10 tips for your cruise vacation (Rappler)

Costa Victoria

(This feature was published in Rappler last June 2, 2014)

Before embarking on my first cruise, I had the impression that this type of traveling was only popular among the much older crowd. It’s probably because I haven’t come across cruise-goers from my generation—most were from my parents’ era.

Still, I grabbed the opportunity to go with them on a two-week holiday touring the Mediterranean by sea. That was years ago. More recently, my whole family went on a 5-day Asian cruise that journeyed along the Southeast Asian region.

<Read the rest of the article HERE>

See Manila In A New Way With These 3 Guided Tours (Looloo)

Intramuros tour by Carlos Celdran

(This feature was published in Looloo last May 22, 2014)

The City of Manila is the capital of the Philippines and one of its oldest cities. It is a city abundant in culture and history, and with so much to see, where do you even start?

Whether you’re a foreigner who wants to get to know Manila, or a local tired of going to the same malls over and over again, here are three tours that provide their own unique perspectives on exploring Manila.

<Read the rest of the article HERE>

3 Museums in Manila That All Smart Filipinos Visit (Looloo)

The famous T-Rex inside The Mind Museum

(This feature was published in Looloo last May 15, 2014)

Museum hopping in Manila may not sound as adventurous as island or maybe even bar hopping but it’s definitely a good way to educate yourself about our local culture …and will also help you answer random pop quiz questions. Ha.

So take a break from going to crowded malls and get your dose of culture by visiting these three must-see museums.

<Read the rest of the article HERE>

Epicurious: A one-stop deli shop, café, bakery and culinary studio (GMA News Online)

Where to--cafe, bakery or deli?

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last May 10, 2014)

If I were craving for my daily dose of caffeine, I would head to a coffee shop. If I want to sit down for a proper meal, I would find a nice restaurant. If I want to buy a gourmet product, I would go to a specialty store. My new discovery, though, is an establishment where I could have all these things at once—Epicurious.

The first of its kind in the country, it offers a new approach to lifestyle gourmet and dining. It was actually the brainchild of Marinela “Badjie” Guerrero-Trinidad of The Cravings Group, who got the inspiration from her travels abroad. She saw that merging the concepts of shopping and dining is possible and that the Philippine market was ready for it.

This is indeed so, as gourmands and foodies have been going out of their way to visit the establishment, which opened in December 2013.

Introducing the shop-cook-eat concept

The first thing I noticed upon entering was the extensive display of delicatessen. Around this was the grocery section, dining area, and an open kitchen. I made my way through the maze of internation and local artisanal products—some were organic, gluten-free, antioxidating, or detoxifying, but overall healthy and fresh. Most of the items are not easily, commercially available anywhere else.

“Definitely, we were trying to ramp up the luxury and the taste factor,” disclosed Issa Rodriguez, Corporate Marketing Director of the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA), Manila. “That doesn’t necessarily translate to being expensive; it’s something that’s superior—passed the quality test of the very educated, mature and sophisticated palates behind the company. Us being associated with the CCA and The Cravings Group—they know what they’re talking about.”

I was amazed with how they curated the items on the store and artistically showcased them. Indeed, there were a few local products that seemed like foreign brands at first glance: tablea, unsweetened chocolate, and organic coffee, among others. Epicurious put these native fare alongside more established imported goods.

According to Rodriguez, “There is a lot of stress on homegrown products because CCA, a sister company of The Cravings Group, has always espoused presenting and showcasing Philippine cuisine to the world, so we champion homegrown products.”

Satisfying foodies through a one-of-a-kind experience

Epicurious has become known for its artisanal products such as whips, spreads, dips, and butters. These turned out popular enough to have earned a place in their year-round gift hampers, which they can pre-fabricate as well.

There is also an array of local organic produce that you can buy—or if you want to take it a step further, have included in your customized meal. Yes, Epicurious can personalize your dining experience should you have a craving that’s unavailable on their menu.

