Manila’s Chinatown dates back to 1594, and is the oldest Chinatown in the world. The area is called Binondo, and I’ve only been there exactly four times in the past.  All four times involved visits to restaurants and delis.  Each time I discovered something delightful and new.  This weekend’s trip was no different.


My brother-in-law Tristan has a favorite pay parking area near Binondo Church (the Minor Basilica of St. Lorenzo Ruiz).  When we got there at around 10:30am, nearly every parking slot was already taken.  Our friend Elma had Ivan Dy’s Binondo Food Wok map from when she went on the tour.  We only had until 2pm to walk around and eat, so it was great to have someone lead us who’d done it before.


Our first stop was Dong Bei Dumplings (624 Yuchengco St., behind the church), home of the best steamed dumplings in town.  When we got there, the place was already full!  Ivan Dy had a walking tour group already booked, and they took up all five tables.  Elma and my sister Joy ordered packs of dumplings to bring home, since they sold out pretty quickly.  We said we’d return when Ivan’s group was done.

We thought we’d have coffee and snacks at Cafe Mezzanine, the Volunteer Firemen’s Cafe.  Chinatown’s brave Filipino-Chinese firemen are usually the first to arrive at any fire in the city (yes, ahead of the neighborhood firemen, sometimes).  The cafe supports all of their activities.  It’s located above the Eng Bee Tin deli along Ongpin St., next to Binondo Church.  Their eye-catching purple fire truck is usually parked alongside, colored after the deli’s famous ube hopia (pastry filled with mashed purple yam).


Firemen’s hats and other gear decorate the cafe.  We ordered espressos and a variety of savory snacks, among them kiampong (fried rice topped with sauteed peanuts), machang (glutinous rice filled with stewed pork and wrapped in a banana leaf), fried radish cake, and crab cake (actually crab balls, served with sweet and sour sauce).  People who try only the kiampong are sometimes not impressed; they just do not realize that it is probably meant to be eaten with another viand for a contrast of textures and flavors.



Yes, it looks like a light lunch, but these are actually small servings shared by the four of us.  The coffee was quite good.  Our bill came to a total of P550 (about USD 13.50).  One added plus for us girls was that the cafe had a very clean toilet.

We walked back to Dong Bei, and ordered a plate of steamed pork and kuchay (chive) dumplings, and a plate of fried pancakes stuffed with the same mixture.  Wanting more, we later ordered another plate of steamed kuchay-only dumplings.  Each plate was P100 (just over USD 2) – there were 14 steamed dumplings per order, and four fried pancakes the size of coasters, sliced into quarters.




These were the absolute freshest dumplings I’ve ever had in my entire life.  The dough was soft, yet strong enough to hold the tasty filling either while being steamed or fried.  They were served with Chinese black vinegar.

Both the steamed dumplings and the fried stuffed pancakes were made right in front of us, at the next table.



The packs of frozen dumplings we ordered each contained 31 dumplings at P200 (roughly USD 5) each.  We bought 3 packs and received one pack free!  The instructions were to boil five minutes or steam seven minutes directly from the freezer.  We also received small containers of the black vinegar to go with our order.  The very kind owner agreed to keep them in her freezer until we were finished with our walk.

We went to Bee Tin, a traditional Chinese grocery on 735 Ongpin St.  We bought two kinds of kiamoy (salty red, or sweet black preserved plums), preserved sweet olives (P75) and 250g of Tie GuanYin Oolong loose leaf tea (P150).  Elma was looking for White Rabbit milk candies, but there were none to be had.


We moved to another grocery down the road, Shin Tai-Shang, which specialized in Taiwanese food products and assorted dry goods.  We bought fruit tarts with salted egg yolk inside them (green tea and plum, red bean, pineapple, and lotus – P40 each).  The owner described the filling as somewhat similar in consistency to that of moon cake.  We also bought a couple of curried chicken turnovers (P45 each, quite good).



