Saturday, January 26, 2013

First kaimito of 2013

I have fond memories of my mother bringing home my favorite fruits after her Sunday trips to the market. Among the most anticipated for me are my favorites - star apple (kaimito), sweet sop (atis) and mangoes (mangga), which are typically seasonal fruits. The months from February to June usually had us enjoying (and indulging) in fruits whether we are at our home in Cainta or on vacation in Iloilo. Today, I still look for the same fruits we enjoyed before and when I do find good ones at the supermarket, the market, along the roadside stalls (including informal ones), and on trips, I try to purchase not just for our consumption but for my parents, in-laws and siblings as well.

I chanced upon some enterprising people selling what appears to be the first pickings of kaimito from Old Balara along Katipunan Avenue as I turned from the University yesterday. On impulse, I pulled over behind a vehicle stopped in front of the roadside stall whose driver was also purchasing star apples. As I wasn't sure yet if the fruit was already ripe and good and had no time to get out of the vehicle to inspect the fruits so I just asked for 2 kilograms of what I saw were large pieces of kaimito. I assumed that the vendor was trustworthy and that she wouldn't give me damaged (bugbog) fruit. My trust was rewarded as we enjoyed our first kaimito for the year and I'm sure we'll be enjoying more in the following weeks.

Kaimito or star apple from Old Balara
We'll pass by Katipunan again this weekend to check if there are kaimito we could purchase to bring to my parents' and in-laws' homes. I'm sure they will also enjoy these fruits from the old kaimito trees in Old Balara, which have been preserved by residents there, probably appreciating their potential for income when the fruit is in season.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Via Mare at UP Diliman

Comfort food often reminds us of home cooking or something we like to eat when we feel down for various reasons. It's also something for times like rainy days when you crave for a hot meal like lugaw (porridge) or silog (typically breakfast combination of sinangag/fried rice and itlog/egg.

Via Mare is one of the more popular restaurants for such comfort food and thank goodness they have a branch at the University of the Philippines Diliman campus. The restaurant is quite popular for meetings and family lunches or dinners for those residing in the area including the exclusive subdivisions along Katipunan Ave.

Arroz caldo - perfect on rainy days
Tapa and garlic rice - all day breakfast means you can also have tapa for lunch, dinner or even merienda
A clean and well-lighted place - cozy interior of the Via Mare branch at the Asian Center compound of UP Diliman
Tsokolate-e - thick hot chocolate from tablea just the way we like it


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fried chicken again

The photos I took of the fish fillet in black bean sauce didn't look that good when I posted something on Max's. So when I had another opportunity to take photos during one lunch, I snapped a few including one of the most popular orders at the restaurant, the Fiesta Meal, which consisted of fried chicken, plain rice and pancit canton (fried egg noodles).

Fish fillet in black bean sauce
Fiesta plate
Sizzling tofu


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Yokohama flashback: Christmas Mass

Better late than never so before January ends and before I forget again, I'm posting about Christmas in Yokohama, Japan. Among the experiences I love reminiscing about and retelling to family and friends were the times I served at Sacred Heart Cathedral (Yamate Catholic Church). The church is a brief climb from Ishikawacho Station of the JR Keihin-Tohoku Line through a residential area in the Naka Ward of the city. It is near the Motomachi shopping street, which is a popular commercial and dining area and particularly for expats in the area.

For two Christmases, I volunteered as a reader during the midnight Mass of Christmas Eve and the English Mass on Christmas Day. December 25 is not a holiday in Japan and so most of my friends at Yamate including fellow members of the Sacred Heart Guild had work. As I was a post-graduate student, my schedule was relatively flexible. In fact, my sensei even told me I could take the day off during Christmas Day. I usually did take half the day off and would be back at the laboratory in the afternoon.

As Christmas Day, if it fell on a weekday, is not an official holiday in Japan most would come to the late night Mass including non-Catholics and non-Christians who celebrated with us. These include Japanese who were married to Catholics (mostly foreigners) who also lined up during Holy Communion when the priest-celebrant would also give God's blessings to non-Christians in the congregation in lieu of the Host.

I fondly remember the Midnight Mass of December 24, 1998 (my third and last Christmas in Yokohama) when it was the Bishop of Yokohama who concelebrated the Mass and I was all dressed up to deliver the First Reading (in English) on the special occasion when both Japanese and expats celebrated in a Mass where the choir was from the Protestant Church in the same neighborhood (Yamate's choir in turn sang at the Protestant Service over at Ferris.). Afterwards, there was no noche buena and we had to commute to our homes on the last trains. The following day was easier because the English Mass was from 10:00AM (just like the Sunday schedule) and there were fewer people in church. Fr. Alfred Burke, OSA celebrated the English Mass on Christmas Day.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Home-made chicken katsu curry

Doing our groceries last weekend, we passed by the international food section. As I was browsing the Japanese items on the shelves, the Clairvoyant directed my attention to the boxes of curry mixes. She asked me if I wanted to try it out given we like to order curry dishes when we eat at Japanese restaurants. I pointed to some boxes, recognizing a brand familiar to me as I have purchased these quite a long time ago while residing in Japan as a student in Yokohama. We decided to purchase a box and the wife asked me to make sure it wasn't too spicy. 

