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Monday, October 28, 2013

When in Kalibo

It used to be that when you want to reach Boracay, you have to go through Kalibo first because there was just one commercial airline flying domestic in the Philippines.  But with more airline companies available, and offering budget fares at that, Caticlan, which is nearer, became a host for smaller aircrafts and thus, making travel time shorter.  In the process, only a fewer number of local and foreign tourists stop over Kalibo.  And even then, upon landing at the Kalibo International Airport, passengers prefer to go straight to the beach.
 
But why not stay a day in this quiet genteel town?  Kalibo, after all, is located in Aklan, said to be the oldest province in the Philippines.  This place is best known for its Ati-Atihan Festival held every January in honor of the Santo Nino (Infant Jesus), and which served as a model for the Sinulog Festival of Cebu and the Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo.  However, when you're in Kalibo on other times of the year, what do you do?
 
1.  Go to Dela Cruz House of Pina 

81 New Buswang
Kalibo, Aklan
Tel. No. +63 36 2623267 (closed on Sundays)
 
The pina cloth are fibers made from pineapple, and one of the traditional textiles of the Philippines.  Aklan, and more particularly Kalibo, remains to be the main and oldest manufacturer of pina cloth dating as far back as pre-Hispanic times. Historical records suggests that the pina cloth has even been exported as far as Greece and Egypt during its heyday. 
 
 
While there are many shops around town that manufacture and sell this, we opted to go to sisters Ding and Leevi Dela Cruz whose family has been in this industry for generations.  Thankfully, they have continued this tradition and even opened a big portion of their residence to showcase their work.   
 
 
On some days, Leevi, who is in charge of weaving and dying the cloths using natural dyes, can give a demonstration on how pina fibers are weaved into the most lightweight and beautiful cloths that will later be used to make shawls, pillow cases, ladies' purses, wallets or fans that they sell in the showroom.  There are also cloths available by the yard for you to be sewed into barongs (men's traditional long or short sleeved shirts) or women's gowns, blouse and/or skirts.
 
 
They also weave baskets of all shapes and sizes using buri leaves, which they supply to better known department stores in Manila and are also exported to the US, among others. 
 
 
2.  Visit Sampaguita Gardens
506 Rizal Street Poblacion,
New Washington, Aklan, Philippines
Tel. No. +63 36 2643422
            +63 36 2645555
 
From Kalibo town proper, you can take a tricycle and reach the resort in 30 minutes.  If coming from Kalibo Airport, the ride will take you there in 15 minutes.
 
Sampaguita Gardens is a resort and hotel put up by Samuel John Butcher, the creator and artist of Precious Moments characters that spread Christian messages.  The resort was set up in 2003 and is considered one of the major tourist destinations in Aklan.  Entrance fees are Php50/adult (US$1.19) and Php30/child 3-12 years old (US$0.70), but are consumable.  This means, you can use your tickets to pay for the food or merchandise you might buy inside. And believe me, you'll be able to spend it all without effort.
 
 
The resort is an all-year round Christmas park. Thus upon entering, you are greeted by Precious Moments angels along the pathway, a nativity scene in the garden and the centerpiece of the resort, Jojo's Christmas Cottage.  The gift shop is found inside along with the Cottage's Coffee Town where we discovered serve good coffee.  You can enjoy your cup in one of the tables located at the outdoor porch of the Cottage.
 
At the time of our visit, however, there were a lot of disappointments. First, the Christmas museum located on the Cottage's second floor is closed for repairs. Second, much of the rides in the garden, like the carousel, are in disrepair.  Third, the Coffee Town didn't have a lot on offer so you're limited to just having hot drinks.  (We were hoping to have something cold on a hot day).  Fourth, the resort had a general feeling of not being maintained properly.
 
 
On the bright side, the poolside restaurant was open so we enjoyed their hefty Pancit Canton very much, and they totally have bragging rights to their biscocho (toasted bread).  Make sure to buy a couple or so of boxes for your own consumption, and as gifts for friends back home.  They sell it at Php78 (around US$1.85) for the small box and Php150 (around US$3.50) for the big one.  Of course, you can't go home without taking a little bit of Precious Moments merchandise with you.
 
 
All in all, it is still a happy place to go to.  You may even opt to stay there as a hotel guest and hopefully get a view of the sea outside your window.
 