After North Ongpin bridge we came across Salazar Bakery, where we bought fortune cookies (P78).



We then went looking for the corner of Ongpin and Bahama St, where the Shanghai Fried Siopao stall is.  They sell steamed pork buns (P16 each) browned on a griddle, among other food items.  As soon as we got there a line began to form.  We bought some to take home with us for Sunday breakfast (delicious!).  As we were waiting for our change, I saw a pedicab pass by with a barking chihuahua in it, riding like a queen.  I wish I had taken a photo, but I didn’t want to get accidentally knocked down by a car.



By that time it was just around 1pm and we needed a pick-me-up.  In front of us was Sa Lido restaurant (839 Ongpin St.), which was famous for its siphon coffee and roast pork asado.  We walked into the place, and saw from an autographed photo that it was a favorite hangout of Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim.  There were groups of old men relaxing and chatting, and ladies enjoying noodles.  Since we were still full from the dumplings, we opted for iced coffee (P80; a happier price than at Starbucks).  They also had a nice clean toilet.



We started walking back towards Yuchengco St., and passed by a sugarcane vendor.  We bought one pack (P60) for my 7-year-old niece to chew on.  Along with the sugarcane he sold cogon grass roots, which are apparently made into a medicinal juice.


We finally claimed our frozen dumplings and walked back to the car.  We spent only P320 each (not including tips and other take-home food), although you could easily spend less than that and still be quite satisfied.

In case you’re planning on a Binondo food trip this summer, please wear light clothing and comfortable shoes, wear lots of sunblock, and bring reusable shopping bags, your camera, and cash in small bills with you.  You can buy your mineral water along the way.

There’s still so much of that food map to cover!  We’re planning to return very soon.  One day I’ll take Ivan Dy’s tour, to be able to appreciate not only the food, but Chinatown’s history and culture as well.


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!


Went first thing upon opening yesterday.  Runs from Sept. 12-14 only.  It’s at the Convention Center building (SMX) of SM Mall of Asia.

First things first:

1.  Bring enough cash because there is NO ATM inside this building.  You have to walk outside to the supermarket area and withdraw there, so make sure you bring an umbrella.

2.  Visit the loo before entering the fair.  Otherwise, there are conveniently located toilets outside the trade halls and also inside, in the middle back.

3.  Also, if you want to conserve your money for books instead of food, eat beforehand.  Or you can buy from Albergus Catering, which does offer really good value for money food, with tables and waiters!  You line up and pay, self-service.  The waiters clear your table so the turnover is quite efficient.

We chose from the “Guest Menu”  where, for P130 (exclusive of drinks), I recommend either the Roast Beef+Pancit+Rice meal or the Fish in Basil Cream Sauce+Pancit+Rice meal.  Drinks are around PhP 40/can softdrinks or C2 iced tea.

Now, to the books:

1.  If you went to the National Bookstore booksale last month, it continues here, with 20% off on all regular priced items, and bigger discounts for selected items.  Cash and credit transactions.  You can use your Laking National card here too.  Promo items for every PhP 1000 purchase.  I got a Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” promo messenger bag!  Quite useful for putting all your purchases in.

2.  Same discount structure at Powerbooks. Some books you are looking for in National but can’t find in that booth might be available here. You can also avail of an outright purchase Powerbooks Powercard for PhP 100 and claim the discount card after 3 weeks at the Powerbooks branch nearest you.  Cash and credit accepted, as well as BPI Express Payment.

3.  Goodwill has lots of lovely children’s books!  Lovely discounted prices as well!  Cash and credit too!

4.  Anvil Publications has imported and local publications on display, also with wonderful discounts. Local publications are available in bookpaper or newsprint.  Cash and credit accepted.

Please watch out for my friend Jag Garcia‘s book (written with colleagues Melanie Casul and Michael Kho Lim) “Media Kit” volumes 1 and 2.  Great basic textbook for people who want to learn how to make effective audiovisual presentations or have ambitions to become scriptwriters or filmmakers.  Well-written, simple and concise.  In this age of digital information, this is one affordable information resource to always have by your side.

