Asian Eats at The Podium

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By virtue of their facebook posts and photos alone, I’d say Pinoy Eats World looks like a pretty fun group. I haven’t had the pleasure of attending one of their food tours or guerilla dinners yet, but I did manage to head on over to The Podium where they organized a small food fair, World Eats “Asia”, just in time for the Chinese New Year. It’s actually an intimate gathering of a few up-and-coming food businesses with exciting (and tasty) products.

Here’s a rundown of the things I had, and really, the food speaks for itself. Make the most of it because WEA ends today!

I’ve been a fan of Mr. Delicious‘ artisanal wagyu corned beef ever since I had it at Mercato. This time, beyond the humble (haha) corned beef pandesal, Jeremy (Mr. D himself) has served up his version of corned beef sisig which is really just one part madness and two parts delicious. Toasted bits and pieces of corned beef were served with “artisanal” cheese, which is actually just Magnolia quickmelt “to keep it ghetto”, according to Mr. D. In between toasted ensaymada, this little sandwich is anything but humble.
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Next up, we dropped by Craft Coffee Workshop’s stall. I’m not really a fan of coffee because it makes my palms sweat more than the usual, but it’s fascinating to observe and listen to people who have so much passion for coffee-making that they’re also willing and able to share their expertise with other people. I got one of their bestsellers, the Nicaragua. I’m as shallow as it can be when it comes to understanding and appreciating coffee, but my friend said it was good. I’ll take her word for it.
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It was a great to know Chez Karine would be setting up shop there as well, and I’m a sucker for a good macaron. I didn’t have to blink to know I wanted the maple bacon (yeaaaahh!). Need I say more? Buy a pack of bacon flavored with maple syrup from the grocery, mellow down the flavor and you get the macaron. Their macaron “showpiece” was a sight to behold as well.
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The friendly lady (sorry, I forgot her name – I’m a goldfish that way) manning Asiong’s had us taste flavors I normally wouldn’t consume on a daily basis. They had leche flan, ube haleya, and strangely enough, another haleya made from tamarind or sampalok. I wouldn’t have known it was made from sampalok! Although it sounds strange, it was pretty darn good. The same goes for their kamias and malunggay juice. Both of them I’d probably find in soups – kamias being a souring agent and malunggay the ubiquitous leafy green. This time both of them went into a refreshing drink that I couldn’t resist buying a bottle to take home.
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I regret not buying anything from Ritual (hot chocolate!) but here are a few of their really cool products:
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Last stop would be the collaboration between The Ministry of Mushrooms and Edgy Veggie. Yes Virginia, everything is vegetarian. It took us a while before deciding on the mushroom burrito with chips, salsa, guacamole and sour cream. To put together a wrap with mushrooms and marry it with legit Mexican flair and flavor is exciting, to say the least. I wanted to try almost everything from their stall, including their clever rice mixes all seasoned and good to go.
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Also present are the folks from Theo and Philo artisanal chocolates (I’m a fan!), Pinkerton ice cream and Ha Yuan. Today is their last day and I hope I’m not too late to spread the “prosperity”. WEA is at The Podium, 12 ADB Avenue, Ortigas Center, Mandaluyong.

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So this is Binondo

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I’ve always wanted to explore Binondo (Manila’s Chinatown) before the year ends and I’m glad that I got to cross one item off my proverbial bucket list last week. It’s strange that sometimes I think commuting can actually deter you from going on the actual “journey”. Case in point: it took us two hours to get to Quiapo (the adjacent iconic bargain shopping district, has a train station and is a stone’s throw away from Binondo) because Manila’s traffic was especially harsh. The usual throng of commuters from dawn until dusk is commonplace, but it’s something I need to get used to.
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But the journey was worth it, although with all the conviction in the world I can say that the trip barely scratched the surface. Next year we intend to go on one of those food tours because as much as Binondo should be seen, it also must be tasted.

The funny thing is the real reason why we went to Binondo is for me to buy ham from Exelente, another icon in Chinese hams, or so they say. Although I found out that reviews are mixed, my chef instructor raves about it, so I assumed that to buy one was already worth the hassle of the trip. And the cosmic joke of the day was Exelente’s shop is in Quiapo, not Binondo! All I had to do was consult google and of course I didn’t do it. The trip to Chinatown wasn’t a waste of course, since our heavy lunch at Wai Ying kept me happy. As a lover of sio mai, their offering didn’t disappoint. Of course the dumplings have to be good! The duck could have been more tender, since a good piece of duck cooked properly just sings.
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After lunch, when we were still looking for Exelente (the crucial bit of info came much later), it was only natural for us to travel on foot to offset what we ate (a natural rationalization). I took a few random photos here and there.
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Then after three random inquiries (we were skeptical with the first two) that confirmed that the ham was in Quiapo, off we went. Getting there was easy, since people actually knew where Exelente was.
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I admit, I was amazed.
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The boneless hams cost roughly 100php/100 grams.

