I was three when I started traveling with my mother.
I accompanied her in conferences she attended in Davao, the meetings in Butuan, and family vacations in Iligan.
What stood out most from those memories were the images and sounds of travel—the rumble of buses, the smell of exhaust mixed with the mustiness of dried sweat, the shouts of conductors calling out the stops, and the shrill calls of vendors with their wares of boiled eggs and peanuts. Most of all, however, I remember the food.
We began our travels at dawn, and breakfast always found us on the road. The best—and for us, the only—food for traveling was tinola, fish stewed in clear broth garnished with vegetables and spices.
When ordered at roadside eateries, this hot soup is usually served with one slice of fish, a few leafy vegetables, and a bit of ginger. It can be made spicy with a dash of black pepper or a few pieces of chili.
While tinola always meant chicken in other places in the Philippines, the people in Surigao del Sur make use of isda sa bato (reef fish) freshly caught from the Pacific Ocean every day. There’s maya-maya (snapper fish), talakitok (cavalla), ahaan, and malapunti (goatfish or red mullets).
Other fish that are good for tinola are maliguno, liplipan (blue marlin), bariles (yellow fin tuna), tulingan (white fin tuna), and matambaka (trevally or purse-eyed scad).
When the bus stopped for breakfast, my mother would drag me to the roadside restaurant, half-asleep from the ride. She would buy us each a serving of tinola, one serving of rice, and probably a bottle of soda.
I always tried to finish my meals, mindful of the need to eat, knowing that with the bad roads, the bus could break down (as indeed it had done several times before) and we could be stranded for hours. I would wake up more with each sip of the broth, until I became fully awakened when it came to the last drop of the soup.
Tinola is highly popular with travelers in Surigao. It is the perfect complement to traveling; it nourishes and energizes, and the warm liquid manages to relax a body that had been stressed by hours of hard ride, especially then when the road was still rough and the ride long.
Nowadays, I don’t get to travel with my mother as much anymore, but every time I go home to Surigao del Sur, I make it a point to eat breakfast or lunch by the bus stop, asking for a serving of tinola that has become a part of my memories of being on the road.