Golden Curry is a popular brand in Japan and produced by S&B. The writing on the lower right indicates how hot or the spiciness of the curry. There are three variants: hot (red), middle (green as shown in the photo) and sweet (yellow).
The Clairvoyant also asked if I knew how to prepare the curry and I showed her the back of the box where some instructions in English was attached. She also took a look at the box and was tried to figure out the instructions using the illustration provided and gave her approval for the purchase.

Instructions at the back of the box shows an illustration of how to prepare the curry mix and other ingredients. It also shows what S&B meant: Spice & herB.
The result of our foray into curry was a very satisfying dinner of chicken katsu curry. Fortunately, we had some breading left from Christmas and New Year so we were also able to prepare the chicken that went with the curry.

Chicken katsu curry ver. 1.0
I recently bought Japanese breading mix so we look forward to coming up with more authentic-looking katsu curry dishes. Perhaps we'll try pork or prawn the next time.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Reminiscing on ramen

I downloaded some photos from the Clairvoyant's trip back to Singapore last November and saw some taken during a lunch date she had with one of her friends at one of our favorite Japanese restaurants in the city state. Menya musashi serves very good, authentic ramen and the lines are still long for seats in the restaurant, a clear indication that they haven't failed their customers in terms of the quality of the food they serve.

If only looks and smell can make one's stomach full
The broth alone is quite satisfying
Special menu at Menya Musashi
I myself look forward to going to Singapore even for just a short weekend trip, if only to go back and eat at our favorite haunts there. Of course, such a trip would probably include a stop at our former residence where there is that Thai-Italian restaurant at the clubhouse.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

"I like for you to be still"

I have never enjoyed poetry probably because most of the poetry I have been exposed to were required reading in school. It didn't help that such poetry were also subject to analysis that seemed unusual to me given that like art, perhaps poetry can be interpreted differently by various people, and only the poet himself or herself would probably know the meaning of his/her creation. It was the Clairvoyant who first shared with me her love for poetry by posting one by Pablo Neruda while we were corresponding long distance. I was finishing my doctoral dissertation in Yokohama while she was preparing to take the bar examinations in Manila. This share piqued my curiosity (in part because I was also intrigued by the one who sent it) and I quickly did some research on Neruda and his works. It wasn't really by accident that I re-discovered poetry but it was a re-discovery that also helped me explore literature again. I owe the Clairvoyant for this and the poetry we continue to share today. Following is a reading I found over YouTube of the poem the Clairvoyant shared back in 1999, Pablo Neruda's "I like for you to be still":


 Happy 40th to my Clairvoyant partner! 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Yang Chow Restaurant

While on an errand one morning, I spotted a familiar sign along Marcos Highway on my way to Masinag. Yang Chow Dimsum and Tea House is a Chinese restaurant we first tried out at their branch at Shopwise along C-5 in the Libis area. We used to pass by the supermarket every week and when we felt like eating out either for lunch or dinner, we ate at the restaurant. The food was always good but service was usually slow so you have to come early or late so there are less people (it is quite popular despite the slow service) and the kitchen won't be as busy. The reviews for that branch is quite bad but mostly due to the service rather than the food. Later, my office mates and I found that the restaurant already had another branch at Centris along EDSA adjacent to the MRT-3's Quezon Avenue Station. Food here is the same good quality but the service was better.

And so we ended up having an early dinner at the branch along Marcos Highway (across from the highway near SM Masinag) as the Clairvoyant arrived in the late afternoon. The food did not disappoint but the slow service was not a good way to get reacquainted with the restaurant. Many customers who probably tried out the Yang Chow for the first time were politely following-up on their orders while those who seem to have been to their Libis branch were already berating the staff for the slow service.

While the food is good and some people have mentioned that it was worth the wait, I think there's no excuse for having people wait a long time for their meals. The restaurant staff should already have an idea of what items are popular on their menu and could anticipate cooking these in advance of their peak hours. It also makes sense to provide good service as people are not really expected to linger in the restaurant unless they happen to be there for some special occasion like anniversaries or birthdays. Fast enough service should translate into better customer turnovers and better revenues as the restaurant should be able to accommodate more people. So far, they seem to have been pretty clueless about this part of the business. Maybe profits are good enough and they don't care about more customers?

