It is a cultural facet of being Filipino: any occasion for socialising – and proper socialising, at that – needs to involve certain amounts of alcohol. These may be as decorous as wine and/or a selection of fine liqueurs or as whacked-out, potentially dangerous, and totally wasted as the deadly combination of free-flowing beer and a choice between gin and brandy – or, alas, both. And, where there’s alcohol, there is always food with which to take off the edge.
The collective term for bar chow in Tagalog is pulutan (literally “pick-ups”). The selection runs the gamut from pre-packaged chips and dips to home-cooked viands that can also be scarfed down with rice. (Some examples in the latter category also double as hangover cures.) Seriously, you could take a cue from the late, legendary prizefighter Flash Elorde (who used to endorse San Miguel Pale Pilsen in the 1980s) and keep things simple: a small dish of peanuts stir-fried with garlic to go with your beer. On the other end, the guys at Lime 88 opt to gussy things up by serving baked oysters and balut (the infamous duck embryos) braised in red wine along with a selection of [sub-lethal] cocktails.
For most people, it’s a way of lining the stomach in preparation for the onslaught of beer and whatever else it is you’re drinking. For others, it is referred to as pamatay-lasa – something to deaden the taste of the alcohol; this is usually the excuse given by alcoholic lightweights or those who really aren’t in the habit of drinking socially. And, for foodies like myself, the food actually serves to enhance the enjoyment of both drinks and company.
If you were to ask me, though, how I like my inuman (drinking) and pulutan, I will give you a rather unusual answer: I prefer my drinkin’ and eatin’ the way I like my live music. Like I told a friend the other day, I’d rather listen to high-quality, fresh talent singing from the heart in some cheap, grody dive rather than subject myself to the spectacle of watching some souped-up sell-out playing to stadium crowds with overly choreographed and stage-managed super-productions. Similarly, I prefer simple, homespun food – delicious, wholesome, and prepared with some degree of care – to go with whatever it is I’m drinking. Unless, of course, you put a platter of oysters Rockefeller in front of me; but that’s a completely different kettle of fish…