Review: Jonathan Gold reviews Irenia in Santa Ana, which is reinterpreting traditional Filipino cuisine
When you hit Irenia at the right time in the afternoon, maybe late on a Saturday when the lunch rush has faded away, you may run into a couple of old guys who look as if they’ve never left their table in the bar, nursing bottles of San Miguel and idly crunching their way through a bowl of dilis, tiny dried anchovies, toasty and warm from the pan. Sometimes they’ll dip the fish in a bit of chile-infused vinegar; sometimes they'll pop them into their mouths unadorned.
The protocol apparently is to eat the anchovies one by one instead of tossing them back like popcorn, so that each individual fish can be savored on its own — one particularly salty, the next crunchy, the third fragile as glass. It is a way of celebrating the anchovies as once-living creatures, each with characteristics and a tiny soul of its own.