Monday, August 11, 2008

They Now Serve Batchoy at Jolibee

Last Sunday on the way to the Manila Airport, I stopped by at the Jolibee branch along MIA Road to grab a quick lunch and I was pleasantly surprised to see that they were serving La Paz Batchoy. I thought of ordering their "Jolibee-style" batchoy but as I was already craving for their chicken beforehand I just made a mental note to try it next time. Now I wish I tried it so I could have given my verdict and shared it in this blog. But on the other hand, considering that my taste buds are used to the authentic, "real deal" batchoy at the La Paz Market, Jolibee's concoction might pale in comparison and I may end up disappointed. So I may end up not ordering it each time for fear of being disappointed. I remember testing Lucky Me's batchoy instant noodles and it was atrocious. There is also a Ted's Batchoyan in Ali Mall, Cubao but after several visits their batchoy somehow falls short of my expectations.

Batchoy for Ilonggos is a comfort food, an acquired taste. I have been eating batchoy way back when it was sold for just five pesos a bowl (with "one-to-sawa" caldo or broth) and back in my college days, no semestral break can be complete without a trip to the nearest batchoyan in Iloilo before going back to Manila. To me batchoy is not batchoy without chicharon (pork skin cracklings) and atay (liver). I always eat mine with pan de sal and Mountain Dew, with usually a request to the cook to add a little extra chicharon. I always slurp the broth first, ordering an extra bowl of caldo if I'm really famished, and I would then proceed to eat the noodles, meat and other ingredients. Broth first, laman later - this I am told is how real Ilonggos eat their batchoys. Ilonggos usually judge how good a batchoy is by how tasty the broth, by how good the timpla sang kaldo is. Aside from bulalo (bone marrow), I am told that they put a special kind of bagoong (shrimp paste) in the broth and that's the secret formula for making the soup so rich and tasty. Atay, pork innards, chicharon, bone marrow and bagoong - batchoy is a real bahala ka sa buhay mo, "cardiac delight" - this is the reason why it is so delicious - and one cannot really have this bowl of pure cholesterol everyday unless you aspire for a "near death experience" (or unless you work as a kargador at the La Paz wet market).

The beauty of batchoy is that it is uncomplicated to make and it could be eaten at any time of the day. There is no "proper" time for eating it and for many Ilonggos, batchoy is not merely a soup but an all-in-one meal. For the kargadors of La Paz public market, batchoy is their version of the "power breakfast." For penny-pinching college students in Jaro, it is a good substitute for lunch or dinner. Batchoy is the merienda of choice of many office workers and the batchoyan is a mandatory pit stop for balikbayans and OFWs in Iloilo City. And batchoy is neither only for the poor nor people who are trying to save money. I have seen doctors, lawyers and politicians at batchoyan restaurants. A trip to a batchoyan is also a customary last stop for people on a spending spree - after an all-night drinking binge around town, a steaming hot bowl of batchoy is the best way to cap the night (or early morning as the case may be). Since different kinds of people crave batchoy at different times of the day, batchoyan restaurants in Iloilo are usually open round the clock. As for me, the best time to eat batchoy is during rainy days when the cold weather seemingly gives the warm and tasty broth additional taste.

I am sure the people at Jolibee had put in a lot of time and money studying the feasibility of putting batchoy on their menu. I suspect that their real target market for their batchoy are not really the Ilonggos (who like me might put off ordering it for fear of disappointment) but the people at large. This must mean that the batchoy has gained nationwide acceptance and no longer limited to the Ilonggo palate. Now it can be said that the once-humble batchoy has gone mainstream. It is no longer the humble, "poor man's soup" eaten by the kargadors at the public market but has gained a place in the nation's largest fastfood chain no less. People all over the country (or wherever there is a Jolibee branch, which is pretty much all over the country) can now enjoy it and I am happy that this original Ilonggo concoction has gained such widespread acceptance throughout the country.


kling2 said...

ahhhhh, batchoy! just reading ur blog makes me hungry! nice!

Anonymous said... you im also a homegrown batchoy fanatic and I always go for the authentic. However, I beg to disagree that Ted's in Cubao is sub-par in quality. Maybe you were too focused on finding the flaws rather than appreciating the quality of the product. Of course anything would be deemed right if you take the product from the original outlets in Iloilo. Often times we always feel right when we are at home. Maybe that's the reason why some food don't taste right when its not within our comfort zone (I myself is guilty of that sometimes hehehe)