Fried green tomatoes
Have you ever wondered how fried green tomatoes taste like?
It was one sunny afternoon, about three years ago.
We were dismissed from our class early. Good thing, I
thought. I needed to go to the market to buy something for dinner.
Hurriedly, I jumped into a nearly packed jeepney, and with the sweltering, humid heat cooking everyone along with the suffocating pollution, no doubt we were in a life-size oven. With traffic looming, I figured I would reach the market at dusk.
I was right. The sun was setting when I saw the vendors tidying up their stalls.
I ran as fast as I could, to no avail. All I managed to find was an old lady and her broken wooden cart filled with green tomatoes. At the back of my mind was, what will I do with these green tomatoes?
But I had no choice. It was getting late. I had to finish my lengthy homework as early as possible that evening, do laundry and finish some chores. Resorting to a different plan meant more expense. Living alone was tough. It was either green tomatoes for dinner, or none at all.
The old lady was looking at me. I could see the kindness of her soul through her weary eyes, but she was tired and wistful.
I asked her politely in Chavacano: “Nay, tu ya lang pone para comigo. Mga quatro bilog lang, akel mga grande-grande ha. Gracias (Nay, can you please choose for me. About four pieces, the big ones. Thank you).”
She grabbed my hand after I paid her, and told me, “Tiene tu cuidao (Take care).”
Tiene tu cuidao.
These words lingered with me while I walked home, still thinking about what to do with my green tomatoes.
The old lady was telling me something more other than those simple words of goodbye — tiene tu cuidao.
Cuidao means “to care.”
I realized I was losing myself in the noisy confusion of life. I was losing the battle of keeping peace with my soul; I was falling apart; I was distressing myself with dark imaginings; I was forgetting how to take care of the only thing that truly mattered — myself.
When I arrived home, I sighed out of exasperation. I was exhausted, and my mind was boggled with the demands of what was left for me for the evening. The grueling homework, the laundry, the tedious chores, the clinking of spare change in my wallet and the thought that it was about to become empty soon, and what I was about to have for dinner — green tomatoes.
Green tomatoes, having failed to ripen, are seen as inferior. I sliced my green tomatoes in circles, mixed them with the frying batter I had available, and fried them. Lo and behold, a dish you wouldn’t expect in a Filipino plate — my fried green tomatoes.
Surprisingly, I have never regretted cooking fried green tomatoes ever since.
On tranquil nights, while lying down on the cold slab of foam that is my bed, my thoughts wander endlessly. It was in one of those wanderings that I realized that our imperfections are like green tomatoes. Inadequate as they may seem, there is always something amazing to be made of these unripe, seemingly worthless tomatoes.
Take after me: Cut them up, fry them, eat them, and discover, like I did, a whole new world of sweet, sour and salty flavors in the palate of life.
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John Dexter Canda, 20, is a first year student at the Ateneo de Zamboanga University School of Medicine.
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