3.  Eat oysters at RML Manokan Haus
Mabini Street, Kalibo, Aklan, Philippines
 
 
Ask any tricycle driver, and he'll take you to this place.  RML is primarily a chicken inasal (barbecue, Visayan style) place, so please try out their chicken and pork.  There may also be other RML branches in other parts of the Visayas Region, but since you're in Aklan, a seafood paradise, they also serve fresh-steamed oysters.  The best part about this place is that you only get to pay Php60 (around US$1.40) a bucket.  Dig in!
 
4.  Have a photo op at a historical place
 
 
Glowmoon is now a commercial building, but it was once the residence and birth place of one of the country's heroes, Victorino Mapa.  He served as legal adviser of the Philippine Revolutionary Government of Emilio Aguinaldo, in the Commonwealth Government as Secretary of Finance and Justice, as Associate Justice then later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  (The place is near the Aklan Catholic College and Kalibo Cathedral, the latter, a worthy place to visit too.)
 
Kalibo is also the birthplace of the late Jaime Cardinal Sin.  His family residence is now a museum that you may want to check out too.
 
5.  Get a pizza fix at Zabroso
Mabini Street, Kalibo, Aklan, Philippines
 
 
Zabroso serves 16-inch pan pizzas Chicago style so expect thick slices with loads of toppings.  One whole pizza is only Php250 (US$5.95), but you can choose from among those that they've already made for the day at Php35 (US$0.83)a slice.  Pastas are available too.
 
 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Island Paradise - Boracay

There was an occasion for us to go to Kalibo, well, in my case to go on a junket to this Visayan province just last weekend.  But we decided to go a day early and make a lay-over, if you will, at one of the best beaches in the world (or at least for 2012).  After all, from Kalibo, going to Boracay is just around an hour and a half of land and ferry ride.  (Of course, there is another option to get there and this is getting a plane to Caticlan which makes reaching Boracay shorter, but the purpose of our travel is in Kalibo.)

 
This isn't our first time to this paradise, and so it just hit me that upon arriving via the Supercat Ferry, there is really something about Boracay that makes you relieved that you have returned. Not only were we greeted with bright blue skies and plump clouds, but the sea remained calm and inviting, sparklingly clear and blue against the powdery white sand.  Ah, to be blessed with being able to have this place in your neighborhood.  Is it any wonder that Filipinos and tourists alike keep coming back?

 
The first order of the day was to get ourselves settled in our beachfront hotel.  Le Soleil de Boracay is located in Station 2 in White Beach, right in the middle of where the action is.  We arranged for airport-hotel transfers with them and it was very well-coordinated although a bit pricey for a local (Php500/pax excluding the terminal fee of Php100/pax and environmental tax of Php75/pax or a total of Php675 (around USD16).  But you do get quality attention.
 
Front desk services was quite fast and even though we arrived early for check-in, we were whisked immediately to our room, one with high ceilings, very comfy bed and fully air-conditioned to balance the heat outside when its time for dozing off.  They provided basic amenities and toiletries, including a bar.  But if you prefer cheaper sundries, they don't mind if you shop at nearby D'Mall at no additional corkage.  What's great about this hotel is that once you step in your room, you won't hear the hustle and bustle of beach life outside.  You can be sure you'll enjoy a bit of solitude if that's your thing, or easily slip into your sweet dreams.  The only minor downside to our stay here was that the internet connection was non-existent at the time of our visit, and if there is one, this is only available for free at the lobby.  On the other hand, this isn't the reason why one goes to the beach. 

 
Meals in Boracay should really be about seafood.  At night you'll have many choices of restaurants and hotels offering buffets or cooking on-the-spot according to your preference, but at lunch time, only a few open up their outlets for this. 

 
At Boracay Uptown (a minute's walk from the hotel), we settled for Paraiso Bar and Grill and had our fill of live crab cooked with chili garlic sauce, fresh prawns with butter and garlic, an order of grilled pork belly for my daughter (who is unfortunately allergic to shellfish) and a plate of Kangkong (swamp cabbage) sautéed with garlic to balance things off.  We also had grilled Cebu Chorizo from nearby Golden Cowrie Grill just because.  This on-the-spot cooking feast is priced by the kilo so our meal cost Php2,500 (around USD59.52), but well worth it.  We finished our meal feeling satisfied but not heavy.

 




Dining options in this busy vacation spot are quite numerous, it might leave one undecisive, but I'd like to make special mention of Lemoni Café located at D'Mall owned by Sarah Adey La Brooy and Julia Lervik.  While it is as open-air as its many neighboring restaurants, you won't miss this because of its cheerful yellow-green, yellow, and white colors.  Plus, they provide a menu that are healthier options apt for a beach life, while keeping some of what Filipinos look for [i.e. all-day breakfast items like tapsi (beef tapa, egg and rice)]. 