The hams are pricier that what you would normally see in the groceries, because after consuming 90% a kilo in three days (YEAH), it was pretty obvious that Exelente’s hams are legitimate meat, and are a notch higher in taste. The holiday season must bring out the best in these hams. But I’m still on the look-out for other brands that are just as good or even better.

So there you have it. This trip is really the tip of the iceberg and now that I know what’s in store for me next time, I’m more than excited to dive head first in a food tour come 2013. It’s going to be a good year, I feel it in my bones!

Excelente Ham, Inc
155-157 Carlos Palanca Sr. Street
Quiapo, Metro-Manila

Coming home to Mom and Tina’s

An evening visit to Mom and Tina’s bakery cafe last week left me wondering why I haven’t heard of and visited them sooner. It took me almost six months and their nearest outlet is a short tricycle ride away.
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What is endearing about the cafe is how they put a premium on detail. The interiors from the plump sofas to the wooden accents remind you of home, or a little cottage in the middle of the woods sans the cannibal witch…take your pick. The ambiance, now that Christmas is just around the corner, is incredibly festive and comforting. I feel that it’s part of the attraction and it works spendidly.
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You go there to soak up as much positive juju there is, and of course, to taste the food which is actually really good. It’s the blissful marriage of form and food that makes Mom and Tina’s a winner.
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The rolls that went with my delicious pasta all’Amatriciana (homemade fettucine with bacon and black olive sauce) were crusty on the outside and light and airy on the inside…in other words, it was the perfect foil.
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Their selections are diverse, which compels you to come back and eat with gusto once again.
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Never leave the place with trying the mini sans rival. Their pint-sized version of the real thing doesn’t scrimp on flavor with its luscious butter cream and nut filling between layers of chewy meringue. It could be a meal in itself given its calorie count, but if you’re like me…I ain’t countin.
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It has only been a week and my recent visit just last Sunday where I ordered their filling bacon and spinach quiche really affirmed that this is a place I’ll frequent. The beauty of it is that sometimes time stands still. It has the kind of laid-back, “I could read a book here all day” vibe you look for when you want to feel like you’re home because the semblance is there.

In a way, when you’re at Mom and Tina’s, you’re essentially coming home.

Mom and Tina’s Bakery Cafe

FRDC Building
106 E. Rodriguez Jr. Ave.
(C-5), Pasig City
Tel: 914-0833 or 571-1541
 
G/F Unit 14
Tropical Palms Condominum
Dela Rosa St. cor. Perea St.,
Legaspi Village, Makati City
Tel: 840-4299 or 894-3598
 
2nd floor,
Regis Center,
Katipunan Ave.,
Quezon City
Tel: 990-2875 or 990-2815
 
58 Sgt. Esguerra Ave.,
South Triangle,
Quezon City
Tel: 332-3080 or 332-3589

The Midnight Market

Of course when you’re somebody who goes the extra mile for food, you’re no stranger to the weekend market culture. Weekend markets, more than anything else, are like big food festivals where local, up and coming and established purveyors of good food meet. Recently, I anointed myself with my first taste of what it truly means to hold off sleep and dinner  just so I can visit a weekend market at midnight. Just to eat. Here are a few photos of what to see (and taste) at Mercato Centrale at Bonifacio Global when we visited last weekend. And as I’m writing this we’re set to visit another food bazaar tomorrow – fingers crossed that I can sample at least, well, everything.

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The fact that you have before you a plethora of everything that’s either good, delicious, or expletive-ly mind-blowing, all under one roof is a good enough reason to wander, take in the sights, aromas, and dole out a few hundreds.

