I decided to end my work week by stopping by the food stalls in the mall where I take a ride home. As I was aimlessly walking by the various food booths, the sizzling fat gyoza in the hot pan made me turn around, checked out the stalls and decided to dine in.
The elderly Japanese gentleman meticulously turns the fat dumplings while carefully taking note of the orders coming. His knowledge of Filipino norms reflects how he relates to his staff and their dynamic flows seamlessly like they’ve been doing this for a long time.
While his eagerness to master the Filipino language is very evident when he talks and respond in Filipino even if the customer talks to him in English. Physically, there is no mistaking that he is a native Japanese. But by the way he moves and talks shows you that he has been here in the Philippines for a long while. The kind who won’t be scammed by cabbies, knows his way around Metro Manila, and has practically embraced the Filipino culture. However, his cultural roots of politeness and courtesy shines through.
As I was waiting for my order of gyoza, a man in his 30’s came to the booth along side his wife and 3 year old child. The wife and child sat directly in front of the electric frying pan. Alarmed, the Japanese cook immediately suggested that they transfer to the back of the booth which also has a table “ mainit, lipat kayo likod” ( it’s hot take a seat at the back). The family kindly refused and said it was alright with them to stay where they are but seated their child a bit away from the electric pan.
Although, the family said they were okay. The cook turned off the electric pan and used the gas stove instead which has a cardboard divider (to block heat and flying hot oil) located at the side corner of the booth as a consideration for the family dining in. It was a beautiful exchange and I was glad to witness this while wolfing down my hot gyoza.
When I was able to carefully digest the last of my dumplings and had my fill of water. I slowly stood up and gratefully said, “Gochisousama” (thank you for the meal or thank you for preparing my meal) and just like that, the elderly Japanese cook stood frozen for a second, in that moment gone is the localized foreigner. I was looking at proud Japanese national who, like clockwork and practiced precision slowly bowed ( I usually get slight bows) while saying Arigatou Gosaimasu” (Thank you very much).
It was a cultural exchange rarely experienced over a plate of gyoza in a small food stall in the heart of the business center in Manila.