Satay by the Bay

Last week, I capped off my short visit to Singapore with a Singapore sling atop Marina Bay Sands, overlooking the Singapore skyline during sunset. And of course, a sumptuous dinner at the nearby hawker center of Satay by the Bay. It’s about a ten minute walk from Marina Bay Sands, but hungry as we were we just took a cab (I know, I know).

My eyes feasted on a wide array of dishes. One of the things that worked best when my friend Erwin brought me to Tiong Bahru market is to have a look around first, then decide after. Otherwise I might miss out.

So it took a lot of will power to stick to the plan – we got a piece of different kinds of satay each, noodles, dimsum soup, grilled fish, and salted egg chicken. It’s such value for money because we spent around 150 Singapore dollars for a feast – more than enough for 3 people. I’d say the food were all quite tasty – my favorite ones being the satay, of course. It’s called Satay by the Bay, after all.

Overlooking Gardens By The Way
Overlooking Gardens By The Way

20190821_210237.jpg20190821_210255.jpg20190821_205751.jpg

Satay By The Way
Satay By The Way
Dumplings
Dumplings
Satay stores at Satay By The Bay
Satay stores at Satay By The Bay

7924905d-965b-4da3-adef-ce6bc02ddf54

 

Singapore’s Tiong Bahru Market

Hong Heng Fried Sotong Prawn Mee

One of the things that Singapore is known for is its hawker centers. They are open aired food courts that house several different food vendors whose inexpensive merchandise are cooked in a very efficient manner.

During my short trip to Singapore last week, I had a chance to catch up with Erwin, my Filipino friend who has moved to Singapore since 2001. We met when we were both starting out at work fresh from the university, and it is always great meeting him every time I’m in Singapore. We never fail to reminisce and laugh about days from our youth – when we could still stay up til early through Saturday mornings coming from drinks, billiards or karaoke (or both) with a bunch of people from work on Friday nights. I can’t imagine having the stamina now to stay up too late – and my tolerance for alcohol has since dwindled to almost zero. Erwin is one of the few people who, almost two decades after, though a lot has changed in most ways he is still the same – if that makes sense. Though I’m proud with ourselves talking about more intelligent topics this time (a far cry from our topics back in our early 20’s like office gossip).

He asked me where I wanted to go for dinner last Tuesday night, and in a heartbeat I said let’s go to any hawker center. My last visit to Singapore’s hawker centers was with my brother and sister in 2012, and I was so excited going into one again.

From Fusionopolis we drove off to Tiong Bahru Market and Hawker Center. He said it is where the locals usually go to, and I found that it’s been around since 1950s. We were lucky because when we got there we still had a few hours before closing. I said I was going to be adventurous in my food options that night (so as long as it’s not red meat) and was up for having a taste of local dishes for the first time. Erwin didn’t fail to surprise me with his food choices:

Chwee Kueh or water rice cakes is made of different kinds of flour, molded,  and topped with a radish preserve. I found that it’s one of the Singaporeans’ favorite breakfast dish.

Chwee Kueh
Chwee Kueh

Hokkien Mee which we got from Hong Heng Fried Sotong Prawn Mee is a savory noodle mixed with chili, prawn, squid and fish. There were different food stalls selling this and Erwin chose the one with the queue because that in itself is an indicator it must be good, right? He found that it received a Michelin Bib Gourmand in 2016 and 2017. I’m no food expert, but what I can say is: he chose this one well.

Prawn noodles
Prawn noodles

I had to research what this one was actually called, and found it’s chee cheong funa rice cake rolled to imitate the look of pig’s intestine (because the literal meaning of chee cheong fun is “pig intestine noodle”). This popular snack is topped with sweet shrimp paste and sweet dark sauce.

Chee cheong fun
Chee cheong fun

We were originally looking for salted egg prawn but it was not available anymore. Erwin got the cereal prawn which was also good. It was deep fried and was not too salty.

Cereal prawns
Cereal prawns

This, ladies and gentlemen, is my most favorite dish so far: the Char Kway Teow. Ok, so reading on about this later on I found it’s a Malaysian dish. The stir fried noodle has a smoky taste as it is mixed with chives, fish cakes, and I don’t know what sauce was used but I loved its hint of spice and saltiness.

