MANILA, Philippines?My sisters and I hated our corned-beef sandwich. That was our recess baon one day of every week from grade school to high school. We squirmed as soon as we looked between the slices of white pan Americano and saw the red strands of processed beef.
It must have been because the sandwich was already cold by the time we ate it and the sebo had jelled. We never told our mother that, because you were never supposed to in those days.
My children, however, love corned beef. When they were younger, they?d look for the cans when I came in from the grocery, making sure their mother got things right this time.
Even now that they?re older, corned beef would always be part of breakfast. My husband shares their enthusiasm, probably because corned beef was never part of his baon growing up.
The pembrera or several layers of aluminum food containers held together by a handle contraption was our lunch box.
At the time, the tin lunch boxes with cartoon or comics characters you see today were imported and so were expensive. Because the pembrera was lousy at keeping food hot, we had to make do with cold adobo and rice.
It was the normal way of doing things, so we thought nothing of it. Today, we are constantly reminded by culinary watchdogs that food should be served hot. And the microwave oven does the trick for many households.
My sons? lunch boxes were hefty black things with compartments where food was kept hot by thermo technology. So they had hot soup and warm rice and adobo for sure. Spoon and fork came in one contraption?a spork. Their drink was always cold kept in thermo jugs, juice their mother made sure was not the all-sugar-and-food-coloring kind.
Unlike their school books which were sometimes stolen, the lunch box was always brought home intact. One still exists in my pantry. I suppose no one was interested in taking those ugly things.
My mother never had to bring baon because she was a media interna, a half boarder whose meals were provided by the school. She told us her lunches were like formal affairs because they were served at the table by the manangs (women helpers) and the food was always hefty.
She reminisced about the daily dessert of German bread sandwiching a chocolate bar. She?d let the chocolate slip into her uniform pocket and then eat the bread.
Last week I had written about Sr. Witburga and her German bread and chocolate fudge. The fudge must have been so dense and rich for my mother to mistake it for a choco bar. It would be at merienda when she would relish her fudge.
When my children went to college, they had lunch and merienda money. The older boy never told me what he ate, but the younger boy always had a report because he would case the places outside the school. He?d refer me to some restaurants he ate at, which were then promptly reviewed by his mother in her columns.
Their younger cousins had a different story. It shocked me when they said they lined up at lunch at their school?s water dispenser so that they could have hot water for their instant soup.
It wasn?t all they ate, but the mere fact that a big part of the school population was going to have soup in styropore containers was for me a certain sign of civilization in decline.
I felt the same way when airline snacks were distributed to passengers just before crossing the Pacific Ocean at night, and it contained a cup of instant soup. All you had to do was go to the pantry and ask for hot water.
The same scene played itself out at the Internet office where I used to work and where most of the staff were half my age.
There was the same beeline to the water dispenser at lunch, because it was instant noodles they really liked to eat and not because they had no other choices. They even discussed the merits of certain flavors.
I could accept that, but not the nuke rice that someone brought. You just had to add water to it, hit the microwave cook button and the grains would be edible. Nuke rice, indeed.
Some years back, I gave myself an assignment to write about school canteens. I wasn?t prepared to see how those had been transformed into mall fastfood areas. There were steaks, pasta choices, grilled hamburger and pizzas hot from the oven.
Yet I know many young parents who will not give enough money for their children to spend on that kind of canteen food. They will still insist on making their children?s baon every school day.
The challenge, of course, is how to provide enough variety and how to make the food good, because children today, unlike my generation, have no qualms telling their mothers that they don?t like their baon.
How to make baon more interesting was a promotion campaign last year by a food company. Some suggestions included giving new flavors to mayonnaise (curry, anyone?) or adding basil leaves to the sandwich.
I ate and liked all the suggestions. Those were certainly better than my corned-beef sandwich.
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