The clang of a bell in the mid-afternoon is considered a herald of light yet satisfying eating in many residential districts throughout the Philippines. An ambulant vendor on a bicycle cheerfully rings his bell between two and four in the afternoon – a sure sign that there is binatog on offer for hungry souls seeking something heavier than crisps but not as hefty as rice cakes.
Binatog is one of the simplest dishes in Philippine cuisine. It is, basically, starchy white corn soaked in salt-water until the innards get all puffy. The soaked corn is then drained and boiled in fresh water just until the skins on the kernels are beginning to slip off. The cooked corn is then drained thoroughly and stored by vendors in a large, cylindrical container made of stainless steel. Several smaller containers are attached nearby, each containing such accoutrements as freshly grated coconut, salt, and sugar.
A bowlful of binatog will set a diner back P 10.00 (about US$ 0.22), though individual diners have to provide their own crockery as there is no room on the vendor’s bike for even the flimsiest of paper plates or cups. It is a deeply satisfying snack: the bland corn gains savour from the addition of salt (we never ask for sugar when we buy binatog) and there is a muted sweetness from the coconut. It is, to me, the taste of summers past; it is a taste of my childhood.