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Archive for the ‘Food’

In Palawan, Day 3: Complete and utter vegetation

March 19, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Design, Food, Places, Traveling 4 Comments →

On Saturday Cookie was up at 0600 for the Island-Hopping Tour of Honda Bay. “You drive to the wharf and get on a boat. Then you go to an island and hang around the beach, swim and snorkel. Then you get back on the boat and visit another island. Then another island.”

“Sounds fascinating. Buh-bye,” we said, and went back to sleep. We were too lazy to go to the restaurant for breakfast or even to dial room service. A few hours later we got up and had an instant coffee. We had bought sachets at a sari-sari store because the hotel does not have complimentary coffee or tea in the rooms. (Or provide extra towels even if we need them for our hair because between us and sister we have enough to make wigs for a barangay of bald people. (They charge Php50 for an extra towel.) Or have a mini-bar so we can store snacks. Or have a tub or wifi at usable speeds. Otherwise it was fine.)

Then we went back to bed and spent the next few hours drifting in and out of sleep and channel-surfing on cable. We decided that we’re not missing anything by having no cable at home. Each station has maybe three programs on repeat the entire day. How much Walking Dead and American Idol can a person stand?

At 1500 it occurred to us that we had not seen any local handwoven fabrics (Binuatan doesn’t make textiles) so we texted our fabric guru Rene in Makati to ask for recommendations. He gave us the address and number of Rurungan sa Tubod Foundation, which operates a weaving center in Puerto Princesa.

Cookie returned a half-hour later and reported that she’d gone snorkeling. “But you do not swim,” we pointed out. Apparently the tour operator had a guy who could take non-swimmers snorkeling: you hung onto him and he went into the water, dragging three or four passengers. Like a human bathysphere.

“The tour was fun!” our sister recounted as we had a room service sandwich for lunch. “The beaches are unspoiled, and the sand is different on every island. You would have hated it.” We told her about the weaving center and she asked if they were open Sundays.

They weren’t. And they were closing at 5pm. We asked them not to close till we got there, then we shot out of the room and jumped into the nearest tricycle. The driver did not know where Rurungan Compound was, but he knew the way to Abanico Road. Thirty minutes later we were on a concrete road in a densely wooded area with few houses. It was like going into the woods, and if we’d been in Manila it would’ve been scary. Fortunately we were in Palawan, so this was normal. Twenty minutes later we saw a lady emerging from a compound and asked her for directions. She pointed to the next gate. We had reached our destination.

1. rurungan
According to Laida Lim’s essay in HABI, the guide to Philippine handwoven textiles, a “rurungan” is a group of women living and working in proximity and pooling their resources. The 15-year-old Rurungan sa Tubod Foundation (RTF) creates jobs for women on the island by training them to weave tepiña.

2. weaving center
Tepiña is pineapple cloth woven from raw silk and fiber from the Spanish Red pineapple. The weavers learn the textile production process from growing the pineapples to stripping the leaves and knotting the fibers.

3. shawls
Apart from tepiña, they make a heavier twill textile and a fabric that feels like corduroy. Filipino and French designers have used tepiña in their couture and home decor collections.

4. bags and wallets
We bought several of these pretty wallets and small clutches to give away (and then decided to keep them haha). Prices at the Palawan store range from Php90 to 160. Dammit we should’ve bought more. The large bags cost about Php800. We found baskets with fabric straps that make excellent tote/book bags—we’ll post the photos later.

5. tepina
They also have dresses, blouses, neckties, toys. If you’re in Palawan and wish to visit Rurungan Sa Tubod, call +639178514081 and ask for Beth or Janet. In Manila, you can arrange a private product viewing at their showroom by calling +639175532728.

We’re glad we got out of bed.

6. kalui entrance
Our main event for Saturday was dinner at KaLui, the most famous restaurant in Puerto Princesa, listed among the top restaurants in Asia by the Miele Guide. A reservation is required. As is taking your shoes off at the entrance, so your feet can enjoy the beautiful wooden floors.

7. menu
Making a choice seems like a lot of work when you’re in vacation mode, so we just pointed to the Special of the Day Set.

