There's Something About Mami

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By all means, it wasn’t gourmet noodle soup.  The noodles were still kind of crisp and starchy inside, and there was very little in the way of sahog (save for a tiny bit of shredded cabbage, carrots, and crispy fried garlic bits) The broth was probably made of chicken bones, boiled with water and bouillon cubes.  Yet for twenty pesos, it warms the stomach better than, say, half a pack of Marlboro Lights.

There’s something about mami.  Whether it’s Luisa’s in Baguio or Noodle King in Sampaloc, mami is a dish that has always been close to my heart.  Yet there’s something about twenty peso mami bowls hawked in sidewalks that speaks to the heartiness of street food.  You only get a few morsels from making-tusok-tusok the fishballs and the kikiam, but making-higop-higop the sabaw of the mami, no matter how much umami there is in the broth, is very comforting.

It’s not exactly the most complex dish in the world, but there’s something about it.

Mami is simple: a soup made from broth and blanched egg noodles, topped with some vegetables.  The street hawkers have the dry ingredients already placed inside the bowl, and all the vendor has to do is to pour hot broth over it as soon as you handed in the payment.  Mami can get a bit more complex as you go up the culinary ladder, but the essentials remain.  The egg may come with the soup, or you may pay extra for a slice or two.

For many of us the favorite is chicken; beef mami somehow leaves a lot of fat and connective tissue floating around the soup, which doesn’t make for very appealing eating.  Seafood, at least from my palate, doesn’t have the same hearty goodness as good ol’ chicken mami. There’s siomai mami, but I prefer keeping my molo soups the obligatory pulutan at Trellis or an inasal restaurant.

I never really tried making authentic street mami out of instant noodles, but there’s nothing that can come close to real mami. Boiling and simmering stock for a very, very long time not only extracts the essence of the ingredients, but it gives the broth the viscosity and texture needed to make the flavor of the final dish “stick.”  By “stick,” I mean that the taste should remain in the tongue and the digestive tract for as long as it takes, perhaps washed down with a Coke or juice.  The “sticking” of mami is the hallmark of a good noodle soup: if it goes right through you, it’s not good.  There must always be some aftertaste to make you believe it’s more than just hot water and dissolved bouillon cubes.

Yet you can’t expect that from street mami; the broth may be too salty for some that it needs to be cut down with a piece of kalamansi. All too often, the vendor may skimp on the boiling or the seasoning that you may need a few dashes of patis to give it flavor.  Street mami is never perfect, but that’s what makes it awesome.  You get what you pay for, so you build upon the imperfections of the dish to make it your own.  Maybe you let the soup steep a little more to cook the noodles and vegetables.  A dash of soy sauce here, a sprinkling of chili flakes there, and pretty soon you have your own gourmet mami for a very low fraction the price of one at Hap Chan, for example.

I finished off the bowl of mami, with the flavors of the hearty – yet cheap – treat sticking to my tongue, uvula, gullet, esophagus… and washed down with a nice 12-ounce bottle of Coke, it wasn’t all that bad.  I’m sure that when it rains hard again, there’s always that comfort food to look forward to.  Never mind the laboriousness of arroz caldo and champorado or the total boredom that is the cup of coffee.  When it comes to the cold chill of a typhoon or perhaps a rainshower, mami is the first – and the last – thing to eat.  Or maybe it’s the only thing worth eating, for the warmth and comfort that’s in it.

There’s something about mami, maybe because it “sticks.”

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1 comments on “There's Something About Mami”

  1. Pingback: There’s Something About Mami : (PBS)

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