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Gotta Goto

A couple of weeks back, I went uptown to the cooperative because my bill for electricity was due for payment. I was thinking to myself that I would have lunch at the gotohan since I would be in the neighborhood, anyway. In the end, I decided I did not want to go by myself, so I made do with a quarter-pounder sandwich and ate instead at the office when I got back from the cooperative.

Sometimes, it is better not to have plans at all! Nearing lunchtime this morning, I ran into a friend and a colleague who said he was going to the wake of another colleague who, I regret to say, passed away just last Saturday. Since he said he was going alone, I volunteered to go with him so I could also pay my own respects to the deceased.

The wake was at our deceased colleague’s residence in Pinagkawitan; so the most logical thing was to have lunch first at the gotohan then proceed to the wake afterwards. Frankly, with the outer fringes of super-typhoon Juan – international code name Megi – being felt even this far south of where it was due to make landfall late this morning, the weather almost made it obligatory to have lomi for lunch.

But goto was fine… I mean, for a couple of weeks before today, I had been thinking to myself almost as an obsession that I really gotta goto

As we drove uptown, the heavens opened up. That was fine! News and weather web sites had been going on about Juan since the other day; so that it would have been totally unfair to have bright sunshine. Besides, like a couple of boy scouts my colleague and I brought umbrellas with us.

There were just a few diners when we arrived. As always, we proceeded to the second floor of the building where I was surprised to see that there was already a canopy built over that part of the floor that used to be exposed to the elements. Gotohan al fresco, how about that?

As a child, my idea of goto was the type with lugaw. This was the way Mom learned to do goto in Nasugbu – her hometown – and naturally did things at our home the way she was familiar with. In school, I used to argue with mates that the goto ought to have lugaw; and, of course, everyone born and raised in Lipa City proper argued it should not!

I think I finally became acquainted with the Lipa version when I went with some mates to this joint somewhere in Labak just east of the Cathedral of St. Sebastian. I do not even recall the exact place. Frankly, I was not too enamored with my first sight of it – innards and all floating in a totally unattractive dark brown stew. Yuk-ky, if I’m being honest… In the area of esthetics, the lugaw version wins by default.

Love at first taste, it also was not. It was a bit of an acquired taste. The stew was obviously flavored with fish sauce, onions and ground black pepper. The taste was fair enough; but then I would inevitably tend to compare it unfavorably with the lugaw version that I grew up knowing.

I remember as a teenager, when I accompanied my eldest sister to the market, she would stop by one of the countless goto stalls inside the wet market and eat as though she was in total ecstasy. I could not understand that! Even these days, I can never bring myself to eat at the wet market. I rather tend to be squeamish about certain things; and the smell of uncooked fish ranks among the things that can never give me an appetite.

It was only lately that I started to learn to appreciate Lipa goto. I started going with friends to this place called Gotohan sa Barangay in Antipolo del Norte on the outskirts of the poblacion. For starters, the place looked decent. Not fancy, but decent – albeit, I was told by those who had been going to the place before that the two-story restaurant used to be so much humbler.

As a meal, the Lipa goto is the type done without frills. Cooked quickly; served quickly; and priced cheaply. Does it not remind you of another Lipeño favorite, the lomi?

It does not take a genius to figure out that the goto probably has plebian roots; but the gotohan – like the lomihan – has become the great status equalizer that would have made Karl Marx proud. It is frequented by students, professionals, farmers, businessmen, jeepney drivers…

I may incur the wrath of some true-blooded Lipeños; but I am just honest and I say there is nothing truly spectacular about the taste of the Lipa goto. It is good; and I do enjoy the occasional visit to the gotohan.

However, I would like to theorize that it is not really the taste that makes it so special. It is a cultural icon the way the veggie-free Lipa lomi is. In the same way that you cannot possibly be from around here if you have never been to a lomihan, everyone who is from here is expected to have gone to a gotohan as well.

And you go with friends… Just like a trip to the lomihan is in most likelihood a result of yayaan, it is almost obligatory to go to the gotohan with friends. That was why I was reluctant to go two weeks ago.

Today, though, I finally got my wish – albeit, I wished it was under happier circumstances. Going to a wake – particularly of a younger colleague – is never quite something one enjoys doing.

My colleague ordered goto laman – and without thinking I told the waitress I would have the same. After I thought about it for a while, I castigated myself inside my head. Why make the effort to go to a gotohan and order laman? But the waitress had already gone to get our orders…

I did order bulaklak as well, I tried consoling myself. ‘Nuff said! Go stare at the pictures I took and start making plans for when you gotta goto

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