Oh, Pico De Loro

I’ll take a breather from writing about food just this once and feature a break in the monotony – I conquered my first mountain trek! Admittedly the new year brings so much positive juju and at one point I was just stuck in this state of yearning to cross items off my bucket list. I wanted to let go and just see the world. Travel! Pick Strawberries! Go on a food tour! (All the while Temper Trap’s “Fader” is in the background)

Mountain climbing was a more humble (and cheap-o) entry on the list, and this was a decision that was made relatively fast. Two of my friends and I didn’t make any thorough plans. I’m not sure who even suggested it in the first place. As soon as the suggestion was made we all jumped at the chance.
 photo P1580270_zps8c733a3d.jpg
We chose Pico De Loro in Cavite, a good two-hour bus ride away from the Metro. It’s a relatively friendly trek for the uninitiated. The bus dropped us off at Ternate, after which we took a tricycle to the jump-off point. There’s no need for a guide because the trail was straightforward.
 photo P1580254_zps8a862ced.jpg
 photo P1580316_zpsc14b7920.jpg
 photo P1580290_zps597d1854.jpg
How my body took me through it is another story. The climb was a solid three hours with a few stops, and halfway there an internal battle between my mind and body ensued. I kept on asking myself how much longer this damn climb will last. It was good that the mountain is pretty popular among enthusiasts, because we kept on meeting people going down from the summit, so with heavy breathing and sweaty faces we would solicit a few words of comfort from them. Of course there will always be that struggle to catch my breath every now and then as the air grew thinner. Yes, it was a walk in the park. Kidding aside, sticking to the trail, it’s absolutely doable.
 photo P1580265_zps58eac9ee.jpg
 photo P1580321_zps875a6271.jpg
At the back of my head I wanted to subject myself to the experience because I had a few things on my plate that I wanted to address. I thought that climbing the mountain would be cathartic – it would disrobe the mental and emotional baggage I carried with me and leave it behind me as I traversed father and higher. And maybe I also wanted to commune with God with the capital G. Somewhere along the way I found my unreligious self farther and farther from where I’m supposed to be. I was never a Jesus-freak but I thought we could maintain an amicable relationship, if not a simple, understated closeness.
 photo P1580310_zpsaf0ead35.jpg
Oftentimes the journey is far more important than the destination. But it doesn’t hurt that the view that awaits you after an arduous trek is, in a word, beautiful.

 photo P1580334_zps144acd86.jpg
 photo P1580331_zpsd4a462f6.jpg
The summit is one attraction. Getting there was challenging. But the monolith is another, and getting there necessitated another twenty-minute climb, this time definitely steeper. We didn’t/couldn’t go up the monolith itself, though I had this impression that it was allowed. But the chill and the view were all worth it. One one side was Cavite, the other side Batangas. Blue skies. A cove. Forests.
 photo P1580406_zpsfe0e6fb6.jpg
 photo P1580405_zps288924eb.jpg
“How big are your problems?”, I had to blurt. I was definitely giddy and stoked that half the battle was won. Even just for a moment I felt lighter, that the brunt of my problems seemed so miniscule.
 photo P1580437_zpsfa2d7f9a.jpg
 photo P1580439_zps0bdd775a.jpg
We could have taken the easy way and gone down the same way we went up. But we decided to take a guide with us down the path not usually taken by trekkers. I took us two hours going down but the first half was incredibly painful and required a certain physicality. At one point it was also dangerous. The climb down would bring us to Batangas, not Cavite. We started at the side of the monolith, it was steep so we had to sit down and carefully descend in some parts. I fell on my butt around five times, thanks to the withered leaves that made the deceptive path uneven.

But we finally reached the end of the trail and relief washed over our grimy, sweaty faces. Exhilaration coupled with relief is always good.

Over a late dinner in Tagaytay where it was extremely cold that not even our steaming bowl of bulalo could withstand, we talked about the day’s events. In retrospect it was dangerous for us to take the Batangas trail down. We didn’t meet anyone going up or down, and what if kuya was an insurgent rebel who might take us hostage? What if (we were exaggerating at this point), we really had no kuya leading us down the mountain afterall? (Gasp!) We decided not to err on the side of recklessness next time. Despite this being a cautionary tale, we wanted to do it again and again.