Xiao long pao
Yang chow fried rice
Salt and pepper squid

In search of Xiao Long Bao like what we usually enjoyed at Din Tai Fung, we ordered the dumplings at Yang Chow. We never tried their version before as we usually ordered shrimp hakaw or shu mai. The taste was almost there but the dough just missed the target so to speak. We hear that we can probably find the "perfect" Xiao Long Bao's in Chinatown in Binondo. Of course, we should find the best in China (Hong Kong?) or Taiwan but "best" can be regarded as relative term considering the quality is not really determined by the location but by the quality of the ingredients and the talent and technique of the kitchen staff. Will we be back at any of Yang Chow's branches? Definitely, and we'll also check if the service is improving. Sayang naman kung hindi sila mag-improve.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Fried chicken

When asked about where you can eat the best fried chicken in the Philippines, an almost automatic answer would be Max's Restaurant. Max's has been around since the end of the Second World War when I could imagine American GI's partaking of the fried chicken along with Filipinos who could afford it at the time (difficult conditions after the war) at its first branch in Quezon City. The restaurant was always popular though like many of its contemporaries, it experienced a decline in the 1980's and 1990's due to the surge of fast food restaurants including many foreign brands that caught the attention of the dining public. The restaurant had a resurgence in the 1990's ahead of its contemporaries.

Max's has diversified over the last few years and they now offer popular Filipino and Chinese-inspired dishes. They even offer baked goods nowadays including various breads and pastries. These are sold in their restaurants and last time I checked, they now also offer cakes for special occasions like the wedding, birthday and baptism receptions that they usually host at their branches.

The restaurant's distinctive sign
Quarter chicken and fresh lumpia
Cream dory in black bean sauce
We regularly eat at Max's when eat out and have a craving for fried chicken or their cream dory in black bean sauce (one of our favorites). The only thing is that we have to be early and ahead of the lunch or dinner crowds (many of them whole families). The restaurant is so popular that branches are almost always full during lunch or dinner time so the tip is to have early or late meals to get good seats.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Buon Giorno

I keep forgetting to write about the nice Italian restaurant where we had lunch in our most recent trip to Tagaytay. Buon Giorno is among the most popular in this city along the ridge formed by the eruption of an ancient volcano. The Clairvoyant and I have heard about it from friends but have not tried the place until recently due in part to our having quick overnight trips to Tagaytay that usually limited our options for meals. In many cases, we eat near or at our hotel as we usually try out the hotel's food aside from frequenting our favorites like Bag of Beans.

Entrance - one can dine indoors but the best seats are along the veranda with a nice view of the Taal Lake and Volcano

Interior - inside the restaurant, it is very cozy. The place is well ventilated with the cool Tagaytay air.

Sides - Freshly baked bread
Salad - fresh greens with mangoes, candied pecans and foie gras with raspberry dressing

Condiments - included olive oil, balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese and hot sauce

Pasta - Spinach and mushroom ravioli
I think the food at Buon Giorno is better or at least the same quality as Italianni's (I prefer the latter's breads.). It compares well with Bellini's (the branch in Cubao) though the latter is more homey. Each restaurant has its own character, and this, perhaps, adds to their attractiveness to diners. Ultimately, it is the quality of the food coupled with the prices that will encourage (or discourage) people to return to the restaurant. I think the restaurant offers value for money and we will surely come back to try out other dishes in their menu. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Looking forward to 2013 and a brief review of 2012

It's the start of a new year and what a year it was in 2012! It was an eventful year with the Clairvoyant returning from Singapore after a 19-month stint there. It was an adventure for both of us as it was also her first time to live overseas for a significant length of time (I was in Japan for 3 years in the 1990's.). The year also was an achievement of sorts for me in terms of travel as I was able to travel from the Philippines to Indonesia and Malaysia via Singapore (where we also had a home) during the week I celebrated my 40th (another milestone!). That meant I covered four of the original five ASEAN member countries in a span of a week. The clincher was a trip to Thailand in October that completed the "collection" of sorts.

In August, we had another challenge in the form of another flood, and right after the Clairvoyant and I arrived back home from Singapore. It wasn't of Ondoy (Ketsana) proportions but it was right there in terms of experiences we won't forget about. It's something like a last straw for us and now, we are looking forward to the likelihood of moving to a new home within the year. There are a lot of things we consider as obstacles, negatives that if we focused on these we are sure to ruin ourselves with the sadness, the frustration, and, to others, the depression that can be brought about by such proverbial curve balls thrown at us. I think we should treat such challenges as "spices" that make life continuously exciting. These are events that make it more interesting for us; keeping us on our feet and encouraging us to be at the top of our game. We should also be reminded of our faith and how we can be stronger after our encounters with adversity.

Following is a photo that the Clairvoyant took one evening as we drove to dinner. We love sunsets as these provide unpredictable but fascinating pictures. The unpredictability is one thing that we (and others) like about and that we should embrace much like the saying about change being the only thing constant in this world.

Sunset along Marcos Highway
We love sunsets because of the drama and the color. I believe sunsets are also like rainbows in that they bear a promise. In the case of rainbows, it is the promise that there will be better weather. In sunsets, it is a promise of a sunrise the following day. It is the hope that everything will be better!

Happy New Year! May we all have a blessed one in 2013!