Seville’s Good Eats

August 30, 2014 § 3 Comments

“Where can we go for paella?” we asked the front desk guy at our hostel. He looked at us, bewildered. “Valencia?” he finally replied. Obviously, Seville isn’t the place to have this famous Spanish rice dish… so much for that, I guess. A self-proclaimed tapas capital of the world though, some of Spain’s most imaginative tapas can be found here.

plaza-dona-elvira

The most popular way to eat in Seville is to ir de tapas, go out for tapas. You can’t be in this city and not do a tapeo, bar crawling. A humble tradition turned international phenomenon.

manchego-and-olives

The simple bread and cheese (used only to cover the glass to prevent flies from entering) has evolved to fancier feasts of foie gras and truffles. What used to go with the drink for free could actually be the star these days.

La Flor de Toranza

la flor de toranza

So instead, front desk guy pointed us to the Arenal district, a few meters away from our hostel, and there we found La Flor de Toranza (also called Casa Trifon after the founder, Don Trifon Gomez Ortiz). They had a traditional menu with specialty tapas of the fancier kind—foie gras, premium sausages, marinated turkey breast, anchovy rolls…

Toranza-montaditos-

Anchoas con leche condensada (Anchovies with condensed milk), a curious combination caught our eyes on the menu, and so did the lomo y mansanas (salt cured pork loin and apple sandwiches). Interesting play of salty and sweet on crusty bread, the anchovy sandwich came out a winner although the ham and apples didn’t disappoint either. A restaurant with a pleasant atmosphere and friendly staff—a Filipino wait staff even got out to chat with us when they found out we were Filipinos. Close to Plaza Nuevo and Avenida de la Constitucion.

Sierra de Sevilla

sierra-de-seville

Then we moved on to a few bars down. Sierra de Sevilla had Jamon Iberico (cured ham of the Huelva sierras) hanging at the rafters and that sealed the deal for us.

jamon-iberico

We found ourselves a table and ordered a raciones (a full plateful and not a small snack size) of this nutty cured ham sliced thin enough to melt in your mouth and a plate of Quezo Manchego from the La Mancha region.

Being a hot region of Spain, Seville is home to gazpacho but instead of the famous chilled tomato soup now popular all around Europe, I was introduced to Salmorejo, gazpacho’s richer and thicker cousin.

salmorejo

Topped with egg and Jamon Serrano, this creamy soup is sometimes used as a dip but is a lovely starter or even a light meal. I instantly fell in love with the fresh flavors of tomatoes, a hint of garlic and the fruity taste of olive oil blended together in this gloriously creamy cold soup.

Eating and socializing is embedded in the Spanish way of life and mealtimes here needs a bit of getting used to. A simple toast and café con leche are good enough to start their day, but they will need a pick-me-up at 10 in the morning, then lunch somewhere between 1-4pm. Most bars or restaurants close between 4-8pm for the essential siesta. And so lunch ended on our 2nd bar hop.

Confiteria Filella

Adriatico-Bldg

Walking out to Avenida de la Constitucion, we came across the gorgeous Adriatico building that housed Confiteria Filella.

confiteria-filella

Practically an institution, this confectionary shop serves exquisite traditional cakes and pastries. We walked in and were overwhelmed with a plethora of sweet goodies. We walked out with these:

filella-our-pick

Unfortunately, on April 5, Filella Isabel Gomez passed on at 74 and with it this historical shop, hopefully temporarily because if it indeed shut its doors forever, what a loss this will be for the Sevillanos and its visitors.

Bodega Santa Cruz

Bodega-Santa-Cruz

If you’re looking for a typical tavern where your orders are tabulated in chalk on the bar, look no further. On the corner leading up to the Giralda and just steps off the Alcazar, is Bodega Santa Cruz. When a bar spills out onto the street, you know that this is where you want to be.

pringas-sta.-cruz

With dishes such as Berrenjenas con miel (deep-fried aubergines with swirls of honey), Pringa, Lomo Chipiona and Alitas de pollo, you will not be disappointed.

mushroom-tapas-sta.-cruz

These were tapas that satisfied not only our palate but the pocket too. A good place to end after a tour of the Alcazar or the Giralda.

Restaurante Café Alianza

Cafe-Alianza

We chanced upon this by accident looking to rest in between a few hours spent meandering the alleyways of Barrio Santa Cruz. We thought to sit in the shadows of orange trees and bougainvillaea and enjoy the sweets from Filella with coffee.

tapas-alianza

Then we ordered some tapas and before we knew it, it was time for dinner. It was a good place to be lazy and watch the crowds. Café Alianza is in a charming hidden square of the same name.

rabo-de-toro

They boast of having the best Rabo de Toro in town. Falling off the bone soft, flavored wonderfully with tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and wine, this oxtail dish could indeed be what the owner claims it to be.

Gago 6 Tapas Bar

gago-6-menu

Now, who says you can’t find good paella in Seville? Along Calle Mateos Gago, we saw this menu board and decided, what the heck… we’ve been craving.

paella

Maybe Seville isn’t the best place for paella and this may not be the best paella but it sure did satisfy that craving—it was nice, moist and crusty. With this plate of grilled meats (beef, lamb and chicken), our meal definitely did not disappoint.

One of the many joys of traveling in Spain is the food. Seville being the heart of Andalusia has an abundance of bars and restaurants to choose from. There is no lack of recommendation, the list is plentiful but the fun is in the discovery.   Walk around and go with the flow, you’ll never know what you might find.

