Stuffing oneself in Singapore

This post can also be entitled, 5 things I got to eat for the first time in Singapore. (This is what happens when you can’t decide on a title.)

On my last evening in Singapore, my three friends living and working there decided to take me to Makansutra Gluttons Bay. I wanted to eat Singapore’s famous (1) Cereal Prawns for dinner, which I didn’t get to eat on my previous Singapore glutton fest a year ago; Makansutra was a no-brainer choice if you want to have some of the country’s popular hawker stalls in one area. Sure it’s touristy, but it’s also convenient if you don’t know where else to go.

Judging from our appetite a few nights ago when we we annihilated a platter of Lamb Tanjine, chicken kebab and other middle-Eastern fare in Deli Moroccan in Bussorah Street at the Arab Quarter, we were obviously not just going to have cereal prawns, with small servings of rice and a modest plate of veggies. No. As a Manila-based British chef I interviewed before observed, we like to eat with our eyes. Ooh, that looks good, put it on the tray. That too. And that. And soon our table looks like a spread for a fiesta.

We also love our carbs. So in addition to a huge platter of fried rice to go with the cereal prawns, we also had char kway teow (flat rice noodles stir-fried in pork fat…no wonder it was so good) and another noodle dish, the name of which escapes me now. And we couldn’t just have cereal prawns for ulam. We got BBQ chicken wings (you must try the chicken wings!) and a plate of garlic kangkong (a bit of greens on the table).

The cereal prawns from one of the stalls at Makansutra Glutton's Bay

The cereal prawns were buttery and the skin was fried to crispy goodness. The char kway teow was just as flavorful and rich as I remembered it and the chicken wings had a good smoky flavor and juicy meat clinging to the bones. I would go back to Singapore for these two simple dishes in a heartbeat. Continue reading

Dining out meat-free (my favorite vegetarian eats in Metro Manila)

Or another title to this post should be, When I Try To Be Good. Because seriously, I like my meat. I like it so much that sometimes when I do the grocery, I like to linger by the meat section just to get a whiff of that animal flesh sprawled on the shiny counter and imagine the many possible, mouthwatering dishes it can become before I take a very grateful bite into it. But it’s 2011. And literature on climate change has long indicated that the planet–well, it is not as grateful when we eat meat. Meat production generates those awful greenhouse gas emissions that lead to climate change. It just takes more water and fossil fuel to have that pound of beef as compared to big bowl of salad. (That on top of years of Catholic guilt. Yikes.)

The point is I try to eat less meat whenever I can, even if it’s just one meal a day. This includes eating out. In the Philippines though, where local favorites are a carnivore’s dream (lechon or roasted pig, crispy pata or deep-fried pork leg, kare-kare or stewed oxtail, beef and tripe in peanut sauce, sisig or a sizzling plate of pig’s cheeks that have been boiled, broiled and fried… you get the heart-stopping picture) and where “meatless” is a vegetarian’s nightmare as it often just means stir-fried veggies in animal fat, the options may look slim. But look closely. There are a number of dishes out there that are delicious and meatless, and restaurants that can help you minimize your carbon footprint. (Though cooking your own meatless dish would probably be best.) Here are my favorites 🙂

1. Greens Vegetarian Cafe & Restaurant. Besides the local vegetarian fast-food chain Bodhi, Greens is probably one of the older vegetarian restaurants in the city. It’s been around for almost a decade (it opened in August 2001), serving lacto-vegetarian dishes. With its mock meats–“pork” barbecue (my favorite!), “beef” and broccoli, “fish” relleno, sisig, etc.–it makes vegetarian eating palatable to meat-loving Pinoys. (The photo below is courtesy of Greens.)

Another Greens favorite: Grilled Mushroom and Tofu Kebabs

Address: 92 Scout Castor Street, Quezon City; phone: (632) 415-4796, 376-2781; website: click here for its Facebook page

2. Pipino. I don’t get to go to this resto as often as I want, but I think this is one of the best vegetarian restaurants here in Metro Manila. They serve a lot of plant-based dishes and both vegetarians and vegans will be satisfied. My vegetarian sister loves it so that’s a big plus. Its vegan lasagna is something I dream about every so often. It doesn’t have cheese but it’s creamy (thank you Silken Tofu) and I love it against the layers of wheat pasta, the tart tomato sauce, the texture of those slices of eggplant and zucchini, and the subtle hints of the humble malunggay.

UPDATE: When I recently had this (April 4, 2011), I have to say that it was a big disappointment 😦 The lasagna noodles were stiff, the silken tofu far from creamy and soft (it was in big dry globs) and the vegetables were just dry. It tasted like day-old lasagna that was heated in the microwave too long and on too high a temperature. It was far from how it looked in that photo below–all soft and creamy. I’ll see how it is if ever I do find myself in Pipino again. Sigh.

Pipino (that's my sister in the mustard-colored cardi!)

Pipino's Vegan Lasagna

Address: 2/F 39 Malingap Street, Teachers Village, Quezon City; phone: 441-1773

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Another Manila entry: 3 places to check out in the city

For anyone visiting the Philippines for the first time: If ever you find yourself in Metro Manila, don’t dismiss the Philippine capital as simply a take-off point to the country’s amazing beaches and mountain escapes. Last week amidst all the deadlines and the running, I got to squeeze in some time to get out of the house for a walking tour in historic Intramuros, Manila, a little shopping in the bohemian enclave of Cubao X in Quezon City, and a serving of art and Eggs Benedict in a park in Makati City.

