7 beautiful places of worship in the Philippines (WayToGo)

Our Lady of Manaoag Church_Photo by Nikka Sarthou-Lainez

(This feature was published in WayToGo last April 13, 2016)

These sacred sites across the archipelago blend intriguing history with awe-inspiring architecture.

Basilica of Saint Martin de Tours

You can’t miss this larger-than-life landmark located at the heart of the heritage town of Taal in Batangas. At 96m long and 45m wide, it holds the title of the largest Catholic church in Asia. First built in 1575, it has since been refurbished several times, due to damage wrought by natural disasters. Today it boasts a Baroque-inspired façade, with a large church bell, hand-painted domed ceilings and a silver tabernacle.

Calle San Martin, Taal

Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Masjid

Also known as the Grand Mosque of Cotabato, this 5,000sqm edifice is the largest mosque in the Philippines — it’s even visible from the Moro Gulf! Funded by Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei, it can accommodate around 800 male and 400 female worshippers. It’s a real sight to behold, with its white walls, gold-painted domes embellished with crescent moons, and four minarets that stand at 43m.

Tamontaka Bubong Rd, Cotabato City

Basilica Minore de San Sebastian

If its blue-green pastel hue doesn’t catch your eye, its striking Neo-Gothic architecture definitely will. Built in 1890 in Quiapo, Manila, San Sebastian is the only steel-vaulted church in the country, with two pyramidal spires, an intricate rose window, colorful stained-glass panels and crystal chandeliers that highlight its attractive interiors. It’s definitely one of the most stunning places of worship in the city, and is a highly popular site for weddings.

Plaza del Carmen, C.M. Recto, Manila

Miagao Church

The Visayas region is home to many magnificent Spanish-era churches, including this stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site. Completed in 1797, the church (also known as Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church) flaunts a lovely Baroque aesthetic, with an ochre façade and an ornate relief sculpture of St. Christopher, flanked by two large belfries. The building was once used as a fortress against the Moro invaders, so you’ll find that its foundations are 6m deep, with solid walls that are 1.5m thick.

Zulueta Ave, Población, Miagao, Iloilo

Paoay Church

Otherwise known as Saint Augustine Church, this is one of the few remaining Baroque churches in the archipelago. It’s famous for its distinct, hardy architecture — think 1.67m-thick walls made of brick, coral and lumber, as well as 24 massive buttresses built to withstand any seismic activity. It also has a three-storey bell tower that served as an observation post during World War II. Today, the church has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the region.

Marcos Ave, Paoay, Ilocos Norte

Minor Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Manoaog

The ivory image of Our Lady of the Rosary of Manaoag in this Spanish-Romanesque church is believed to have curative powers, so devotees from all across the globe flock here to pray for good health — especially during the Lent and Easter seasons. Enormous paintings depicting health miracles also adorn the interiors of the church.

Milo St, Manaoag, Pangasinan; manaoagshrine.org

San Pablo Church

Even non-Catholics will be awed by the resplendent ruins of San Pablo Church — the oldest church in Isabela. Built by Spanish friars in 1624, the church is fashioned from adobe and coral, and its bell tower is said to be the tallest in the Cagayan Valley region. While the entire church was nearly destroyed during World War II, it has since been restored admirably, enduring as a house of worship for its faithful parishioners.

San Pablo, Isabela


Bistek bulalo and other Filipino food with a twist at Dekada (GMA News Online)

Tinapang Tahong Rebusado

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last March 23, 2016)

“What’s a good place to eat?”

I’m getting used to being asked that question by my acquaintances, friends, and even visiting relatives from abroad. I have suggested date places, hole-in-the-wall establishments, and everything in between. But when asked about good Filipino restaurants, my answers would be the usual popular bets. Now, I have something new to say.

Discovering historic Filipino food

I’m pretty impressed with Dekada’s twist on Filipino cuisine. The establishment has been around for a few years now, serving historic Filipino food, which was made true to its name ever since Chef Niño Laus revamped the heritage restaurant’s menu in 2015.

According to the chef consultant, “Sinubukan namin gawin yung authentic dishes ng mga favorite heroes natin, which are based on facts and research from different food historians.”

What’s interesting about Dekada is that you’ll find traditional Filipino food components with the chef’s unique spin applied to the recipes. Months of research and development went into the well-curated menu that features significant dishes based on Philippine history and some of its noteworthy figures. There are dishes inspired by the palates of Jose Rizal and Marcelo H. Del Pilar, among others. “You get a brief history of the Philippines through the visuals [in the menu] and through your food,” said the chef, who is famous for his style of fusion cuisine.

Read the rest of the article HERE.

Sampling shakshouka and other Middle Eastern food at Chaplin (GMA News Online)

The Shakshouka is a must-try especially for first-time visitors

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last March 17, 2016)

I feel like a kid in a candy store every time I visit a new restaurant. I get this urge to try almost everything in the menu, but I have learned to practice my will power and only take on what I can chew.

With the booming food scene in Metro Manila, even this self-proclaimed foodie cannot keep up with all the establishments mushrooming all over town. My latest discovery is new contemporary café called Chaplin located at the roof deck of Century City Mall.