Char Kway Teow
Char Kway Teow

What I like about Tiong Bahru market is the wide space and cleanliness. It is a clean as you go hawker center and they have videos played showing how to manage waste properly. They also use different plates for halal and non-halal food.

Tiong Bahru Fried Keay Teow food stall
Tiong Bahru Fried Keay Teow food stall
Fresh juice at Tiong Bahru
Fresh juice at Tiong Bahru
Hong Heng Fried Sotong Prawn Mee
Hong Heng Fried Sotong Prawn Mee

 

 

 

Cobie the Food Butler

Cobie the food butler

Just came back from a short trip to Singapore and wanted to rave about Cobie, the Food Butler. She’s a robot employed at The Park Avenue Rochester Hotel. I met her on my way up to my room one evening – and at first I thought it was just a big cart left in front of the lifts, but then I heard it speak saying: “I want to get in the lift.”

I kept the elevator door open for Cobie and followed her as she parked on her spot in the lift. When we got to my floor she carefully wheeled out of the lift and turned confidently toward the direction of the door across my room. Then the guest came out and picked up his food.

This is the first time I’ve seen this and I was so amazed I followed it and shamelessly took photos and videos. Cobie didn’t mind as she kept the smile on her face.

Cobie the food butler
Cobie the food butler
Cobie’s parking spot in the lift
Cobie’s parking spot in the lift

 

Take Four: Food and Tokyo

Lobster sandwich, fries and ginger ale

I was able to have a taste of different kinds of food from my trip to Tokyo last week. Unlike my previous trips to Japan where I defaulted to eating the same type of food over and over again per visit, I mustered all my will power to “stick to the plan”, which was to try out a variety this time.

I guess the only time I deviated from the plan was during breakfast, because the hotel I stayed at only had 2 options: Japanese or Continental. I tried the Japanese set the first day, and the next 3 days was Continental. The Japanese breakfast set comprised of fish, pickled fruit and veggies, salad, fresh fruits, miso soup and seaweed flakes. The Continental set comprised of yogurt, a variety of bread, jam and butter, eggs, bacon and sausage (I skipped the last 2).

Japanese breakfast set
Japanese breakfast set

For dinner, I discovered a great alternative which I think I’ll resort to again next time: the basement of big department stores near the train stations usually have food courts, so I opted to buy my food (in portions) from different food courts for two nights in a row, hence my “dinner with a view” from my hotel room.

Dinner with a view part 1
Dinner with a view part 1
Dinner with a view part 2
Dinner with a view part 2

For lunch I’ve had curry and naan, cold soba and unagidon, and shrimp tonkatsu. I’ve also had my sweet tooth satisfied with the variety of cakes and pastries available almost in every corner of Tokyo (because they’re also found in the convenience stores).

On my last night, I was able to try food from an Izakaya with my colleagues. We had sushi, tempura, edamame, and skewers.

98422532-9465-49a3-8979-0eed6830bac6

Different kinds of tempura
Different kinds of tempura

20190816_101413.jpg

Because it was hot and humid, the cold drinks available in the convenience stores did not disappoint. I was lucky to have discovered Mr Bean while panting and looking for something to drink around Shibuya station. It reminded me of the taho, a soybean drink that I used to have when I was a kid.

But I’m saving the best for last. I’ve had my first ever lobster sandwich a week ago when I was in Philadelphia, and just couldn’t get enough of it. I searched for a lobster sandwich place in Tokyo and luckily, there was one at Ginza called Luke’s Lobster. I had to navigate to this one, which was a couple of buildings away from Muji Ginza. I know it’s not Japanese food, but this one satisfied my lobster craving – the size of the sandwich was just right – it came with a pickle, fries and ginger ale.

Luke’s Lobster Ginza Tokyo
Luke’s Lobster Ginza Tokyo
Lobster sandwich, fries and ginger ale
Lobster sandwich, fries and ginger ale

 

My Sweet Tooth

Royce Chocolates, a popular souvenir request from home

One thing I like about Japan is the multiple choices of eye-catching, mouth-watering confectionery. I guess even for those whose encounter with Japan is only through layovers at Narita or Haneda, a thing that stands out are the colorful, pretty boxes of chocolate or cakes at the duty free stores – usually flocked with tourists on a hoard-spree of these goodies.

