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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Escape to Cebu

As the year draws to an end, it made me wonder how wisely I spent my time and energies this holiday season.  After all, as Epicurus once said, "Not what we have, but what we enjoy constitutes our abundance."

While it was felt that this was a more challenging year than most that we've gone through, I am happy to say that my family and I were able to escape all the heavy traffic, the jostling among crowds and crowds in the different malls trying to complete our gift lists, and the general lamentations carried with emptying wallets as the expenses keep coming this holiday season.

For one, it was agreed among friends that we will forgo the gift-giving and just have a wonderful time together with stories and interesting conversation over a meal in some restaurant.  It was certainly more enjoyable that way, and Facebook updates were reserved for people who happen to be far, far away.

For another, the opportunity to get out of Metro Manila just as the holiday was coming to a head around Christmas time, was taken in a heart beat. 

Indeed, a trip to Cebu was all we needed to simplify things.  While Cebu City itself did not escape the holiday rush - traffic was also a problem - we limited ourselves to Mactan and Lapu-Lapu Islands, which also make up the province of Cebu.

As returning guests to Mactan Shangri-La Hotel, it was a welcome opportunity to relive the good memories we have of staying here.  The resort hotel has its own claim to the white sands of Cebu's beaches, amenities that included the Chi spa, a playground for toddlers and younger kids, a gameroom or mini arcade for older ones, and private rooms for karaoke/videoke singing (if you are into that kind of thing.)

As a hotel guest, you won't feel like you want to leave the premises, as it is self-sustaining.  Nevertheless, a trip to Cebu will not be complete unless you venture outside the hotel and try out the Sutokil restaurants that are just a few minutes' ride away.  You won't miss it since it is right beside the Lapu Lapu and Magellan landmarks.  Sutukil is short for SUgba, Tula, and KILawin (grill, boil and raw), or the ways in which you can have your food eaten.  A Sutukil restaurant means, you pick your seafood or meat fresh from the counter, and instruct the attendants how you want this fish or that prawns cooked.

For our part, we requested our prawns to be cooked with butter garlic sauce, a popular choice.  Ours came cooked properly since the shell fell off easily from the meat as we peeled it.

Then we also got one whole Talakitok, a big and flat silver-scaled fish usually good for grilling.  Thus, we requested  the body to be grilled, and for the head to be cooked into Tula (or tinola in Tagalog).  However, Tula in Cebu means it is cooked sinigang style, or with a sour broth, and this means using lemon grass, and little else, as souring agent.  This is different from a Tagalog sinigang which uses either tamarind, calamansi (Philippine lime), kamias or even guavas.  

Other must-eats would be the baked scallops with a rich, buttery coating, and the fresh seaweed salad, which beads pop the flavors of the sea right in your mouth.  All these, while eating among the mangroves and the sea breeze whipping on your face.

We did not go back to the hotel just yet.  We walked off that gargantuan meal in the Lapu Lapu shrine next door. We just passed by the many stalls selling souvenir items, as we did on our way to choosing our restaurant at the beginning of the trip.  If you are a first-time visitor, go ahead and get yourself a woven bag, shell trinkets, ukeleles or even guitars if you feel like it.  After all, Cebu is known for its craftsmanship in guitar-making.  

The Lapu Lapu shrine was a welcome respite.  It was built in honor of Datu Lapu Lapu, a chieftain of Mactan Island and is known for being the first Filipino to have resisted Spanish occupation and colonization.  He fought Ferdinand Magellan and killed him during the Battle of Mactan in 27 April 1521.  

A memorial was also built on the spot where Magellan died, although his remains were never returned or surrendered to the Spanish explorers, and thus, remains unknown until now.

This particular trip, however, was not all about eating and lounging around.  On another day, we were able to check out 2 department stores in Lapu Lapu Island where we were able to purchase the newest craze in Philippine delicacies, the dried mangoes dipped in chocolate (Php50).  The more expensive ones are dipped in Belgian chocolate and contained in attractive boxes (Php230 small/Php680 big).

