|My Favorite Special Beef Mami|
Quiapo is a word almost synonymous to the gargantuan edifice of the parish church; I hear people use it in direct reference to the church itself which is actually the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, similar to those who use “Baclaran”. For the many devotees this is the defining landmark of the place amidst of the teeming life that surrounds it. And why not, Quiapo’s life is almost centered to the Church whether one is a devout catholic or from a different sect, merchants, jeepney drivers, barkers, lotto fanatics, tourists, beggars, and so on. Life and commerce gravitates around it.
I, too, frequented Quiapo. I go there mindless of the considerable distance that I have to travel from where I come from (I live in Cavite), and with that the nauseating price of the fare. I go there with all the mustered patience that I could summon against the infernal traffic that seems almost both pathetic and infuriating. Let us say I religiously go there—not the traffic, not the fare hike, not the heat nor the rain could ever stop me—I will go there. However, although I pass inside the church and contemplate about the strange feeling some churches have, which touches me with awe, this is not my destination! It is the small restaurant five stalls away from it—R. MA MON LUK.
My meeting with R. Ma Mon Luk’s noodles was a chance encounter. I was ambling down the streets of Quiapo towards Recto to purchase art materials that I would be experimenting on; there are stores who sell quality products with a wide range of selection at a very reasonable price. As it has been a long day, I could almost hear my stomach grumbling. I was vying for those buy-one-take-one hamburgers that spread across the metro for it promised instant nourishment at twenty-pesos. I know there was one so I looked for it. As I was scanning the area, I glanced at this old restaurant that looked exactly the Chinese restaurants that one finds when watching an ancient Tagalog film. I halted for a second to think. I remembered my father’s stories right on the mangy tiled pathway where I stood. I remember him quoting this very restaurant when he used to dine when he was young. I felt curiosity shot up to my spine. I forgot the hamburger that I crave for and turned to enter.
|The sign that marked in the memories of its patron (young and old alike)|
The place is aged. Inside, it seems that I took a time warp back to the 80’s (maybe even way back) with its antiquated architecture, the stained tiles, the framed clippings from magazines and newspapers, and the aging walls and swinging brown doors of the kitchen. This place is really from before.
A waiter approached me to get my order. My first order: beef mami, siomai, and their special bola-bola siopao. On my next few visits I ordered their asado siopao special and special mami. The other visit Sang Tuk pao and another mami. Then I tried their ordinary siopao: asado and bola-bola. I ordered everything each time I go to Quiapo until I exhausted every item on the menu.
Now, the taste.
|Special asado is my choice of flavor when it come to siopao|
SIOMAI. The dimsums here are big. The taste is mild. I find it perfect if you mix it with your mami, transforming your bowl into an instant dimsum-mami dish. Other than that I find it ordinary. Maybe if they serve it with chili sauce the dumpling’s taste would be highlighted. Or maybe if you use the siopao sauce the same effect will ensue.
ASADO SIOPAO. Whether you ordered the special or the regular one you can be guaranteed that the meat inside is flaky, similar to your 3-week-old adobo (adobo tastes better as it grows older) which you have dried up and chunks reduced to crumbled parts of the diced meat. Different from all of the asados that I have eaten, it is not too sweet, in fact the saltiness balances it. I especially like the mildness that does not overpower the mami (they are a “couple”). Add the sauce to it and the taste heightens even more. For me I add hot sauce to it which really bolsters the flavor. The only difference is that the special order has salted eggs inside.
BOLA-BOLA SIOPAO. The filling of this siopao is ground pork meatball comprised of a little chorizo (finely chopped), and their balanced taste of seasoning—not too strong and not too overpowering just so it compliments to whatever mami you will be ordering. Salted eggs comes with the special one.
|Special mami is served in two bowls: one for its soup, the other for the mami.|
|A closer look to this savory dish|
SPECIAL MAMI. The special mami that you will order will come in two bowls: one for the soup, and the other for your noodles with its broth. I was very impressed with the serving of their mami, the meat: steamed diced chicken and slightly fried chopped pork is one-third the volume of the noodles which means had there been any rice I could have made it into a viand (this is how sometimes you could eat mami on the streets). The scent is reminiscent of a seasoned broth that boost with calamansi. Actually, it works perfectly with it. And a hint of a lingering sweetness is present in every spoonful or slurp of the broth. The noodles are firm and not soggy. I like chewing into its texture it offers a slight resistance to my every bite.
BEEF MAMI. When I was served the beef mami, the scent maybe compared to those of braised beef’s. The beef and its broth are served at the top of the noodles. So here you will taste the two sauces one from the beef and from the broth of the mami. You could literally see the beef broth mix with the lighter mami broth, like yin and yang so to speak. I have NEVER tasted nor seen a mami done this way. The hint of sweetness of the beef concoction lingers in the tongue that makes you crave for more. Mouthwatering. And like the special mami, I swore I could have had it with rice with all the beef that was served along with the noodles.
As I was waiting for my bill when I went there for the first time, I read one of the clippings framed on the wall. It was written by F. Sionil Jose, one of my favorite Filipino writers who met Mr. Luk when he was still alive. And his story was one of those success narratives that I admire.
1918, Mr. Luk or Ma as he was called boarded a merchant’s ship bound to the emerging nation which is the Philippines to try his luck and earn a fortune. Having no place to teach or maybe there is nothing to teach in this foreign land—he was a teacher in Guangdong—he peddled food on the streets of Manila. Perhaps, he knew that without the mastery of the native language the best way to reach the people, his prospect clients, has to be done differently. It has to be through food where we do use our tongues but without words and in such regard we are all equal.
He walked on the streets selling his egg noodles with two big metal canisters supported by a sturdy wood placed on his shoulders; the first canister contained his noodles where he cut with a pair of scissors as he served them along with the meat, and the second canister contained the flavored broth heated with charcoal at the bottom. He sold his noodles to students, workers, and every one regardless of their social status. In the absence of commercials and PR works, he frequented establishments and promoted his own products by giving out free samples of his siopao, he also befriended the influential people at that time: senators and even the late president Elpidio Quirino. And as time passed his name was etched and became legendary—he was the MAMI KING! From his name Ma, and from the Chinese word “mi” for noodles his famous culinary masterpiece was named in his respect. Until today we use the term without even knowing his influence. We peddle mami on the streets as he did. We made it available to everyone as did he.
More than 50 years after his death on September 1, 1961 his restaurant remained an institution that boasts not only of great food but also of history. One could still see the influx of people: young and old, politicians, writers, even movie stars eating the famous combo of mami and siopao.
Furthermore, as some of the waiters and old customers conversed, in this place, nothing has really changed. It is the same old comforts that they could afford. It is the same place that was recorded in their unwritten memoirs: in their triumphs, their loves, and even in their failures. And that this place in return bore witness to the changing life outside its four-walls that are mute from language but could only correspond, just like Mr. Luk when he first set foot on this land, all contained, more than just the noodles, in a bowl of his mami.
|When I dine nothing remains.|