we are all in this (food safety audit) together

this is how clean it should be.  thanks to foodiesonthefly.com for the pic!

this is how clean it should be. thanks to foodiesonthefly.com for the pic!

BAR NONE, it was the most emotional meeting I had attended in our workplace, and the odd thing was it was about a rather unemotional event that had just transpired.  But it was a good result, and any good result about work, to a work visa holder, is on top of the weekly news cycle, to be replayed, reviewed and savored, again and again.

The emotional meeting was an impromptu one conducted by the national food safety manager after a huge effort by the entire team doing remedial measures required by, quite frankly, a pasang-awa (barely passing) food safety audit conducted by a major client, a top supermarket chain with stores all over NZ.

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even the shrink wrap is inspected.

even the shrink wrap is inspected.

To put it in perspective, we had been losing clients left and right to the opposition the past 12 months, and this, one of our few remaining institutional clients, controlled roughly half of the retail market, so we were certainly hovering on the precipice the time the boardroom biggies decided to take a closer look at our operations.

If you’re gonna forget everything else about food safety audits, just hold onto these two things: food safety is the paramount consideration in food manufacturing, and everything that goes into and touches the product must be top quality and, almost equally important, traceable.  Would you believe we need to produce records not just for product but for packaging?  The whole article is sold, and we need to account for every part of it when the you-know-what hits the fan.

Our product is all right, but foreign matter, byproducts from the manufacturing process, and as I mentioned, the packaging itself sometimes taints the pristine nature of the product.  The ideal is to get into the consumer’s hands the item as it is produced and manufactured, untouched by human hands.

But that’s just part of the formula.  The second thing you have to remember is that image is everything.  The wares may be clean but if the conveyors on which they’re transported, the pallets on which they’re piled and the shrink wrap with which they’re packaged aren’t themselves spotless and hygienic, then it just won’t do.

they did this, all over the site too :(

they did this, all over the site too 😦

And that’s why everyone, and I mean everyone who drew a pay packet from our employer chipped in that day and grabbed a mop, broom, vacuum cleaner and air hose to bridge the gap between passably clean and industry-standard clean the day the auditors arrived.

Janee, who got special mention during the meeting, did her part by ensuring that paperwork, fumigation and procedures were all followed, and that any traceability as regards product and packaging was provided in case any goods sold didn’t pass muster.

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they may not have had workplaces issues like we did, but I don't envy their jobs.  kudos to their nerves of steel!

they may not have had workplaces issues like we did, but I don’t envy their jobs. kudos to their nerves of steel!

Remember what I said about the emotional meeting?  Right after the decision-makers said we weren’t doing what was needed, that our food safety standards were dodgy, and that failing this audit would be ominous for the site and its workers, the entire work force went  beyond the call of duty, went the extra mile and did what was needed to pass the audit.

We hadn’t had a lot of good news for a long time, went through a lot of rough spots recently, and passing the audit, keeping the client, and ensuring ourselves continued production and work was the best news we had in ages.

Long work hours were ahead, and the war to keep our clients needed all our energies, but today’s battle was fought well.  The day’s work had been done.

Thanks for reading!

why beer isn’t a sure thing even in a bar & resto district

Beer aisle

Beer aisle (Photo credit: diwong)

STUMBLED INTO a bit of barya* recently after late adjustments to guild exam-pay rises (up 11 cents to 59 cents an hour for successful candidates, those cents add up if you keep an eye on those pennies 🙂 ), a retroactive pay rise and corrections based on a new wage schedule, retroactive as well.

Before you ask for balato**, it’s been spent all of it, took care of an advance made by Bunso & Ganda’s mom, and tried to make a small dent on the obligations incurred the last trip home. But because I owed a few favors to both esposa hermosa who’d been working like a(n attractive, female) horse the last few days, and to SuperBisor who helped in agitating for the pay rise, it would’ve been poor form for me to not even suggest a small Chinese dinner treat in the popular nearby bar-and-resto district in Petone.  To which they said yes, of course, despite the short notice.

I think I’ve told you more than once that though I’m no stranger to vice, drinking like a fish is not one of them, but I thought that the company and occasion were enough reason to justify even one tiny bottle of beer, never mind if the mood happened to ask for seconds just in case.

The waiter, who unsurprisingly was Chinese, took our orders rather haughtily, but even with his curt manner what he said was jolting : instead of taking a request for a bottle of local beer, he replied we don’t serve alcohol but you can bring your own, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the door.

