Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Hotel taho

It wasn't something that I didn't expect for a buffet breakfast at a quality business hotel at a bustling business district in Taguig. Hotels like these don't usually serve taho or other local delicacies on the breakfast buffet (the "silog" combinations don't count as these seem to be staples of hotel breakfasts in the country). So I was pleasantly surprised to see this "native" breakfast item on the table. Taho is  soft soy bean curd with caramelised sugar that's usually flavoured with vanilla (arnibal) and taro pearls (sago). It is supposed to have been imparted to us by the Japanese but honestly, I haven't seen this in Japan despite all the tofu I have had in meals there.

A cup of taho to help start the day
I think more hotels should serve taho and other local food including different rice cakes (kakanin). Quality control should't be an issue here as the hotels themselves can make these or outsource from reputable makers. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Rest in peace Dr. Manny Vergel

I first met Dr. Manny Vergel when I was still in college. He was the father of a dear old friend, Karl, who was obviously inspired by his father as he strove to get a degree in civil engineering. I learned then that Dr. Vergel was doing consulting work and my friend's stories of what his father did I think gave me a clearer understanding of what civil engineers do and what the profession was like. He graduated from UP will a degree in Civil Engineering and proceeded to take his master's at the then SEATO in Bangkok, which is the precursor of today's AIT. He obtained his PhD at Iowa State University where he specialised in Agricultural Engineering. He worked for some time at the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) and had taught at UPLB. Dr. Vergel was a general practitioner of sorts by the time I met him. He worked on different projects in the different sub-disciplines of CE including hydraulics, construction and transportation. Few people are like that nowadays as CE's have become more specialised, in part to be recognised as an expert in the more specific field under civil engineering that one wanted to focus on. His kind of CE is rare nowadays.

The last time I spoke to him was before his heart attack last year. I remember asking him if he would agree to review the research reports and outcomes for one of our projects. He quickly agreed and told us to just send him the reports via email so he could just read them on the computer. He was always  kind to us and willing to help out any way he could. I also remember him allowing us to stay at their company's office so we could use their computers for machine problem assignments that we had for one of our engineering subjects. This was at a time computers were still expensive and few had one in their homes. Students who had tight budgets could not afford to spend time hands-on on rental computers in campus. That was how I would like to remember him - a kind, father figure who guided his sons despite his own shortcomings, and was willing to help out other people especially those struggling as they started work on their chosen profession.

Thanks for your help and for inspiring us Dr. Manny Vergel. May your soul rest in peace with our God in heaven. And may your works continue to inspire others for years to come.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Rural halu-halo

A very popular refreshment for the summer days in the Philippines is halu-halo (literally a "mixture"). You'll find different versions of this around the country being sold at restaurants including fast food chains. The more common scene would be roadside halu-halo stands and those you find in the sari sari stores (neighbourhood stores) and wet markets in every town. The roadside stands are the most informal ones usually manned by enterprising households hoping to make a few bucks for a serving of the treat. These, however, I think gives some of the best (and some will say the worst) experiences for having this summer treat.

But why pine for Razon's or Chowking halu-halo if you are in a remote area without the comforts we'd see in the bigger cities and towns? Certainly, when you're on a stop and craving for some refreshments then you'd probably take your chance by getting halu-halo from a roadside stand. That's not exactly throwing caution to the wind as we haven't heard of any rash of illnesses stemming from such stands. The rule when you're in the field seems to be "if it looks clean and people don't look sick then it's good enough to eat or drink." But then I don't want to include water in this generalisation and I would strongly urge anyone who's uncertain about the water source to opt for soft drinks instead.

Our staff enjoying halu-halo from a roadside stand near the village basketball court.
This was definitely not one of the better halu-halos from the perspective of ingredients. However, on a scorching day it is a  very welcome relief from the heat.
Most of the stuff seemed to me as coloured sago (tapioca pearls) or gelatine. What looked like coconut was actually agar agar according to the vendor. 
Our refreshment with plenty of evaporated milk over the shaved ice to wash down the tremendous amount of sugar to the bottom of the plastic.
So far there have been no reports of food poisoning among us though a couple have reported some LBM yesterday, a couple of days after our field work. Both declined to attribute it to the halu-halo though it suspect the water from which the ice was made to be the culprit. In any case, this is another one of those situations where we say we'll just "charge it to experience." On the extreme side, if it doesn't kill you, it will make you stronger!


