Photos by Ice Hung
The first time I saw you was in a YouTube video. You were enjoying the company of another man, foreign by the looks of him. You seemed like you were enjoying yourself. There you were, fresh off the grill, clothed in a beautiful motley of green, orange, and white, your skin kissed by the charcoal, your flesh browned by the heat. You were very, very beautiful to me.
As he picked apart every inch of you, I watched in jealousy as the man sliced you up with his spoon and put you on his plate. He grabbed your dress – a delectable relish of tomatoes, celery, and onions – and draped you with it, after which you were drizzled in a rain of bagoong na isda mixed with calamansi and labuyo. You were very, very beautiful to me. I knew I had to have you.
As he scooped you up in his spoon and chased you with some rice, the pleasure in his face was palpable. His eyes grew wide, his grin went from ear-to-ear. I imagined you, dancing on his tastebuds, flirting with his emotions, giving him the culinary equivalent of an hour-long underwater blowjob. I imagined your juices oozing from your tender meat, the taste of the charcoal deep within your skin, the relish exploding like a firework inside of him. Putangina. You were very, very beautiful to me. I would not be content with just seeing you.
And so, we set out for you, determined to find you, my beautiful, fishy holy grail. We braved treacherous paths and went through stormy seas (just kidding, you were a 60 peso uberX away) to reach your place of origin, a wonderful roadside carinderia called Pochok Bangusan. You have been here for over 30 years now. You are at the peak of your adult life, and you have never been so beautiful.
By the time we reached you, you were almost out. There was only three of you left, and you were the first thought in my head as I alighted from the car. I asked the person behind the counter if I could please, please have one of the bangus? She picked you up and warmed you up as we took our seats, eager to begin our journey into your wonderfulness.
And there you were.
Sitting pretty in your plastic plate, every single inch as beautiful as the one I saw from my screen. You smelled even more wonderful up close, despite the fact that you just spent 30 seconds in the microwave. The smells emanating from you did not fail to amaze me. The relish, the smell of the grill, your meat tender and browned, you were just like in the movies – except now, you are a tangible source of happiness.
I couldn’t wait. I didn’t even mind the fact that there was no labuyo or bagoong na isda to bathe you in. I didn’t mind at all. All that mattered was that you, me, we are here, present, together, and I was going to slice you down and scoop you up into my mouth… and you were very, very beautiful to me.
As I drizzled you slightly with some toyo and piled you on my spoon with rice, I took a deep breath, opened my mouth, and pulled you in. And what happened was the most wonderful, beautiful experience in my life of eating fish.
The tartness of your relish was contrasted by the wonderful bitterness of your skin, burned and made crisp by the charcoal grill. Your tender meat burst into a wonderful explosion of flavor, its juices seeping through and splashing all over my tongue, trickling down to my throat. To keep me from being overwhelmed, the rice acted as the neutral partner in our threesome and kept your wildness at bay. And wild you were, my love, and you were very, very beautiful to me.
It was a different sense of accomplishment to finally meet you in the flesh, my love. I have spent days, weeks even, dreaming about how you would feel, how you would taste. But the imagination can never do justice to reality.
After that first bite, I knew right then and there that I would take you home to mama.
And so I did. I had another one of you wrapped up and bagged, ready for the journey ahead.
Very few things in this life live up to its promises, and you were one of those things. I did not and will not ever regret having met you. If there are any regrets, it would be that I haven’t done it sooner, maybe around 10am, when you are at your prime. But rest assured, my love, we will reunite. And once more, we will dance this wonderfully flavorful tango, and you and I will consummate this love over saucers of delectably salty bagoong na isda.
I’ll see you again. Wait for me. Because you are very, very beautiful to me.
Pochok Bangusan is along Don Roces Avenue in Quezon City, katapat lang ng KFC. Masarap dun tangina. 200 pesos yung bangus. Get there before lunchtime so you can have the whole experience.