The gourmand would know better than to eat at the food court of a mall. Granted that there are good places to eat at a food court (like, say, Pao Tsin), the best places to eat are still in those hole-in-the-wall eateries at side streets, or those swanky places where service water probably comes off the toilet. Or you can cook your own food. But if you’re a writer with an eight-hour job that gives you repetitive stress injury, and if you have to commute through the EDSA-SM Fairview route every damn day, you have no choice but to eat in food courts.
It’s my brand of emo.
I do need to point out that whatever redeeming value that there is in food court cuisine is canceled out by three important details:
- Food is too expensive.
- Food looks the same.
- Food tastes like shit.
* * *
I make no if’s or but’s about it: I love squid. I succumb to the androgyny of culinary lihi every now and then for a food best described as… well, phallic (don’t get me wrong, I’m straight, and my sexual preference is inclined towards women with mesmerizing eyes, shining hair… I’m getting ahead of myself). In my search for my favorite seafood (and cheap West cigarettes), I found myself at Galleria with a canteen plate and squid “tempura” at a kiosk called Mandarin Express.
I always thought tempura was a Japanese thing, but you can’t argue with advertising. For P76, this plate o’ food must be worth it. Then again, I’m expecting too much from food courts. I made some mental notes as the attendant prepared my obscenely expensive plate o’ food:
- The squid was precooked.
- The canteen plate was doused – literally – with what looked like sweet chili sauce.
- The anemic-looking precooked squid pieces were re-fried for about a minute to get that crispy, golden-brown color back.
You probably already know where I’m going with this… more bullet-points:
- Squid should be prepared and cooked fresh.
- “Sweet chili sauce” is not sweet, it’s not made with chili, and it’s not sauce.
- You never re-fry squid.
It takes strong jaws (which I don’t have), good teeth (which I don’t have), and a lot of patience (which I don’t have) to get around the… technicalities, of eating squid that tastes like crap. I’m sure that the good people of Mandarin Express have great food, but this has got to be one of the more ridiculous squid dishes I’ve ever had. It can be summed up with (you guessed it) three bullet-points:
- Insipid (no salt here).
- Very chewy (refried squid, what do you expect).
- Inconsistent in texture (a cross between tofu and “Kapal-Gooms” tires by BF Goodrich).
Mediocre? No, it’s well done, albeit a little too much. At first I was kind of surprised at how, despite being overdone, the squid was still passably tender enough to cut with the side of a spoon. Yet tenderness can be decieving; I swear I could have been chewing it all night if I had to. Thanks to an ability to swallow a lot of things non-sexual (pride, words, the occasional piece of overcooked squid, among other things), I managed to choke down the squid. But not without the terrific, manly broth that came with the order.
I’m sticking with the three peso-a-piece street snackage at Philcoa after this one. Or green rice at Pao Tsin.