Thursday, January 23, 2014

Snacks: Pocky sticks

A favorite snack whenever I am in Japan are pretzel sticks that go under Glico's Pocky brand. The regular Pockys are in a red box and feature crunchy sticks covered with milk chocolate. There are also variants with strawberry flavored chocolate, white chocolate and chocolate with almonds. However, my favorite is the Men's Pocky variety, which is the variant with bitter chocolate. These come in their distinctive green boxes. 

Featured in this post is a new product that I found in a neighborhood grocery store in my most recent trip to Tokyo. These were longer sticks than the usual and the box contained 2 packs of pretzels.

"Big" means "longer" pretzels than the regular Pockys. The inset on the packaging indicates a new or improved
More details on the pretzel sticks - unfortunately, everything is in Japanese so you can figure out perhaps only the nutritional information because of the numbers and units provided.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

National Museum of the Philippines - National Art Gallery, Part 2

The National Museum also features a wealth of religious works from all over the Philippines. Icons and images such as statues and paintings reflect our Roman Catholic heritage, one we got via Spanish conquest. Most of the Philippine islands were under the Spanish for almost 400 years and various icons and images arrived from Europe and Mexico or were made by local artists and craftsmen. Many of these can still be found in old churches including those that have been declared or recognized as national treasures and even UN World Heritage Sites. Others have been stolen as they are coveted by antique collectors, never to be seen again in public. I think museums such as the National Museum should be repositories for such works due in part to their historical and heritage value.

An antique retablo on display at the museum together with other religious works
A depiction of St. Michael Archangel as a Castillian knight vanquishing Moors. That's another  retablo in the background.
Antique statues of various saints include the patrons and/or founders of the major orders - St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, St. Augustine, and St. Ignatius of Loyola
Another view of the collection of religious works at the National Museum
A old painting (oil on wood?) depicting the scene at the crucifixion of Christ
A view from the other end of the room showing other icons. I recall the one on display in this room were mostly made of wood and not the more precious (in terms of monetary value) ivory images.

At the time of our visit, the museum had on display a set of paintings on loan from the City of Vigan in Ilocos Sur. The paintings show scenes depicting the events leading to and concluding the Basi Revolt of 1807.
These paintings are part of a collection depicting scenes about the Basi Revolt in 1807. Note the prominence of a comet in the paintings - an ominous sign throughout history.
Another painting showing the events of the 1807 Basi Revolt with Ilocanos bearing their striped banner.
Spanish forces (officers on horse) meet the revolutionaries. Spanish forces were actually comprised of a few Spaniards (usually only officers) but with a significant force from other provinces under them like the Tagalogs and Kapampangans. It's the divide and conquer approach to subjugating regions that express discontent. Note again the prominence of  the comet in the painting.
More on the museum's collections in a future post!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Shinjuku Nihon Ryouri

Coming from an appointment one morning, the wife and I decided to try out a restaurant that I spotted last year along Katipunan in the Blue Ridge area. Shinjuku Nihon Ryouri is located just before the tunnel leading to Eastwood and before the intersection with Boni Serrano Avenue (across from Banapple and McDonald's in the same area). The restaurant presented us with a pleasant surprise as they offer a lot of choices for ramen. They also have sashimi, sushi, maki, teppan, sukiyaki and other favorites so there's something for everyone. 

The service is good as their staff are attentive without being intrusive, so that's a plus. But what makes or breaks a restaurant is the quality of the food. For Shinjuku, I can say that on both occasions I have eaten there (I was back for lunch just last week with a good friend who also likes Japanese food.) the ramen tasted good and served just hot enough so you won't get scalded by the broth. The sashimi we ordered was also prepared well so you don't get the feeling that they just defrosted the fish recently. So that's definitely a "thumbs up" for the food and we'll definitely be back for more.

Pirikara pork ramen
Parking is okay when we ate there but I can imagine that it can be difficult during peak periods (i.e., lunch or dinner times). It is, however, a bit out of the way for lunches and is not directly accessible via public transportation so perhaps it's likely that you can get a slot. In any case, they do have staff who can help out with parking in the area. There's a cafe just beside the restaurant but they manage parking spaces well based on the couple of times  have been there.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Chocolate review: Montezuma's Minted Milk Chocolate with Crunchy Peppermint

Montezuma's Minted is milk chocolate with crunchy peppermint. We had been putting off eating this bar as we were not fond of mint with chocolate (and vice versa). We had tasted other mint and chocolate combinations and prior to Minted, all others seemed to be dominated by the taste of the mint. In this case, the fusion is perfect and you don't get what would taste like toothpaste mixed with chocolate in some other chocolates. To be fair, I'm sure there are other good chocolate and mint concoctions out there especially with the more established and expensive chocolatiers. I do remember pralines from Godiva that were good as well as those from Frango that we did like. But these were small pieces and not the bars that we usually buy.

