My sixteenth birthday wasn’t any glamorous celebration at all.
It wasn’t anything close to a grand feast — no birthday cake, no happy-birthday-to-you tunes to sing along with, no candles to blow.
On that same day, a girl from somewhere around the world must have been dressed in this baby pink cocktail dress, or if she were the more dashing type, in neon red, with her hair locked in curls, trying to look at her best with grace and poise, packed with a sense of maturity, at her super sweet sixteen bash.
Although mine wasn’t planned that way at all, the way that day turned out to be was way far from what I imagined it to be.
Exotic edibles and folk art are what consisted of my birthday celebration… all in an unfamiliar but not so faraway place.
One word: adventure!
All what my dad said was that we were going out of town during lunch time. What first popped into my head was going to the province, but I thought it would be impractical to do so, and if we could spend it at a nearby restaurant or at that mall by the bay, then I would be more than happy. Well, I am a person who is very easy to please.
A few of my friends asked how I spent my birthday. I honestly didn’t feel like telling them what happened because I wasn’t interested in starting a conversation of sauteed frog legs and fried crickets!
We went to Balaw-Balaw Specialty Restaurant in Angono, Rizal. It sounds like a far place from the city but it actually took more or less an hour to get there. I guess my dad got the idea of eating at this place when we were watching the Now Boarding: Philippines feature on TLC where the restaurant had been featured in both of Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain’s shows.
According to what was written on the menu, “Balaw-balaw” is a sauce or appetizer made of small shrimps mixed with gruel and an herb served with sinigang. It has become part of the culture of the people of Angono.
Angono is the Arts Capital of the Philippines, and it is known for the Higantes Festival, where giant figures (as high as ten feet) made of paper mache are paraded during the street event. Of course, the ones above are only of miniature size!
Masks of the Higantes Festival. They add so much character to the restaurant. There must be a significant reason why they all have troubled and weird expressions!
The place was also a gallery of artworks and religious icons, as well as folk art.
Crispy Alagaw, a medicinal herb deep-fried in batter.
This one is called Minaluto, the best seller of the restaurant. I was so glad that this wasn’t part of their exotic cuisine and I chewed and swallowed with no hesitation. Surrounding the steamed rice was a mix of mussels, crustaceans, salted egg, greens and a tomato and on top of it was pork adobo, all neatly placed on a banana leaf.
And now, the most bizarre of them all…
I’m no food blogger and I believe I made the food look 100x more unappetizing. If you think you might throw up or lose your appetite for your next meal after you scroll down this page, by all means, please scroll up, or better, click the X button on your browser. Now!
I was up for the challenge. I had no choice because I was hungry. But on my birthday… wow, I couldn’t believe it either!
Okay, maybe they don’t look visually appetizing, but I tried my best to devour them like they were my everyday meals. I ate those crickets like peanuts and the frogs legs like chicken adobo!
Even up to this day, I can’t believe I did all that. This experience sort of changed how I viewed myself. Well, not exactly in a bad way, but here’s one thing: you’re really much stronger than you think. Heck, I wasn’t up for eating amphibians or bugs, especially on that day I turn a year older!
Not the sweetest way to celebrate a birthday, but it was still as memorable as a seven year old kid’s children’s party.
Whether your birthday was a feast of all your favorite food, a simple dinner out at a nearby restaurant, or however way you spent it, it’s the people you were with — the presence of the people that matter to you celebrating that special day with you makes the occasion worth remembering.
Not so sweet sixteen. This is how I will remember my last birthday in case the world ends this year (jk, I don’t believe in that!).