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 § 2 Comments
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.
December 23, 2015 § 1 Comment
Not only once did work bring me to Phuket, not exactly a destination on my bucket list. Sorry to say that I don’t particularly find the beach appealing and I’m not one who really care for big resorts. But one thing I love above Thailand is its food. Thai flavors had appeal to me since my university days when I first discovered its cuisine.
In the few times that I have been to this island, I have yet to have a bad meal, a few quite memorable in fact. Here are three that I give my thumbs up.
While in Phuket with my staff a few years ago, I decided to treat them to a tour of the town.
I contacted Chaya of Phuket Heritage Trails and as part of her tour, she brought us to this well-known restaurant perched on the side of Rang Hill with panoramic views of Chalong Bay and even the big Budda.
The Café has three separate terraces, foliage surrounds. I think she brought us not only for the view but for the food as well.
From the extensive menu, Chaya chose for us a superb lunch of Pak Liang with smoke-dried shrimp – a chili paste with dried shrimp, eaten with boiled vegetables,
Pork stir-fry with butternut and minced shrimp, and
Crab meat stir-fried with turmeric and coconut milk.
There are two easily accessed ways to drive to the summit; one by Vachira Hospital on Yaowarat Road, the other around the corner on Mae Luang Road. Tung Ka is right on the top of the hill and has ample car parking space.
Top quality food at reasonable prices, Suay offers a range of creative Thai cuisine in a simple, modest house. Upon the recommendation of Chaya’s, we walked through the gate, through the garden setting to our reserved table.
The place exudes a pleasant ambience that promises a good meal.
We chose to go for a set meal, which includes: Spicy Fried Yellow Fin Tuna tartar Isan Style,
Grilled Sea Scallops with exotic fruit salad,
Green Papaya Salad with Crispy Fried Soft Shelled Crabs,
Fresh Prawn Spring Roll with peanut sauce. These are just the appetizers. Main course had us feasting in Roasted Duck in red curry with lychee and pineapple, Grilled River Prawns with Lemongrass salad,
Shanghai noodles with Squid and pesto sauce, green chili salsa;
Grilled Turmeric Sea Bass in Banana Leaf Wrap. A must be when in Phuket.
50/2 Takuapha Rd, Talad Nuea, Phuket Old Town
Set in a beautiful Sino-Thai mansion that exudes old world charm. Not only does it boast of a well-preserved heritage of its colonial past, but it is also known as THE Thai restaurant in Phuket. Serves authentic local cuisine that do not disappoint.
Dishes such as Crab Meat Curry served with rice vermicelli,
Deep Fried Sea Bass in a Tamarind-Lemongrass Sauce,
Fried Pork with Kefir Leaves.
Locals flock to this restaurant in Dibuk Road, what better way to gauge authenticity then having locals as patrons? Yes?
48 New Dibuk Rd., Phuket Old Town
And with this, I leave you with this thought:
Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us. Hal Borland.
Merry Christmas and an Adventurous New Year to all!!
September 3, 2015 § Leave a comment
If you’re thinking of visiting any part of Vietnam, the first thing you need to know about is that food is an integral part of their culture and livelihood. Anyone who has traveled to Vietnam will tell you that it is one of the major attractions. You can’t go to Vietnam and not have a taste of their cuisine.
More often than not, the street is its stage – street food stalls can be found anywhere from the main roads to the alleyways. Small plastic stools and a table taking up the sidewalk is a common scene.
So what is Vietnamese food? It has a distinct flavor yet it is almost universally accepted palate-wise. The taste comes from fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce, and fresh herbs such as mint, cilantro, and lemongrass – think spicy, sour, bitter, salty and sweet when combined. Influenced much by the Chinese and French, Vietnamese love their noodles and bread. Theirs is a cuisine that is light and refreshing, which is probably why it is easy on the palate. Their taste for fresh ingredients and simple methods has actually placed their cuisine on the map of the foodies.
On my recent visit to Hanoi, I rediscovered favorites and got introduced to new staples. So without further ado, here are a few staples and must-haves when in Vietnam, in my opinion.
Pho – THE staple of Vietnam, available all day and night long.
The national food is a steaming, fragrant broth of rice noodle with chicken or beef topped with bean sprouts, mint, and a few more herbs. Squeeze a wedge of lime into it and the freshness of this simple noodle soup raises the bar for all noodle soups. It’s impossible to walk a block without bumping into a hungry crowd slurping noodles in a makeshift pho stand on a sidewalk.
Banh Mi – The French has stamped its mark on Vietnam through its baguette and has since been given a Vietnamese spin.
This Vietnamese sandwich (more commonly called Banh Mi) is a heavenly concoction of crusty baguette filled with pork, pâté, butter, and an array of local ingredients (cilantro, cucumber, jalapeño and pickled carrots and daikon). Indeed a product of cultural and culinary blend that managed to put Vietnamese cuisine on the map.
