As I write, people still have a hangover from the two excitement-filled days of pen/ink/stationery/accessories shopping that was the second Manila Pen Show last November 16 & 17, at the Holiday Inn & Suites Makati.

The show was held from 9am to 6pm (both days) in two big function rooms, with other function rooms assigned as a workshop room and a show-and-tell lounge. It was also a treat to have free-flowing coffee, tea and water from refreshments stations in the lobby!

Organizers/volunteers at the Manila Pen Show 2019. Photo by Ricci Castaneda.

Day 1 of the show was jam-packed with people. Day 2 was more sedate, but filled up towards the afternoon.

Before registration opened. Photo by Ricci Castaneda.
Registration Day 2. Photo by Kailash Ramchandani.
Donations at registration will benefit Save The Children. Photo by Ernesto Tabujara Jr.
The line to the registration table. Photo by Ricci Castaneda.
Manila Pen Show 2019 Day 1. Video by Eliza Parungao Rehal.
Manila Pen Show 2019 Day 1, Yakan/Abaca/Jusi Room. Photo by Ricci Castaneda.
Manila Pen Show 2019 Day 1, Ramie Room. Photo by Ricci Castaneda.
Manila Pen Show 2019 Day 1. Photo by Ricci Castaneda.
Scribe. Photo by Fernando Zubiri.
Early morning, day 2. Photo by Fernando Zubiri.
Early morning, Ramie Room, day 2. Photo by Fernando Zubiri.

There were three show exclusive fountain pen inks sold at the show. The official show ink was Diamine Arkipelago Blue, a blue based on Pantone 286C, which is the blue of the Philippine flag. Straits Pen also sold a limited run of Mani-lah!, a purple ink based on a Filipino purple sticky rice cake. Pierre Cardin HK sold the orange ink Manila Bay Sunset. All inks were sold out by the end of the show.

Diamine Arkipelago Blue was based on the Pantone blue of the Philippine flag. Photo by Leigh Reyes.
Straits Pen produced Mani-lah! (Project Puto Bumbong), a purple. Photo by Leigh Reyes.
Pierre Cardin’s Manila Bay Sunset is a sheeny orange ink. Photo from Pierre Cardin HK.

Aesthetic Bay of Singapore was a popular booth for people looking for Nakayas, maki-e pens, high end Pelikans, raden Pilot Vanishing Points, and other unique items.

Nakayas at the Aesthetic Bay booth. Photo by Christopher Chong.
Aesthetic Bay’s booth. Photo by Ricci Castaneda.
Tan Fong Kum (R), Connie Tan (C) and Ivy Tan (L) of Aesthetic Bay. Photo by Kailash Ramchandani.
Faber-Castell pens were 50% off! Photo by Christopher Chong.
Lara M. Telan of Gav n Sav pen wraps. Photo by Ernesto Tabujara Jr.
Cross Experience Booth. Photo by Ernesto Tabujara Jr.
Cross. Photo by Camilla Libunao.
Guia P. Bengzon of Vintage by G (R). Photo by Ricci Castaneda.
Vintage by G booth. Photo by Ricci Castaneda.
Everything Calligraphy. Photo by Ernesto Tabujara Jr.
Vinta Inks. Photo by Camilla Libunao.
Jillian Joyce Tan of Everything Calligraphy/Vinta Inks. Photo by Chito Gregorio.

Inks by Vinta launched a special grey shimmer ink, Vinta Nakar (Mother of Pearl) at the show. Here’s a writing sample.

Vinta Nakar (Mother of Pearl). Photo by Anne Tamondong.
Nibmeister John Raymond Lim. Photo by Chito Gregorio.
Nibmeister JP Reinoso (J.P. Pentangeli on Facebook). Photo by Chito Gregorio.
Native fabric pen cases from Jennifer Lee Bonto. Photo by Eliza Parungao Rehal.
Mark del Rosario (L) and Alvin Arcillas (R) of Kasama PH. Photo by Kasama PH.
Kasama PH pens. Photo by Ernesto Tabujara Jr.
Kasama Una fountain pens in delrin, with stormtrooper rollstoppers. Photo by Eliza Parungao Rehal.
Lamy Philippines. Photo by Ernesto Tabujara Jr.
Lamy Philippines. Photo by Camilla Libunao.

