I think I was glued to my chair for most of the 10 hours I spent in the office today. It wasn’t pretty. It was one of those days when you’re just so exhausted you don’t even have time to taste your food or say anything to your concerned husband on the drive home. Thank God for an evening in bed with a funny, easy read (Mindy Kaling, I want to hang out with you!), great music, and music videos with Japan as the location. Just a few more days to go.
A couple of boulangeries have recently opened in Manila (hello, Paul and Eric Kayser) and there’s even an honest-to-goodness New York-type of bagel place (you must try L.E.S. Bagels!). They’re typically located in the more upscale parts of the metropolis or posh shopping malls, but for homegrown types of bread, you only need to go to a panaderia or local bakery.
As someone who dearly loves bread, I grew up looking forward to merienda or after-school snack when my dad would buy something sweet or carb-y or both from the bakery three blocks away from the corner of our street in our old neighborhood in Manila. I loved it when we could go with him and I could inhale the wonderful aroma brought on by the mixture of flour, water, eggs, yeast, and shortening.
Behind the glass case of that corner street bakery would be trays of warm pan de coco, monay, putok, Spanish bread, those local sugared-dusted doughnuts, and ensaymada. The pan de sal would typically be at the back, freshly baked and waiting to be picked up and encased in a brown paper bag for you to bring home. There are many other types of bread in the baking scene now, probably considered more sublime, complex or even more mind-blowing (yes, I don’t doubt bread can be any of those things), but these ones from the humble neighborhood panaderia are likely the ones that have shaped many Pinoys love for bread and nourished many other kids during breakfast or merienda. It did that for me. And all I need now is a glass of Tang and my dad calling us to the table to have some bread. Continue reading
When the new year came, so did the significant dip in temperature. It reached a cool 17.5 degrees Celsius in Metro Manila, which for our tropical country meant one of the coldest temps in recent history (mountain cities like Baguio, even registered 8 degrees). It also meant you didn’t have to turn on the air conditioning at home, you could take out those jackets out of your closet, and it was the perfect weather for a hot bowl of ramen.
Just a few weeks ago, the weather went back to ‘normal’ (hello again, 30-degree weather), but this shouldn’t stop any self-respecting ramen fan to go out there and have a bowl or two, particularly when there are several relatively new players in the hot ramen scene in the metro. Here are two of them, which I’m finally getting to blog about.
A three-decade old ramen chain from Osaka opened shop in TriNoMa mall in Quezon City late last year. It’s known for its Signature Happiness Ramen (P480), which is a big bowl of shoyu-tonkotsu broth and an even more overwhelming slab of slow-cooked pork rib. Quite a monster, that even the hubby, who can usually put away huge chunks of meat, found it too much. But don’t get me wrong, it was good, the broth was balanced and the meat, fall-of-the-bone tender and flavorful. Just order it when you’re hankering for meat and lots of it.
Or you can order their other varieties of ramen (which will likely provide the same amount of happiness). A less daunting bowl would be the Chasyu Ramen. It has the same steady tonkotsu-shoyu broth but with usual braised pork belly slices and aji tamago (which was just a wee bit overcooked). Continue reading
Around four months ago, while killing time inside a bookstore, I saw this book and much as I’m embarrassed to admit, finally made my acquaintance with Paul Theroux.
The title was the one that lured me in. And the back cover copy finished me off: “Here Theroux recounts his early adventures on an unusual grand continental tour. Asia’s fabled trains—the Orient Express, the Khyber Pass Local, the Frontier Mail, the Golden Arrow to Kuala Lumpur, the Mandalay Express, the Trans-Siberian Express—are the stars of a journey that takes him on a loop eastbound from London’s Victoria Station to Tokyo Central…” A railway adventure if there ever was one.
Here’s one of the few things I’m not too crazy about when it comes to traveling: having to apply for a visa. Being from the Philippines, we need to apply for a visa if we’re going to the certain countries, like the US, UK, Japan, etc. (But here’s a gallery of some of the countries we can go to, visa-free).
