Thursday, June 28, 2007

Pavlovian responses

I was bloghopping and came across the photo of fresh santol with a drizzle of salt, the subtitle was Stare and Salivate (see Senor Enrique's blog). Even before I read the orders, I could feel my salivary glands leaching out their fluids. I love a good santol, the meaty flesh, the sour tones, the sometimes light sweetness. Peel away the inedible outer skin, and eat it straight like an apple (expect to pucker up from the acidity), or dip it into something salty: rock salt, patis (fish sauce), or vinegar with salt. Sometimes I find enough bagoong (fermented shrimp/fish paste) to smear on a particularly sour slice and gobble it up.

Some years ago, there was a restuarant that offered a buffet with one santol dish; the fruit was marinated in strong vinegar, spicy red onions, and floating bits of jalapenos or the local green spicy peppers. I loved this salad! I recreated it once although I steeped the santol in for too long and it was like burning my tongue and inner cheek linings everytime I ate some. Whoohooo!

Santols are in season now, go salivate and eat some.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

20 out of 50

As an addendum to the Lakbayan map of the Philippines, I traced it back to a website that did one for the world and one for the US. Here are my US travel results:

create your own visited states map

I didn't include states that I have driven through. I haven't been to many southern states, although I have wanted to visit New Orleans, Savannah, and go to Memphis for the bbq festival. My dad's doing a cruise to Alaska this week, so he's got a leg up on me there. I sure hope I don't end up waiting till I'm in my 80's to see the Alaskan fjords and icebergs.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Two boats in the night

I had my first America Cup viewing tonight. And, well, I think I prefer to watch bread bake. The boats themselves are beautiful, and they look wonderful being expertly sailed around the waters of Seville, the site of this year's competition. From our expert dinner companions, we learned that the Alinghi team from Switzerland is the defending champion, and that they have been waiting four years to defend their championship. They face team New Zealand, who won the Louis Vuitton cup, the final cut for numerous challengers. S explained that Alinghi doesn't get to use the same kind of boat in competition until the America's Cup, while New Zealand has the advantage of having the LV cup to get their bearings (pardon the pun).

However, watching boats race around at an average of 12 knots an hour is boring. I like the feeling of sailing a boat, although I am not a competent sailor; but watching it happen on a big projector screen isn't much fun. I would prefer watching Formula 1 whizz by in never ending circles. Cars go fast. Boats not so much. By the time they finally get the 3rd leg of this part of the race going, I'm ready to head home. Oh look, it's raining!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

C+: makes me want to pack my bags and head out the door!

My Lakbayan grade is C+!

How much of the Philippines have you visited? Find out atLakbayan!

Created by Eugene Villar.

Found this on Carol Finds blogspot (, and since a recent post made other friends think of travelling together, this map and survey might help us figure out where to go next.

I know that my grade is pretty average, but there are swathes of Mindanao, Visayas, and the whole Eastern part of Luzon I have yet to explore, not to mention Batanes. At least I can say I've had the luck of going to places like Jolo (in Sulu), the boonies of Bukidnon, and recently Abra. Not exactly on the top of the list for local tourists to visit.

Dept of Tourism might consider using this survey and map to get the word out on undiscovered gems in our country.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Haunted house

Ghost whisperer I am not. R had told me before the trip that his ancestral home in Bangued was haunted. His cousins concurred, they don't like staying overnight in the house as they "feel" the ghosts in the house.

According to the family, the house, owned by Judge F. Valera and his wife, was taken over by the Japanese in WW2, turned into a military hospital. I read a chronicle on one of the church doors that the American's bombed a Japanese military hospital in Bangued, so I wonder if it was one and the same. Overtime, the kids and grandkids have at one time or another felt presence in the house. R recalls hearing boot stomping footsteps in the dining room; the feeling of cold in an outdoor garage. The overseer told us of a woman in a nightgown (hmmm, too similar to other ghostly tales, I wonder until she also mentions the woman always has a ghostly cigarette dangling from her lips. Curlers too?).

However, I have never been susceptible to ghosts. Granted I've never stayed overnight in a haunted house, but even in places that other people say are ghostly, I don't feel the tingle. A tad melancholy thinking of the sadness of their end, but never creeped out.

So I was looking forward to the house. It had ruins, even a room that towered over the stoney grotto, that could be the perfect setting for a haunting vision (lady in white, with a ciggie). At night, I listened, tried to feel for something spectral. Nada.