La Flor de Toranza
Calle Jimios, 1-3
+34 954 22 93 15
 
Sierra de Sevilla
Joaquin Guichot. 5
+34 954 56 12 10
 
Confiteria Filella
Av. de la Constitucion, 2
+34 954 22 46 40
 
Bodega Santa Cruz
Calle de Rodrigo Caro, 1A
+34 954 21 32 46
 
Restaurante Cafe Alianza
Calle de Rodrigo Caro, 9
+34 954 21 76 35
 
Gago 6 Tapas Bar
Calle Mateos Gago, 6
+34 658 75 22 19

Savoring Ronda

May 25, 2014 § 4 Comments

Andalusia is undeniably one of Spain’s most diverse, stunning, and enthralling region.  I knew that.  Yet it didn’t prepare me for Ronda.

rock-outcrop

This city in Malaga sits on a plateau of a massive rock outcrop, creating a dramatic terrain and a seriously picturesque vista.

picturesque-vista

However, its charm extends to more than just the landscape;

charming-mountain-town

the cuisine, linked to a deep history, was a revelation, a real delight with more than a handful of fine restaurants and tapas bar to indulge in.

One of the most enjoyable ways to understand Andalusian food is to follow the crowds into a typical bar and try their tapas,

taperia

savored with a glass of vino tinto. Did you know that the region produces the best wines in Spain?

vino-tinto

And the ham!  The Iberico ham from Jabugo in Huelga is known to be (and I can attest to that) Spain’s best ham.

Tapas at Doña Pepa

Ten days in Morocco have induced (in us) an immense appetite for pork and where else do we go? Into a restaurant that has this on display.

Jamon

Restaurante de Doña Pepa, right around the Plaza del Socorro, called out to us.

El-Bodegon-de-Dona-Pepa

We entered and never left—our server, Javier, never gave us a chance. With his help, we ordered and devoured plate after plate of lovely Andalusian dishes (mostly pork oriented).

Jamon-Iberico

Our first Andalusian meal may not have been a bar hopping experience,

Dona-Pepa-tapasClockwise: Montadito, Crullentito de chorizo, Croquettas, Cochifrito, Flamenquin, Gambas ala Rodena

but every plate that came out spelled happiness, cravings satisfied and more. Then after all that, Javier delighted us with a sampling of a plateful of desserts,

plateful-of-dessert

ending a long day of traveling with happy spirits despite the gloomy weather.

The Breakfast at Hotel Colon

Waking up to breakfast of sublimely simple tostada con tomate y aceite (toast with crushed tomato and olive oil) is almost haunting.  With just a pinch of salt, the sweetness of both tomatoes and olive oil marries into something magical. This seemingly simple, bland breakfast transforms into a delectably complex feast in the mouth.  Haunting, I tell ya… haunting!

hotel-colonView from the balcony of the room.

The family run, centrally located Hotel Colon seemed to be a go-to of the locals.

hotel-colon-coffee-shop

Halfway through breakfast, the coffee shop filled up quickly with people tucked in their favorite corner, browsing through the daily, leisurely enjoying their coffee and breakfast.

coffee-and-pastry

Good coffee and wondrous pastries draw crowds into this unpretentious eatery the whole day.

Rabo de Toro and Bullfighting

Ronda is where modern bullfighting began but because it is tucked away in the mountains, bullfighting season in this city is intermittent.

bullring

But that does not stop its people from celebrating the sport. It is known as the home to bullfight after all. Many establishments in this town serve superb Rabo de Toro (tail of the bull)—an Andalusian medieval dish using tails of corrida-slaughtered bulls.

rabo-de-toroRabo de Toro

Restaurante Pedro Romero, opposite the bullring, is where you want to have your first taste of the celebrated oxtail stew.

partridge-patePartridge Pate

secreto-ibericoIberian pork in basil oil and capers

Turning out classic rondeño dishes, this restaurant, named after the legendary bullfighter from the Romero family, was a fine prelude to a profusion of Andalusian meals to come.

Morocco On My Mind

April 26, 2014 § 2 Comments

morocco-on-my-mindCredits:  Jessica Sprague’s DIDer Lesson 5 supplies:  CarinaGardner, Crystal Wilkerson, ITM, Jessica Sprague, LivE

About a year ago in Fes, we were seating on hand carved settees overloaded with opulently bedecked cushions, in front of us was a heavy table set with ornate silverware and copperware.

lavish-interior

The lavishness of Moroccan taste is more palpable in the walls that are decorated with mosaic tiles and the rich color wool carpet covering the floors.

salads

Laid out was a melange of hot and cold salad to start our meal, followed by a lamb tagine, a chicken, lemon and olive dish,

chicken-lemon-and-olives

and some roasted mutton (mechoui).  This sumptuous meal was capped with honey drizzled fresh fruits and a cup of very sweet but refreshing mint tea.

fruit-dessert

Quite telling that Moroccans take their food seriously, yes?

olives-and-lemons

A stroll through the market stalls reveals glistening stacks of olives of all colors, mounds of preserved lemons,

spices

vibrant pyramids of spices, sacks of grains, colorful variety of fruits and vegetables. Morocco is as much about food as it is historic and scenic.

An extremely sophisticated cuisine, thanks to a diverse medley of Arab, Berber, Moorish, French, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, African, Iberian and Jewish influences. The interactions and exchanges with these cultures have been filtered and blended over time into flavors that have become distinctly Moroccan.

camel-meat

Common meals include beef, mutton, lamb, chicken, camel, rabbit and seafood. Its cooking made distinct by the subtle blend of spices not to mask but rather to enhance the flavor and aroma of its dishes.

