Sunday, October 26, 2008

Rizal Boulevard's Tempura, etc.

After about an hour of rest from my day tour of the city, I was up again for more roaming, dinner and whatever else I might encounter on a Dumaguete Saturday Night! I was refreshed and excited! Took a tricycle to the corner of Hibbard and Silliman Avenues (okay, that is also the corner of Pedrices St. and Silliman Ave – howsoever you want to refer to it hehe)! Plan was to walk the city area and just see Dumaguete city at night.

Starting out from that corner, I almost aimlessly walked the streets that seemed to be still alive. At about 7PM some stores start to close shop, many of the restaurants start to bustle and the many motorcycles tend to increase in numbers everywhere! Whoa! I found time walking almost all of the areas bounded by Perdices, Legaspi, San Jose, San Juan, Sta. Catalina, Silliman Ave and Rizal Blvd. just checking out what might interest me. Objective was to tire myself and find a dinner place where I could binge on their specialties!

Finally, I went to see the “Tempura Row” of Rizal Blvd just by the corner with Silliman Avenue and diagonally across from Silliman Hall. I many times heard about this “specialty row” but never actually got to being in them. This time, I was not to let it pass again hehe! On arrival at the area, I opted not to immediately dive into one. Rather, I walked the whole area and see all of them. It’s just a short distance anyway as the row is from right at the tip of Silliman Ave. (sea-side) up to just about (across the Bank of Commerce) which is also the tip of the “formal” sea-wall therefore the “formal” promenade.

“Good evening sir, try our Tempura and Squid-balls”, “hello welcome to Dumaguete, have some Tempura and Squid-balls” were the usual greetings (in English) from the ladies and gentlemen who manned the rows. They were all smiles at me and really won’t on inviting me but they were not over-eager as to follow me like you at B… ooops, enough of the ugly Batangas Pier as even I do hear my stomach roar at the thought of its ugliness!

After literally circling the tempura vendors, I settled in with one manang who didn’t have any customers yet. Call me bad, but this time, hoping I could get more eagerly offered information, I pretended I did not speak nor understand Bisaya! Forgive me folks, please?! So, okay, I was offered three choices – 1) Tempura, 2) Squid-balls, 3) Both! The squid-balls I already know but the “tempura” I had to ask for more information. Thanks to my inquisitiveness, thus I found out, the taste is nothing really unique to my taste buds and not something to crave about. Although I will have to insist that if you’re a first-timer in Dumaguete, do visit this place if only to get a feel of what it really is!

The set-up
You have seen fish-ball vendors everywhere in the country, right? This tempura thing is generally the same. That means there is a wooden cart (3 sometimes 4 wheels) that has a kerosene-pump burner where a kawali (pan) is set with oil for deep frying. The cart is of course ambulant and can easily be pushed around. But in this place, once settled, the cart takes a permanent location for the night.

And then there are the chairs! These are little “monobloc” chairs, the type they use for children’s parties and are laid out on two rows facing each other. These are where you and your companion sit to enjoy the tempura.

Tables? In the middle of the two rows of children’s chairs facing each other are laid out a single row of monobloc stools that will serve as your table as you partake of your tempura! That’s it!

So what is a Dumaguete Tempura?
More “formally” in their street parlance, this is called “fish-tempura”. But what is it really? It’s a flour mixture (more of like raw dough) that comes in little strips ready to be fried. The flavor? It is purportedly fish-flavored (probably patis) but am not sure I caught that flavor in my tongue anyway. It is a lighter or fluffier version of the kikiam that you get from all of Metro Manila’s side streets. And mind you, the kikiam is better than this tempura since kikiam is heavier, more solid and tastier. This tempura is full of air – if compared to kikiam. Once fried, it is served on a stick and given to you with sauce choices of vinegar, sweet sauce and spicy sauce just like how you get it from any a fish-ball vendor in Metro Manila!

Interviewing the manang who was not yet busy as I was her sole customer at that time, the dough of both the “tempura” and the squid-ball are imported from Cebu. The sauce is a mix that each tempura vendor concocts so that is “where” taste will matter between the vendors!

And what is a Dumaguete Squid-Ball?
It’s the same kind of squid-ball you buy from any a street vendor all over Metro Manila. Trust me, there is no difference. In fact, I even like the sauces of the Manong fish-ball vendor near Citibank in Eastwood. It’s thicker and more flavorful.

How much is it?
A fish tempura is 4 pesos each (with the free sauce) AND the squid-ball is also 4 pesos! Yep, it’s twice the price than your squid-ball in Metro Manila which is at most 2 pesos and even cheaper in some areas where there are a lot of them selling the same.

Being so, should we drop the Dumaguete Tempura from our itinerary?
NO if it’s your first time. YES if you have been there. NO if you want to hear more! Hear what? Well, this is the place where many of the local middle to low income folks hang-out. Their stories, conversations, banters, jokes, etc. are a nice thing to learn more about Dumaguete. It is very convenient since you will be inches away from each other. Too easy to spot lovers having a good time or even a muffed quarrel; students in a boisterous night-out; office workers in an after-office conversation; and even just the vendors themselves in another pit of serious tsismisan hehe!

And hey, during this visit, over at the first row of these tempura joints, there was a guitar-wielding beggar who sang songs from Matud Nila to Hotel California with a box in front of him for people to drop their “donations”! It was entertainment enough!

In this place, if you stay put for just a little while and “open your radars”, you’ll get your fill of the inside scoops from local politics, to Dyesebel, to PBA, to that gay teacher at St. Louis, to the latest motorcycle accident, to the lies of Gloria, to the latest Silliman hunk, to the ugly sales lady who purportedly hooked a retired foreign guy & now owns a restaurant and so many other things Dumaguete! Hey, I heard all of those from the folks who came to eat tempura!

Moving on after 2 pieces of tempura and 2 pieces of squid-balls, I stumbled upon the historical marker that describes the significance of the boulevard. Now, I know! But why didn’t I see this early in the afternoon? Probably I was busier looking at the other side of the streets where foreign men were already drinking hehe.

Then another sight… a group of children singing or listening to stories of a religious significance! I had to go near, the activity invited my curiosity! I think there would have been about 50 or more of them. What a nice activity, it’s called the Boulevard Children’s Church. While there were a lot, not all children are necessarily street urchins. Some are accompanied by their parents who stay by the sides. The Ate’s and the Kuya’s who conducts the activity are youngsters who are probably religious lay workers. There are older folks too who listen in or help manage the activity. There are also foreigners who seem to be permanent residents of the city who are part of the activity – three were older folks, one was probably a high school kid and another his little brother of about 9 or 10. The singing is usually accompanied by guitars and the story-telling are either without props or drawings on transparent plastic projected by an aging overhead projector. I found this activity a heartwarming scene, really.

At one point I saw a dirty kid run into the gathering holding a handful of plastic spoons and forks that obviously looked the kid has collected from trash bins. An Ate said something to him (which I didn’t quite hear), the kid ran to the sea-wall, left his “toys” there and ran back to the gathering. Ah! That scene broke my heart.

For a chronology of stories on this trip, click the following article numbers:
01   02   03   04   05   06   07   08   09   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18
19   20   21   22   23   24   25   26   27   28   29   30   31   32   33   34   35


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