8. kalui2
Every table was taken. The place is charming—even the washrooms are tourist attractions. There’s a small art gallery and a gift shop selling jams and preserves, bags and wallets…from Rurungan. Same prices, but the weaving center has more merchandise.

10. salad
For starters there was “lato” seaweed salad,

11. tempura kakiage
and vegetables done tempura-style.

12. tuna steak
There was juicy tuna steak

13. tuna in coconut
and fish rolls in coconut cream.

For dessert there were slices of fruit, which was just as well because we didn’t have space left for sweets.

9. kalui1

A day well spent, despite extreme indolence.

Boating in the Batcave, Puerto Princesa

March 18, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Food, Places, Shopping, Traveling 8 Comments →

Being complete idiots about geography, we thought we could visit Calauit island and feed the giraffes on this trip. Wrong! Palawan is huge. As Cookie discovered while overthinking our trip, travel time from Puerto Princesa to Calauit is about ten hours. To do the safari thing, we’d have to fly direct from Manila to Coron or El Nido. We decided to stick to Puerto Princesa and its environs—fine by us, because we’re not a beach person. Mountains, caves, dungeons, troll holes, labyrinths: we’re there.

1. wharf

Cookie booked us a tour of the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, a.k.a. the underground river, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world’s most important biodiversity conservation habitats. We expected there would be wading involved, so we wore flip-flops. Fortunately we had gotten a pedicure recently so we would not be mistaken for a gorilla escaping the forest. Also, being maniacally prepared, we put all our stuff in zip-loc bags inside our waterproof bags. At the last minute we decided not to bring a flare gun (It would have to be checked baggage).

2. karst

By the second day we were in total vacation mode, and by total we mean “No Internet”. The wifi in our room could only achieve dial-up modem speed, so we decided to take a break from blogging. And down the slippery slope to sloth and idleness we rolled. It was great.

Pick-up for the underground river tour was set for 0630, so imagine our discomposure when the van turned up at 0600. Getting up at 0530 when your regular sleeping time is 0300 is one thing, but traipsing off to the limestone forest before you’ve had two coffees is another. But Hernan the preternaturally chatty guide did not seem to mind that Grungella the Grouch auditioning for The Exorcist was in the van, and he kept up a steady stream of patter that could not be stopped by our iPod wall of sound.

We learned many things, such as the length of Palawan, the differences between north and south (Primary economic activity in the north, fishing; in the south, farming. Preferred alcoholic beverage north, rum; south, gin), the ratio of males to females in Palawan, and signs of economic development in the area (great leaps in the last decade or so). The ride to the wharf in Sabang took two hours, some of it over rough terrain (“By the way, this is what we call a massage!”). We stopped at the karst (limestone mountain) where part of The Amazing Race was shot; beneath those caves was Smaug the dragon with his hoard of gold. No, the subterranean river.

3. trail

As we queued up for the outrigger boats that would take us to the caves, Hernan the very knowledgeable pointed out improvements to the tour in the last few years. A system has been put in place so there’s no jostling or fighting for places (or passengers), standards have been set for the boats (the wooden ones used to get scraped on stalagmites and start taking in water), and the orange life vests have to be laundered regularly (the alternative would be gross). A 15-minute boat ride takes you to the trail through the forest, which is populated by monkeys. Visitors are asked not to feed them or open plastic bags, which they associate with snacks.

4. cave mouth

At the end of the trail we put on hard hats—stuff falls from the roofs of the caves, including bits of rock and bat droppings—and boarded another boat, manned by the effusive guide Piolo. “Not Pascual!” he announced, in case anyone was confused.

5. rocks1

Into the bat cave we rode—”The mines of Moria!” Cookie whispered—the pitch black relieved only by the beam of light from the boat’s lantern. Despite our ignorance of geology, we were fascinated by the rock formations. And entertained by Piolo’s running spiel. “Look over there…it’s a T-Rex! Doesn’t that rock look like a T-Rex? And there, see the hair and the beard? It’s the face of Jesus! And there…an angel without wings. Up on the ceiling: bats! To your left, Balin, son of Durin! Next to him, Kit Harington’s abs…” Okay, we made that up. Periodically our boat would meet a boat carrying foreign tourists and Piolo would interrupt his humming of the theme from Titanic to cry, “Annyeonghaseyo! Opa gangnam style!”