Atelier Musubi from Singapore brought their artisan luxury notebooks, Tomoe River paper everyday notebooks, and luxury pen cases. These benefit disabled artisans and people at risk.

Daryl Lim of Atelier Musubi (L), with Anthony Goquingco of FPN-P (R). Photo by Kailash Ramchandani.
Kimono notebooks at Atelier Musubi. Photo by Eliza Parungao Rehal.
Luxury pen cases at Atelier Musubi. Photo by Eliza Parungao Rehal.
Leuchtturm notebooks at NBS/Noteworthy. Photo by Martin Marvin Macalintal.
Journals from NBS/Noteworthy. Photo by Edrie Alcanzare.

Pengallery from Malaysia brought their special exclusive Diamine inks, Jalur Gemilang (blue with red sheen) and Manggis (“mangosteen”, violet with green sheen).

Kim Hoong Lai (L) and Hannah Low (R) of Pengallery. Photo from Suhana Amiril.
Pengallery. Photo by Ricci Castaneda.
Kim Hoong Lai (L) of Pengallery, Arnold Ang (C) and Melissa Pabilona-Ang (R) of Shibui PH. Photo by Melissa Pabilona-Ang.
Pengrafik. Photo by Kailash Ramchandani.
Pengrafik. Photo by Kailash Ramchandani.
Peter Bangayan and Gema Gonzales at his booth. Photo by Chito Gregorio.
Diamine Arkipelago Blue at Peter Bangayan’s booth. Photo by Gema Gonzales.
Veronica Liu (R), May Poon (C) and staff of Pierre Cardin HK. Photo by Veronica Liu.
Veronica Liu of Pierre Cardin HK (L) with Leigh Reyes (R) trying out a pointillist electronic pen. Photo by Veronica Liu.
Pierre Cardin HK. Photo by Eliza Parungao Rehal.
Ralph Reyes of Regalia Writing Labs. Photo by Chito Gregorio.
Ralph Reyes. Photo by Camilla Libunao.
Damascus nib in EF, by Regalia Writing Labs. Photo by April B. Morales.
Scribe. Photo by Ricci Castaneda.
Scribe offered a special Sailor Pro Gear to commemorate their 10th Anniversary.
Melissa Pabilona-Ang and Arnold Ang of Shibui PH. Photo by Ricci Castaneda.
Shibui leather pen cases. Photo by Arnold Ang.
Ng Lip Sing (L) and Sunny Koh (R) at the Straits Pen booth. Photo by Amanda Gorospe.
Straits Pen. Photo by Amanda Gorospe.
Nibmeister Sunny Koh of Straits Pen. Photo by Amanda Gorospe.
Gabriel Arnado (R), Kaiser Duragos (L) and friend (C) of Troublemaker Inks. Photo by Chito Gregorio.
Troublemaker Inks. Photo by Eliza Parungao Rehal.
Pens by Shawn Newton. Photo by Gema Gonzales.
Calligraphy books at The Curious Artisan. Gail Anne Madalag (L) and Lennie Dionisio (R). Photo by Iris Babao Uy.
Carl Cunanan, Editor in Chief of CALIBRE magazine. Photo by Chito Gregorio.
The Calibre Lounge. Photo by Ernesto Tabujara Jr.
Leigh Reyes conducting her Everyday Creativity through Journaling workshop. Photo by Micah Robles.
Leigh Reyes at her workshop. Photo by Kailash Ramchandani.
Leigh Reyes. Photo by Camilla Libunao.
Daryl Lim of Atelier Musubi talks about his vision and business model. Photo by Micah Robles.
Nibmeister John Raymond Lim talks about pen maintenance. Photo by Micah Robles.
John Raymond Lim talks about pen maintenance. Photo by Camilla Libunao.
Carl Cunanan (L) talking about entrepreneurship. Photo by Micah Robles.
Carl Cunanan. Photo by Camilla Libunao.
Anthony Goquingco held a workshop on nib grinding. Photo by Micah Robles.
Fountain Pen Network-Philippines founder Jose (Butch) Dalisay, Jr. talking about vintage pen collecting. Photo by Micah Robles.
Jose (Butch) Dalisay, Jr. and his vintage pens. Photo by Camilla Libunao.
Guia P. Bengzon and her vintage pens. Photo by Camilla Libunao.
Lorraine Marie Nepomuceno conducted a penmanship workshop for adults and for kids. Photo by Micah Robles.
Lorraine Marie Nepomuceno conducting penmanship workshop. Photo by Ricci Castaneda.
Artist Diane Rodriguez with her portraits of Philippine makers and retailers. Photo by Chito Gregorio.
Save the Children’s table. Photo by Kailash Ramchandani.
Fountain Pen Network-Philippines founder Jose (Butch) Dalisay, Jr. (R), June Dalisay (L) and Melissa Pabilona-Ang of Shibui PH. Photo by Arnold Ang.
Fountain Pen Network-Philippines President Leigh Reyes. Photo by Chito Gregorio.
FPN-P Board, vendors, international guests at the welcome dinner in Mesa Greenbelt. Photo by Leigh Reyes.
Day 2 dinner with Alesa McNeill and Troublemaker Inks. Photo by Diane Rodriguez.
Alesa McNeill (L) took videos! Kailash Ramchandani (R) of Pengrafik. Photo by Chito Gregorio.
L-R: Kailash Ramchandani of Pengrafik, Dan Hoizner, Ng Lip Sing of Straits Pen, and Daryl Lim of Atelier Musubi. Photo by John Raymond Lim.