In my last 4 visits to Tokyo this year I was lucky to get a chance to try out the different sweets cafes and food outlets (most of them at the basement of department stores, or at the basement of Tokyo Station) have to offer. Even convenience stores have them – truly a sweet tooth’s delight as they’ll never run out of options.

Two of my go to’s – when in Japan: Royce dark chocolate. I started with the refrigirated ones, and have discovered lately the regular bar ones. I brought it home to D and to my colleagues and it has become a popular request whenever I ask what they want me to bring home from Tokyo. There was a time D ate it all and left me frustrated as I opened the cupboard to find out it was all gone. So lesson learned – keep a stash for both of us for the rainy days.

Royce Black Chocolate

And lastly there’s the crepe cake at Cafe Veloce. Simple, not so eye-catching, but when I gave it a try I was hooked on its taste and texture: not too sweet and portion is just right. Goes well with coffee, it sure is a treat after a long day of walking about or just while seeking refuge from the wind or rain during thunderstorms.

When Old Friends Meet

RJ and I first became friends when we shared a workstation years ago, as we both worked in a call center, at the time when the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) was still a budding industry in the Philippines. He was a new employee and I was a newly promoted team leader. Back then we were the wide-eyed, hopeful, young leaders learning the ropes of people management, with both our shares of small wins and learnings. I’d say the work of a team leader had been the toughest one for me to date, and it was the support groups like the one I had with RJ and several other colleagues that helped a lot. We would find time despite the different schedules to hang out and catch up over dinner or very early breakfast (when our shifts would be overlapping). And then eventually our support group drifted apart when most of them, RJ included, migrated abroad. Thankfully there was social media that allowed us all to keep in touch. And then the rare get together when any one would visit the other’s country.

Last week I had the honor of getting to visit North Carolina for a couple of days for work. I contacted RJ to see if he was in any way close to the Raleigh Durham airport. He said he was, and he and his little boy picked me up at the airport that sunny Wednesday. He has not changed since I saw him last, about seven years ago. I met his family – they were all so lovely, down to earth and welcoming. They prepared a dinner feast! There was crabs, prawn, pasta and home made pesto, and boiled corn and potatoes. When the kids finished eating, us grown ups had more to talk about – from catching up as to what we’ve been up to for the last decade, to reminiscing our “yuppie” years. It’s heartwarming to know that despite the gap in time, we were still the same old friends. I told him and his wife that the reason I clicked with RJ back then and until now is because he reminds me of my brother with the way he talks, and he cracks me up everytime with his witty humor.

Soon after RJ and his family drove me back to the hotel. Though we only had a few hours together, that day was the highlight of my week in the USA. When in a different country, be it for work or leisure, nothing beats spending quality time with old friends. They’re the family we get to choose.

Seafood Galore

Seafood feast

A colleague was raving about the fresh crabs and shrimp that they’ve feasted on at the Macapagal seaside market and dampa – a popular destination for locals and Asian tourists at Pasay City in the Philippines. She said they went on a Friday late night dinner and had a blast.

I didn’t need much convincing to go – dampa, which translates to “hut or shanty” in English, used to be big in the city where I live in, but for some reason they relocated to Pasay so I guess that’s the reason D and I stopped going. Now that we’re also staying in Makati, it’s not too far from Pasay City so it’s now easier to go to. Hooray for that!

So off we went to Seafood Paluto Restaurants a couple of Saturdays ago, for D’s advance birthday celebration. Since the stretch of that street is filled with paluto (in English, it means asking someone to cook for you) restaurants, our landmark was the white logo of a fish that says “Seaside”, next to Claire dela Fuente, one of the more popular paluto restaurants.

So how it goes is we have to buy fresh seafood first at the dampa markets – there are loads in front of the paluto restaurants. Since we’re eating at The Golden Bay restaurant (it’s at the farthest back of Claire Dela Fuente), we shopped at Aling Ethel’s market which is almost right across the restaurant. Aling Ethel’s vendors are always lively and friendly, and they give us discounts. On both visits, our market expense was two thousand pesos (approximately 40 US dollars) – on the first occasion we bought a kilo of prawns, a couple of large crabs, half a kilo of salmon belly, a couple of tilapia fish, and a kilo of oysters. On the second occasion, we bought 5 pieces of crabs, a kilo of prawns, half a kilo of tanigue fish, and a kilo of shellfish. Having them cooked coupled with additional rice, noodles, and veggies on the side cost also around two thousand pesos, or 40 US dollars. Not bad for a feast for 5 people! The food was more than enough and on both times we had takeaways.