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No self-respecting market would ever be complete without ubiquitous barbecue stalls. True to form, people gravitated toward these stalls the most, probably because comfort and happiness is simply a stick (or five) of delicious charred pork, among other things.
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As luck would have it, I got the chance to sample the last stick of Cuisiniers’ Peppery Pork Barbecue, which won first place in the pork category of Food Magazine’s Backyard Barbecue Cook Off that happened in May. It was obviously a crowd favorite with good reason: it was perfectly grilled, and had a great sweet and savory flavor. I only wish there was more where it came from, because one stick just wasn’t enough.
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I’m starting to crave and appreciate Middle Eastern cuisine lately, so it was only natural for me to sample what Meshwe had to offer. I enjoy a good beef shawarma, so maybe because they only serve chicken shawarmas (no picture), I missed a little bit of that kick. It was tasty, but the chicken could have been more juicy.
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Their Muhallabia/Rose-flavored Milk Pudding was a pleasant surprise. At first I couldn’t taste the rose, but after two spoonfuls of the silky smooth dessert, there it was like a flower in the dessert, if I’m being so poetic. The pistachios were a nice touch.
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I ended the night with green tea and cookie dough mochis from mochiko. They were absolutely delicious. I was grinning from ear to ear like some doofus the whole time.
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Something tells me this is only the tip of the iceberg. We only stayed for two hours and we felt that we could have sampled more. One item which I regret not to have tried:

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Succulent roast pork. Did I really pass up the chance to raise my cholesterol levels with something as amazing as this? Oh well, at least I have one more reason to go back.

A plateful of Katsutei

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I can’t say that I know my tonkatsu well enough to properly describe what it should and shouldn’t be. However, there are certain points that need to be present in order for a piece of breaded pork to be remotely considered tasty, delicious – “authentic” Japanese, even. “Authentic” is used loosely because I haven’t been to Japan to savor tonkatsu the way the locals prepare it.  Basically: the breading needs to take to the meat well. The meat in turn, has to be tender, moist and flaky. Above all, it should be tasty enough to dampen my inclination to dip everything in soy sauce and vinegar just so I can appreciate it. That’s just how I roll!

It also makes sense that katsu places can find their niche in the Metro. It’s a natural tendency for Filipinos to appreciate anything fried and breaded, especially if paired with rice.

Katsutei is a relative newcomer in the katsu area. We just happened to pass by their restaurant without the slightest intention to have dinner there, but my friend was intrigued, especially having dined at Yabu recently, and hey, it didn’t hurt that at the time, they slashed 20% off their meals as a welcome treat for customers!

The industrial-ish theme works well to give off a sense of casual, no-frills dining.
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What drove me to order pork tonkatsu curry (240php with miso soup and a regular sized drink) instead of the usual tonkatsu meal with shredded cabbage? Well, I’ve had a tonkatsu meal at Yabu before, plus Fish and co.’s seafood curry has been on my mind since I tried it. Since my order would still have with it a piece of breaded and fried pork, there was no harm in trying it out.

Basic verdict: The tonkatsu curry is good. The pork is perfectly breaded, soft and flaky, not tough at all. I’m beginning to appreciate curry even more if it’s paired with a breaded piece of happiness. Come on, I love pork! They can get stingy with the side vegetables, but I think that’s expected given its price.
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They serve iced green tea with their combo meal – I like anything remotely related to green tea, so I had no problems with it. I’m not sure if they actually used chilled green tea from actual tea leaves or sweetened green tea powder to make their drink though.
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Sure, 200 – 300 pesos isn’t exactly a budget meal, but what you get with that amount is a plate of what good tonkatsu should be. It’s a notch cheaper than Yabu’s offerings, and strangely enough, after discussing it with my friend (same friend dined with me at Yabu and Katsutei), she would gladly go back to either restaurant. Go to Yabu for an emphasized authentic Japanese katsu experience; go to Katsutei to get your quick and simple katsu fix sans the frills. Either way, you will be satisfied.

I’ll definitely go back to try their interpretation of the tonkatsu meal (215php with miso soup and regular drink), and perhaps the fish katsu with tartar sauce and fries (165php with miso soup and regular drink), and the crispy chicken teriyaki don (185php with miso soup and regular drink). But for now, there’s a steaming bowl of adobo rice with my name on it that requires my attention.
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Katsutei

Upper Ground Level, SM City North EDSA
North Avenue corner EDSA
Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

The art of breading and frying at Yabu (House of Katsu)

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When a restaurant boldly decides to give itself a title, the connotation that it carries must live up to the hype. Such is the case of Yabu, “The House of Katsu”, located at the 2nd floor of the SM Megamall Atrium. It’s Japanese all the way, but as the name suggests, the menu is chock full of everything breaded and fried (katsudon). Katsudon derives its name from tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) and donburi (rice bowl).