Similar to my part of the world (Philippines), eating in Morocco is a social ritual, food is served in the middle of the table to be shared. Moroccans take great pride in their meal from purchasing the freshest ingredients to preparing these in lengths and showing these off in elaborate dishes. This sense of pride and fundamental way of life have led to eateries big and small that can really impress. From the slow cooked tagines to the kebabs and sandwiches favored in hole in the walls — a trip to Morocco will surely stir up the palate, a flavor adventure hard to forget.

In no particular order, here’s a list of staples and must tries.

Tagine

lamb-tagine

A stew braised and slow cooked in an earthenware dish with a cone shape top also called a tagine. Normally served in the tagine it was cooked in, and is more often a shared dish served in the center of the table.

dates

Adding dried fruits to meat tagines is very Moroccan – they love the combination of sweet and savory.

Although fish tagines are popular in coastal towns, Moroccans love their meats and lambs are favored in tagines.

Moroccan Mint Tea

mint-tea

Ubiquitous in Morocco is a drink they call Whiskey Morocco – a play in the fact that the consumption of alcohol is considered “Haraam” and is prohibited per Muslim dietary restrictions. Moroccans drink this sweet green tea and mint every day. And making it has become an art, the technique is as important as the quality of the tea itself. Often served in an engraved metal tray with small, ornate glasses boasting intricate designs, the tea is poured evenly into these glasses from a height using a typical Moroccan teapot with long, curved pouring spout.  So soothing, I look forward to it every meal time.  It actually is the perfect cap to a meal.

Preserves

olives

Morocco is known for its olives and preserves. Not only are olives a tasty way to start a meal, these are staple ingredients to flavor tagine dishes.

preserves

In an olive vendor, one will find olives of different shades from red to green to black. The red and green varieties go well in many tagine dishes while the black variety are stuffed with cheese and eaten as a snack or added in salads.

Preserved lemons are another key ingredient in tagines and salads. Preserved in a salt-lemon juice mixture, this brings a unique feature to many Moroccan chicken and pigeon dishes.

Breads or Khubz

bread

Moroccans eat with their fingers, using a small piece of bread, their thumb and first two fingers pick up food. They also use it to soak up the flavorful sauce of the tagines. And a meal is never complete without bread.

Most Moroccan households do not have an oven, but almost every neighborhood has a community oven where people take their bread dough to bake.

children-with-breads

Often you’ll see children pass by these communal ovens picking up a stack of freshly baked breads to bring home.

Harira

harira

The most important soup in Morocco as it serves as the break of the fast during Ramadan. Drank at dusk, this tomato-based soup with chickpeas, meat, lentils and small noodles is perfect to warm the tummy before a fast.

Pastilla

pastilla

A delicacy sometimes called bisteeya. Consistent with their fondness for combining sweet and savory, this pastry is made up of shredded chicken or, the more expensive and tastier, pigeon mixed with eggs and crushed almonds wrapped in phyllo pastry. It is then fried and topped with cinnamon and confectionary sugar. A dish you don’t want to miss.

Meats

meat

I will say it again – Moroccans love their meat. Lamb is favored and enjoyed in many ways – with couscous in tagines, skewered grilled over charcoal, braised, or slow roasted until tender.

lamb-chops

The more affordable beef and chicken are also popular meats that are served in a variety of ways.

kebab

The most common style of barbecuing in this part of the world is Kabab-style. It is found in most kinds of restaurants, be it the usual sit-down kind or the hole-in-the-wall grill shops.

hole-in-the-wall

The latter although unimpressive in appearance are guaranteed to satisfy the palate at very minimal cost.

chicken-rotisserie

Grilled rotisserie chicken, a favorite, and the best one I had was in a roadside eatery.

Barbecueing, Grilling, and Sandwiches

bocadios

Snack restaurants or sandwich shops can be found all over Mocorro, ranging again from hole-in-the-walls to larger, sit-down establishments.

sandwich-shop

One can find all kinds of food, from the usual sandwiches, fries and even pizzas to the more Middle Eastern fare of shawarma and brochettes –

shawarma

the Moroccan version of a sandwich that comes in either a baguette or a khubz, the filling usually involves choosing from a selection of meats, vegetables and sauce on display.

fish-stall

In coastal and port towns such as Essaouira, fresh catches of all sorts — St. Pierre (John Dory), sea bream, sardines, etc. are displayed in abundance in the fish market.

grilled-fish

There you get to pick your fish, find your table, order your beer and enjoy the outdoor while you wait for your fish to grill.

essaouira

A welcome respite after all the meat dishes eaten in lavish indoor restaurants in low light settings.

Sweets

sweets

One of the legacies left by the French is in the form of Moroccan pastries. Various types exist, but many are the rich, dense confection of cinnamon, almonds and the ubiquitous orange water rolled in phyllo dough and soaked in honey.

pastries

Fresh fruits, not pastries, are typically what caps Moroccan meal. Cookies and pastries often go with afternoon tea or coffee.

pastry-stall

While many households keep a supply of homemade sweets, these are easily purchased in pastry shops and carts on the street.

Fresh Orange Juice

orange-juice-stalls

Take advantage and enjoy a glass of freshly squeezed sweet orange juice everyday from one of the stalls ever present in most of Morocco. You will not regret it.

grapefruit

Even the grapefruits are sweetly tart – you know what I mean.   😉

Delightful Davao

February 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

Davao-DelightsCredits: Paper from the “Chronicling Life” kit of Haynay Designs

Davao.  Home to some of the country’s pride— the world’s largest bird, the monkey-eating Philippine Eagle and a rare orchid of exceptional beauty, the waling-waling— both found in Mt. Apo, Philippine’s highest peak.  But there is more to Davao than these.  Let’s not forget the “king of fruits”, durian.  The area is known to be the center of durian production, thanks to its rich fertile volcanic soil and until recently, typhoon-free area.  But more than durian, Davao is favored with other fresh, quality produce and fruits that are available all year round— pomelo, banana, mangosteen, lanzones, rambutan, mongo, peanuts, cabbage eggplant… among others.

