But there I was, the man accustomed as a child to eat rice and “sinugbang bulad” (grilled dried fish) or rice with “mantikang tulog” (semi-frozen pork lard) and soy sauce or salt with bare hands, trying very hard to pick the slimy pancit with a pair of strange sticks.
I was also used to eating “tinughong” using only spoon without fork. “Tinughong” is prepared by boiling “bahaw,” (leftover rice), particularly “dukot,” (partially burned at the bottom of the pot) and adding sugar to sweeten it.
I neither felt any taste of the noodles nor felt full after successfully putting in a little food in my mouth. The process was very mechanical. I focused on trying to pick the pancit with the sticks. I was not really eating. I was struggling very hard to catch the pancit while sweating profusely in a fully airconditioned room!
After a few successful tries, I stopped the mechanical process and lied that I already had dinner earlier, without waiting for more embarrassments. Obviously, my captive audience around the table knew fully well what my true reason was.
Learning from that embarrassing moment, I brought home a pair of chopsticks. Right in front of a mirror, I ate using the chopsticks, practicing patiently until I was able to pick some food, although they frequently fell.
I can eat using chopsticks now, even if my grip is still not exactly correct and I feel a little awkward.
Though not exactly as embarrassing as my chopstick experience, my fine dining experience was funnier.
We had a luncheon meeting in a fine dining restaurant. The waiter gave the menu and individually asked for our orders.
The dishes were not only unfamiliar to me, but also hard to pronounce properly.
I think the better option should have been to ask for their specialty. But I was not yet oriented of such strategy. So what I did was, I pointed a dish at the menu and told the waiter, “This one please.”
My friend and officemate seated beside me followed what I did. And we waited in suspense.
When my order arrived, my friend giggled while stepping on my foot beneath the table.
“Mukaon na diay ka’g lamaw?” (So you now eat hog meal?), he asked.
I was biting my tongue to prevent myself from laughing. I did not know what to do with the dish. It indeed resembled food for hogs: creamy brownish soup which looks like “tahop” (feeds for hogs), with two pieces of bread soaked in it.
I sipped a little, and it was very sour!
Minutes later, my friend’s order was served. Vengeance was not mine, but it was my time to get even.
I asked him, “Vegetarian na diay ka? Kaon na man lagi ka’g sagbot,” (Are you now a vegetarian? You’re eating grasses.)
Both of us were not able to contain our chuckles. His weird dish was topped with what looked like bermuda grass!
After the meeting, we went to the nearest fast food restaurant, ordered fried chicken meal, ate with our bare hands, and laughed our hearts out about our unforgettable fine dining experience!
It is good and exciting to learn something new. There is always an unforgettable first time. Exploring new things and places is a fun learning experience. There could be some embarrassments, but that adds fun. When you are thrust into the unfamiliar and pushed beyond your comfort zone, you will surely learn a lot and have fun.
Social graces can be learned, including table manners for fine dining. But I still enjoy eating when I do not focus on the process of properly using chopsticks or knives and spoons of various sizes for the proper course.
Good and nutritious food matters of course, for good health. But as regards ambience of the place or taste of the food, sometimes it is only a matter of the mind. Whether you are using chopstick or eating with bare hands, and whether you are eating fine dining meal or sweet tinughong, you will love it if you do not simply put food into your mouth to satisfy your hunger. The taste is secondary if you are happy with real eating, which is a sacred ritual of partaking God’s blessings.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Danilo Balucos, the first business manager of the Mindanao News and Information Cooperative Center, left to pursue law school, passed the 2006 bar exams and is now a partner in a law firm in Davao City.)