Another recommendation:  This is the time to take advantage of adding to your Ambeth Ocampo popular history collection!  Start with “Rizal Without His Overcoat” and go through each of the national heroes in Ambeth’s list.  If you buy his books you get a bottle of Claude Tayag’s “Claude 9” brand sauce free (random flavor)!

Yet another:  The late Doreen G. Fernandez‘s book of food essays, “Tikim”.

5.  Best Value For Money Filipiniana booth:  Bookmark.

I got a “Field Guide to the Common Mangroves, Sea Grasses and Algae of the Philippines” by Hilconida Calumpong and the Smithsonian’s Ernani Menez for my uncle Joey who is the barangay captain of a tiny Negros coastal town featuring a DENR-recognized mangrove sanctuary.  It has glossy full-color photography, which sold for an unbelievable discount price of PhP 250 (regular price: PhP 400).  Super sulit geeky Pinoy science book for an international audience.

Also available:  “Marine Reserves in the Philippines:  Historical Development, Effects and Influence on Marine Conservation Policy” by former DENR Sec. Angel Alcala for an even more unbelievable sale price of PhP 100!!!

Splendid selection of Filipiniana available.  Fantastic pictures and paper quality.  The coffeetable book “Philippine Ancestral Houses” edited by Gilda Cordero-Fernando is available in paperback for PhP 1000!!!  (That’s actually reasonable, folks, because the hardcover edition is worth at least PhP 3-4000 and is a collector’s item.) I thought it was out of print.

6.  Check out other university press favorites, University of the Philippines Press and Ateneo de Manila University Press.

7.  Other booths are specialty books and feature some seriously scary prices so just think that they are actually targeted at school libraries and not the ordinary consumer.

8.  Not books, but next to the stage there is a booth for Pilot pens and pencils.  I recommend for all those with an office supplies fetish like myself the Pilot ENO 0.7mm mechanical pencil which has erasable colored pencil refills!!!  I got one, plus red, green and blue refills (3 colors, one pack).  Other refill colors are light blue, lavender, pink, apple green… so yes… indulge…

Honestly, one day is not enough.  If someone offers you a free pass valid until Sunday (tomorrow), get them!  Only your wallet limits you.


Note: Photos and videos will be posted separately after I have reviewed them.

Wanted to go home Saturday as scheduled but Cebu Pacific cancelled our Kalibo-Manila flight. We were stranded for several days. Got home safely Tuesday, 1045am, thanks to a good friend of mine who helped me get 6 confirmed seats on the first Cebu Pacific flight out of Kalibo.

I woke up early Saturday morning because Ryan wanted one last swim before we left the island. To my great surprise the waves outside were Hawaii Five-O-ish; some locals were even surfing! Jovic learned from Rose at the front desk that it was Signal #2 of Typhoon Frank (International Name: Fengshen) and that boats were not allowed to travel between Boracay and Caticlan. We stayed an extra night in relative comfort — Crystal Sand still had electricity, cable tv, phone service and home-style food. Then we lost all Globe telecom signals. Despite the winds and flying furniture, Chinne, Jopet and Ryan donned unused garbage bags from Crystal Sand with cutouts for their heads and arms, and walked to D’Mall just to buy everyone Smart sims and load. Out of all our telephones, only the high end phones (Chinne’s Sony Ericsson T650i and Jopet’s Nokia N95) had reliable signals. Still, we managed to inform our families about our situation. We waited till the Coast Guard said we could take the ferry Sunday. When we did so at the first possible opportunity, the water was relatively calm. There is a smaller jetty on the eastern side of the island from where we took our boat. It is actually the shorter, direct crossing, with a beach entry.

