by Nathaniel Sisma Villaluna
I hear my stomach gives a faint grumble. I try to ignore it. I focus my attention on the movie. Then I hear another grumble. I turn to Kay, my film buddy who is seated next to me. She turns to me and says, “Gutom na ako.” (I’m starving) Oh. Was it really my stomach that grumbled or hers? But before I can ask her that, we both smile at each other and connivingly utter, “Barbecue tayo?” (Let’s have barbecue?) and release sheepish giggles. We both know we were talking about the same barbecue of our favorite Pinoy resto somewhere in Raval. We stand up and leave the cinema fifteen minutes after the movie started.
Next scene, Kay and I are quietly demolishing a stick each of gosh-this-so-good barbecue. I carefully slice the fat chunk of barbecue meat on my plate, gently put it into my mouth and shove a spoonful of rice. I chew it softly, savouring the sweet taste of the meat and the complimentary blandness of the rice being slowly cut into pieces by my teeth. Mmm. I think I just had a gastronomical orgasm.
Che Guevarra once said “Homesickness begins with food.” Very true indeed. While enjoying our sumptuous barbecue, Kay and I are transported back to the past. She instantly remembers the Beach House carinderia in Sunken Garden in the middle of UP Diliman which served the best barbecue she had ever tasted in her entire life. I, in turn, become nostalgic too and share my high school memories where during lunch, I would devour the best barbecue I had ever tasted in my entire career. I will never forget Strawberry Shortcake canteen in Bacolod as long as I live.
Nope, this is not going to be a promotional gimmick of the restaurant that cooks the barbecue in question. I am not a food critic either. This is just, let me say, something that I want to share purely for the love of this meat-on-a-stick dish. The thing is, when I half-jokingly told the owner of the restaurant that I was writing a piece about his barbecue, he just gave me a grateful smile. Yes my dear friends, no offer of, say, a Lifetime Free BBQ discount coupon in return. No sir. Instead, what I got was …uhm…a smile.
Back to the BBQ. It has become my current favorite food of all time. I crave for it everyday. I even dream about it. That is why I really had to teasingly tell off the owner of the restaurant last week because it had been two Saturdays now that they ran out of rice. We had to skip our much-awaited BBQ-fest because for me, eating BBQ the Pinoy way without rice is like eating Spaghetti without pasta. Anyway, I accepted his explanation that a lot of people would come and order rice on Saturday evening. Thus, the shortage. Right.
Some said that the word barbecue came from the word barabicu, a word which in the language of both Timucua of Florida and the Taino people of the Caribbean means “sacred fire pit.” It connotes a grill for cooking meat, which normally consists of a wooden platform resting on sticks. But there are others who claim that barbecue is derived from the French phrase barbe à queque which literally meant “from beard to tail”. They say that it was the French visitors to the Caribbean who described the method of a pig being cooked whole as such, from beard to tail. In the US, the word barbecue is also used to refer to a social gathering where food is served outdoors in the early afternoon and some grilling.
When the Americans came to the Philippines, they introduced barbecue to the Filipinos. Taking advantage of the always sunny weather in the Philippines, barbecues became an instant hit. The Filipinos added a twist to the dish though. Pinoy barbecue is normally marinated in a slightly sweet sauce. Do you know how a Pinoy barbecue is different from the rest? Aside from the taste, it’s the look. A typical Pinoy barbecue has strips of lean meat skewered into a thin barbecue stick and a strip of fat is added at the end of the stick. Unconsciously, the fatty meat is normally the last to be eaten; serving as the beguiler of the aftertaste. To us Pinoys, when we say barbecue, it’s always pork barbecue. But of course, we also have chicken barbecue and sometimes fish barbecue and more. In fiestas and celebrations, barbecues are common fixtures in the table. Barbecues are extra popular among guests because it allows one to move around and socialize while eating. Also in fiestas, people have the habit of forcing people to eat in their house. Refusing to do so and declining the offer would be an insult to the host even if your stomach has no more space to fill. Thus, barbecues save the day. Grabbing one stick of barbecue is already enough to show courtesy to the host, assuring compliance and demonstrating appreciation for the invitation and of course, the food.
Initially, I wondered whether it was only me obsessing over this meat on the stick thing from this Pinoy restaurant. But when I brought my German, American, Spanish and Venezuelan friends to try the BBQ, they were unanimous in saying that they loved it! See, it was not just me. And mind, they no longer showed their surprised faces whenever they saw me with a plateful of rice to go with my BBQ. How plateful you might ask? Well, just imagine how much rice those construction workers in the Philippines usually eat at lunch, then you will know what I am talking about. Besides, I am really a rice person.
Barbecue sold on the streets of Manila
So how yummy this particular BBQ really is? Very yummy. I can attribute this to how the cook marinates the meat. The smooth thick taste of the sauce that melts in my mouth. And mind, it doesn’t feel greasy once it touches the tongue. It instantly flirts with my taste buds. Add the softness of the meat and bam! Everything tastes heavenly. No matter how I try to avoid eating cholesterol-rich food, this BBQ is an exception. I eat everything on the stick. Sometimes, when nobody’s looking, I discreetly lick the stick for some residues left uneaten. Eww you think and Eww you say, but when it comes your turn one day, I bet you will do the same thing too.
So between you and me, and before I munch my last piece of meat, I am going to tell you something: I officially declare that this barbecue is indeed the best barbecue in Barcelona and probably in the entire European Union. But, this is going to be our little Big Secret until the owner of the restaurant gives me that Lifetime Free BBQ discount coupon I asked him for. That would also be the time for me to divulge where in Barcelona you can try this mouth-watering BBQ.
Now, if only the owner could read this.