I can picture the fiery sun fading behind the faint silhouette of the Mariveles Mountains. The sky is a blaze of color. Deep orange with dusky pink and purple hues. I can picture the water quivering quietly with the wind. The evening light, or what is left of it, gleaming on its jagged surface.
I can recreate the sunsets in Manila Bay easily in my mind. Effortlessly. Old men with fishing rods wedged in between their hips and arms, waiting contently on the side of the bank for the evening’s catch. Young couples locked in an intimate embrace traipsing along the promenade lined with tall coconut trees. Jeepneys and buses packed to the gills meandering through rush-hour traffic. Passengers craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the setting sun.
At the water’s edge, in the corner of Roxas Boulevard and San Andres, not far from historic Luneta Park and the landmark Manila Hotel, where my mom worked the switchboards before she married my dad, one can find the best chicken barbecue in Manila. I can picture the chicken’s ruddy, charred skin, the stunningly yellow java rice, the slice of cucumber, the slice of tomato, and the small heap of achara I used to detest when I was little. I can picture the grilled chicken threaded through an almost burnt bamboo stick on a white, oval plate inscribed with the name Aristocrat. The taste skews more sweet than savory. The fried rice studded with fried garlic and fried shallots complements it, completes it.
I have seen so many sunsets but still nothing compares to the sunsets back home. And, in much the same way, nothing comes close to the barbecues back home.
Aristocrat-style Chicken Barbecue Recipe, makes four to six servings
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup banana ketchup
2 tablespoons calamansi or lime juice
4 pieces chicken thighs and legs
Whisk together garlic, soy sauce, brown sugar, pineapple juice, banana ketchup, and calamansi juice. Add marinade to chicken in a bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least overnight for up to two days.
Before cooking the chicken let it rest at room temperature for over an hour. Do not discard the marinade but set aside for basting. Grill chicken over medium heat until cooked through, basting occasionally. Serve fresh off the grill with java rice.