Episode 19: Tweetup at Ramen Bar! Opening up to society, and then some!


tweetup (plural tweetups)
Noun – A real-life meeting organised on the social networking site Twitter.



Tweetups are great places to meet people you encounter over the Internet. It’s nice to interact face to face with people whom you only know through usernames and talk to through Twitter posts. Nothing beats making new connections at a personal level.


Believe it or not, I’m a newbie at going to tweetups and gatherings like these. Maybe it’s because I go out alone most of the time, or I don’t get invitations, or when I do I end up being out of place or “alone in a crowd”, so to speak. Call me socially inept, but that’s how it is.

So when I came across this invitation to a tweetup, I was eager to sign up. While joining a tweetup is a nice experience for an adventurer like me, there was actually another reason I was motivated into attending it.

The tweetup was to be held at Ramen Bar, a newly opened Japanese restaurant at the ground floor of Eastwood Mall in Libis, Quezon City. Okay, so it’s newly opened but foodies in Metro Manila are already raving about this place and its food.

(Now if it’s ramen, and if it is authentic as they say, I am SO there.) 


Ramen Bar is owned by Charles Paw (also the owner of Digital Hub), Japanese chef Masa Ishikawa, and his friend Yoshi Kadowaki. As the name suggests, the place specializes in authentic ramen, the recipes of which are made by Chef Masa himself (who, I heard, has his own ramen bars in Nagoya, Japan).

There were other guests aside from the tweetup participants inside Ramen Bar; good thing there were chairs for those who were willing to wait for seats. The place is small with a fastfood feel in it; simple but a bit too plain for a specialty restaurant like this. The caricatures at the walls were funny though.

Before anything else, mealtime.

  

First stop is the R.B.S. #1 (Ramen Bar Special #1 – P380), a soy-infused tonkotsu ramen topped with tamago (soft-boiled egg), naruto (fish sticks), nori (dried seaweed), negi (spring onion), chasyu and kakuni (braised pork belly).

The kakuni is so soft and flavorful. The seaweed and fish sticks are tasty and go well with the broth. The broth itself has a hint of pepper and soy sauce in every sip. The noodles are al dente, they’re chewy, and every bite makes your palate aware of the other flavors in your ramen. I liked the RBS because there were so many flavors swimming in your mouth but they don’t overwhelm each other. My only problem with this is that the ramen cools down to room temperature quickly.

Shio Torigara Ramen (one of their specialty ramen), is, well, chicken soup with tamago, chasyu, nori, and naruto toppings. Think twice before you reconcile in your head that you’re having chicken soup with pork toppings. The flavors remain distinct, the broth tastes light, and the combination of toppings are as good despite looking like standard fare. Indeed, this variety is better than it sounds. Also, I’ve been told the Shio Torigara Ramen is just one of many varieties that Ramen Bar serves… which means, there’s a new flavor waiting for me everyday, or something to that effect.

I learned that Ramen Bar’s noodles are freshly made, and these can be enjoyed with either tonkotsu (pork bone) or ukokkei (chicken bone) broth. Given the tedious process undertaken to prepare ramen broth, I say Ramen Bar did its best to serve ramen that’s authentic as authentic can be.

Kakuni buns (P180 for 2 buns) are to ramen what siopao is to mami. The buns are stuffed with tender braised pork belly, lettuce, Japanese mayo, and special sauce. The buns look small but they actually taste great. This soft, meaty, filling side dish is a recommended must-have with your ramen.

The Tempura Ice Cream (P120) is made with vanilla ice cream coated with tempura batter and served with chocolate sauce. It’s an interesting dessert to end your meal; it’s refreshing, kinda tastes like a cream puff, and the ice cream goes well with the chocolate sauce.

Kevin Yapjoco (@kevinyapjoco), the organizer of the tweetup, was there by the door to greet the participants when I arrived. I heard that Kevin is an IT consultant, but he tweets and blogs about clothes, men’s fashion, and “living in style”.

Throughout the tweetup I was also able to meet Tweetmates from all walks of life. For example, there was Jeman (@orangemagtv), who owns an online magazine. With him were his friends Eunice (@yesyes_yo), a photographer, and Iya (@iyassantos). There was that girl they call Divasoria (@divasoria), Kiko (@nerveending), Fabian (@urbanfervor), among many others (there are too many of them to list down here).

The participants, especially the first timers, got to introduce themselves to the crowd. There were give-aways such as gift certificates, trinkets and other items, and even a trip to Cebu. The rest of the time was spent in loud, hearty conversation over sips and bites of ramen.