6. rocks2

The caves stretch for miles, and large sections have not been fully explored. Who knows what we may find in there: hominids, mermaids, dragons, Nessie’s relatives, mithril, Smeagol and the Precious. The Subterranean River cruise alone is worth a trip to Puerto Princesa.

7. beach

Forty-five minutes later we emerged in dazzling sunlight and pale, powdery sands. Swimming is forbidden on this strip of beach.

8. tiangge

Back in the bayan, we stopped at the mall to pay our phone bill. The shopping mall is new; another one is being built. We practically live in the mall, and it’s a great convenience, but we hope Puerto Princesa doesn’t become another Mallville. The laid-back, rustic, stress-free ambience is one of its main charms, and the profusion of small businesses ranging from family-owned restaurants to handicraft stores is another. Most restaurants don’t have air-conditioning, and they don’t need it—the air is clean, the breezes are cool, and motor traffic is light so dust and grime are minimized. Fine, there are too many renditions of the greatest hits of Bread, but they fit the relaxed atmosphere.

9. chichirya

We found the Tiangge, a souvenir market crammed with every conceivable type of pasalubong. The cashews and other nuts are excellent.

10. pearls

You can get cultured pearl earrings for ten pesos and mother of pearl charm bracelets for twenty. There are miniature tribal wooden fridge magnets, woven bags, T-shirts and caps, beads in various configurations, wind chimes, dream catchers, wood carvings, and so many accessories, we shut up and shopped. The most expensive items are strands of real pearls which go for Php3,000.

11. kinabuchs 2

Dinner was at one of PP’s best-known restaurants, Kinabuchs. Go early because by 7pm there’s a queue.

12. crocodile sisig

We had the crocodile sisig. It tastes exactly like regular sisig, though the very concept of eating (farmed) crocodile is badass.

13. struklji

Puerto Princesa reminds us of Bali, and like Bali it’s not very big on dessert. We wandered along the main thoroughfare, Rizal Avenue, until we spotted a restaurant called Euro Chef. They serve a Slovenian dessert called struklji—rolls of dough filled with cottage cheese, apple, nuts, raisins. It’s not too sweet, and it goes very well with coffee.

Back to the hotel, where we did absolutely nothing and then slept for nine hours. Vacations are dangerous.

96 hours in Puerto Princesa: Day 1

March 17, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Food, Places, Shopping, Traveling 6 Comments →

1. floor
We’d been feeling a little antsy so we decided to go on a trip. Our sister Cookie had vacation time amassed, and after we had agreed on a definition of “vacation time amassed” (“Not exactly, I just have leaves I haven’t used”—Cookie) we convinced her to take a long weekend. Neither of us had been to Palawan, which is always a good reason to go. (Though it must be noted that we’ve never been to the Crimea, either.)

We booked a flight to Puerto Princesa on Tigerair (two round-trip tickets, no checked baggage, total Php6,920). Our flight was at 1010; by 0715 we were at NAIA Terminal 4. Because Cookie is at least three hours early for everything. By 0730 we were sitting on the floor with our coffees, waiting for the counter to open. Fortunately we had trained for sitting on floors by attending UP Diliman.

The counter opened exactly on time, and the whole check-in process was done in 30 seconds. By 0825 we were at the boarding gate. With chairs!

2. plane
The minute we buckled up we fell asleep. After the most efficient, stress-free flight we’ve ever been on, we landed at Puerto Princesa ten minutes ahead of schedule.

3. acacia
Cookie had booked us at a newish hotel called Acacia Tree, on a leafy street just five minutes from the airport. Immediately after we said “You choose the hotel,” we realized our mistake. The sister is maniacal about cost-efficiency and would happily book us in a lunatic asylum (“It’s been converted,” she assured us). Which she tried to do the last time we took a vacation together, in Prague. Luckily, the asylum had no vacancies.

Our room at Acacia Tree wasn’t ready yet, so we left our bags and went out to explore the terrain.

