Why do all good things come to an end?
Sugar, spice and everything nice are all thrown into the pot as the beef stroganoff being prepared by Ate Flor simmers on the stove, giving off a delectable aroma that surrounds the open kitchen of the AIT cafeteria. This fragrance entices me as if telling me to stop whatever it is that I am doing. Lunch is about to be served. On any ordinary day in AIT, by ordinary I mean hectic, this aroma reminds me of my own home kitchen, and I remember my Mom from Ate Flor, silhouetted by the smoke fuming out from the boiling pot.
Tita Longs began operating in November 2007 when former Dean Dr. Corazon Rodriguez asked the caterer to be the foodservice provider for the institute. You may have probably heard of Tita Longs operating in other colleges. As a matter of fact, it caters the College of Law and, replacing Café Iana, the College of Music. Its personnel are present in the College of Arts and Sciences Alumni Association (CASAA) Food Center and across the Arts and Sciences (AS) building, where it is more popularly known as the Pasta House.
Last semester, we may remember the canteen location being moved to the area beside the Seminar Room. It was later transferred back to its original location in the student lounge as its former location would be rented out for office space.
“Mas gusto namin dito. Kasi nandito yung kitchen at dishwashing. Noong nandun kami sa kabila, dito namin niluluto yung pagkain tapos dinadala dun. Mahirap kapag ganon (We like it better here. We have the kitchen and dishwashing sink here. Before, we had to cook all the food here and then transfer them to the other room. Too much hassle),” said Ate Flor.
The student lounge suddenly brightened up the moment Tita Longs moved back. It became lively again. We were blissfully unaware then of the things that would be happening.
More recently, there have been rumors circulating around the institute that Tita Longs won’t be here for long; except, those are not rumors. While it has been confirmed that the provider lost the bid to cater the National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG) and, likewise lost catering concession in AIT, it is still not verified when this will all take effect.
It has been four years since Tita Longs first dished up classic Filipino meals in the institute. Now, this canteen of ours is manned by all but three staff – Ate Floreta Palomo, Ate Irene Gadon and Kuya Leanne Andrew – serving and satisfying the tummies of more than three hundred students, professors and non-teaching staff.
Ate Flor, the cafeteria cook and also the longest-staying Tita Longs personnel in AIT, said, “Kami ang pinakamatagal na canteen dito. Sa lahat ng canteen sa AIT, ito lang ang tumagal (We are the longest-running canteen in AIT. Among the other canteens that had catered in the institute, it’s the only one that lasted this long).”
The news may have come as a shock for most of us, but it seems that there is really nothing more we can do about the matter. “Wala naman kaming magagawa diyan, kasi trabahador lang naman kami. Nakadepende yan sa management (We can’t do anything about it, because we are all but employees. It all depends on the management),” says Ate Irene, the cashier and food attendant who also seem to know the name of almost everyone in the institute.
Now that they’re about to leave, how did they find their stay here in AIT?
“Masaya, kasi ang babait niyo (It was fun, because you were all very kind),” according to Ate Irene, “Tsaka naging sobrang close tayo, hindi kagaya dun sa iba na bihira lang makikilala mo (And we’ve become very close, unlike in other places where you won’t get to know the people much).”
“Enjoy kami. Wala kaming naging problema sa mga bata. At simula nung maging canteen kami, napamahal na kayo sa’min (We enjoyed it. We didn’t have any problems with our customers. And we’ve grown to love you guys since we started out as a canteen here),” added Ate Flor.
They don’t just satisfy bellies with the food they serve, they also gratify the hearts of those whom they feed. And that is why I think they lasted this long. It’s the comforting company alongside the comforting food which is binabalik-balikan ng mga tao (what keeps people coming back), what makes the experience even more special.
Who wouldn’t have fallen in love with their quintessential Filipino dishes like pork menudo, chicken afritada, Bicol express or their classic vegetable dishes like ginisang kalabasa at sitaw (sautéed squash and string beans), ginisang munggo (sautéed mung beans), lumpiang togue (beansprout spring rolls)? All of these served with steaming white rice are sure to fill your stomach as well as uplift your spirit. Now isn’t that what good food is supposed to be?
I have tasted many a turon (banana lumpia) in many afternoons in AIT. I’ve treated myself to many plates of this rather unusual spaghetti dressed in a sauce made of Spanish-style sardines, which they fondly call Pasta Sardinella/Española but which I have come to enjoy very much. And it seems that whenever I’m having a bad day, they always serve ginataang bilo-bilo or ginataang halo-halo – which are both so tasty they have to be said twice. Both are soup served as warm dessert. The former is made of glutinous rice balls (bilo-bilo) and tapioca, while the latter is made of mixed fruits (halo-halo), sometimes with bilo-bilo and tapioca, which are then cooked in sweet coconut milk (gata). Like what I said, I’ve taken delight in many a cup of these desserts whenever I get stressed out because of my academic and extracurricular activities; and with every morsel, my worries seem to melt away almost instantly. It’s love in every bite.
These are the modest pleasures that I find in every serving of dish prepared by Tita Longs. And as their days serving in AIT may be over before long, one thing’s for sure: Ate Flor, Ate Irene and Kuya Leanne have put the “comfort” in comfort food.
So we might as well savor it while we can.