Another good trip we made was the gift shopping we did for our immediate family members.  We went to one of the malls in the area and enjoyed the bargain we got in purchasing brand-name clothes at half the price we would have paid for if we bought it in Metro Manila.  The secret, I suppose, is having a friend in the area who just knows where to look.

Thus, to sum this all up:  good, helpful friends + desire for simplicity + eye for bargain = a pleasurable holiday.

A joyous New Year to all of you.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Holiday Pause

The Christmas season is a big thing in the Philippines.  As early as September, shops dress up their windows for this holiday already, and some radio stations would start playing Christmas melodies.  Houses though would probably start decorating from the outside in after the weekend of All Saints' and All Souls' Days.

Then starting the 16th of December, the dawn masses would commence, leading up to the Christmas eve mass on the 24th.  This is a novena mass in anticipation of the birth of Jesus.  The Philippines is the only country I know that observe this particular devotion to the Child Jesus.  Although, I have yet to complete the whole nine masses in one season, but according to friends, they feel a sense of accomplishment when they do complete it.  For some, a cup of hot ginger tea and a bite of either or both bibingka (steamed cakes) and puto bungbong (rice cakes cooked from a tube over charcoals) after the mass, is a good enough push for them to wake really early in the morning.

For a typical Christmas eve dinner, usually taken after the mass, there is always the ham and the queso de bola (or a ball of edam cheese) and probably, a pasta or potato salad somewhere.  Other viands would be up to the menu set by family.  In our case, I think we went overboard this year.  Maybe it was the pleasant surprise to have my sister over for an unscheduled visit from abroad.  There were two Tamarind-Roast Chickens, Baked Salmon (both specialties of Heaven's Country Kitchen), Lasagna, a serving of Lechon (courtesy of my Mother) and Salad Greens with Lemon Tarragon Vinaigrette.  Certainly, we also had the ham and queso de bola.  For dessert, we had a taste of a very British Figgy Christmas Pudding (brought by my sister), and a very Filipino Buco Pandan Salad.

Funnily enough, this Christmas spread was quite easy to prepare.  Everything was cooked in the oven and all we had to do was keep time while enjoying each others' company.  Nothing like an exchange of stories and companionship to strengthen the bonds of family and friendship.  

After all,  this is a good time as any to think of others for a change, and not get caught up in the self-centered world of political correctness.

Maligayang Pasko sa inyong lahat (Merry Christmas to all)!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Food Tripping - Antipolo

Weekend markets have been a great venue to get to know little-known bakers, farmers and home cooks or chefs to showcase their products and specialties.  I am such a fan of these events because they usually hold treasures waiting to be discovered.  In fact, as early as the '80s, I think, my parents would travel all the way to Quezon City from Las Pinas to go to the SIDCOR market.  Then later on, my sister and I would tag along since we would be going to SIDCOR after the early morning Sunday mass at St. Clare's Church along Katipunan.

Since then, there have been other weekend markets that would sprout up - the market at the grounds of Lung Center of the Philippines, the one in Magallanes which later transferred to the FTI Complex in Bicutan, then the more notable Salcedo Village weekend market followed by the one in Legaspi Village, both in Makati.

But at present, I'm more excited with the one closer to home.  Finally, the first ever food bazaar in Antipolo has been organized.  Actually, it already started during the weekend of 6-8 December, and will continue on for the remaining weekends of the month.  Entitled "Food Trip, Tayo Na Sa Antip", Lala Bagsit, Darleen Javillonar, and RJ Tolentino from Ad Peak Events Management thought that it makes a whole lot of sense for Antipolo to have its own weekend market considering that most farms, and artisanal cooks and bakers usually come from Antipolo or the nearby towns like Tanay or Angono, some of whom are also participants at the weekend markets in Metro Manila.

"Food Trip, Tayo Na Sa Antip" occupies a portion of the parking area at the Lores Country Plaza in front of SM Hypermart in Antipolo.  It was indeed very festive when we got to visit and the event was further enhanced by the cool mountain air.  It certainly felt more like Christmas than other parts of the Philippines.

There was truly a variety of goods being sold.  Of course, one has to have the season's staples that is the bibingka and puto bungbung.