I’d love to say that the mountain trek was transformative, and that I’m a new person, filled with so much optimism about myself and the world. But no, that only happens in the movies. What it did leave me is this yearning on how I should fill my days and hopefully, years. I think I might have found a new hobby!

Money can buy a better pair of hiking shoes (If my dead toenails are any indication), but the sweeping views and the live-for-the-moment adrenaline-pumping exhilaration? Priceless. It’s not so bad feeling small when you’re surrounded by kickass grandeur.
 photo P1580339_zps5fb66ce1.jpg

Magic, and Budbod

I drifted in and out of sleep in the shuttle on our way to Angono. I didn’t notice the traffic that might have clogged the streets, nor the landmarks that would help me find my way later on.

We had just come from a hearty meal at a German restaurant. You would think that a pause would be in order. That’s what normal people do. We were impulsive that day.

I groggily stepped out of the shuttle with Yedy and Eugene. I had to regain my bearings for a minute to realize that we alighted at the entrance of a quaint subdivision called Aurora. There weren’t a lot of people on the streets. A guy with his cigarette, a mother with her baby, and a few kids. Walking a good two blocks to our destination was uneventful. Was the journey going to be anticlimactic?

The street we walked into wasn’t a beehive but you could tell it has its own flurry of activity. Then the tarpaulin I saw on Yedy’s instagram was right before my eyes and it confirmed our destination. Welcome to Dency’s. We were in Budbod country.
 photo P1570975_zps5d19fad7.jpg

What was once a quaint space (a small carinderia with monobloc chairs) is now a larger house (painted yellow!), with an even larger, tiled space that could fit around fifteen to twenty people. It is quite possibly the house that budbod built.
 photo P1570916_zps79c935d9.jpg
 photo P1570917_zpsa5953931.jpg

Budbod is what you call the rice dish that’s been topped/sprinkled (binudbod) with meat, tomatoes, spring onions, sometimes egg, sometimes anything goes. It’s a noun and a verb. A simple rice meal, basically. And the way Yedy and Euge (both of them hail from the surrounding area) gush about it shows it’s rice that tugs a few heartstrings. They grew up eating the stuff. And they took it upon themselves to introduce this small town boy to a little piece of their shared history.

This wasn’t my first encounter with budbod though. My co-intern at the restaurant is from Rizal and one time she brought individually portioned styro packs of budbod and it had beef, lumpia, tomatoes and chives. It’s a family recipe, and I’m not sure how it compares to what we were going to have.

I grew and grew up eating rice with no other name. In their neck of the woods this meal is an icon. But why is it such a big deal? Why the fuss?

“Sago’t gulaman”, Yedy tells the jolly server. It’s the preamble before the main event. The cleanse before the deluge.
 photo P1570928_zps5bebcc83.jpg

Our order arrives in plastic bowls with a lid on, reminiscent of how Chowking (a fast food chain I unabashedly favor) serves their rice.
 photo P1570936_zps6b288a8c.jpg
 photo P1570938_zpsc2d30222.jpg
 photo P1570939_zps4929d73f.jpg

I take the lid off mine and a hint of adobo wafts out. The chopped beef must have been braised in soy sauce and vinegar before it was fried. Fresh tomatoes, chopped spring onions and a smidgen of scrambled egg accompany the meat. It’s a disproportionate ratio – there is definitely more rice. And the rice has been fried and taken on a color that suggests a dash of soy sauce was added. It’s nothing fancy.
 photo P1570962_zpsed36f470.jpg

There is no ritual. After staring at my bowl hungrily in between taking photographs, I grabbed my utensils and took a heaping spoonful of rice, beef and egg (I’m not a fan of eating fresh tomatoes with rice so I set it aside.).

I tasted tender beef, with a gentle acidity and more pronounced salinity. In my gut there’s more to it than just soy sauce and vinegar. A little bit of sugar, or Knorr seasoning even? I may be wrong. The rice was seasoned and made the perfect partner.
 photo P1570955_zps0f392d9a.jpg

There are no bells and whistles. It’s not ingenuous. But it hits the spot for sure.

“Is this it?”, I caught myself asking that question more than once. I admit my enthusiasm wasn’t as overflowing as theirs.

