I wrote this with the intention of submitting it to the Doreen Fernandez Food Writing Contest. However, I was unable to finish and ended up editing and submitting it to World Nomad’s Passport and Plate Contest instead. It’s still up on their website along with other entries from all kinds of food lovers around the world. I am re-posting it here:
The magic of midday in a tropical country lies in the raucous rhythm of lunchtime. This recipe brings me back to my university days when people leave the classrooms and rush to hole-in-the-wall eateries to hide from the burning 38C heat. Voices and the clattering of utensils seem louder in the sweltering noon air. For a while, it’s as though students are always coming, and there wouldn’t be enough seats. After the heavy, greasy and meaty lunch, we unconsciously rub our tummies in satisfaction. For me, the last hurrah of this cheap yet enjoyable budget meal would be the saba con yielo. Though irreverently contained in a flimsy plastic cup and scooped with an equally flimsy plastic spoon, this chilled dessert is the perfect noontime refreshment. The boiled banana and tapioca soak in the sweetness of the syrup. Once cooled, the chilled milk is poured and crushed ice unceremoniously plunked in.
At some point, food has been taken to a level where it’s cooked for the emperor with a jaded palate. Yet recipes like this one takes me back to celebrating food’s simplicity. Sweetened saba is ordinary dessert fare in the Philippines. It is local, accessible and affordable. Its simplest version, without the tapioca, ice and milk, is enjoyed by Filipinos both on ordinary days and special occasions. I remember having it in one of my Anthropology field trips to Talim Island, Rizal (a town a few hours away from the country’s’ capital city, Manila). My classmates and I had lunch on one of the bamboo houses on stilts after swimming. Lunch was a feast of steamed rice on banana leaves, fried tilapia piled on a plate, crisp spring rolls, sinigang (sour soup), fresh deep red tomatoes and a bowl of calamansi (our local lemon). I ate to my heart’s content until I was full but not full enough to refuse the dessert: minatamis na saba. I ate it with delight as though it’s through this dessert that one ends a satisfying meal with gratefulness for a truly sweet life.