Daiji Bulgogi with OeNaengguk

It feels good to be blogging again.  After a few months of haeatus as my lappy hibernated and my cam got busted, here I am!  I got a new cam for Christmas, and my lappy is back!  Geez all the events I missed posting and the thoughts, feelings and fotos that go with them.

It’s the day after Christmas day, which means its been a day since we’ve been eating Holiday left-over food.  It’s been raining as another low-pressure gathers around Cebu.  I thought of preparing something fresh and at the sametime something that can warm up this dreary day.

What is fresher and hotter than Korean food?  Now I’ve been trying out a few Korean restaurants and preparing some of my own Korean dishes for most of this year.  I just never got around to posting anything about them.  I also cannot remember posting pictures of dishes I have cooked, ever.  But for all you fans out there, here’s one and this should be the first of all food posts!

I decided to prepare Daeji Bulgogi(Pork Stir Fry) and Oe Naengguk(Cold cucumber soup). They’re easy to prepare, the ingredients – within reach and all very quick to complete.

It sure was a hit for lunch earlier today!  Let me know if you want the recipe!

Daiji Bulgogi

The bulgogi is hot with nutty flavor coming from the chillis and sesame.  The added spices of onions, garlic and ginger make it all the more fiery.

Wrap a piece with a cabbage…

….and wash it down with cold cucumber soup. Although this soup is usually served during the summer, it’s a nice balancing agent for non-Koreans like me.

Humba, Lard, Tuba and Sikwate

One of the things I like about travelling is the rare chance to have a taste of their local cuisine.  Now for short trips across neighboring towns in the island, this may mean tasting not just the delicacies but also variations of familiar local fare.
 

Shaun and I were in Argao last Saturday and found ourselves in a quaint and eccentric cafe for lunch.  My heart started to beat faster than usual when I saw an old building just a block outside the church square.  It had a familiar trelis overtaken by some climbing, flowering plant by its entrance.  This is Alex Kafe. 

I have read about this place years ago in a local newspaper and forgot its name and its location.  I have been constantly asking friends from the south about it with no answers.  I know it had the trelis up front and they were supposed to serve the best torta(local baked pastry) and sikwate(local chocolate drink).  For a long time, I thought they were in Carcar.  But here we are now!

 

 

The place looked abandoned when we got there.  For a minute, we thought they were not in operation anymore if not for the fresh flowers on the tables.  The refrigerated pastry display counter was bare and the artwork and various abubots (knick knacks)  were dusty.  Nobody met us when we got in, we had to go way back to the kitchen and announce our presence.  The lady in the kitchen told us the whole place was reserved but will accomodate us if we ate fast.  So we settled ourselves in a corner and tried our best to eat before the expected guests arrived. 

And they came just when we started dessert.  We were told  that it was Col.  Angan and his whole family.  Oh well, I am sure he didn’t mind 4 family members of his relegated to a garden table outside as we sat cozily enjoying dessert.

 

I was to learn later on that this used to be a boarded up bodega(warehouse) almost 90 years old.  It was turned into a restaurant in recent years(2002) by Alex Gonzales of the Kintanar Family.  The Kintanars are a long line of prominent politicians, professionals and artists in Cebu.  Alex was into developmental work before finally settling to a slower lifestyle after a cardiac attack.  He now takes an active part in promoting tourism in Argao.   The place held some curious items as decor. 

19th Century sink
Goddess of Mercy

One of the items I found really interesting is a Goddess of Mercy with burnt incense in front of it.  It is Chinese and out of place.  I was told later that Alex’s wife was a mestiza insik and that was that.  In fact, one of the most sought after dish in the menu was her humba(Chinese braised pork).  We tried it and found it really delicious.  The meat was so tender with just the right amount of fat.  I always say Humba will never be humba without the fat.  This particular version was so tender the fat and skin melts in your mouth.  It also had just the slightest hint of fruit in its sauce, was that pineapple or orange?  Hmmm.  And as a very Chinese touch, black beans were added for a little pungent and salty kick.

