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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

entry arrow1:53 PM | The Delight in the Patty

The munchies. Everybody knows what the munchies feel like. They come around always unanticipated in the late evening, this grand craving of the carnivorous sort that starts at some bottomless pit deep inside you. The target of its unfilled rage being two ginormous orders of finger-licking cheeseburger—never mind the fries—which demand to be devoured. The munchies and cheeseburgers, they go hand in hand. You know what that feels like. You’ve seen Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. You’ve read Haruki Murakami’s “The Second Bakery Attack.” You’ve seen the crazy stretch by which we can go just to feed that craving.

I’ve had the munchies once or twice in any given year, but burger love is forever. There is something about the burger that makes it perfect food architecture. It has everything: moderate carbo loading in the buns, protein in the beef patty, fiber in the tomato and lettuce, and a kick of creaminess in the melted cheese, all neatly arranged in a design so simple it smacks of culinary genius. The inventor of the burger should be declared a saint.

Like any Dumagueteño, my taste for it was awakened, not by the bland plastic-tasting inferiority of Jollibee and McDonald’s, but by the surprise of Taster’s Delight, an old establishment rooted in all our hearts that is now sadly closed. (Getting the same burger at Howyang is somehow just not the same. The burger, churned out by the same family, somehow looks smaller and diminished, which is a sad thing, like a betrayal of a fond memory.) Yes, we now know that burger was all about the strange alchemy of its mayonnaise blend, but it was delicious and we could not get enough of it. But with Taster’s gone, you could feel this burger void in the city, and so we make do with the junk from these fastfood joints all around town.

When I discovered Flamin’ Grill a few weeks ago, it was by virtue of word-of-mouth, which is always a good thing. Still, the first time I went there, I went for their grilled steak and thought nothing of their specialty. What’s another greasy burger? I thought, and didn’t take the bait. The place, smack right in the heart of Tubod along Hibbard Avenue, was comfortable enough, all done in that already predictable Dumaguete alfresco feel complete with loose stone “flooring” and umbrellas draped over the randomly arranged tables. And yet there was a warmth to it that I liked, a rare sense of comfort you only get in certain places—Gabby’s Bistro, for instance, or the old Don Atilano.

When I came back a few days later, it was to fill a curiosity about the burger everybody was talking about. And everybody was right: biting into that first grilled cheese burger was equal to a glimpse of some heaven. It promised an addiction. How do you describe that fluffy bun? How do you describe that succulence in the patty? It was delightfully smoky, tender in all the right places—a sour-sweeetness to it that demands slow and observant mastication. This was a burger.

Its proprietor is Marie Ponce de Leon, a former student of mine, and she would later tell me a familiar story: “My love for burgers started with Taster’ Delight. But over the years, I began to appreciate other burger variations—Carl’s Jr., Burger King, Flame It... I realized then that as much as I wanted my burgers every day, I just couldn’t because there just wasn’t any good burger here in Dumaguete.

“My inspiration came when I went to eat at a burger joint in California, something called In-Out. The place was small—just a ten-by-ten-foot drive-thru kitchenette. And then the idea of having something like that in Dumaguete struck me even though I had no burger recipe to sell at that time. Since I arrived back here, I researched and practiced burger-making for months until I perfected the recipe. For a little more than three months now, Flamin’ Grill Café has been serving flame-grilled burgers to burger lovers like myself. I own and run the place with my boyfriend, and even though it’s crazy at times, it’s fun for us amateur entrepreneurs.”

For Marie, the perfect burger involves a studious combination of the grill, the temperature, the meat quality, the meat and fat ratio, and finally the recipe—which she cannot divulge, but she tells me it is composed of 100% pure beef and a combination of five spices, all prepared without preservatives, MSG, or meat extenders. “Our lettuce and tomatoes are organic, too, and are freshly grown in the hydroponic method,” she says. “I make sure to use the coral lettuce variety because it makes the burger look good and picture perfect.”

The joint, of course, has other things on its menu—there are sausages, barbecued ribs, pork belly, pork steak, and others. “We are in the process of developing new dishes like crepes, pasta, and other burger variations,” Marie says.

That’s well and good, but I’m thankful enough for the burger as it is. It is the perfect answer to all these belated cravings, and so when the munchies come, I’m ready.

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[1] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich