In the two week visit of R, we ate at some new places, and revisited other places along the way, plus he cooked for an estimated 130 people. He wanted as much pinoy food as possible, with a quest for beef tapa and fishballs and halohalo. We were waylaid by a stomach bug the last week (it hit me first, then he picked it up a couple of days later), but it didn't stop us from making inroads into our food list.
The day he arrived, I dragged him to the Lung Center Market along Quezon Avenue on Sunday for a breakfast of bibingka and puto bumbong, with a side of pork bbq. We walked around the market looking for lunch options and fruit, picking up super spicy bicol express, a fresh lumpiang ubod, pancit lucban and mangoes. A sprig of camellia blossoms for luck. The market is a much larger spectacle than its Makati cousins (Salcedo and Legaspi Village markets), but parking is difficult after 8 am, and it gets searingly hot and humid after the first blush of the morning. I prefer getting there early, buying gulay or fruits, and stopping by some of the prepared food vendors for regional pinoy cuisine. He nearly picked up a large wooden cutting board and a musical wooden frog :)
We also went out to Angel's Kitchen in Greenhills (along Connecticut) for Sunday dinner. The place has become increasingly popular, and not knowing how packed it gets on a Sunday night, we were lucky to snag a table for two next to the dessert display. They are famous for the lechon kawali and pinakbet rice combination plate and naturally we had to have it along with a salad and fish dish. That night, there wasn't as much punch in the pinakbet, but the dish was still homey and comfortable, with a thick slab of porky lechon kawali to offset the vegetables of the pinakbet. I ordered the dory with asparagus and nori, which had a heavy dousing of black pepper, and redolent with sesame oil. We gave up dessert in lieu of a soothing pot of genmaicha pop - the green tea mixed with popped rice. It's light on the tongue, fragrant, and clears the palate.
Monday, the day we visited Ocean Park, I brought R to Chinatown, looking for a small noodle house on Benavidez. Lamien, or handpulled noodles, are a basic comfort food, propagated by the Uighur minorities in Northwest China. Where you find the Uighur you find darn good lamien noodles all over China. I have good memories of the two little noodle diners near the university where I studied mandarin and when I read of a lamien place in Binondo, my heart leaped! So R had no choice but to give into my need for hot noodle soup. We ordered one lamien soup, with beef, and one dao shao mien or knife cut noodle soup, plus a plate of steamed dumplings. For P200 we were stuffed, and I was happy. The owner makes the noodles herself, thumping the dough on the prep table in front, thump thump THUMP, and from a lump of flour and water, it stretches, ever so violently, into noodles. It's magic. Her cheeks are rosy from the daily exertion, but she has a twinkle in her eye when she sees you smiling at her aerobic cooking. She is also in charge of cutting the noodles for the dao shao mien, her knife skills dangerously fast against the mound of dough she prepares against the boiling stock. Each of the tables is laden with a big bowl of freshly chopped green onions and coriander, plus individual containers of soy sauce, black pepper and hot chilli oil. When you get your orders, add to season as you wish. I like mine extra spicy.
The next three days we spent in the province was lazy with provincial calm. We arrived early morning on Tuesday, toddled off to the market to buy some chicken and other bits, and spent the rest of the day cooking for the visitors attending the first night's procession. Since the Tuesday before Easter isn't a major holiday, the procession is relatively smaller, and the hordes less in number too. R cooked chicken wings with a garlic soy sauce glaze. Along with the meals prepared by the other members of the household, they fed over 30 folks that night, not much leftovers to worry about! Feedback from the garden where people were digging in for the meal was that the chicken was a hit, and R will have to do it again next year. On Maundy Thursday, we got to the market too late to buy beef, so we ended with 10 kilos of pork to grill that night. The procession was going to be much larger than Tuesdays, and we were warned that at least 100 people would show up after they marched through back to church. The miki had been prepared in advance, and calderos of vegetable stew had been simmering, not to mention a really large pot of rice. R was also thinking of a way to provide something sweet for the attendees and after some price haggling, collared an ice cream vendor to give us full use of his ice cream cart for the day. We had two hundred cones, two 10-gallon tubs of ice cream, and the cart! After marinating the pork for several hours in a garlicky dunk, R grilled the meat, then we chopped them into easy bite size slices, enough to fill two bandehados. R's aunt, ie Sorbetera, took up the post of scooping the ice cream for the little ones lining up for a treat, and we had great shots of happy kids eating as much ice cream as they wanted.
By the time we flew to Dumaguete, both of us had been hit by stomach flu bugs. Needless to say, food was downgraded to safe edibles like crackers, soup, noodles, and gatorade. But we hadn't found R's must-eats yet, so once he felt better, we tried a couple of places in the city for beef tapa, tapsilog to be exact. One restaurant had tender beef but the sauce was sooooo salty. It was like a beef salt lick. The other place had somewhat chewy beef with a decent flavor. The last beef tapa he tried was at Antulang, where it was a decent plate but didn't stand out. The quest continues.
The Dumaguete boardwalk has a spot dedicated to vendors of squid balls and "tempura" - mashed up shrimp and flour thinly molded into skewers and deep fried. Returning from a day trip, we walked from the ferry to the sidewalk vendors and chose a spot that was relatively busy, assuming that the higher turnover of customers would relieve us from worrying about hepatitis. Or not. But risks have to be taken in life. And for less than P100 we had ten sticks of squid balls and tempura, two softdrinks and a view of the sea at dusk. One can contemplate on a lot of philosophical issues with a tummy full of floury fishy stuff and a coke while basking in the cooler night air.
For the last quest, halohalo was one of the first meals we had, stopping by Via Mare on a sultry afternoon for a tall glass. Sadly, I remember the VM halohalo being much chunkier before. Lately, it's lost some of the stuffing and added more chunky ice. We had a strawberry ice cream and cereal halo halo in Dumaguete, which contradicted R's convictions of ube ice cream and pinipig. Progress? It was still a decent halo halo in flavor if not in ingredients. I know there was another halo halo stop before we got back, but I can't recall where and whether it was any good. During a dinner with my family, R's tummy had already been hit by the bug, and he was forced to watch my dad gobble up a tall glass of halo halo; sheer torture!
The last dinner on his trip was homemade. We tossed together a sausage ragu and pasta dish, alongside the chickpea salad I posted before; R made garlic bread, while I waited for the other garlic bulbs in the roasting pan to caramelize. Were there any vampires in my neighborhood, they'd have shrivelled up into dust by all the garlic we were consuming that night. To kill a bit of the hearty savory taste, we took a short walk to the Magnolia ice cream parlor around the block for sundaes and parfaits. Childhood memories reminiscing ice cream and summer, what a great combination. And thus was his two week trip completed.