Many thanks to Fountain Pen Network-Philippines, Inc. for organizing the Manila Pen Show 2019! Thank you, too, to the vendors, volunteers and fountain pen enthusiasts who made this a successful event! Thank you to Holiday Inn & Suites Makati for having us. We look forward to a third Manila Pen Show in 2020!


Way back in 2008, fourteen fountain pen enthusiasts and fellow members at the international Fountain Pen Network forums banded together and organized a local pen lovers’ group, now known as Fountain Pen Network-Philippines.


Photo by June Dalisay.

Above are founder Jose (Butch) Dalisay Jr. and friends at the very first pen meet at his house at the University of the Philippines campus.

Fast-forward ten years later, and the group has grown from 14 to 5,800+ members on Facebook, with its own forums at

Earlier in the year, Peter Bangayan organized an FPN-P Tenth Anniversary Pen, made by Bexley. It’s the Corona model, except it is cartridge/converter and not a piston-filler. It came in two colors, blue and turquoise, with a special medallion in the finial produced by Juan Luis Faustmann, in a limited quantity. There was also a Tenth Anniversary Ink, made by Diamine, called Blue Orient, a turquoise with a red sheen. (Another anniversary pen, the Edison Mina in tortoise acrylic, is in the works, courtesy of Anthony Goquingco. This is for those who weren’t able to acquire the Bexley.)


Photo by Rommel Bernardo.


Photo by Shey Pia Abaya.


Photo by Mona Caccam.


Photo by Leigh Reyes.

Co-founder Leigh Reyes quickly booked a lovely function room/co-working space at 3rd Space Legaspi for July 7, 2018. It was well-attended, with new and old members mixing and trying each other’s pens and inks.  There was an ink bar courtesy of Leigh, plus a sales area for pen wraps by Lara Telan of Gav n Sav, and empty cigar boxes.  Video of ink bar by Ronin Bautista here.


Photo by Kailash Ramchandani.


Photo by IamLennie.

At around 4pm we held a raffle, with prizes contributed by longstanding sponsors Scribe, Times Trading (Lamy) , Pengrafik and Stationer Extraordinaire. The grand prize was a proudly Philippine-made pen, made by KasamaPH (IG: KasamaPH, Facebook: KasamaPH). It’s called the Una, because it’s the first model ever made in the Philippines.


Photo by Michelle Suratos.


Photo by Kailash Ramchandani.


Photo by Leigh Reyes.

Many thanks to Mark Tiangco for the delicious Quorn lasagna and nuggets, Babyruth Chuaunsu for the Sunkist drinks, and the various members who donated cakes and pastries for the event.  Thanks also to Vad Mayores of 3rd Space for making sure we were all comfortable at their venue.

Here’s to more years appreciating fountain pens!




I joined a calligraphy group on Facebook called Calligraphy Spot about a year ago. I joined because I liked looking at other people’s calligraphy, not that I wanted to make my own. I know, it’s weird. My focus is on using fountain pens for regular writing, rather than using dip pens for decorative work. But I managed to convince my sister to join the same group.  She even attended a calligraphy workshop and bought all the starter materials – Zebra G nibs, straight holder, oblique holder, Desiderata Daedalus pen, calligraphy pads, walnut ink, you name it.  I feel a little embarrassed that I’m not as determined as her to make art. She’s progressed so much in pointed pen calligraphy in a couple of months since she started.  I still print in my journals, and wonder whether my cursive handwriting will ever improve.