I won a bottle of perfume! Nice!

The participants were nice to talk with, they make you feel welcome, and they easily made quick, light and hearty talk and such. Sharing a good meal over talks about fashion, sports, and vacations is a great way to connect or blend in or jump into the fray with the others.

I learned a valuable lesson about myself here. Whether I’d think of myself as being “alone in a crowd” or not still depends on me. I could either approach people and engage in idle conversation or sulk on my seat and watch everyone group together . Then again, what if I really don’t have anything to say? Or what if I can’t genuinely relate? Judging by what happened to me at Ramen Bar, I hope I left a good impression to the people in this tweetup, or something.

In any case, if I get another opportunity to go to another tweetup by myself, I hope by that time I’d be more confident to be around crowds, to open up conversations with people I don’t know, and to make myself known. I’m certainly going to end up in another gathering where I know nobody, but I hope I’m ready.

Then again, when all else fails, there’s always Twitter.

Episode 18: Pilipinas, Say WHAT?!

There’s this raging debate over the Department of Tourism’s new slogan for the Philippines, “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda” (which means “Philippines, so beautiful” or something to that effect). This is the branding that replaced the “WOW Philippines” slogan, which we’ve been using for eight years now.

“Pilipinas, Kay Ganda” works wth the concept that the country is best loved for its beautiful scenery and the warmth of its people.

The slogan shows a smiling coconut tree, a tarsier, the sun, and waves. The word “Pilipinas” represents our pride for the country. The logo shows our joyful character and the country’s tropical beauty. The phrase ‘Kay Ganda!’ is our way of showing appreciation.

Despite the elaborate symbolism, “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda” received a lot of flak when it was released to the public. The furor by critics is that it’s bland, dishonest, half-baked, and doesn’t attract attention. Many say it sounds like a title of a TV show. Others just aren’t happy we’re representing the Philippines with such a slogan. Some only have this to say:

(blank)

It doesn’t help that the website for this is one letter away from directing users to a porn site. (Just so you’d know, that site has nothing to do with our women, but given the way some a-holes market our women over the Internet, well, you get the drift.)

(EDIT: Just a few hours after this article was posted, I learned that the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” logo came under fire again, this time for bearing similarities with the “Polska” logo from Poland’s own tourism campaign.)

Even some of our country’s tourism pundits have a lot to say about the new slogan. Ivan Henares wrote on his tourism blog, Ivan About Town: “I can’t understand why (we) want to get rid of a brand our country has worked so hard to build and invested so much money on.” Tourist guide Carlos Celdran meanwhile said the government could have done better with “Mabuhay (Long Live the) Philippines.”

DOT Secretary Alberto Lim justified the slogan change, saying it’s no longer as catchy as before (partly because the Arroyo administration doesn’t use it much). He also says “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda” can warrant a second look (for foreigners at least) since it’s in Filipino. It also reflects the Filipino’s hope and optimism to be known all over the world.

The Philippine Travel Agencies Association, on the other hand, thinks “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda” will still work; all we have to do is just give it some time to make it work (or sink in).

Understandably, “WOW Philippines” is old; sure it’s catchy, simple but effective, but it is admittedly old. To side a bit on this slogan, though, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. On the other hand, the new slogan DOES warrant a second look, given the symbolism that can pique the interest of anyone about the country.

The main reason for the change in branding is to give the Philippines a fresh image. And how, given the flak we got for the Quirino Grandstand Hostage Crisis, the Maguindanao Massacre, and all the problems in the country right now, which we are asking the Aquino administration to make an insta-cure for, but I digress.

I’m sure the DOT meant well when “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda” was launched. It is, after all, an attempt to show the world how beautiful the Philippines is, how wonderful our tourist destinations are, and how cheerful and warm and optimistic Filipinos can be despite all their troubles. How they presented this, unfortunately, didn’t turn out as planned.

Should we go back to “WOW Philippines”? Like I said, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I think it’s clear, though, that we will need to change our branding sooner or later to reflect the changing times. Should we keep “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda”? At this point, I think not.

“Think you can do better than that?” you may ask me. My answer: No. For now, at least. In any case, whatever ideas for a new slogan are being formed out there, I hope these can capture the true essesnce of the Philippines and being a Filipino.

Which leads to my own question: “What exactly do we want the Philippines to be known for?” To answer this, A LOT:

OUR HISTORICAL LANDMARKS!