Upon arriving, Chinne used her Diyosa powers in the midst of chaos to get us a van from Caticlan to Kalibo. We arrived to scenes of heartbreaking devastation. The river between Numancia and Kalibo had overflowed, mud was everywhere, houses and school buildings were smashed flat, trees fell on power lines, and dead farm animals were semi-buried in the debris. When we got to the airport we found that part of the roof was damaged, the runway was unusable, there was no power and therefore no communication with Manila or Caticlan. We decided to return to Caticlan. By the time we got there it was 730pm, and found the Coast Guard had banned ferry rides again. With no place to stay, we went to the nearest “hotel” and found it a depressing place. We decided to stay in the Caticlan jetty building instead. There was no light, but there were working clean flush toilets, a very clean floor, friendly staff, and its own security detail. Best of all, there was an open Andok’s opposite. We slept on the floor.

Next morning around 6am Jopet and I walked to the airport and signed up on all airline waiting lists. Wanted to buy tickets home with my credit card but remembered they were only taking cash since there was no telephone lines operating. Thank God for our Smart sims! Jopet called his brother Eric to wire us money via MLhuillier Padala because there were no ATMs or open banks in Caticlan. Ironically, when we finally had the money to buy the tickets, we were told NO ONE was selling tickets. We couldn’t even ask our relatives to buy us tickets online since there was no way of confirming the ticket locator number. And at one point, all waiting list numbers were wiped back to zero. It was an angry mob waiting to happen.

Somehow I was able to contact my friend B, who advised me that the Kalibo airport just opened and that I could use my return ticket with Cebu Pacific. To my great surprise, he was able to call me from his Sun Cellular number! All networks would lose connection after one second, but not Sun. It was the only network that could sustain a voice call! (Reminder to self: get a Sun sim for emergencies.) Through B’s request, a very nice girl from Cebu Pacific we’ll call KP later contacted us and reassured us of confirmed seats. We took the first van we could find at 6pm and got to Kalibo at 8pm. Fortunately we found a place to stay called Airport Line, a travellers’ pension house a couple of blocks away (P300 a room, with own bathroom and electric fan for 12 hours). Our bathing water was literally pumped by the pail-load. And each of us had to share their small pail with their roommate, not to mention leave a bit for flushing the toilet. Better than nothing. After not being able to take a bath or brush my teeth for 48 hours I felt like a human being again.

Woman in Denial: “Waay kamo hot water? Abi ko hotel ini?” (What kind of hotel is this, you don’t even have hot water!)
Mai-mai: “Waay gani tubi, ma hot water ka pa?” (We don’t even have running water, and you expect it to be hot?)

The next morning at Kalibo airport there was another angry mob waiting to happen when the Caticlan passengers thought they wouldn’t be able to go home, since initially the Kalibo passengers got priority. Through a bit of people power it was finally arranged that those who got in line first got served, regardless of ticket route. It was the only way to start and keep the process going. Our confirmation via KP got us seats in the first of two planes that morning. I took some human interest videos — there was a woman crying when she checked in and saw the plane landing, the one we were going to ride home on. When she started crying nearly everyone got teary-eyed. As boarding was announced everybody cheered. We had bonded with each other since Sunday in the long lines at the airport, and even exchanged numbers.

I feel bad for the Cebu Pacific staff who had to face all the anger… they had also suffered from the typhoon and were unable to make decisions fast enough to satisfy the passengers. Most of the difficulty arose from lack of electronic communication, local managerial decision-making, and emergency preparedness-related customer service training. We truly appreciated this pretty tisay girl with the brown hair and headband who asked us as we approached the counter, “Kumusta na kayo, are you ok?” Truly, the first thing they needed to do in a situation like this was to show concern. One male employee got angry at a passenger as though it was the passenger’s fault they didn’t have the right ticket. But you see, it’s that lack of training or managerial supervision or service accountability that makes employees give excuses for lack of action instead of actually planning for and taking action. This giving of excuses just held everything up. They were not a team with a leader. They were a handful of tired, worried individuals, of which some were sheep or headless chickens shitting bricks. But Pretty Tisay Girl went on board before departure, to check if everyone on her list was accounted for, and even though we weren’t able to get her name, we certainly remembered her face. She had a smile for all of us before she left. What a winner.

