The man who sells taho in my neighborhood to my daughter is the son of the man who used to sell taho to me growing up. I never knew what his dad’s name was, but Manong Fernando is known to everyone in the neighborhood as Manong Taho.
Every afternoon from 3-5pm except on Sundays and rainy days, Manong Taho plies his trade through our streets echoing the familiar call which starts on a high note and ends low: “Tahoooooohhhhh! Tahoooooohhhhh!” His two aluminum containers – one, long and narrow – the other, short and squat, each carry components of a traditional and treasured Filipino snack.
The long and narrow container that Manong holds is for the taho, unpressed soybean curd mixed with a coagulant. The resulting texture is like that of quivery crème brulee. The short and squat container on the other hand, holds two compartments; one for the sago or tapioca balls; the other for the brown syrup called arnibal. Viscous and shiny, it’s similar to molasses and has a deep almost burnt taste.
I’ve always been fascinated by how supple and soft the texture of taho is, quivering slightly with every stroke of the metal scooper, like ripples being carved out of a wave, if you can imagine that. Once the taho has almost filled the cup, Manong lifts the lid of the other container. Using a narrow aluminum spoon which looks like a long, slim ladle, he carefully spoons out some syrup and drizzles it on top of the taho. He always gives in to our cries of “More syrup pa po, Manong!” But when the cries start up again for “more sago, pa po!” Manong gently tells us in Tagalog that there might not be enough for the others. For most people, it’s either the sago or the syrup that makes a taho.
Manong Taho makes the best taho I’ve ever had, supple and soft like the softest custard, its surface stained by syrup and sago. A motley of white and brown gleaming with the translucence of pearls. Every spoonful is hot and sweet, syrup and heat, the comfort and taste of a thousand happy memories.
Now your turn to tell me: What is your favorite street food?
Note: M.I.Y.O. Monday stands for Make It Your Own Monday, a question thrown out to DCF readers every Monday to jumpstart the week with lively interaction. I also welcome questions and suggestions for future MIYO Mondays. Email me.