Montezuma's Minted is milk chocolate with crunchy peppermint
Minted contained a minimum of 43% cocoa solids
After tasting Montezuma's Minted, we are now wondering what their Chili chocolate would taste like. We have one bar in the refrigerator awaiting to be sampled (and likely consumption) and based on Minted, perhaps this bar will also be better than what we had tasted before.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Chocolate review: Montezuma's Lordy Lord Dark Chocolate with Cocoa Nibs

This Christmas season did not pass before I made a couple more reviews of the chocolates we've had this year. There are actually a lot more that I wanted to write about but I put the reviews on hold as a act of respect to those affected by the recent earthquake and typhoons in the Philippines.

Among the best chocolates we tasted were those given by very close friends when the Clairvoyant was visiting London on a business trip. Montezuma's Lordy Lord was a very pleasant surprise and it is one of those chocolates that makes you crave for more after a taste. Lordy Lord is a dark chocolate with a minimum of 70% cocoa. It is smooth and not at all strong or distinctively bitter despite the high cocoa content - definitely the mark of high quality dark chocolate.

Montezuma's Lordy Lord is dark chocolate with cocoa nibs
The bar contains 70% cacao
I haven't seen any bar from Montezuma's in any store in Manila but perhaps they would be available in Singapore or Hong Kong? Of course, there's an online option but I'm not sure they ship these to the Philippines given customs and other factors that also make ordering books a burden here. And so we're already looking forward to the next trip to London or perhaps someone bringing over some of these chocolates here.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Chocolate review: Lotte Black Ghana

Dark or bitter chocolates are quite popular in Japan with Meiji and Morinaga having various products in the market. So I enjoy browsing the supermarket shelves for the "regular" chocolate bars that include these varieties of chocolates. There are, of course, high end chocolates but why spend so much when there are good inexpensive ones. Lotte is another company producing chocolates and they have their own line competing with Meiji Black. Lotte's Black Ghana is marketed as having extra cacao with a tagline of "The authentic rich flavor of cacao." Despite having basically the same % cacao as Meiji Black, there is a distinctive bitter taste to Ghana compared to the sweet Black. I got a box of Ghanas last October so that we have some bars to tide us over until my next trip to Japan.

Lotte's Black Ghana is packaged in a box. The chocolate bar itself is wrapped in foil.
Information on the chocolate including storage temperature are indicated on the box. I bought this one in Japan so there is no English translation provided (i.e., on a sticker).  
I haven't seen this chocolate bar in Manila. Supermarkets or groceries usually only have the Meiji's. Perhaps this is available in Japanese stores somewhere? Meanwhile, I should get my supply when I return to Japan this February.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Macadamia Nut Butter

On a recent trip to Bangkok, I decided to browse a familiar shop inside Suvarnabhumi Airport. The shop was one of a few that carried products of companies or groups that have the patronage of the Royal Family of Thailand. These are not your Jim Thompsons or King Powers but something like an outlet for local products much like the One Town One Product (OTOP) stores we have in the Philippines. I was checking if they had those stone mugs from Chiang Mai that we bought more than a decade ago when the Clairvoyant and I were on our honeymoon in Bangkok. Though I found none of this or other similar items, one product did catch my attention - jars of macadamia nut spread.

After learning about and finally tasting the much hyped cookie butter spreads people were raving about last year, I was quite curious about this macadamia nut spread. I wasn't quite impressed with cookie butter but I like peanut butter and, of course, nutella, which is basically chocolate and hazelnut. We love macadamias so I thought this couldn't go wrong.

Chunky macadamia nut spread by Do Tung
Do Tung Development Project is a company under Royal Patronage
Information on the jar states that the macadamias used in the spread were grown in once barren mountains of Do Tung, which are located in the infamous Golden Triangle.
More information on the product
The chunky macadamia nut spread looks like fresh chunky peanut butter.
Out verdict on the macadamia nut spread is that for us, it's better than cookie butter. The Clairvoyant still likes peanut butter more but in my case, I think macadamia nut butter is better and has that distinctive taste of macadamia we love. There's no cheating here and the spread's definitely a delight. I will definitely get more of this the next time I'm in Bangkok.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Back at Ginza Bairin, U.P. Town Center

I finally got to take the Clairvoyant out to lunch at the U.P. Town Center. She was also curious about the restaurants as we often passed the area and not just on the way to the university but also for meetings in the Quezon City area and en route to her parents' home in Novaliches. It was an easy choice for us despite the many restaurant options at the town center. Prior to Christmas, we had planned to lunch at Yabu after watching the second Hobbit movie. We weren't able to get a table due the full restaurant so we had to put off our katsu treat until after Christmas. 