4. tricycle
There are no taxis in Puerto Princesa. You could rent a van, or go around on a tricycle (or as we say in English subtitles, “motorcycle with sidecar”). Rates are negotiated with the driver. Puerto Princesa has clean air and clean streets, so you can take a tricycle without getting exfoliated by grit, dust and wind shear.

5. baker's hill
Our first stop was Baker’s Hill, which was recommended by various travel sites. It’s a sort of theme park devoted to baked goods and landscaping.

6. theme parkish
Baker’s Hill is designed for entertaining children and taking selfies next to life-size statues of cartoon characters. They also offer baking classes. At the restaurant we had lunch: grilled lapu-lapu and laing. It was okay. Metro Manila prices.

hopia
At the store we found all manner of breads and pastries, and stacks of hopia. We’re a bit of a hopia snob and require the crust to be of a certain texture. So this is not purist hopia, but it’s quite delicious. And at Php45 for a box of ten, it’s a steal.

7. butterfly garden
Then we popped into the Butterfly Garden so we could report to butterfly enthusiast Noel. Noel had given us tips for getting photographed with butterflies: Wear bright colors like pink or orange, wear sweet floral perfumes, and stand still. Obviously we were not going to get photographed with butterflies. We did see a lot of them, and

8. pupae
these chrysalids or pupae, collected from the forest.

9. palaw'an
The Php50 ticket to the Butterfly Garden included admission to the Tribal Village, an indigenous Pala’wan forest house. A living exhibit. Made us uncomfortable, to tell the truth.

10. binuatan
Down the street is Binuatan Creations, a traditional weaving center. The weavers use fibers made of local grass. They urged us to try operating the loom, but we declined in the interest of public safety.

11. binuatan store
The souvenir shop carries colorful bags, hats, placemats, home decor and other items produced on the premises. Cookie bought table runners and placemats. One can never have too many placemats.

12. baywalk
Dinner was at Baywalk, a collection of open-air seafront restaurants. The tricycle driver recommended Kinaboyet, where the seafood is very fresh and amazingly cheap.

13. kinaboyet
Our dinner of squid and barbecued pork, plus soft drinks, cost Php100 each. In Puerto Princesa, one should always listen to tricycle drivers’ recommendations.

The ‘oooh’ in food

March 03, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Food No Comments →

1
Carlo is a combination of Mr. Clean and Cate Blanchett. Here he addresses the guests. He also did the flower arrangements.

Our friend Carlo the pastry chef, who has been very scarce in the last two or three years, invited us to the graduation dinner of the Heny Sison Culinary School, where he teaches the art and science of pastry. “If he thinks he can make up for a year’s non-appearance by treating us to dinner,” we scoffed, “He’s absolutely right.” For we know that Carlo is so snooty discriminating about food preparation, the dinner would certainly be fantastic.

2
True, when we saw the menu card, we had questions. “Only four courses?” we wondered. “Are we on a diet?” After that we were not inclined to ask any questions at all: the cheese buffet shut us up.

3
Literally, too, because it is not easy to complain about the austerity of the meal when you are having truffled cheeses and Camembert with honey and figs while the waiter constantly tops up your glass of wine. And the meal had not even officially begun.

4
First there were Caprese skewers—crouton with tomatoes, farmer’s cheese and basil—and a refreshing Calamansi sgroppino, essentially a citrus spritzer.

5
Then came the Salade Nicoise, a.k.a. the dish most likely to elicit a mis-correction from a smarmy waiter if you pronounce it correctly. (Tell him here is an ‘e’ at the end so it is Nis-waz.) Very satisfying; the anchovy and seared tuna made it a meal.

6
Followed by Mushroom and Black Truffle Ravioli. The portion looks small, but the flavors are so intense that any more would be a sin. Speaking of sin, isn’t it irritating when you go to a dinner that aspires to fabulousness—it is prepared by graduating student chefs for their favorite people after all—and you hear people bemoaning the richness of the food and its caloric content? If you want to be virtuous, go and sit on top of a column in the desert where your ration of bread and water has to be hoisted up to you on a pulley (See Buñuel’s Simon of the Desert).

DSC_1655
And then a superb Bouillabaisse—seafood stew in fennel-saffron broth and rouille. By this time our stomachs were content, but we had not even had our main course, or as it is commonly known, Dessert.

