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By : Anna Cayco

5 min read

Fatigue felt sticky on my body as I was on the train home from work. I needed a sweet and cold snack to shock my body with energy. But a trip to the store felt tedious, especially when most of the drinks and desserts there were too sweet for my palate. Bubble tea, ubiquitous in my neighborhood, did not sit well with my lactose-intolerant stomach. I settled for a cold shower and waited for dinner.

I yearn for the carts of fried food and fresh fruit that lined the hazardous sidewalks in Manila. My eyes used to scan through the plastic dispensers for my favorite drink — gulaman, sweet grass jelly. The ice cream man walked on foot with his cart. My order would usually be an unsteady tower of tiny scoops of cheese, cookies and cream, and avocado ice cream.

Getting snacks in Boston late at night is a challenge. Knowing its lack of late-night bodegas or street taco tents, my friend and I headed toward the nearby 7-Eleven. I lingered by the counter where the hot foods were. A few chicken wings were behind the glass. Their red-orange hue wasn’t as intimidating as the grilled blood cakes and charred pork intestines I was accustomed to.

Getting 7-Eleven chicken wings at 10 PM sounded like a bad idea. But insubstantial potato chips bagged in cold air, or dry chocolate cake bricks didn’t sound any less unappealing to me. I wanted hot meat on a stick, or saucy noodles in a cup. My stomach was unscathed from the chicken wings, but my appetite lingered.

Despite the dearth of cheap and convenient food in the city, Boston has a good number of distinct regional markets. I was excited to explore the unassuming Cambodian grocery, scanning its aisles for usable ingredients. I encountered some familiar items, just labeled in English. Grass jelly, palm seed, and jackfruit would usually be piled onto each other with shaved ice into a plastic cup, topped with condensed milk and ube ice cream.

At the local Chinese supermarket, I felt like I had struck gold when I found fish, squid, and shrimp balls, which were best fried and covered in sweet chili sauce. Longganisa, or Filipino sausage, is my white whale, only appearing when I don’t crave it.

Family and friends are in disbelief that I Google how to make food that they could pick up from the road for cents. But my hands can now nimbly roll turon or banana spring rolls without much thought. I now enjoy the challenge of finding the ingredients or their substitutes, and recreating my cravings from home.

For a friend’s going away party, I decided to make turon, since it was her favorite Filipino dessert. Besides the traditional banana and jackfruit filling, I also filled them with blended Oreos and cream cheese. The result was delightful comfort felt among my friends — and a street food dish to call my own.

Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #154 January 2023


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