“You’re given the freedom to choose what you want,” shared Rodriguez. Diners may select from the available pre-cooked meals or request something unique and let the chefs do their magic. “We cook right before your very eyes, which is a unique dining experience here,” he added.

But first, check out the convenient gourmet meals. These have salads-in-a-jar (mixed greens or marbled potato salad), sandwiches, pasta, or pizza. I enjoyed the pulled pork and arugula pizza that has a thin, crispy crust with very tasty toppings. If available, I highly recommen the mini-raviolis with white truffle cream veloute, which is a pasta lover’s dream. Think rich and aromatic white sauce. I heard it has also become one of the most requested dishes in the catering service of Epicurious.

The establishment can, in fact, accommodate private events and customize your menu for you, depending on your budget and food preference. They do not have set menus to choose from, as they prefer to tailor fit it according to the client’s needs. They can do so because they have a stable of talents from CCA and The Cravings Group, as well as their other friends from the culinary industry.

Chef Mira Cruz, Senior Chef Consultant, revealed, “Every event has a different menu, so I ask the requirements, research, and then whatever available meats or produce that we have, I start from there.”

Whenever possible, she goes to the market herself to buy the ingredients or else relies on trusted suppliers. She said, “I have to create, I have to invent, and I have to tickle their curiosity.”

The chef also mentioned that they can do off-premise catering as well.

Epicurious has some events lined up for its customers this month. Starting mid-May, it will offer its weekend brunch, and a Day Mad Rush that will feature a last-hour sale on selected items.

For those who are looking for something new to add to their social calendar, watch out for the “Happy Hour Detox and Intox” where you could either detoxify with its juice bar, or intoxify with its wine bar.

The establishment also invited Chef Nadine Tengco, a US-certified fitness nutritionist chef to the starts, to do classes during weekends.

Rodriguez divulged, “The plan later on is to have weekend classes where we can have different themes such as Sunday leftover cooking, a how it’s made series (how do you make yogurts, cheeses, fresh pasta), how do you make regular Philippine dishes out of locally sourced organic products…”

With all its offerings, it’s easy to pass the time in Epicurious. I didn’t notice that I had been there for a couple of hours—a sign that I truly enjoyed the food and the unique dining experience.

 

Bale Dutung: Home of Filipino food at its finest (GMA News Online)

Claude Tayag expertly carves a roasted pig

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last May 7, 2014)

Tourists flock to it. Foodies rave about it. Heck, even famous American TV host Anthony Bourdain was all praises about it. Indeed, Bale Dutung has become a must-visit dining destination in Pampanga, a region popular for its own kind of cuisine.

“Bale dutung” is a Kapampangan term that translates to “house of wood,”—and true enough, lots of wooden sculptures and structures dotted the premises. It felt very inviting—just like home. The place is actually not just a restaurant; it is also the home of Claude Tayag, an artist, author and restaurateur.

“I find warmth in wood,” shared Tayag. “This is where we live. We live upstairs.”

He and his wife Mary Ann opened their home to the public back in 2000 and began accepting guests into their restaurant.

Visitors will find Tayag’s artistic creations all over the area—from the garden he designed to the interiors of the restaurant and its wooden furnishings. He said he used recycled wood in his sculpture and furniture designs. His love for art extends to the kitchen, where he gets to show his expertise in the culinary arts and passion for Filipino food.

Those who want to try Claude Tayag’s much acclaimed cooking have to reserve a table beforehand. The restaurant will serve pre-arranged lunches to those who make a reservation for at least 12 diners. But smaller groups may join once the restaurant is open. Just call beforehand.

Five-ways lechon and other culinary innovations

There are three menu options to choose from: the Anthony Bourdain menu (inspired by the dishes served for the American chef and host), the Lechon menu, and the Kapangpangan menu. Each one has 10 courses, so expect a leisurely sit-down meal that could take up to three hours.

