Fresh 3.0

Okay, it looks like somebody hasn’t been trimming the dill

I realize I’ve been relatively silent for long stretches lately, and the last time you’ve heard from me, I painted a picture of myself trapped inside my unit, probably surrounded by the rain and flood. The storm has since left the country, and as luck would have it, I’m also home for the weekend. Home. My know, the one I left for greener pastures and whatnot. It’s only for the weekend, because not only is my country peppered with erratic weather, but it’s also peppered with convenient holidays.

The first thing I do is jump on the bed and relish a few uninterrupted moments of doing absolutely nothing, without having to lift a finger for anything. I take in everything around me and I decide that nothing, and everything has changed if it makes any sense. The bits and pieces that make up my life are still there, haphazardly strewn around, but given my current situation (cooking school is amazing, by the way), the tables have turned and home becomes the vacation…the heavily anticipated escape from reality. It’s pretty surreal.

With the exception of my mom, nobody knew I has coming home so there were more  than a few pleasantly dumbfounded looks when I stepped inside the house. She made my aunt prepare a personal favorite, bicol express, which is essentially ground pork, string beans, eggplant and chiles stewed in coconut milk. I miss dinners like that. The flight I was on was delayed for a few hours so it was a really late dinner and airplane food is expensive.

And I made sure to have a glass of ice-cold coconut water before going to bed, for full effect. It was a great night.

As if nothing has changed, the following day I went back to my usual ritual of checking on my herbs first thing in the morning. Before I left I did leave a few reminders to ensure their survival. And just for the heck of it, I also sowed two pots with a few basil seeds, with the hope that maybe, just maybe, they’ll take off.

And took off they did!


ain’t it cute?


the tarragon is bushier


the celery has survived!

The mint hasn’t been doing well.
This morning, I broke off a rhizome (a little underground stem) and planted it in a new pot with the same intention. I might come home for the Christmas holidays, so this is me crossing my fingers that mint would live up to its reputation of growing and spreading like crazy.

Of course, you’ve met the dill, which has become a tree at this point.

That’s it for now. My weekend isn’t supposed to be jam-packed and stressful because that would defeat the purpose of  having a mini vacation, but that doesn’t mean I’m rolling in the doldrums. At least, I hope I’m not!

Masterchef AU All-Stars has also been keeping me company and like home, is also making me feel warm and fuzzy. Kumar (Season 3) inspired me to make something with a few choice shellfish we have here. Stay tuned for that! But for now, while things are still uncomplicated, I’m running with it. If you’re as lucky (or luckier!), you should too. (toothy grin)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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)

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).

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’.


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).

I might have just died with pleasure.

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. 

Hello Hong Kong (part 5)

The weather’s gloomy. Like my mood. It’s our last day in Hong Kong and a part of me doesn’t want to leave. A part of me loved the metropolis that was fast paced like the movements of people in and out of the MTRs yet interestingly slow, like steamed dimsum…as you open that bamboo steamer, a soft cloud of steam billows and blankets you with that distinct scent that I couldn’t really put my finger on.

But I wasn’t sad anymore when we went down to the buffet area. The hotel’s breakfast buffet was amazing. The croissants were freshly baked – flaky, like Macau’s egg tarts. That taste will linger in my tongue for a while. Buttery, velvety, melt in your mouth awesomeness. Google, give me a recipe already!

And this time, I won’t really rave about Hong Kong Ocean Park per se. I didn’t really experience the rides that much because all of us were tired and it was blisteringly hot.

I’m just happy that we went to the The Panda Cafe because I HAD PEKING DUCK AGAIN! This time it was a combo with the poached chicken (pictured here).

And these panda shaped custard cakes were nice to look at, but I didn’t really care for the taste.

It was a physically exhausting day. We were riding the MTR on our way to Austin Station when we were contemplating on going to Mong Kok to shop for cheap clothes. But no, it was too much for us already. Luckily the guide at the hotel told us that we just had to walk out of the front doors, go straight and we’ll be at the Temple Street night market in no time. So at least it was a good alternative. I was glad that we had the chance to experience that facet of Hong Kong – hole-in-the-wall restos and the bustling retail air.

The hole in the wall we went to was pretty amazing, simply because a single family owned the whole expanse of the area where food was being served.

Cream Soda – if only I got to take a 6-pack of that home with me. I could make butterbeer in no time.

Scallops with black bean sauce. This was so good. It was my first time to try scallops and it had this meaty texture that I liked. It wasn’t slimy at all.

And I forgot who insisted that we have the Sweet and Sour pork – something to remind us of home. Pffftt fine.

Yang Chow fried rice. In hindsight, it was oily and bland, but we were so hungry. So it tasted absolutely delicious.

And yeah, we bought a few things here and there. But I wasn’t really impressed with the night market finds since the items among the stores were a bit repetitive. And one store actually had this interesting sales person.

And that’s basically it for the night. My last night in Hong Kong was a good one. Heck, every day was amazing.

So what did I choose to do to cap off the experience?

Of course, I just had to drink milk tea! I had the Green Tea and my mom had the Earl Grey. I liked the Earl Grey more – it had this nutty flavor to it that was nice and smooth. But I’m still a believer of all things Green Tea.

