We always end up ordering too much food. We know it’s just the two of us and we don’t want to get a doggie bag of leftovers we will just stick in the ref for nobody to eat, but we pore over the menu and choose enough dishes to fill two tables anyway. Habit, maybe. It could also be a subconscious yearning for the good old days of big family gatherings. Or merely a case of greedy eyes (takaw mata) coupled with an utter lack of self-discipline. It’s true, not too long ago we sat around long tables with everybody telling interminable stories while wolfing down enormous quantities of oily, fatty, carbo-loaded unhealthy food because family days were always diet cheat days. But now it’s just the two of us.
Besides, we can’t eat that much anymore. No matter how many circuits we complete, walking around the village, our bodies can’t seem to burn up the food we take in. Instead the food we consume sits around our waistlines, hiding the abs we know are there but haven’t seen for years. Decades really. After eating out I am so bloated I feel like a puffer fish in full defense mode. Toxic up to the gills. This cannot be healthy.
It’s time, therefore, for a collection of tips. Perhaps I should call them hacks or life hacks and add a hashtag, but then the target audience is primarily empty nesters—people who grew up with newspapers and rotary phones. So here goes, “Pound Sign, Advice on Dining Out”:
#1. Stop eating at family-style restaurants where each order is good for four. Wouldn’t your spouse of thirty years running prefer to go to a nice date place anyway? Like Starbucks where you can split a corned beef pandesal and a slice of banana bread. Or better yet, you can revisit Via Mare at Greenbelt 1 and share your memories of way back when, when Greenbelt 1 was the place where couples hoped to be seen and the nearby aviary was the place where couples (not you) hoped to hide for a few moments of MOMOL-ing.
OK, you may not be able to survive on coffee and nostalgia. You can try one of those hot new Korean places around town. Just know that the six-piece samgyeopsal sampler is too much for two people, especially if you also order the obligatory short rib stew with matching seafood pancake and additional japchae. You can’t order everybody’s favorites, considering not everybody is around. Discipline. Discipline. Discipline. Which brings me to--
#2. Abandon the Chinese restaurant rule of viands. This rule got its start when someone foolishly asked a waiter, “Tama na ba yung order namin?” and the waiter counted the people seated around the round table and cunningly replied, “Dagdagan ho natin ng pancit.” Logically, the rule became thus: the number of ulams should be strictly equivalent to the number of diners plus soup or appetizers and dessert. Makes sense, right? When empty nesters apply this rule, however, the result is invariably, as we pointed out at the beginning, too much food. It is important to note at this juncture that bulalo soup should be counted, not as soup, but as ulam; and in the same vein, I know it seems terribly wrong but sisig, especially when furtively paired with rice, is not an appetizer.
#3. Learn to eat what your wife or husband eats. If your better half enjoys vegetables, force yourself to think of them as roughage and imagine how good you will feel during your morning visit to the bathroom. If your spouse wants beef, order beef. Period. Don’t order more food to satisfy your own selfish cravings. Sacrifice makes you holy. This tip applies a fortiori to the ordering of pizza. If you can bring yourself to eat pizza made only with a multiplicity of cheeses and (gasp) no meat, then you can order only one pizza instead of two. For the sake of your sanity, however, I hope your partner’s favorite pizza does not have anything to do with pineapple.
#Bonus Tip. When you order four-cheese pizza, make sure your waitress understands your order and does not bring four cheese pizzas as in apat na pizza. Believe me, it has happened. Nakakabondat.
#4. Try the rice meals. They might be called rice bowls or combo meals at other restaurants. Your favorite family haunts will probably have them listed near the bottom of the menu. Assuming you don’t want to eat at a fancy steak place where a slab of meat can be cut to fit your appetite, a rice meal might be your best option. What it is is an individual portion of rice with a little bit of this viand and another bit of that vegetable all presented together on one plate or in one bowl. There is absolutely no joy in eating this way on weekends, but who said that trying to reduce wasted food and eat healthily were happy pursuits? Not me. As the powerless and unimaginative often say, it is what it is.
All is not lost. You do not have to wait for the kids to come home in order to eat well. (Who knows when that will be?) After Mass on Sundays when you get your pathetic table for two, I’m telling you, you can still order crispy pata and kare-kare! The simple unassailable fact is that there can never be too much crispy pata. It might seem like too much when the huge plate arrives heaping with beautiful, crackling skin and deliciously moist pork, but do not be fooled. There are big bones hidden underneath. The truth is that one person eating alone can easily demolish a crispy pata if it was only socially acceptable for one person eating alone to order a crispy pata. The same goes for kare-kare. The rich, rice-requiring peanut sauce hides only a few pieces of oxtail. Not too much at all.
Worried about cholesterol and gout? I will have you know that the PCPLF and MDAP have determined that crispy pata and kare-kare are good for you. Enjoy!
*The PCPLF is the Philippine Crispy Pata Lovers Federation and MDAP is the Macho Dancers Association of the Philippines--both fictional organizations.