Fishballs! Squidballs! Quail eggs! Kikiam!
I was just in Diliman for an errand yesterday, and any visit to my college alma mater is not complete without a pit-stop at the decrepit COOP to get my fill of these goodies. Not because I think it's more sanitary - it's just the only place where I've gotten street food with no adverse consequences following.
Being a doctor, you'd think I would be more wary of any kind of street food - but, truth is, it takes a good deal of willpower for me not to just buy them from anywhere.
I don't know why I love the stuff. It's all just mostly flour, binders, and flavoring (with the exception of the quail eggs in batter) - not a squid or fish or piece of meat in sight. The little suckers are deep fried in hot oil and smothered with a mysterious brown sweet and spicy sauce - the exact flavor of which I cannot seem to reproduce at home. For some reason, the sauce made by the vendors always tastes better.
But there's more to my long-standing love affair with fishballs and squidballs than an addiction to processed flour, the MSG of the mysterious brown sweet sauce, and health-risky behavior. For me, certain foods have a way of triggering certain memories by association. I have a lot of memory-triggering foods, but this is among my most favorite.
During the summers we spent in my grandfather's house in Project 2, my cousins and I used to drop whatever we were doing to gather around the fishball cart that passed by his house every afternoon. We would dip the fishball skewered by bamboo sticks into the jars of sauce - no ladles and plates back then! Five pesos worth of fishball was enough to fill the tummy and completely ruin our appetites for dinner - but lolo would each give us five pesos to spend anyway.
When I was in college, friends and I used to frequent the fishball stand just in front of the Main Library after class - our recap and chika sessions disguised as an afternoon snack. A good number of times, a fishball session for me and my best friend would be a pretext to swapping secrets about anything and everything under the sun. We would buy two sticks each and tote them away on a paper plates, finishing them off over good conversation once we'd found a spot to sit at in the Sunken Garden. Fishballs were obviously the precursor of the ubiquitous Starbucks of this generation.
Eating this stuff again always manages to bring me back to those much happier, less complicated times of my life. And, of course, let's not forget that despite the lack of any substantial ingredients, they actually taste good.
Ever since medical school, after I made the acquaintance of typhoid fever, hepatitis A, and the other wonderful possible consequences of eating street food of any kind, I haven't really been able to indulge in them all that often - which is why it's such a treat every time I can. When I do, I cross my fingers, eat up, and hope my immune system does the rest!
For readers passing by: What is your favorite memory-triggering food and what memories do they trigger? And for fellow UP Diliman alum - which fishball stall served the best fishballs and what was your favorite UP food?