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Home made mango sorbet

We did not expect to have so many mangoes from our tree considering it looked depressed when we moved in to our new home last March. We are actually overwhelmed with the blessings from the tree, which we call an ent - borrowing from the term used for "tree herder" in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Last week, our kasambahay experimented on making ice cream using the mangoes. The initial version was a bit sour as some of the not so ripe fruits dominated the ingredients. Last weekend though, they had a breakthrough by adding more milk and some sugar to finally come up with real good home made ice cream. It didn't have the typical ingredients from the leading commercial brands or those found in typical sorbetes you can buy from the roaming carts but I can vouch for it being rich in taste and having all natural ingredients. The Clairvoyant was impressed with the concoction and we'll definitely work on improving the consistency of the sorbet. We already look forward to the next mango harvest!

Home made mango sorbet from the fruits of our tree.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Large Choc Nut

It's been a while since I bought a pack of Choc Nut at the supermarket so I was a bit surprised to see what seemed like a new kind of Choc Nut, which is a mix of peanuts and milk chocolate. It is a guilty pleasure for many as it seems to be the only one of its kind anywhere (I honestly don't know of similar sweets in other countries.). It is so popular in the Philippines and among Filipinos living overseas that it has spawned competition here producing practically the same product. Some people say the competition is better but for me, nothing beats the original. I actually find the competition oily  or powdery so I guess they still have to deal with quality control issues.

Anyhow, going back to what I thought was a new kind of Choc Nut. It turned out that there was nothing new except for the packaging and the size of the Choc Nut. The servings were larger than the "regular" ones. Incidentally, there used to be a smaller serving of Choc Nut, which is about half of the current "regular" size. So it seems that the trend is for the serving size to get larger? Perhaps people (Choc Nut addicts?) couldn't be satisfied by the smaller servings anymore? 

Dark Choc Nut? Nope. It's just the packaging.
It's actually a larger serving of Choc Nut with one bar equivalent to 2 or 3 of the "regular" bars. 


Friday, May 16, 2014

Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen

There is still a ramen craze in Metro Manila and this is not surprising considering the many good quality restaurants specializing in ramen that have sprouted around the metropolis as well as in other major cities. Many Filipinos like to eat Japanese food and that includes not just ramen but also sushi and sashimi. Popular, too, are katsu restaurants with the likes of Yabu and Ginza Bairin typically full during lunch and dinner times.

I finally got to eat at one of the highly recommended restaurants, Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen, one time that we were at a posh new mall in Fort Bonifacio to watch Captain America 2. We had procrastinated about watching the movie for some time and we ended up at the mall as it is one of the few that still screened the movie. As the film was to be shown early afternoon, we looked for a place where could have early lunch. Spotting the ramen restaurant and noting that we haven't had good ramen for some time now, we decided eat there.

Place mat, chopsticks and napkin
One of the restaurant's signature tonkotsu ramen and gyoza
Their tonkotsu ramen was really good and I dare say as good as the ramen served at restaurants I've been to in Japan. They serve the ramen just so it is not scalding hot and they do ask their customers how they want their noodles to be. We like it normal rather than a bit firm. Soggy noodles is a no-no. There is another branch of Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen in the area, which I discovered last night as I ventured out to have dinner at Bonifacio High Street. I ended up there and had a good ramen dinner to satisfy my appetite after a busy day at the office.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Chocolate review: KitKat wasabi

One thing going for Nestle's KitKat in Japan is the fact that there is a market for some unique variants of these very popular chocolate-covered wafer sticks. Prior to my more recent trips to Japan this year and last year, I had seen this trend with KitKat as I enjoyed their Orange and Sakura flavors back in 2008. These were very popular in Japan and their being sold only there eventually made them a sensation elsewhere as these became favorite souvenirs from trips to Japan. More recently, the rave seems to be with the Green Tea Kitkats (macha), which to the uninitiated may seem like a weird flavor until you get your first bite and you realize it will be easy to get hooked on this.

Last year, I picked up a box of Wasabi-flavored mini KitKats at a grocery store near our hotel. I was curious about this new flavor that to me is right up there with Chili, Bitter Gourd and other not so usual flavors for chocolate and other stuff. Though it retained the white chocolate taste that, I must admit, blended well with the kick of wasabi, I still found it unusual for my taste. And so I ended up giving away the rest.

