Sounds of tastes
LIKE SCENTS, tastes bring us to places, remind us of events and affairs, and conjure within us old feelings. More often, these feelings are heightened because some are of our deepest intimacies while some are of our greatest melancholies and fears. This simple psychology of flavor was, is, and will always be a big part of how we are formed as individual persons.
We squirm at the slightest redolent of our childhood food and we feast in jubilation and we linger on it upon the taste of a delicacy we consumed at the height of let’s say victory or experience of love. Nevertheless, as grownups, we do not just resent dishes that are reminiscent of our pains like breakups or deaths, we avoid places where we have experienced those tastes. Moreover, we use our taste to remember something, someone or someplace to keep particular thing, person, experience or place alive at least in our memory.
There is also the option to remember tastes and make them channels as if they are television sets always at hand to flash moving images of certain portions of our lives.
I feel comforted at the memory of the taste of hulog-hulog—rice balls in sweet ginger and coco milk soup—which I last tasted years ago when I was a still a kid whose concerns would range from toy trains to magic slates to taking a quick dip in the river with fellow children without Mother knowing it. Perhaps, it is the soothing warmth of the ginger soup that reminds me how rustic and pastoral was my old hometown and how beautiful and comforting it was to live there. Or maybe the rice balls provide lucid recollections of my wandering in the woods with friends in search for something supernatural. How I would childishly chomp on the rice balls, too sticky inside my mouth that sometimes they got stuck in my upper palate, could be my portal to that Good Friday when with other itinerant kids I braved the deserted Sulóng river only to find out if true was the olden belief that the river would turn into a single solid slab of crystal at noon time when Jesus died on the cross. The water remained water; we small kids almost lost our sanity when we saw a snake crossing the river heading to our direction.
Mother cooked hulog-hulog in afternoons because the rice balls needed prior sun drying. The excitement waiting for it to finally reach the dining table was often accompanied by the occasional blares of transistor radios from neighboring houses quietly listening to radio dramas and advices from nicely-voiced radiomen. Then comes the faint rhythm of the rice mill grinding palay into polished rice.
In the chorus of these sounds, one of my uncles would join with allegro cadence of manual grating of coconut flesh. Then Mother, like a magician, would whistle the charcoal stove to fire using talayóp, a small bamboo pipe through which one may blow wind to burn embers in stoves. The cooking begins.
The saucepan was filled almost to the brim with water, coconut milk, with a right amount of chopped ginger and a few tablespoon of sugar. The rice balls, now plump and dry, were on a flat tray waiting somewhere. By this time, I would be facilitating the hauling of a derailed toy train somewhere in between the switch and the curve of my toy railroad tracks. Such is how a pre-school only son spends an ordinary afternoon—solitary because older friends would only come after school, or maybe because they, being preschoolers too, were not allowed to go out because the sun was still up and outside was too hot for kids.
The announcement that merienda was ready was a kind of fan fare. Consuming those sticky, slimy, savory rice balls and slurping the thick, sweet ginger soup were always done in a tempo that goes between fast and not so fast. Or perhaps, a child’s emotions gradually rising like the hairpin of crescendo. The memory of the taste of the whole thing reminds me that soon Mother would be sending me out to bring to some dear neighbors bowls of hulog-hulog. Soon would be playtime, and playtime was until six o’clock when church bells tolled oracion.
Some time soon, the taste of hulog-hulog would wear out from my taste buds. A few hours into it and the ginger would lose its spirit. The stomach then would do then its job. Maybe to give way to other dishes, like fried fish or eggplant salad or the thick sauce of Bikol-style igado. Their respective tastes in the future may become passwords to portals of imagined past—perhaps, a portion of one’s own psyche. They may too come as answers to the whys and hows of our lives—either permanent or temporary answers to own frequent philosophizing.
Let our tongues then do the remembering sometimes.