When I was in college and had little money for meals outside our dorm cafeteria, fishballs became my best friend.
I’d eat them with instant pancit canton or doused them in garlic mayo and had them as a midnight snack.
These bastardized versions of Chinese fish balls were perfect for a hungry student. They’re cheap, easy to buy and relatively filling (they’re also unhealthy).
There was a time I stopped eating them because I saw a news report that showed that fish ball manufacturers use near-rancid fish mixed with flour and cockroach-infested fish sauce (patis) to make fish balls.
But then I easily found alternatives within the same ball-kebab family. There’s the Squid Ball that essentially tastes like fish ball only with more meat packed in. And then there’s the Chicken Ball, which is a peppery version of the squid ball.
Potdog, a more expensive version of the fishball pushcarts you see on street corners, has expanded the line to include fried and skewered dim sum.
They’ve got more savory “ball food” like Crab Egg, Crab Claw (with real crab claws embedded within an eyeball-sized crab puff) and the dubiously named Cuttlefish Ball, which is essentially a larger version of the fish ball with barely any cuttle.
I like some of them, including the Fried Siomai, that tastes like a sweet pork dumpling.
Although I can tell you now that it tastes like that vegetarian siomai Mom used to buy for me, the one made out of gluten.
Except McDonald’s doesn’t throw in a clicky ballpoint pen as a prize when you buy P120 worth of fried balls over the holidays.
If I am really honest with myself, I’d say food like these aren’t really yummy. I mean, I never understood why my officemates love to have these with garlic rice when the food is so oily and tastes like it’s been bathed in MSG and sprinkled with umami.
But until the day comes when people don’t go hungry, and they have money to buy proper and nutritious food, and they stop associating fried ball things with deliciousness just because they’re served piping hot–I think there will always be room for balls.