I asked the server for a side order of pork cooked the same way as the beef. At that time I preferred the pork over the beef. Also, a sunny egg.
 photo P1570969_zps07e8eca5.jpg

It was almost sundown when we were done polishing off our bowls. I was filled to the brim but had this nagging feeling that there has to be something more than what I ate. Rationalizing, maybe the history they share with budbod magnified its appeal. Maybe that was something I couldn’t fully understand. Food and memories, time and space, was that it? Or maybe I should just shut up and just eat.

It was a long ride back home. I drifted in and out of sleep again.

And then there it was. It felt like waves, gently hitting and then receding from the shore before a big one comes crashing down. Or maybe the unnecessary fullness ebbed and I was just hungry all over again.

I craved for it. I craved for budbod like it was nobody’s business. The beef, pork, egg and rice. I wanted to stuff my face all over again.

The lag was very unusual (and funny in a cosmic sort of way). But it doesn’t matter anymore because I fully understand what Yedy and Eugene were talking about. It may have taken me a few hours to get it but I did. What happened? What sorcery is this?

It doesn’t really matter all that much anymore. Rationalizations, excuses, delays, all of it is miniscule. All that matters is that bowl of rice is calling out to me. It’s been more than a week since we went to Angono and writing this made me crave for it all over again.

If my feet and appetite would lead me back to that table again so I could make amends with that bowl of rice so delicious, I’d say every thing is right in the world. Even just for a moment.

Budbod is deceptively simple and unassuming, that much is true. Isn’t the best food of our visceral childhood memories always the simplest?
 photo P1570963_zpscb78e4c8.jpg

The Black Pig

Suggesting that we try a restaurant in Alabang to celebrate a few occasions was really born out of this feeling I had at the time to just wind-down and escape. Yes, it’s a watered-down concept I know. The three of us (Yedy, Euge and I) are car-less and from the north, so it was going to be a challenge. At least going there on a Sunday isn’t as much of a pain as a weekday trek. The Black Pig was waiting, and we were hungry.
 photo P1570862_zps5d9ad547.jpg
 photo P1570856_zps46d2fcc9.jpg
 photo P1570857_zps14685ea8.jpg
It’s a bar and restaurant that serves a slew of things, from charcuterie to Holgate beers. It has impressive industrial interiors. But we chose to dine al fresco. The light was so good and it was pretty windy. It was a golden day.

Breaking bread to signal the start of the meal is never a bad thing. And they have good bread.
 photo P1570730_zps5c0862f6.jpg
The charcuterie board arrives. We order it because it would be such a shame if we didn’t. Across the board (pun intended), the cured meats are all flavorful but the larger lomo, without the waxiness of the smaller cuts, stands out.
 photo P1570750_zps71e3a45b.jpg
Being a bar, they offer a selection of beers. They have a good sampler, aptly called Beer Flight. If that’s not poetic enough, let me just say that the Road Trip is my hands down favorite. At that point I was tempted to order more beer, but we had meals to devour.
 photo P1570747_zpsb16a2d52.jpg
 photo P1570774_zpsf7b041f0.jpg
Pork, beef and fish were in attendance at the table. The pork belly came with marrow. Writing this, it’s hard to be impartial if fat’s the subject. The same goes for the rib-eye. And although pork belly and marrow is a killer combo (literally), it’s the medium-rare rib-eye that steals the show. The gindara is a close second though, because it just crumbles in your mouth. It’s so delicate. Delicate.
 photo P1570806_zps6e04d49a.jpg
 photo P1570802_zpsf36ead5c.jpg
 photo P1570789_zps4cf4f40d.jpg
 photo P1570768_zpsc9dc107e.jpg
The desserts are a sight to behold. It does my heart good to see playfulness and whimsy in their plated desserts.
 photo P1570832_zps7d74e4db.jpg
“Which one should we start with?”, I asked one of the owners who stepped in and explained the desserts. She reasoned that we should start with the lighter fare and work our way down to the heavier options. I pursed my lips. So, we were starting with the calamansi crème brulee. Close friends know my extreme, unreasonable aversion to calamansi (and now you do too!) so my excitement was barely a simmer. I let my curiosity override my hesitation though. I was a man on a mission.

It seemed haute enough (also unusual) – complete with sorbet, foam and a tuile peppered with fennel. I use the little spoon to mix everything together, cutting through the custard and into the curd.
 photo P1570839_zpse883c191.jpg
I sample a spoonful and nod my head. It takes a few seconds for me to process that it’s actually pretty good. Very impressive, even. The fennel seeds add pops of depth to a tangy, but refreshing custard. Calamansi never looked this sexy.