The city is a fascinating mix of small town allure and modern metropolis refinement.  A metropolis inhabited by 1.4M people of different ethnic groups, culture and faiths.  The city teems with good food and on my not so very recent trip there, I discovered a few worth mentioning.

Swiss Deli

Along JP Laurel Ave., in Lanang is a deli and restaurant offering fine sausages, cured meats like bacon and hams, a selection of cheese, US and Australian steak cuts and even ostrich meats.  Owned by a butcher and a baker, Swiss Deli has been around since 2005 catering at first to expats and Davao’s upper crust.  Today, they supply some of the bigger supermarkets nationwide.  On my visit, the restaurant was packed for lunch.

Swiss-DeliMy superb lunch of Chicken Cordon Blue and a shared sausage platter.

Claude’s Le Café de Ville

Claude's-facade

We drove into a driveway of a well-lit ancestral house.  The garden well polished, the interior emulates the facade with old photos gracing the walls and well-appointed antique pieces scattered around.

Claude-interior

My favorite part of the house would be the porch— what a wonderful way to be greeted.

claude's-porch

This house epitomizes old world elegance through and through.  An ancestral home of the Oboza family (also called the Oboza Heritage House) now dwells the only full-service French restaurant in Davao, Claude’s Le Café de Ville.

Complementing its charming home are wonderful dishes served from its kitchen headed by husband and wife team Claude and Tess Le Niendre.  I had the Crab Cocktail to start and the specialty of the house, the Fillet of Beef Tenderloin with Pepper Sauce.

crab-cocktail

The crab appetizer was excellent, and my main, albeit a bit overcooked for my taste (it was more medium well than my preferred medium), was tasty and still juicy.

A pretty authentic French restaurant in Davao was definitely a pleasant surprise.

Malagos Farmhouse Artisan Cheeses

malagos-board

Davao surprises me, I tell ya.  After an evening of wonderful French feasting, we were on our way, the next day, to buy artisan cheese.  This wasn’t the first time I had tried cheeses from Malagos and so impressed I was, I had to find them and see what else they had to offer.

menu-board

Olive Puentespina, the woman behind Malagos Artisan Cheeses, has been producing cheeses since 2006.  All made from hybrid cows and goats from their dairy farm.

cheese-stock

A cheese spread was laid out for us to try over at the farmhouse—from quesong puti, to flavored chevres, to manchego blue—an unbelievable spread, all proudly made in Davao.

cheese-platter

Personal favorites are:  Queso Rustico (semi-soft cow’s milk similar to a manchego), Blush (Queso Rustico with a tint of blue), La Maria (similar to a camembert), Feta tricolor (feta with chili and rosemary, infused fresh), and the Chevre with mango (a blend of creamy French style goat cheese with sweet mango bits).

cheese-stashMy Take-Home Stash

Spirale Ristorante

pizza

For wonderful pasta and pizza, Spirale Ristorante will not disappoint.  Thumbs up for the Vongole ai Chorizo (a wonderful combination, don’t you think?) and the pizza, which is cooked in a wood-fire oven.  Crust was doughy yet crispy.

Chicco di Caffe

durian-brazo-de-mercedes

For their Durian Brazo di Mercedes.  Yum!!!  Anything durian is possible in Davao.  I had my first taste of durian in an ice cream in Davao some 20 years ago and I’ve never looked back.  I. Adore. Durian.

Swiss Deli
JP Laurel Ave., Lanang, Davo City
+6382 234 0271
 
Claude’s Cafe de Ville
29 Rizal St., Paseo de Habana, Davao City
+6382 305 2635 / +6382 222 4287
 
Malagos Farmhouse
Bolcan St., Agdao, Davao City
+6382 226 4446
 
Spirale Ristorante
Damaso Complex
Angliongto Road, Lanang, Davao City
+6382 234 6298
 
Chicco di Caffe
Gen. Douglas MacArthur Hwy, Davao City
+6382 305 3534
 
Faura St., Davao City

Hong Kong Nightlife: Knutsford Terraces

October 28, 2013 § 2 Comments

High-rise buildings, temples, shopping malls, and traditional markets sit side by side in hilly terrain.  Once home to fishermen and farmers, the Hong Kong of today is teeming with a dynamic metropolis fused with Chinese and Western influences.

Island-Seafood-and-Oyster-Bar

A lively range of restaurants, eateries, pubs and bars are mostly found in east Tsim Sha Tsui, Wanchai, and Lan Kwai Fong, the latter touted as the icon of the city’s vibrant nightlife that consist of tourists, expat and an overseas Chinese community.  For an engaging mix of locals and outsiders, and mid-priced eats, however, the bustling Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood may be a better bet.

Wandering about in Nathan Road, we turned into Kimberly Road.  The flight of steps, next to the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop, revealed a pedestrian strip of al fresco restaurants and bars, and multi-story building housing more selections of eats.

knutsford-terraces

An exciting mix of restaurants, bars and clubs that span the globe, Knutsford Terraces is, in some measure, the “Lan Kwai Fong” of Kowloon.  Smaller and less frenetic, fascinated by the varied selections, we thought it was worth probing into.  And so we found ourselves back the following night.

Eyeballing each menu on the strip, and always on the look out for fresh oysters, we walked into Island Seafood and Oyster Bar.