 
For my daughter, going to Lemoni Café would mean getting their Bacon, Fried Egg and Rice (not on the menu as is, but they allow requests), while I got the Feta Cheese and Spinach Parcels with Yogurt Dip.  We also had their fruit shakes, but they serve excellent coffee as well.  Excellent here would mean it isn't coming from a 3-in-1 sachet and it isn't Starbucks.  Do try out their various cakes and pastries too, especially the lemon bars.

 

Nightlife is very active here, but it will just be composed mainly of drinking and binging with some restaurants or hotels offering entertainment such as acoustic or band performances or fire-dancing.  This is on an off-season.  Peak season will have the entire coastline crowded with concerts, dancing and sports competitions.
 


While in Boracay, there will be many activities to go for like parasailing, kayaking, diving lessons, snorkeling, riding ATVs and exploring the other side of the island, banana-boat riding, or immerse yourself in massages either in spa outlets or from the many masseuses right there on the beachfront (Php300/hour or around USD7).  You can also get a henna tattoo or have your hair braided. But for only a lay over, well, just walking along the coastline and settling for a margarita and a beer would do just fine.

 
 
 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Breakfast Made in Marikina - Rustic Mornings by Isabelo

What better way to start a holiday morning than have a hefty breakfast?  Thus, I gathered my husband and daughter and trooped down from our mountain to the valley that is Marikina to try out Rustic Mornings by Isabelo, the same place that is also otherwise known as Isabelo Garden Restaurant that operates in the evenings for dinner by reservations only.  The things that intrigued me about this place are, first, the fact that its just near where we live.  Second, upon visiting its website, I thought the pictures of the dishes on their menu looked sumptuous, and third, the place itself had the right ambience for a leisurely meal. 
 
 
Finding Rustic Mornings was a bit easy since it is near the Church of Our Lady of the Abandoned, and actually a close neighbor of the Marikina Shoe Museum, both of which are famous landmarks of the city.  (For a detailed map on how to get there, you can visit the link here.)  It is named after the road where it is found, Isabelo Mendoza Street in barangay San Roque.
 
 
While dinners at Isabelo Garden require reservation, breakfast and lunch are open to walk-in customers.  Nevertheless, I took the precaution to reserve us a table a day before, which was a good thing because when we arrived at the appointed time (9:30am), the attendants could not give us our table in the garden.  This was due to the previous diners who were actually walk-in clients, but refused to leave despite the fact that they already asked for the bill and paid for it.  Well, I can't really blame them for not leaving right away and being insensitive to the people who actually took time to reserve a table, dining in the garden is such a treat - surrounded by lush greenery additionally made charming by embellishments such as country-style bric-a-brac and capiz shell curtains strategically located so that even if there were several diners out in the garden, you still get substantial privacy with which to enjoy your meal and the company you keep.
 
 
So for the people who came in without reservations, the wait for a table was a bit longer at this time.  For us with reservations, it took us 30 minutes to be finally seated in a location we didn't like, however equally engaging the indoor dining area was.  My idea of a relaxing breakfast has in fact gone haywire because the place was really busy and getting the food served was a challenge to one's good disposition (the three of us were quite hungry already at this time).  The attendants were very patient, however, so that was one thing going for them, and the other was that when our food finally arrived, I found out why this is becoming a favorite place for visitors and Marikenos alike.
 
 
The Corned Beefsilog was very savory served with 2 eggs (my husband had the 2 eggs cooked different ways), although, I detect that the corned beef used was the garlic and chili variety of Delimondo, a favorite.  The fried rice was mixed with herbs and garlic and was cooked to make you want more.
 
 
My daughter's waffles were huge.  Toasted well on the outside and creamy on the inside.  Pairing it with bacon is a classic choice.  I, on the other hand, had the waffles served with buffalo chicken with chipotle sauce and salad greens - a good choice for brunch.  Their coffee (or Americano) comes with unlimited refill and satisfies a Filipino palate (a.k.a. mild brew).  In addition to our plates, we had extra side orders of the tawilis, a variety of small fish usually found in Taal Lake (savory and crunchy, it went well with my salad), and a frankfurter. 
 
 
Our entire meal costs us PhP1,271 (and change, or around US$30).  Not bad.  However, I don't think I'll be able to get my husband and daughter to come back with me here.  They didn't like the crowd that were there with us - loud selfies with nervous energies who constantly have an eye out at the entrance to find out if anybody who came in was anybody worth knowing.  One of the older diners was even homicidal, he almost ran over my husband in the parking lot (a small area),  as if the world was going to be on the brink if he didn't get to his table.  He was never even sorry.
 