Ofcourse this meal in particular and this trip in general, would not be complete without us tasting the fabled torta and sikwate.  Now torta is local pastry with many variations, some add star anise or cinnamon for the aroma, some add cheese etc.  Alex’s version is a no-nonsense affair.  Just plain lard and tuba (palm wine).  This is what make’s Argao torta as a whole, very unique.  Instead of using yeast as leavenning, the tuba does the job.  Alex’s torta did not have any fancy flavoring or aromatics added.  Just some sprinkling of crystal sugar on top.  When you bite into it, you will taste just a hint of sourness from the coconut wine.

Together with this torta is sikwate.   Now Alex’s cafe is also said to serve good coffee.  But we asked the attendant for her suggestion and she suggested sikwate instead.  Good one, considering we can always have coffee in the city and not enjoy sikwate as conveniently.  This sikwate is made from original Argao cacao, grown and processed locally.  These tablea(chocolate chips, if you will) are already being exported abroad.  I was also surprised that they now take on a very Western shape and packaging, very different from the round tablets I know from childhood. I bought a pack for champorado at home. 

At any rate, the sikwate was hot, thick and had just the right amount of bitter and sweet in it. 

The torta and sikwate were more novelties to me than stellar. But the Humba is something else, it humbled me, a Humba master myself.  In fact, I am already planning on copying this version next weekend.  Service at the cafe is family style or as we say “inato”.  But this is exactly what lends the place its charm.  Pricing is cheap, and I believe, fair. All the dishes come as singular servings and priced not higher than P80 bucks.

Would I recommend the place?  If you are in the area and just about ready for food at an affordable price, sure!  This place was said to have been featured in Lonely Planet (yes, of the Discovery Channel) around 2006.  I wonder how different it is now from back then?  What could get a resto into a show like that?

Road Trip

It is another Holy Week and the summer heat has just started to creep in.  A little late than in past years but it wasn’t any less in its fury.  My rhinitis and migraines had started to show up too.  Fortunately, I was allowed a week’s vacation.

I spent the first few days cleaning my room and just catching up on sleep.  Then the Lenten Holidays came, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  It was yet another rare occassion to have the whole family together.  I found myself the official kusinero.  Guess what?  It is my 1st year to cook binignit and biko!

Anyhow, the long stay home kind of got a little blah.  Such that, when Shaun suggested a road trip when he woke Saturday morning, I lost no time packing.  Just to put this into context, Shaun is someone who can be locked up in a room for weeks on end as long as there is cable tv, internet and lots of food.  Not rarely do I have to beg for him to get out and go around town with me.  So Saturday was a surprise.  It was like there was some divine occurence while he slept that he decided to be merciful and suggested the trip.  Sabado Gloria!

Off we went to the South Bus terminal without any destination or itinerary in mind.  On the spot, I decided on Boljoon.  I was there a couple of years ago but failed to explore the church and the museum as they were closed that time. 

 But somewhere between Carcar and Sibonga, we thought it would also be nice to take a dip at a beach.  It was steaming hot, our skin were dewy with the moist, dense humidity.  The next line up was Argao, Dalaguete and Alcoy.  Why not?  Argao has a Baroque – Rococo Church I haven’t explored too, it has its white sand beach as well, Dalaguete has its fresh water cold spring while Alcoy has a beach.  We can go visit them all!  We were dropped off Argao.

This trip turned out to be really fun with lots of new discoveries.  We had a glimpse of life-sized gold plated idols in a Baroque church.  Lunch at a quaint cafe featured in Lonely Planet a few years back was yum.  We brought home the famous Argao cacao for champorado.  We also dropped by a castle.  Who can beat that?  And then to end the day, a cool dip and the sunset at a rare white sand, clean public beach.

One of the many reasons I love being in Cebu is precisely this, that at any given day, on a whim, I can just hop on a bus and enjoy whatever it is I want.  The noisy fun of the metro, or the quite study of its history or just plain hanging out with its natural bounty.  All within reach. 

Plastic

The past 3 weeks have been very wet for Cebu City. And as expected, several areas in Cebu were flooded.  This is now becoming a normal occurence.  The rain did not spare even the annual solemn procession of the Sto. Nino de Cebu.  Devotees waded thru murky, bacteria rich floodwaters downtown as they strived to finish the procession.  The worst of these flooding was a few days ago when a cloudburst dumped an unexpected amount of rain in just a matter of an hour.  Even SM City Cebu was flooded. 

