At 5 AM, my mother heads out to their carinderia to get things ready. My Father goes there a bit later: between 7 AM to 10 AM. They have four to six helpers. Thursdays and Sundays are the busiest, while midweek days such as Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the slowest. They’ve been cooking and selling food for more than twenty years now, and as their children, we help out in our own little ways: serving, wiping tables, washing dishes, and sitting as a cashier. I love the fact that when I am there to help out, nobody really cares what I am up to – whether I speak excellent English or I have been recognized for great things. I am there to answer random questions about dishes and to make sure that the utensils stand closely beside each other in a container of hot water.
I find simple joys when at their carinderia – I like the direct dynamics – the candid appreciation when food is good, and the diversity of people that come and go.
With their lunchboxes full of cooked white rice, the students set a budget of 15-20 pesos for a side dish. If they’re aching for an ice-cold bottle of soda, they’d pick a piece of fried hotdog or chicken bilog. They always come in pairs and groups. So, for a set or two, Tatay and Nanay earn 40-200 pesos. My parents are both from poor families. I know deep in my heart that they understand how it feels like to be young, dreamy, and hungry.
The Obsessive-compulsive few
Do not mess up with the OC few who are making sure that they are free from any possibilities of Hepatitis contamination. Some of them are subtle about it: checking the temperature of the container with the back of their hand, while others are quite frank – “are you not sterilizing these spoons and forks?”. Some of them are very keen on post-meal food crumbs, so when the signals are obvious, you have to make sure you wipe the table diligently until the rag becomes part of your palm.
Lots of soup and lots of rice is the best combo meal for drivers. Mostly Fathers who do rounds of driving all day to support their families, they are oftentimes the focused-eaters too: head down to the plate, every spoonful goes into the mouth with gusto. My parents have lots of good binds from this bunch. They’re knowledgeable when it comes to their barangays and areas – an asset when you want to know your way around this town. My mother is a municipal councilor and I have a feeling that most of these drivers voted for her. They’ve also asked their families to do the same. My father spent many years driving our tricycle for a living, so this makes him align well with them. I think shared and similar experiences deepen our level of resonance with others. I’ve always been curious about how emotional intelligence is enriched through sincere experiences and raw communions. The time I spend at their eatery has given me some interesting answers.
The healthy eaters
It sounds music to my ears when in the mornings, I’d hear people ask for plant-based viands. Other follow up queries include: “do you use magic sarap?” and “pure veggies and no pork?” I believe that every carinderia should have more vegetarian options. I personally love all vegetable recipes with coconut milk. Sometimes I go for linutik nga kalabasa with a few bagongon and feel the weight of the world fade away from my physical body.
Those with special needs
Paping eats at my parents’ carinderia regularly. We all know his meal: hot rice and dinuguan. He prepares 10 pesos for this all the time. Paping works as a kargador inside the public market. He is mute but not deaf. Abel also eats at my parents’ place: he has some learning disabilities and works as a kargador, too. He allocates more money for his food and treats himself with a bottle of soda sometimes. Recently, I see Marmar hang out and enjoy his meals there as well. Like Abel, he has learning abilities and accepts traffic aiding gigs around our public market. If my parents were so intimidating and less compassionate, I think these guys won’t have the guts to dine there as regular customers. Paping, Abel, and Marmar might be underappreciated for the work they do daily, or they’re used as the center of jokes, but for my parents, they are friends. This does not mean that they don’t joke around them, too – my mother is a hilarious person while my father has a unique dry kind of humor. On the other hand, they’ve always shown us how it’s like to look into other people’s eyes and treat them with dignity.
There have been times when I’d feel anxious and overwhelmed about my life and future then I’d just go to their carinderia, work a bit, and be with others…I’d feel lighter. My job of many years entails me to create and think a lot. There, I just need to move and be. A good way for my body and spirit to keep up with my mind. Nowadays, as we are all going through enhanced community quarantine, the place is quiet. Their estante has lesser viands, and everyone is encouraged to order take away meals. For those who want to eat there, they need to be alone in one table. I kind of miss the lively vibe: the sounds of utensils against each other and the many different colors, and smells. The possibilities of touching each other’s clothing and smiling randomly.
I am sure Tatay and Nanay miss it all as well, but their generation has been taught to just go on – work, keep mum about the emotions and work. I asked them if they’re planning to close the carinderia temporarily.
“The staff won’t have anything to provide for their families if we do that. The nearby hospital won’t have enough options.”