I don’t know if he was referring with his “glancing” gesture to a table of Kiwis who brought their own rather generous baon of wine or a sign near the door that said B.Y.O.W. (“bring your own wine”).

So that‘s what that sign meant; I always wanted to know what it was trying to say.

Almost immediately I got discouraged; not only was there a BYOW fee of $3, you also had to buy outside, preferably very soon as the food was coming.

I needed not only to loosen my tongue and unwind, I also had to find takeaway beer in a hurry.

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SuperBisor thought he saw a dairy (small grocery) a couple of blocks down the street, I also sighted quite a few bars before entering the Chinese resto.  Surely with all these choices I could sate my thirst?

The small grocery was the first “x” on my list.  No license to sell alcohol, the South Asian proprietor said.  Lotto or cigarets maybe?  No thanks as I scooted out.  The beers on the bars weren’t very inviting, price-wise.  And how would I look carrying a glass of takeaway beer outside the bar?  Pretty lame, and I’d look mighty similar to an alcoholic for sure.  Obviously I hadn’t thought this out.

I returned to an amused SuperBisor and his girlfriend who were a bit sympathetic to my beerless search.  Mahal was not so sympathetic : ibig sabihin nyan wag ka nang uminom, mamaya ka na lang bumili.  It’s a sign for you to drop the beer idea, amigo. Maybe later.

Thankfully, the dinner was sumptuous, and everyone was happy.

Later on while settling the bill, I tried my primary-school Mandarin on the waiter, who was also the cashier (probably one of the owners as well) : his manner improved dramatically and in so many words this was what he answered to my question regarding their failure to serve alcoholic beverages :

Eating establishments may have one of two licenses regarding liquor.  You may either have a BYOW license (heard about that one already) or sell liquor.  It’s easier to maintain a BYOW license, and besides we need training and a “responsible” person for the second kind of license.

He actually told me (and didn’t I deserve it?), in his charmingly abrasive way : Next time, bring your own beer?  No, please, ifs, and buts about it.

Sure I will !  If ever, that is, I get the munchies for, and can afford, crispy duck again.

Thanks for reading !

*loose change                             **treat, “blow-out”, lunch/dinner on me

Moning Whisperer

[ NOte from NOel : My gosh, all those general and mini batch 82, Judenite, Alphan, Auckland Pinoy, NZ Maroon and other reunions recently held, with all the gastronomic and karaoke delights ! Happy holidays and kudos ! Our paternal pride is close to bursting level right now, love and congrats to Elijah Brent Emmanuel Bautista for passing his DLSU and AdMU entrance exams ! Awesome ! ]

Dear batchmates, schoolmates, brods, officemates, kabayan and friends :

Of all the things, GF (please indulge me, I’m not used to calling her mi esposa yet) has recently developed a skill, and for lack of a more accurate, less glamorous term, the best way I can describe it would be to call her a sometime cat whisperer. But that’s getting ahead of myself.

A few months ago shortly after GF arrived, a forbidding black cat began lurking around the grassy backyard. We assumed she (pasexy earns a she) was one of the neighbor’s pets, so we paid little mind. Around mealtime, and especially after we had fish, Moning (we had to call her something) would pretend to be chasing some invisible rodent or insect closer to our backdoor, then rub herself against whatever was available (tree stump, clothesline post, human legs) giving her the previously incongruous attributes of being hair-raising and irresistible, hoary and endearing. It didn’t take much for us to discern that the fishy smells were attracting her to our territory.

As soon as we issued her the requisite fish bones and remains that she initially inspected with caution but later gobbled up with feline gusto, she would wander away, gradually so as not to reveal that food source was all that we were to her, and later drop ninja-like out of sight. Which was fine with us.

As weeks passed, Moning became less picky, but her wariness and slow starts to dining continued. We noticed two extremes : she never ate beef (was probably friends with a few cows on a nearby pasture), and the only time she started eating without reservation was when the menu was daing or smoked fish, not easy to come by in these parts but an open declaration of olfactory war on our whole UCB (United Colors of Benetton) barangay. And of course, the first to attend the pow-wow was Moning.

Later we realized that she was wary of indiscriminate eating because other cats or more aggressive creatures might come to challenge her for the spoils of charming us to pieces. No amount of convincing, viz Moning, walang kalaban or “you have the exclusive license to mooch here” would sway her from the food-&-premises inspection ritual.