It was noontime when I first set foot in this area and I sensed a beach-like vibe as I approached the modern café. The high sun cast rays on the white seats in the establishment’s outdoor area, and I could imagine myself sipping a cocktail there and thinking of the sand and sea. But since I was in the heart of the city, I settled for a food trip instead of some beach fun.

A little taste of Middle-Eastern flavors

Chaplin’s indoor area felt like a mix between a coffee shop and a hotel lounge. I liked the modern black-and-white theme of the restaurant with warm wooden accents, and I especially liked how comfortable I felt, sitting at the bucket lounge seats. The focal point of the restaurant was the counter where there was a cake display area and a shelf with rows of liquor. It wasn’t just a café after all!

< Read the rest of the article HERE >


5 must-try farm-to-table restaurants in Metro Manila (WayToGo)

Grace Park's Spinach fettuccine, river prawns, cream and capers

(This feature was published in WayToGo last March 14, 2016)

These restaurants ensure that your meal not only tastes good, but is also prepared with a conscience.

Earth Kitchen

A collaboration between Got Heart Foundation and Hizon’s Catering, Earth Kitchen serves up meals featuring produce from Got Heart Farms in Tarlac and other partner communities nationwide. The greens here are mostly local and organic, and virtually everything else is made from scratch, from pasta to ice cream.

Thanks no doubt to its predominantly green color scheme, the restaurant is often mistaken as a vegetarian eatery, so you might be surprised to hear that the beef kebab is one of its bestsellers. Think oh-so-tender boneless beef ribs slathered with tzatziki and hot sauce, and served with either organic mountain rice from Ifugao or a handmade flour tortilla. Delicious!

Two locations, including Katipunan Ave, White Plains, Quezon City; +63 917 584 3278; facebook.com/TheEarthKitchen

Grace Park

Since 2013, Grace Park — helmed by Asia’s Best Female Chef for 2016, Margarita Forés — has been serving up dishes made from sustainable ingredients supplied by a host of partner farms and artisan producers. You can even see photographs of some of these purveyors hanging by the restaurant’s staircase.

The space itself is modelled to resemble a farm — think exposed brick walls, leafy centerpieces and more. And of course the menu is no less rustic, with hearty dishes such as handmade pastas, lamb adobo rice, meatballs, Muscovado Beef Belly and shellfish sourced locally from Bulacan.

G/F One Rockwell West Tower, Rockwell Dr, Makati City; +63 2 843 7275

Green Pastures

This farm-to-fork dining concept by chef Robby Goco believes in going back to basics, with ingredients proudly sourced from local farms and ranches. Health-conscious eaters will enjoy the restaurant’s signature salads and wholegrain bowls; if you’re hankering for something more substantial, go for the Meat on Meat Classic Cheeseburger (made from grass-fed beef and fresh veggies) served with sweet potato fries, or the Pinoy Egg — a free-range duck egg covered in home-made longganisa.

Three locations, including 3/F Eastwood Mall, Quezon City; +63 2 654 3219; facebook.com/greenpasturesresto

Naimas: Taste of Home

This relatively new Filipino restaurant champions local produce from the northern provinces, so you’ll see shelves brimming with native garlic, basi (sugar cane) wine, patis (fish sauce) and more. Feast on hearty and authentic northern fare like Naimas Bagnet — crunchy yet tender pieces of deep-fried pork served with a dipping sauce of sukang ikolo (vinegar) and bagoong isda (fermented fish sauce), as well as garlic fried rice topped with a glorious sunny side-up egg.

G/F CAP Building, Amorsolo St cnr Rufino St, Legaspi Village, Makati City; +63 977 403 2290; facebook.com/naimasrestaurant

The Wholesome Table

Restaurateur Bianca Araneta-Elizalde aims to advocate a culture of conscious eating. As such, The Wholesome Table serves only food that is unprocessed and free of toxins — the fare ranges from free-range poultry and eggs to grass-fed beef and wild-caught seafood.

It isn’t all salads and sandwiches on the menu, though; you’ll also find comfort food like pastas, wood-fired pizzas, pancakes, finger food like crispy calamari, and even pork chops. With so many delicious dishes, there’s really no excuse not to eat healthily.

Various locations, including G/F Infinity Tower, H.V. Dela Costa cnr Leviste St, Makati City; +63 2 848 7777; thewholesometable.com

3 must-try food spots in Cebu: Ilaputi, Hala Paella!, Ibiza Beach Club (GMA News Online)

Ilaputi's Southside ribs with salted egg fried rice will make your tummy happy

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last March 1, 2016)

There’s more to Cebu than lechon. Though it prides itself in its roasted whole pig specialty, there are other dine-worthy destinations in the Queen City of the South.

All-day comfort food at Ilaputi

What used to be a humble carinderia is now a full-fledged 24-hour restaurant in IT Park. Ilaputi is the brainchild of Jan Rodriguez, who established it almost 14 years ago. “Ila” is a local term for “kila” and “puti” is his nickname, so “Ilaputi” was coined and the name stuck.

