I literally ran into Bahay Kawayan, starving after a day driving across Southern California, needing a starch-filled pick-me-up before I could take on the night. One elderly lady grunted her welcome as I made a beeline to the turo-turo trays; another never looked up from her iPhone. A middle-aged woman sat behind the counter, eyes closed as KNBC-TV Channel 4 bored her, waking in time to see me ogling the adobo and bangus before me.
"Filipino food!" she barked, with no patience this evening for lookie-lous.
"I know," I shot back, ogling the sausages, pointing at them and, not quite remembering their names, mumbling, "Longsilog . . ."
"Longanisa!" she snapped, muffling her derisive snort.
"That's right—longsilog is a breakfast," I gamely responded, following with a slew of other members of the genre to appear legit—tosilog, daingsilog, adosilog and others. She wouldn't have it.
"What do you want?" she asked, annoyed. The décor was sparse—stark pictures of meals, washed out by the flash; a television; a glass case holding a boxing glove autographed by Filipino legend Manny Pacquiao as if it were a holy relic. The menu options were limited—the one-item combo, or two, with about eight choices from the buffet for this off-hour between the lunch and dinner rushes.
"The longanisa and the pancit," I said.
Now it was her turn to be impressed. "You know pancit?"
Of course I did, along with most of the other treasures of Filiipino food, which I'll always maintain is the most criminally unappreciated cuisine in Orange County. She served up two scoops of garlic-tinged fried rice; three fat, glistening longanisas; and a mound of pancit noodles in a Styrofoam to-go plate before asking if I was dining in or out. In. "Oh, well," she laughed. "If you can't finish it, at least you can take it home."
I asked for the vinegar and Jufran. "You know about banana sauce?" she gasped.
Of course. She offered a complimentary bowl of chicken sinigang, the tamarind-based sour soup, and recommended I drink calamansi juice, which is derived from a citrus fruit whose flavor profile is somewhere between a navel orange and a mild lime. I devoured everything in minutes—a Pinoy party worthy of many visits. As I got up to pay, I asked the counter lady if she had any halo-halo, the legendary Filipino take on shaved ice.
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"Not until a couple of weeks, when it's hotter," she replied, smiling for the first time. "You come back for that, okay?"
This column ran in print as "Long In the Plate."