Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Rak Experience for a Non-Raker

The truth is, I've been blogging even before I knew the word blog. Simply because I love writing out loud. Sharing my gutspill and mind farts to anyone who cares to listen slash read. But for the past few years, I've seriously lapsed in the habit. Yes, there are the usual culprits--work, life, sloth, and Facebook. But I guess there was also something about how blogging--its communities, its culture--has evolved that scared me a little bit. And I wasn't quite ready to print a business card, analyze my SEOs, and sell my soul for freebies just to feel like a real blogger. So I just lay low for a bit, blogged intermittently, but never really got the nerve to delete or stop all together.

Once in a while, after a particularly palate-titillating dish, or a fabulous trip, I feel the itch to blog. But never have I felt the overwhelming rage to rave and to successfully overcome inertia. Until today. And it's funny how a musical made me do it. I actually just left a very long comment on Facebook, but then I thought to myself that it was too long for a comment, so I might as well post a blog. So here I am, rusty at blogging, and here it is, my review of Rak of Aegis. Copied and pasted from Facebook.

I am ashamed to admit that I did not expect much. The first time it ran, I scoffed at the pun and assumed it would be a spoof of Rock of Ages and a mockery of the band Aegis. I thought it would be a loosely spun string of songs that would be illogically stretched out to accommodate the band's repertoire.

To begin with, my narrow music comfort zone did not accommodate the folksy, rocky genre of a band who sings with a strange accent. And then it did not help that on the night itself, I was exhausted from an all-day training workshop with 40 participants, some of whom were rowdy and required subtle disciplining. I felt I would much rather go home to have my much-needed massage.

I grossly underestimated PETA, Aegis, and the power of artistic entertainment to wash away fatigue. One of the quips in the musical was, O for Owkward. And I knew then that I would rate this O for Owesome.

The production values made me want to be a stage designer apprentice, and the performance made me ache in envy at my inability to sing in tune.

Experience Design advocate and theorist Brenda Laurel would approve of how the stage brings the audience into the milieu. I could almost smell the stench of the flood and feel the itch caused by millions of germs in the putrid air. This, they achieved by wrapping the audience around the stage, a stylized yet realistic depiction of Manila's marshy slums. The bubble and sunflower scenes were a bright respite from the dirty brown overload and showed how well the production could laugh at itself.

The costumes were spot on for the characters, who probably sourced their fashion needs from ukay-ukay stores. Plus there were the more outrageous, campy touches from the fantasy scenes. The lovely variety of botas, the cheap version of Plueys, appealed to my aesthetically-alert eyes.

And of course, the performances--Aicelle Santos is a marvel. As fame-hungry, I've-got-to-be-discovered-by-Ellen-de-Genere Aileen, she is convincing and endearing--she disarms you and gets you rooting for her. As a singer, she can belt it out for the diva numbers, and she can tone it down to a tender lilt for the love scenes. She can screech her frustrations in a booming voice that fills the theater, and then she can just as quickly bring it down to a hopeless sigh.

Jerald Napoles is a blast! He looks perfect for the role, for his present life as a love struck gondolier, and for his crazy druggie back story. It would have been easy for him to cross the line to annoying character, but he stays just near the border of lovable. He made we wish I had my own Tolits, utterly in love with me while also being an endless source of life-affirming bellow laughs. (Oh wait, I do.)

The humor! Laugh out loud wit that never goes too low, too dark, too toilet. Satire that does not try too hard. Kudos to PETA for its fresh, relevant injection of Bong Revilla elements.

And the last thing I expected was the message itself (shows you how little I know about PETA, which I now know is always big about social relevance). It is a depiction of poverty, the type that makes people want to stop hoping, the kind where one is never up in the wheel of life. It is a commentary on the Filipino's fondness for get-rich-quick schemes, or in this case, get-out-of-this-miserable-existence-quick schemes. If it was their intention to rouse and guilt out its apathetic middle class audience when they sang Gumising na Tayo, then they succeeded with me. Yet in the end, there is redemption, a message that when it's bleak where you are, it's not magical circumstances that can get you out, but good old Filipino talent and abilidad. One can always hope. And back up that hope with change and action.

