“Excuse me, do you have patis?”
After raving about the brunch at Jeepney a few weeks ago, it should come as no surprise to you to hear that we returned — this time for dinner — with another friend in tow. We were led farther inside the restaurant, past the kitchen, in a rather cramped room where one wall held murals of two naked Filipinas who had graced the pages of Playboy magazine — Tetchie Agbayani (Filipinos of a certain age definitely know her) and one Gwen Wong, who according to Wikipedia appeared in the April 1967 issue.
We started off with chicharon bulaklak (crispy ruffled fat). That’s where the request for fish sauce came in. We were given a small bowl of vinegar infused with chili pepper; it was rather tame. My idea of a great dip for chicharon bulaklak is vinegar with lots of crushed garlic, maybe some raw onions, a little patis and ground pepper. But then again, this is a Filipino restaurant also catering to non-Filipinos. So we made do. The actual chicharon was rather disappointing. It was like biting into lard. The problem is that it wasn’t completely cooked. If it were, then the chicaron would be a lot smaller. also, they would need to serve more pieces. (Ateng E’s dad makes terrific chicharon bulaklak: crispy, tender with a subtle hint of star anise.)
Our friend N went with the Bicol express I had raved about here. It lived up to expectations. I ordered the Defeated Chicken (I’ll have to ask somebody about the name next time). It’s half a chicken and half of a pig’s foot in “Mindanao-style adobo sauce.” Now, I poked around the Internet and most of the descriptions of Mindanao-style adobo say it’s similar to the Capampangan version, except for the coconut milk. This dish doesn’t really taste like adobo; I’m reminded more of pata tim.
Ateng E ordered Pancit Malabok Negra, which according to the menu features “palabok rice noodles, squid ink and shrimp romesco with hard-boiled egg, calamari, oysters, shrimp, scallop, baby octopus, tinapa, smoked tofu and chicharon.” At first I thought Jeepney misspelled palabok until I realized the word is a portmanteau of Malabon and palabok, LOL! I quite enjoyed this dish; it really is, at heart, a palabok, but the squid ink adds an extra dimension. It’s quite rich, but it doesn’t overwhelm (ali ya makasuya).
You always complain that I don’t have enough rice in the photos I take. Well, the Defeated Chicken needed a lot of rice to sop up the rich, dark sauce. And the coconut rice — the yummy, fragrant coconut rice — made it very difficult to stop with just half a cup.
The murals didn’t affect my appetite nor my appreciation of Jeepney’s take on the familiar. But they definitely provided more food for thought.
Now, I mentioned dining with Ms. Wong’s assets looming before me. The murals themselves didn’t bother me too much at that time; I guess my brain was too focused on the food to come. (Honestly, I was more disturbed by the framed image of Jesus Christ facing the murals; I briefly wondered if I was going to be struck by lightning). I get what Jeepney is trying to do with the bomba. To borrow a writer friend’s description, it was being “cheeky.” I’d go with subversive, which is also how I would describe some of the restaurant’s dishes. But the more I think about it the more I wonder if other folks would see it the same way or if it would just add to the continued eroticization of Filipino women.
What about the the restaurant’s non-Filipino customers who may not be as familiar with protest part of the history of bomba? Would they get it as a social commentary? I mean, do a Google search for “Filipina” and the second result is for the Urban Dictionary describing the word: “female filipina. filipinos\filipinas are a good race to mix with other races to make beautiful\pretty kids.” SERIOUSLY!?!?! most of the results on the first page have something to do with dating and marriage. We’re more than just wives and girlfriends. We’re doctors, nurses, lawyers, soldiers, journalists, office managers, fashion designers, dancers, activists, Broadway stars. We’re mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces. We’re also, some of us, bomba stars.