Yeah, bad things happen to people who mean well. If according to the Cebu Pacific slogan: It’s Time Every Juan Flies, then Every Juan Must Also Be Able To Fly Home. I know the Gokongweis run Sun Cellular, they should turn this crisis into an opportunity to better serve Every Juan. If their ticketing employees had Sun work numbers, enough load, and enough electricity to juice up their phones, imagine how much faster confirming seats from Manila would have been! Every Juan among us was literally down to their last P200. That would have gotten us food, but not a place to stay yet another night, even if we had pooled all our resources. We were already on food and water discipline because the likelihood of finding a decent toilet was way low.

To my surprise, Sen. Mar Roxas was on our flight. He got the contact numbers of people who took videos of the destruction and of the difficulties at the airport. I think he went there to survey the damage, help plan for reconstruction and to deliver a message of reassurance.

I guess it will take time for Aklan to rebuild. As for me and my friends, it was an adventure. We returned home feeling like we had won The Amazing Race! We feel truly blessed to have survived and returned home to our families.

Chinne and Donna R, voices of the Frankenstorm Survivors, your Diyosa Powers rock! Thanks for fighting for passenger rights and keeping the group bonded. We’ll see each other soon for a reunion. Jovic, your managing the Caticlan and Kalibo lines inside the Kalibo airport was unexpected and amazing. Yen and husband, thanks for documenting the difficulties we encountered. Hopefully those concerned will make use of it to improve customer handling and disaster management.

B, you were literally my last resort. My phone batt was on its last bar when I contacted you. Thanks for being such a good friend 🙂

To my friend Clariza whom I woke up so early in the morning to help me with Seair information, you were a ray of sunshine.

To KP of Cebu Pacific, your concern and action struck the right note with us. Diyosa ka rin.

And to my inaanak Raffi, take everything you have seen on our trip and learn from it. Don’t forget how the bad parts can become opportunities for bringing out the best in people. Don’t even forget that smelly bloated dead cow those men carted away from the muck in Numancia. It reminds us how glad we are to be alive. Remember, you HAVE to be alive to enjoy playing Team Fortress 2. Hahaha 🙂


Our happy discovery on this trip was Lemoni Cafe in D’Mall. It’s included in the country’s top restaurants of 2007, according to Philippine Tatler. It’s the corner restaurant across from Bite Club and the D’Mall ferris wheel. Winners on the menu: the steak breakfast with fried eggs and roasted potatoes, the pork chops with roasted vegetables with a minty yoghurt sauce, the big breakfast with sausages and bacon, the seafood pasta, the fresh-baked wholewheat pan de sal and ciabatta, the baked lemon cheesecake, and the wonderful, wonderful Danesi coffee.

(Food photos taken with my JVC GZ-MG67u, a 2mpx CCD 20G hard disk camcorder.)

We enjoyed the food at Lemoni so much that we dined there three times and had coffee and dessert another time all within four days. The service was friendly and quick. Although at the last dinner, Chinne was craving for Andoks’ crispy pata. So we prevailed on the waitresses to allow her to bring it in. And while she was enjoying the crispy pata, the owner happened to be at the end table and noticed! He walked over and joked about how deliciously unhealthy it was. Chinne froze and had that sheepish aghast look on her face as she turned around to apologize. Jopet saved the day by mentioning the number of times we’d returned to dine, so Tom (an American engaged to a Pinay) said it was ok because the rest of us ordered and were repeat customers. He even mentioned that some people hang out there without even asking for water! We all congratulated him for inclusion in the Tatler list. To save Chinne’s reddened ears from further ringing, we hightailed it out of there. I went to get TDM a long-sleeved cotton camisa I had ordered from my suki vendor at the tiangge past Hey Jude. We later met the others at Cat’s Eye, our karaoke hang-out.

