I went to Victoria School in Cubao for most of my grade school. Victoria School is in Ermin Garcia near Cubao and Judge Jimenez Avenue. It is one short jeepney ride to Cubao and the only Mall we knew then, i.e. Ali Mall.
Outside our school, there would be all sorts of vendors selling all sorts of goodies you buy out of the myriad of coins that are actually remnants of my allowance. While we have a school cafeteria, we would find more interesting morsels and tummy fillers from the food vendors there.
Fish balls were sold at five centavos per piece and one peso will buy you two sticks with ten pieces each. To wash it down, our favorite was ice scramble. Ice scramble is slushy ice blended with sugar, vanilla essence and a few bits of sago plus a healthy dose of red food coloring to make it sinfully pink. It is quite refreshing—just don’t mind the dirty hand and finger nails of the vendor who scoops the thingy with a dipper and with no protection for his hands.
The ice cream vendor would be next to the ice scramble cart. When buying ice cream from a street vendor, you can opt to have it in a monay bun. Think of a hamburger sandwich, but instead of a beef patty, you have two or three scoops of ice cream—all for the princely sum of two pesos. Again watch those hands, or better yet don’t think about it too much.
There will always be the cotton candy/ pop corn vendor. He uses pure lard to make his popcorn to save on money, so don’t expect to find that smooth buttery taste. The cotton candy is spun from ordinary sugar so it is a little bit rough and would stick to the back of your teeth. When I was in second grade, one kid lost a teeth to the sticky cotton candy. Manong, are your hands clean?
There will also be the crisp pop vendor. Think of cheetos or cheese curls, but a lot more pale, with 500% more MSG and sold in bulk, in an old newspaper shaped like a cone. Not only do you get your five weeks’ RDA of salt and MSG in one sitting, you are also probably eating leaded newspaper ink.
We also have fruits as there were a couple of vendors selling santol, sliced pineapples or even a cheek of unripe mango. The santol would be sliced before your eyes with what appears to be some very rusty knife (ummmm, manong, are those clean?) and scored four ways. The pineapple and the unripe mango would be marinated in some watery solution. Both would be skewered with a short bamboo stick and the pineapple is served with lots of salt. The unripe mango would be deliberately laced with shrimp paste bagoong.
We would also have a binatog vendor there. For those not in the know, binatog is white corn boiled in salt water and served with shredded coconut. Very nutritious, but it looks like it came from a cow’s nose.
At the end of the day, we got our fill of sugar, salt and a lot of germs. We were never seriously ill though and those days, there were no media stories of mass food poisoning. There were even no dysentery breakouts.