When a beloved restaurant lasts for decades, able to survive fickle consumer interests, and acts of God like earthquakes, storms, and revolutions, it inevitably becomes part of the social and cultural fabric of the community it serves. Sometimes, it even takes on the very warp and weft of that fabric, strong and sure, impervious to any unravelling.
Chocolate Kiss was that for us, the UP Diliman community, for 23 years.
Until COVID-19 struck that is, completely upending and disrupting life as we once knew it.
How many losses has this global pandemic wrought? Too many to count: thousands of lives, entire industries, jobs, relationships (marriages included), and in this instance, establishments we thought would be there forever… like Chocolate Kiss.
CK and its indelible imprint in our lives
Our memories of CK (that’s how it’s often abbreviated) are long and storied, and often seen through slightly rose-tinted glasses. Most of my adult life was marked in some way by CK: from breakfasts before my classes in grad school, to lunches with friends and colleagues from every job I have ever held, to coffee and cake with some nice and not-so-nice romantic prospects, to dinners with my family before going to the UPFI to watch the featured films of the week.
Sitting in my favorite seat, the one near the archway and the piano, over bottomless iced tea and plates of Chicken Kiev, Chix In A Basket, and Seafood Pomodoro, projects of national import were discussed, several hearts were broken (sometimes mine, sometimes theirs), and many major life choices were made.
One of my favorite people, Prof. Wendell Capili, the current Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs for the university, who has a legendary status among the thousands of alumni whom he has personally helped to achieve their dreams, witnessed the soft opening of CK in December 1996 on the second floor of the Bahay ng Alumni Building.
He recalls, “I used to eat there every day, from December 1996 until a few years ago, when I got busier. It was the only go-to place in the Diliman-Katipunan area for a very long time. We used to wait for an hour just to get seats during prime time (lunch, dinner). Students and executives from nearby schools, universities, and companies used to drop by and eat with their friends. It was a place to see people, and be seen, accidentally, by friends and acquaintances from ages back. We have many happy memories there.”
My Ride or Die girls, or the three lovely people I became best friends with while I was teaching at the Department of English and Comparative Literature (DECL), when all of us were idealistic young faculty, have their own misty-eyed recollections of what CK means to them.
The first is Richmon Pancho, who is still a teacher, and a linguist (although he’s not cunning, because he’s fabulous and gay), and is currently the College Business Manager III for the Office of the Vice President in UP Diliman. He shares, “I’ve celebrated birthdays, reunions, weddings, leave-takings, retirement parties, baptismals, and even project launches at CK for the past twelve years. When I heard that it was closing for good, honestly, it felt like a death in the family.”
The second is Liway Ruizo-Macatangay, my roommate in FC 1118, who took night classes in UP Law while she was teaching with DECL full time, and now works as a court attorney at the Supreme Court of the Philippines. She says, “Eating at CK always felt like coming home. So much so that even after I left UP, after studying there for undergrad and law school, I always find an excuse to eat there, kasi you eat there with friends from undergrad, colleagues, and binabalikan sya for its food AND the sense of community it serves up once you walk through its doors.”
She adds, “Also, its constancy is so comforting. Like no matter how old I get, and how many rounds of disillusionment I suffer, I go back to CK, and I know its cakes will still taste as good as when I first tried it as a shy and sometimes frightened 16-year-old Cotabateña who finally saved up enough from her allowance to be able to buy a slice.”
She goes on. “I love how, while eating my favorites on their menu (yes, Chicken Kiev, Chix In A Basket, and Salisbury Steak), I also overhear spirited conversations at nearby tables about things of consequence." Like Liway, I recall those “spirited conversations” as well, usually of young lovers, of intellectuals, of people who have a direct hand in how things are run in this country.
Liway now has two very young children with her husband Micky, a captain with the Philippine Air Force. Her eldest daughter Yumi will start attending an online preschool soon, while her adorable infant son, Laya, has the thickest head of hair I have ever seen on a baby. She shares, “I remember bringing Micky to CK on one of our dates, and Yumi and Laya, too on Saturday mornings, when we’d drive all the way to UP Diliman from Padre Faura in Manila just because we wanted to eat brunch there, and then take a walk around the UP Oval. For UP peeps, you can’t eat at CK and not come home, come up for air.”
Serving generations of bottomless iced tea lovers in the UP community
The third is Kit Kwe, writer and tenured professor at the DECL, who married Kris Lacaba, award-winning poet and son of notable UP alumni Pete Lacaba and Marra Lanot. She explains CK’s multi-generational appeal, “We are three generations of CK eaters because we are three generations of being tied to UP: my in-laws, Kris and me, now our kids who go here.” She has three small children, two of whom are twins, and are currently studying at the UP Child Development Center. “CK is the only restaurant they know by name,” she admits.
“Like Kit’s twins, my good friend Nadira Abubakar was only a child when the café officially opened in 1997. Her father, Prof. Asiri J. Abubakar, was a well-known professor of Asian Studies, and long time College Secretary. He was one of the country's leading experts on Sulu and Mindanao Studies until his untimely death in 2010.”
She narrates, “We also went during its early weeks in 1997, when I was just seven years old. When Dad heard that it was already open, we made it a point to eat there regularly. Growing up as a faculty kid, CK was always a highlight. It meant cake, and yummy food, and that iced tea! The joy of a seven-year-old: I loooved watching the syrup drip through the iced tea, first unfurling in spirals through the tea, then settling at the very bottom.”
“With my dad, love meant food, and CK is a part of that.”
The end of an era
Except for its cake commissary, which will continue to accept orders for pick-up and delivery, when we talk about CK after August 23, we will have to speak about it in the past tense. For our lot, that is nothing short of heart-breaking. Like Richmon says, this really does feel like a death in the family. “You know, when your favorite quirky tito passes away suddenly, and you’re just trying your best to process it.”
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An era has ended. We’re grieving the loss of something precious that can never be reproduced in the same way again. Hopefully though, the friendships and the relationships that were formed, nurtured, and celebrated there will still continue to stay with us for the rest of our lives.
An addendum: CK in the future
Ina Flores-Pahati, one of the co-owners of the café, who penned the farewell letter published on the CK website, let us in on what could be the possible future of CK after the café closes.
On whether the CK commissary will still sell its bestselling items for takeout or delivery, she shares, “We do plan to continue offering some of our food, but on a very limited menu. It’s hard to commit the particular products because we are still reviewing everything, from costs to pricing, especially in light of the new way of doing business (not dine-in), as well as the current business environment. But I think a safe answer for now would be the Chicken Kiev, because it’s really our top selling item, and also not commonly available in other restos.”
Suggestions have also been made to publish a CK cookbook, but Pahati says its not in the plans right now. "But if ever," she says, "it would definitely have hand-drawn illustrations and anecdotes on each dish, like why it’s included, stories/tips from the chef who wrote up the recipes. And the recipes should be easy to follow!”
If you want to help support Chocolate Kiss, you can currently order the Kiss Suite, a sampler cake platter which includes bite-size squares of Dayap Chiffon, Prune Cake, Carrot Cake, Kahlua Butter Cake, Quezo Chiffon, Orange Chiffon, and Devil’s Food Cake (14 pieces for P450 and 28 pieces for P800) at https://www.thechocolatekiss.com/order.