Looking Back

Black Nazarene and street food

/ 05:09 AM January 10, 2018

You need sharp elbows and strong legs to survive the annual procession of the Black Nazarene. Faith, persistence and stamina are required to wiggle through the crowd to catch a glimpse, take a selfie perhaps, or throw a face towel up to the minders on the carroza, get it wiped on the Holy Face, and thrown back to you as an instant third-class relic. It takes hours for the Nazareno to make his way back the short distance to the sanctuary in Quiapo because it is pushed forward and back by the multitude. This has always been a mystery to me, why risk life and limb on Jan. 9, when there are 364 other days in the year when you can get up close and personal with the Nazareno de Quiapo without mishap?

Small businesses sprout like mushrooms during fiestas and vendors peddle all sorts of things from cold drinks, chichiria, souvenir shirts and towels, or replicas of the Nazareno to fit any size or budget. Along the route are the usual array of street food with folk names that make Pinoys and foreigners smile. Among the grilled items are liempo, chicken or pork barbecue, then the bits and pieces: pig ears are called Walkman, the grandfather of today’s iPod, dating the name to the 1970s when Sony made the first portable cassette players that changed life as we know it; Adidas are grilled chicken feet in reference to the sneakers brand; IUD refers to the grilled or fried intestine presented like the intrauterine device used for birth control; Helmet refers to the grilled chicken head; Betamax is curdled pig blood served in rectangles or squares that resembled the old video cassettes slipped into a 1970s player called Betamax; and Kurbata or necktie refers to chicken neck.


Eggs are the easiest to serve and eat on the go. Hard-boiled chicken and quail eggs are sold with small packets of rock salt. Balut is around, too, usually a fertilized duck egg 17 to 19 days old with male ducks meant for eating because the females are reserved for frying. At 17 days, the embryo is wrapped in white matter, balut sa puti, without a fully formed head, beak or much feathers preferred by the squeamish, while the 19-day-old one has a fully formed embryo. You break the egg on the round portion, sip the savory soup, and either eat the whole thing in one gulp or dissect into: chick, yolk, and a hard white mass referred to as the bato (stone). Those who prefer all-yolk duck egg opt for penoy.

It is said that one balut vendor found a way to recycle the unwanted cracked balut by discarding the shell, rolling the hard-boiled egg in a batter flavored and tinted orange with atsuete and deep frying it to produce kwek-kwek, the sound of the duck. Kwek-kwek is used interchangeably for all deep-fried orange eggs but it seems kwek-kwek or toknanay is used for chicken eggs, tokneneng for quail eggs and hepalog for duck eggs. All these funny names for street food seemed to have come about in the 1970s and tokneneng is attributed to the 1978 Pinoy komiks series “Batute,” illustrated by Vic Geronimo and created by Rene Villaroman whose main character spoke in a strange language where tokneneng means egg. By the way, the undeveloped and rotting balut egg was recycled by cooking it into a pancake to make abnoy. Funny that during the last administration, the President was referred to as “P-Noy,” short for President Noynoy, but his critics referred to him as “Abnoy.”


Covered with caramelized sugar and sold on sticks are bananacue and camotecue. Another banana product is deep-fried banana fritter coated with white sugar; if the thinly sliced bananas are fried and arranged like a fan, they are called pamaypay or the generic maruya. Plain deep-fried flour and batter is gurgurya. Banana and a slice of langka deep-fried into a spring roll and coated with brown caramelized sugar is called turon; the cousin of other spring rolls from the Hokkien lumpia, Pinoys indigenized it into: lumpiang prito (fried), lumpiang shanghai (ground pork), lumpiang togue (bean sprout), lumpiang ubod (pith or heart of a coconut), and the uncooked version, lumpiang sariwa (fresh lumpia) and lumpiang hubad meaning naked or without wrapper.

Doreen Fernandez and Edilberto Alegre brought Pinoy street food to academic attention to show us that overlooked ordinary things can be windows to our identity.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, black Nazarene, Looking Back, Street Food
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