Fresh from the oven
Last summer, I came to the Philippines for a vacation. The long trip was exhausting. However, what I ate the day after we arrived banished all my tiredness from the moment its flavor touched my tongue. It all started with a simple question from my grandfather.
But first — it was humid when we arrived, and claiming our baggage took a decent amount of time. Finally, we got in a car that took us to our grandparents’ residence, where we would be staying. When we got to the bright, yellow gate in front of the house, I could hear the barks and yelps of the caged dogs my grandfather owned. My grandmother opened immense bars, and my grandfather — my mother’s father — greeted us jovially.
My sister and I were bone-tired from the change in time, since Manila is 12 hours ahead of New York. The two of us went inside, following our grandmother to our room after I had asked where we could nap. We collapsed on the bed, closed our eyes and were soon in slumber.
I woke up with bright rays of light streaming through the window. I glanced at my sister. My sight was fuzzy, but I could tell she was still sleeping peacefully because I could hear her breathing. The queen-sized bed creaked as I quietly put my feet on the cool, wooden floor. I hobbled a bit to the door, which opened to a house dimly lit.
However, I could view the long hallway even with the thick curtains shielding the sunlight. And I could hear someone taking a shower. I went to the bathroom, and when the door opened, out came my mother, an orange towel wrapped around her.
“Oh, you’re awake,” she said in surprise. “Just give me a moment to change into some clothes.”
As she went inside a room, I realized how ravenous I was. My stomach was yearning for food.
When my mother returned, dressed in summer apparel, I asked, “What’s for lunch?”
She looked amused and replied, “Oh, you mean breakfast. I think it is because you slept for one day.”
One day? I slept that long?
I followed my mother into the dining room, which had a small white refrigerator decorated with magnets from different countries.
My mother joined my grandfather at the huge, wooden table; as usual, Grandpa was wearing a white sleeveless shirt and navy blue shorts.
Adjusting his glasses, he said, “Good morning, Teresa. Good morning, Kristia.”
Then, looking at me, he asked, “Do you want to come get ‘pan de sal’ in the street with me?”
“Go on, go with your grandfather!” said my mother excitedly.
So I said, “Okay.”
Pan de sal is a Filipino bread commonly served for breakfast. I had eaten pan de sal numerous times back home, but I had never tasted local ones, so I was excited to try.
I exited the house with my grandfather, both of us in sandals.
I followed him on the road and heard him remind me, “You should walk on the left side of the road so drivers can see you.”
Tricycles zoomed past us. Then there was a bit of silence, which felt awkward, so I asked, “Is the store far away from here?”
“No,” he said, “only a few minutes more.”
We continued to walk until I spotted a stand with a roof that appeared to be made of tin or metal. Music was blaring out of a radio. This was where my grandparents bought their daily pan de sal.
My grandfather asked me, “Do you want to pay?”
I shook my head.
“One bag of pan de sal, please,” he said to the woman at the counter. “And do you have Dairy Cream butter?”
The woman went away for one moment and came back with a brown bag and a box of butter.
When we got back to the house, my grandmother eagerly opened the door. My sister was awake, and my parents were up, too, watching television.
At the table, we gathered around, each holding a piece of bread in our hands. Taking a butter knife, I spread butter on the fluffy and warm pastry and took a bite.
Immediately, I knew it was something different from the imported version of pan de sal we had in the United States. My parents were right. The texture was less crunchy, and its flavor was different. Instead of the taste of savory wheat, this one was sweet.
Finally, the butter enhanced the sweetness and flavor of the pan de sal, causing me to devour three pieces, one after the other.
“This is delicious!” I exclaimed.
For the rest of our vacation, we ate pan de sal every day for breakfast. Each morning, I felt warm inside, even in the already hot weather. When we left the Philippines, I brought a bag of pan de sal. Who knew I would get to love it this much?
That trip to the pan de sal stand is something I’ll never forget. It turns out that pan de sal is best tasted where it originated: the Philippines.
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Kristiana Causon, 12, is a Grade 6 student of St. Charles High School, Staten Island, New York, USA.
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