I cried when I learned that an average meal in Boston costs around $20. In the Philippines, that is a thousand pesos – my weekly allowance back home. I told myself that it was alright. The serving sizes are bigger at school, even if the quality of the ingredients in the American Northeast can’t compete with the freshness in the Asian countryside. When I explained to my partner on the other side of the world that it was a deal – bigger serving for a lower quality – he explained to me what “doubling-down” is. So when I arrived in Boston, I resorted to having only a meal a day. I started feeling my ribs after skipping meals to save money, and only ate with my eyes as I binged on home-cooked meals as I scrolled through Tiktok.
Food was something my parents taught me to never be ashamed of spending money on. Food was essential. Food gives people life. Most of all, food is a privilege. When I was young, I was taught on the tables of both home and school that food is a blessing. We are lucky to have it in front of us, because millions of people work hard for food and still starve. The average Filipino farmer can only eat one bowl of rice a day to ensure enough profit for their savings, and it still wouldn’t be enough. I was lucky to have been born into a family of lawyers and doctors, yet my grandparents who were stablemen and coconut-tenders endured only having salt for breakfast. Meanwhile, their grandchildren would complain about eating too much for lunch and being full. The worst complainer among them was me.
Cut to college, where I could never feel full. Cup Noodles is a worldwide staple for broke college kids. It’s cheap, low maintenance, and available everywhere. Steak is a worldwide symbol of wealth. Quality meat is hard to come by, and the precision of its cooking is even rarer.
I have always had the idea of combining the two, and the Arctic Wind storm late last January allowed me. At breakfast, I discovered that the wind pipes at Carney’s burst during the early days of the freeze, and as someone who grew up in a tropical country, I did not know this was possible. I was starving. My head throbbed from low blood sugar. All I had was cup noodles I bought in the local H-Mart as my contingency food. I grabbed a cup of curry noodles from my pantry, filled it with water, microwaved it, and put on my K-drama fixation at that time.
I always hated admitting defeat, but I did. I still wasn’t full, and I wanted more. But I still had to endure hours until dinner to see if the dining hall was open. It was my first month in America, and I missed feeling full. I missed dreading the sun because I now dread the snow. I missed dreading fullness because now I am starved. Food really was a privilege. So, I slept.
I woke up just in time for dinner. They were serving steak at Carney’s. I put on my ultra-heat-protected coat, and endured a two-minute walk from my building to the dining room. I bought steak to-go, and realized that I still had my curry noodles in the microwave. So, I did the best thing I could do:I put the noodles and steak together.
I did not have the money to secure all three meals in a day like I used to. At one point in my life, my family did not either. And throughout history, many people didn’t. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be happy. Everyone deserves happiness. Even then, happiness is a privilege when it shouldn’t be. I thought about all of this as I ate my steak and cup noodles—as it froze in America and scorched in the Philippines. It was the best meal of my life.
Cover photo courtesy of Beef It’s What’s For Dinner