For my twenty-five-centavos-worth, I suggest that you try out this place on its off-days like when you are on vacation while everyone else is at work.  Maybe you'll get better treatment and you can better enjoy its charms.  Added to this, make sure you make reservations just the same.

Rustic Mornings by Isabelo
11 Isabelo Mendoza Street
San Roque, Marikina City
+63 2 5106914
+63 2 6812461
+63 917 70055810

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Special Plate - Chicken Galantina

Have you gone through an occasion when you thought that you would like to do something special for a meal - be it breakfast, lunch, snack or dinner?  It was like that for me and the idea of preparing a Chicken Galantina. 

This is usually a celebratory dish, only prepared on special occasions like if one is throwing a party, or served during the noche buena feast on Christmas eve.  Ideally this is served as a cold cut with Spanish origins where it is referred to as a Galantina de Gallina.  A galantina, in other words, is a chicken that is deboned and stuffed, then poached and served cold.  In Spain, commercial versions of this dish are sold alongside Serrano hams.  Traditionally, though, when it was usual for Spanish rural kitchens to tend their own hens for eggs, they don't use roasting chickens for this dish, but use a gallina, an old hen past her laying days. 

Presently in the Philippines, any chicken would do as long as it has the proper weight.  However, commercial chickens tend to have thin skins, which make sewing the fowl together after stuffing a challenge.  Nevertheless, if you can get hold of a native or organically grown fowl, then their thicker skins would help make things a bit easier.

It took me two hours to prepare this dish, from deboning to chopping the filling ingredients and stuffing it in, and an additional two hours for poaching the bird itself. I was committed of course, and the end result was the reward itself.  I served this dish with a salad of mixed greens dressed with vinaigrette, and warmed pan de sal, and it was a perfect meal.

And as for my motivation for preparing this dish for our dinner in the first place?  Well, there was no special occasion, but does one really need to find a reason to have a good meal?  I say any day is a good day. 


The Recipe

1 1.5 to 2-kilos whole chicken (you can ask the butcher to debone this for you, if you wish)
1 kilo ground pork
1 medium white onion, chopped finely
1 medium carrot, chopped finely
1 long or 2 short pieces Chinese sausage, chopped finely
1 can Deviled Ham
1 small can Vienna Sausage, chopped finely
1 T. liquid seasoning
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 eggs

1.  If you are deboning the chicken yourself, start at the neck and feel with your hand for the wishbones.  Slice of a portion of the meat from the top of the wishbone and release the meat from the bones gently by feeling your way through with your fingers loosening the meat from the bone, then the tendon at the end.  Go the same way sideways towards the wing area and cut off the tendon connecting the wing to the body.  Break off the bone from the wing tip but maintain the wingtip bone where it is.  Do the same to the other side.

2.  Turn the chicken around so the cavity on the lower portion of the bird is facing you then cut off the thigh part from the body bone, careful not to tear into the skin.  Loosen the meat from the thigh bone and disconnect it at the tendon connecting the leg bone.  Do the same to the other side.  To work on the back bone, loosen a portion of the skin next to the butt and work with your fingers to loosen the rest of the meat from the spine and spreading to the rest of the back bone.  Once you reach the top where the neck is, loosen the skin on the neck.  Carefully remove the entire body bone from the lower cavity careful once again not to tear the skin.  Hopefully, you were able to debone the bird without making any additional slices with the knife.  If there were tears long enough that it would give the bird an opening, then one has to sew it together.

3.  With a kitchen twine and sterilized needle, sew the neck portion of the bird close.  Place the deboned chicken in a bowl and sprinkle juice from 3 calamansi (Philippine lemon, or 1 lemon if not available) and let marinate while you are preparing the stuffing.

4.  The stuffing, mix all remaining ingredients (from the ground pork to the eggs) until well incorporated and set aside.
 
5.  Remove the deboned chicken from the bowl, wash off the lemon juice and pat dry with paper towels.  Set on a large chopping board, and carefully put stuffing through the lower opening, making sure the cavity on the chicken wing and thigh areas are filled.  Sew bottom opening with kitchen twine.
 
6.  Boil 2 inches of water in a big casserole.  Fit in a rack.  While waiting for the water to boil, wrap the chicken with aluminum foil, making sure that there isn't any opening, then place inside casserole on top of rack when water has boiled.  Poach for 2 hours (for a 2-kilo chicken; 1 hour 40 minutes for a 1.5 kilo chicken), checking to see if there is still water every 30 minutes or so.  If the water has almost evaporated, add more water.
 