If you simply love swine—and if your health permits—go for the Lechon menu, which offers five kinds of lechon dishes from whole roasted pork to grilled pork ribs. This is what most foodies come here for, aside from the homey ambiance of the place.

Before indulging in gustatory pork pleasures, I started with some Ensaladang Pako (fiddle head fern salad)—fresh greens, slices of tomatoes and onions, and boiled quail eggs, served with a tangy honey-mansi dressing. The pako was crisp and the dressing was delightful. It’s a delicious and nutritious starter.

My palate was further teased by the first lechon course—Balat ng Lechon at Liver Sauce. I’m not a big lechon fan, but I just had to take a nibble of the good-looking whole roasted pig’s glistening skin and liked its crunchy texture.

The next dish was the Lechon Tortilla, which is crispy roast pork flakes on a tortilla. Diners may put other fillings such as fresh onions, tomatoes, or cilantro. But make sure to put enough cilantro-basil sauce, which adds another dimension of flavor. I enjoyed the soft texture of the tortilla in contrast with the crispy shredded pork and vegetables, and because of that it became my favorite dish there.

I tried not to finish the whole tortilla so I could have space for more. I couldn’t leave the place without tasting the Lechon Sisig. According to Tayag, “My innovation there is using the pig’s head for the sisig. Mas malutong yung balat.”

The minced pig’s cheeks had a chewy consistency and the dish wasn’t as oily as I expected. Diners can choose a serving without onions and add other condiments like chili. I could imagine that this dish would pair well with some local brew.

Another must-try was the Sinigang na Lechon, a sour soup that has pork meat and vegetables like kangkong, okra and gabi. Tayag revealed, “The sinigang na lechon—people have been doing that, I don’t want to claim I started it, but it’s a different thing.”

His version uses the lechon bones for added dimension, thanks to the flavoring of its tanglad (lemongrass) stuffing. It’s best eaten with a serving of brown rice wrapped in banana leaves.

My other favorite dish was the Kare-kareng Dagat, a signature dish of Bale Dutung. I liked the medley of fresh seafood: prawns, squid, and mussels, cooked in creamy peanut sauce. The shellfish were good-sized ones, too! I found it tasty by itself, but the server gave me a side of bagoong (shrimp paste) that complemented the seafood concoction.

After the nth course, I was stuffed to the brim. But I was alerted to a dessert I shouldn’t miss—Paradiso. Picture three sweet balls of ube, yema and macapuno in a bed of sweetened carabao’s milk that almost tastes like pastillas.

I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish the bowl of cloying sweetness, but I did with the help of some Kapeng Sinaunang Panahon (a bitter blend of 50 percent arabica and 50 percent barako). It was the perfect ending to this meal of epic proportions.

10 must-try restaurants in Boracay (Eats Now or Never)

(This feature was published in Eats Now or Never last April 29, 2014)

What used to be a secluded paradise has now become one of the world’s best beaches: Boracay Island’s white beach. It boasts of powdery white sand, crystal clear waters, and an interesting food culture,too. Local and foreign visitors head to this piece of beach heaven to take in the sun, sand, and sea, and–since Boracay has also developed into a dining destination–to indulge in gustatory pleasures. The island has given birth to fine restaurants, some of which have branched out to the metro, and food finds that are worth traveling for. Let your taste buds take you on a journey to the top food finds in Boracay.

Real Coffee & Tea Café

Real Coffee & Tea Café has become synonymous to calamansi muffins—an original creation of the establishment. The coffee shop, which is owned by an American mother and daughter team Lee and Nadine, has been around since December of 1996. Since then, they’ve been brewing a blend of Filipino coffee and Italian espresso beans.

Get your caffeine fix by ordering Real Coffee (P100), a regular cup of brew with an added shot of espresso, and pair it with some muffins or brownies right out of the oven. The shop offers a mean breakfast menu that includes omelettes, pancakes, French toast, and fresh fruit bowls—all hearty ways to start your day right.