The rain poured around 7am – 8am.  I got off work around 11AM, by then the floodwaters have subsided.  The aftermath reveals the real culprit.  Garbage, specifically plastic.  Strewn all over the streets together with dirt and grime from the inutile drainage system.

These problems(I mean garbage disposal, use of plastic and the city’s poor drainage system) have long been unresolved.  I heard that after weeks of rain and the threat of landslides and more flooding, the local government is finally paying attention.  The whole project was to cost around P500M.  I wonder where we’ll get the money and when this project will ever be completed.

As my own personal way of making a difference and contributing to society, I decided to minimize, if not, totally eliminate the use of plastic bags, especially cellophane. 

Today, I went to Carbon Market to buy fresh vegetables.  I brought with me a reusable bag.  I remember when I was growing up, I would see my aunt and our househelp come back from the market on Sundays lugging their nylon net bags filled with produce. Walking around Carbon, I rarely saw people using reusable bags.

My initial purchases were large pieces of vegetables and it was interesting to see the reaction from the vendors when told that I won’t be needing the cellophane.  Most of them would give me a look as if to say “Sure Ka?”  (“are you sure?”). 

I started to have trouble when I bought teeny little red chillies.  Where to place them without scattering and maybe crushing them inside my already heavy bag.  Another problem was when I decided I wanted “sari-sari”, sliced mixed vegetables.  No way to get around them but give in to The Cellophane.

No matter.  It was just my first day.  I am sure that as I strive to make my own little effort.  I will find better ways to avoid the use of plastic and cellophane bags.

How about you?  What do you think of all the environmental changes we are experiencing nowadays?  What do you think you can do to make that teeny difference before it’s too late?  I would love to hear from you.

The Long and Short of the Sinulog Grand Parade 2011

This is the opinion of someone who has closely followed the Sinulog for years, both it’s cultural and religious aspects.

I am as old as the Sinulog itself and has always been a huge fan since childhood.  I am also a dance enthusiast, although I have had no formal training. This article is from an expectator’s point of view.

This year I obliged a friend and joined him at the grandstand as he has never experienced it from that vantage point.  Now, I have done this for years as far back as the Ayala days(Cebu Business Park), although I haven’t been at the grandstand for at least 6 years now.

I’ve set his expectations that we will be needing hours of endurance sitting through an almost 8- 12 hour program and with 151 dancing contingents this year, this was assuredly an accurate estimate.  I have also told him that from my experience years ago, we’d have to sit through some really boring performances before the crowd “wowwers” come in. 

I think a third of all the groups last Sunday were boring.  Sinulog is old, old to me that is and I believe it is really just for first time tourists. I just thought that the choreographers would consider a few things for the coming years.  What I gathered from years of watching the winners are these:

1.  Be original.  All, I mean ALL the winners always come in with a fresh original idea.  It can be a storyline, the costume, the theme and use of props that have never been seen since.  The problem with most choreographers is that they  take “inspiration” from the prior year’s winners, not knowing that there are 2-3 others doing the same thing.  In the end, they all look the same. 

I will never forget how the San Diego dancers started the bouffant skirts and the baroque decor and the whimsical wings.  Or the Lanao del Norte team and theirwide salakot hats and their use of their ethnic musical instruments.  Not to mention their very colorful and detailed costumes.  Or the Tangub team with their old-world charm and very original and authentic dance steps.  Nowadays, these themes are copied in many varied forms. 

The Lumad Basakanon team also is very original what with their costume, headdresses(wooden beads and wigs), their choreography and their annual themes.  It is only that this group has never put in something fresh for a couple of years now that they are starting to loose their winning touch.

Some of the other notables in recent years are the Pintados of Leyte, Iligan(one time winner), the Buyuganons of Abuyog Leyte, Alcoy(with their small black bird and an environmentalist theme), the Tawo tawo festival and Carcar.  All of them bring in fresh ideas and themes mostly from their local festival.

I was very disappointed to see three groups using the same story line this year.  All of them Sinulog – based.  The storyline about a child sideswiped by a vehicle prompting the need for the Holy Child’s intervention.

