P—W  V° 03:03

Things that are sweet and salty

by Jen Mutia Eusebio

Mango slices dipped in shrimp paste.

Grilled squid marinated in honey, palm vinegar, and garlic.

Pandesal, a Filipino word which derives from the Spanish pan de sal. Translated to English as bread of salt. Inside the oven, they are like little suns. There is already sweetness baked in. Enough to eat a roll with half a teaspoon of coconut jam, no more.

Pork blood stew with steamed rice cake. The cake is glutinous and made to hold all the flavor within itself. Tear off a piece. Scoop up the broth and seasoned meat.

My family’s Sunday breakfast: chocolate rice porridge garnished with dried fish, often fried anchovies or smelt. Some like to use parrotfish—though it is less a fish preserved with salt and more like salt that has taken on the shape of a fish. Alone, the taste of salted molmol is overwhelming. We add milk and muscovado sugar to the porridge, for balance.

The mathematics of taste. Solve for x and y.


Clouds gathering before a monsoon. The agitated wind, heavy with the scent of plumeria blossoms.

Manila. The air conditioner broken during Sunday Mass. On a church bench, old uncles sweat under their hats while old aunties trade gossip behind sandalwood fans. They are like rice cakes in broth. Nothing escapes them.

Lately, I glance into the mirror and notice fine wrinkles at the corners of my eyes. I tell myself: smile more, age faster. Eventually youth must drop from the tree. This is not a bad thing.


My baby cousin—though he is old enough to eat solid food—drinks only milk.

Does he find blandness soothing, or is it the familiarity? Particular sounds distress him (vigorous laughter, for instance) and in his universe, ten is a sacred number. Ten cats in the yard, ten iron pots, ten red apples. He makes a ritual of counting.

If his concentration is broken, or too many people come near, the boy will grow an exoskeleton and curl into himself. Still, he is gentle. Left alone, he will begin to sing.

During my visits, I talk to him and sweep the hair away from his face. I say, look at me. On rare occasions, my cousin talks back—but much of his language remains asleep and what he cannot articulate verbally, he signs with his hands. Happy gestures, mostly. Like windmills as the boy shrieks, dribbles a line of spit.

Now, he arranges the toy cars inherited from my father. There are only eight, but he picks up two remote controls from the living room table and adds them to the parade. The remote controls are now cars. Ten cars! He laughs.


Saliva is a global waterway; a tributary between body and world.

In the kitchen, the women of the family drink ginger tea and pass around a jar of candied tamarind. They pry off the flesh with their teeth. The season has begun to turn, and they murmur about gardens and century eggs and the coming rain.

2023 © J.Eusebio