Over the holidays, toasts are usually a thing. Often in a lot of languages: Cheers, some say, or L’Chaim, Prost, Sláinte, Salute, Kampai, Salud … and I didn’t know what was said in the Philippines.
Here’s the thing: there isn’t a direct translation, because the tradition is different.
On Gideon Lasco’s website, he explains how there’s no word for cheers in Tagalog because of the tradition of people drinking from the same glass to mark celebrations and special occasions. That is, unlike having everyone raise their own glass to toast or clink them together, in the Philippines one person becomes the pourer (the tanggero) and fills a glass that gets passed around for everyone to share in a communal way. The custom is called tagay.
Laso even finds a definition of tagay in a 1630 dictionary, and writes:
Then, as now, tagay is defined as the rationing of the liquor around the group using just one cup. Strikingly, this cup is also given a name in the same vocabulario passage, one that is familiar in street corners on Friday nights: tagayan.
The tanggero makes sure that all the drinkers have their fill, that everyone gets their fair share. The drinkers return the favor by drinking bottoms up from the glass, in the custom known as tagay. Tagay means that you trust each other enough to drink from that single glass. Tagay means everyone is united. Tagay is synonymous with goodwill and camaraderie.
No, this isn’t about a crime. It’s about this taste-size bottle of bourbon, Larceny, that a co-worker gave me upon her return from Kentucky over the holidays.
I’m not a big drinker, so when my co-worker said Kentucky bourbon, and I mentioned Makers Mark, she schooled me in the knowledge that real Kentuckians don’t drink Makers Mark. (Who knew? I was introduced to Makers Mark when one of my brothers was in grad school at UK in Lexington. Then again, he wasn’t a real Kentuckian.)
There’s a story behind the name, but I was more interested in the taste. The first thing about Larceny is that amber color looks exactly right. It’s strong, and its aroma has a little sting. Drinking, it comes across as rich, flavorful and buttery — with a bite. And that bite didn’t remind me of Makers Mark; it reminded me of Jack Daniel’s.
When I think of comfort food, this is one of the things I think of: Japanese curry tonkatsu. It’s somewhat spicy, savory, and crunchy, a pork-based meat-and-potatoes kind of dish (especially if the curry has potatoes in it) that is perfect for a winter dinner. This dish is usually served with shredded cabbage (which is in the bowl that is only partially visible in the upper right hand corner of the photograph).
When I lived in Tokyo, I ate a lot of curry tonkatsu. Only a few restaurants did it exactly the way I liked it (though even when it wasn’t great, it was still good). Lucky for me (though maybe not my waist) was that a restaurant that always had the right amount of crunch on the breaded pork, and the right amount of juiciness of the pork, and just the right amount of spice in the curry was a few doors down from my office in an area of Tokyo between Akasaka and Roppingi, not far from the ANA Hotel.
The cool thing about katsu-curry is that it is such a wonderful hybrid meal. Most people think “sushi” when they think of Japanese food, and not breaded, fried, pork cutlet. Ton, afterall, is the Japanese word for “pork,” while katsu is supposedly the Japanization of the English word “cutlet,” so that part of the meal is a Japanese-Western combo. Meanwhile, curries are more often association with South Asia, though supposedly for the Japanese, their version of curry came from India but via England.
A New York Times article from 2008 delves into the mystery and magic of katsu-curry:
“Indian curry came to Japan from England,” explained Hiroko Shimbo, the Japanese chef and cookbook author. “Roux of course came from France.” It was only natural that someone would put them in the same dish, she added, then paused for a moment and laughed. “It’s perfect for Americans,” she said. “It’s a very American impulse to mix.”
I really like that quote. After all, being an Asian-American hybrid myself, I always found myself feeling more and more American the longer I lived in Japan. (This may be true for many people living outside their home country: I was often put into the position of having to represent America with innocent-ish questions like “What do Americans like to eat?” In those situations, almost all my answers had some mention of how they can be so many different approaches to favorites based on heritage, family, friends, location, etc.)
Thing is, since moving back to the US now more than 20 years ago, I haven’t been able to find a katsu-curry that lives up to what I experience in Tokyo. Until now. The Katsu-Hama Restaurant in midtown Manhattan does the katsu-curry right. I recommend it.
I grew up with Minute Maid Frozen Lemon Juice. It always seemed a bottle was in the fridge, though I don’t ever remember using it when I would cook. Then, years later, I married a woman whose family consumed Minute Maid Frozen Lemon Juice as if it were a staple, much in the same way that I grew up in a household in which soy sauce seemed to work with just about everything (but especially rice).
And even though we knew grocery stores in our area no longer carried it (in fact, the manager of one store said that the product is no longer being made), we still went ahead and just used it as usual.
Now it is gone.
Sure, there are other products out there. There are also fresh lemons. But for now let’s take a moment to say goodbye to a beloved consumer foodstuff.
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