Yes,Rak of Aegis rocks. And if you haven't yet, you've got to see it, even if you have to brave flood, rain, hale, and traffic to get there. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bale Dutung - The Anthony Bourdain Menu (July 2011)

My mother in law celebrated her 80th year. And it was a foodfest that went on for days. 

4 days after the sensory overload at Pinto Art Museum, 3 days after the pig out brunch at Legaspi Market, we were off to Angeles, Pampanga for another slow food experience. 

For most of us, this was our second time at Claude Tayag's Bale Dutung.

After the first one, I swore I'll never come back. The 5-way lechon feast was a fabulous culinary experience, but that time at Bale Dutung was truly the most stuffed I've ever been in my lifetime, and we all know I have a pretty much world-record-able, bottomless esophagus with an amazing capacity for food. I felt then it was possible to die from too much food.

But like a lot of broken promises, when it comes to things that are too good for me, I had to swallow my oath and force myself to participate in this family activity. The sacrifices I make for my loved ones!

This time, with lessons learned, I knew I had to lay off the second servings of the dips and pace myself really well. And it's either my esophagus got longer, or I got smarter with food pacing, that I felt I just had the right amount of food. Well, right amount being still a thousand times above any daily recommended allowance.

Bale Dutung's house drinks with iced moscovado; that way the ice does not dilute the sweetness while it melts. 

This time, we had the menu that was served to Anthony Bourdain when he came to visit the Philippines. As such, these are their signature dishes, those that they feel best represent the richness of Philippine culture.

Claude and Mary Ann put a lot of thought into the planning of the menu, programming it to have a transition and build-up of flavors, with each dish more complex and more flavorful than the previous.  It started with the light and refreshing Pako (Fern) Salad, which was followed by the BBQ Paldeut (Chicken tail) with Lemon Grass Marinade served with Crab Fat Rice. 

The menu got heavier when they served the Adobong Pugo (Quail) and more complex when they gave us their version of Sushi, which used local ingredients like Crab Fat, Catfish, and Fermented Sauce.

The menu built up to even more complex, incredibly interesting, and flavorful dishes. Their take on the Lechon (Roasted Pig) is to shred and fry it to a golden crisp then wrap it in a soft tortilla together with varied flavors like kimchi, basil, onions, and salsa. This is a more generous version of the one they sell at Mercato because it's served buffet style and you're free to pile up the ingredients. Mine had lots and lots of basil.

By the time they served the Papaitan (Goat Stew), our palates were primed and ready for more exotic flavors.

To me, the most interesting dish was the Bulanglang Kapampangan na may Tiyan ng Bangus, Ulang, Sugpo, at Tadyang na Baboy. (Milkfish belly, crayfish, prawns and spareribs) dipped in a thick, gooey bulanglang soup made of guava. And this is where fine cooking and excellent menu priming can open up your palate to appreciate flavors you won't normally like. I hate the taste and smell of guava, but I loved this dish. 

The savory segment is capped by the Kare Kare, gorgeous to look at, and incredibly delicious to eat. 

Serving Kare Kare is a tricky thing. Most people consider their family recipes as the best. And the standard for good Kare Kare is high in the Alampay-Sugue family. My mom in law Lydia's signature Kare Kare is made using traditional methods and is hard to beat by any restaurant version. Bale Dutung's gorgeous Kare Kare did not try to beat anyone's family version. This is just a different and utterly delicious take on the dish. The peanut in the sauce is not too finely and evenly ground. This, plus the coconut incorporated into the dish, gave it a very interesting texture. A wonderful climax to the menu's savory components.

Mary Ann Tayag still sets the bar for being the hostess with the mostest, ever gracious and ever ready to serve and to share fascinating information about Philippine food. 

The experience is again made richer by a peek at their home and the wonderful stories that accompany the viewing.

At the end of our long, satisfying lunch, Mary Ann brought a bilao (native platter) of Tibok-Tibok, something like the maja blanca but uses carabao's milik, with a birthday candle. 

Mommy blew her birthday candle and wished for a 3rd Bale Dutung visit. And I swear I'm coming with her on that 3rd trip.