The woman in a dress apron

photos by A Dela Rosa

An old woman grunted that she could barely manage to stand up: she said the ginataang tilapia, whole tilapia and mustard leaves simmered in coconut milk, was just too good (and too much?) for her. It’s a compliment she wanted the clientele – an interesting mix of students, bank tellers, construction workers, traffic enforcers, grocery baggers from the nearby mall, the occasional bus inspector – to hear. She gave another unsolicited remark aimed – it turned out – at me: “You know… I’ve been telling her to get a loan from a bank and start her own food business.” Her skill in cooking, the old woman said in Filipino, is put to waste!

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Around last year I found a bottle of an unfamiliar condiment at the office pantry. I checked the label closely: everything is in some sort of Chinese, save for the word LAOGANMA next to an authenticity seal similar to the seals we see on paper bills. I found a poker-faced grandmother staring at me, a stare that imparts the wisdom of that Chinese cooking show anyone would have seen while flipping channels back in the 90’s. From the looks of it, the bottle looked unscathed; no one dared touch it. I learned that it’s from a former colleague who apparently stocks up on this from trips to Beijing, and who thought it best to donate it to our pantry before he left for another job.

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