March 22, 2019 § Leave a comment
A peninsula blessed with pink and white sand beaches,
bird sanctuaries, open seas, historical sites, beautiful parks, and abundant marine life;
a culture influenced by the Chinese merchants, Tausug traders, and Christian migrants from the Visayas and neighboring Mindanao provinces. Truly a melting pot that turned out a cuisine that is rich in flavor and texture.
And despite the negative news that surrounds this beautiful island, I never felt any sense of perilousness during my visit. Zamboanga will delight your senses.
Curacha at Alavar’s
Our first meal after a very delayed arrival was at Zamboanga’s iconic Alavar’s Seafood Restaurant. Because you cannot be in Zamboanga and not have curacha smothered in its trademark Alavar Sauce. What is curacha?
It’s a giant deep-sea crab that is uniquely found only in the waters of Zamboanga. It is a hybrid crustacean with sea crabs and spiny lobster characteristic. Lots of meat mostly found in its massive and tough shell. And of course, the secret is always in the sauce – sweet, aromatic with a hint of curry. Made from coconut milk and their secret spices, this sauce was the culprit to my loving anything with coconut milk.
Besides curacha, this beautiful plate of imbao wowed us as well. These are clams found in the mangroves of Zamboanga. Simple but so flavorful, this dish was baked in garlic and butter.
And before we move on, Alavar’s bagoong gata is a winner. It is just that – no explanation needed. Super with green mangoes.
Alavar's Seafood House: Don Alfaro St., Tetuan
Tausug is part of the broader political identity of Muslims in Mindanao. They live primarily in the Sulu Archipelago, southwest of the island of Mindanao, mainly in the Jolo island cluster. Being so close to Malaysia and that fact that they were not fully occupied by the Spaniards, Tausug cuisine has maintained its Malay origins and appears to be a combination of indigenous and Malaysian influences. They use ingredients like turmeric, lemongrass, langawas (a kind of ginger), chilis like sambal and a paste very similar to the Malaysian prawn paste, belachan.
It is particularly rich because of the heavy use of coconut milk and has many rice cake specialties.
Looks like dinuguan but taste like beef soup. The Tausog dish is made from either beef or chicken, its broth flavored with ginger, turmeric, and what made the soup black, burnt coconut meat.
Don’t let the color turn you off because this, my friends, is so good! A chicken dish made of the same burnt coconut meat of Tiulah Itum and coconut milk. A must try. So popular that you can even find it in pizzas.
Least of my favorite. This is beef liver cooked in coconut milk and burnt coconut meat.
Similar to beef curry cooked in coconut milk and peanut butter. This can be a dish the encompasses the cultures in the island of Mindanao, a meal enjoyed and prepared by both Muslims and Christians alike.
Freshly cooked native pastries collectively call Bangbang Sug – indigenous fritters, cakes, and pastries, that originated from the Sulu archipelago.
Many are made from coconut and rice, and much attention and details are put into making them. Here are some that we’ve tasted:
Also known as Zamboanga rolls, Jaa… A crunchy, golden brown delicacy produced and served during special occasions, especially during Hari Raya or the feast of the Eid al Fitr – which celebrates the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
It is comparable to a crepe but with sweet coconut filling.
Fried bananas served with a sweet coconut dip.
Purple colored balls made of rice and covered with coconut shavings
Sulu’s version of a pancake
It’s a pastry molded into decorative shapes, a delicacy also served during Hari Raya.
An empanada stuffed with togue served with sweet, spicy sauce.
Biyaki and Jualan Saing
Steamed corn with grated coconut wrapped in cornhusks. Hands down my favorite.
Where to find these?
Dennis Coffee Garden: Popular for its brewed coffee but they also serve traditional Tausug pastries and dishes.
Dennis Coffee Garden: Labuan-Limpapa National Rd.
There are more to explore, and a need to return is a must. Many would perhaps ask if it is indeed safe to be exploring this part of the Philippines. Touristy areas are usually safe and well guarded. My advice is to always err on the side of caution and your comfort level. Always check with the local municipal office or tourism offices for guidance. Trips to The Greater Santa Cruz Island and Once Islas has to be coordinated and registered with the Philippine Tourist Authority.
October 9, 2018 § Leave a comment
Decked out on Jalan Alor is an impressive collection of roadside eateries and street food vendors. Plastic tables and chairs adorn a good portion of the street.
If you are looking for the perfect example of Malaysian food, look no further. This strip running parallel to Jalan Bukit Bintang is best known for its budget-friendly street food eateries.
Wander around, choose the stall/s that piqued your fancy and enjoy the gastronomic journey.
Fresh oysters. We chose Dragon View Restaurant for its oysters. Along with it sitting by the roadside, we had a feast of Fried Garlic Prawns, Chili Crab, Sweet and Sour pork and an order of Won Ah Wah’s famous BBQ chicken wings.
“Sometimes, the simple things are more fun and meaningful than all the banquets in the world.”
― E.A. Bucchianeri
July 4, 2018 § 1 Comment
I fell in love with Taiwan and vowed to return and explore the other parts of the island. Well, it took us seven years (unbelievable but true), this time with parents in tow. And so we didn’t venture too far away from Taipei.
