Lola Phuong doesn’t want photos taken of her. I am old already – ugly, she said jokingly in Filipino.
Her namesake restaurant, Phuong, has seen two Los Banos locations since she arrived in 1975 from Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) at the height of Vietnam War with her Filipino husband: the first beside Agrix moviehouse for 18 years, and in 2008, about fifty steps away to a hole in a wall at F.O. Santos. But a lot remains the same: the signage, the same fare of thirty-plus dishes she has been serving for many years, dishes taught by her aunt and grandmother back in Vietnam, now carefully prepared by herself or with the help of a close relative.
There’s always that point in one’s life when, over empty plates, leftovers and crumpled table napkins, a group of friends would broach the question: What would you have for your last meal on earth?
Some of my friends already had things in mind (truffle pasta, bacon…) while others, like me, were scrunching up our faces. Up to this day I couldn’t decide what I would like to have in that fateful day, but you know what? Maybe I’d go for a Pinoy-style porkchop.
I wax poetic at my workplace – or anywhere! – when talk swerves to food (us Filipinos can’t help but talk about food while eating, no?) and as most of the talk about food lead to comfort food, I’d always say porkchop in a heartbeat, vividly recalling each slab I wolfed down as a kid. Curiously, no fastfood chain offers one, so I settle for fried chicken.