Vigan, Ilocos Sur



 OUR EXOTIC WILDLIFE!
The Bohol Tarsier
OUR NATURAL TOURIST DESTINATIONS!
El Nido, Palawan
Tubbataha Reefs, Sulu
OUR RICH HISTORY!
OUR RELIGIOUS HERITAGE!
Paoay Church, Ilocos Norte
OUR CULTURE AND THE ARTS!
OUR SIGNATURE HOSPITALITY!
Oh, and have I mentioned “FOOD”?
A few years ago “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” did an episode on Philippine cuisine. Throughout the episode (and amidst bites of sisig, salad, and lechon), Anthony repeatedly raised the question, “Who are the Filipinos?” He admits Philippine cuisine is so diverse, intensely regional even; despite this he tries to establish the relationship between Filipino identity and food, and why the Philippines is so hard to define.
Take note, this is only Filipino cuisine we’re talking about, and Tony’s racking his brains over it. (Just a side note: I think Filipino cuisine is so underrated because we have it so often at home, it already feels ordinary. Also, balut.)

This leads me back to my question: “What exactly do we want the Philippines to be known for?” What’s there for the Philippines to offer beyond lechon Cebu, sisig, medical tourism, surfing and hiking destinations, night life spots, or even the prowess of the likes of Manny Pacquiao and Charice?

I had this crazy idea that’s been on my mind since last night. It all started when I mentioned to twitmate Iya Santos (who earlier remarked that museums bore her to tears) the Shin Yokohama Raumen Museum in Japan, and that we don’t have such a thing here. All she said was that somebody should make one.

Which led me thinking: Tony (and Andrew Zimmern, who chowed down on balut and frogs while in the Philippines) raved about the country’s food, so why didn’t we capitalize on that hype? I think there was this plan to make the country a food safety hub, what happened to this? How about asking our experts in Filipino cuisine for help in promoting the country? The Singing Cooks and Waiters were popular back in the early ’90s, what happened to them?

We could develop certain aspects of the Philippines and use these as a hook to arouse interest in other things about the country. We’ve done this with our natural wonders (think Palawan, Davao, the Banaue Rice Terraces), so how about other things… like food?

My point: We have Benguet as the “Salad Bowl of the Philippines”, Central Luzon as the “Rice Granary of the Philippines”, Mindanao as a potential “Food Basket” (Iloilo owns up to the “Rice Granary” and “Food Basket” title), Pampanga as the “Culinary Capital,” General Santos City as the “Tuna Capital”… This country holds so many food treasures, which I believe can put us in the world map of culinary discoveries.

For starters, we can probably have a museum just like the Shin Yokohama Raumen Museum. Such a museum can promote the country’s food production sector, the various local cooking techniques staples and ingredients, the typical Filipino diet of “almusal, tanghalian, hapunan, merienda, pulutan etc.” Wishful thinking, but it could work, yes? There are definitely other, even better ways to promote Filipino cuisine, and by extension, the Philippines.

There is one setback to promoting the Philippines’ food culture: How can we promote the Philippines as a great place to dine, when three million Filipinos or 15.9% of the population experience involuntary hunger (as of September 2010)?

I guess for now we could just settle with thinking of a new slogan other than “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda.” Man, promoting the Philippines is tough!

Aikyatchi: The Sweet Surrender Dessert Expo!

Guess what I discovered late towards the weekend? It’s the Sweet Surrender Dessert Expo!

This is an upcoming expo for desserts enthusiasts and those who would like to venture into the dessert business. (Cake Boss, is that you?) It will be held on November 13, 2010, at Sitio Elena along Ortigas Extension, Metro Manila. (THAT’S TOMORROW! O_O)

Tickets are sold at Php 1,200 that includes buffet dinner and drinks. Free invites for bloggers, media and photographers. Dinner and cockail will be served. Dress up well (semi-formal, to be exact). For tickets and other inquiries, text /call Stephanie So at 09175185188 or email thesweetsurrender.gfp@gmail.com.

Hmmm… (starts dreaming of cake)

Episode 17: Ultimate Taste Test 5.0!

Hundreds of food enthusiasts braved the rain and gathered at the NBC Tent at The Fort, Taguig last Friday (November 5) to join the Ultimate Taste Test 5.0, one of the most popular food tasting events in Metro Manila.

(L-R: my sister Tuesday, me, Kero-chan, OAP’s Anton Diaz, and my brother MC)

The Ultimate Taste Test is the brainchild of Anton Diaz, the founder and publisher of the food and travel blog “Our Awesome Planet“. First launched in 2009, Ultimate Taste Test brings together people who want to become food critics for a day, and food establishments sharing some of their products. Now on its fifth installment, the event has received rave reviews for paving the way to what could be recommended as some of the best food spots in and outside Metro Manila.
 

