Tis the season to be jolly… tis the season also to forget about diets as pre-Christmas gatherings get underway in full gear. One such gathering was held on December 13, 2009 at the residence of the Philippine Ambassador to Indonesia, His Excellency Vidal Erfe Querol. A friend of a friend invited us and I was in the mood to get out of Bekasi. Traffic was smooth on a late Sunday afternoon so getting to Jl Imam Bonjol 6-8 Menteng in Jakarta Pusat was easy. Cars already lined the sidewalk of the house and the gate was open to receive guests when I alighted from the cab.
Passing through the anteroom, I ended up at what looked like the living room but which had tables set up just like in a restaurant. Across the room was the feast table; through the French doors were a little garden and two tables facing each other laden with food, and a third table set with bottles of soda.
Ambassador Querol struck me as down-to-earth and genuine as he welcomed old and new faces to his home in his short welcome speech. Similarly, his wife was far from the flashy, look-at-me-am-the-Ambassador’s-wife persona. Just like her husband, she was unpretentious as she welcomed people to her home graciously. I was standing next to her all the while her husband was speaking. I didn’t know who she was then until the Ambassador introduced her. She simply smiled at everyone, and when I whispered “Thank you for having us” to the Ambassador’s “Thank you for coming to our munting salu-salu or little gathering” she turned to me and said, her eyes smiling, “No, thank you for coming.”
A short prayer was said by one of the good friends of Ambassador before the feast commenced. It’s a trait shared by the two races as well as welcoming people of different faith.
Then it was par-tay, par-tay! A paper plate in hand, I cheerfully ladled pancit palabok (rice flour noodle dish topped with crab sauce, eggs, shrimp, squid and more) and pancit canton (yellow noodle dish garnished with vegetables and drizzled with kalamansi); fresh lumpia, which I later doused in garlic sauce after unwrapping it; a stick of chicken barbecue; puto (steamed rice cake) and kutchinta (sticky steamed rice cake); and leche flan (milk caramel crème flan). Skipped, naturally, the roasted pig (lechon as the Filipinos call it and babi guling as the Indonesians know it) and found a cozy spot on the garden steps to hunker down to some serious eating. Sarap, sedap sekali!
I wonder when the next par-tay is, I thought to myself as I took a bite of the kutchinta.
[Photography by Victoria Everett]