle, just individual grains that blended with everything else going on.

It lingered but only enough to tease me to want more. It enticed me to withdraw from its embrace but as you pulled back, it tugged to not let go – not just yet. It was this push and pull that I remember most – desire and satiety trying to find balance in my being.

Minutes later, it was over. I had indulged. The plate was empty.

Like that first kiss, I was never completely in control of the moment. We pretend we are but we really aren’t. The moment was in control the whole time. I still remember a longing for more and yet strangely saying that I was satisfied at the same time. I pushed back from the table and headed into the day with a mysterious smile and a memory on my lips. The experience has changed me.

I may try other things down the road – but the first time is always going to live in me. I have experienced it but can never be its master. – Rappler.com

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