Trying the coconut panna cotta after the crème brulee was a disservice to the panna cotta, because it felt as if it paled in comparison. It’s still refreshing, with the mandatory addition of pineapple granite, but I should have eaten this first.
 photo P1570811_zpsb502c1a0.jpg
 photo P1570836_zps02d990a9.jpg
 photo P1570847_zps251be575.jpg
The rum baba was a slap of alcohol neatly tucked into a yeast cake. As it should be. It wasn’t my cup of tea though. I’d assume that the chocolate praline, a geometric love song to chocolate from the wafer to the ganache, is their flagship dessert. And it’s chocolate, and its execution is in a way faultless. But the nuances of the calamansi crème brulee stole my heart and made me smile.

All things considered, the people behind The Black Pig do their job well. It’s a great place. Nothing mind-blowingly ground-breaking (kids, this isn’t a proper adjective) but the food is good, and in the case of the steak, gindara and the desserts, very delicious.

There might be some leeway for comparison to other similar restaurants. In some ways, you might be partial to the fare elsewhere. But with The Black Pig, Alabang has it good.

A cookie that’s more than the sum of its parts

Burby’s used to be a watering hole for people to drink and be merry after work. But they actually serve stellar meals. I’m glad I got to appreciate it in its current state. The food is good, but allow me this moment to single out one beautiful piece of work.

It started as a joke. Yedy asked if their “cookie for two” was as big as her face. Sabrina gave a mock appraisal before telling us she’ll bring one out later for us to try it (and see for ourselves, but that didn’t come from her).
 photo file_zpsa9c5911c.jpg
The food was festive, and I will go back so I could appreciate it even more before I write about it. I know I’m getting ahead of myself here but the barbecued ribs, lechon kare-kare and their Burby’s chicken are at the top of my list. I had to let that out.

Glancing at the menu I didn’t really feel that their desserts were pulling me in. They were pushing an all-day breakfast menu among other things. The dessert might as well be a reliable but less popular foil.
 photo file_zps7ee29511.jpg
Then the cookie was served. It wasn’t as big as Yedy’s face. It was baked in a ceramic plate. It didn’t look like much so expectations weren’t all that high.
 photo file_zpsb142ed26.jpg
I got my little spoon and scooped out a piece at the fringes. It was chewy and full of flavour. It was good, I thought to myself. I couldn’t stop myself from taking another bite because that’s just how I roll.
 photo file_zpsd7179449.jpg
Right there…fireworks. My face lit up, and my mouth formed an ‘o’. I may or may not have muttered a curse word.

I got its point.

That was when things went from above average to warm, chewy and gooey. The cookie dough hasn’t fully set, with a textured, chewy exterior and a warm, an almost melt-in-your-mouth interior. It’s like that cake batter left on the spoon that you couldn’t resist licking. It’s like that sexy, silky yolk you just have to mix with rice. It was sweet with a dash of salty and the chocolate an explosion of decadence. Spoonful after spoonful of warm cookie mixed with ice cream was just a treat. Decadence. Happiness.

A great, unpretentious dessert can really hit you with a wave of comfort. It can make you feel good, even if you might have overindulged. Count the calories later, or never.

Who knew a cookie could be more than the sum of its parts? It’s probably one of the best things I’ve had this year.

 photo file_zps0aec017a.jpg

Just for the record, after we demolished the first plate we regret not taking a photo of it. Then we got a second serving, and we were happy kids. I used the second one for the photographs.

A special thanks to Eugene for being part of the photo!

A good day at Kettle

I turned twenty-three almost a week ago. It wasn’t a spectacle. I spent it at the restaurant, baking breads and plating a few dishes for a crowd of twenty people (which in my book, is already stressful). My birthday week was my last week interning at The Goose, and as I’m writing this there’s a smile on my face because I survived three challenging months at the restaurant I’ve always wanted to work at. I’m left with a sense of accomplishment, but also uncertainty. I have plans I want to happen, a few paths I want to take but everything isn’t set in stone. Of course I’d love to (finally) earn my keep but more than half of my body and brain is screaming for a vacation. (Am I too demanding, universe? Do I even deserve a vacation?)

I did have two golden Sundays in a row though. The first one I spent with my friends I’ve had since high school at this little restaurant called Kettle. One blog I read about it warned that I shouldn’t make a mistake of ordering one dish per person because the servings are generous to begin with.