Then there were assorted pates from Gordita's (our favorite is the Pate de Pesto con Queso at Php120/jar) being sold alongside their imported brands of colognes like Denenes, Fa, and Bien-etre (remember them?).

We also got to meet Benny O'Bannon of Mulberry Hill Farms who is an active advocate for the benefits of the mulberry tree.  She concocts her own tea made from the leaves and bark of the mulberry and sells them at Php60/half liter.  She also produces organic lettuce (of the lolo rosa kind), basil and edible flowers that are perfect for salads.  She also sells mulberry seedlings (Php60/plant) so that there will be more people who will take care of these trees and enjoy the health benefits it gives.

Other products on sale are food from Trick's Resto Bar, cupcakes and gourmet donuts, chicken dishes, and even Vigan furniture along with table-top zen fountains. It's very affordable, home-grown, and absolutely delicious.  We even forgot to document the cupcakes and donuts since we were too busy eating them :-)


Hopefully, with the success of this first weekend market, there will be more markets that can be organized by the charming trio of ladies behind this.  The more reason with which to showcase Rizal products, and get to know the thriving sense of community which make up the small entrepreneurs of this province.

Food Trip Tayo Na Sa Antip Food Bazaar
Lores Country Plaza
M.L. Quezon Avenue, Antipolo City
open 4pm-12mn all weekends of December 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Drinking Coffee the Healthy Way - Roots & Herbs Coffee Antipolo

Antipolo is slowly growing a cafe culture in recent years.  I'm glad to note that this community is not composed of your usual multinational brands (although there's a Starbucks right beside the Antipolo Cathedral).  The coffee joints that have been sprouting up are home-grown companies, thankfully, and one of this is Roots and Herbs Coffee set up by Fe Mabanta with her husband Sammy.  It is located in an ideal spot in Antipolo, on the ground floor of the Ahead Tutorial Center in Mission Hills Subdivision along M.L. Quezon Avenue, far from the traffic fix that one is bound to get into at the intersection of Sumulong Memorial Circle.

What makes this an inviting spot is that you get to enjoy the cool mountain breezes here and the location is on the quiet side, having one or two residential subdivisions, and the Transfiguration Cathedral as neighbors.  It certainly made sense for Fe to put up a cafe that serves healthy beverage choices, as it matches with the fresh Antipolo air and the simpler lifestyle led by its people.

Roots and Herbs is a brand name that has been popular for its healthy drink mixes - from Malunggay (or horseradish tree) coffee, to its slimming coffee brand "Cafe Nero".  They also serve the most delectable Green Tea (served iced or hot), Iced Red Berry Tea, all of which contain nutrient-rich herbs and are sugar-free.  

There's also the Venus Prime vanilla-flavored anti-aging milk which contains collagen, co-enzyme Q10, chamomile, hops and linden that can cap your day nicely.  Boxes of their drink mixes plus nutritional supplements are also being sold at the store.  Fe displays packaging suggestions for gifts, which is timely, as we are already in the middle of the Christmas season. (You might still have a few more people in your gift list that you haven't shopped for yet, these products might be a good idea).

Thus, when Roots and Herbs opened in Antipolo last 8 December 2013, friends of the Mabantas came to congratulate and sample the hot and creamy milk tea (you can also have it cold), the green and red berry iced tea, and various dishes that are on the regular menu.  

I especially liked their Fish Fillet with garlic cream (usually served as a rice topping), and their Pasta with Seafood Aglio Olio.  

Carrot cakes, blueberry and oreo cheesecakes are also available to satisfy your sweet cravings.

The opening day was conducted with easy conversation and all-around smiles that mingled with the cafe's casual interiors.  It felt like you were in an extension of your own living room.  

As of this writing, I am told that the menu will likely expand to answer to the demands of its growing clientele.  Will it open for the Simbang Gabi (or the early morning novena mass in anticipation of Christmas Day, an old Filipino tradition)?  Here's keeping my fingers crossed.

Well, its been four days since it opened and I have returned to sample their other food choices at least three times already.  That certainly says something.