 UTT 5.0 featured a wide selection of items, from main course dishes to desserts and preserved food. About 50 local restaurants, caterers, and food companies participated in UTT 5.0 to introduce their products. They also sold unique food items for those looking for gift ideas this Christmas.

The foodies sampled mouth-watering dishes from various cuisines such as Filipino, Chinese, Italian, Korean, and fusion cuisine. They then rated the supplier of each dish from 1 to 5. The top 25 suppliers who will meet the average rating of 3.3 and above will be featured in Our Awesome Planet.

The participants also got to taste the limited edition San Miguel Oktoberfest Pale Pilsen Brew, and take home Oktoberfest novelty packs from San Miguel Corporation.

Another highlight of UTT 5.0 was the launching of OurAwesomePlanet TV, an upcoming lifestyle show hosted by Diaz. The show aims to entice Filipinos here and abroad to explore and rediscover the Philippines. It is tentatively set to air on The Filipino Channel (TFC) in summer 2011, and on a local channel in Manila.

UTT 5.0 was hosted by tour guide Ivan Man Dy of Old Manila Walks and food/political blogger Spanky Enriquez. The proceeds of the event will go to the construction of the St. Michael the Archangel Church in Bonifacio Global City.

Food enthusiasts had a great time in UTT 5.0. This was a great venue for them to discover new food establishments, savor new flavors, and meet others who have the same passion for food and dining. The suppliers also found this to be a great opportunity to improve their products, and reach out to a wider market.

The next UTT event is expected to be held in summer next year. This is surely something that foodies seeking the country’s best food ever can look forward to.

——————————————————————–

Special thanks go to:

Our Awesome Planet for hosting this wonderful food tasting event,
The featured suppliers for their delicious and mouthwatering creations, and
My siblings for joining me in this adventure!

The topmost picture appears courtesy of Our Awesome Planet. To find more of our own pictures from UTT 5.0, visit http://picasaweb.google.com/unlimitedgrubgrabs.

Episode 16: Living a long-time fantasy! A night at the Top of the Century!

One of my fantasies was spending a relaxing evening at a piano bar. I would imagine myself sitting on a chair at the VIP lounge, sipping red wine with a cigar on hand while listening to jazz music. Then a group of gangsters enters the bar, opens fire with their machine guns, and I retaliate with pistols akimbo… Wait.

For some time I’ve felt uncomfortable going to classy bars. Being in the company of wealthy people sipping champagne and eating those dainty appetizers is already intimidating. And then even a bottle of beer there would cost you an arm and a leg (or a few digits). I also thought the atmosphere there exude an air of exclusivity that could make most people feel unwelcome.

So when I had a chance to visit the Top of the Century last Halloween, I hoped I could change my impressions of classy places like these.

Top of the Century is one of the main establishments of Century Park Hotel in Manila. This piano bar takes pride of its slogan, “the perfect rendezvous as you end your day”, by offering a relaxing atmosphere and some of the hotel’s best in international cuisine and entertainment.

Top of the Century has a wide selection of beers, cocktails, liquor, and spirits. It also serves sandwiches, appetizers, pizza, and other light snacks.

Every night (Monday to Saturday), patrons can also enjoy jazz and acoustic music from various hotel and lounge performers. (I heard balladeer and Aliw Awards awardee Art Manuntag is one of Top of the Century’s mainstays.)

As soon as I entered Top of the Century, I seated myself at the counter at the center of the bar. (It must have been the piano that attracted me.) The bar, which is at the 19th floor, has a marvelous view of Manila’s skyline at night. Inside it’s a moderately spacious place but it’s cool and comfortable. Not as fancy as I thought it is, but really nice nonetheless.

I started the night with the bar’s version of blackcurrant smoothie (hint: this is not in the menu).

The smoothie was followed by a serving of home-made smoked salmon. The salmon had a light, soft and smoky taste, which goes well with the bed of fresh lettuce and salty crackers. (There’s a wad of mayo and wasabi to taste too.)