This hardworking entrepreneur used to serve just two kinds of dishes, but the menu has evolved and grown into something that specializes in Asian soul food. “These would be dishes you’d find in different countries [and] cooked by your mom probably,” said Rodriguez. “These are not authentic cuisines from different places, but authentic in the sense that it’s my iteration of how I wanted it to be.”

<Read the rest of the article HERE >

5 pizza-making tips from Chef Margarita Fores and Maestro Gaetano Fazio (Rappler)

Maestro Gaetano Fazio and Chef Margarita Fores create pizza magic with Caputo flour (photo from PR)

(This feature was published in Rappler last February 28, 2016)

Not all pizzas are created equal.

You’ll find variations of this traditional Italian specialty in many local restaurants, international fast-food chains, and food stalls, but nothing comes close to the original one created in Naples. Pizza-maker, Maestro Gaetano Fazio, who has been making pizzas for over 50 years now, was recently in Manila for a pizza-making session. He was the mentor of Chef Margarita Fores (Asia’s Best Female Chef for 2016), the lady behind CIBO who traveled all the way to Ischia in Italy – 12 years ago – to be close to the source and learn from no less than the master.

< Read the rest of the article HERE >

5 great day trips from Metro Manila (WayToGo)

Mount Pinatubo Crater Lake is a sight to behold

(This feature was published in WayToGo last February 14, 2016)

Escape the hustle and bustle of the Metro by heading out to one of these fascinating destinations in Luzon

Mount Pinatubo

Best for: Adventure seekers

The buzz: Lace up your hiking shoes and head to Mount Pinatubo for a taste of adventure. Standing tall at 1,486m, this active volcano is a popular tourist attraction, with a beautiful crater lake that formed after its last eruption in 1991. Sign up for a day tour, which will provide transport from Manila and take you on a thrilling 4×4 jeep ride across rocky rivers and ash fields. You’ll then have to hike for two hours to reach the crater lake — the going will be tough, but the picture-perfect views at the top will be worth your every effort.

Getting there: Three hours from Metro Manila by car

Tip: There are numerous group tours available, but make sure to sign up with a Department of Tourism-accredited travel agency. Rates are cheaper for big groups.

<Read the rest of the article HERE>

More of Cebu: Oslob’s whale sharks and Carcar’s lechon (GMA News Online)

See whale sharks skim the surface of the ocean

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last February 13, 2016)

Swim with the whale sharks – check! Eat lechon and chicharon in Carcar – check!

It feels good to tick items off my bucket list, and my most recent trip to Cebu made it possible to do so.

My travel buddies and I allotted one whole day to head 120 kilometers south of Cebu City to rural Oslob, where swimming with the whale sharks has become the main attraction. It takes approximately four hours to drive from the city center to the seaside, which you have to reach from 6 a.m. to 12 noon so you can sign up to swim with the gentle giants of the sea.

Road trip to the south 

Travelers may commute by bus, but our tour operator provided a private van with driver and limited its passengers for maximum comfort. We left past six in the morning, just after sunrise, and I made sure to wear my swimsuit underneath my casual beachwear for utmost convenience.

<Read the rest of the article HERE>

Champagne buffet, tapas, and other good eats at Alfred (GMA News Online)

Raclette and champagne will please your palates

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last February 9, 2016)

All-you-can-eat restaurants have become a trend these past couple of years. It’s now a dime a dozen—you’d see them in high-end hotels and in commercial malls, too.

But not all buffet spreads are created equal. Some have mundane munchies that would fill your belly but not necessarily make for a happy tummy. Others would surpass your gastronomic expectations with its gourmet offerings.

One such place where I would happily not count calories is Alfred, the 24-hour restaurant of Makati Diamond Residences.

Champagne every day, why not?

I immediately liked the simple yet sophisticated vibe of the restaurant when I walked in for lunch the first time I went there. It felt open and spacious because of its high ceiling. It had floor to ceiling neutral drapes with natural sunlight coming in from one side. There were U-shaped upholstered seats for the round tables, stylish lighting fixtures, and an elegant orchid centerpiece in the middle.

Read the rest of the article HERE.

Touring Cebu City in style (GMA News Online)

Devotees hear mass at the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño de Cebu

This feature was published in GMA News Online last February 2, 2016)

Whenever I travel to a place I’ve never set foot in before, I try to sneak in a quick city or day tour in my itinerary. I believe it’s the best way of getting to know a destination, and I find it especially convenient when I only have limited time in that particular place.

I admit that I’ve been to Cebu a couple of times already. But I’ve never had the chance to do a city tour until my recent trip, and I’d never felt so welcome. The moment I stepped outside the airport, the Best of the Best Travel and Tours tour guide, Keane, greeted us—not just with a big smile, but with goodies as well.

It’s typical to see shuttle services in the driveway, but ours stood out because it came with treats like dried mangoes, otap, cold mineral water, and even cool face towels for freshening up. I felt pampered already and looked forward to my latest Cebu experience.

Read the rest of the article HERE.