“Ate, how can I fly?”
“Eat chicken wings and you’ll soon grow your own wings.”
This was the immortalized advice of my Ate before she went to college in Baguio. It was my only memory of her advising me seriously on what to do, or having a personal talk. I instantly believed her because as a child, flying has always fascinated me. I envied the birds who can explore the vastness of the sky while children on the ground admire them, clapping and whistling while they pass. I wanted to be exactly like those birds, to be free to do what I want and to be appreciated by others for being myself. That’s why, it became my undying wish to have wings and freely explore the places I had only seen in our encyclopedia. I tried using blankets and towels as capes, repeatedly telling myself “I can fly! I can fly!” and jumping up and down on our spring bed. But I didn’t go far, I mean, high enough for it to be considered as flying.
But I was determined to have my own wings, whatever it takes.
Suddenly, chicken wings became my favorite part. Whenever we eat chicken, it became a habit for me to get at least one wing. Whether it was litsong manok, fried chicken, tinola or sinampalukan, I’d ask my mother to get ‘my’ wings even if it sometimes meant searching the entire pot full of steaming, hot soup.
Chicken wings are actually delicious. For some, it might be a small, unfulfilling portion, but for me, a single wing is more than enough. Of course, a pair is way better. It doesn’t matter if there’s little meat because it is softer and has more flavor as compared to the meat in the breast or in the thigh. Also, the skin to meat ratio will not disappoint you. When you bite the middle part of a wing (the part next to the end) in tinola or sinampalukan it will treat you to an unexpected explosion of flavor in your mouth, like dipping your fries to your sundae. The blending of its fattiness and the concentrated flavor because of the soup will give you a combination of taste you will never get in any other part of a chicken. On the other hand, if the wings are deep fried, you can actually eat the end part and enjoy the crunch, aside from the crisp from the skin and the flavor of a well-done meat.
Having a favorite part of a chicken which is different from the rest of the family is convenient for us. The thigh would go to my youngest brother, breast to my older sister, internal organs to my father, the neck part to my mother and the rest of my siblings are contented with what’s left. It became a habit to us that we automatically assign those parts even if they’re not around. If our dish is chicken, one could actually tell if I didn’t eat in the house because you could still find chicken wings. Because we have one simple rule: you do not touch a chicken part that has been claimed.
Eating chicken wings soon became my obsession. I would always ask my mother to buy chicken wings in the market and cook it for me before I go to school. I even asked her to cook a tinola with chicken wings only. She would then ask me why I was requesting chicken wings frequently. I would just stamp my foot, fold my hands and say “basta!” I couldn’t tell her I wanted to have wings. I couldn’t tell her I wanted to fly.
I remember my older brother always made a “Tinurbong Manok,” (chicken cooked in a turbo broiler). After the whole chicken was thoroughly washed, and the internal organs had been removed, he would insert a couple of lemongrass in its stomach. Then he would prepare a mixture of fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar and oyster sauce with chopped onions, garlic and crushed pepper and would add a pinch of sugar at the end. Using a syringe, he would inject the mixture to as many parts of the chicken. I loved watching the chicken cook because you could see the mixture oozing out from the chicken’s skin. As it slowly turns brown, you couldn’t help but swallow your saliva in temptation.
His specialty made him so popular among his friends that our house became their frequent hangout place. One time, after the chicken was cooked and plated, one of his friends suddenly grabbed the wings and said, “it tastes really good.” It was painful for me to watch and although the rest of the chicken tasted delicious, I had no appetite eating any of it. For me, my part was gone. It couldn’t be replaced with just any part. But most importantly, I lost another chance of finally having my wings.
It was not too long when I finally discovered that no matter how many chicken wings I ate, I would never have my own wings. I learned in school that humans do not have wings and cannot have wings. It was a huge disappointment—like when you realized that kisses (the fragrant small spherical things) do not really reproduce if you put it in a box full of cotton or Santa Claus is just your parents in disguise. It hit me hard, so hard that I hated eating chicken wings for a while. The simple sight of it made me remember that I was fool enough to believe such nonsense.
My mother noticed the sudden change in my preference and she told me stories about my Ate (who told me that I could have wings by eating chicken wings). She told me that Ate used to believe that too when she was my age. That’s why Ate wanted to have her own childish revenge by telling me that theory. But my mother didn’t expect that I would take it very seriously to make me hate food. What could I do? It’s hard to accept the fact that I was a fool for a long time and that I couldn’t have the wings that I dreamt of.
Later on, I finally accepted the fact that whether it would give me my own wings or not, chicken wings are still the best part of a chicken. Although I learned how to eat other parts of a chicken, nothing can satisfy me more than a chicken wing.
Last year, my four year old nephew (the son of my Ate) and I were playing Superman and Batman toys. He suddenly asked, “Tito, do you know how to fly?”
(An edited version of my Creative Writing Non Fiction Class (CW 141) Food Article.)