By Romelda C. Ascutia

In our neighborhood, there are a couple of small eateries that I regard as lifesavers.

The first one makes my mornings go so much easier. On days when I am pressed for time, I just head over to this old man’s food stall and buy takeout. My favorite is his arroz caldo, the best I’ve tasted so far. I know the secret to its great homey taste. If you get there really early—around 5:30 a.m.—when he has just placed the vat of piping-hot porridge on the display table, you can still spy the huge cow’s bone and the floating bits of beef lard that make it extra flavorful.

I buy different kinds of breakfast, so my family can choose. There’s spaghetti, soup, pancit, and champorado. My kids like the soup, which I serve with scoops of powdered milk stirred in. When they hanker for arroz caldo, I buy it with an extra order of hard-boiled eggs for added protein.

And it’s so affordable that your wallet never becomes anorexic even if you buy every day. No wonder the old man’s nameless eatery is a hit among people who know about it—busy moms like me, employees who bring their breakfast to their office, students who are on a tight budget. It’s important to go to his stall before 7 a.m. or the food will be almost gone. By 9 a.m., his stall is closed for the day.

Lately, after several years, the old man has decided to expand his business. He now serves lunch fare and has installed tables for diners. His move has widened my options as well. I work from the house, and since I am alone from around 9 a.m. I normally just reheat leftovers from last night’s dinner. Now that my favorite eatery serves lunch, a second trip puts more variety to my table.

In the afternoon, I go to another eatery of sorts, an ambulant one that roams our neighborhood. On plastic-covered trays are banana cue, turon, palitaw, lumpiang prito, pancit or spaghetti, itlog ng pugo, and what I always look for, ginataang bilu-bilo that the vendor alternates with ginataang mais or ginataang monggo every so often. The roving food stall saves me cooking time and effort especially when I have tight deadlines, and gives me a welcome break from work. When the children come home, their afternoon snack is laid out on the table. Another day saved!

Photo by Robin Stickel on Unsplash