It totally makes sense that the five of us ordered six dishes then. Two orders of buttermilk fried chicken, four pieces of boneless chicken thighs and six pieces of cornbread all in all. The chicken was everything good in the world about dark meat – juicy and flavorful.
 photo P1570663_zpsb1320f20.jpg
 photo P1570670_zpsf77e3662.jpg
The blogs were right. It’s great chicken, partly because of the fact that people actually go the extra mile to serve uncomplicated, boneless chicken and partly because the same people know flavor. It’s not as if demolishing a bone-in chicken isn’t hard. I’ve had a solid reputation of “cleaning” the chicken well, leaving only the bone (sometimes even cleaning up after people’s chicken mess!). But not everyone is gifted with such profound talent.
 photo P1570677_zps09653c1b.jpg
 photo P1570674_zps58946e2b.jpg
The rest of the dishes whizzed by: lamb adobo, a shrimp po’boy sandwich, angus corned beef hash (a great breakfast item that I might go back to Kettle for), and the surprise of the day, seared salmon on a bed of cold soba noodles and a mango relish on the side. I didn’t order it, they did. I had this look on my face that questioned their motives, but I caved in. It was served at an inconvenient time, when we were about to be filled to the brim with all the protein and fat that came before it. I think I said to them, “You ordered the salmon, you eat it”, or something to that effect. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy salmon. But I didn’t condition my mind for salmon, so I was less than enthusiastic.
 photo P1570690_zpsdb993dbd.jpg
 photo P1570694_zps2113663f.jpg
They began to devour it, taking the soba by the forkful then piercing the salmon to get shreds of juicy meat. From them came a nod of approval. “Masarap” (delicious). It was my turn to taste it, still on the fence.

Looking back I didn’t see why I was so worked up to begin with. It’s a dish that plays on the richness of the salmon with the freshness of the soba and the cleansing effect of the mango relish. The dark horse was delicious indeed.

We were too hungry that day, so I think ordering too much didn’t allow a lot of savouring to happen. But I was in the company of great people so I didn’t mind it too much.

There’s a part two y’all! Wait for it. Meanwhile, follow me on instagram, because it has more food than selfies. I’m on twitter too!

No matter what happens

We’re halfway through January and here we are with my first real post for the year! You’ve got to give me some credit, people. I’m almost done with internship and I absolutely have no idea what to do next. Well, I have been throwing around a couple of things, but most of it involves climbing a mountain to marvel at a sea of clouds or lounging about by the shore of a virgin beach. Career shmareer. It can wait!

I’ve only begun to discover the joy of instagram. My handle is @thehungrygiant, and I rarely post selfies so follow me to appreciate just how much of a glutton I am. And while we’re on the subject, here are a few things that have made my January. It’s a stark contrast to the quality of the photos I usually include in my posts, but I’m attempting to write this on my new ipad so allow me to be brisk, just for the sake of written word.





Baking bread almost every day is one of the things I absolutely love doing. And I’m not writing this just because the people I work with read my blog from time to time. I love baking, let’s just put it out there. And to think I went to cooking school because I wanted to become a savory cook. Well, plans change. And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the universe is listening.

I’m also a tad out of shape lately, thanks to the almost daily after work binge eating. We end service at around 10 or 11, so I guess I must be going against every bullet point on healthy eating. And it scares me that sometimes (okay, most of the time) I eat for two people. But whatever, I’m happy. Don’t judge! Carinderia food is the bomb.

I have great news coming up and it really deserves its own post. Some of you may know about it already since it’s not really a secret and my facebook timeline says it all but still, a follow-up post is in order.

I promised myself that I would never abandon the blog because it has given me so much. So I won’t. Resolutions don’t really work for me, so I can’t promise that regular posts are coming. But I told myself the other day that no matter what happens, I will write. I’m on to something here, and I’d like to believe writing about whatever could open a few more doors for me. I love this blog too much that it doesn’t deserve to be filled with useless brain farts. My twitter would be a better option for that! (Follow me @giooraay)

I’m not dead y’all. Don’t count me out just yet.

To the year that was

Here we are again, it’s the end of another year. I’m parked right where I was a year before: at the edge of my parents’ bed, home for the holidays. I’m typing, trying to fish the words out of a bowl.

