There are places you go back to because it’s inexpensive. There are places you go back to because the food is delicious. There are some you go back to out of nostalgia. I consider a person lucky if once in his life he comes across a special place that checks off that sweet trifecta, one he will always go back to everytime he’s in a neighborhood, and brings him back to the good old times.
There is a small restaurant in a tight two way street where my grade school stands. It’s so small I wouldn’t even call it a restaurant. The eatery is a small gated patio in front of an stand alone apartment. There are about 10 monobloc chairs randomly distributed between a one-sided surface which is a plank against a wall and a small foldable square table resting against another wall. At lunch time, when the place gets inevitably full, the home owner, also the eatery’s proprietor opens up her sala, unfolds another table and ups her seating capacity to 16.
The place only serves one type of meal: Silogs — Tapsilog, Tocilog, Longgasilog, Adobosilog. When we hit 4th grade, our school hours extends to the entire day and we finally have a lunch hour. There isn’t as much dining options in Gagalangin, Tondo in the 90’s. So at lunchtime, you’d probably find me and my friends here, ordering a Tapsilog each for 27 pesos. Or maybe two.
As Tapsilog goes, the meal is comprised of fried rice, a fried egg and beef tapa. Mrs. Chavez’ tapa was fried but moist, and the marinade remains a topic of conversation between friends to this day. We have our opinions on it, and we’re highly suspicious that the meat was bathe in milk because it was tender and tastes sweet and ‘milky’. And all these we drown in their secret concoction of soysauce and vinegar. We use their soysauce like how most use KFC’s gravy — almost a substitute for soup.
Forth grade was 22 years ago, and I left my school in Tondo 17 years ago. Once in a while, in a gathering of friends, large takeout orders of the tapsi of the childhood would pop up on the dining table, individual servings packaged in small cellophanes. The last time I was in the neighborhood was in January, when a niece of my highschool friend was baptized at a nearby church. I and a couple of friends decided to drop by, for old time’s sake. The layout didn’t change a bit, but as with everything from your childhood, the place seemed smaller than you remember. I ordered a Tapsilog — now at 45 pesos. I took a small holder of their special soy sauce, drowned my tapa, and took a bite and I was back in highschool. I ordered a couple to go, hoping to bring, and stretch even a tiny bit, some nostalgia home.