Fushan Temple in Jiufen
Honeycomb rocks in Yehliu
The itinerary was loose and relaxed with only 1 full day outside the capital. A family of foodies, the natural thing to do as soon as we landed was to enjoy a bowl of Beef Noodle Soup, Taiwan’s pride. While there are several recommended spots for this, we chose Yonkang Beef Noodle.
Founded in 1963, this small family run, 2-level restaurant serves up signature beef noodle and tendon soup.
It’s Sichuan style hot and spicy soup with huge chunks of tender Australian beef – cooked to perfection and best with a bit of their fantastic chili paste.
Besides having a large variety of side dishes, the restaurant also serves steamed spare ribs and steamed intestines – something to try next time.
We walked off that fantastic noodle soup in Yongkang Street, Taiwan’s cuisine mecca. It is not a very long street, but one can spend an hour or two just browsing. Not to be missed when visiting Taipei.
Initially owning fame for its traditional cuisines such as Din Tai Fung’s xiao long bao, Yongkang Street and its neighboring lanes and alleys are now dotted with old-school eateries, coffee shops and dessert shops, clothing and souvenir shops, tea shops and some quirky cafes.
And speaking of xiao long bao, we found another gem just around the corner from Din Tai Fung serving a similar menu but is far less crowded. Perpetually overshadowed by its heavyweight competitor, Kao Chi has been serving Shanghainese dishes since 1949, about 8 years earlier than Din Tai Fung. The 3-story flagship store is quiet, though somewhat a favorite among the affluent locals. Signature dishes include their Shen Jian Bao – pan-fried pork buns, Xiao Long Bao (of course) – Steamed Pork Dumplings, and Steamed Crab Egg and Pork Dumplings, among a wide array of dishes on the menu.
Still full from the massive bowl of Beef Noodle Soup, we opted for an order of Xiao Long Bao, not knowing then about the pan-fried pork buns (later on recommended by a local friend). I find that the XLB was equally good, and we didn’t have to wait in line for it. Another option to keep in mind for XLB fans.
Tu Hsiao Yueh
Another noteworthy restaurant not to miss is Tu Hsiao Yueh. Highly recommended by a Taiwanese friend, we didn’t waste time to go check it out. Established in Tainan in 1895 with an interesting story to boot. The name means “survive a month” or “living through the bad months” referring to the hardship endured by the fishermen in Tainan. In those months, a fisherman named Hung would go to town and sell Dan Tzai noodles in front of the local temple to make ends meet.
Fast forward to present day, Tu Hsiao Yueh has evolved into a modern restaurant chain serving traditional Taiwanese fare and still specializing in the same noodles that is now a Taiwan staple.
The signature dish is a small bowl of noodles topped with minced meat, dried shrimps, and black vinegar. One can choose between egg noodles, rice vermicelli or bihon, or flat noodles, and if you want it with or without soup. We decided on the dry bihon just because I love bihon that way. I was pleased with our choice, but I heard that the soup was exceptional and elevated the dish. That gives me another reason to go back.
Fried Oysters, Stir-fried Tomiao, Minced beef topped rice (reminds of my youth…)
Fried oysters with white pepper and salt on the side was another remarkable dish that we enjoyed so much that we placed a second order – A definite must try!
We followed it up with a bowl of Bubble Milk Tea Sensation – shaved ice dessert likewise made famous by the Taiwanese. Ah… another must.
Yongkang Beef Noodle: No. 17, Lane 31, Section 2, Jinshan South Road, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106
Kao Chi Branches:
No. 1, Yongkang Street, Da’an District, Taipei City
No. 150號, Section 1, Fuxing South Road, Da’an District
Tu Hsiao Yueh branches:
No. 9-1, Yongkang Street, Da’an District, Taipei City
No. 12, Alley 8, Lane 216, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Da’an District, Taipei City
Ice Monster Zhongxiao Flagship branch: No.297, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Taipei
May 8, 2018 § Leave a comment
Do you sometimes crave for something as simple as a cheese sandwich?
Last month was a crazy month that kick-off on the week of the Easter break. It was a series of packing and unpacking as we took short trips in and out of the country. Some family and some work obligations. On those trips, we ate well, but of course—more of those in the coming posts.
Too well in fact that I craved for familiar and straightforward. This Panini-pressed jalapeño Fontina cheese sandwich hit the spot.
Ah… pure pleasure indeed.
Don’t get me wrong, I will never tire of traveling but checking in and out of airports and hotels can wear out a travel enthusiast as myself too. As they say, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. I’ve decided to stay put for a while but only for a little while. I actually spent last weekend planning for another short trip in August. A food trip, no less. LOL! Three months is enough rest, don’t you think?
December 4, 2017 § Leave a comment
How is it December already? And darn, why does the year go by so quickly? The season of feasting has arrived. And to prepare for this, I have been challenging myself to eat healthier and to double time on my workouts. This makes me feel less guilty about the unhealthy treats ahead. But you can only eat so much of the healthy stuff because your palate is spoiled with the “not so good for you” stuff.