When we arrived, the place wasn’t jam-packed so reservation or no reservation, we were seated right away. The area was still very spacious, with two main dining areas quirkily separated by a glass (or fiberglass) panel decorated with large pieces of comic book pages that detail how a “katsu master” passes on his wisdom to a naïve apprentice. So the place does invite a little bit of casual humor.
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As soon as we settled in, we were given a small bowl with regular and black sesame seeds, together with a wooden pestle. The server assigned to us gamely demonstrated how the dipping sauce is made, which seemed simple enough for someone like me to understand: really grind the seeds until it resembles coarse powder and then add in the thick sauce. The sauce isn’t too sweet, with a tangy taste that reminds me of really thick Worcestershire sauce.
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The menu also holds the “Yabu promise”: if we’re not happy with what we’ve eaten, they will gladly replace it/we get our money back or if the food isn’t served within 30 minutes, it’s free of charge. The confident declaration of excellence doesn’t stop there: Yabu apparently tapped Chef Kazuya Takeda of Tonkatsu Takeshin (in Tokyo) to help train their chefs. With our tummy’s grumbling, our expectations were definitely high.

Our food arrived around 20 minutes after we gave our orders. Not bad at all.

When you order a Tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) Set, you can either have the ‘hire’ (flaky pork tenderloin with no fat) or ‘rosu’ (juicy pork loin with a trimming of fat). Prices vary according to the weight of the pork.

We had the 120 gram Rosu Set (355php). It comes with generous serving of unlimited thinly sliced cabbage (according to the comic strip, the cabbage blades need to be exact in thickness) with sesame dressing, unlimited Japanese rice, miso soup, Japanese pickles and a bowl of fruit (watermelon and pineapple – my favorite).
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The problem with cooking pork, especially a cut that doesn’t have a lot of fat, is that it can get very tough if overcooked, and even if it’s cooked perfectly, without the pork fat it can taste bland (I’m a firm believer that pork needs to be served with a generous amount of fat!).

Surprisingly, the pork was juicy and not tough at all. The breading evenly coated the meat well, without it being too crunchy.

You can either dip every piece you skewer in the dipping sauce you made, but I think the katsu can still hold its own without it.

We also had a Hire (tenderloin) and Seafood Mixed Katsu Set (475php) which included a black tiger prawn, scallop, cream dory, eggplant and pepper. This is where things get interesting.
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Of course the hire delivered. It was flaky and had no traces of it being tough, just like the rosu. But when I tried a piece of breaded cream dory, I probably had a foodgasm. My friend felt the same way. Right there I developed tunnel vision and saw only the cream dory which was incredibly soft and flaky without being fishy and slimy. There’s probably no other word to describe it except perfect. It was the perfect marriage of crunch from the breading and silky softness from the fish itself. It doesn’t need to be dipped in the sauce or paired with rice to be appreciated (and loved). But those nuances work, too.
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But I didn’t forget about the other things in the set!

The tiger prawn was cooked perfectly because like the breaded pork, it wasn’t tough at all. My least favorite item on the set would have to be the scallop though just because I would prefer to have it steamed or pan-seared and not breaded. But hey it is a katsu place after all. The eggplant and the pepper were great additions to the set since it offered another “texture under another texture” option.

Both sets had the same side dishes: the cabbage with the sesame dressing duo complimented each other well. Run of the mill coleslaw this is not. But between my friend and I, she liked the cabbage more than I did. The miso soup tasted just the way miso soup should taste like, so no arguments there. I particularly like the Japanese rice, which has a deliciously inviting neutral taste that goes well with the breaded items.
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I ordered shochu (an Iichiko Super, 175php) with my set, which had a great kick to it. Sake (rice wine) is an alcoholic beverage made from rice. Shochu is Japanese liquor made from other ingredients, not just rice: sweet potato, buckwheat or barley. While sake is brewed, shochu is distilled.
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The servers were attentive without being smothering, which is always something I appreciate when dining out.  Although this can be negligible, the chairs a little bit low relative to the height of the table. I’m 5’10” and I did notice that. My friend 5’2” and she was really the one who felt it. But we went through dinner happy and pretty full so it wasn’t that big of a deal!

All in all, Yabu, is the Japanese restaurant that could. I’ve always been partial to all things breaded and fried because that has always been on my list of comfort foods. But this little resto takes it a notch higher by translating authenticity into a casual, no frills dining experience. The prices are a bit steep but I felt that every meal was worth it. I would definitely come back again, if only for the cream dory (haha!) and maybe for more selections next time.

Disclaimer: In the spirit of marketing, I was invited by the brand manager and ordered free of charge. But all opinions are mine.