Island-fresh-oysters

With most establishments reasonably priced, this joint was way off our budget.  Not to read this wrong, for Hong Kong standards, the oysters we had were probably worth the price, but coming from a country teeming with fresh seafood, it was good to try but not safe to linger… not safe for the pocket, at least.

And so we moved on.  Tutto Bene’s pastas, one of the oldest restaurants on the strip, won over Widlfire’s thin crusted, wood-fire oven baked pizza.  Seated at the outdoor patio, we were served bread with a lovely spread set of roasted garlic, pesto, and a tomato-based cream cheese.  Both our dishes were excellent with us switching plates mid-way.

Tutto-Bene-Risotto

The Riso con Capisanto alla Griglia is perfectly cooked Arborio rice with shiitake, portobello and porcini mushrooms and topped with grilled scallops and shiitake fritters – a mouthful of wonderful flavors of earthy mushrooms and sweet scallops.

tutto-bene-ravioli

The eggplant and mozzarella filled ravioli, on the other hand, worked remarkably well with the pesto, roasted walnut and arugula – a play on sweet, slightly bitter and slightly peppery flavors.

tutto-bene-limoncello

We capped the evening meal with fantastic limoncello, so good we asked to see the bottle.

The following evening, we stayed indoors (partly because it was drizzling on and off) and found The Tasting Room Cocktail Kitchen at the Miramar Shopping mall.

tasting-room-2

Dark interior, small tables, a large TV screen… not exactly very inviting but what caught Anton’s fancy was the beer combo – a set of four beers arranged in drinking order (as explained by the wait staff).

beer-tasting

The choices, Hoegaarden, Budvar, Asahi, were different enough to call for this pick.  What hit my spot, truth to tell, was the Dinner Tasting Sets.

tasting-room-3Clockwise:  French Mussels, Winter Black Truffle and Pig Knuckles stuffed in tomato and glazed in beef jus, Foie Gras on toast, 36 months Iberico Ham and figs

We chose the Eight Course Winter Tasting Set (to share), which comes with a max of 6 oysters at half the price.

tasting-roomLeft to Right:  Dessert, Chanterelle and Tenderloin, Thin Asparagus pizza

Suffice to say that we were happy campers that evening.  If it weren’t raining, the best place to sit is out back, overlooking the terrace strip.

If staying within the neighborhood, Knutsford Terrace is a good choice to be.  With the many restaurants still unexplored, a return on my next trip to Hong Kong is not far-fetched.

Island Seafood & Oyster Bar
10 Knutsford Terrace,
Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon
For Reservation: +852-2321-6663
 
Tutto Bene
7 Knutsford Terrace,
Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon
For Reservations:  +852-2316-2118
 
The Tasting Room
Shop 2015 Mirarmar Shopping Center
132 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
Knutsford Terrace N01-10
For Reservations: +852-2473-0168

Macau Eats

August 28, 2013 § 2 Comments

Macau-eatsCredits:  Paper by Haynay Designs from the Scrapmatters’ Life Little Surprises kit

On board the TurboJet catamaran en route to Macau, I mentally planned our next few days in a city best known today as a high-rolling-casino-lover’s haven.  Not by any means my cup of tea, but there is more to this glitzy casino city than just the sin and the bling.  Although heavily dependent on gambling, Macau’s real attraction (in my opinion) has always been the food.  As an ex-Portuguese colony, Macau has married Asian and Mediterranean in its culture, architecture and even in its cuisine.

grand-lisboaThe Grand Lisboa

The flavors of Portugal intermingled with the Chinese and strongly influenced by the Southeast Asians, Africans, and South Americans has brought out a real fusion between East and West and has evolved to what is known today as Macanese cuisine.  The result is earthy and rich in texture, flavor, and aroma.

Macanese food aside, the presence of raved about, quality establishments worthy of a Michelin star or two scatter around this peninsula making Macau a dining spectacle it is today.

First off our agenda: Dim sum

roasted-mushroom-goose-liver-pateRoasted Mushroom topped with goose liver pate

On the 2nd floor of the east wing of Hotel Lisboa is Portas do Sol.  Contrary to its name, it is a “typical” Chinese restaurant, well-lit with a lively atmosphere, serving dim sum dishes as well as Chinese haute cuisine with season specialties.  The extensive dim sum list reveals familiar and unfamiliar but exciting dishes.  Mostly from the Chef’s recommendation, the dishes we chose were as ambrosial as its presentation.

portas-do-solClockwise:  Steamed rice flour with preserved vegetables and barbecued pork, Steamed river shrimp dumplings flavored with basil, Deep fried wonton in sweet and sour sauce, Deep fried spare ribs with garlic and honey sauce, Deep fried diced garoupa in mustard sauce

Margaret

Margaret's-Cafe-e-Nata

Then we walked down the street to a small alley.  Tucked away in that alley is a small café selling the much talked about egg tarts.  Creamy custard centers, slightly burnt caramel, buttery flaky crust – no wonder Margaret’s Cafe e Nata has queues any day of the week… well except Wednesdays, which was when we first found this hole-in-the-wall, darn!  I found myself walking the same route from Hotel Lisboa the next day.  I walked down Avenida Infante D. Henrique, passed the Grand Lisboa, crossed Avenida de Joao IV and veered right on that street until I saw a small (Margaret’s Café) sign pointing into an alley.  I followed that sign and joined the others in the queue and in less than 30 minutes, I was skipping my way back to the hotel with four pieces of exquisite Portuguese egg tarts to be devoured at the comfort of our room with some leftovers, which held up well for breakfast the next day.

pastel-e-nata

A Crossover from Hong Kong

This upscale restaurant has branches in Hong Kong, Macau and Shanghai. Chef and owner Tao Hwa Yan, once an apprentice to a legendary Cantonese Chef, Master Lee Choi, opened Tim’s Kitchen in a quiet street in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong in 2000.  Bringing with him the techniques he learned with the master, the restaurant started as an on-site private dining serving traditional Cantonese cuisine.  In 2007, Stanley Ho invited him to open a branch in Hotel Lisboa in Macau.  With both HK and Macau branches currently given a Michelin star, Tim’s is not cheap but worth a visit.

roasted-pigeon

The waiters know their menu, and although we failed to order their (pre-ordered) signature dishes, the recommended succulent baked pigeon with preserved veggies wrapped in lotus leaves had us licking our fingers.