Ethel’s fresh seafood stall
Ethel’s fresh seafood stall

Some tips and tricks to be able to enjoy your Dampa experience:

Get there early. Because though there are several paluto restaurant options, parking may be a challenge. What I noticed is that around noon and at 7 o’clock at night, people were already queued outside the Ocean Bay restaurant too.

Stick to the plan. It’s easy to get swayed when doing the seafood shopping, so best to note what you plan to eat in advance, and stick to that plan. Know that the price of having food cooked varies per kind of dish and per volume of food (they measure by half a kilo and then per kilo thereafter), and it’s usually cheaper to have 1 kilo worth of seafood cooked than by half kilo’s worth.

Stash some cash. First off, the seafood market only accepts cash payments. And so far on my two recent visits to Golden Bay restaurant, their credit card terminal was not working, so we paid by cash. I didn’t see any ATM nearby, so yep, bring cash with you.

Stir fried halaan in ginger and garlic
Stir fried halaan in ginger and garlic
Seafood feast
Seafood feast

If you’re looking for authentic market to table seafood meal experience, check out the Macapagal seaside markets and restaurants. And be prepared to leave with a happy tummy!

 

Monjayaki and Takoyaki Night

Monjayaki

Have you ever had takoyaki? It’s a ball of flour batter enveloping chopped pieces of octopus. It’s garnished with nori and bonito flakes, takoyaki sauce, and sometimes a dash of mayonnaise.

It’s one of my favorite snacks, something my grandma introduced to me when I was young, one Saturday when I accompanied her to Rustan’s Cubao. We bought it from this kiosk called Samurai. Nowadays I’m glad I don’t have to travel far whenever I crave for takoyaki, as it has become popular in Metro Manila.

Have you ever had monjayaki? First time I heard it I said “what-yaki?”. My Japanese companions had to spell it out for me, as they began preparing the ingredients on the grill. It’s a local Tokyo dish that resembles the okonimiyaki (Japanese pancake). It’s batter though is more watery.

Okonimayki and takoyaki
Okonimayki and takoyaki

See, on my last night in Tokyo a couple of weeks ago, we went to Dekunobou, an okonomiyaki restaurant near Tokyo’s Kanda station. It was a cookout – and our little group took turns grilling different yummy dishes. When it came to what was to be the highlight of the dinner, the making of the monjayaki, little spatulas were passed around for everyone in the group. A heap of chopped vegetables, fish roe, cheese and the batter were mixed together, and when they were almost cooked, the middle part was pushed outward, so the food became shaped like a donut. A new mix of batter was then incorporated into the “donut-hole”, making the dish more liquidy. I could smell the cheese as it melted, and as the monjayaki turned brown, that’s when I was told to cut a piece for myself using my little spatula. Wow, it was so good! I didn’t know there was such a thing as a monjayaki – I don’t recall ever seeing it in menus.

Monjayaki is best served and eaten with a group. The method of making it is also a good way to bond.

I’d say that moment was pretty special, as I learned something only locals are familiar with.

Monjayaki
Monjayaki

 

 

Hida Takayama’s Morning Market

Local products at the Miyagawa Morning Market

On this pleasantly cool spring day of May, we woke up refreshed after a long night’s rest on our tatami beds. It’s our second day in the quaint town of Hida Takayama, a rustic gem more than three hours away by bus from Nagoya City. This was to be our kickoff point to the Japan Alps over the next couple of days. Yesterday was tiring but well worth the effort of cycling uphill to explore the well preserved houses and viewing the snow capped mountains in the distance from Hida No Sato (Hida Folk Village).

