Chichacornies – the greatest snack food ever invented. Ever.
Mabuti naman means “I’m fine” in Tagalog, official language of the Phillipines. Kumusta ka? = How are you?
If you are ever invited to a Filipino party, fuck-ing go. If it is anything like my Alaska salmon cannery party experience, at the very least, you will come out with a good story and a bellyful of whiskey and fish head soup. These celebrations are sometimes gender exclusive with the women in one room, talking and cooking. If you have never smelled Filipino cooking, imagine one of those little potpourri simmer pots constantly agitating raw and partially-boiled whole fish.
But you can find Filipino cooking almost every night. On nights when the canning lines don’t stop until 10 p.m., you can still walk through the women’s bunkhouse and find people in the halls, tending grills, crock pots and rice cookers.
It’s not a party until you add three essential elements.
1. Liquor is whiskey and beer is Budweiser cans (See figure 1.1). These are cut and dry truths. Whiskey is measured in what my cuz-sin and I refer to as “Filipino shot glasses” – I have also heard them called Dixie cups (See figure 1.2 -birthday of Ray Ferolino).
2. Karaoke. The slower and more romantic a ballad can be crooned, the better. Skill is not required, you do not have to have a mastery of the song’s language (be it English, Tagalog or Spanish) and not participating is not an option. Women will join this part of the party. Our cook Ernie’s wife Gilda has an amazing high voice which makes my gravelly, off-key attempts look even more ridiculous. Some of the women will come in to help with duets. I have also seen a trio of backup singers/clappers/synchronized dancers.
The sometimes beautiful, sometimes bizarre photo backdrops for the song lyrics give you a nice visual tour of the Philippines. Don’t worry if the party is outside. If someone doesn’t run an extension cord and move the TV out, someone else will have a portable battery-operated karaoke TV set.
3. Gambling. Due to cooling time when the cans of salmon come out of the ovens, the warehouse crew’s schedule is one day behind that of the cannery. One day when we were working but there were no new fish to process in the cannery, I went to use the closest bathroom in the Filipino bunkhouse. I opened the door to the TV lounge and burst into a cumulus cloud of nicotine. (Heavy smoking is not unique to parties but does become remarkably more condensed and less ventilated.) It was before 10 a.m., and I had walked into a heavy-drinking, heavy-betting game of Russian poker.
Later in the season, I bought in on paycheck poker. Using the last three numbers of your check number and the two digits of cents, you determine who has the best hand. Check #56787 for $754.77 would make your four of a kind 7s hard to beat.
At one particularly bitching birthday party for Ernie, I was seeking out veggie-friendly food (not goat broth) when someone offered a bowl of what looked like corn nuts. They were fucking awesome…like if corn nuts were fluffier and didn’t break your teeth and were both garlicky and spicy in perfect amounts. They appeared to be called Illogic Chichacornies made by the Bonus brand. My love was so obvious, Gilda gave me a whole industrial-sized bag.
Back at my cabin, I shared my amazing discovery with my brozefs Josh and Kristian (See figure 3.1). As we sat and drank, we grappled with the addictive pull of chichacornies, eventually finishing the bag by the end of the night. But their sheer badassitude stuck with us–through parties, many a mug up (coffee break) and through sleep-deprived work hallucinations wherein I would be drinking whiskey and betting on a karaoke competition while working in a Chichacorny factory. Unable to resist, I would eat them until I became too obese to leave.