Tim's-kitchen

Other just as good dishes recommended to us were: Sautéed scallops with fungus and chives with XO sauce, Fried rice with minced beef, onions and shallots, and Pan fried pork pie with salted fish.

Antonio

Trade in the gilded casino floor at the Venetian for a quaint cobblestone lane lined with Portuguese styled pastel townhouses in Old Taipa Village.  In one of these houses, at the corner of Rua dos Clerigos is Antonio.

Antonio-facade

Not easy to find, we wandered around way before lunch hoping to get a table.  And in a small Alley, we chanced on some Filipino restaurant staff who happened to be taking their breaks from THE Antonio’s kitchen.  With their help, we managed to get ourselves a table.  Antonio Coelho has been preparing authentic Portuguese food in Macau since he relocated in 1997.

baked-duck-rice

Arroz de Pato – shredded duck, rice, and preserved sausage baked into a flavorful, aromatic dish.  A signature dish not to be missed.

AntonioFrom Left:  Clams in white wine and olive oil, Pork Tenderloin steak, Portuguese style served with fried egg, a pitcher of Sangria.

Following the hearty meal, we wandered around the old village.

pork-bun-line

In a corner, near the Pak Tai Temple, we see a line forming but much as we would love to try Tai Lei Loi Kei’s famous Pork Chop bun, dessert appeals more than the bun.  This will have to wait.  So we walked back to Antonio to where he opened a café across.

casa-do-antonio

We found our corner and ordered 2 amazing desserts to die for.

Antonio-desserts

The Serradura is as velvety as this one and the orange roll is a perfect combination of moist cake, orange liqueur and caramel.  Did I say to die for?

 
Portas do Sol
2/F East wing of Hotel Lisboa,
Avenida de Lisboa, Macau
For reservations call: (853) 8803-3100
 
Margaret’s Café e Nata
Edificio Kam Loi
Rua Almirante Costa Cabral, Macau
 
Tim’s Kitchen
Lobby Level East wing of Hotel Lisboa
Avenida de Lisboa, Macau
For reservations call: (853) 8803-3682
 
Antonio
Rua dos Clerigos No. 7
Old Taipa Village, Macau
For reservations call: (853) 2899-9998

Taste of Hida

July 26, 2013 § 3 Comments

It’s been over six months since our Takayama trip.  So much has happened since then.

autumn-leaves

But when I close my eyes, I still see the foliage, still feel the autumn breeze on my face, still taste the beef that melts in the mouth, the savoury sweetness of miso that we’ve come to know so well.  Oh to reminisce.

One of the many highlights of our trip to Hida is the eating.  Located high in the Hida Mountains in the Gifu Prefecture, Takayama was kept fairly isolated during the old days allowing it to develop its own culture. Land-locked, they depend a lot on mountains and rivers for ingredients, taking inspiration but veering away from the cuisines of Tokyo or Kyoto.

quaint-toen-takayama

If you’re looking for quaint towns, a wealth of excellent street foods and sake, a unique way of enjoying miso dishes, and different melt in you mouth beef dishes, then you must go to Takayama.

Along with their carpentry, lacquerware, and pottery works, Takayama is likewise known for its local cuisine. I truly enjoyed the food in Hida.

soft-serve

There were small shops, and stalls of food, from their famous dango balls to soft serve green tea ice creams everywhere we went.

anmitsu

And the mochi.  Oh the mochi.

One of the popular street foods, in this part of Japan, is Mitarashi Dango, little mochi (sweet dumplings made of rice flour) balls on bamboo skewers, dipped in a mixture of dashi, mirin, and soy sauce then grilled.

mitarashi-dango

The chewy dumplings glazed with the sweet soy mix lets out a slightly burnt fragrance that is addicting, tempting me at every corner.

The unique combination of Hida’s landscape and climate produces excellent buckwheat and local soba noodle shops are all over Hida using the buckwheat flour to make their noodles.  Locals love their soba paired with sake.

hida-soba-with-mountain-vegetablesZaru Soba with edible wild plants

These handmade noodles are served hot in miso broth, a favorite during winter or cold (zaru soba) dipped in a light soy broth during summer time – hot or cold, the earthy flavor and the firmness of the noodles always shines through.

And the beef.  Holding its own against Kobe and Matsuzaka is the pride of Takayama.

Butcher

We tried it in various ways, and I can’t emphasize enough how satisfying those meals were.

hisa-beef-with-hoba-miso

One distinctly local and considered Hida’s specialty is Hida beef cooked with another of Hida’s specialty, Hoba Miso.  A plate of sliced raw beef is cooked at the table.  On a ceramic brazier a hoba (magnolia) leaf topped with Hida’s special miso, the beef cooked over it.  The miso added another layer of subtle fermented bean flavor.  But what doesn’t go well with miso anyway?