Yabu: House of Katsu 

2nd floor, SM Megamall Atrium, Julia Vargas Avenue, Mandaluyong City

(02) 576-3900

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/yabuhouseofkatsu

Website: http://www.yabuhouseofkatsu.com

 

The ‘Turo-Turo’ Barbecue Experience

Our first night in idyllic Dipolog – Dapitan – Dakak saw us at Dipolog’s boulevard looking for a place to eat just as the sun was about to set.
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Fast facts: I’m from Zamboanga city, a relatively large city that is part of the Zamboanga peninsula, at the western tip of Mindanao. Dipolog city is the capital of Zamboanga del Norte, and a 6 – 8 hour drive from Zamboanga City. In order for you to get to Dapitan city, you have to pass through Dipolog. I once assumed that Dapitan is a part of Dipolog, only to be mistaken. Dapitan is famously known as the place where the country’s national hero, Jose Rizal, was exiled. Dakak is the beach resort where we stayed, and you have to pass through Dapitan to get to Dakak (say that really rough: Da-Kak). You seriously need transportation to get you from one place to another – walking won’t cut it.
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People flock to Dipolog boulevard to enjoy the really great view of the sunset without any impediments from rowdy crowds, trash dotting the shoreline, and the fishy smell that the sea can sometimes have . The people sure know how to keep it clean and orderly.
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When night falls and there’s not much of the sunset left, people also flock to the nearby barbecue ‘plaza’ for dinner. The perfect word to describe it was ‘beautiful chaos’, similar to the vibe you get from hawker stalls in Hong Kong. You know what to expect: it’s nothing fancy, it’s not always clean, but the food is always good.
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Barbecue vendors call out to you to choose their stall, each one declaring that their barbecue sauce is better than the rest. It’s probably the only thing that will give them an edge..because observing stall after stall, nothing really sets their barbecues apart – they all have the same items, same tinge on the meat, and you would assume that they’ve been marinated in the same way.
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The skewered meat items are still raw, and this is where the ‘turo-turo’ comes in. ‘Turo’ can either mean ‘teach’ or ‘point’. In this case, customers choose or ‘point’ at the meat they want grilled. The fare includes the classic pork (skewered or belly slices) and chicken, innards, hotdogs (yes, hotdogs!), tocino (cured pork), longganisa (ground cured pork in sausage casings), and – wait for it ——- taba ng baboy/pork fat! Yes, you read that right, cubes of pork fat. It’s absolutely delicious when grilled. I’m not ashamed to say I love eating it, though not everyday. (I might be lying)
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Each cup or half-cup of rice is individually wrapped in dried woven coconut leaves, and is called pusô. You absolutely can’t eat barbecue without rice!

Once your order has been taken, taking your seat can be a challenge because the place may be packed. Customers can sit wherever they want to, and each stall has a ‘little helper’ that can act like a homing missile that can easily locate you when they serve your order. I call them little helpers because when we were there, they were all children! I assume they were family members of the people manning the stalls, so no harm done (I hope).
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The place isn’t really well-lit – just a few incandescent and fluorescent bulbs here and there, but that’s part of the experience of (almost) ‘dining in the dark’.

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Now, I assume that their pork and chicken barbecue have been marinated with the usual ingredients: soy sauce, vinegar/calamansi juice, ketchup and sugar. The savory – sweet barbecue arrived and we attacked it with a ferocity that only hungry travelers can have. I don’t like calamansi (native Philippine lemon), but I couldn’t resist dipping the pieces into a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar and calamansi juice because they went well together.

They offer the optional eating utensils, because let’s face it, the Filipino habit of eating with your hands just makes food taste so much better. Not every Filipino dish should be eaten with the hand (some may disagree with this!), but grilled food just begs to be eaten ‘kamayan-style’ (kamay=hands).
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I might have just died with pleasure.
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When you’re hungry, food tastes so much better. That was the case here. But I’d suspect that even if I’m not that hungry, I might wolf down more than one (or five) sticks of barbecue with the same gusto.

Where do you wash your hands? Each vendor has a portable water dispenser that their customers can use to wash their grubby hands after eating. You might be uncomfortable doing this, but suck it up – the food was great after all.

And yes, if you’re wondering…I did order more for takeout: a few sticks of grilled hotdogs and a stick (or two..or three..I’m not telling!) of pork fat. I finished all of it in the car even before we arrived at the nearby grocery to replenish our water supply. That’s how much I love barbecue.

You may or may not know this but I hate (with a passion) road trips..but sinking my teeth into experiences like this one made the trip worth it and probably offset whatever ill-feelings I might have had on the way. Yes, the taba ng baboy saved my day. And I cannot be swayed to believe anything else.

Now..if I would rank the barbecue I had in Dipolog, it would probably take the third spot on my list. Where is #1 and #2? Here in Zamboanga of course! I’m not being biased here because seriously…there’s gold in them hills. Stay tuned, I might feature my favorites one of these days. Trust me, I’m just getting started.