19 September 2010

A Mundane Pleasure in Life

I do tend to get fixations every now and again. Last Thursday, I had dinner at Panggas as I sometimes do before going home. I asked for the ginataang gabi to go with the lechon paksiw. Panggas gabi is good, make no mistake about it; but it is not the same as what Mom used to serve us when we were growing up.

So, I made up my mind I would do Mom’s version come the weekend.

When I was a small kid, there used to be a Bicolana living just outside the Base who would walk the streets peddling ginataang gabi. Mom quickly became her sukî. That was how I was introduced to – and fell in love with – this delicacy called the ginataang gabi.

The gabi, as I remembered it, was sautéed dry – unlike many variants one gets in restaurants these days which are done wet and – therefore – malabsak. It was not the usual vegetable – per se – in that one did not eat it liberally as one would – say – bulanglang or ginisang gulay.

Instead, one ate it sparingly to complement whatever other food one had on the table. The ginataang gabi was choosy – it did not just go with anything. For some reason, it went well with fried or grilled fish. To my mind, at least, it did not go well with anything sweet-tasting.



As was Mom’s style, she interviewed the Bicolana maglalakô so that, in time, she was able to do the gabi herself. She learned that gabi leaves were left out to dry under the sun for up to three or four days – never cooked freshly picked from the plant. She learned to temper down the chili since the brood could only take so much sting in the mouth.

It is remarkable how much entrepreneurs have made life so much more convenient these days for consumers. Everything I needed to make my ginataan – I discovered today – is available at the supermarket.

Dried gabi leaves were packed conveniently in plastic bags. Whereas once upon a time, making gatâ involved breaking a mature buko open, grating it manually over a small kudkuran and pressing the meat with one’s hands, these days processed coconut milk is available in cans on supermarket shelves.

As was everything else needed to do the gatâ: chili pepper, shrimp, pork loin and daeng… There was no need whatsoever to go uptown to the wet market.

Since I was trying to satisfy my fixation with the ginataan without really knowing how to go about it, I naturally needed to send out an SOS. It is times like this when the cellular phone comes in really handy.

While I was making my rounds of the supermarket shelves, I was in cell phone communication with my sister, my appointed guru for this project. “Lalagyan ng hipon?” I asked by text message. “P’wede meron... P’wede rin walâ.” I decided on meron.

“Patis o toyo?” I asked. “Bagoong alamang,” she text-ed back. “Although,” she added, “Mom used to do the slices of liempo like she would adobo, so the pork really tasted good.” I thought that was worth a try.

Once home, I discovered that the ginataang gabi was surprisingly easy to do. It was a simple matter of sautéing the garlic, onions and shrimps and adding in the gabi leaves, the coconut milk, the bagoong alamang and the pork loin. The latter I had pre-cooked adobo-style.

Before long, I was ready to try it. Maalat-alat, I concluded; but my sister was a text message away. “Add more coconut milk,” she advised. In no time at all, I was transported back to an era when I still wore shorts to school and when one derived simple pleasures in life from something as mundane as the ginataang gabi.







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