Once every semester we hold a Fluressen, literally a “hall meal,” in my dormitory. It’s probably the only meal, a dinner, that we altogether share in our floor every six months. We agree on a theme for the meal. In the past we’ve had taste of Arabic and pizza and tarte flambee. With the many meals I’ve cooked for myself in the kitchen that stimulated their olfactory nerves and after some ribbing, I knew my turn soon would come, which was last Wednesday.
We set the date ‘spontaneously.’ In German terms, an appointment made within one week is a short notice. We posted a note on our bulletin board asking who would like to partake. Within two days the list was almost full with 15 out of the 16 in my floor signing up. This is probably the most number of people for which I would cook.
As with any gathering with many mouths to feed, the difficulty lies in estimating the amount of ingredients to buy, and the cooking process itself. I have no qualms for cooking myself, which most of the time is good for three persons. Although I end up either eating a lot or storing left overs for my subsequent meals. Four of us went to pick up the groceries at a nearby discount store. I spent quite a few moments pondering if we should buy two aubergines instead of three, or three bottles of wine or just more beer. We stared at the trolley filled with ingredients for what will become our dinner later, and deliberated one last time before paying for them. The day before I’ve made a trip to the Asian shop to buy a few of the ingredients not available in most German supermarkets like tofu, soy sauce, snow peas, and young corn.
When 6.30 p.m. came we had to start the slicing and cutting. I had to orchestrate who will cut what and when, depending on which menu. The preparation and cooking went a bit beyond the 8.00 p.m. dinner time we set. Other than botching the first batch of ‘grilled Aubergine that was remedied later, and forgetting to throw in the cabbage for the chop suey, all other cooking phases went smoothly. I didn’t single-handedly take charge of the kitchen I had an army of three neighbors who signed up to cook.
Soon my other dorm-mates started to trickle in, and the table was set. I wondered what they were waiting for when the feast of ensalada (a salad consisting of aubergine, tomatoes, onions with a Pinoy dressing made from a mixture of sugarcane vinegar, soy sauce, a dash of sugar and salt), chicken-pork-potato adobo (a type of stew where meat is slowly cooked in a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, spiced up with pepper corn, laurel leaves, and a lot- and I mean a lot- of crushed garlic), steamed rice and chop suey has been all laid out. Beers and wine have been poured on glasses. What are you waiting for ?, I thought. My friends and I simply attack right into eating once the food is served back in the Philippines. My dorm-mates waited for me to have the first dig into the food, like a ceremonial ribbon-cutting of sorts (or to test if it was laced with some peculiar ingredients). Once I’ve filled my plate, a skirmish of plates went by which were passed on from one person to another to reach those at the far end of the long table. Their Mmmms! after their first and succeeding mouthful of the Filipino food we cooked were enough signs of appreciation
We were stuffed by the end of the meal. But of course, there was still some room for dessert. My next-door neighbor Olga whipped up a batter made of flour, cinnamon, eggs and some water. We dipped quartered bananas on the batter and fried them. We served them in twos topped with Vanilla-Bourbon ice cream. It might not be a Filipino dessert, or maybe it is a European version of the banana split. But it could probably pass for a Filipino food, that is heavily influenced by different cultures, just like ensalada, chop suey, and adobo– just by the way they sound. Philippine cuisine stems from a fusion of flavors brought by trade from its neighboring countries and Western colonizers. With its mixture of tastes, it’s guaranteed every bite is full of surprises. And now it has arrived in this part of the world.