There was a small calligraphy meet scheduled the other day, at a little crepe restaurant in the mall near our house. It was supposed to be a pencil calligraphy and watercolor art meet.  Normally people bring their materials with them, order a snack, and share tips about what materials work best with what style, about techniques, things like that. My sister was there ahead of me, brandishing her Desiderata pen. I already knew some of the people there, they were also members of Fountain Pen Network-Philippines, which I help moderate. My sister explained to them that I just liked looking at other people’s calligraphy, but they said I was welcome anyway, hahaha.

The conversation veered from what fountain pen inks were archival (I participated in that discussion) to pencils being archival, to what pencils were locally available that could work best in calligraphy (Staedtler 6B, Caran d’Ache 9B, Palomino Blackwing, etc.), to special mechanical erasers, to Desiderata Daedalus pens being used as eyedroppers vs. with converters, to regular Zebra G nibs vs. the titanium version, to what locally available papers were worth investing in (Elias calligraphy pads and loose paper by the ream, Craftdoodle calligraphy pads, etc.).  It was all fun and fascinating. I should have brought my fountain pens (even though they don’t flex) and paper and doodled around just for fun.  There were a few one-on-one sessions for pencil calligraphy and how to use a Desiderata pen. The watercolorists were doing florals.

We had to leave before dinner, but we dropped by National Bookstore to buy specialty pencils. I had fun, and met new friends, and bonded with my sister.  I’m game to go to another meet in the future.



Photo by Jefferson Villacruz, from

My high school, the University of the Philippines Integrated School, is celebrating 100 years of existence tomorrow.  The old high school, on Katipunan Ave., Quezon City, was torn down a few years ago in favor of an Ayala mall, what is now known as the UP Town Center.  With the help of the Ayala Land, a new high school was built inside UP Campus in 2013, where the old Narra Residence Hall used to be.

The last time I went to a reunion was in 2012; the new high school building was still being built then, and we had the reunion at the elementary school grounds.  I’m actually excited to see the new building for the first time, and of course, to see my friends.  My high school class is pretty close-knit, probably more so than other classes, and we generally have a good time.

My high school friends and I were the children of UP faculty. Most of us lived on campus then.  We are still close; we meet several times a year. Over the years we have all moved out of UP campus, started working, raised families. Half of our barkada (gang) is in the United States and they try to come home for a visit at least once a year. We’re godparents to each others’ children.  I treasure the times we get to meet. Usually we spend the time just eating and talking.  I expect much of the same happening tomorrow at the reunion, only with more photos.

Daily Prompt: Treasure


I saw several posts that B made on Facebook, full of anger, contempt and vitriol. It’s been a couple of years or so since he moved to Canada with his family. It looks like his life there is good, he has a good job and his kids are in a good school. But I see his anger is still directed at the imperfect country he left behind. He probably doesn’t think much of us who remain here through choice, or lack of choice. There are times his arrogance makes me want to unfollow him, but then I think of our shared past, and the reasons why we are still friends. I am surprised by his bitterness and negativity when the changes he has made to his life have resulted in what should be positive things.

The Dalai Lama says, “It is possible to develop a… forceful but far more controlled energy with which to handle difficult situations. This controlled energy comes not only from a compassionate attitude, but also from reason and patience. These are the most powerful antidotes to anger. Unfortunately, many people misjudge these qualities as signs of weakness. I believe the opposite to be true: that they are the true signs of inner strength. Compassion is by nature gentle, peaceful and soft, but it is very powerful. It is those who easily lose their patience who are insecure and unstable. Thus, to me, the arousal of anger is a direct sign of weakness.”

I ask myself if the ties that bind B and myself have faded. Time and distance have necessarily contributed to that. But time and distance afford me the conscious decision to try to be compassionate. I do not know exactly why he is an angry person, but I can only understand that he IS angry, and that there must be a good reason. I cannot stop him from dripping with contempt, I can only feel that it is one of his coping mechanisms. This does not make him a bad person, only different from how I am. I am not necessarily in a better place than he is, to think this way. I can only acknowledge that he is how he is now. And I can acknowledge my momentary distress with his behavior. I wish him good things, things everyone deserves. He makes it difficult, but friendship takes work. He still considers me a good friend, for what it’s worth.

