The average Filipino city will have its fair share of holes-in-the-wall offering edible comfort at dirt-cheap prices. These would include the carinderias (little stalls selling just-cooked viands), turo-turos (similar to the carinderia, but you would have the option of pointing [turo] at what you fancy and the cook-staff will dish it up for you), the Chinese-influenced mamihans (noodle joints), your tapsihans (little eateries serving up tapa [smoked beef] on fried rice; fried eggs are optional), and gotohans/lugawans (porridge joints; the former serves savory rice porridge with beef or pork tripe, while the latter serves either plain savory porridge or said porridge topped with chicken or boiled eggs). The last three tend to stay open all night, offering edible hangover preventives and/or cures to hard-partying folk.
Aside from the usual tapa on rice, porridge, and noodles, the last three eateries mentioned also serve something that college kids in Manila – particularly those on the wrong end of Taft Avenue and the University Belt – can proudly proclaim as their comfort food: beef pares.
When I was at university and had to leave school at 8:30 PM because some of our professors were bloody ruthless, some of my classmates and I would hightail it over to the tapsihan across the street at around 5:30 PM and order plates of pares and rice for an early supper. At just P 35.00 at the time (mind you, this was back between 1993 and 1997), it was an affordable and sustaining meal – particularly when one was just about to face two and a half hours of radio-and-television production or scriptwriting.
The dish is actually something of a localized spin on oriental braised beef: slabs of beef brisket are cooked in a rich broth seasoned with soy sauce, peppercorns, a hint of ginger, and some star anise. Beef cartilage and suet, normally trimmed off briskets in the West, are kept on and give the sauce body and extra flavor; plus, both taste pretty damned good.
Its name is taken from the fact that it is usually paired with rice (hence pares – paired) and fried eggs. For most people in the West, that might sound a bit odd, but I daresay it’s no stranger than, say, steak and eggs – which is another beef-and-egg pairing that works. The plain rice sops up the rich sauce, the long-simmered beef is fork-tender and almost seems to fall apart when gently prodded; the egg gives the whole dish an umami twist.
Prices have gone up considerably since I was in my late teens, but the charm and comfort of a plate of pares still hits the spot. I would know: most urbanites – particularly those of us working in the Makati CBD – hunt this beefy delight down whenever stress threatens to have us for lunch.