It was a great four-day vacation. We managed to squeeze in the things we needed to see and do. Though we couldn’t really explore what other wonders Hong Kong had to offer but the four days were a wonder in itself.

And I went home with so many pictures and so many memories. The best part about it was that the tastes of what I ate still lingered in my mouth. I miss the Peking Duck already, the meat of which felt like I was eating lechon. I’m still craving for the stir-fried eggplant I had at the Plaza Inn in Disneyland, which I think I can replicate. And I’m obsessed with the flaky texture of Macau’s egg tarts and the croissant I had for breakfast.

Despite the trip being physically exhausting, the beauty of it was that at the end of everything, there I was – a wide eyed little child, taking in the sights, allowing the milk tea to soothe my bones and spirit. The feeling still lingers.

And the scent I keep talking about? Well, I finally found it. At least, I hope I did. It was a light bulb at the same time a “no duh” moment. When I opened the spice package and smelled it, I knew that was it.

And it’s called Chinese Five Spice. Go figure.

Hello Hong Kong…and Macau (part 4)

Getting there was slightly hazy. I remember a bus ride, going inside and not seeing a hotel lobby but designer stores in its place. The next thing I knew, we were whisked outside where it was already dusk and lo and behold, more designer stores (and designer stalls/carts) and the famous Venetian (almost) gondola rides.

My mom was wondering what will happen to the stalls when it rains because we couldn’t see any form of protection from the elements. And we were floored when our tour guide told us that the sky isn’t real. It’s still the ceiling, and the plaza was in perpetual twilight. Wow.

After taking the scene in, I was immediately drawn to the gondola rides. The ones manning the boat were not Italians, but I could hear them belt out the lines of “Un Sole Mio” pretty well, like how an Italian would do it, albeit a notch lower.  We just had to try it. We were in a gondola together with this young Japanese couple on vacation, and it was a fun ride with them. The girl was so upbeat and jolly and so….Japanese. (haha)

After the gondola ride, we were pretty hungry so we just had to find a relatively cheap place to eat. And relative to every resto there, McDonald’s it was. They served a Grilled Chicken Barbeque burger which isn’t available in the Philippines so there was a definite need to try it.

I thought it tasted ok. It wasn’t that sweet as I expected it to be; it was more spicy and savory. But it was filling enough.

The experience of going to Macau itself was amazing enough, but alas, we had to go back to Hong Kong. Tomorrow was going to be our last day.

And I really don’t know what’s the best way to end my series, so need a day or two to compose the final part. 🙂

To be continued

Hello Hong Kong…and Macau (part 3)

First off, I’m sorry for my lag between posts. I’d like to believe that there’s still the continuity with my posts, despite being held back a day or two. So where were we?

Ah, yes. The Best Part.

I woke up shivering. The AC was turned up to the highest point, and I think it rained a bit during the night. So the window was foggy and covered with dew from the outside. But that only fazed me for a minute, because I know today would be a great day.

We decided that for today, we’ll go visit another Chinese territory: Macau/Macao. I was psyched because my mom told me it’ll be like travelling from Singapore to Malaysia – we have to go through the process of long lines at the immigration counter, since apparently Macau and Hong Kong are two special administrative states which are autonomous-ish. Go figure.

Since we were billeted in a hotel that had a view that was basically city on one side and water on the other, it was natural for the harbor to be located a block away from where we were staying. We just had to walk to…..of all places, a mall, which housed/had the pier for the ferries that leave for Macau. I don’t really have anything to say about the ferry except for the tiny detail of me feeling sea sick. Do not take the First Ferry, take the Cotai Jet if you’re high maintenance (haha), and stay calm while you’re dealing with ticket operators which don’t really have patience for people who can’t speak Mandarin. They can go semi-ballistic so keep your poker face ready.

We arrived at Macau, extremely hungry. It was around 2pm and we still didn’t get a proper meal for the day. So our tour guide (Yes, it was necessary to get a tour guide in Macau, and no, we didn’t have a tour guide when we were in HK) took us to a hotel (I think it was called Mocha) which had a food court in one of its floors. Apparently hotels are the lifeblood of Macau – there are exhibits, casinos, stores and food courts all rolled into a building.

And what could be better to quell my hunger than to have a bowl of rice, topped with what I have been waiting to devour since I got to Hong Kong: Peking Duck.

That was a meal to remember. It was amazing. Basically Peking Duck is roasted duck, hung out to dry, marinated with flavors I have yet to comprehend (please, somebody help me!).

The skin, was juicy, slightly crispy and fatty and had this intense flavor to it that came from the flavorings used. As for the meat, well, ironically it didn’t taste like chicken. It had an earthy flavor to it, it was succulent, very meaty without a lot of fat.

And I realized what it reminded me of – lechon meat. No, not the fatty meat, but the lean meat without a lot of fat. It wasn’t tough at all. It had this slightly chewy yet soft texture to it. I heard that overcooked duck meat is leathery, so I was glad it was not that all. And they serve it with a side of Bok Choy (not in picture), which was a nice addition as well.