Jopet visits Cat’s Eye at least a couple of nights on each of his trips. Cat’s Eye is owned by a Korean married to a Pinay. His sister-in-law manages it and now knows Jopet pretty well. The last time we were there last October, people were just ordering beer and listening to us sing. And watching us dance to our own singing. We are that shameless! But we sound pretty good to begin with. We won’t win contests, but we like to have some campy fun. There are private rooms, but we sing only from the open bar, where it’s P30/per song. We each have a list of favorites, and songs that we like to sing all together. Chinne likes The Corrs and Patti Austin. I like Sergio Mendes and Heart. Jovic likes rock ballads from the 70s and 80s. Ryan likes OPM ballads. Jopet… he can sing anything, from Josh Groban to Ricky Martin, even to Beyonce re-arrangements. On our second night American visitor Angie and her cousin had fun singing “Proud Mary” and dancing with us. It was like we had gone to the gym and did aerobics for 3 straight hours. Our showstoppers? Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music”.

(Oy, we are such cam hams!)

On this trip we went back to Cat’s Eye three nights in a row. On the last night the wind and rain picked up, and a power outage silenced us too early for our liking. We walked home to Crystal Sand to eat Tostitos and chunky salsa and tried to figure out what songs from tv commercials we’d sing in a karaoke. The first that came to mind was “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” from our childhood. We ended the evening singing Paul Anka’s “The Times of Your Life” from that famous, tear-inducing Kodak commercial that starred the late actor Mario Montenegro. Which, incidentally, had won an advertising award for Jopet’s father! Imagine that.

Little did we imagine the violence of the weather that surprised us on the last night of our trip…

Up next — Boracay: Surviving Frankenstorm.


Sometimes food is the center of our universe. Whenever the gang and I go anywhere for vacation entire days are planned around food, rather than “more exciting” activities like riding a Banana Boat. Looking forward to meals alone is certainly exciting enough. Besides, we use more of our senses while eating, as compared to while riding on an inflated platform behind a speedboat, screaming your lungs out and falling off. And you even spend less on it!

During our Boracay stay we had comfort food at our island home, Crystal Sand in Station 1. By comfort food I mean home-style, for us who enjoy hanging out at the trellised dining area in front of Rm. 105. That’s where we can be found at different times of the day, sometimes as early as 5am, having coffee and watching people. Chinne likes to imagine back stories about people that catch her fancy, such as the foreign gentleman impersonating barbecued pork while clad only in tiny bile-and-orange plaid trunks. Or the Korean honeymooners in their his-and-hers outfits. Or speculating on who the Gumamela Man might be, with his native hat, glorious long black hair festooned with hibiscus, as he rides by on his racer bike. Comfort food might be Bicol Express, with some grilled tanguigue or callos.

One night we bought a couple of big fresh lobsters, and since we couldn’t really afford a lobster per person, the Crystal Sand kitchen made Lobster Thermidor. It was my first time to taste it. Not bad, but I prefer seafood plain steamed, if it’s that fresh. Still, we had an al fresco dinner in front of the resort:

Our other favorite breakfast place is Cafe del Mar, next door to Crystal Sand. They have this pancake breakfast, where the pancake looks and tastes like bibingka. They serve it with sausages and fruit, usually pineapple. I would gladly have it over conventional pancakes anytime.

Another favorite place is Happy Ongpauco’s Hawaiian BBQ (also in Station 1) which serves great babyback ribs, fantastic roast chicken with gata and garlic mussels to die for. We’ve tried the strange but yummy Spam rice on a previous trip. It’s the kind of thing you end up craving for after a night out at the karaoke.