<Read the rest of the article HERE>

Unearthing Lucky Chinatown’s food and culture secrets (GMA News Online)

Cua pao, the perfect snack

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last May 1, 2014)

The first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word “Chinatown” is food. Growing up, my mom brought home goodies like hopia, tikoy, champoy, fried siopao, pork floss, and more. Indulging in such treats would always bring a smile to my face.

Today, more than ever, Chinatown in Binondo has become known as a food destination where one can gorge on not-so-ordinary delectables.

For those unfamiliar with the place, Chinatown may seem like a labyrinth of retail stores and other establishments. Instead of not knowing where to go and walking in circles, you may opt to join a tour of a specific place like Lucky Chinatown, which is the only upscale mall in the area.

Some of its nooks and crannies hold interesting tidbits about Chinese tradition, and I had the privilege of exploring them through the “Awesome Food & Culture Secrets of Lucky Chinatown” tour, organized by Lucky Chinatown and hosted by RJ Ledesma of Mercato Group and Anton Diaz of the food and travel blog “Our Awesome Planet.”

Weekend walking tour

The tour falls on a Saturday, when the weekend food vendors appear on the Lucky Chinatown Walk strip outside the mall. However, the first stop during my tour was at a stall called “Botanical Herbal Hall” located inside Annex A.

The second stop was the Miao De Amituofo Pureland Temple, which was situated along the Lucky Chinatown Walk. It’s a small place of worship where devotees can enjoy some peace and quiet and offer their intentions through lit incense. The person in charge explained some Buddhist religious practices and even taught us how to do it correctly.

The next agenda on the tour was to take a look at selected food stalls in the strip. We headed to Fu Dao Dumpling where we witnessed the making of the pastry by hand. These particular dumplings were added to a crimson-colored broth exuding a spicy aroma. We were there during lunchtime and there was a queue for the sate seafood noodles with dumpling shrimp, dumpling noodles, and Taiwan pechay in a sate soup base. You know the food is good when people are willing to wait for it.
The group was introduced to different tea varieties possessed of medicinal benefits such as removing internal heat and clearing toxic materials. The Chinese have been enjoying tea for over 4,000 years and they believe that drinking this beverage could help prevent disease and make you healthier. We sampled the plum tea, pear’c tea, lo’5 tea, but my favorite was the may bloom tea that aids in lipid lowering and strengthening the stomach. The tea doesn’t have any artificial ingredients; you can definitely taste its all-natural quality.

<Read the rest of the article HERE.>

A sneak peek at the new Chef Creations by Chef Claude Tayag (GMA News Online)

Pulled pork with adobo dip

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last April 30, 2014)

One of the food trends of 2014 is the improved food service at convenience stores (or c-stores). Roller hotdogs or heated pizzas have become passé. Customers now have a wider selection to choose from, and with healthier food offerings, too.

I’m glad to see that there are more nutritious alternatives in these establishments, which have become the go-to place for most office workers who want to get affordable quick bites. I noticed that such stores located near call centers and BPO offices have a lot of foot traffic, day or night.

The good news is that renowned culinary expert and staunch Filipino cuisine advocate Chef Claude Tayag has teamed up with c-store chain 7-Eleven. Foodies may know him as the owner of Bale Dutung, a restaurant in Pampanga, or the person who gave international TV host Anthony Bourdain a taste of authentic local cuisine.

According to Jose Victor Paterno, Philippine Seven Corporation President and CEO, “It made perfect sense to partner with Chef Claude, as he is one of the foremost advocates of Filipino cuisine to the world. He knows exactly how to bring out familiar flavors we know and love and every dish from his kitchen can be considered a work of art.”

Paterno further revealed that when he thinks of Filipino food, Claude Tayag is the first chef that comes to mind because of his expertise.