To be sure, there were other cats, although they were not as friendly, and Moning was the only one who truly adapted to our (naturally) Filipino cuisine. There were also hedgehogs, seagulls, swallows, and other types of birds, although as I’ll tell you later, the latter hovered over the vicinity at their own peril.

We were likewise aware that we were not the only benefactors of our new friend for whom the more pungent or spicy the food was, the better. Who was her human master/s? Weren’t they looking for her whenever she practiced her food-tripping around the block? And why were we her favorites?

Obvious naman diba? (Isn’t it obvious) our flatmate quipped. Type nya mga putahe natin (She prefers our food).

Indeed, compared to the blase’ protein granules that guaranteed meowy nutrition but weren’t that appealing tastewise, the snapper (tilapia counterpart), tarakihi ( pritong galunggong ) and discounted salmon fillets must have been irresistible to Moning.

I almost forgot the reason for the email’s title : the only downside to tolerating a pusang gala on the family estate was the mysterious appearance in our backyard of birds falling from the sky : nope, not Arkansas, not Louisiana, not Stockholm, just a sheepish look from the newest member of the household, sneaky green eyes, fur-licking, curly footlong tail and all.

It would’ve been understandable if we hadn’t been sharing our turo-turo fare with Moning or if she had been eating the proceeds of her deadly acrobatics, but after playing with her victims half and hour or so, she would abandon the poor birds to the sun, the rain, and the oxidizing elements.

This was, of course, unacceptable to GF, who one day did something about it. I came home from work to a clean backyard, no dead birds today? and asked her what had happened, asawak?

Kinausap ko sya. Pinagdilatan ko ng mata, tinuro ko yung mga pinatay nya, tapos sabi ko di na natin sya papakainin. Mamaya wala na yung mga ibon.

[ OK, here’s paraphrasing what she said : “I told her she would miss the yummiest part of her daily diet if she continued picking on all those birds, and also to get rid of her victims. After a while the dead things were gone.” ]

And just like that, the neighborhood enjoyed its first Moning Whisperer.

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Moning’s precocious knowledge of Pinoy dishes continues to grow impressively by the day, but doesn’t pick on birds anymore. We still don’t know who really owns her, or why her master allows her so much time outside the house, but I do know two things : that for those who’ve grown up at home in the Islands, homecooked ulam is irreplaceable, and that even our mamallian cousins down the food chain know this instinctively.

Thanks for reading !






Eat + Pray + Love ( But Eat 1st )

Spit barbecue meat hanging on Avenue C in the ...

Image via Wikipedia

[ NOte from NOel : not to take advantage of the halloweeny mood the last few days, but there is a distinct possibility that one or more of the items discussed below may gross you out, make you pass on lunch or dinner, depending on when the next meal is, or at least make you feel queasy. Thanks in advance for reading ! ]

Dear batchmates, brods, schoolmates, officemates, kabayan & friends :

THE WORST possible combination of traits conspire to condemn our Food IQ to the lowest percentile or decile ranking among the 45-year old male demographic. We eat almost anything placed on our plates, and in turn, even boiling an egg would be a culinary challenge for us.

In our dutiful daddy days ages ago, we could prepare simple dishes like sinigang, pritong GG and ginisang ___ ( fill blank with whatever canned meat available ), but beyond that was twilight zone or a no-fly zone for us, and the suplings knew better than to ask for anything creative. Couldn’t blame them, they had their entire lives ahead of them, and no sense in cutting it short just because the misguided dad tried too hard in the kitchen.

But we digress. In the last few days, we noticed a few things about eating habits, not just ours but among those who share our climate, color and language, that our temporary hosts find either quaint, strange or eye-poppingly eerie, depending on how exposed they are to Asian culture, which of course includes cuisine.

If not for their observations, we would not have taken a rhetorical step back and realized, oo nga ano, Pinoy nga naman ( yup, that’s the Pinoy, loosely translated ), there are things that we have accepted as normal as the sun rising and setting every day and yet would definitely raise eyebrows ( and sometimes goose pimples ) of those not familiar with Pinoy customs and practice :

By far the single aspect of our eating culture that causes the greatest consternation among our First World friends is the urban legend that Pinoys are connoisseurs (pardon the spelling if ever) of dog and cat meat, brought about by both sensationalist internet and the ADD-prone news cycle that gobbles up and spits out (pun intended) strange and oddball bits of news.

