Whenever my brother and I are back home in Manila, Philippines for break, we have a mission: to eat at all of our favorite restaurants. From the crepes of Café Breton to pasta at La Nuova Pasteleria to steak at Mamou, we have created a formidable list of places to go, always delighting in picking the restaurant of the day every time we eat out.
Sometimes, in such a short time span, it becomes a challenge to squeeze them all in toward the end of our break, but we always try to do so for the sake of our tummies and traditions.
Looking back, it seems that a lot of our family traditions were centered on food. Every Sunday, we would spend our lunches with one set of grandparents trying a new place or revisiting a favorite family restaurant, while our dinners were spent with the other set of grandparents eating ordered takeout or home-cooked meals. On the days leading up to special occasions and holidays, much of the family debate would center on which restaurant we would reserve for that day.
When my brother and I were younger and had half days off every Wednesday in elementary school, my mom would bring us to our favorite Japanese restaurant after school. We spent many afternoons sitting cross-legged on Japanese cushions while eating our bento box and tempura orders before accomplishing errands or shopping around the mall.
We would also sometimes accompany my grandparents to our favorite Thai restaurant, Azuthai Restaurant, on random weekdays. We were there so often that we became regulars to the point where we would enter the large wooden doors, tell the waiters “our usual” and they would smile and know to bring out our classics: pomelo salad, green chicken curry, hot and sour prawn soup, two orders of pandan chicken and unlimited rice, among other dishes.
Unfortunately, after being away for years, the staff has since changed, but the food remains as delicious as ever, and we still frequent the place when we have the chance. To this day, climbing up the stairs to the grand entrance, seeing the mauve curtains and catching a whiff of the Thai spices simmering in the background never fails to bring about waves of nostalgia of memories long gone.
Even during our annual family trips to Vancouver, Canada, my family takes delight in completing our checklist of restaurants. Going to each place every time we visited our second home was a bonding moment for our family, as we were all well acquainted with one another’s favorite dishes and unique palates. This was definitely spurred on by my dad’s love for food.
While others take pleasure in shopping or sightseeing, his guilty pleasure is eating good food, whether it’s a hole-in-the-wall recommendation, an all-you-can-eat hotel buffet or a renowned Brazilian steakhouse. He especially loves trying new restaurants from reviews — one time he even made us climb up a mountain in Hong Kong just for dim sum.
While a major factor in continuing these traditions was getting to eat the food, of course, the conversations around the table are what brought us back to the restaurants — it was always a time to catch up, laugh, gossip and reminisce. Going to these restaurants was also a way for us to mark our growth. As our physical features changed in the photos routinely taken at the same places over the years, so too did our orders evolve based on our changing palates.
Now it isn’t as easy to fulfill our traditions with both my brother and me thousands of miles away from home for college. The time we have together has been reduced to holiday breaks and quick vacations here and there during the year.
As I found a temporary home in Baltimore, I tried to find restaurants to fill the void of the dishes that I was missing. While there are plenty of spots with food of comparable quality and taste, eating at these places never quite felt the same. Only now have I realized that the attachment I feel to the many restaurants at home is a sentiment that may never be fully replicated, only cultivated through years of memories and visits.
This past Christmas was the first time that I got to be at home for an extended period of time since the COVID-19 pandemic, and it surprised me how much had changed in my city, with new malls being built and restaurants to try. Sadly, some of our favorite childhood restaurants had also closed and been replaced, signaling how much time I had been away.
Looking forward, I have come to accept that my life will only continue to be spent “in-between” different homes. As my future continues to take me further away from my home to set roots in new places, I can only hope that I will be able to find new spaces to establish novel traditions with friends and family when we get a chance to all be together.
Michelle Limpe is a senior from the Philippines studying Chemistry and Public Health. She is an Editor-in-Chief for The News-Letter. In her articles, she likes to reflect on finding the silver linings in life to give meaning to her struggles.