Confessions of a Middleclass Diner

December 18, 2018
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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.


Image Source: Flickr

Lars Roxas Lars Roxas

Laurence is a twenty-something turtle pretending to be a writer. In the past, he has worked as a warehouse clerk, Apple genius, martial arts instructor, copywriter, editor, english teacher, and personal trainer. He can’t swim or ride a bike, but he's done Judo on three continents. He has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of the Philippines, Diliman. Occasionally, his stories appear in real actual books. He makes awesome waffles.

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19 comments in this post SHOW

19 responses to “Confessions of a Middleclass Diner”

  1. Lesly Bries says:

    Yay! This article speaks to me on so many levels. The food hacks on Pepper are always a great way to eat your favorite restaurant dishes for less. Maybe you guys can write some food-trip-on-a-budget articles? 🙂

  2. Joyce says:

    Great article!

  3. Abbu Cabrera says:

    Jay Rayner said something about how nobody really goes to restaurants for the nutritional value. Nobody eats a foie gras seared in caramelized sauces to stave off some protein or iron deficiency. Your money buys you an experience. The question is: How much are you willing/able to pay? 🙂 Great article, Lars!

  4. Rommel Sison Torio says:

    Sharing this awesome article! <3

    Linking back of course. Hope you won't mind.

  5. ibyangerts says:

    Spot on!

  6. pilar says:

    I can totally relate to being a middle class diner. I just don’t have the luxury of eating-out all the time. Also, aside from enjoying the whole experience of cooking, I think you should also be confident…believing that you can make something good out of the ingredients you have.

  7. curiouserx2 says:

    I completely agree. I’m a food writer, too, and like you, I usually only get to eat at fancy places when I have to write about them (i.e. when I don’t have to pay). If I want to eat good sushi surrounded by Japanese salarymen and their lady(?) friends, I have to save up for it, and plan my visit with military precision. If I want a bowl of tantan-men because it’s raining outside and the effeminate character in the anime I’m watching is eating ramen, but I don’t have the money for it (or the money for an umbrella and a bus ticket), then by God, I’ll grind that piece of pork in my freezer, raid my Asian pantry, cook the hell out of that thing, and put it on top of Lucky Me noodles.

    Thank you for this article. It will make me sleep better at night, knowing that not all food writers are rolling in wads of cash, licking caviar from mother of pearl spoons created by virgins, while I produce non-artisanal salt crystals from the tears that I shed on my pillow each time I think about my paycheck.

  8. I completely agree. kudos. same reason why i learned to cook.

  9. jezpot says:

    AMEN BROTHA

  10. Addi dela Cruz says:

    Ganda neto, Lars, especially this part:

    “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.”

  11. carina says:

    I’m part of that 60%! yay!

  12. Benjamin Canapi says:

    I love you so much, GMA is clamoring to do a teleserye on it. Seriously, this was a fantastic read, and I totally relate.

  13. Richelle Ramirez says:

    Oh wow! I can totally relate with this article! I’m a broke college student and if I really want to eat in a nice restaurant for some special event (example: end of hell week celebration, haha), I need to save up directly from my allowance! I also had the same realization with cooking. I love breakfast food and there are a lot of breakfast places that I’d like to try but I can probably whip up the same thing for 1/3 of their selling price. 🙂

  14. Stef. says:

    “stuck in a cubicle with a computer and crunching numbers for minimum wage,” — You got me here, man! I can relate with the fact that I really want to learn how to cook since it will save money and of course, I can do experimentation (and food hacks, hahaha!) GOOD JOB! 🙂

  15. “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.”

    Oh men! This is how I came to love cooking. Or at least a situation similar to this. Not that I’m very good at it. You know, I just have every person that tasted food that I cooked bow down before me and pledge their allegiance to me. Not a big deal, really. Haha. But yeah, back to what I was saying. Knowing how you much more you can save (or eat) when you cook your own food is really mind blowing!

  16. Lee says:

    Just discovered the wonders of Pepper.ph. I cringe when I pay more than 400 for a meal.

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