Aside from cooking, another known passion of Tayag’s is art, being a multifaceted artist. The kitchen is a venue for him to showcase his know-how in the culinary arts.

For his c-store meal endeavor, it took more than a year to finalize three dishes to release to the public. Tayag made sure that all the dishes were tasty without compromising the ingredients. Everything was made from scratch; no instant mixes were used. He revealed that he had a shortlist of 12 meals at the start, but they narrowed it down to the three most popular ones.

In May, everyone will get a chance to sample the Chef Creations line, which will be available in the metro and other Luzon stores.

<Read the rest of the article HERE>

Seven Corners: A merry mix of Japanese and other international cuisines (GMA News Online)

Miso ramen

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last April 8, 2014)

There’s no excuse not to satisfy your Japanese food cravings, not with the proliferation of katsu and ramen places in the metro. But there’s more to this particular Asian cuisine than those two popular dishes. If I were mad hungry for Japanese food, I would rather go to a classy buffet place like Seven Corners in Crowne Plaza Manila Galleria.

The restaurant is so named because it has seven interactive cooking stations that feature international cuisines like American, Indian, and Japanese. Its thematic buffet spread highlights specialties such as US rib eye, tandoori chicken, and suckling pig. I regret that I wasn’t able to try these because I was too engrossed in sampling the culinary masterpieces of Chef Seiji Kamura, the guest chef of Seven Corners for the whole month of April.

Welcome the master chef

I learned that Chef Kamura trained in France before pursuing a career as a chef in Japan. He has been in the culinary industry for over 25 years now and has co-authored three cookbooks on both Japanese and French cuisine.

His culinary knowledge was put on display when he demonstrated how he creates his bestselling sushi roll. He makes sure to use top-grade Japanese rice that is seasoned with vinegar, which he spreads on top of a nori (seaweed) wrapper and fills with sliced cucumber, mangoes, and kani (crab), before he rolls it in a perfect cylindrical shape. After which, he deftly slices the sushi roll into bite-sized pieces and garnishes it with either fish roe or fried kani strips.

While doing the demonstration, he explained the importance of using a very good knife in making sushi. He even shared that the chefs in Japan would allot around 30 minutes to sharpen their knives before cooking in their respective restaurants. In fact, Chef Kamura has his own knife set that he brings with him wherever work takes him.

The chef made it look so easy to create sushi, and when one of the diners volunteered to create his own version, I realized that it wasn’t easy at all after seeing the volunteer hack the sushi instead of skillfully slicing it like what the chef did. I suppose it takes years of practice to master the skill and the chef’s sushi creations are a testament to that.

As Chef Kamura taught the volunteer the correct way to slice and present the sushi on a plate, he mentioned that Japan is beautiful at this time of the year since the cherry blossoms are in bloom. But since I wasn’t planning on visiting the Far East anytime soon, I settled with traveling to Japan through my taste buds.

Japanese food feast for the palate

For our appetizers, we were given a small serving of Crispy Kani Maki and Spicy Salmon. I liked the texture of the crispy maki, but I enjoyed the spicy salmon more since I like a little bit of heat.

Then to warm our bellies, we were served a bowl of Miso Ramen where the flavorful broth was the highlight of the dish.

But the main star of the luncheon was the Beef Roll and Wagyu Fried Rice that came with grilled shiitake mushroom in teriyaki sauce. My plate had two beef rolls—one was stuffed with asparagus slices and the other with mushrooms.

Both were delectable, but what I found truly satisfying was the Wagyu rice, which had marbled beef bits that were oh-so-tasty. I’m not big on rice but I almost finished the heaping bowl in front of me.

To complete our meal, the chef presented us his special Fried Vanilla Ice Cream that was served with mango and chocolate sauces. Imagine a scoop of ice cream that is covered with chiffon cake, coated in batter, and then deep-fried.