Bun Cha – If Pho is Vietnam’s most famous dish Bun Cha (ubiquitous in the North) is what everyone prefers over lunch in Hanoi.
Nem Cua Be – Bun Cha lovers normally order a side dish of this spring roll filled with small amounts of crab meat, minced pork, garlic, herbs, mushrooms, and glass noodles, then deep-fried to juicy/crisp perfection.
Goi Cuon – Fresh spring rolls, light and healthier version of Vietnam’s many spring rolls.
Nem Nuong Xa – Grilled minced meat on lemongrass skewers.
I’ve always loved these and have long been one of the familiar Vietnamese dishes on my side of the world. It’s meat patties wrapped around lemongrass stalks/skewers then grilled. Simple yet so satisfying.
Ngo Chien Bo – It’s sweet corn kernels fried in butter. Introduced to us by the locals we befriended at the beer corner.
Bo Bia Ngot – a dessert so intriguing though it didn’t call out to us at first sight until some kids on a night out convinced us to buy some.
It’s a rolled up crêpe made up of shredded coconut, sesame seeds, and light sugary candy pieces (sometimes just sugar). Made to order at a food stall. Another simple concoction that delivered a sensation of complex textures and flavor.
And because I have caffeine running through my veins, all meals end with coffee,
June 2, 2015 § Leave a comment
Ubud. The heartland of Bali where gently rolling rice paddies and volcanic hillsides offer a cinematic backdrop to a land steeped in culture.
Add to this a vibrant dining scene and you can’t keep me away for long. In this wonderland of art and culture, one can eat extremely well whether it be in fine dining spots, warungs or roadside eateries. Global or local, the choice is likewise abundant. Barely scratching the surface on our last visit to Ubud (last year), here’s sharing with you some delightful new discoveries and old favorites.
Campuhan Bridge, Jalan Campuhan, Ubud. +62(0) 361 970 095
Our Ubud escapade started here. Fine dining without the steep price tag tucked neatly along Ubud’s famed Campuhan Bridge.
The elegant multi-level white veranda overlooks the tumbling river through lush greenery. A few small nooks at the corner of the upper dining hall offer uninterrupted views of the river, so I recommend calling ahead for these corners.
The menu is a mix of modern continental with local dishes thrown in, beautifully executed.
Expect salads, pasta, meat dishes and an array of imaginative desserts.
Jalan Raya Sanggingan, Ubud +62(0) 361 977 547
A simple shack this place may be, but the irresistible aroma of pork ribs grilling by the roadside is what will lure you in.
This grill house located halfway along Jalan Raya Sanggingan (and luckily, a stone’s throw away from our wonderful boutique hotel) has as main highlight its pork ribs—succulent and fall-off-the-bone tender.
So pleased with the ribs, we forewent exploring more restaurants for a last bite here before heading to the airport. This might indeed be the best ribs in Bali.
Jalan Hanoman, Padang Tegal, Ubud _62(0) 361 975 489
Bali is known for its duck. Set in beautiful, relaxed surroundings, Bebek Bengil (also known as the Dirty Duck Diner) serves a wonderfully tender and flavorful dirty duck with skin so crispy. Steamed in Balinese spices then deep-fried to crispy perfection.
Another specialty is the Balinese Smoked Duck. This needs to be ordered one day in advance. The duck is smothered with Balinese spices, wrapped in betel nut leaf then slowly smoked the traditional way, which is the whole day.
Warung Pulau Kelapa
Jalan Raya Sanggingan, Lungsiakan, Ubud +62(0) 361 821 5502
This came highly recommended by our guide instead of Bali Guling (Balinese Suckling Pig). I can’t say though that this is a better choice as I have not tried Ibu Oka’s famous suckling roast pig, but I can say that this was one of the best recommendation one can give.
First of the all, the warung is a beautiful, original Javanese village teak wood house with a beautiful herb and vegetable garden at the back.
Ayam Bumbu Rujak: Stewed roasted chicken cooked in a mixture of coconut milk, Indonesian spices, and mild chilis. An East Javanese dish.
The menu is an extensive array of authentic Indonesian dishes taken from different islands cooked without MSG—Bali, Borneo, Sumatra… No disappointment there.
At the back, behind the restroom area is a café where they serve excellent Indonesian coffee. They were test-running and invited us for a free taste of their coffee. We returned the next day to enjoy another round of coffee and dessert, this time we insisted on paying.
Coffee break at Café Angsa
Jalan Hanoman 43, Ubud
All over Ubud, coffee shops with scenic views of the paddy fields abound. Walk into any along Ubud’s three main roads, JL Monkey Forest Road, JL Hanoman, and JL Raya Ubud and enjoy a break from shopping or walking around town. In between shopping, we came across Café Angsa along JL Hanoman.
A cute little café with views of the rice paddies, cushions on the platform makes for a beautiful relaxing rest.