The box of wasabi KitKats contained 12 pieces of mini wafers
I bought this out of curiosity while browsing the shelves of a small grocery in Tokyo so there is no sticker bearing English translation the information at the back of the box


Friday, May 9, 2014

Chocolate review: Chocolat Stella Cremant Orange

We love the combination of chocolate and orange and try to look for good dark chocolate with orange whenever we are traveling. We already know what are usually available in the supermarket shelves so there's no excitement to that anymore. We do check from time to time if there's something new so we can pick up a bar or two to tide us by whenever we wanted to eat chocolate.

I first discovered Chocolat Stella bars at a Santi's branch at the Paseo Sta. Rosa while en route to Tagaytay. I got one bar each of what was available then but none had orange in them. I was pleasantly surprised to find Chocolat Stella bars along with Valrhonas at NAIA's Terminal 2 while waiting for my boarding call for a flight to Narita last February and among these was Cremant Orange. The description on the label stated that it was bittersweet chocolate with candied orange peel. "Bittersweet" usually means its the dark variety and not milk chocolate. 

Bittersweet chocolate with candied orange peel
The information on the label 41% cacao
Cremant Orange is a bit on the sweeter side rather than on the bitter. Its 41% cacao is higher than the regular dark chocolates but perhaps the candied orange peel gives it the distinct sweetness. I think though the chocolate is definitely enjoyable some might find it too sweet for a dark chocolate and unlike the bitter variety expected for a bar that's supposed to be dark. 

At 3.30 USD (about 145.25 PHP) per 100g bar, it has value for money for good quality chocolates available here. It compares with the prices of the other bars I've written about in this blog and so we'll definitely be getting these bars at least once in a while whenever they're available.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Chocolate review: Emergency Chocolate

The other bar that we bought one Sunday at the mall last March was aptly branded Emergency Chocolate by its maker Bloomsberry & Co. Basically, I can say that the chocolate itself is good enough by its being branded Emergency Chocolate. It certainly is satisfying and better than your average dark chocolate of similar cocoa content being smooth and with the bitterness just right for those wanting to have dark chocolate but are not fond of the more bitter variety (e.g., > 70% cacao).

The box screamed "emergency" and certainly got my attention when I was trying to pick out a couple of bars to sample. 
Detailed information including nutrition data are provided at the back of the box
Inside the box you will find the main packaging indicating the chocolate to be dark and containing 55% cocoa
Not much info on the back of the wrapper except contact information of the manufacturer
Emergency chocolate is a bit more expensive than your average chocolate at 190 PHP (about 4.25 USD) for its 100 grams (Meiji Black 50g is only about 45 PHP or about 1 USD). I'm not really sure if you can classify it as exotic like the single source types you'll find in specialty or higher end stores. It certainly is not marketed as such based on the label so perhaps the price leans toward unreasonable for a chocolate that's not in the league of the Valrhona's but then checking the retail price for the latter brand's bars at the Duty Free shops at the airport reveal that Emergency Chocolate is quite reasonable. Valrhona's cost 7.10 USD (about 315.25 PHP) for a 70g bar. And a quick check on the internet shows that Amazon's, for example, sells Emergency Chocolate for 4.99 USD per 100g bar so in the end, its good value for money. Get one in case of emergency! :)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Light breakfast

Our idea of light breakfast varies from oatmeal, oatmeal drink or crackers to go with fruit juice, coffee or hot chocolate. Frequently, we also have bread and this is most likely either pandesal or sliced loaf. Pandesal or pan de sal literally translates into "bread of salt"and is probably the most popular and available of bread anywhere. You will see a lot of neighborhood stores or bakeries selling "hot pandesal" with even the major chains like Goldilocks, Red Ribbon and French Baker having their own version of this breakfast staple. There is even a chain, Pan de Manila, that's devoted to this bread and it is usually where we get our pugon-baked pandesal.

When in a hurry, pandesal with coffee or hot chocolate is enough (I dip mine in my drink) but on more relaxed mornings, we usually have a choice among many palaman that we have at home to enjoy our breads with. These include butter, preserves or marmalades, peanut butter and even cookie butter. I remember that when we were kids we also loved pouring condensed milk on our bread for a sweet and satisfying treat for breakfast.

Pandesal with any or a combination of butter, Speculoos or rose petal preserve. That's acai berry juice to wash down the bread with palaman.
Breads like pandesal are eaten many ways and not just for breakfast. On hot days like these during May, we even have ice cream to go with our bread. Pandesal or the regular buns are good for ice cream sandwiches and are quite popular everywhere in the Philippines.