I then tried three of Top of the Century’s special cocktail creations:

“El Kapitan”, Century Park Hotel’s drink of the millennium (rum cola in a tall glass with a wedge of lemon),

“Charm” (a sweet and tangy mix of brandy, juice and liqueurs),
and “Supreme” (a fruity and cooling tequila-based cocktail that looks like “Charm”).
I also ordered a Brandy Alexander (sweet and creamy, although the kick of the brandy is still there) and a platter of Fritto Misto (deep fried fish fillet, mussel, and calamari with tartare sauce) for good measure.
One of the highlights of the night was listening to singer Anne Castro and pianist Bobby Cabral perform their rendition of songs from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Another singer, Olivia, also sang a similarly impressive line-up of hit songs along with the pinaist who was with her (whose name I missed, sorry).
Ms. Angeli Yatco, Century Park Hotel’s food and beverage director, whom I met that night, said that Top of the Century goes beyond your usual classy bar. She told me this is not just a place where one could hang out and enjoy food and drinks, or listen to music at the end of the day; it’s also where people can meet, make friends, and get together.
“Top of the Century is a place where we can enjoy, relax, and just be ourselves,” Ms. Angeli added.

As the night passed, the music became livelier, and the surroundings became more entertaining. Some of the patrons were singing onstage, belting out their favorite tunes to the amusement of their companions. I realized everyone (including myself) was starting to act more relaxed and warm up to each other. Top of the Century was showing a warmer, lighter, more welcoming side to it. I felt like I was part of, if not one with, the crowd. And what better way to express gratitude for making me feel welcome, than to break out in song as well.

So much for my classy piano bar fantasies (having John Woo-inspired fantasies aren’t always good anyway). Oh well, singing a jazzy version of Sting definitely made my night after all.

Visiting Top of the Century is a unique experience for a foodie like me. It doesn’t matter that dining there could cost much (a minimum budget of P500 should be enough), and you have to conduct yourself as befitting a patron of a classy place. What mattered is that you learned new things, experienced new tastes and new environments beyond your usual watering hole and food stop.

And learn something new I did: price doesn’t mean everything. Savoring delicious food and cool cocktails, enjoying great music, as well as enjoying the company of happy people, makes what could be an expensive night-out at a new place more than worthwhile.

It doesn’t stop me from worrying about my budget, though. Maybe someday, I could treat my family or someone special to a night at this place. I’ll think about that some other time. 😛

(P.S. I’m still keeping my promise not to drink alcohol, despite the obvious. It’s not everyday that you get to visit places like these anyway. And just so you would know, I only added 500g to my weight. after all that eating and drinking. I’m staying at 85.5kg, hee hee.)

Aikyatchi: The Pacquiao-Margarito bout, and then some!

More than a week from now, pound for pound king Manny Pacquiao is facing his (literaly) biggest challenge ever: former junior middleweight champion Antonio Margarito (38-6, 27 KOs).


n eight different weight divisions. Stopping Pacquiao and gaining redemption in the process will thus be Margarito’s goal (he lost his boxing license for allegedly using illegal hand wraps).

Pacquiao (51-3-2, 38 KOs) and Margarito are set to fight each other on November 14 at the Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, Texas for the WBA junior middleweight title. If Pacquiao wins, he will be the first boxer in history to win i

Everyone is raving over how exciting the Pacquiao-Margarito match will be. The sports world is abuzz with the preparations of each boxer, the barbs thrown, the speculations, heck, even Pacquiao’s antics outside the ring while Margarito trains his ass off.

I can’t help but wonder if the telecast of the whole thing in the Philippines will be marred by commercial after bloody commercial and everyone would switch to live streaming and the radio. No surprise if everyone knows who won even without seeing it on TV. The good thing about it, though, is that the country will have another day without crime or some other untoward incident (hopefully).

Sports events such as this prove to be a boon for restaurants, hotels, and sports bars all over the country who can show the match live via satellite or through live streaming. All you need to do in most of these places is buy a ticket, avail of their promos, order a dish and a drink or two, and watch Manny and Antonio punch each other. 😄

The best part is that come nighttime, bars and other night spots would be filled with drunk boxing fans, all watching the replays, cheering and celebrating Pacquiao’s feats. (I wonder what would happen IF Pacquiao lost though. I shudder at the thought.)

I’d prefer to scout around for good places to watch pay-per-view events like the Pacquiao-Margarito bout instead of just waiting for the results over the internet and radio. I wanted to do this as a blog project before, but because of budget and logistics problems I found that kinda difficult. I don’t even know if I should pursue the project, unless someone invites me to go around.

Next week, I expect restaurants, hotels, and sports bars to cash in on the Pacquiao-Margarito fight. Hopefully by then, I can find a place that will get me in the mood to pay up and watch the match (while having a good chow, of course). Any suggestions? (Malate, Manila doesn’t count since it’s easier for me to go there often anyway.)