Our otherwise macho supervisor gets conflicted and crinkly-faced ( he will never admit that he’s grossed out ) whenever he remembers that Pinoys ( and other Asians, for that matter ) have no compunction about eating Man’s Best Friend and Puss in Boots. Conflicted because he doesn’t know which to do first: punch out the nearest Pinoy or Asian around (unfortunately, that’s us) or rush to the nearest toilet and hurl.

Crinkly faced because he wants to wax sarcastic about said culinary predisposition, but his nausea is in danger of cramping his style. Not even our earnest attempt to convince him that this otherwise barbaric practice is limited to a tiny fraction of the population and prevalent usually among those in our northern provinces (no offense intended Lakay, live and let live po) is enough to dissuade him from his self-righteous indignation.

It doesn’t help that where we are now ( and probably elsewhere in the 1st World ) pets are often considered members of the family, figuratively and literally, sharing bedspace and living cheek-by-jowl with their human masters.

The few times we remained unashamed of our country’s dog meat/cat meat eccentricities were when the same supervisor mocked us once too often : like when, seeing our spicy baon (packed lunch) one night, he asked if there was any piece of Brownie or Moning that we were savoring, whereupon we answered : not tonight boss, and just in case you’re wondering, YES we’ve tasted dog meat, and it wasn’t TOO bad. . .

We don’t think Mastah had much to eat the rest of the night.  🙂

Another food aspect that not just Pinoys but plenty Asians share is that in meat products , very little is wasted for the actual cooking, and you know what we mean when we say very little.

We once accompanied our Igorot ex-flatmate ( another Northern anecdote ) to the butcher’s shop prior to his sisig preparation. Admittedly, we hadn’t the slightest idea where the ingredients came from.

Turns out that pig’s heads, while a bit unsightly and gory, serve a dual purpose for the aforementioned specialty. Not being a popular portion of meat, they are relatively inexpensive ( NZ$3 a head ); however the cheeks are a fleshy and tasty component of sisig, albeit a bit time-consuming dish to create.

( We’re not sure if there’s a tangible connection, but it seemed to us that the higher the amount of alcohol consumption involved, the more indiscriminate the meat selection became, particularly if the issue was availability. Just guessing here. )

Don’t forget fish heads ( years back, Mother didn’t mind everyone else taking the rest of the fish, as long as she got the head ), intestines for chicharon ( cracklets ), “adidas” / chicken feet, a popular Chinese dimsum item, ears ( “tenga ng daga” ) and other unusual body parts which we’re sure are also eaten elsewhere in the world but are given more than their due attention in our corner of the jungle.

Undoubtedly, in our case the exotic cuisine has as much to do with economics and and home-grown remedies : when meat is in scarce supply ( and it usually is ) you learn to be creative and make do with what’s on the chopping block (tadtaran), and many of our potions and elixirs are supplemented by fluids and secretions from the animal world.

[ By the way, we hadn’t even thought of discussing these last juicy tidbits with Mastah, just wait till we get the chance.  ;)]

But back to our penchant for saving everything edible : highly debatable, but we save literally till the last possible moment left overs, takeaways and remnants of meals long past in the hope that we will (1) recapture the magic of spectacular cooking (2) conserve cooking energies for another day, and (3) pinch pretty pennies for a rainy day.

The only problem/s with this logic is that the magic of a tasty dish doesn’t necessarily translate to tasty magic the next day, week or month ( yikes ! ), the energy we preserve might be wasted in recovering from an upset stomach, and who can tell if the pennies we save won’t get swallowed by a mindless pig-out the minute we give way to a weak moment.

We confess that in wild, wanton days of youth, we had a relatively simpler rule when it came to devouring doubtful dated food : if it didn’t move, it was edible. 😦 Many a time we could have saved ourselves from a tumultuous case of indigestion or food poisoning if only we were a bit more discerning when it came to questionable kakanin, discolored siopao or sticky rice ( that wasn’t supposed to be sticky in the first place ).

But when you’re young, you’re supposed to be doing stupid things. We just did a little more than our share.

Nevertheless, we still wrap up food, especially the lauriat kind, if it looks too good to waste and some house mates are coming home from night shift. Besides, if worse comes to worst, there’s always the next door (Caucasian) neighbor’s too-friendly pussycat, who recently developed a devoted preference for Pinoy cooking.

For all the yums and slurps of pinoy ulam (dishes), we can’t blame the pusang gala, who, not to worry, will always remain our dinner guest and not our dinner.

Thanks for reading !