7
Dessert was not one, two, or three items, but a buffet. The macadamia tarts and Rocky Road bars with chewy marshmallows were sublime. Did you know that marshmallows are made of confectioner’s sugar, egg white and gelatin? Being completely ignorant of culinary matters, we thought they grew on trees.

8
The evening was punctuated with chocolate and coffee. As of this writing, we are plotting to crash every single graduation dinner at the cooking school.

The Heny Sison Culinary School is at 33 Bonnie Serrano Avenue corner Sunrise Drive, Crame, Quezon City, tel. 0918-371-5478. For general inquiries and information on the next class series, email info@henysison.com or visit their website.

Sushi-eating guide: Could we have better chopsticks, please?

February 27, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Food 1 Comment →

I love coffee has this excellent infographic on how to maximize your sushi pleasure. A couple of tips:

chopstics

Guilty. We rub the chopsticks together because most of the time they are of poor quality, and if we’re not careful we get splinters in our fingers. Crummy chopsticks are a fact of life in Metro Manila, even in many of the “better” Japanese restaurants. You would think that at those prices, the restaurant could at least provide sticks that don’t break in your hands. We don’t want to be rude, but that is exactly the message we are sending when we rub chopsticks together: “Your utensils are cheap and shameful.”

burn

Yes. This is much more effective than shrieking “Omigod my mouth is on fire!” then waving your hands in front of your face while tears stream down your cheeks and you grope for a glass of water like blind Bette Davis packing her husband’s suitcase in Dark Victory. That’s not how to deal with wasabi burn, that’s how to draw attention to yourself (It only works if you’re cute).

Our favorite Japanese restaurants: Kuretake, Mangetsu, Hatsu Hana Tei, various shops in Little Tokyo across from Makati Cinema Square.

Thanks to Jackie for the alert!

What is your favorite meal in literature?

November 04, 2013 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Food 12 Comments →

SwannsWay1_2714205k
Madeleines and tea from Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust. All photos from 10 Great Meals in Literature at the Telegraph.

Moby1_2714201k
Chowder has its own chapter in Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Catcher1_2714197k
Holden had a Swiss cheese sandwich and a malted milk at a drugstore in The Catcher in the Rye.

Inevitably someone mentions that eating scene in Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, but the novel doesn’t go into detail about what they ate. Probably because they were really consuming each other.

In Babette’s Feast by Isak Dinesen, Babette the French maid prepares a spectacular dinner. The Dwarves dine rowdily at the house of their unwilling host Bilbo in The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog is full of meals. In Light Years, James Salter declares that “Life is meals.” Though as prepared by Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, they require more death than usual. In the Jeeves books by P.G. Wodehouse, Bertie Wooster is always being lured to his Aunt Dahlia’s house by the promise of fabulous meals prepared by her French cook Anatole.

Then there are the terrible meals, such as that eventful dinner in Atonement by Ian McEwan.

Despite the late addition of chopped fresh mint to a blend of melted chocolate, egg yolk, coconut milk, rum, gin, crushed banana and icing sugar, the cocktail was not particularly refreshing. Appetites already cloyed by the night’s heat were further diminished. Nearly all the adults entering the airless dining room were nauseated by the prospect of a roast dinner, or even roast meat with salad, and would have been content with a glass of cool water. But water was available only to the children, while the rest were to revive themselves with a dessert wine at room temperature.

And Patrick’s breakfast in Bad News, the second book in the Patrick Melrose series by Edward St. Aubyn.

The smell of decaying food had filled the room surprisingly quickly. Patrick’s breakfast was devastated without being eaten. A dent in the grey paste of the porridge contained a half-eaten stewed pear; rashers of bacon hung on the edge of a plate smeared with egg yolk, and in the flooded saucer two cigarette butts lay sodden with coffee. A triangle of abandoned toast bore the semicircular imprint of his teeth, and spilled sugar glistened everywhere on the tablecloth. Only the orange juice and the tea were completely finished.

Of course there was a meal to, uh, celebrate the wedding of Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey in A Storm of Swords from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, but we don’t remember what food was served. Just everything else.

What is your favorite meal in literature? Post the passage in Comments. There’s the tinola in Noli me tangere…