Today was meant to explore the town by foot. So D and I started off looking fot breakfast. Luckily, Rickshaw Inn where we are staying at was only a few hundred meters away from the Miyagawa Morning Market ( or coming from the Takayama train station, it’s about 10 minutes’ walk). You won’t miss it as it’s right past the Kajibashi Bridge which crosses over the Miyagawa River. We spotted the stalls easily, as the flock of locals and tourists checking out the merchandise was an instant giveaway.Mochi

Mochi

At the market we saw local products like crafts, souvenirs, fresh harvest (like mushrooms, fruit and greens) and food (takoyaki, pickles, Japanese chips). As soon as we got to the market we were greeted by a friendly seller of chick designed mochi, a sweet Japanese delicacy made of rice cake and some fillings. Next to the mochi stall I found the place where I was to have breakfast (toast, salad, fruit and coffee). Local products at the Miyagawa Morning Market

D found his newly found favorite hida beef skewers. I think he’s indulged in too much hida beef in this trip. He describes it as soft, juicy and quite tasty. I don’t think hida beef is widely sold in the Philippines. I hear about Kobe beef all the time, but nothing about hida beef until now. Well, that and I don’t eat meat. According to the locals, hida beef is from black-haired cattle raised in the Gifu prefecture for at least fourteen months. Hida Beef skewer

There is another market further upstream called Jinya mae Morning Market. I read from reviews that most of the locals choose to go there over the more touristy Miyagawa Morning Market.

I liked our trip to the market because we got to interact with the locals, appreciate the cleanliness of the surroundings, took in fresh air and enjoyed the view of the river. It was also close to the historical places and the Takayama Old Town. True enough, after my hearty breakfast, we made our way to the river, every once in a while stopping to say hello and pat dogs being walked by their furparents (because the morning market was pet friendly!). The river was clean, and I was able to feed fish with feed I bought from the market. Several types of colorful birds also frolicked on the riverbanks, and as I gazed at them flying around us, I knew then and there that today was going to be awesome.

Zomato Gold Review

coffee

Before I discovered and got hooked on WordPress, I started posting reviews in sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Zomato. I used these websites to document my travel and food experience, and I find it fascinating going through my reviews from years ago – sort of like going through a diary and reliving the moments. Needless to say I continue toggling in between these sites to record my thoughts closer to real-time. Although there are no monetary incentives from contributing to these websites, I take pride being awarded reviewer level status – and keep those in my bragging rights pocket.

And then I was intrigued by Zomato’s (insistent) notification offering me Zomato Gold. It’s a membership type of offer – one gets to subscribe for 3 to 6 months to a year, and members can get to avail their food or drinks Buy 1 Get 1 promo at restaurant partners. On their first few text and email notifications, I shrugged it off and at times even found them annoying. Until D and I moved in to our new apartment where we could not cook as much as we would like to. Hence we resorted to regularly eating out. And being the analytic person that I am (I would research restaurants we have not tried yet and read through reviews before making a decision), I came across several raves about Zomato Gold. So I joined the bandwagon and subscribed to an annual membership. I got it when the fee was offered at a lower rate – five hundred pesos (or around US$10) at the time. I think subscription rates vary from time to time because I checked the other day and the annual rates have gone up. I did not get to be a member right away because I think I was 6000+ in the queue of pending subscribers. I’m glad I got my subscription approved a few days after.

As soon as I got my subscription I invited my visiting relatives out for a couple of food dates – we ate at Cafe Garuda (an Indonesian restaurant in Legazpi Village in Makati) for dinner, and at Apartment 1B (located at Henry Hotel in Pasay City) for brunch. We availed of the Buy 1 + Get 1 food promo, and the way it works is the second to the most expensive dish is free. After that I’ve gotten into the habit of checking out restaurants with Zomato Gold option first whenever I go out with D or friends for a meal.

So is Zomato Gold worth it? The short answer is YES. In less than three weeks, I have already recovered my investment, and more importantly, my savings over the last two weeks is already triple the amount I’ve paid as annual subscription fee. I’m so excited to use this – and discover new places for my weekly dinner date with D. If you have Zomato Gold in your city and are keen to try it out, feel free to use my promo code MARI2980 to get 20% off on your subscription amount.

I am writing this review voluntarily and I paid for my own Zomato Gold subscription. This review is not sponsored by Zomato Gold.

 

 

Weekend Market: Street Meet, Makati

Sunday market

Have always been curious about Makati’s Street Meet, a weekend night market at Paseo De Roxas. I kept seeing the teasers posted around Ayala Triangle whenever I walked from and to the hotel during an long staycation a month ago. For some reason the plan on dropping by kept being put on the back burner.

