“What’s for merienda?” was the question that punctuated my childhood. It was the time, when I got back from school, to have toast with butter and sugar or banana fritters dipped in brown sugar. At times it’d be a stick of sugared banana (locally called banana-que) or a piece of turon, banana wrapped in spring roll wrapping and fried. Then, like a serendipitous find, it’d be a plate of my favourite pancit malabon or palabok (noodles in shrimp sauce) or a bowl of Chinese noodles or mami as it was commonly known. Merienda defies time and changes depending on appetite of the person. So this light meal before or after a main meal can either be a bowl of noodles or a small plate of fried rice shortly or a small banana-que stick or a Goldilocks mammon (chiffon cake).

I was oblivious to the words “diet” and “calories” as a child until I entered the adult world where most of the people I met where, I discovered, hooked on the two words and frowned on caloric merienda items. Merienda was vilified: it was the culprit for weight gain. It disappeared and resurfaced when I was in Singapore. But it came under a fancy name – tea time – which, I noted, was distinctly British. How different was the set-up? The merienda items were a lot smaller: bite-sized sandwiches and miniature pastries arranged on a three-tiered plate and served with tea, naturally, unless you opted for coffee. I actively participated in tea, meeting friends, colleagues and business associates in swanky hotels but a part of me hankered for my childhood merienda treats. I haven’t turned my back completely on tea time and I, in fact, occasionally enjoy having tea at Hotel Mulia in Jakarta with my gal-pals.

It was like a reunion with my original idea of merienda when I stumbled upon a nice bowl of noodle goodness one fine day after an hour’s wait at the bank. She, the employee from the noodle house North Park, had just left the bank I was in and, in tacit agreement, my father and I quietly followed her. A branch of North Park noodles was standing right behind Robinson’s Bank on Tomas Morato. It opened last June, said our server. There was a steady stream of noodle lovers and the din was just right – no banging of pots and pans in the kitchen or loud and annoying table talk.

Menu-wise, it’s a collection of the staples in Chinese cuisine: dim sum (very pork oriented); noodles in soup; yee mien noodles; served with rice; braised noodles -dry); special fried rice; superior congee and regular congee, signature dishes, roast specialties and best sellers (think sweet & sour pork or lapu-lapu fillet, China chicken (chicken served with Hoisin sauce) etc.). Skipping the pork dishes, I enjoyed the light – as opposed to a regular serving – prawn dumpling and three kinds mushroom [sic] with the thin “Empress” noodles while my father went for the salted fish with chicken fried rice. The bowl of noodles was right for one person while the fried rice was, we discovered, enough for two to three persons unless you’re dining with someone with a really voracious appetite.

Shrimp and mushroom noodles from North Park for merienda

On the sweet side of the merienda, the craving for something sweet can be satisfied with the Mango & Banana crepe drizzled with chocolate sauce and topped with a dollop of whipped cream that’s made on the spot at Saisaki/Kamayan at SM Megamall. It’s part of the lunch buffet but depending on one’s mood, the crepe can go both ways – merienda or dessert – and is best enjoyed with scoops of chocolate and vanilla ice cream.

A sweet coup de grace or merienda from Saisaki/Kamayan at SM Megamall

Savoury or sweet, merienda is a good way to take a break from whatever you’re doing or as a pretext to catch up with old friends and acquaintances. It’s also, in my case, as a journey back to my childhood where the world was less complicated and relationships were not so hard to navigate and maintain.


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