The Dalai Lama continues: “For a person who cherishes compassion and love, the practice of tolerance is essential… Because we all share an identical need for love, it is possible to feel that anybody we meet, in whatever circumstances, is a brother or sister. No matter how new the face or how different the dress and behavior, there is no significant division between us and other people.”

Of course people also say not to surround yourself with toxic people. It’s not too bad; he’s half a world away. I love myself enough to be able to occasionally mute him. There will be times when things will be better and won’t be this way. We continue to grow.

Daily Prompt: Faded


Last May 2013, Sheaffer recently celebrated 100 years as a successful pen brand worldwide. The Manila celebration was held last May 29th, at the Yuchengco Museum, in Makati.   Walter A. Sheaffer originally built the company in 1913, in Fort Madison, Iowa.   While Sheaffer had been selling in the Philippines in the early 1990s, they pulled out and recently relaunched themselves a few years ago, in cooperation with the country’s foremost bookstore chain, National Bookstore.  They invited members of our fountain pen group, Fountain Pen Network – Philippines, most of whom are loyal customers.


The event was hosted by media personality RJ Ledesma.  We were greeted by BIC Asia Regional Manager Alejandro Rodriguez Tabo, with gracious remarks from National Bookstore’s doyenne Mrs. Socorro Ramos.  There were on-the-spot games with the audience, where my friend Raffy won some gift certificates for having brought the oldest vintage Sheaffer pen in the room (a 1920s black-and-pearl flat top lever-filler).


Among the items being featured that evening were the new Taranis, a hooded-nib fountain pen designed by US architect Charles Debbas, and the Sagaris, a fountain pen inspired by the earlier Sheaffer Triumph (1990s, a tribute in turn to the much earlier 1970s Imperials).   There were also three very special pens, collector’s limited editions:


The sterling silver commemorative pen has an 18k inlaid nib and is one of only 516 made.  The 18k gold commemorative pen is one of only 45 that exist.  It also has an 18k inlaid nib, and comes with a commemorative ink (although I was not able to ask what color it was).


The third commemorative pen was a sterling silver Legacy Heritage, with a palladium-coated 18k inlaid nib.  It is only one of 1,913 ever made.


Towards the end of the evening, there was a raffle, at which my friends Carlos and Allan won the top two prizes.  Carlos won a Sheaffer Valor in brown marble, while Allan won the grand prize, a Sheaffer Legacy Heritage.



We all went home with a Sheaffer Sagaris rollerball, stamped with Sheaffer’s centennial logo.


It was an enjoyable night, after which FPN-P members continued with another pen meet at a nearby ramen restaurant.





Many thanks to Robby da Silva, National Bookstore’s Sheaffer manager, for the kind invitation!



One of the members of our Manila fountain pen group decided to start a small book club.  We had our first meeting last weekend, where we figured out what books we’d all like to read.  We’ll focus on a book each month, focusing initially on Filipino writers writing in English.  There are so many good books out there, but it’s a shame not to read the writers of one’s own country.  The guys in our group made a request not to have to read romance novels, and the rest of us heartily agreed (hahaha!).

This May we’re tackling the late Kerima Polotan‘s 1961 Stonehill Award-winning novel “The Hand of the Enemy”.  In June we’ll be reading her collection of essays “Adventures in a Forgotten Country”.  Both books are published by the University of the Philippines Press.  Also in our list is Jose Y. Dalisay, Jr.‘s Killing Time in a Warm Place (Anvil Publishing), a novel based on his experiences as a Martial Law detainee.  (Incidentally, Butch Dalisay is the founder of our fountain pen group.  We’re asking him to sign our copies.)  We’ll follow with National Artist Nick Joaquin‘s May Day Eve & Other Stories.  Next up is Esteban Javellana‘s 1947 classic “Without Seeing The Dawn” (which was made into a Tagalog tv mini-series when I was a child).  We’re also reading young Palanca winner F. H. Batacan‘s mystery novel featuring a “Jesuit priest who is also a forensic anthropologist as sleuth”, Smaller and Smaller Circles (UP Press).  Then we’ll read another classic of  Filipino immigrant fiction, Carlos Bulosan‘s America is in the Heart (Anvil Publishing). Just so we don’t get stuck on novels, we also picked a book of essays edited by Erlinda Panlilio, The Manila We Knew (Anvil Publishing). Then for something totally different, there’s Resil Mojares‘s Isabelo’s Archive (Anvil Publishing), a compilation of essays and notes on Philippine culture and history, based “on Isabelo de los Reyes’ groundbreaking attempt to build an archive of popular knowledge in the Philippines.”  And then there is Bambi Harper‘s new historical novel, Agueda (University of Sto. Tomas Publishing House).  There is also Luis Francia‘s History of the Philippines: From Indios Bravos to Filipinos to consider.

