My father heads to Quezon Avenue, Quezon City; and I am initially aware of where he is taking us--our other companions get excited and begin reciting what they’ll order while I sit and frown. Ma Mun Lok, a local restaurant where Mami and Siopao top the list on the menu.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t eat Mami or Siopao. I just often wonder why out of all the restaurants in Quezon City, why is it that my father loves to eat at this famed restaurant. It isn’t like it’s the only place you can eat Mami and Siopao. Why is it that we have to go all the way from Paranaque to this old place just to eat this dish? Sitting on the table, my dad is pleased. He nods at two of the elder waiters who seem to know him from way back—and he begins his story. He would tell us, time and again, of how Ma Mun Lok came to be.
About this Chinese man who introduced Mami to the Filipinos. Of how he used to ride a tricycle and bring all the ingredients along with him on his sidecar... How he used to sell along the offices in Old Escolta... Stories about the branches the restaurant opened throughout Metro Manila but in the end, closed all but this particular branch remained until today. This is the man who is currently looming over me through a bigger than life eerie painting.
My dad takes a bite off his siopao as he brings up another story--a memory of his childhood. Every day after school, he would take his sister and they would order mami, siopao and Coke for only P7.50. Another memory is of him and his whole family. His father would ask them where they would like to eat, and the six of them would overrule one sibling who would choose another restaurant. They would then eat at Ma Mun Lok while this sibling would spend the rest of the time crying because of her defeat. (I think I got that from her.)
Now, as I stare back at my father, the man who continuously supports me through my choices--no matter how right or wrong they are; and I finally get the answer to my question.
A chef once told me:
"Food should be able to transport you back to a happy memory." - Chef A.L. Lazaro
That’s when I understood--that no matter how far it is from our house, this is something that brings my dad closer to his youth. That when he is in this restaurant, the ghosts of his childhood are on the next table; the little Terry sits beside his mom and happily teases the little Judy who just lost to her siblings' vote on where to eat. He remembers a happy time where his family was complete--something that rarely happens. No matter how many mami or siopao stores will open, this is the one place he would still prefer to eat those two dishes.
And just like me and the affection I feel for the restaurants that I frequently visit, these are the places that make me feel at ease and give me comfort knowing I am home. And just like me, people who ask why I go there will hopefully realize that the answer is just inside their hearts.
How about you, what food brings you a happy memory?