Food tripping in the Philippines part 1

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"The hot chocolate hut"    photo by: Mark Perez

If there was one reservation that the "Hungry" Hubby had about me being in the Philippines for 5-6 weeks was that I’d come back the size of a whale. So he had a talk with my two brothers, who were the usual suspects and associates in my food binging crimes and said: "I want you both to return your sister to me in the same state, weight and form."

So, you all might say, I had to work for my food. As I mentioned in a previous post, some of my indulgences in crispy pork skins that accompanied luscious suckling pig fare were prefaced by grueling workout sessions like boxing.

Sometimes, I feel like the family pet where responsibilities for sensible feeding are a shared family effort.

For example, overheard in a conversation during a dinner party – it sounds funnier in Tagalog (the principal Philippine language) – so I’ll keep the original verbiage for those who understand the language – I’ll put the translation in parenthesis:

Brother to sis-in-law: "Pa-workout ako ng pa-workout diyan, pa-kain naman kayo ng pa-kain. Paano ko i-explain kay HH kung tumaba iyan." (I keep on forcing her to workout but you keep on feeding her. How am I going to explain to HH if she gains weight?)

Sis-in-law to brother: "Hindi naman ako kaya ang nagpakain ng bibingka diyan kanina, si C." (I wasn’t the one who fed her bibingka earlier, it was C.)

C is my niece, my brother’s daughter.

Brother turns to look at his daughter and in an exasperated and scolding tone: "Ano?! Pinakain mo siya ng bibingka?! Naku!" (What?! You fed her bibingka?!)

C smiles and keeps quiet.

See what I mean? So lets check out some of my eats. Some were not all bad. How can Spanish hot chocolate at a precious gem of a place, Choco-late de Batirol, be all that evil?

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Enjoying a cup of hot chocolate

Batirol is an ancient method of preparing chocolate by grinding the tablea (chocolate cocoa blocks) with milk and sugar with the use of a wooden mortar.

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Chocolate Batirol method

Cafe by the Ruins, is a restaurant that specializes in organic and healthy choices. For example, this tofu salad.

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tofu salad with peanut dressing

Even the crispy fried tapa threads below appear virtuous served with a scoop of fiber-rich red rice.

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Crispy fried tapa

But my favorite restaurant in Baguio has got to be O-Mai-Khan (the restaurant name is a play on words of native dialect, Ilocano, which means "Come on now") and remains to be the best Mongolian restaurant I’ve ever been to. It has stood the test of time since the early 1990’s when we were frequent patrons. Apart from their Mongolian grill, they also have other items on their menu. One of them, my favorite, is so aptly named, "The Barbarian" which is their version of the Crispy Pata – deep fried pork knuckles.

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The Barbarian – yes that’s fried garlic on top!

To understand Filipino eating habits is to know Merienda, an afternoon snack usually taken between 3:30 to 5:30 in the afternoon. It should be a light snack before dinner but sometimes a hamburger could even be considered merienda. I personally like local fare like the bibingka – rice flour cake baked in a clay pot that taste best with salted egg on top and puto bungbong – made from purple glutinous rice and steamed in bamboo tubes.

Sorry, I don’t have pictures of the above. They are best eaten hot and my proper enjoyment of such delicacies took precedence over my blog. Maybe next time.

For times when you want to get away from the congested city center of Session Rd., you can escape to the Baguio Country Club.

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A view from the verandah

They also have quite a pastry display which you can enjoy with, you guess it, hot chocolate.

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Country Club pastry shop
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Strawberry Shortcake

Other notable eats where pictures were forgotten because hungry hordes decended:

Man Han – great Chinese food, love their lechon macau.

Teriyaki Boy – cheaper version of Sugi’s Chicken Teriyaki.

Forest House – great ambience and food. Love their chicken skin chicharon.

* Manhan and Teriyaki Boy are chain restaurants also found in Metro Manila

I visited Manila twice. The first time was to attend a wedding. I shall cover the first visit here since detailing both would make this post too long.

I wanted a good peking duck and my brother took me to Hai Shin Lou on Pasay road.

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Peking Duck

And of course, there is always lechon!

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One of the many lechons consumed during this trip

That was lunch. You would think we would starve ourselves before attending the wedding that evening, after all it was going to be a Chinese laureat extravaganza at the Shang-ri-la hotel.

But somebody (me) wanted a mango crepe for merienda at Cafe Breton over at Greenbelt 3. Best fruit crepe ever! The crepe is so soft and stretchy, the cream and the mangoes inside make a divine combination!

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Mango Crepe

And since I’m somewhat in the wedding business (not sure if I’m pursuing that route though), I felt it was my duty to show you the cake of one of the grandest weddings I have ever attended.

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Wedding cake

I couldn’t get my camera to cooperate with the lighting in the reception hall but I did manage to capture a section of the gorgeous setup. According to my brother, who counted the tables, he figured there were around 600-800 guests.

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The beautiful reception

We stayed behind a few days after the wedding to spend time with my aunt and to visit some pastry shops in the area. I did manage a quick stop at Bizu patisserie but I was after the more traditional pastries during this trip. I just loved the shops at Serendra at the Fort.

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Conti’s

I love the ensaymada (like a brioche) and cheese rolls at Mary Grace. Simple and comforting.

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Mary Grace

And I had to taste the cupcakes at Cupcakes by Sonja! Adorable shop, but the cupcakes didn’t quite match the hype.

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A crowd about to descend for cupcakes
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Adorable shop
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Taking a bite into red velvet cupcake

That evening we walked around the shops until we could feel hungry. Sampling so many cupcakes kinda put a damper on our appetites – but not for long. By the time we finally found a place to eat at Burgos Circle at the Fort, Cafe Juanita – we were again a ravenous bunch. I got to sample crispy fried pork belly served with tomatoes and bagoong, crispy catfish salad, kare-kare and a whole bunch of other food.

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Burgos Circle

Even before I made the trip home, I was determined to venture out into the zoo that is Manila’s Chinatown – Ongpin. Lucky for me, my aunt was willing to accompany me.

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Ongpin

President’s is an old restaurant/establishment known for its fried chicken and roasted duck and it was newly renovated. I remember eating there as a child with my dad.

I miss him. If there was one regret in my life it was not learning enough about food from him.  How my dad would love to see this sight of hanging delicacies:

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YUM!

And of course, more lechon!

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More YUM!

I am fortunate that in my aunt I see an extension of him and all the knowledge is not lost.

In Ongpin you see the regular street vendors. And since the Chinese New Year is close, you see more of them.

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Souvenir shopping

And I seem to see a lot of chesnut roasters:

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roasting chestnuts

I must admit, it was hard for me to just stand and take pictures and act like a tourist. Chinatown is known for pick-pockets and purse snatchers, you always have to be aware of your surroundings.

I was extremely happy that my aunt found my dad’s regular Chinese grocer where he got supplies for our restaurant ages ago. For readers in the Philippines who want to find authentic Chinese ingredients, this is the place to go.

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TH grocers

Yes, they are simply called TH grocers. If looking for Chinese sausage, duck ham or dried oysters you’ll have to ask them specifically for them since they do not have them on display.

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Dried oysters

I love dried oysters in soup with bean curd sheets. They can also be mixed with ground pork to use as fillings for lettuce wraps.

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Duck ham and Chinese sausages

Duck ham and chinese sausages can be steamed on top of rice. This would give your rice great flavor. It makes me sad that I cannot find the quality of these sausages where I live in Richmond, Va. I guess, something to do with U.S. laws.

The end of this post is a perfect introduction for my next post, as we leave the Philippines to venture out into Hong Kong!