Kinalas–a staple in Naga city’s local cuisine– has Dayangdang street touted as Kinalas Republic. It’s home to more than thirty kinalas outlets and the rest is all over the city. Kinalas is loved by every Bicolano from all walks of life. Instagram-worthy, delicious, and iconic, it has intrigued celebrities, artists, bloggers/vloggers, businessmen, even the Nagueña Vice President herself.
Way(s) of lives.
Kinalas is a way of life in the city: there’s something cultural about it. As comfort food, enjoying it comes with peculiarities–how one sets up his own sawsawan (sauces), or enjoying it by tossing the noodles aside and finish the broth first. While others would ask for extra sauce or broth, others would sparingly take each spoonful with a bite of turon (banana fritters in lumpia wrapper) and a sip of cola drink. Certainly, eating kinalas is a collective act. Nagueños may not even know why they pulverize the chili using the bottom of the ketchup-bottle-turned-patis(fish sauce)-container.
Typically, around nine in the morning, the whole city already had its fill of the quintessential breakfast to lunch to snacks to dinner of the kinalas: a steaming bowl of beef soup filled with yellow noodles, shredded beef, a secret brown sauce, hard-boiled egg, chicharon (fried, fatty, pork skin), a dash of spring onions, and in our case, chili garlic of special aroma and pork siomai. The bonus is the crispy, hot, sweet turon.
One of our patrons said that what sets our kinalas apart is its chili-garlic sauce. My husband explained that the aroma of the sweet-hot chili garlic and its reddish sight rapidly signal the brain that one is about to eat something very good. It lingers on as the actual taste validates the experience. Then, the yum.
Others disagree: they say it’s the beef-based broth. The non-stop boiling of the beef bone marrows plus some piles of fresh meat is the real deal. True enough, this was the mark which won us the rigorous nods of Chefs Rica Buenaflor and Jet Sumayao when they explored for kinalas in the City years back. Perhaps, it’s really the caldo (the broth).
It may be the noodles, the sauce, or the spice. Whatever delights you, kinalas is loved, period. Its longevity and reach persist since customers habitually tag a friend or two. Parents bring their kids and families bring guests. In short, kinalas is akin to bonding. But not until today, it’s day one of the city-wide lockdown due to Luzon’s enhanced community quarantine. The normal groups of kinalas lovers were gone.
Like several local businesses on the verge of closure brought about by the pandemic, is this the end of kinalas?
It’s unlikely. As the food the food for the Bicolanos’ communal souls, it signifies home. An acquaintance attested that once she’s in the city, she’d go straight to eat kinalas, “that’s when I know I am home.” Another balikbayan from US dove into a bowl of kinalas one early morning. An OFW continuously dreamt of kinalas two weeks before disembarking his ship. One biker would trail from Iriga City to Naga City just to have a steaming bowl. I should know: I served them all this special piece of their home. People do not get tired of eating kinalas, I could also swear.
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For the foodies, tourists and the curious, enjoying a bowl of kinalas is part of the bucket list. It’s a travel badge: I’ve been there, eaten that. Friends and strangers would tell me, I’d love to try your kinalas. It’s amazing how kinalas has entered the external cultural foodspheres. Angelo Comsti, a food writer and chef himself, featured the dish as one of the “75 regional cuisines he didn’t grow up having” in a book called Also Filipino. Such a milestone for Bicolanos’ favorite merienda!
It’s kinalas interrupted, I suppose.
This hit me two days after the lockdown. No bustling crowd, no chopping of hot beef, no slashing of stainless stuff, no snapping of washed glasses, bowls and utensils, no hurried steps and shouts, and no stirring of the cash box. I terribly miss kinalas and the fulfilled faces of our customers. ■