2.  Put lots of surprises.  Yeah, yeah.  I believe in theory most choreographers know this.  But what makes the cut is the timing and execution of these surprise elements. Most winning teams time these surprises with the music.  Usually they also drop the suprise after a series of very quick routines and then BAM!  – the suprise.  These winners also execute them in a smart and snappy split second move.  What I noticed with most of the contingents, those who didn’t win, is that although they came ready with their bag of tricks, either the timing is off or the execution is really not there at all.  A delayed snap of a prop would be all it takes to ruin the surprise.

3.  Choreography.  Some choreographers think they can just get away with huge visuals.  To please the crowd yes, but to win, no.  The panel of judges these recent years now include national performing masters.  This means they have the eye for true art.  Nothing beats original choreography.  And if you are doing a theme adopted from a folk dance, at least lend some integrity to the dance and stick to it.  Research also lends credibility to the whole production.

4.  Visuals.  The games have changed.  Props have gone bigger and bigger every year as more contingents use platforms and cut-outs that can conjure up many varied forms.  I saw one lsat Sunday that can be snapped three ways, from a paisley pattern, to a squid and then to become the image of the Holy Child.  Aside from the props, the wise use of color and sheen and sparkle in the costumes also make for a winning group.  Patterns (some very minute)and headdresses can make a small group seem big in numbers.

One interesting observation I have is that some contingents have as many props men as they have dancers.  WOW!

5.  Music.  I remember how pleased I was as a kid to have heard the beat of bamboo and flute on top of the usual drum beats.  It was very refreshing.  I now cannot remember what contingent that was and what year.  But the wise use of music and its arrangement, timing it with the choreography can make a big difference.  When a crowd of dancers come out, as if in a fiesta, the sound of trumpets signal to the audience that it is a merry time. The suspense in drum rolls, the delicate sound of birds, the flute, etc., these are all the small details that make a big difference.

The Sinulog Foundation now conducts seminars to choreographers in a move to up the ante.  Among others, they emphasize the importance of integrity in the production by doing research, key points in choreography, and overall how to give a WOW production.

I sincerely hope that our local choreographers take advantage of this opportunity and maybe in the coming years, we shall see them step up to the challenge of the visiting contingents.

The King’s New Clothes

Last Christmas my mom asked me something very different as a gift.  She wanted new vestments for our Sto.Nino.  Our Nino (image of the Holy Child of Prague) is very small and has been with the family since 1981 when Pope John Paul visited Cebu City, Philippines.  He has never changed his vestments and has only been taken out of our home in the past 3 years for the annual procession.  Prior to that, I never thought about bringing him with me for the procession or having a change of clothes made for him.  This request from my mom was a pleasant idea.  Why not?

We never got around to it until after the Christmas Holidays and the novenario was well on its way.  After 30 years, our Nino will have a fashion make – over.  His old garments consisted of a white tunic and a red cape made from some felt material with modest trimmings.  He lost his orb and scepter in the recent years that we have been taking him out for the procession.  His crown is broken on one end and has lost its sheen. 

 It is indeed time for a change.

My mom has already made arrangements with a lady named Sephine (short for Josephine) just outside the Basilica.  So after attending the 4th novena mass, we went to her stall and discussed the specifications of the new outfit. I had no idea that the garment making for the Nino’s was a thriving cottage industry.   According to Sephine, it is only around Christmas up to the Sinulog when they are really busy wih their business so they try to make the most of it. 

The making and fitting of the new garments would take around two hours but since we had to run some errands, we agreed to come back the next day for our Nino.

I was very happy to see him the next day.  Dashing in his new white tunic and dark red velvet cape.  The cape has nice gold trimmings and embroidery. His crown is now repainted a matte gold.  However the broken side will never be restored.  According to Sephine, they also clean the whole statuette and repaint the parts that have been damaged thru the years.  A definite no-no though is to touch up the face or the whole head.  She adds that the head is the true indicator of the idol’s antiquity or age.  Our Nino now also has a new scepter and orb in his hands.

Here’s our beautiful Nino and his new clothes!  Ready for the celebration of his fiesta.  Viva Senyor Sto. Nino.!

