I love road trips–feel of the open road, the delight of arriving at your destination, and the thrill of new adventure. I can sit in a car for hours and not get bored. I can also sleep, almost at will, in a moving vehicle–car, bus, train, plane–I like to think of it as my super power.
My love for travel grew out of the frequent road trips our family took when I was young. My dad loved to drive, and we would often head to the beach for a weekend, or to my uncle’s farm in Batangas or Laguna. Sometimes, we would drive around just for the heck of it, circling the streets of Makati or Alabang or, when it was still seedy, Ermita, where I remember my dad cruising by the strip clubs so that my sister and I could get a peek at another kind of life, one away from the sheltered one our parents kept us in. I especially enjoyed the Ermita trips immensely, though now that I think about it, I’m surprised my mother sat back and let it happen at all.
My dad loved to drive, and we would often head to the beach for a weekend, or to my uncle’s farm in Batangas or Laguna. Sometimes, we would drive around just for the heck of it, circling the streets of Makati or Alabang or, when it was still seedy, Ermita, where I remember my dad cruising by the strip clubs so that my sister and I could get a peek at another kind of life, one away from the sheltered one our parents kept us in. I especially enjoyed the Ermita trips immensely, though now that I think about it, I’m surprised my mother sat back and let it happen at all.
I always knew we were going on a long road trip by what appeared in our grocery cart: Lady’s Choice sandwich spread, Miracle Whip, carrots, celery, Magnolia chicken, and an extra loaf of white bread meant that my mom was going to make her famous chicken salad sandwich, easy-to-eat food that has sustained our family on many a journey. The mix is easy; she boils the chicken, flakes it, and mixes it with cubed carrots and tiny bits of celery, dressed with equal parts spread and Whip. This would go in between two sliced of untoasted bread, spread thick and generously, so that each bite heralded just the right ratio of bread to spread. She would wrap each sandwich in tissue (facial tissue at first, before graduating to kitchen napkins) and place them back in the bread packaging. She’d usually make two loaves worth, though one was usually enough to sustain us, given that we had a habit of stopping at every other roadside restaurant anyway.
The sandwich was sweetish, from the carrots and the Miracle Whip, with a bit of tang from the sandwich spread, the whole thing cut through with the fresh crunch of celery. The chicken provided texture, firm but not too firm, almost melding into the dressing, which melded into the soft bread. It was one of my favorite childhood foods, up until I stopped eating meat. Even so, I still think about it. A lot. Probably more than would be considered healthy.
My mom always made the sandwiches herself, still does to this day, even though the family doesn’t go on road trips anymore and the folks who enjoy it nowadays are her friends. And that’s how I know that her chicken sandwiches are made with love: that my mother, the woman who had never stepped into the kitchen until she became a wife, the woman who was so clueless about cooking that she managed to–as she says in her own words–burn water. The woman who learned to cook and eventually, learned to like it as well, because she thought it was something a wife and mother should do for her family. For some reason, she pours her heart into her chicken salad sandwiches, makes it with more love than most of her other dishes, with the exception perhaps of her Chinese lumpia.
I myself have gone beyond chicken sandwiches as road trip or picnic fare. The last picnic I had was in Bukidnon. I was there for work, but as respite, our crew got invited to hang out by a beautiful, man-made reservoir. Our host brought food: salad, red rice, sautéed vegetables, chicken inasal. The food was delicious, freshly made and perfectly seasoned, going well with ice cold Coke and chilled beer. The menu was a far cry from the chicken sandwiches of my childhood, but their ability to anchor themselves onto memory is the same. I will forever link chicken inasal and red rice to that beautiful sunny day by the reservoir, just as I have forever linked chicken salad sandwiches to road trips and family and love.
Summer is road trip season. And as we load our bags into our cars and store our snacks and picnic lunches in the back seat, let us remember that, for the duration of the adventure, we are more than just eating to fill our bellies; we are eating and creating memories.
This essay first appeared in Sans Rival, Rustan’s Supermarket’s in-house magazine.