This special miso is one thing I bought to take home with me.

hoba-miso

Savory miso paste mixed with leeks, shiitake mushrooms, and pickles placed on dried hoba leaf then heated over a charcoal fire – simply divine over plain rice.

Where to eat in Kyoto: Jo Jo Izakaya

April 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

IzakayaCredits: Papers by Sarah Bennett; Hearts element by Happy Scrap Girl and Designs by Tater; Journaling Snippet by Crystal Wilkerson

“Irashaimase!” they called out in unison as soon as they spotted us at the door.  We were led to a low table, chairs sans the legs with tatami mats underneath.  We took off our shoes as we are supposed to.  We chose to order from the menu in Japanese over the English version.  Kiang, our Korean server, helped us decide on the meal.  She spoke a little English, and we ordered almost all of what she proposed, even the sake.

We are in an “izakaya” after all – a type of Japanese drinking establishment that serve food and as Wikipedia puts it:  the name izakaya is a compound word consisting of “I” (to stay) and “sakaya” (sake shop), indicating that izakaya began from sake shops that allow customers to sit and drink on the premise.  So how can you not have sake, right?

chilled-sake

The sake, fruity and refreshing, paired well with the meal, which I must say is quite excellent – the Agedashi Tofu winning hands down.

agedashi-tofu

Jo Jo is within walking distance to the JR Kyoto Station, so if you find yourself in the area, do drop by and see if Kiang is still around to help you.  We owe this wonderful meal to her.

Though more complex cuisine exists, none comes close to matching Japan’s culinary aesthetics.  ~ Howard Hillman

Jõ Jõ
Shimogyo-ku, Nishinotoin
Shichijo-sagaru
+85 75 371-2010

Where to Eat in Kyoto: Suien

February 5, 2013 § 9 Comments

What do you do when you’re on holiday, exploring the neighborhood and it starts to rain?  We had lunch.  Sometimes when the hassles of life make you stop and change course just go with the flow.  You never know what lies ahead.

drizzle

Preserved historic street of Higashiyama.

It was a choice between getting drenched and an early lunch.  Albeit not on our list of many restaurants to try in Kyoto, it was an easy choice.  We decided that looking for a restaurant on our list was not worth getting wet for.  Suien will have to do.  Great decision ever.

The Zen-like interior has splashes of neutral subtle shades, pale wooden furniture and shoji screens.  The only other customers were 2 well-dressed women seated in a quiet corner, deep in conversation.  But as soon as we entered, I had a good feeling about the place.  We will be fed well, I thought.  We chose a table opposite the ladies, the server in a kimono, gave us the only English menu they have.  It was short and sweet, a set menu.  Worth ¥2,500 ($26), it comes with 2 appetizers, noodle soup, a choice of 4 main course and Japanese sweets for dessert.  We’re having a kaiseki-style lunch.

kiyomizudera

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

As Japan’s former capital and seat of the imperial court for over a thousand years, Kyoto is renowned for its rich culinary tradition.  Diverse, its local cuisine ranges from aristocratic kaiseki ryori course to the smallest izakaya (pub).  Kaiseki is Japanese haute cuisine served in carefully designed courses meant to please the emperors.  Kyoto-style kaiseki puts importance on seasonal ingredients and is largely vegetarian, though fish is often served while meat never appears in a kaiseki menu.

Apple-walnut-beancurd

scallops

Walnut Bean Curd and Roast (adducter muscles) Scallop.  A great start to a wonderful meal.  The bean curd silky and smooth, sweet and salty (from the soy).

fried-sea-bream-noodle-soup

Fried Sea Bream in Hot Noodle Soup.  The light broth with a hint of lemon makes this rice noodle soup light and refreshing.  The fish, similar to a sea bass, adds to the flavor.  A delightful change to the usual miso soup.

donburi-with-seam-bream-preserved-in-miso

For the main course, I chose Donburi with Sea Bream marinated in Miso.  It tastes as good as it looks.  Also called Japan’s king of fish, the sea bream is very flavorful, meat firm similar to sea bass.  The miso delicately seasoning the fresh flavor of the fish.

brown-sugar-rice-cake,

And finally… the dessert.  Brown Sugar Rice Cake.  What a way to end the meal.  This melt in the mouth mochi is smooth and creamy, not at all starchy.  Unlike any I’ve tasted.

The price of a kaiseki meal can be steep but many establishments offer set menus at lunchtime at a considerably lower price.  Whether lunch or dinner, it is an experience not to be missed.

Suien
Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
446 Le Kamibenten Town
Under Torii Yasaka Shimogawaradori
About 15 minutes walk from Hanky Kawaramochi Station / 7 minutes walk from Gion Shijo Station
Contact: 075 551-0035

Batanes Eats

December 16, 2012 § 3 Comments

Batanes – a more off the beaten destination that offers a unique combination of natural beauty and cultural heritage.

Batanes-EatsCredits:  Papers and elements taken from ScrapMatters Life’s Little Surprises kit.  Papers by Denise Beatty Originals and Designs by  Sarah Bennett; Elements by Scrapmuss Designs and Gwenipooh Designs.

Not as easy to get to as many other destinations in the Philippines but the journey is worth it.

batanes

The place is undeniably charming with breathtaking landscapes and seascapes, old stone houses and despite the remoteness, an abundance of good food, my kind of food.

My first meals in Batanes go a long way back, at Mama Lily’s in 1997.  There were no restaurants to speak off then so she serves meals at her guesthouse.  Simple dishes cooked the Ivatan way left an impression to this day.  I remember flying fish cooked every way – fried, dried, sinigang, with soy… simple yet memorable.  I also remember fish roe sautéed in tomatoes, onions and garlic.  It was the first time I had bihod and every bihod dish thereafter reminds me of Mama Lily.