We also enjoyed the food at Saneh’Thai restaurant (yellow pork curry, chicken stir-fried with fragrant basil, squid sauteed in garlic, and the ever-refreshing green mango salad). It’s the one opposite our favorite creperie Crepes St. Michel, which was unfortunately undergoing renovation. We were greatly disappointed at not tasting our favorite Nutella crepes — considering we found Cafe Breizh (where I used to have breakfast crepes filled with bacon, egg and cheese) closed down. Alas. Fortunately, there’s Cafe Breton here in Ortigas Center, but it’s not the same without the sand beneath our pedicured toes.

While we were having coffee and drinks at Cafe del Sol (a white Russian for the curious me, San Mig Lite for Chinne, coffees for the boys and this humongous biko-like rice bibingka) who happened to be there but Lorna Tolentino and the Fernandez brood! They were accompanied by the still-gorgeous Amy Austria, Tirso Cruz III and his wife, Jinggoy, and various alipores. And there were any number of Brazilian-looking models scattered around the place (I can’t tell anymore, but they’re all twice my height and half my width). Of course, Chinne the people-watcher was hard at work, while reporting to one and all via cellphone.

More food tripping in the next entry — Boracay: Lemon Cheesecake, Crispy Pata & Karaoke Overload. Thanks to Jopet and Jovic for sharing pix from their cameras.


There’s nothing like being with your closest friends at the best of times and the worst of times.

This June 16th I joined my friends Jopet, Ryan, Chinne, Jovic, their son Raffi on our 4th trip to Boracay since October 2006. Long ago we made a pact that we deserved a vacation in a beautiful place for more than three whole days that 1) didn’t have to involve us doing every possible touristy action, 2) had a wide selection of cuisine choices, and 3) would satisfy our need for R&R and make us think fondly of home. Why did we wait for June 16? That’s when the off-peak season begins — rates go down, rooms are more available, there’s still lots of sunny days to go around despite the occasional monsoon showers.

We left Manila on the earliest Cebu Pacific flight, arriving in Kalibo at 0915am. Our suki van driver Ralph was there to meet us. He’s driven us on almost all our Kalibo-Caticlan trips since 2006. [For those who’ve never visited Boracay before, the 1.5-hr trip is a scenic drive, with newly planted rice fields giving way to the mountains and a view of the sea. Drivers like Ralph are DOT-accredited, and meet passengers directly at Kalibo airport. Single passengers may join any airconditioned van leaving earliest, paying about P200 per head for the one-way trip. The destination is Caticlan jetty, and the P200 includes the ferry ride to Boracay. Visitors to Boracay pay a one-time fee of P50 worth of local environmental taxes before boarding. The ferry ride is short, about 10 minutes in fair weather. Upon disembarking, we usually take a P100 tricycle ride to Budget Mart which is near the resort where we usually book. OR you may take the slightly pricier Manila-Caticlan direct flights on either Cebu Pacific, PAL, Seair, or Air Philippines to save vacation time.]

We were greeted by a sunny day, then a bit of sunshiny shower as we checked into Crystal Sand resort. And also by Jerry, the Bora-cat. He hangs out with the security guard on a white plastic chair on the entrance to D’Mall, and is a sort of mascot to the employees of Cafe del Sol and Aria restaurant. Dig the white shell necklace and laid-back attitude! That’s the precise vacation mood we wanted for ourselves on this trip. It developed with the sunny days, and we had FOUR straight sunny days.

Between the lot of us we had 2 video cameras, 1 digital camera, 1 Nokia N95, and 2 other camera phones. Needless to say, it was a photo-fest. At the airport, at the beach, at the restaurants, at the karaoke, at D’Mall.

I’m writing separately about the food and entertainment, since the side stories there are pretty funny.

The gang is planning to return in October. I’m not so sure I’ll be with them, since I have to be in Boracay Dec. 19 for my kinakapatid Jun’s wedding to the lovely Heidi.

If, like me, you love the sea, the sun and the sand, Boracay is Paradise. There are budget, comfort and luxury options of enjoying this trip, and if you can afford to declare to the Universe that you deserve it, it’s one of the best gifts you can give to yourself. But go with someone you love, or go with friends who love you. You need someone to make sure you’re evenly applied with spf 50 sunblock. As in all things, love is in the details.