Fast asleep at 5 am, I am nudged to semi-consciousness by the sound of heavy footsteps in the outer room. I lift my head, check to see if anyone else is awake, but notice nothing. Was it a dream?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

World Food pictures, Biggest Loser, and food forgetfulness

Time, the media company, has an online series on food around the world, diet, appetite and such related topics that I read through my lunch break. Instead of eating, I read about eating/food etc. And nibbled on prunes. It's a long story, don't ask.

Anyway, the photo series on what the world eats is interesting. 15 families around the world are photographed with their weekly food expenditure. They also share what their favorite foods are or a family recipe (not in much detail, just "potato with cabbage" or "pizza"). Made me think about what foods would be photographed if I had to share those details: tofu, lots of mineral water, soy milk, chicken soup, rice, eggs, cheese, bread, roast chicken, pears, oranges, grapes, lettuce, tomatoes, a mixed salad of things, nuts, prunes (especially these days), miso soup mix, and lots of varying sweets. Perhaps what would be more illuminating is a photo of my refrigerator at any given time, although the stack of forgotten moldy cheese is probably not something I want to share.

One of the articles included along with the photo essay is an article about the Biggest Loser TV show. Men and women fight for the right to lose the most amount of weight through the help of trainers and nutritionists and motivational speakers. They get eliminated each week and get more than snarky because these days, rudeness equals good TV. At work, we had our mini-version of Biggest Loser, but it was clear who would win, as one colleague did her version of the South Beach Diet and lost 20 lbs, the first 14 in the first 2 weeks of our trial period (12 weeks). I lost about 6 lbs during this period, but without any direction whatsoever. I wasn't going to the gym, I attempted to eat less, but was tempted at every turn with dinners and food outings galore. I'm surprised I even lost 6 lbs, probably mostly water weight.

However, what the article about the Biggest loser points out is the difficulty in maintaining the lost weight. No duh. Everyone who has ever been on a diet knows that it's the maintenance that makes it difficult. The three winners of the show over the last few years have had varying degrees of difficulty keeping the weight off. Faced with reality, and its accompanying temptations, the contestants easily slip back into old habits or have to make sacrifices like exercising 4 hours a day to maintain their weight loss. Ugh.

At last Saturday's market, my first purchase went to buying 6 bottles of the vegetable fruit juices near my flower/plant vendor Dahlia. I like the way they make the juices (celery, watercress, cucumber, beetroot, etc) taste healthy without passing on taste. I have used the juice in the past to do a liquid day diet. Not quite a fast, more just to get some fiber and enough vegetables in my system. I paid for it, and told the seller I'd come back for it. Last night, I was watching Martha Stewart talk about juicers and juice extractors when a light went off in my head "I forgot my danged juices!!!!!"

Friday, June 15, 2007

Size matters

Tricycles are motorcycles attached to covered sidecars. In Thailand, they have "tuktuks"; in this country, we just call them tricycles. There are bike (pedal) powered versions, and the faster motorcycle driven ones. Around Metro Manila, they cover the small streets, alleyways, and villages where jeepneys and buses aren't allowed to traverse. They can be a pain in the butt when you're driving behind one, and on a road trip, it's annoying to have one cut in front of you on the highway.

There isn't one standard size/form for tricycles. And my balikbayan guest noticed the differences right away. Perhaps it was a pity that we had the top end of tricycles in Dumaguete, wide bodied, able to fit 3 people or more given tiny Pinoy bodies. They were pretty comfy and had sufficient leg room.

The ones up north however (and I remember correctly, it's just the same in MM), the trikes are smaller, cramped, and seem to have metal bars that bang against your head if you don't crouch down.

What does it signify? Are Visayan people bigger, hence the larger, limo style trikes? The folks up in Abra told us that they used to have bigger trikes, then realized the smaller, more aerodynamic ones go faster. Not that they need a reason to drive like the devil.

I think someone should design cool caps for the trike drivers, think Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, hoodie and glasses flapping in the wind!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The other white meats

The Philippines is an archipelago of 7000+ islands; fishing villages are a dime a dozen. And if you're going to hit the beach, you're probably going to have some seafood, in some form or fashion. But Pinoys also love the pig. We have many a dish dedicated to cooking pork in stews, grilled (or charred), or stuffed into casings. Throughout my last couple of trips, we ate many a variation on seafood and pork. And bringing a friend back to his roots through the food was a pleasant nostalgic trip for both our stomachs.