I completely take all the responsibility for not taking advantage of the holidays to write. I didn’t try hard enough. In a way, I didn’t try at all. It’s funny because towards the end of the year, so much has happened.

So many great, amazing blessings came my way, and I kept it to myself for the most part, save for a few status updates on facebook.

But most of it involved the blog, one way or the other, so it would be such a disservice to simply box everything in a blurb. So here it goes:
 photo 1410805_10202392580916566_500419892_o_zps17b89d6b.jpg
The Hungry Giant is Mindanao’s best food blog (!). Google Mindanao and the first few articles you might stumble upon might not be the most flattering of descriptions. It’s a study of contrasts: forward and backward, good and bad, yes and no. But there’s a pulse that insists that 1/3rd of the Philippine archipelago is chock full of talent.

I couldn’t attend the Mindanao Blog Awards personally because I was at work (I’m doing my internship at The Goose Station!) so I had to settle for a screen-grab one of my friends posted on my facebook wall. Oh yeah.
 photo 1461143_10152064334491113_688059879_n_zpsee5d54ff.jpg
I’m part of a book. My name and mug are on print, out now in National Bookstore outlets around Metro Manila. Eats 2014, published by Hinge Inquirer, is a guidebook for all the curious, lustful people who intend to eat out for most of the year. Yes, I am a subtle pervert.
 photo 1464671_10152064333661113_196703950_n_zps305ba85a.jpg
But seriously, the consolidation is remarkable. It’s divided into categories, from burgers to seafood to dessert. The broad list is further broken down according to budget – from save, reasonable to splurge. I was given the opportunity to write about restaurants with international flavors, from German to Mexican to Vietnamese. It’s a great book and worth every penny.

Coming from a purely amateur writing background, it’s humbling that my writing has been taking off, and taking me places.

In as much as I’d like to stay on cloud nine, it hasn’t been a smooth year. I lost one of my best friends a few months before all of this happened. When you lose someone you care about in a violent way, it shakes you up and leaves you with not just scars but questions. That much is true.

Sometimes I have to remind myself to take a step back, breathe and take it all in both the good and the bad. In my paltry twenty-two years of living, I know that there is nothing absolute about living in the world.

For what it’s worth, 2013 was such a ride. If online Chinese astrology is any indication, 2014 will be my year. As always, I’m hopeful. But I’m not counting on that just yet. In the meantime, since I’m being all confessional here, towards the end of the year I realized Oasis has the perfect song for me.

From the scars on my skin and heart, here it goes. My anthem:

Yolanda and You: we need your help

The past few days have been extremely difficult for us here in the Philippines. The past few months have been heartbreaking, but this force of nature is something else entirely. In the Visayas region, especially in Leyte where typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda) hit the hardest, graphic scenes of death and anarchy have been documented. At one point I found it difficult to swallow. The stories collected from the survivors sound so extraordinary that it might as well be a plot point from a disaster movie. But it’s not. It’s raw and real.

The next logical step is not to pin the blame on anyone, but to reach out. Please, we need your help. This is an appeal. People need the most basic of items: food, clothing, medicines. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you can give. Every single item counts.

The Philippine Red Cross, American Red Cross, Save The Children, World Food Programme are all accepting donations. (Click the links to redirect to their page)

Locally, here are a few ways to get in touch

 photo UP_zps62f6838f.jpg

 photo nroc_zps17d9c5ee.jpg

 photo worldvision_zps9fdcda9d.jpg
 photo Unicef_zpsfcdbda7e.jpg

 photo McDo_zps2c63b720.jpg

 photo Jollibee_zpsfa873dad.jpg

 photo Air21_zps1f993685.jpg

 photo LBC_zps3d56066a.jpg

And on the dates indicated below, restaurants have also promised to donate a portion of their sales. Dine away!
 photo YAW_Poster_small_zpsf19712b4.jpg

100 Revolving Restaurant: a room with a view

I looked out and admired the view. It’s not exactly breathtaking to appraise traffic like it was a long congested line of ants.  I tilted my head upwards just a little bit so the concrete jungle is obscured. There were birds and the sky was clear. Now that was a sight.

