Cheapskate of the Universe

polvoron

I know someone who calls himself C.O.T.U. literally, “Cheapskate of the Universe.”

We don’t eat together – surprise, surprise. I’m no cheapskate and he can’t abide dessert. That’s a deal-breaker right there. But I’m fascinated by his drive to find the best places that’ll serve the best, if not the most food, for under P100. Obviously, I don’t approve of his choices (again – which is why we don’t eat together) but his food, er … “philosophy”, if I can even call it that, gets me to thinking about the cheap-“er” things I like to eat.

Now you know why this week’s DiscOVIries by Nokia theme is What’s Your Favorite Cheap Eat?. Let’s say it all together now, shall we: “Ahhh.”

So here, in no definitive order, is a (rather short) list of cheap eats that I hope to add to in the future. I want to add Marty’s Vegetable Chicharon here but I can’t find it anywhere. For those of you who are looking, there are no cheap meals here. Frankly, I’d be hesitant to do a post on that since what I consider cheap or even “affordable,” might be someone else’s “exorbitant.”

Goldilocks polvoron
Price: P79/pack of 10 (approximately P7.90/piece)

This has been an enduring favorite of mine since I was a freshman in high school. And unlike McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich, Red Ribbon’s empanada, and KFC’s Zinger, it hasn’t gotten smaller over the years. I’m grateful to the Goldilocks powers-that-be for retaining the polvoron’s quaint scalloped shape and for its sufficient hunger-buster size: roughly two inches in diameter.

Who would think that something immensely satisfying could be made from just toasted flour, butter, sugar, and powdered milk? Solid in form yet crumbly on first bite, I love the grittiness of the sugar in the Goldilocks polvoron, the crunch, crunch that echoes in my ears; sound then sweetness. When that symphony has been silenced, there’s the almost indiscernible flavor of butter (or is it margarine?) followed by the dryness of the powdered milk. When I make polvoron at home, Boo is very strict that I use only Bear Brand powdered milk because that’s the milk that she drinks. Strangely enough, it’s this allegiance to a powdered milk brand that some say is the secret to (their) polvoron. Could that be why I love Goldilocks polvoron so?

brownie

Goldilocks nut brownies
Price: P29/pack of 4 small squares

No, this isn’t a Goldilocks product post but I do like their nut brownies. I’m laughed at when I tell a group of colleagues about my penchant for these cheap bars. “God, they even look cheap,” one says. “Perhaps,” I reply. “But they’re so fudgy!” “Chock-full of glucose,” snorts another.

Plain as can be, moistened with glucose, and plied with the cheapest of cocoa powders, my colleagues are right. But that doesn’t change the way I feel about these blocks of edible midnight that shine with their glucose sheen and stick to my teeth like crazy. A somewhat chalky flavor dominates in these brownies thanks to a low-quality cocoa powder but it seems entirely appropriate coupled with its one-dimensional sweetness. I too, tire of singing paeans to chocolate possessing notes of smoke and citrus. Sometimes painfully plain is what I want.

Curry puffs from Old Chang Kee
Price: P35/piece

C.O.T.U. brought me a box of these when I was in the hospital after giving birth to Boo. It’s the only food we both agree on, come to think of it.

If you like spicy food, then there’s nothing to dislike about these fried pockets. A Singaporean franchise that has unfortunately dwindled to just two branches in Manila, Old Chang Kee specializes in on-the-go finger foods that consist of fish balls, crab claws, and chicken nuggets. But it’s the curry puff that started it all and it’s still the star.

curry puff

A mixture of chicken, potatoes, chunks of hard-boiled egg and carrot shreds are kicked up with enough curry to make the back of my throat tingle, and enough turmeric to make my tongue yellow. Encased in a doughy wrap, I like to start eating this by nibbling on the braided ends which are crispy, and then biting my way to the soft inside. Paired with my occasional Coke Zero, this is lunch.

Old Chang Kee
Branches at V-Mall, outside near Haagen-Dazs, and at Mall of Asia.

pandesal

Pandesal from Pan de Amerikana
Price: P5.50/piece

I rejoiced when this venerable Marikina establishment opened a branch near me. I’d previously been driving ten kilometers to a Pan de Manila just to get my weekly pan de pugon fix.

There’s nothing like bread baked in a wood-burning oven. It’s pillow-soft and has an aroma and taste redolent of wood of course, and something more, like old times. Unlike other panaderias, pandesal from Pan de Amerikana is browner and bigger. The former because the bread is made from (whole) wheat flour sans sugar, and the latter because well, they’re just made BIG. There’s an even bigger pandesal that they have called pan de sal na pang Amerikano because it’s big enough to feed an American. Now that I want to buy sometime when I visit the Marikina branch.

my favorite mug
everybody wants this mug of mine. I got it at Team Manila.

I usually buy enough pandesal to feed breakfast to my family of three and then I save one for merienda. I toast it lightly and eat it with cheese or smear it with condensed milk chased with sips of coffee from my favorite mug (above). Wow, now that’s what I call a retro snack.

Pan de Amerikana website

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