It was an unexpected combination but I enjoyed the contrast of textures in my mouth—the hot crispy cake and the cold creamy filling. I believe this dessert would be best shared with someone—it was so rich—both in taste and in calories!

Foodies could sample these sensational culinary creations by the chef, as well as other dishes like crispy kani pomelo salad, Japanese curry rice, glazed tuna, sukiyaki, chicken teriyaki, and soba.

For those who prefer a la carte orders, Seven Corners has a list of innovative selections, as well as fine wine choices.

S[h]ift: A thematic convergence of food, art, design (GMA News Online)

Croc paws

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last March 30, 2014)

I’ve had my fair share of restaurant visits and museum trips, but I haven’t been to an event where art, fashion, and food converge – well, not until I attended the launch of S[h]ift Project Art Space in Moderne Culinaire Academy (MCA).

MCA is the Philippines’ newest culinary school, managed by a team of young and talented chefs. It believes that bringing together expertise in various disciplines across different platforms could draw out the talents of Filipinos.

At the recent launch, S[h]ift showed how the school supports local talents by highlighting the works of several renowned artists.

Filmmaker Alvin Yapan and Chef Sau Del Rosario teamed up to create “The Cooking Show,” which is actually a deconstructed version of a television cooking show. They mounted some flat-screen sets on one wall and displayed a different angle on each screen.

Another highlight at the event was “8 Minutes” which exhibited the installation pieces of visual artist Ling Quisumbing Ramilo, Studio XYZ and Chef Edward Mateo.

But what grabbed my attention was the interactive performance of designer Brian Tenorio, Chef Dino Dizon, and DJ Nix Pernia. The trio presented the crowd with a show called “Burning with Design” that revealed Tenorio’s shoe designs alongside the culinary creations of Chef Dizon, and background music by DJ Nix.

The menu of “Burning with Design” began with some Red Sandals, which are crispy pasta sandals topped with spicy tuna tartare and scallions. The creative minds put together an interesting display that used a fish in an aquarium to go with the fun beach theme.

Another menu item that stood out was the Shoelami, where salami with cheese detailing was used in the design of a men’s shoe upper exterior. It was placed on a bed of rolled-up deli meat and looked both stylish and delicious. Throughout the unveiling of each menu item, DJ Nix accompanied it with rhythmic music where the beats were almost sensual.

Another bold menu item was the Corseted calves – pig knuckles shaped into corset boots and stuffed with spicy pig stew. Its striking shape and color made it one of the most memorable pieces of the night.

But the most shocking piece, however,  was the crocodile paw, which the artists entitled “Anatomy of Love and Hate.” Who wouldn’t be surprised with a crocodile’s jaw biting on a fine piece of shoe? Chef Dizon deep fried the croc paws and grilled the croc ribs and used these to violently frame Tenorio’s shoe piece called “Designing the Asshole,” which uses the least commercially used part of crocodile leather. According to the description of the piece, “The shoe design is a homage to Tenorio’s fiercest but fondest memories of someone (or several).”

The last shoe display involved Chef Dizon flambéing Tenorio’s favorite shoe design, as DJ Nix complemented it with a climax of beats and rhythm. The menu item is aptly called “There is a Fire Between Us”, as it demonstrated the chef’s perspective on when is a piece of design work done. Being a shoe lover, I almost cringed when I saw the chef put footwear on fire. But I supposed that kind of drama would be appreciated by most.

It was almost anti-climactic when the chef turned to the last part of the show, “Green Eyes Turn Red”, showcasing how absinthe and camote tops will turn from a green hue to a bold red one. The chef focused on the tower of cocktail glasses and poured a liquid that changed the color of the beverage.

I am no art or culinary expert, just a mere spectator, but  S[h]ift’s first thematic collaboration of food, art, and design did not disappoint. It was truly a feast for the senses as we were all treated to a visual and tasty banquet of unique flavors with ambient music to complete the unforgettable experience.