May 11, 2007

Manang Siony's Tocino

Manang Siony's was a little tocinohan (place that sells tocino 0r cured pork) two blocks away from our house in Dumaguete. It was nothing more than a makeshift charcoal grill set up on the sidewalk but it was famous. Manang Siony and her slivers of tocino on bamboo skewers were legendary around these parts.

During those summers when we were already spiking our Cokes with Tanduay rum we relied on Manang Siony for pre-dawn nourishment. We'd troop to her little spot on the sidewalk and stand there with a puso (rice packed and steamed in coconut leaves) cracked open in one hand and three, four or five tocino sticks in the other. The combination was perfect. The tocino straight from the grill was juicy and tender, and addicting. It was easy to have ten in one sitting. The puso was always steamed just right, not too sticky but not dry at all (I don't like my rice dry and separated).

Until recently, Dumaguete was a place that time forgot. She was like that loyal, dependable friend who you knew would still be the same the next time you saw her. Though Dumaguete held on for as long as she could, her growing popularity made progress inevitable. The cityscape remains free of high rises, there is still only one movie theater and Lee Plaza still stands proud as the city's biggest department store. But now McDonald's has opened and Robinson's Dept. Store has broken ground. Foreigners have moved in and set up camp, opening resorts and even restaurants such as Le Chalet for fine Swiss cuisine and deli products (of course this I am happy about). And where the tartanillas (horse-drawn carriages) once dominated the boulevard, sadly you will be hard pressed to find one today. This last one broke my heart the most.

With each new development comes new job opportunities of course, which is always good. But I feel that with every new place that sprouts up and with every old haunt that disappears, a piece of me goes along with it. On top of this, many of my cousins and friends who used to live here have relocated elsewhere for reasons of their own. So it may have been a subconscious effort on my part to hang on to the old days when I went to visit Manang Siony for some tocino to take home for dinner.

My aunt suggested I take Nelfa, our long-time household staff, with me to guide me there because she had moved her business a couple more blocks down from its original location. Imagine my surprise when I pulled up into the driveway of a two-story structure with not one, but two, brightly lit signages on the facade claiming that this was now Manang Siony's! I felt so proud of her. It's so inspiring to see how far she's come from her humble beginnings on the sidewalk (I am told she used to sleep there too, under the table). She now has a dining area for her customers and offers a wide variety of grilled meat including chicken, pork and gizzard. Out front is the grilling area and where the pusos are cooked. Though the building lacks a coat of paint and the second floor is still under construction, it is a far cry from the original.

left photo: the new grilling area
middle & right photo: puso steaming in the pots

With one look, Manang Siony knew instantly from which family I belonged and I was surprised that she actually remembered me. From behind the tall counter where she weaved various types of raw meat into bamboo skewers and arranged them neatly on trays in front of her, she told Nelfa and I that she will always remember my mamaita with fondness and could never forget her "blond" grandchildren.

Manang Siony

While I waited for the rest of my order, I took a stick of tocino out of the first batch and slid a piece of meat into my mouth. A rush of memories came flooding back, happy ones mostly, but also a slightly scary one - I had a bad motorcycle accident in front of her stall once when I was driving. The meat was still tender and delicious (though just like the tapsilog in Rufo's it somehow tastes infinitely better after imbibing some alcohol), and I smiled. Happy that though nothing is constant except change, some things are above that law.

Manang Siony's Original Tocino
Lower Luke Wright St. , Dumaguete City
Tel. (035) 225-1125
Cell phone: (0920) 435-0224


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful little trip back in time and into the present. I haven't heard or seen the word manang in...gosh, years! Sorry to hear about the lack of horse-drawn carriages as well. Funny thing is, this past weekend we actually passed a guy and his carriage with a Shetland pony, peacefully riding along as if he hadn't a care in the world. Wished I had my camera then. I don't see that type of thing too often.

Anonymous said...

Dumaguete seems like a wonderful visit as well as to have grown up in. But what I like best about your posts is the little glimpses of you I see in them :) It's like stories I already know getting more color...seeing more of the backgound come into view and giving me a bigger and more complete picture of the whole :) I hope this isn't the last of this series :)

Unknown said...

Hey Nens! Bravo to you for featuring Dumaguete on your blog. It was really informative. I have never been there myself.

Basta, bravo for showcasing all the other places back home.

BTW, I've contacted wysgal to contact me when she gets here to take her MBA. She'll only be across the river from me.


sigh...i should have known this before i went to dumaguete last year...i kept asking for local food but the only remarkable place they brought me to was a place where they sell barbecue chicken. it was good though (i had 2 thighs). i also love the pastry shop sansrival and the tuba bread our divemaster served us. too bad didnt get to taste this masterpiece of a tocino and didnt get to go to the market you blogged about before...sigh...

christine said...

Rowena, that would have made a beautiful picture. I love taking pictures of horse-drawn carriages, one with a Shetland pony at that! That reminds me of the ones I saw in Barcelona near the plaza. My cousin says that those horses that plied the streets in Dumaguete have slowly passed away, and no money was used to help the owners/carriage operators to buy new horses. My aunt is with the Dept. of Tourism and she actually just came from there too and I complained to her about that. I hope something is done, the boulevard isn't the same without them.

christine said...