The Acacia Grill

I was in Carcar City with friends recently to shop for espadrilles to give away for Christmas.  It was almost 11am when we got there and after an hour of shopping, I was ready for some grub.  I asked one of the shopkeepers where we can find a nice restaurant for lunch, to my utter disappointment I was directed to the local Jollibee.  She may have seen the look on my face as she hastily suggested Mang Inasal as an alternative.

It turned out, we didn’t have to look far.  When my friend came back from a visit to the loo, he said there was a grill at the opposite end of the shoe stalls.  The Acacia Grill.  Now that sounds more like it.

The place was al fresco with heavy wooden furniture.  There were a few old and sturdy acacia trees by the roadside but the restaurant was surrounded by young, shady talisay trees.  They serve familiar native dishes while the price, although slightly higher than normal, seemed fair enough considering there were very few options around.  On a scale of 1-5, 5 being the highest, I am giving them a 3.o for pricing.

There were just a few diners when we got there.

We ordered grilled fish –kitong, fried whole chicken – native style, no batter, no frills, sauteed mixed vegetables, grilled chicken breast and seafood sotanghon or glass noodle soup.

I was surprised when the food was served in less than 8 minutes.  The fact that the grilled fish and kinilaw were fresh was another pleasant surprise considering how far away the place was and how I imagined the low customer turn out.  As I later saw, the place filled up in trickles.  It would seem to me that most of the diners were out-of-towners, those visiting Carcar or those coming from or going to the southern parts of Cebu.  No locals here.

The waiters who wore the requisite short-sleeved barongs were attentive.

I am giving the place a 3.0 for service.

The mixed vegetable was a puzzle to me.  It was a pile of diced carrots, chayote, cauliflower, string beans and potatoes sauteed with squid and pork.  It wasn’t chinese chopsuey, it also wasn’t the native utan or dinuldog.  It had a thin film of grease all over it.  This grease was also evident with the noodle soup.  But they both tasted good.

Overall, together with the fresh fish and the juicy native style fried chicken, I am giving taste another 3.0

This place is definitely the place to go if you are all too familiar with the Carcar lechon, Jollibee or Mang Inasal.  Where else?

My friends, Shaun, Armie and Alexa on one of the quaint wooden swinging chair

Colon Night Market

Work and the flurry of activities around the holidays have always taken me North of our downtown home.  So when my week long vacation started last Wednesday, I immediately vowed to visit the downtown street Colon with its annual Night Market now on its 5th year.  This night market is open starting 6PM when the whole stretch from the Metro Gaisano to the University of the Visayas is closed to motor traffic.

I had that chance the next day Dec. 23rd.  Since it was already well into the Christmas holidays, I’ve already bought and given out my gifts.  This was  a purely sight-seeing paseo across downtown. 

I have discovered a whole new dimension to the Night Market with the shopping out of the way, the Food Dimension!  Oooh the many sinful delights!

I found some Kwek-Kwek stands.  Kwek-kwek is hard-boiled quail egg, dunked in a batter and then deep fried.  Aside from the grease, quail eggs are also known to be high in cholesterol.  Who cares?  That’s just for starters.  I also found deep fried chicken skin in cute little brown paper packets.  A little vinegar for the acid and hanging rice – puso, and you have yourself a quick snack.

To my delight I saw piles upon piles of sa-ang, a shellfish, which is one of my favorites.  There are a lot of ways people cook this delicacy so they get the meat out of the shell. You see, if you overcook it, the meat will become tough and curl up so far into the shell that you won’t have any chance of prying it out. Some say to blanch it using brine, some say to use actual seawater, some even use Sprite, some heat the shell on hot coals.  If you cook it right, the meat will be just right and will come out just enough for you to pull it out.  For this guy, he says he blanches them, but obviously, he had to use a hammer to break the shell.

The perennial barbeque grills were there but to my delight they now serve grilled seafood too!  Like these fat slices of White Marlin @P60!

And for dessert, there is always the Sorbetero with his ice cream cart.  Finding this guy at the end of the food stretch brought back memories of my childhood days and hot summer afternoons.

What pleasant surprises has Colon brought you lately?  Please do share, I would love to hear about them.