Finally last Sunday D and I were able to check it out. Street Meet Makati was set up right beside the Ayala Triangle park, in front of Paseo Center. A part of the street was closed off to traffic to allow for the different stalls. The mood was quite festive: Christmas songs were being played and the Christmas lights show was happening at the same time at the Ayala Triangle which added to the fun. Luckily most of the crowd was at the lights show. It was just us foodies hopping from one stall to another at the Street Meet.

Sunday market

There were various stalls to choose from, most of them offering free taste or samples. The first food that we bought was the Korean fish cake with soup – reminded me of the street food in Seoul. D got isaw, a local barbecue delicacy made of fish intestines. We also had takoyaki and coconut juice. For takeaway we bought frozen vegetarian gyoza and dimsums, and chili sauce. I wanted to buy bibingka, a local baked rice and coconut milk cake that is abundantly sold during the month of December. I ended up dropping the idea when the seller gave me a tired look and asked me to fall in line (when there was no one else). Oh well, that means I have to be on the hunt for a good platter of bibingka from elsewhere. Will let you know when I find em!

Street Meet items

VegFest 2018

Vegan

Yesterday was my first time to go to the Veg Fest held at the BGC Arts Center in Taguig City. A couple of years ago I skipped this. I remember seeing the booths when I used to work in Eastwood in Quezon City, and I was just so busy I couldn’t spend time checking it out. This year, after volunteering at PETA I had the chance of not only being able to go to the 3rd annual Veg Fest, but also taking part and manning the PETA kiosk for a few hours. I started at 8AM and helped distribute the Vegan starter magazine, some stickers and flyers; talked to people dropping by inquiring about the animal adoptables, and the different animal campaigns; and putting on temporary tattooes. PETA

I’ve cut off all kinds of red meat from my diet since 2011, after watching the movie Contagion (there was a short scene there that pulled my heartstrings – big time). Lately, I’ve transitioned to a more plant-based diet and it’s getting kind of boring because I keep making the same food over and over again. One of the challenges I have is the distance I had to go to be able to get some of my ingredients. They are not readily available at our neighborhood supermarket or at the nearby convenience stores. If I opt to skip cooking and just buy my meals, I’d also have to go far because not all restaurants nearby offer plant-based food. Sometimes I would daydream about the vegan burgers I’ve eaten in my travels abroad. We don’t have that many options here in the Philippines. Yet. So I was so happy when some people at the Veg Fest approached me asking me to sign a petition to include plant based options in Philippine fastfood chains and restaurants. I signed the petition of course, no questions asked.

Man, I was overwhelmed by the food options at the Veg Fest. They were so many, how was I to choose, knowing I get so full easily? I had to walk around two times to be able to decide – every time I go to a new stall I see something that beats the one/s I initially thought I’d get for my lunch. After much deliberation I ended up getting laing (dried taro leaves stewed in coconut milk) and veggie barbeques. I also got a bottle of Diwa Kombucha (strawberry flavor this time), some veggie chips and a scoop of dairy-free and sugar-free ice cream. For my takeaway, I bought frozen pizza so I can pop them in the oven before binging on Netflix. Stalls

In the Veg Fest there were also some stalls by animal welfare groups just like PETA. I was able to go to the CARA booth; and the ARF (Animal Rescue Family) Manila. There were also activities like talks and yoga.

I’m so glad to being part of the Veg Fest and look forward to more of these. This motivated me to check out the Mandala Park which is done Sundays at Mandaluyong – I was told there’s a lot of food options there too. What I saw from the Veg Fest also inspired me to learn more recipes so I can add more variety to my homecooked meals.

Five Faves from a blissful weekend in Sagada

backyard

Sagada – the beautiful place on top of the mountains that’s so far away – 456 kilometers from where I live to be exact. About 9 hours’ nonstop drive – that is, if there would be no traffic jams. And light traffic is quite rare when going through the streets of Metro Manila. My only challenges in going is that one, D wouldn’t drive that far (not with the traffic), and two, I’ve seen discouraging news about landslides and road accidents affecting folks going to or back from Sagada.