Then I had a feeling at the pit of my stomach. I could feel the movement of the platform at the fringes of the restaurant. So it does move. It’s not really jarring, but I was queasy to begin with so it took me a while to get used to the movement. At that time of my first visit, it took two hours to complete one revolution. The revolution at the time of my second visit was faster by thirty minutes.
 photo P1550314_zps147a9f25.jpg
That’s the first thing you notice at 100, the restaurant with iconic Chef Jessie Sincioco at the helm. She has a flair for grandiosity. The space is easy on the eyes as well. The menu is refined, but strangely enough it’s not as uptight as I thought it was going to be.
 photo P1550174_zps17c03dc8.jpg
 photo P1550177_zps30919453.jpg

And they make good bread. Really good bread.
 photo P1550195_zpsb7aafd0e.jpg
Between the kesong puti salad and the alugbati (which uses fresh, not blanched nightshade), the uncomplicated and familiar flavors of the former drew me in.
 photo P1550199_zpsfc929fa4.jpg
 photo P1550212_zps7224f5d1.jpg
It was a good “caprese” salad, but when the ceasar came out, that was my favorite. It had prawn popcorn, bacon bits over hearts of romaine. It was a good start.
 photo P1550205new_zpsea220292.jpg
The dragon maki was hefty enough to be a meal in itself with its shrimp tempura on the inside, and then sprinkled with tempura bits and rich mayonnaise. I’m still learning to use chopsticks properly, and if you see me wield it you’ll notice my hand trembles. But for this maki I’ll brave the tremors.
 photo P1550246_zpsb96254e9.jpg
 photo P1550224_zpsd27acc22.jpg
 photo P1550249_zps54051df2.jpg
The vegetable maki was a surprise! I did not expect that I would enjoy it as well. It’s a notch lower in taste compared to its prawn counterpart, but I still appreciated it.

This sea bass is incredibly delicious. For the price, is it worth the trouble? I’d say yes. It’s drenched in a savory and sweet miso base and gives way to perfectly cooked flesh that holds it shape but it’s still very tender. Yes and yes.
 photo P1550280_zpscdf48c89.jpg
 photo P1550292_zps6bafa0a5.jpg

There’s also shrimp curry and beef roulade, but the seafood gambas is stellar. A medley of fruits of the sea drenched in punchy tomato sauce fits the bill of a good plate of ingredients cooked with respect.
 photo P1550874_zps59535ae1.jpg
 photo P1550281_zps6b5d8d79.jpg
 photo P1550286_zps9a9e92cd.jpg
But the others aren’t rubbish at all! I fact, almost everything that was served to us was great. I’d just like to single out a few things that really stood out.

And I could sing songs about Chef Jessie’s desserts.
 photo P1550305_zps5b2a0123.jpg
But it’s in a moment of silence that my real appreciation creeps in. I close my eyes and just marvel at how I love a good dessert. In this case, I loved almost everything that was served.

It’s this souffle that made me smile the most. How can something be so light yet so rich? This is a soaring tribute to all things good in life. I am not exaggerating.
 photo P1550317_zps9c067275.jpg
 photo P1550321_zps1a0b6429.jpg
One of my guilty pleasures is peanut butter. But I don’t really enjoy cheesecakes that much anymore because it’s like I’m falling into a pit of heavy flavours that never really take off. With peanut butter however, I can make an exception.
 photo P1550302_zps6d4df742.jpg
The revolving tortas are little dense cakes filled with flavoured cream and topped with fruit. At this point I was already coming down from a souffle high but I still made room for this.
 photo P1550293_zps2b35a54a.jpg
For some strange reason souffle isn’t on your mind, this works. There’s also a delicious chocolate caramel cake that works for lovers of chocolate, but competing for attention against the souffle and tortas is hard.

100 is a posh gem. I’d like to believe you pay not just for the elegant (but also uncomplicated) food but for the great view as well. Who wouldn’t feel good dining with Manila’s shifting skyline as the backdrop?

Right now there are two reasons that compel me to go back: a chance to dine at night, to appreciate pinpricks of light all over the horizon and of course, the souffles. I love their souffles.

100 Revolving Restaurant
33rd Floor, MDC 100 Building, C5 corner Eastwood Drive, Quezon City
+632 962-1016


Pork Belly Lechon

When I was back home, I constantly reminded myself of my schedule. I may or may not leave so soon, I realized. There was really no fixed date, no pressing matter to attend to.