Down south by Dumaguete, we ate well from the bounty of the sea. One of our first mornings there, we saw the neighborhood fishing boat returning from it's foray down by the coast of Mindanao. We trailed the village kids to his dock, and watched as people got their allotment of fish from the catch. Our host's wife also bought a lovely red snapper that she grilled for dinner that night; and a few nights later turned some of the smaller fish (whose name I can't find in my notes) into a sweet and sour/escabeche dish. The first grilled fish was sweet, tender, a perfect tropical meal with rice and a salad of tomatoes, onions and the bite of chilli peppers. We also had a tinola/clear broth of fish with tomatoes and ginger and long green peppers. No need for silverware and porcelain plates: we had the expanse of sea, and clean air to rouse our appetites. We ate with gusto.

After a busy day of diving out at Apo, we were hosted for lunch at a dive resort. The meal was simple: noodles, fried potatoes, grilled fish, fried chicken, and sauteed mixed greens. The setting was divine, a mere couple of yards away from clear blue water and shaded by the grass huts.

Friend and fellow blogger, Gypsysoul, wrote about the wonder of the Wednesday market near Dumaguete called Malatapay. Our first lunch in Dumaguete was a spread by the pier there: 2 kilos of lechon, grilled tanguigue, and a fish tinola. The lechon skin was still hot, crispy, and needed no liver sauce for flavor. The meat was succulent and juicy. Pleasure with every bite and crackle.

While we were between trips, my travel companion, who had not been back in Manila for decades, had a longing for chicharon ("lihi" to be exact, that craving like a pregnant woman aching for pickles and ice cream). A good friend provided two packs of amazing chicharon from Bulacan, large stripes of skin and backfat, perfectly salted and flavored. I would say it beats Lapid's for intense chicharon-ness, although Lapid's is the perfect antidote in the city. We savored pieces of it throughout the week.

Finally, we entered bagnet territory! Ilocos has a quite few things to be proud of, bagnet has to be one of the top 5. It was described to us a the Ilocano version of lechon kawali. The pork with good quantities of skin is cooked twice to make it easy to transport (parboil and then a quick deep fry), and then deep fried for the final serving. I love it with a simple tomato/onion/bagoong salad, or alongside talbos ng kamote salads, or as served to us at Sitio Remedios in nearly everything!! Our welcome merienda at Sitio was a tureen of miki (flat egg noodles in a chicken broth heavily orange with atchuete) studded with melting bagnet. At first glance we thought it was a pasta with red sauce, but realized it was the amalgamation of the dark orange broth and the bagnet. We devoured it under a shady tree overlooking the South China Sea.

We also had simple ilokano fare throughout our sojourn in Vigan and Currimao. Red rice, salads, pinakbet (I usually push the ampalaya aside when I eat pinakbet, but they used the baby gourds, a less bitter option. Or maybe it was the addition of bagnet that helped!), longganisa, daing, seaweed salads, kilawin na pusit, adobong pusit, and fried fish (sapa sapa?). The mangoes were sweet beyond belief. What made me giddy with nostalgia was having sticky, starchy white corn in Abra. I recalled the special days when my nanny would return from homeleave in Ilocos and she'd boil a batch of the small ears of corn that would peel back to reveal those starchy kernels. A lick of salt was all I'd want with it, and enough time to savor and chew.

A recent discussion on a food blog asked what makes for a great meal: the food, the company, the ambience, the service or the total package. While we didn't have too many meals out in the province that had the total package, sometimes it was simply a flavor that brought back good memories (very Proustian), or being able to eat in front a vista like the wide ocean with the gentle breeze on our face. In 2007 I can memorably place Dumaguete and Ilocos under places I've had great meals.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

One night here, a night there; two nights, then another

Travelling around the Philippines is always full of surprises, and I'm always willing to be pleasantly surprised by what I find. The last two weeks have been full of new finds, enjoying tastes I've had before, especially those that bring me back to when I was knee high, eating food that was prepared just for me by those who cared for my well-being.

First, let's talk lodging: the land is dotted with hostels, low end resorts, flashy tourist traps, and divine bed and breakfasts. In Dumaguete, we had a private beach to stay in, a perfect hideout from reality. We'd awake to soft glowing sunrises, watch the moon cast a silver white glow on the water later at night. Eat fish caught right off the coast. And the breeze, oh how incomparable! But as it was bedeviled by rusty smelling water, lack of road access to town, we considered two other options over the next few days. Two nights at the Bethel Guest House was sufficient to get out the smell of rust from our hair, but it was at best sterile. All white walls, and no windows to the outside world. Convenient, yes. Every tricycle in town could pick us up and drop us off. They even had a good, inexpensive breakfast buffet, where you could easily overdo it by having eggs, with a platter of tapa or tocino or dangit, plus 4 budbud kabog with freshly brewed coffee and a banana or ripe mango. But no soul.