Fast-forward to 2012, Mama Lily has long migrated to the US, her children no longer accepts visitors and a few eating places have emerged.  I have likewise found a new Mama Lily in another mother, Nanay Laura.  Laura Larez lives in the farthest inhabited island of Batanes called Itbayat.

plane-in-Itbayat

It’s a 4-hour grueling boat ride from the main island or an easier 12-minute ride on an 8-seater plane.  Both only operate if weather permits.

Larez-Carinderia

A grandmother to 13 kids, a craftswoman and a hell of a good cook, Nanay Laura runs a carinderia (canteen) beside her house in front of the town plaza.

turmeric-rice

She makes the best Turmeric Rice in Batanes, in my opinion at least.  This yellow rice is a specialty of Batanes and is popularly served all over the islands.

The rice is cooked with garlic, onion and ground turmeric delivering a subtle ginger flavor that is meant to complement rather than clash with any viand.  What makes Nanay Laura’s special is the addition of pork, not too much, just to flavor.

She serves her dishes on leaves of the fruit bread tree, which shades and decorates the outside of her canteen.

breadfruit-leaves-2

It is widely used in Batanes in place of the usual banana leaf used in other parts of the Philippines.

Breadfruit-leaves

The way Nanay Laura uses these leaves however conveys her eye for detail and beauty.  A simple root crop made more appetizing by her talent in styling.  With a canteen so well maintained in Itbayat, Larez Carinderia is a force to reckon with.

While Nanay Laura reigns in her small little corner (for now at least), the competition in the main island is stiffer.  Once Mama Lily’s territory, Batan has since seen a sprouting of places worth trying, some even going out-of-the-way for.

While going around Southern Batan last May, I was pleased to find a nice restaurant in Vatang.

vatang-grill-and-restaurant

I remember 6 years ago, we hung around a small canteen waiting for our ride (for more than half a day) to nearby island Sabtang, had lunch there as well.  Gone were the days of watered down sweet spaghetti (sans the tomato sauce) meals because Vatang Grill and Restaurant serves delightful Ivatan dishes.

food-in-Vatang-Grill

Not far from the port of Ivana but a bit out-of-the-way if not touring so it is a good stop when in the area.

Much of the island’s terrains are rolling hills – excelletnt for raising livestock and Batanes has become a major producer of cattle.

cattles-grazing

So a burger joint is not so far-fetched, is it?  No it isn’t.  Not so far from where we stayed, in fact just right beside Shanedel’s Inn is where you can find good organic Basco burgers – a pretty good burger that will hold up on its own in any big city.

Organic-Basco-Burger

Juicy and slightly seasoned, this burger with (sweet potato) fries and a soda goes for P100.00 (roughly US$2) at Zantan’s Canteen – not really a burger joint but their burgers are bestsellers.

If good burgers have started to impress, in nearby La Fuerte St., is an unlikely place to find good pizza – dough baked fresh upon order, ingredients consisting of mozzarella cheese, anchovies, pepperoni, fresh homegrown herbs, etc.  Yes, excellent pizza in the northernmost island of the Philippines.  I first learned of Casa Napoli in 2006, it was a newly opened pizzeria found on the 2nd level of a grocery (if my memory serves me right) in Abad St.  Wary (after the sweet spaghetti experience), we entered the place out of curiosity.  It was a simple room with a few tables inside and 2 more at the balcony with a view of the town.  When the pizza came, we were pleasantly surprised.

pizza

Baked on a pizza stone, the crust was crispy with a bit of a bite.   Not too thin but not bread-like thick as well.  A nice change from the local cuisine.

casa-napoli-interior

The new place in La Fuerte St. is not much bigger

Casa-Napoli

but has its own identity in a white Mediterranean inspired establishment.  They deliver too.

bunker-cafe

But if lobsters and other local fares is what you are after, try trekking to Bunker Café in Naidi Hills one evening.

naidi-hills

Open only for dinner as the owners have day jobs, this place is the perfect end to the day.  They start serving at 5, and the first night we were there,

turon

I had this lovely turon with my coffee.

lighthouse

Naido Hills with the lighthouse in the background is magical at night.  The owners couldn’t have chosen a better spot.

latavenAn impressive dish of Lataven — Ivatan’s version of kilawin.

Enchanted, we went back the next evening to an enjoyable dinner of lobster and other local fare.  It did not disappoint.

bunker-cafe-feasting

Great ambience and wonderful company is a winning combination in my books.

Ivatan Cuisine is characterized by a variety of seafood.  During summer, dorado and flying fish are abundant.  So are lobsters and cuttlefish.

coconut-crabs

The threatened coconut crabs can still be found and devoured but only in the island.  To protect the species, a regulation prohibits it from being transported out of the island, live or cooked.  Coconut crabs (locally known as Tatus)is a priced delicacy and is widely hunted, its population dwindling.  The crab is said to climb coconut trees and husk coconuts with their powerful claws hence the name although not a significant part of their diet.  When cooked, the claws are hard and needs a good bashing to break.  The meat is sweet and firm but in all honesty, Alimango (mud crabs) and Alimasag (blue crabs) are still my front-runners.

We simply didn’t have enough days to sample all the good places, which means that a next time is likely to happen.  In a few years perhaps, I have a sneaking suspicion that more interesting restaurants would come to light and I want to be there to try them out myself.

Eating is not merely a material pleasure.  Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship.  It is of great importance to the morale.

Elsa Schiaparelli

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