7.  Once cooking time is over, remove the chicken from the casserole and let rest for 15 minutes on another rack.  Remove the foil cover and let chicken cool completely.  You can transfer the chicken in another foil wrapping and place in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
 
8.  If you prefer to serve the chicken with a sauce, there will be drippings left in the aluminum foil used for cooking, carefully transfer this liquid in a container.  In the meantime, get a small saucepan, and make a roux by heating 2 T. butter  until melted and adding 2 T. flour, mixing constantly until it thickens.  Add the drippings in a slow steady stream until well incorporated and the sauce reaches a smooth consistency.  Add a dash of pepper, or to taste and serve with the galantina. 
 
9.  For any leftovers, wrap the chicken in a foil and freeze.  This can then be enjoyed any time as a sandwich filling or as a cold cut. 
 
For a Filipino-style breakfast, serve it with fried egg and steamed rice with a side of atsara (pickled vegetables).   Just thinking about the possibilities makes me anticipate my morning.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Finding Amore in the South - Daniele's Casa Mia Italian Restaurant

This is that time that I lunched with my mother when I visited her in Las Pinas today, the metro city I grew up in.  We avoided the malls since we tend to find the same dining places whether you're in the north, east or south of Metro Manila.  Thus, for something different, we sought this place out.  I previously noticed this place in one of my drives along Sucat Road in Paranaque (now referred to as Dr. A. Santos Avenue). 


Mind you, it isn't noticeable at first, but the signage just popped out along the busy street.  In fact, a portion of the restaurant along the main thoroughfare is right beside a tombstone store :-D (consider that the area is near two big memorial parks), but one has to go through a narrow passageway to get to the main entrance.  Reaching that, you pass by some outdoor tables, and a potted garden with paintings of famous landmarks of Italy.


Daniele is the son of Roberto Bellini, the proprietor of the well-known trattoria Bellini's in Cubao.  He worked as a photojournalist in his home country until he finally settled in the Philippines and set up his own restaurant serving food he grew up with in Pisa.


Thus, upon entry, we were greeted by friendly staff and shown to an inner room decorated with some of Daniele's photographic works on the wall along with family pictures, more paintings and tile art, and an irrepressible paper mache of the leaning tower of Pisa meeting us as we stepped in.
 
 

The menu boasts of a wide array of choices, but we settled with old standbys like the Beef Carpaccio for our appetizer, which had the proper balance of tanginess that set off the freshness and quality of the beef.  This dish certainly whet our appetites for more good things to come.

We split the Creamy Broccoli Soup so we can make sure to have room for more.  Then for our primi piatti (first plates) the mild-mannered Spaghetti Vongole essayed the part perfectly.  I just shook the pepper and grated parmesan bottles a bit more.   They also serve hand-made pastas but this would take more time to prepare, so this is better reserved for a another day - something to make me giddy with anticipation for the next visit.


Then since Daniele's is proud of its pizzas (all 65 flavors of them), we have to have one as well.  For a first-time visitor, we asked for the Quatrizza - four flavors in one 12-inch dough ((their pizzas are also available in 16-inch disks): Napolitana, Maremmana, Capricciosa and Quatro Formaggi, baked in a wood-burning brick oven.  The first bite exposes the freshness of ingredients used for both the dough and the different toppings.  But really, the hallmark of a good pizza, I've come to learn, is in the dough.  Daniele's was chewy and crunchy at the same time.


For our secondo piatto (second plate), my mother and I shared the simply grilled salmon with oven-baked potatoes and assortment of vegetables like zucchini, bell peppers and whole shallots.  Indeed, the simplicity of the preparation brought out the wondrous flavors of the dish.


As we end our meal, one cannot leave without dolci (dessert), and the tiramisu gelato was highly recommended.  Rightly so.  It looked sinfully rich, but tasted pure and light.  There were enough coffee and chocolate going around.
 
 
For all that we ate, and served with impeccable timing, this feast only cost us PhP1,360 (around US$32).  This would be one of the perks of dining in places just off the mainstream path.
 
And luckily, today was exactly the restaurant's third anniversary of operations and so we lucky diners, we lucky few, had a treat of a digestivo to finish our meal elegantly. 
 
Salute e amore! 
 
8351 Dr. A. Santos Avenue
Brgy. San Antonio, Paranaque City 1700
+63 2 8265163