So while I was over the moon when I got to book on-sale tickets to Japan a few months ago—I forgot to mention that I still lacked the most important part of the trip to actually make it happen… the visa. Granted, getting a Japan visa doesn’t require jumping through many hoops like say, getting a US visa, there’s still an element of uncertainty. And while there are much more US Embassy rejection/horror stories, there is a handful of Japan visa rejections I’ve heard to make me worry just a wee bit. (Like the one about a friend of a friend who got rejected on her second trip to Japan. No reason was given. It’s almost as bad dating someone who just stops calling.)
But since those stories are rare, I had gone against my own advice posted here a few years ago (try not to succumb to the temptation of buying those non-refundable promo fares before applying for a visa) and went ahead and booked the tickets and hoped and prayed for the visa. Prayer answered! But aside from prayer, you actually need to do the following. Continue reading
One of my most cherished food memories was when my family and I would go to my dad’s hometown in Pampanga to attend its annual fiesta. The trip would be hot and dry and dusty, and occasional tantrums would ensue… but by the time we reached the gate of our uncle’s house, we were happy to see our cousins and to ooh and aah over the activity in the dirty kitchen (which, for those not familiar with it, is the part of a traditional Filipino house where the dirty prep is done).
At the dirty kitchen, in front of the sprawling backyard, we would watch our aunt, uncle, and the cooks prepare the lunch over big pots and kaldero, watch the fresh hito (catfish) swim in a planggana of water before they get grilled, and sneak in bites of the tibuk-tibuk and other rice cake varieties already spread out on the table. We would then be called to have some breakfast, typically pindang damulag! It had a gamey, sour flavor (vinegar-y version of tocino I always thought) that my 10-year-old self didn’t flinch at all when I eventually found out that it was fermented meat from carabao, not exactly what you might find in a supermarket in Manila.
By the time lunch came, I would pile my plate with Kapampangan fiesta staples such as asadong matua, kare-kare and lechon. (I was a carnivore early on.) My dad used to make me try the buro or balao-balao (fermented rice) to go with the grilled catfish but I found the smell revolting. Only when I reached my twenties, did I finally acquire a taste for its soupy, sour assault to the senses. By then, trips to Pampanga were no longer an annual activity and once deprived of such fascinating dishes, I craved and searched for them; they’re not your typical everyday fare so my dad wasn’t keen on cooking them.
Almost a month ago, I got to revisit my Kapampangan roots when our department at work took a field trip to Bale Dutung. For several years, I’ve only heard good things about this private restaurant that is also home of artist, author and chef Claude Tayag and his wife Mary Ann. It gained even more following and fame when Anthony Bourdain paid them a visit in a feature on the Philippines in his then-show, No Reservations.
Almost two months ago I got an email from an old editor asking if I wanted to write about Escolta. And it took me all of two seconds to say yes.
I spent some parts of my childhood walking the stretch of Escolta street when my mom used to work in one of the banks there. Then when the bank transferred offices and eventually we moved out of Manila, we hardly had any more reason to go back. The occasional trips to Binondo or Divisoria later on for some food tripping or bargain shopping hardly warranted any quick side trip to this almost-forgotten street.
The street is one of the oldest in Manila–it’s been around since the Spanish times, a sort of riverside commercial district. But it reached its glory days during the American rule when it became the country’s trendiest street, when the most fashionable store and glitziest restaurants set up shop. By the 1960s, it had begun to lose its lustre, when other commercial districts like Makati charmed business their way.
It was in the 1980s when my siblings and I used to walk around the street dotted with old buildings, duck inside old bookstores, watch cartoons (no adult supervision!) in one of the crumbling movie theaters (can’t remember whether it was Lyric or Capitol), and look through the clearance sales of several stores that constantly looked on the brink of closing. Escolta then was no longer the high street that it was before and when more offices left (including the bank where my mom worked), a lot of those businesses did close shop.