Forgive me for just posting the rest of the pictures of what my mom and ninang ate. Nothing could top the epiphany my mouth just had.

Next stop – The Ruins of St. Paul’s cathedral. Getting there was nice because we had to pass through a slightly narrow street jam-packed with people. The buildings were an eclectic mix of Spanish and Chinese, from run-down to modern.

The cobbled streets really made me feel that even if nothing escapes time, there are just some things that will never go out of style. And it was lined with stores selling everything from food, souvenirs to clothing. It was lovely chaos.

Despite the fact that I’ve just been to one of Macau’s most iconic landmarks…there was one icon that I was more excited about:

Go figure. I just had Peking Duck, I was on a roll.

Now, let it be known to the world, that Hong Kong Disneyland’s egg tarts could never hold a candle to what I just ate. It was….just so good.

The egg custard filling was soft and velvet-y with just the right amount of sweetness. And like HK Disneyland’s egg tart crust, Macau’s was puffy, crumbly and had this melt in your mouth deliciousness.

Now it was time to go “hotel-hopping”. I mentioned awhile ago that hotels were the go-to places when tourists visit Macau. I like that idea of swanky snooty hotels being built to offer attractions and free admission for people who just want to look around.

One of the hotels, I’m not sure if it was the Wynn or The Grand Lisboa, had the Dragon of Fortune show. There’s basically a large circular area with a big dome in the center. When it’s time, the dome opens, smoke billows and out comes a larger than life mechanical dragon.

And the ceiling, which we thought was just for posterity, opened to reveal a digital fire show.

Our tour guide said we didn’t arrive in time for the better show: the Tree of Prosperity which was according to him, more beautiful than a larger than life scary dragon.

At the end of the day, the highlight of the trip, aside from the Egg Tarts, was most definitely…..the Venetian Macau.

And this is where I scream “cliff hanger!!!”

There’s too much for me to talk about that I didn’t have it in me to cram all of it into one post. So…

(please don’t hit me)

To be continued.

Hello Hong Kong

It’s not everyday that you get to travel to another country, so here I am, milking the moment to talk/write about it for what it’s worth.

My uncle told me that if you want to travel, travel and see your country first, then Asia, then the rest of the world. I had my fair share of travels around the Philippines and so it’s time to visit my neighbors around Asia. So a few months ago, around June while I was still reviewing for the board exam, my mom and I, together with my ninang, booked tickets to Hong Kong. Then we flash forward to August 20th, when I learned that I passed my board exam (!). Then three days later we were on a plane to Hong Kong, to celebrate my RN status, among other things. Time went by sooooo fast!

Arriving at the airport and taking it all in, I could really tell that the people were warm, friendly and inviting.

Well, most of them.

From the airport we were supposed to be fetched by a car from the hotel we stayed at, but it was a no-show. So, the friendly people at the information desk provided us with an option to ride the bus which leaves in 30 minutes. OR a faster way to get there, which leaves whenever we were ready. It was cheap too. And I say that with all the sarcasm dripping from my mouth.

That will be the first and last time I’ll ride a limo, so for a moment there I was giddy.

I can’t get over how clean, organized and amazing my view of Hong Kong looked, especially at night. It’s a far cry from what I’ve been accustomed to see here in the Philippines, but of course, I’ll come back to the chaos in a few days time, so I took in every single detail.

We arrived at around 8:00 pm and we were so hungry. So we strolled along the busy streets filled with activity and found a 7/11 where we bought some supplies for our stay

And if somebody could tell me what the hell this is, please, indulge me.

And a few meters away we found our spot: a quaint, really small diner that served, well, local (and slightly cheap) Hong Kong cuisine. I forgot the name but I was so hungry at that point that I was cranky and didn’t really care about anything but the food. So was my mom apparently. 🙂

It’s customary to serve with meals with warm tea, but I think the second part of the custom is to have it only after you’re done eating your meal. So we didn’t really follow that part. 🙂

I ordered the lemongrass spareribs

While my mom had these weird noodles that reminded me of buco/coconut meat shreds.

And my ninang had the seafood fried rice.

I was underwhelmed with the spareribs. It tasted bland. I’d say the same for my mom’s noodles. The runaway favorite was the fried rice. I think Hong Kong food isn’t generally big on toyo/soy sauce. Their philosophy, I guess, is to let the food cook in its natural flavors or what not with minimal flavoring from condiments, because I noticed that pattern during the rest of my food trip. I’m not saying that my food experience was not short of amazing though.

Of course, maybe that’s just my palate still hard-wired to appreciate salty greasy Filipino food (and I say that with respect!). Plus, I know people who’ve been to Hong Kong will relate with me when I say that from the hole-in-the-wall eateries to the finest fine dining areas, all restos have this particular scent that doesn’t smell bad, but it’s really intriguing that I couldn’t really place my finger on what that smell is or what particular spice/ingredient it comes from.

But still, I enjoyed my first meal in Hong Kong and went back to the hotel satisfied. Plus, our room had a great view of the HK skyline so I was a happy camper at that point. Sleepy, but satisfied.

And of course, it gets better (To be continued…)