Sweet sacrifice

It is not a great night, it is not a bad night, it is just one of those nights. I stare into the middle distance and coerce myself to start dreaming the dreamiest of dreams. If under normal circumstances they will most likely flit between images of faraway places with blue skies and yellow sunshine, right this very moment it is all about food.

No biggie, I can almost hear you say, it is just food (again).

Except when you consider that dream under the premise that this dreamer has been deprived of her favorite food for 26 out of the prescribed 40-day Lenten period, then that becomes valid (maybe). I do this voluntarily every year, abstinence I mean, for easily almost two decades now. But believe me when I say it does not get easier with time. As it is with each passing year, the offering is the same — 40 days without meat and sweets. It is no path to sainthood, but it is a sacrifice that really does feel like such — tolerable on a good day, and admittedly quite terrible on a bad one.

The unattainable is always desirable. Tito Douglas always gave that advice when any of his wards had problems with that thing called love. But I find that that translates into most other things, foremost of which is food, and most especially now, in this my state of want.

Right now, I am dreaming of nice blue-and-white plates, the best carrot cake (can someone please tell me where I can get the best carrot cake in town?), my forever favorites — bacon (in that floppy cooked state right before they become totally crispy) and hotdogs — and callos. Sweet heaven, God bless the woman who first thought of callos.

I once read that it came to be because some smart housewife made a rich stew out of what was normally considered disposable parts of the butchered cow, in the process turning trash into treasure. I have a very fertile imagination so it really matters to me what I am eating. Case in point: I used to love dinuguan, spooned over rice and eaten very hot, until I walked into the kitchen one day and saw the cook pouring some very dark red liquid into a huge pot. I asked what it was and she proudly said with a smile that crinkled the sides of her eyes that she was making my favorite dinuguan. That was it.

So. Back to now. Tonight of all nights, when a good steak can easily overpower any other craving of the same kind, it is callos that surprisingly prevails. I’ve had callos that seesawed between so-so and bad in the past but I’ve also enjoyed really good versions of it that proved enough to overpower the memory of even all the bad ones combined. La Tasca’s version is excellent but Direk Boyong’s version is also right up there.

A little backstory. Direk Boyong is really that, first and foremost, a director. But he has such passion for cooking you almost forget that. When I first met him 13 years ago I noticed two things — his wacky sense of humor and his wonderful appetite. Having a really robust appetite myself, food kept our families constantly in touch. He and his wife travel quite a bit so he showers us with food finds as he pops in and out of the house in no particular pattern, edible treasures in tow — from the best imported butter in tins and fat packs of excellent cheese and sausages to banana chips in nondescript packs from Marinduque. He is a wonderful meal companion, because he knows just the thing to do, by way of sauce and seasoning usually, to make any dish even more enjoyable than it already is.

Of late, though, after he took and finished a formal culinary course, he has taken to cooking at home even more — his, ours, and heaven knows who else’s. He is family to us so it is has not been entirely unusual that there were times when I would rouse from sleep in time for lunch or come home for dinner and find him in the kitchen with Richard, both of them tinkering around with pots and pans as if these were friends they grew up with, putting together something that we can all sit down to and call a meal. And always, it turns out to be quite remarkable. His specialty has always been callos, a tricky dish to pull off if you ask me, because when not done right it can be quite unpleasant taste — and smell-wise.

There is an almost loving process Direk Boyong goes through to make the dish as spectacular as it is, and one can only surmise how he must love what he does to have that kind of patience for it. Consider this:

1. He first cleans the tripe very well with a careful salt rub consequently washed off with water.

2. He boils it again in salt water.

3. He rinses it in plain water.

4. He boils the tripe yet again on a stock flavored with his secret spices and vegetables until tender.

5. He cools it and then slices it in uniform-sized strips.

6. He throws in the chorizo de Bilbao and onions.

7. They all come together in a nice pot to stew slowly, lovingly, deliciously, flavors making friends with each other, bonding the way every chef wants it to.

The preparation takes a whole day but the final touches and last phase of cooking happens only when an order is ready to be picked up, usually the following day.

Now, can you imagine preparing something that long for it to be consumed in only 15 minutes, even less, depending on how hungry the person eating it is? The whole process reminds me of an athlete who trains as a100-meter sprinter for months or years on end, only to ultimately compete in a race that lasts all of nine seconds. It is that sort of fleeting joy, but it is a joy nonetheless, the kind that you easily remember in no way less than if it were to last much longer.

Best eaten with white rice (brown rice just does not make the cut for this one) Direk Boyong’s Callos ala Andrea (what a lovely name) is the kind that announces itself with trumpets and cannons, one that compels you to almost clap with glee. There is nothing anonymous about the taste and what it does to keep you wanting more and more of it. I especially like eating spoonfuls of the dish with guindillas, green chili peppers that steep deliciously and peacefully in brine, which I buy in big bottles from Terry’s at The Podium. If guindillas are not readily available then Tabasco will most definitely do. Not for those watching calories, this one is the kind of dish that every gathering should have. But for the constant cravers like me, you can actually get a whole batch to tuck into some corner in the freezer, until such time that you want/need it, with no apologies at all whatever the time of night or day.

I long for Direk Boyong’s callos, and writing about it is sheer torture knowing Easter Sunday is not until another seven days. His is the kind of cooking that really feels like a favor was bestowed upon you, one that compels you to thank the chef (in this case, him) with not just a note scribbled in script on pretty paper but with a cake, too, carrot maybe if I only knew how to make it.

The good news is where once upon a time Direk Boyong would only cook this for family and friends he now has, after two to three years of us convincing him, agreed to accept orders for it from strangers with happy appetites. After all, the world being such a big place, why limit the pleasure a cooked meal of this kind brings to just a circle of few?

Call him. He has no choice but to prepare callos every day because by word of mouth alone it has gained an almost cult following. A single order is two kilos poured into a microwaveable container, covered securely with a lid. While you’re at it, you might want to try his chicken biryani with cucumber raita — chicken pieces lying randomly under a generous bed of basmati rice. It is delicious. For those who would prefer an even healthier version though, there is vegetable biryani, which is the same delicious basmatirice but this time with zucchini, mushrooms, bell peppers, and carrots popping out here and there like jewels. Another dish he makes excellently is chap chae, which, on its own, is delicious in its simplicity.

I am craving for a moist carrot cake and yes, I dream of blue and white plates preferably with steak, bacon, and hotdogs on it. But this very minute let me just say that I so wish Direk Boyong’s Callos ala Andrea was an attainable kind of desirable for me. Know that I am counting the hours and days till next Sunday.

Now for most of you who do not have to wait to enjoy a spectacular meat dish, call Direk Boyong at 0918-9797652 and 0919-8888840 or 920-4458.

It will be all worth it.


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