Up next — Boracay: Food Tripping; Boracay: Lemon Cheesecake, Crispy Pata and Karaoke Overload; and Boracay: Surviving Frankenstorm.


“Ayoko ng mainit, ayoko ng masikip, ayoko ng mabaho, ayoko ng putik! [I don’t like the heat, the crush of people, the bad smells, the mud!]” goes an oft-quoted line by actress Maricel Soriano in one of her movies. Now I’ve had my share of each, but I’ve gotten to that point in my life where I don’t have to take them on all at the same time. And so when the MRT was finally fully operational in 2000, my friends and family were all agog about taking the train everywhere. I was the lone holdout. I was perfectly willing to take a cab everywhere, considering it takes me from point A to point B in just one ride. If I could pay to avoid stress (what Maricel said, plus vertiginous visions of steep grey staircases), I would. But cashflow always has its limits.

One Friday night this May I called a boutique owner about the availability of crafting supplies in her Greenbelt 2 shop. Having just experienced scouring eBay for items, and anxiously awaiting news from a UK seller, I wanted to see which items I could save delivery costs on. Lo and behold, the very items I wanted were much more affordable here than if I had ordered them from Singapore! We’re talking made-in-Germany Addi Turbo circular knitting needles, which sells retail in the US for $15 a pair (here in Manila it’s half that price; in Singapore, it’s US$10, and I’d still have to add cost of shipping). If I could pay a reasonable price for a global product distributed by a local business that pays taxes and employs Filipinos and gives me instant gratification, I would do so in a heartbeat.

So the very next morning, wanting to put my cab fare budget into my craft supplies budget, I left for the Shangri-la MRT station on Shaw Blvd. Within an hour, I was able to: ride to Ayala Ave., buy my craft supplies, pay my cellphone bill, and ride back to Shaw. So many things accomplished in an hour! Amazing. My wallet was lighter by four P5 coins and two P1 coins (P11 each way) — plus more I didn’t count, for the Philippine National Red Cross (with its teen volunteers at the train stations always polite and smiling, how can I not share?). Yes it was a clean and safe ride, a bit warm despite the airconditioning, but this was a Philippine summer.

I could not imagine why I had held out from riding the MRT for so long. I just wasn’t ready before this, I guess.

I took the Ayala to Shaw route again after a breakfast meeting in Glorietta last June 5. I especially liked the view over Guadalupe bridge, and wanted to take a picture or a video with my cellphone but was afraid people would think I was violating their privacy. I was in the women-only train, which I was glad of, but I suppose if I planned the timing of my trips, any train on the MRT would work equally well. Some bloggers I met the next evening at Juned’s birthday dinner wanted to discuss the discriminatory quality of having a women-only train, but they did remember that wheelchair-bound passengers, pregnant women, women with young children and senior citizens were welcome to that train too.

Having lived abroad I took the ease of travelling by train or tube or tram or bus for granted. Blind passengers with seeing eye dogs, even paraplegics driving motorized wheelchairs, had enviable mobility. In countries where public transport leaves and arrives according to schedule, where my safety was relatively guaranteed, I didn’t need to think twice. Given the current rise in oil prices, I’m pleased Filipinos have public transport options like the MRT and LRT. Of course, I never intend to take the train on a rush hour. Never. I long ago promised myself not to arrive anywhere in a bad-hair, short-tempered state if I could help it.

I hear there’s a continuation of the MRT route planned, from SM City North Edsa towards Fairview and ending in San Jose del Monte (Bulacan), announced in the news early this year. But first I want to try going to Divisoria from Shaw (Shaw northward to Araneta Center interchange, switching lines to the LRT ending at Doroteo Jose). Yes, my motivations are craft-related, and it’ll be an adventure.

In the meantime, I leave you with this nifty site, which has been giving out online public transportation routes within Metro Manila since 2005. Many thanks to for the above image.