This low-carb Almond and Parmesan crusted Tilapia is one of those dishes that don’t make me feel deprived especially if paired with this tartar sauce.
Be sure to make this dip to add to the yumminess.
Love how the almond and Parmesan makes for a yummy crust. What makes this even more a winner is the preparation ease. A quick and easy meal that will definitely be a weeknight repertoire mainstay. For those nights when you wish you have food waiting for you after a long day. Go ahead, try it. Get the recipe here.
So how is your Christmas shopping coming along? Parties will officially start today with our company Christmas party, and I’m still catching up on the gifts department. So in case I don’t get to come back this month — Happy Holidays Y’all!
September 23, 2017 § 1 Comment
Credits: Jsprague TW Dialog template; papers by Splendid Finns’ You are Awesome and Sus Design’s Saving Memories Kit.
Named after the Mongolian ruler, Genghis Khan, Jingisukan is essentially Hokkaido-style Yakiniku.
In a dome-shaped cast iron looking a lot like the helmet of the Mongolian soldiers, thinly sliced meat (in this case, lamb or mutton) is grilled on the table and shared family style much like how the Koreans do it. It also reminded me of the Laotian Barbecue (sans the soup) I so enjoyed in Luang Prabang some years back. An unforgettable meal, that was. Come to think of it, Asian cuisines although diverse in flavors have a lot of similarities, especially in how meals are cooked and shared.
On our last night in Asahikawa, we chose a restaurant close to our hotel, highly recommended on Foursquare.
The line was not visible when we arrived because it was so long, the weather so cold; we were asked to wait in a room across the restaurant. It was worth the wait. Right off the grill and dipped in a soy-based sauce, the lamb was superb.
It was tender and flavorful and not gamey at all. We ordered several cuts and all were satisfying. Do find your way to a Jingisukan place when in Hokkaido. Better yet, if you find yourself in Asahikawa, make sure to look for Jingisukan Daikokuya. It could be your best meal in Hokkaido.
Other Must-Eats when in Hokkaido:
The island of winter sports, hanging cliffs, and endless lavender fields is also known to offer the best food adventures in Japan.
In fact, it is one of its biggest attractions, specifically its seafood and agricultural products grown on its extensive farmlands.
The prefecture has a massive dairy industry that produces about half of Japan’s milk and other dairy products like butter, cheese, yogurt and ice cream.
The best melon in Japan is grown here too, making it quite a popular flavor for milk and ice cream.
And of course, don’t forget to grab some of Hokkaido’s famous cheesecake.
Jingisukan Daikokuya 5 Chome 4-jodori,3,4 Naka, Asahikawa +81 188-24-2424
July 14, 2017 § 1 Comment
In a corridor lined with ramen joints, we randomly picked one that could sit all 7 of us.
We chose an empty shop and hoped for the best. What we had was a white translucent soup, rich and nutty, accented with pork slices, bamboo shoots, seaweeds, ginger, garlic, half a soft boiled egg, corn and topped with a small piece of butter.
Strange but hey, it is their specialty, they say. I enjoyed it mainly because I love corn and adore butter. The richness of the broth calls for sharing and I’m glad we did. It was the perfect size to pair with a side order of gyoza.
Miso Butter Corn Ramen at Sapporo Ramen Kumakichi; 3 Chome – 8 Minami 5 Jonishi
Believe me when I say that it is the one thing that would get a group of seven to quickly agree on a meal. I mean, who doesn’t like ramen? Even if you weren’t head-over-heels in love with it, hot broth, noodles, and pork would appeal to anyone on any frosty day. And that was how we ended up in the Ramen Alley in Susukino.
I’ve always been drawn to noodles. It has always been a staple in our house when I was growing up. Though I discovered ramen a while back, I only learned to appreciate it in 2013, on my very first trip to Japan. Even back then ramen alleys are big. It may not offer the best, but it is the easiest way to get your fix. Because Hokkaido is ramen mecca, ramen clusters are everywhere.
Asahikawa Ramen at Ramen Village
So we were on our way back from the Asahikawa Zoo, and we saw a sign pointing the Asahikawa Ramen Village.
And because it is nearly lunchtime, we detoured to find ourselves in the midst of eight of Asahikawa’s popular ramen shops, once again at a lost for which one to enter.
Considered one of the three top ramens in Hokkaido, it is a blend of pork, chicken and a seafood broth flavored with soy sauce. This makes for a rich and complex soup best paired with curly noodles. It also has a top layer of lard to prevent the soup from cooling too quickly in the frigid Hokkaido weather.
This. This was amazingly satisfying. So glad we spotted that sign on the highway. It was the best detour we had even if we had to ask a store owner who can speak English to call us a cab to get back to the town center.
Asahikawa ramen at Tenkin; Nagayama 11-jyo, 4-chome
Actually, there is a third famous Hokkaido type ramen, but it is found down south, in Hakodate, the city of gourmet foods. Another trip to Hokkaido is called for, perhaps sometime in spring so we can explore the southern part of Hokkaido and its ramen, among other things.