The titles or order of reading might change.  But it’s good to have a reading list.  If we didn’t sit down to plan this, we wouldn’t know where to start! We can’t always meet in person, but we can always email our reading notes to each other.

From this list you can see we all have this common interest in literature, history (national and personal) and culture.  Indeed, in Jose Rizal’s words, “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa kanyang paroroonan.” (He who does not look back from where he came will never reach his destination.)


Today I went with friends on a coffee safari.  No, we didn’t hop from one coffee shop to another!  We were invited to a coffee-tasting at a friend’s home.  The coffees, however, came from exotic locales – where the best coffees grow.


I had no idea my friend Dante was a member of a local coffee club.  As you can guess, he doesn’t have coffee at coffee shops because he enjoys making his own at home.  He has a collection of coffee gadgets, ranging from grinders, to roasters, to French presses and espresso machines!  He buys international single-origin coffee beans from a trusted source, and only roasts 250g of beans at a time.  He grinds his beans just before making his coffee, in order to take advantage of the beans’ freshly-released flavor and aroma.

We had, in order:  Peruvian, Ethiopian dry-process (where the coffee berries dry in the sun naturally, as opposed to wet-process where the berries are hulled and the beans are dried separately), Jamaican Blue Mountain, Panama La Esmeralda Gesha and Ethiopian Harar coffees.  Plus an Ethiopian dry-process Americano (1:1 espresso and water).


Dante used the hand drip coffee method.  I was wondering if the ceramic dripper was available locally, and found out it was being sold at Craft Coffee Workshop along Broadway Ave. in New Manila, Quezon City.  It’s also available in different sizes , along with other coffee accessories, on

The coffees all had a wonderful aroma, each different from the other.  The aroma of the ground coffee was much stronger than that of the whole roasted beans.  I wish I had taken tasting notes, but I don’t know the terms.  Dante arranged the progression of flavors in terms of complexity and body.  I guess it would be like how a sommelier arranges wines to complement a dinner.  We tried each coffee black, then with some muscovado sugar, then with non-dairy creamer.  All the coffees were very good, but the Jamaican Blue Mountain and Panama La Esmeralda Gesha were particularly delicious.  Sublime.  (Jude, to me:  “So, did you hear the choir of angels yet?” With my mouth full of coffee, all I could do was nod and smile.)

Yes, we had a LOT of coffee, in small cups, not the big American-size mugs.  We were served pan de sal (soft breakfast buns), with our choice of filling – butter, strawberry jam, peanut butter and Spanish-style sardines.  We also had a lot of water on the side, to cleanse our palates.  You would think that all that caffeine would render me into a quivering mess, but I checked my hands and they didn’t shake.  Dante explains that when coffee has been made properly, you get the flavor of the coffee without too much of the caffeine.  To prove his point, he served me and Christine an Americano each, made of the Ethiopian dry-process beans.    My sixth coffee, but in a tiny double espresso cup.  I felt extraordinarily alert, but I felt great!  No palpitations.


Of course, this isn’t something I’d do on a daily basis.  I don’t think I’d ever get to experience that in a commercial coffee shop, or even in a hotel.  It was such a treat (thank you so much, Dante)!  I learned so much about coffee that I never knew before.

I like to support Philippine coffee bean producers.  My usual coffee at home is Arabica from the Cordilleras or Liberica from Batangas (“barako”), so Dante suggested I try the local coffee brand Monks’ Blend.   It’s produced by Benedictine monks from the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Malaybalay, Bukidnon.  We have an active Philippine Coffee Board, so maybe one day I’ll work my way through the different local coffees, which I see being sold in organic weekend markets, food trade fairs and sustainable lifestyle stores like Echo Store.