Our last night was a toss-up. We had checked out a city based hotel, near the boardwalk and with a pleasant exterior. The room, however, was old. Smelled old, that cross between too much coffee burnt inside, along with a mustiness from old carpets. So we went for a more upscale option outside of town. Bahura, a dive resort in Dauin, is probably one of the nicer options along the coast. It's run by the ScubaWorld group, whose Makati pool I've frequented often for dive lessons. We splurged on a villa, with a large king size bed on a loft, and a jacuzzi-style tub below. The only drawbacks included an inconvenient winding staircase you'd have to traverse each time you wanted to use the bathroom from the bedroom, and not having a phone in the bedroom area to call for room service. Disabled people wouldn't find this villa set-up particularly convenient. As we had a late night in town, and stayed in all morning, we didn't get to use the pool facilities in the resort, but why use a pool when you're going diving?

The next out of town trip took us North: Abra, Ilocos (Sur and Norte). There isn't much to see in Abra; but it's a lovely province, full of forests and zigzag roads. It's the quintessential pinoy "probinsya". Early mornings with everyone working hard at the farm, lazy afternoons to beat the heat, and absolutely nothing at night (I don't even remember seeing the karaoke bars in full swing). We stayed as guests at R's ancestral home, an old, presumably haunted house in the city of Bangued, with a lovely old tower and grotto. The house would need a lot of infrastructure improvements to get it back on course, but there's potential there. As for the ghosts, I did hear the heavy sounds of footsteps at 5 am on Sunday, but it didn't give me the willies. The only problem was when my camera failed to work that first morning. Did the ghosts want to toy with me by causing electrical malfunction? Hmmmm...

In Vigan, we spent a night at Villa Angela, a restored Ilocano bahay na bato - stone house - that also worked as a bed and breakfast. It's located on the outskirts of the old city, not quite on the cobblestoned streets, but a corner away, with a quiet back entrance, and easy access through the front gates. A sweet garden, the antiques in the reception and living areas and welcoming staff; I'd choose this again over the more modern amenities of Vigan Plaza Hotel.

And the final stop was in Currimao. Talk about revelation! I'd been directed to the resort through suggestions online, and was immediately overwhelmed by the actual estate when we walked past the main entrance. Sitio Remedios is owned by a doctor from Batac (currently working at St. Luke's Hospital in Manila), who built 6 houses based on towns dotted around Ilocos Norte. The owner and site manager went around the province and bought the pieces of houses torn down by OFW Pinoys. They used 200 specialist workers to reconstruct the pieces and create a "village" around a Plaza de Mantequilla, a chapel inspired by Paoay Church, a sand and wildflower walk way anchored by a stone tower with it's own mermaid. Greeting you beyond the steps is an expanse of beach, and the glorious strong surf of the South China Sea, which is a wonderful way to get some exercise: running or swimming parallel to shore, body slamming against the waves. Sitio doesn't offer a load of water sports, but the other resorts nearby seem to have a good supply of boats, skidoos, banana boats, and a rather odd looking large neon plastic ball (what it does on the water, I dare not attempt to imagine). We spent a lot of time walking up and down the long stretch of beach, gazing at the red bangkas resting on shore, watching the village volleyball tournament, chasing after a hermit crab, and giggling at the ridiculous tourists who walked along the beach fully clothed and contorting themselves in odd photo poses.

Sitio is not for everyone. I can't see it as the best place for people who like modern facilities (it does have western toilets and linens, electricity, ac in the main bedrooms; but they don't provide television, cable, internet. Hot water is available upon demand, but in the heat of summer, the cool showers were a relief); it's more for those who enjoy a nostalgic, aesthetic sensibility with large doses of Filipiana. It could be difficult for the younger set to enjoy its rustic charms. They'd have to be encouraged to hit the beach and take part in exploring the towns; they may even bolt at the fact there is nary a burger/fries combo on the menu (food details to follow). This would be a great place for mental and physical retreats, a zone of peace following a long trip. And the staff are willing and able to help you complete your respite.

Contact details of a few places we stayed in, including websites:

1. Bethel Guest House

2. Bahura
Km 19/20 Maayong Tubig,
Dauin 6717 Negros Oriental, Philippines
Tel.Nos.: 035 425-2053 to 54

Vigan, Ilocos Sur

Villa Angela
26 Quirino Avenue
Vigan Phone: 077-722-2914

Currimao, Ilocos Norte
Sitio Remedios
Barangay Victoria, Currimao, Ilocos Norte
Contact Person: Ray Boy BaroƱa
Mobile Nos.:

Pike Market Peonies

Pike Market Peonies