Aawww thanks Jo, that was sweet. :) No it isn't the last hehe. Maybe 2 or 3 more short ones. Hope you're enjoying good weather in Bora right now!

Hi knittymommy! Thanks thanks! :) That would be great if you and wysgal do meet up! I didn't realize how near you are to PA.

Hey Anne, I'm still so surprised you've tasted that particular tuba bread! And if the bbq chicken place you're talking about is Jo's Chicken Inato, then you're right it's very good! In fact, I plan to post about that next . :)

p said...

dis is da layp!

Anonymous said...

I've also been enjoying your nostalgic posts about Dumaguete. I'm a born-and-bred city girl, through and through. I've always declared that I couldn't possibly live in the countryside, that I thank God I wasn't born or raised there. But your recent posts make me feel wistful about small towns, and make me wish I had a home province. In reality, I probably would have hated if I'd been made to stay in the province every summer; but it's a testament to your writing that, for a few minutes, I believe I could love it. :-)

Anonymous said...

wow i came across this from a google blog search for Dumaguete, I have some family out there and next time Im in the Philipppines I'll have to check out Manang Sinoy's Tocino! I been trying to learn how to cook it myself and have played with different reicipes but the way you described it sounds amazing! thanks for sharing.

christine said...

Katrina, maybe what made it even more special was knowing I wasn't there permanently, I was just visiting. But I remember begging and pleading (until I cried) to my dad to let me study in Siliman University when I graduated from HS. He gave me a flat no, end of story. He's seen what living there could do to some people too (drugs, suicides, intermarriages etc) if you're not careful. And of course, he knew me better than I knew myself then. And I'm so glad he didn't allow me, now that I look back. I don't know if this city girl could have handled it at such a crucial time of her life. I do believe you would enjoy the visits like I did if you had the same company I had; but don't know also if you could really live in the country.

I'm more of a suburban girl than a city girl myself. I don't like big cities and would probably hate to live in one, I would feel too suffocated. But I couldn't live in a hick town either. But I could definitely live in a small town if it were by the sea when I have my own family. That I know for sure I could.

christine said...

Anonymous, you're very welcome! I'm always happy to share, especially when it's gems such as Manang Sionys. :) I hope you get to go visit soon.

Anonymous said...

Hmm...this is surprising to me. It's always been cities that were held up to be the bad places where good people turned into drug addicts and lunatics. Not that I believe it. But I've very rarely heard anyone -- especially in the Phils. -- say that living in the countryside will do that to you.

And intermarriages? Between whom? You mean cousins, since it's a small town?

christine said...

It wasn't the rule, but the exception really. All it took was for a handful of relatives who either got into drugs, killed themselves, got pregnant out of wedlock, etc. to ruin it. This is how I see it: In the provinces or countryside, it's obviously more laidback, with less distractions. There isn't as many things there as there is in the city for folks to entertain themselves. And I guess some of these folks were just not made to live in the country, they got bored. And you know what they say about an idle mind - it is the devil's workshop.

Of course, when you really look at the big picture and compare, the city will still beat the country in terms of crime rate, drugs etc. It's just that in a small town, this is magnified 100x.

ping said...

Thanks a lot for this blog! I grew up in Bacong and graduated from SU. I have been away from home way too long for my liking but I hope to visit soon, hopefully next year (please Lord!). Your stories and the pictures bring back a lot of the memories, especially Malatapay (isn't it always about the food?) I've got to let my son see the place where I grew up. The tuba bread we locals call "torta". And boy has that place grown so big?

I was also blessed to know personally Jesse Ng, son of Jo. We were classmates at NOHS (2nd year). I remember a number of times that we would ride his bike to the restaurant near SU's main portals and his mom would let us munch some, gratis of course. I do not know if he'll remember me as the next year I moved to another school in Mindanao and that was the last time we saw each other. I saw him a few times in the SU campus and we would nod at each other.

And oh, Manang Siony's! If you do not know Manang's, you do not know Dumaguete. And how about Ihawan's Sitsaron Bulaklak?

christine said...

Hi Ping! Thank you for your comment. I didn't know the tuba bread is called torta. I can only imagine how much you miss the place. I didn't live there and only spent my summers there and I miss it a lot. :) I've never tried that sitsaron bulaklak you mentioned, and I wonder if it's still there.

I hope you get to go home soon. That would be so nice for you. :)

Anonymous said...

You just made me crave for tocino country! It's been 10 years since my last visit to dumaguete. Your narration made me laugh...the rum coke, the motorbike (hoppers and pedicabs), the rice puso, lee plaza, etc etc. I experienced the same thing you did! I used to eat 20 sticks at 4am. Their barbecue kicks ass!

christine said...

Haha 20 sticks?! Without the rice? Ok, I think I'm capable of that too, they're quite thin shreds of meat after all. :)