The Case of Uga (Tuyo or Stinky Dried Fish)

There’s all this talk about food the past few days.  Not just any food.  It’s the kind that you seek out, return to, and always, always crave.  Twenty years later and a whole new life and still when someone writes: “uga, calo2 and scrambled eggs for breakfast,” you panic, and all sorts of tastes hound you or your palette.  And then a slew of other menu suggestions ranging from specific Tita chorizo to San Andres tapa and you’re a goner, off to satisfy that bratty appetite that would have to eat just that.  So much has been written about food but I felt that this one needed the honor. There’s something peculiar about food that you grow up with.  It just doesn’t leave you.  You’ve met all sorts of haute cuisine and gourmet. In fact you’ve had the nasty duck liver and icky snails that people laud about, you have feasted and made merry in the world’s grand kitchens, and still, it’s “uga” you always, always crave. It’s as unrefined as one can get and yet the foul smell can make my mouth water.  Worse, there’s a need to eat it with the hands.  Once, we were two weeks in Europe with a last stop in Norway. We were almost heading home and yet I couldn’t eat another morsel of decent European dishes I couldn’t even pronounce. And so I found myself in the kitchen, eating dried herring with steaming white rice, my sorry substitute for uga.

Curiously, what is it that makes one fanatical for food that would never make it to the World’s Best? And don’t forget the grease. You pass yourself off as a health nut and yet, when the going gets tough, you sneak out to snack on Chippy or worse, have midday chorizo, grease over rice.  Fight and the flight is straight towards comfort food. Why? They say we’re hard-wired to eat high-energy food to counter high levels of the stress hormone. Maybe that.  But I daresay it’s because comfort food is the antidote. It is the kind of food that takes you places, relives a moment of bonding, and blurs time and space. It transports you to that time when everything was easy and all you had to worry about was what toy to play with or what to wear to the next party. That food you hunger for is a trip down memory lane, with exactly those people you pigged out with. Somehow, the food blends with the feeling, and it’s the closest thing you get to a feasting with family, friends and a memory again.

Uga remains in my inner circle of comfort food, along with (not in any order):

  1. My Lolo’s Kadios (quintessential Ilonggo dish)

    Kadios (picture from Market Manila)
  2. My Yaya’s birthday Spaghetti
  3. Wimpy’s burger from that ice cream parlor in front of Hua Ming

    Wimpy's Burger: It's almost all gravy and cheese!
  4. The Buco Meringue Pie from Veron’s house
  5. JacknJill Barbeque Curls. Well Chippy, He-Man (the kind with the yellow goo that sticks to your fingers) and Tortilla Chips occupy this spot too.
  6. Bob’s Pancit Molo
  7. Corned Beef with Mayonnaise (seriously, ask my brothers)
  8. Milo with condensed milk
  9. Ilonggo Chorizo, calo2 and scrambled eggs
  10. Chocolate (No particular brand. Well, maybe Haagen Daz Belgian Chocolate)

Now I stop writing to satisfy my heart pangs.


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