Last August I joined a group of friends on a day tour of Pampanga.  It’s north of Manila, about a drive of an hour and a half.  We had a special ten-course lunch scheduled at Bale Dutung, but had the morning free to visit a couple of old  churches and take photos.

The San Guillermo Parish Church of Bacolor dates back to Spanish times.  After the original church (constructed in 1576) was destroyed in an earthquake, it was rebuilt in 1897.  In 1991 half the church was buried in lahar during the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.  In one of the photos below you’ll see that the arched windows on the sides of the church are now as low as the tops of the pews.








From Bacolor we traveled to Betis, Guagua – an old town famous for hand-carved furniture.  Built in the 18th century, the Parish Church of Santiago Apostol (St. James the Apostle) is known for its splendid retablo art.  Its facade is quite simple and relatively recent, but old carvings decorate the church door and selected pieces of the church’s original wooden furniture.  The altar is rich with more carvings, gilt and saints.  But the showstopper is the church’s ceiling, painted in the early 20th century.  We were requested by church staff not to use flash photography, to protect the artwork.







The lovely thing about these churches is that they’re still working churches, serving loyal parish families throughout their town’s history.  If you have a long weekend coming up, a map, a camera, and a sense of adventure, this sort of trip is immensely rewarding.



When our American friend Tom said he’d finally visit the Philippines last August, Carlos immediately organized a trip to the province of Pampanga, complete with a ten-course lunch at Claude and Mary Ann Tayag’s restaurant, Bale Dutung.


“Bale Dutung” means “house of wood”.  If this house looks somewhat familiar, it’s because it was featured in Anthony Bourdain‘s Philippines episode on No Reservations.  Here’s the Pampanga clip on Youtube, showing artist and chef Claude Tayag‘s restaurant.


Mary Ann Tayag welcomed the seven of us warmly.  We had to call ahead and reserve, so the Tayags could put us together with another small group in order to make the 12-head minimum.  We chose the “Anthony Bourdain menu”, which referred to an all-Kapampangan lineup of dishes.  As each dish was served, Mary Ann would annotate, explaining the origins and flavors of each dish.


A salad of wild ferns and tomatoes topped with half a soft-boiled egg.


Grilled chicken buttons (it’s the behind, folks!) with brown rice.


Quail stewed in soy sauce, garlic and vinegar (adobo), with egg pan de sal.


Lechon (roast pork) taco.  Each diner is served only one ( in order for them to be able to appreciate the rest of the ten-course meal properly), but the fixings are buffet style.


Beef bone marrow.  You get a wooden popsicle stick to scoop out the delicious marrow with, plus a straw to help you get all the juices.


A thick guava-flavored soup called “bulanglang”, featuring “ulang” (large river prawns).  There’s a small serving of plain rice inside the banana leaf package.


Seafood kare-kare (a stew with peanut sauce).

The courses I didn’t photograph were the appetizers (crackers and three dips made of homemade herb pesto, “taba ng talangka” or crab fat, and “balao-balao” or fermented rice flavored with shrimps); the coffee and dessert (maja blanca with corn and young coconut).


The meal took us four hours to consume!  It was amazing how we could all still stand up at the end of it all.  Claude visited our table and signed the books we bought.  He and Mary Ann co-authored the book Linamnam, a regional food guide to the Philippines (Anvil Publishing, 2011).  Claude also styled Kulinarya (A Guidebook to Philippine Cuisine), by Glenda Rosales Barretto.

Was it worth it?  Foreign visitors and locals who aren’t too familiar with Pampanga cuisine (like myself) can definitely check this menu out.  Some of the dishes were known quantities with a distinctly Pampanga/Tayag twist.  Some, like the balao-balao dip and the guava-redolent bulanglang, were exotic. If that doesn’t strike your fancy, there are also other menus to choose from.  I truly enjoyed Mary Ann’s entertaining and informative spiels, and learned a lot about Pampanga’s rich history and culture through its food.


What to do after an afternoon of eating?  We decided we all wanted a richer dessert, and went all the way to Kabigting’s a few towns away in Arayat, for white halo-halo (with pastillas milk candy instead of ube jam)!

Thank you, Tom, for visiting the Philippines, because if it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t have thought of going on this Pampanga food tour!