One of the worst things about getting older is how one must limit different kinds of eats.
Tragically, some people are restricted because of health issues from the get-go. i have a number of relatives and friends who were born with those limiting conditions. i would like to be able to describe to them some of the tastes i have had. Can’t. Just can’t do those tastes justice.
Some i probably should have avoided then and definitely should stay away from now. Aging has made me less tolerant of spicy foods and perhaps just a little bit less of an idiot.
i have a very mild condition of esophagus reflux, or acid reflux as they call it. Not good for eaters of spicy or drinkers of alcohol. i’ve done both and enjoyed them. Still do, at a risk.
Of course, there were some things i shouldn’t have eaten when i was in the Navy in foreign ports. i’m not even sure what some of them were in Turkey, Vietnam, Somalia, and especially South Korea. The one i do remember in Pusan was winter kimchi. That’s something with fish (whole fish i’m told, but i’m sure they at least scaled it) vegetables, notably leeks, and a whole bunch of other stuff. They cut up all of this stuff, added some peppers and lord knows what, put it in an earthen jug, and buried it. For the winter. Then for some reason i cannot fathom in the spring, they would dig up this jug and eat the contents, surprisingly not dying from indigestion.
Somehow in 1970, i was coerced into digesting…oops, wrong word, getting down this vile concoction. i remain stunned i still live today. Oh by the way, i have never eaten kimchi of any kind, let alone winter kimchi again.
Of course, there was “monkey meat” sold on the streets of Olangapo, the city created by the U.S. Naval Base in Subic Bay on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. We were never sure exactly what it was but it was grilled and stuck on a wooden stick. We called it “monkey meat,” but we didn’t know where it came from. And i’m not going to describe “baloots.”
And then in Pattaya Beach, Thailand, i pronounced Thai food equal to Vietnamese in hotness.
Back on this continent, Chuey’s, not the Texas chain Chuy’s, but a real Chuey, whose restaurant attracted all kinds throughout San Diego was famous for his fare. i discovered the restaurant while it was still in its first, now long gone, establishment, a white painted quonset hut just south of the intersection of Main and Crosby Street, which is now renamed Cesar Chavez Parkway. Jesus Garcia came across the border in the late 1940’s, early 1950’s. He was an illegal. His nickname was Chuey. In 1952, he opened the quonset hut for business. It became known as the place to get real border-Mexican food. He is as good an argument as one could make about allowing folks to come across the border. He not only ran the signature Mexican eatery in San Diego, he became a mainstay in the barrio community, a positive influence on many. He took advantage of a program in the nineties and became a U.S. citizen.
i have written of Chuey and his restaurant before. It became my place to take visitors to show them real, real, no kidding Mexican food, not that nice stuff up in Old Town, but Mexican food in Barrio Logan. i took Maureen there on a “business” lunch right after we met. i took my daughter Blythe there every time she came to stay with me.
But my favorite story was in early 1983, my entire family came out just as Maureen and i decided to get married. So of course, i decided to take them to Chuey’s for lunch.
Chuey’s food is…well, hot doesn’t quite justify what it’s like. My old friend Earl Major loved spicy food. So he loved Chuey’s. And when we went there together, he would eat something that literally would bring sweat to his brow. i’ve also seen this phenomenon with my father, my military contracting associate Don Budai, and my cousin Maxwell Martin. And i’m not talking about a little bit of perspiration. i’m talking about full blown, handkerchief soaking sweat. My favorite and what became my father’s and Earl’s favorite item on Chuey’s menu was the chili verde. That pork with green sauce was the hottest item on the menu. Hot!
My kin except for Daddy didn’t order chili verde that January 1983 lunch. They ordered milder things like chicken enchiladas and stuff. Aunt Bettye Kate Hall did not like spicy at all, so she ordered liver and onions, figuring it was safe. As the waitress took our orders, they brought out the chips, salsa, and the little bowls with sliced carrots, onions, and jalapeño peppers. We were munching on the chips and carefully tasting the salsa. Carla, Joe’s wife decided to play it safe and took a bite of an innocent looking carrot slice. She immediately said loudly, “Shit!” spitting out the offending spicy carrot slice. i still love her for that. My family of practicing Methodists, stopped breathing for a second. Then they all laughed, or at least chuckled.
As we finished our meals and Daddy and i were pulling out our handkerchiefs, we arose and moved toward the door. Aunt Bettye Kate declared, “Even the liver and onions are hot.”
It is one of my favorite memories of family dining outs and there are several of those.
Yep, Chuey’s food was hot but not the hottest.
The hottest, as in spicy, i ever ate was in Manila. It was 1975, May 7, the day Ford announced the end of the Vietnam War. The Anchorage had returned from the evacuation of South Vietnam (another story) to Subic Bay in the Philippines with the two amphibious squadrons and at least one carrier. After offloading what we had taken on during the evacuation, we were sent away. It was too crowded there. We went to Manila, arriving on the evening of May 5.
As luck would have it, i was the command duty officer (CDO) for the first day the ship had real liberty in sixty days. It was wild night. We were anchored in Manila’s harbor and our boats, worn out from the many loads and off-loads of our crazy journey from San Diego; Pearl Harbor; Iwakuni and Numazu, Japan; Okinawa; Subic; Vung Tau, Vietnam; Subic again; and finally Manila, were breaking down faster than imaginable. Liberty problems arose and the liberty boats unavailability made it a long night, a complete disaster. It would have been much worse except Chuck Parnell, our machinist warrant officer and main propulsion assistant (MPA) performed wonders, keeping at least one liberty boat running throughout the night.
Our duty day, supposedly bringing about our relief at 0800 extended until midday. Chuck and i stood relieved, changed into our civvies, caught one of the LCM8’s Chuck had wired together for the liberty boat the night before, and we went ashore without a plan, not a clue as to where we should go or what we should do.
So being good Navy officers on liberty for the first time in two months and with about three hours sleep between the two of us on our duty day, we did the natural: we wandered around the waterfront until we found a place that served lunch and beer, and i emphasize the beer. The wandering took less than five minutes. We had an American, almost, sandwich with our three or four San Miguel’s apiece. After that, we simply wandered around the streets, taking in the sights and sounds of a big, almost soulless city, stopping occasionally for another San Miguel, or as sailors have long called them, San Magoo.
As it began to turn dark, we looked for a nice place to eat dinner and found what looked to be what we were looking for and attached to a hotel. We had two days and one night of liberty before we caught the duty again. The hotel was our spot. After all, we were getting tired.
The dining room was cavernous. We were seated up front in a wrap around oval booth with table. The manager came over immediately and described the menu items. We both decided on the house special, goat on rice with vegetables on the side. And, of course, San Miguel.
That goat remains the hottest thing i’ve ever eaten. The roof of my mouth, my tongue, my digestive tract, my eyeballs, and my hair (yes, i had some then) all felt as if they were on fire. i quickly downed something along the order of four San Miguel’s, not for the beer taste or alcohol content, but something to douse the apparent fire inside or at least make it bearable. It took about two hours before i felt human.
So if you are in Manila, avoid the goat.