It’s Manila. Early 1980s, July, rainy season.
We’re looking for the best air-con bus tickets up to Baguio. In the narrow, muddy margins between the thoroughfare busy with jeepneys, taxis and tricycles and the terminals’ tall confines, we navigate with our belongings through the bus company stretch of Cubao. Metro Manila – the part outside Intramuros, which is to say, everything else – lacked urban planning or zoning so there’s no sidewalk. I imagine the National Capitol Region grew barrio by barrio, one squatter’s village, Iglesia ni Christo, wet market and fly-over at a time.
This is how my first memory of street food begins.
We endured hours of pre-voyage preparation, now exhausted in our green velour seats. We were somewhere between sleep and looking at the melange of Metro Manila give way to the countryside sari-sari sotres, basketball courts filled with flip-flopped footed hopefuls and children in crisp uniforms walking to school.
On the road to Baguio, we make a few stops at the bigger towns. In San Fernando, some travelers leave, others join. But each time a collection of enterprising food vendors approach the bus, sometimes boarding to walk through the aisles, or circling the bus with their wares piled high on their heads, tapping each window to entice hungry voyagers. Mani, mani, mani, mani! says the peanut vendor. Baluuuuuuut! proclaims the duck egg embryo seller. Fanta and Coca-cola and tsitsaron in knotted plastic baggies, all ready for travelers on the go.
This was before street food was considered by folks in the States as sexy or au courant. Street food in the Philippines is what people in a rush eat – whether it’s for students on the University of the Philippines campus or for the majority of the country’s population who need a hot, inexpensive form of subsistence as they pass their local wet market.
I’m happy to announce I’ll be going back to Manila for a few weeks to work on the Philippines’ chapter of a new book that will be published late this year, Street Food around the World: An Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. I’m researching popular street foods, the people who produce the food and their methods, as well as where and how they’re eaten and by whom. Any Filipinos or Filipino food lovers want to share their opinions, thoughts, recommendations and memories of Street Food Sa Atin?