Less than 24 hours in Baler

First of all, I don’t recommend it: spending less than 24 hours in Baler. Unless, you’ve been stuck in the city for months, have been salivating over beach photos in your Instagram feed, have a company outing, or all of the above. Then, it’s a welcome escape.

Baler, a coastal town in Aurora province, is known as one of the top surfing spots in the country. Pounded by the waves of the Pacific Ocean, Baler is reportedly where surfing was born in the country after the film crew from Apocalypse Now surfed and left their boards back in 1979. These days there are several surfing schools and resorts that dot the stretch of Sabang Beach in Baler. One of them is Costa Pacifica.


Having only opened last year, Costa Pacifica has earned a reputation of being one of the more comfortable accommodations you can book in Baler, where backpacker inns also abound. I wasn’t really keen to learn how to surf, especially when there was a typhoon heading in the area–oh, who am I kidding? That weekend, my idea of being adventurous at the beach was drinking cocktails by the pool, even as it was raining.

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Good Food Sundays

It started last Sunday. Bookshop and bar Uno Morato and Good Food Community, which supports small organic farmers through community-shared agriculture, launched Good Food Sundays.

Good Food Sundays is a small weekend market for fresh organic produce and local food products. There are only a handful of stalls, a far cry from the other weekend markets, which I also love (hello, Salcedo!) but sometimes find a bit overwhelming in terms of choices and scale.

This Sunday market is more of an intimate affair. Feel free to chat up the folks behind the stalls and there are only six: get organic vegetables from small farms in Tarlac that Good Food supports; sample (and buy!) Philippine specialty coffee from Kalsada; fill your bag with different types of  bread from Manila Bake; pick up some of a Ritual’s butter, sea salts, different types of local vinegar, Malagos chocolates and cheese, and homemade kimchi by The Wandering Chew (I’m looking forward to their caramelized onions next Sunday!); another stall sells rice, beans and other sorts of grains, honey, and pickled goodies; and if you haven’t had your breakfast yet, there’s a table where you can buy hot Malagos chocolate and pan de sal with kesong puti to start your Sunday morning. (Updated the photos below with a few new items from the market)

Find fresh organic veggies

Find fresh organic veggies in the Good Food Community stall

The latest crop of vegetables

The latest crop of organic vegetables from Good Food Community: shiny plump eggplants, baskets of greens, and on the middle plate–a handful of cherry tomatoes with the smallest cucumbers I’ve ever seen

Kalsada Coffee

Kalsada Coffee


Get your grains!

Get your grains!

Taste test!

Sample some good bread and butter

Love this bread from Manila Bake

Love the Brown Rice, Shallot and Rosemary Boules from Manila Bake



Can you tell I gravitated toward the stall with all the baked goodies?

The Wandering Chew

Bottled goodness from The Wandering Chew: Onion jam, calamansi curd, and dulce de leche

Good Food Sundays happens just outside Uno Morato, at the back of Sabroso Lechon, corner of E. Rodriguez Avenue and Tomas Morato. Stalls are open from 7 am to 1 pm, every Sunday (updated) until December. There are a few parking spaces in front of the bookshop for customers. 

Pinoy bread favorites from the humble panaderia

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.

A panaderia in Kapitolyo, Pasig

This panaderia in Kapitolyo, Pasig sells delicious putok, which they take out of the oven at around noon (And like many other panaderia, they still put your bread purchases in a brown paper bag)

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

The paperwork of travel: applying for a Japan visa

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

Revisiting Kapampangan food… in a four-hour lunch in Bale Dutung

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.

Bale Dutung

Bale Dutung

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.

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