I had told her a lot about Ginza Bairin at the U.P. Town Center as I had eaten here with friends twice previously. The place can also get quite crowded when there are classes. My friends and I have observed that most customers at the restaurant were non-UP people and likely from the more exclusive schools along Katipunan Avenue. And so I figured that since it was Christmas break the restaurant would not be so crowded. I was right and so we were able to have a nice post-Christmas lunch.

The scallops we ordered were just right - crispy breading on the outside and soft, melt in your mouth scallops on the inside.
I had the hire katsu set while the wife had the kurobuta set.
Ginza Bairin's signboard
We enjoyed our lunch and according to the wife, she thought Ginza Bairin was better than Yabu. I think this was partly because the former was less crowded? But then we both have been to Yabu and I have been to may other katsu restaurants including the time when I was in Japan. I can say for myself that Ginza Bairin is so far the better among the two. However, I must say that its a pretty close call and Yabu serves very good katsu so it's practically a toss-up for all I care.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Chocolate review: Shiroi Koibito

A favorite souvenir (omiyage) from Japan is Shiroi Koibito, which roughly translates into "White Sweetheart." It is white chocolate sandwiched between two milk biscuits and a delight for those who have sweet teeth like me. The first time I tasted one of these sandwiches were back in the mid 1990s when an old friend brought a box as omiyage or pasalubong on his first trip home since leaving for Japan to take up graduate studies. He mentioned that it was a popular souvenir that people got when they went to Hokkaido and that it was his first time to see it sold at the JR Tokyo Station so he made sure he brought some home. It was good so I don't think the contents lasted til the next day.

A box of Shiroi Koibito from Sapporo, Japan
Details on the chocolate including ingredients and where its made (Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan). The expiration date is also indicated in the box.
A look inside the box reveals the individually packaged goodies and a nice preview of what to expect inside each pack.
There are different box sizes corresponding to the number of sandwiches (and the number of people whom you thought would enjoy the pasalubong). This is the smallest box with 16 pieces.
Truth in advertising: though the image is enlarged, what you see is what you really will get once you open a pack. And it is really good and something you can give to your koibito that she will surely like. For those who are not fond of white chocolate, there is the milk chocolate variant and the mix of milk choco and white choco. I haven't seen or checked if there was a dark choco variation to this but I'm not sure that will go well as a sandwich.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Leftovers and New Year's Day meals

It's the day after New Year's and I'm sure there are still a lot of leftovers at many people's homes much like the food left after Christmas Day. In our case, there's still some including the round-shaped fruits though I won't call the fruits leftovers. As usual, we had grilled food for media noche as well as some wine. This year we didn't have pasta for media noche, opting for lumpia and leftover Christmas ham in addition to grilled tuna, chicken and hotdogs. The new thing was that we happened upon this Israeli wine at a nearby supermarket before Christmas that we decided to try out, even laughing that the pedigree for the wine went back to Bibilical times. We forgot to bring the bottle to my in-laws' home for Christmas lunch. The bottle ended up as part of dinner at a friend's home as the Clairvoyant brought it as her contribution for their informal reunion in preparation for their High School Homecoming later this January. It turned out to be a good bottle of Emerald Riesling, a semi dry white wine, of 2009 vintage that was bottled by Carmel Zion/Askalon apparently just before it was sold by the original owners.

Wine and grilled food for media noche, and puto, fruits and native chocolate for the morning after
It's the simple breakfast of puto (steamed rice cake) and tsokolate that I miss from vacations in Iloilo from when I was a child. It's simple for most people now but for me it's unique in a way due to the sentimental value that I put into such memories that hopefully I can still recreate. The puto manapla in the photo above was a pasalubong from my father who went home to his hometown in Iloilo recently. It is popular in the Visayas and we regularly get these in Iloilo and Negros for breakfast or merienda. It's very good with coffee or chocolate.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Looking forward to the New Year 2014

I like to think that I am a seasoned traveler considering I have made trips even through inclement weather. My experiences include flying through or in the path of typhoons and voyages through stormy seas. There are also the drives through pouring rain and the braving of flooded roads and streets. I have experienced walking through flooded streets from the time when I was in high school (that was when our place in Cainta started experiencing what are now perennial floods) and traveled in places terrorized by lahar in the 1990s after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption.

We're looking forward to a 2014 and the succeeding years to come when these hazardous trips will be minimized. We are looking forward to flood-free wet seasons when we can relax in the comfort, safety and security of our home. This is mainly because we are moving into a new home early this year. It is a home we were involved in the design and construction and it is built on land that has no history of flooding and is not in the proximity of fault lines like the Marikina Valley Fault that runs along prominent residential areas in Pasig, Quezon City and Marikina.  

Here's to new adventures in 2014!