Then came the invitation for dinner, around a week after Jad’s funeral. We (my friends/classmates) haven’t really had a chance to talk about things out in the open. The situation was a delicate one. But the dinner had to happen. Naturally, I hosted it, and played the part of the cook. It’s a part I like to play because I think cooking for people who matter is on the list of things that feed my soul.

I didn’t want it to be complicated. My dinners have never tried to be uptight and I want it to stay that way. I love my people, and maybe that helps.

And I love pork. Strokes of brilliance on this blog have always involved pork, one way or the other. When I was thinking about what to prepare for dinner, a glorious way to feast on pork was on my mind.

And this, my friends, is glorious (if I do say so myself).
 photo P1520746_zpscb0b6140.jpg
 photo P1520786_zpsed14003a.jpg
 photo P1520789_zps6870d9dd.jpg
Porchetta was on my mind when I was preparing my list. I’ve always wanted to make it, and I did get a chance to witness how it’s done when I was in school. But I also found myself craving for lechon while I was home. Mom would relent and come home with a small package of chopped up pig for me. That may have happened more than once.

I thought about taking a nice slab of pork belly and drowning it in the typical lechon aromatics (minus the calamansi because I don’t like it). Roasting it on low for a few hours makes it dastardly fork-tender, and during the last hour of baking, cranking the heat up will yield a crackling so divine.

The result blew me away. There is no breakthrough, no secret technique, no new flavor. I just made damn good lechon, and that for me, was a new notch in my belt. And if I’m being corny here, I’d like to call it “pinoychetta”. I’m also clever like that.
 photo P1520757_zps65468844.jpg
All in all, I had two more attempts just to prove the first one wasn’t a fluke. The first one was a trial-run (my mom and her office mates were the lucky ones). The second was for the dinner, and the last was the big bang before I left.

The dinner itself was great. They loved the pork. Because they’re my friends, naturally they had to sing praises.
 photo P1520867_zpscb81e313.jpg
 photo P1520830_zpsfd9ccfca.jpg
 photo P1520887_zpsb60452e5.jpg
They were fed well, we talked until we had no more stories to tell, and one of my friends, Jam, received a birthday cake a week early. It was a heavy chocolate cake with coffee buttercream, studded with shards of almond praline. I didn’t bring my piping tips so I was rubbish with the rosettes, but they liked it.

It was also passed around for posterity and the July babies went nuts. Somehow bearing the brunt of loss seemed lighter, even just for a night. I haven’t laughed so hard in a while.

So this pork is a thing of beauty. It’s not something you would whip up on a weeknight (but I’m not stopping you!). Reserve a weekend. Prepare this on Saturday, wake up early on Sunday to start roasting it. By lunchtime, you feast and the next day, you fast.
 photo P1520777_zpsca9bddf0.jpg

Roasted Pork Belly “Lechon”

  • 1.5 kg pork belly slab, skin on
  • 3 whole garlic bulbs, peeled and roughly chopped
  • ½ cup oregano leaves, washed then chopped
  • 3 red onions, peeled and chopped
  • around 4 – 5 lemongrass stalks, sliced
  • the zest from 1 lemon
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • a little over 1/8 cup salt, plus more for an even rub around the pork
  • 4 tablespoons crushed black pepper

Combine all the aromatics in a bowl and mix well. Lightly mash everything together with the back of a spoon. Alternatively, use a food processor to bring everything together with only around 2-3 pulses.

With the skin side down, rub the mixture all over the meat. Roll the slab, carefully invert the meat and secure it with butcher’s twine (and lemongrass leaves, like what I did). It’s okay if there are a few pieces of herbs that fall off, you can place it back later. Rub coarse salt all over the meat, including the skin. With a paring knife or fork, poke the skin of the meat. This will ensure a nice crackling. Transfer it to a roasting fitted with a rack and the bottom lined with foil. Place it in the refrigerator to chill overnight. This will dry the skin, which helps the crackling form.
 photo P1530270_zps416f36a2.jpg

 photo P1520800_zpsdbb0155b.jpg

variation: this will easily feed two – three

Preheat the oven to 160 C. Just to be sure, pat the skin of the pork dry with a paper towel. Roast the pork for 5 hours. Afterwards, increase the temperature to 220 C, and allow the pork’s crackling to form. This will take another 30 minutes to an hour. When done, remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit before slicing. Enjoy!
 photo P1520711_zps4222bd9c.jpg
 photo P1520742_zps83176931.jpg