Confessions of a Middleclass DinerDecember 18, 2018
- Lars RoxasWords
Fun fact: if the food wasn’t free, I probably wouldn’t be able to afford even half of the stuff from the places (or people) we feature here on Pepper. To be clear, the dishes are not to blame. They’re not insanely expensive (most of the time, anyway) and all of them are delicious (otherwise, we wouldn’t put them up on our site), so the prices are somewhat understandable. Still, it’s hard to justify dropping three grand on a meal when you’re like me, a twenty-something living by himself with thirty-seven billion bills to pay and a pet turtle to feed.
While I’d be lying if I said I had never indulged myself by occasionally eating at fancy establishments that charge me half my paycheck just for reading the menu, these visits are planned. They’re events. They’re never something I can just do on a whim. Going to particularly notable restaurants are special occasions that require me to scrimp and save and budget, forcing me to defer other essential expenses like fresh contact lenses or a new bottle of that Head and Shoulders shampoo that smells like green apples, and successful first dates.
I don’t think I’m a cheapskate when it comes to food, though. Despite the inordinate amount of fast food (for less than a hundred bucks) that I regularly celebrate every week on Pepper Eats, I’d like to think I do know how to appreciate fine food when the circumstances call for it. There’s nothing wrong with being practical. While judging a dish by the thousand and one flavors that mingle and dance on one’s palate with every bite, deciding whether to come back to a restaurant based on the interior’s ability to sweep you away to some obscure little European town, and calculating how large of a tip you leave based on how many words in your order’s name you can’t pronounce is all well and good, but the actual price and serving size are also legitimate factors to consider. No, it doesn’t make you boorish or uncouth to be a little practical in one’s choices. We’re middleclass diners, these are the kinds of things we have to worry about.
I don’t know when or how it happened, but admitting to be a middle-class diner has recently become almost taboo. Do a random search of local food blogs on Google, and you’ll find nothing but just page after page of people eating out for seemingly every meal. I don’t know how many of you out there can afford to do that, but I know I can’t. It’s a shame, really, because I’m pretty sure these lucky bastards who need never wash a dirty dish at home are in the minority. According to statistics (that I just made up), sixty percent of the people reading this right now are in the same boat as me. We’re all either working students, the sole breadwinner of a family of six, a fresh grad, stuck in a cubicle with a computer and crunching numbers for minimum wage, or starving because you took up a Liberal Arts course in college even though you don’t have a trust fund.
The other forty percent, by the way, is some combination of kids (though they’re closer to 30 than 20) who still live with their parents despite making more in a week than I do in a month, a few guys who wear polo barongs to work, a convicted sex offender, two professional basketball players, my dad, your dad, and Sandara Park. But, I digress.
One good thing my lack of excessive disposable income has done is instil in me a passion for cooking. Every food lover can pinpoint that one event that made them pick up a pan for the first time and kept them from ever really letting it go. Mine was the day I realized that one 2-pc Chicken Joy (with up-sized coke and extra rice) cost about the same as a kilo of chicken from the palengke. It blew my mind that I need only learn how to cook, and I’d be able to have eight Chicken Joys for the price of two. For a broke college student living in a dorm back then, that was a momentous discovery. I felt like somebody had handed me the cheat codes to the world.
If you’re a real food lover, you have to know how to cook. While it’s not necessary to be brilliant at it, you do need to enjoy doing it. If you simply like eating but have zero interest at entering the kitchen, that’s not love. You’re just in-lust with your food. Shame on you for treating your favorite Kare-Kare like that one girl you dated in college who you always brought along to parties and beach trips, but never home to meet your parents. (Don’t you dare feign innocence. You know who I’m talking about, the one hot enough to have fakers use her picture on Facebook, but can’t tell you the difference between a senator and a congressman.)
Cooking on a budget is a wonderful training exercise to get someone to really appreciate what they’re eating. Not only are you forced to be creative in the kitchen, but you also start to really understand food. When all you have is five ingredients to make seven different dinners for an entire week, you need to really use your head. You’ll quickly learn why certain dishes and combinations work, and why others fall flat despite sounding awesome in your head. (I once tried to make chocolate-flavored fried eggs. Horror ensued.) Before you know it, one day you’ll wake up with the ability to explain why breakfast is fantastic beyond “Because! Bacon!”
Now, while it’s true that in food (just like in electronics, tattoos, basketball tickets, and commercial contraceptives) you do get what you pay for, it’s a fallacy to think that just because something is expensive, that it’s also automatically great. Even worse, if you’re one of those poor (though not literally, of course) uninformed souls who think that only the expensive stuff can be good (not that I’m pointing any fingers at any “Top Burgers in Manila!” lists with no entry under 500 bucks, since that would be in poor taste). It’s just sad that some people fail to see that.
I guess that’s the true benefit of being a middle-class diner. It’s almost a gift or maybe a mutant superpower. You learn to become more discerning while at the same time being more open-minded, judging each dish by its own merits. It may sound like a contradiction, being both more and less discriminating at the same time, but it really isn’t. You learn to assign value absent any bias, and that’s a habit we all could practice more, both in the food we enjoy and in our lives in general. It’s a lesson that I wouldn’t exchange for anything else in the world.
Okay, maybe not everything. I’d totally drop it for a few hundred million pesos.
Or wolverine claws.