In one afternoon…
“If These Walls Could Talk” Intramuros tour by Carlos Celdran:
A quick history lesson of Manila can be had in this popular walking tour around the oldest district of Manila in Intramuros by Carlos, dubbed ‘the Pied Piper of Manila.’ Covering Fort Santiago, Father Blanco’s Garden, San Agustin Church, and Casa Manila, the tour offers a funny and educational history of Manila from pre-Hispanic times to 300 years of Spanish rule, to the American colonization, World War II, and until the present time with Carlos’s brand of irreverent humor and engaging spiel. (I just think it would be great if Carlos lets the group go around Fort Santiago for a bit on their own–like he does with the next stop–since it’s a pretty small area anyway.) I love this quote of his on the city: “I believe that Manila can be a reflection of your state of mind. Being a city of extreme contrasts it can easily become an intense personal experience. Manila can be chaotic and spiritual, dirty and divine, gritty and gorgeous all at once. If you don’t find beauty and poetry here, you will never find it anywhere.

Manila’s unofficial ambassador Carlos Celdran

The tour includes a ride in a calesa from Fort Santiago to Father Blanco’s Garden

Wear comfortable shoes for the walk

Carlos Celdran’s Walk This Way Tour, celdrantours.blogspot.com

In the evening…
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One day in Bantayan Island

We only had one full day in Bantayan Island. The first and third days were mostly spent heading there and leaving the island to spend the night back in the city. (Note to self: Next time, no more overnight in Cebu City, just leave Bantayan in the morning and book an evening flight back to Manila. The island is much, much more relaxing than the city.) But one full day in Bantayan was still worth the trip since P and I still got to see much of the small island without rushing ourselves and experience its biggest selling point–aquamarine waters kissing its creamy white sand coastline.

1. Get in the water. It’s the first thing I do as soon as I step out of our little hut. I’m not a morning person, but for some reason when P and I are on vacation, we easily wake up at 5 or 6 am, eager to start our day. Bantayan was no different. Though the sand on the island is not talcum powder-soft like it is in Boracay, Bantayan still has a fine sandy beach. You only need to walk 10 to 20 meters into the water (still just waist-deep at that point) for your feet get past the jagged sea shells and to find that soft sand. After an hour of floating, staring at the wonderful blue horizon, and pitiful attempts to do some laps, I got out of the water to shower and find some breakfast.

Good morning, beach!

Twenty or so meters into the water and the it’s still just waist-deep (even for little me)

Another activity you can do is to go to the smaller islands surrounding Bantayan as the Japanese couple next to our hut did

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The Cheapskate’s Guide to Tokyo (or at least how I did it)

A couple of weeks ago, I got messages from friends who are planning to go to Japan to catch the cherry blossoms in bloom next year. One of their concerns (as it was mine) was keeping the expenses down. I wrote about seeing Kyoto on a budget for in-flight magazine, Smile, last July, and I thought it would be good idea to list down some ideas to keep costs down in Tokyo while still seeing a lot of what that huge metropolitan city has to offer. So here’s another entry, my gift to my Japan-bound friends–minus my long Japan travel tales of Days 1 to 10. 🙂

Explore the streets. No better way to witness the pulse of the Japanese capital than walk its busy (as well as its quiet) streets where you can be among the ultra-fashionable, the throngs of salarymen, or fellow tourists in awe of Tokyo. To minimize transportation costs, it’s best to explore the city per area. The extensive metro rail of the city has stops for most of the popular spots in Tokyo, anyway. And bring your most comfortable shoes!  (There were days though when I did succumb to “vanity over comfort” mentality with a pair of boots that just looked nicer. Tsk, tsk.)

Heading down Takeshita-dori. Hello, crowd.

1. Harajuku. Head down Takeshita Dori, which is just across the JR Yamanote line exit of Harajuku Station. Walk down this narrow street lined with trendy boutiques, shops where cosplayers likely shop, a 100 yen store, some restaurants and a lot of crepe stalls. Check it our during a Sunday to see Japanese teens get all dressed up. Walk further south and you’ll end up in Omotesando, where the crowd is past their adolescence and has a different kind of style–less costumey, more chic.

Akihabara in the afternoon. An even better sight in the evening!

2. Akihabara. Tokyo’s Electric Town and ground zero for geekery with all the manga and toy stores, gadgets galore, and maid cafes to gawk at. You can get out of the JR Akihabara exit and start checking out the stores from there. (Here is the very detailed Akihabara map we were given on our walking tour. Here is another one from Tokyo Tourism that might be helpful. They have 53 Ways to Explore Tokyo on Foot; most tourist spots are in areas A, B, C, and D.)

Pedestrians waiting for the green light at the Shibuya Crossing

3. Shibuya. Where you can find the tourist-draw of a crossing, that little Hachiko statue, sharply dressed young Japanese women (makes you feel you want to go back to your inn and put on something nicer) and so many department stores for a consumerist high.

An alley in the Golden Gai in Shinjuku–one of the most interesting night spots in Tokyo

4. Shinjuku. Where skyscrapers, more department stores, and night spots, including a red-light district, abound. Must check out the alleys and pubs of the Golden Gai, though a visit in one of the bars will set you back a cover charge or admission fee between Y700 to Y2000. (FYI: To fellow Pinoys, there is a bar nearby called Champion Bar and it is co-owned by a Filipino and frequented by Pinoys working in Tokyo. Our friend pointed it out to us, but we didn’t get a chance to go inside.) You can also just head to one of the big chain stores, like Takashimaya (with a large Tokyu Hands branch inside), Isetan (must stop for the basement food hall), or Yodobashi to drool over electronics.

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