Yet, Sagada constantly beckons. Its lush mountains, caves, clear streams, organic food, picturesque surroundings are just too hard to resist.  So, having checked the weather forecast, I looked for tour packages from Manila, and booked a trip for my brother and me. We got a 3 days/2 nights tour package on a good deal. We left by van at 11 o’clock on a Friday night, and woke up in the far north of Luzon on Saturday morning. We were supposed to have breakfast at Banaue Rice Terraces, at the Ifugao Province, but we got stuck in a traffic jam en route to Banaue that morning. Wikipedia describes Banaue Rice Terraces as “occassionally called the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World‘”. It’s majestic views were even used in the Avengers: Infinity War movie ending, where *spoiler alert!!!* Thanos was enjoying the view from his hut one fine day after he wiped out half the universe’s population. Remember that scene? That background was the Banaue Rice Terraces.

img_5457
Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao

Oops, I digress. Anyway, our van reached Sagada at around 2PM that Saturday. So much for the 9 hours’ drive. We were relieved and excited – we were finally there! Our first stop was at a restaurant. Our late lunch included veggies and brown/red rice that Sagada is known for. At the backyard of that resto was old Igorot hut. It was awesome!

img_5470
old Igorot hut

After lunch, we checked in to our hostel. The rest of the folks in our tour opted to go to the spelunking activity. My brother and I stayed behind and explored the town instead. We reviewed must go to places in Sagada town and checked them out.

These are the places in Sagada that are my favorites, and I highly recommend them all.

Sagada Lemon Pie House

I loved the concept of the restaurant. Guests can choose between sitting on the floor or on short stools. We were surprised to see that they sell their lemon pie and tea for cheap price. A slice of lemon pie costs 30 pesos (around 60 US cents); and a cup of tea costs 20 pesos (around 40 US cents). The lemon tea was sweet, and the mountain tea had a gingery taste to it. I preferred the mountain tea over the lemon tea. As for the lemon pie – it was simply delicious! I guess that’s why the resto was named after this specialty, right? I saw a sign at the counter saying it’s best to order the pies in advance as they sometimes run out of stock. I’m not surprised.

IMG_5481
Sagada Lemon Pie and tea

Yoghurt House

We read good reviews about this place. We had a bit of a wait when we got there as there was a queue. I’m not really into yogurt (I like kombucha more), so I’m relaying what my brother thought about it. He liked his yogurt, and the price was also affordable. For a healthy daily dose of probiotics, this place is worth checking out.

Strawberry Cafe

I did see strawberries grown in their garden, but for some reason I did not see any strawberry cake in their menu. I asked the owner and they did have it – it just wasn’t listed. My brother and I shared one huge slice which we bought for only 80 pesos (around US $1.60). Wow the cake was so good! It was not too sweet and the strawberries were fresh. If I had not just eaten late lunch and a slice of lemon pie I would have loved to have another slice of the strawberry cake. I’ve looked far and wide for this taste, and Sagada is where I found it.

IMG_5487
Home grown strawberries at the Strawberry Cafe, Sagada

Sagada Market

Just like what I did when I was in Baguio, I brought eco-bags during the trip to Sagada because I anticipated some marketing to be done. I was going to the vegetable capital after all, so why not make the most out of it. I was delirious with the low prices of the merchandise in the market that I ended up asking my brother to carry some of the items in his bag for me. I bought persimmons, mountain tea, sweet potato, broccoli, and other vegetables. I wanted to get more but I remembered my commute back in Manila when I get home. So I bought only what I (and my brother) could carry. Oh, if we only drove in our car!

Sagada Brew

Went here the next day for a quick breakfast. Their service was impeccable, and they offered a wide variety of food choices at reasonable prices. Of course, being named Sagada Brew, I expected their coffee to be good. It surely did not disappoint. Interesting what came with my wheat bread toast was something that looked like kimchi but tasted like jam. I think it’s their homemade strawberry preserve. It was so yum!

Echo Valley and The Hanging Coffins of Sagada

Just walking distance to the main road of the Sagada town center is the entrance to the cemetery. An interesting trivia about the cemetery is during All Souls Day (which is today, 2 November), people remembering their dead light up acorns instead of candles.

