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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.