We walked past the cemetery to get to the Echo valley.  Echo valley is a beautiful place – cool weather, fresh air, nice scenery. The only downside when we went here with a tour group on a Sunday was that there were so many other tour groups that came with us. We could not take a decent photo because people were lined up and taking their time to get their selfies and different poses taken.

img_5517
overlooking view of the Echo valley

After the Echo valley we took a short trek going to the hanging coffins. On the first landing I saw 18 hanging coffins. Our guide told us that anyone who has reached at least 100 years old can be buried through the hanging coffins. The most recent one was placed there in 2010. Some of the coffins were small because these were for bodies who were ‘buried’ in fetal pose – there is a belief that since they were born in the fetal pose, then that is the way they will leave the world. Along the short coffins were chairs which are called death chairs (hope I remember it right). This is where the bodies were prepared prior to ‘burying’. The longer coffins are for the ones who have been Christianized.
On burial day, the coffins are hang first, before the bodies are put in.

IMG_5527
The Hanging Coffins of Sagada

After the first landing, we went further down to see other coffins placed way up higher.  My brother and I were just amazed at how our ancestors were able to apply this practice and maintain the tradition throughout the ages.

We took a different way back where we passed through a clear stream and a cave. It was quite fun walking through the cool waters of the stream (and trying hard to maintain balance). img_5537

There you have it, my five favorite places in Sagada. People who might have already visited Sagada would probably ask why I did not include Kiltepan. This is where people go to very early in the morning to get a view of the beautiful sunrise (just like the Sunrise Tour that I did in Borobudur). When we went, the sun failed to show up as it was masked by clouds. I was a bit disheartened at Kiltepan because it was packed with hundreds of people and I saw a lot of tourists littering.

Overall, Sagada is one of my favorite travel destinations in Luzon. I would love to go back, so I will persuade D to schedule a tour so we can drive there – on a sunny weekday so we can get away from the crowd. I really hope that Sagada will not be commercialized and that its beauty, simplicity, serenity and cleanliness can be preserved. It truly is spectacular as it is now.

 

 

Five Faves in South Melbourne Market

Padre Coffee

When I was in Melbourne, Saturday mornings are usually spent on grocery shopping at the South Melbourne Market. This place is quite accessible both by car and by tram. I like the market’s vibe, and there are many shops to choose from. On my last visit, I was quite pleased to find that most of us shoppers have our own eco-bags in tow.

Here are my top five favorite shops at the South Melbourne Market:

Padre Coffee

I mentioned in a previous blog that Melbourne is famous for its fantastic coffee. If you ask me what the best cafe is, I’d probably have to think twice – there are too many good ones! Padre Coffee is one of the most popular ones. For the longest time, my brother-in-law likes Padre Coffee and he was the one that introduced this to me. The place is usually very busy on weekend mornings and getting seats can be quite a challenge. Their latte is quite good.

One thing I like about most Melbourne cafes is that they support and encourage people bringing in their own cups. I used a KeepCup on my last visit to Padre Coffee.

 

Agathe Patisserie

Now what’s a good coffee without a matching yummy pastry? I was told the bread here was really good so I lined up one weekend morning to get a croissant and a chocolate muffin. Boy, was it so good I lined up yet again to buy more croissants to go. I didn’t mind the long (but fast moving) queue because I was distracted by the sight of the tempting pastries and the smell of freshly-baked bread.

1531009596926969-e1540739539587.jpg
Pastries heaven at Agathe Patisserie

 

Koenji Vintage

Koenji Vintage is a thrift shop that sells cool, quirky contemporary Japanese apparel and accessories. My sister is a regular here, and she bought several dresses at affordable prices. Koenji Vintage’s friendly owners, Wil and Jane, opened their shop mid 2016. To date, this continues to be a go-to by sustainable shoppers and fashionistas alike.

For more details about Koenji Vintage, check out their website here.

5ed5fe55-5365-4fc5-a593-9f4099cac756-1
Koenji Vintage thrift shop

Happy Place By Lola Berry

This is my sister’s personal favorite. If they feel like getting a healthy breakfast, Happy Place by Lola Berry is the place to go. They have a wide array of options to choose from. My sister likes trying out the different slushies with her usual smashed avocado.

Azalea

A Saturday trip to the market won’t be complete without getting a bunch of fresh flowers for the house. Azalea provides beautiful local blooms that we just couldn’t get enough of. A visit to this shop always brightens the day and lifts up the mood.

img_0867
Local fresh blooms from Azalea

So there you have it, my five favorite shops in South Melbourne Market. There are other shops for me to discover and explore, but I’d definitely go back all the time to these favorite shops whenever I visit the market.

For more information, check out South Melbourne Market’s website here.