Episode 100: Zubuchon comes to Manila!

sam_1274Dreams do come true! Zubuchon, Cebu’s famous lechon, is coming to Manila!

Social media went abuzz when Joel Binamira (@therealmarketman) posted on Instagram about the preparations for a Manila branch. Binamira (also known as Marketman) is behind the Market Manila blog, and the same person who launched Zubuchon.

zubu2Netizens immediately inquired where this new branch will open. Binamira revealed that the branch will be located “about 100 meters behind the Makati Fire Station”, which is just around the San Antonio area. The target date, he added, is around February.

zubu1Another well-anticipated news is the menu. Zubuchon’s Manila fans are hoping they could try out here the same dishes and drinks as the ones in the main Cebu branch. (Some items they’re clamoring for are the lechon belly sandwich and the kamias shake.) Binamira also hinted that he’ll do taste-testing with selected Instagram followers this February.

Zubuchon was established in 2009. The name comes from a combination of “Zubu”, (the name of Cebu in old Spanish and Portugese maps) and “Chon” (lechon).

Binamira’s lechon gained fame earlier when celebrity chef and “No Reservations” host Anthony Bourdain came to Cebu in 2008 to shoot his unique way of cooking lechon. Bourdain called this lechon “the best pig ever”.

Zubuchon takes pride of using organic pigs, fresh fruits and vegetables, homegrown spices, and good olive oil in cooking their lechon. The best part is that it doesn’t have MSG, and the best meaty parts are kept intact while roasting. The result is a unique lechon with crunchy skin and juicy, tender meat.

It’s been six years since I first tried out Zubuchon in Cebu as part of a writing project on lechon. Finding Zubuchon was quite an adventure, but it was worth the trip because the lechon was just that good.  (It’s Anthony Bourdain’s fault why I became a fan of lechon in the first place.)

Now that Zubuchon is coming to Manila, our cravings for great Cebu lechon should be tempered a bit. The biggest question now is: how do we get invited to the opening?

Zubuchon on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/zubuchonph/
Zubuchon Website http://zubuchon.com/



Aikyatchi: Another Slump

I’m facing a slump. It’s almost October and I’m facing a major slump.

Some food writers can whip out an article minutes or hours after a meal. Others take days to write, taking multiple visits and a lot of thinking before making that article. In any case, I’m not sure how other writers motivate themselves, be it through their passion or out of necessity, but I say their output are impressive.

As for me, well… I haven’t been writing properly these past days. Writing about Boracay’s food culture left me really drained, energy and creativity-wise. Not to mention that I haven’t gone on a food raid for a while due to lack of funds and time. Eating is easy, but eating out and writing about it is difficult.
So what do I do during times when I can’t write anything? I read.

Lately, I’ve started rereading Anthony Bourdain’s books. I bought three of them – one after another – last year so I could learn his style of writing. It took me less than a week to finish each book, though I simply reread them afterwards.
I’ve watched Tony’s show, “No Reservations,” and I love how he talks about food, cooking, and dining. I also love his observations, insight, and side comments on the places he visits, the food, and the culture behind each cuisine. It helps that they have great shots of the dishes in question – they look so appetizing, your mouth would water.
Of course, I appreciate Tony’s books just as much. One could say that Tony’s writings have heavily influenced my goal to be a food writer. And why not, I like his style of writing. You can tell that he’s really into food.
For example, “Kitchen Confidential” was about his experiences, travels, and lifestyle as a chef, as well as his insights on the culinary industry. He even has frank, brutal advice for those who want to be – and who can endure to be – chefs.
“A Cook’s Tour” is about Tony’s travels around the world. I hear it was also made into a TV series. I like how he wrote about the countries he visited and the cuisine of each place, with much of your imagination being forced into play, leaving you hungry for the stuff he’s eating. (The parts with the pork and the oysters were my favorites.)
And then there’s “Medium Raw,” Tony’s follow-up to “Kitchen Confidential.” This time, he talks about his new life as a television personality, and his views on the changes in the culinary industry. He even has words about his fellow celebrity chefs, fastfood, and even something as simple as hamburgers. A lot of things have changed for him and for the industry, by then.
I’ve yet to read other titles that have caught my eye, such as those from Andrew Zimmern, Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, among others. I don’t intend to be a chef, but at least I could learn how to appreciate food better. I’m nowhere near Tony’s, or anyone’s level for now, but I’m sure I’ll get there.
By the way, I also got “Linamnam: Eating One’s Way Around the Philippines” by Claude Tayag and Mary Ann Quioc during my trip to Bale Dutung (the same place where Tony dined). “Linamnam” is a compilation of dishes from various regions of the country. It’s more or less a comprehensive list of what food to look forward to – and where to get them – when you’re going out of town.
Seriously, I wish I could do just that – going around every province to study their respective cuisine. That’s why I got the book. I know I’ll have the chance someday.
Someone once asked me how I manage to write stuff about food. It’s a good thing I’ve been working as a writer for a long time now. Unfortunately, food writing is like feature writing, and years of writing straight news has made me dull in this field. It’s something that can be relearned along the way, though.
Before I started this blog, I looked for reading material on basic food writing. One of those I found was this article on Wikihow.  Now it’s the same list that I follow, not to the letter of course, but still.
  1. Be able to eat all sorts of food, and describe with details about the texture, taste, smell, and feel to the food. This probably means you have to be a repeat customer, or you have to be in a group that is unlikely to order one type of meal only.
  2. Consider how you will record the experience. Mental notes, pictures and captions, or discreetly opened notepad?
  3. Assess the table set up before you begin the meal. Disregard this when you’re eating at a very busy hour, when clearing tables will take a bit longer; more so if you’re in a fastfood-style restaurant.
  4. Order food that gives as broad an experience as possible of the menu in front of you. Two words: Set meal. One word, best example? Japanese.
  5. Assess the food as you consume it. The article has these items to take note of:
    • The presentation – clean, beautiful or messy and tired?
    • The temperature – Was the warm meal warm or was it cold? Was it supposed to be warm/cold when you ordered it?
    • The level of cooking – That awful moment when your deep-fried chicken still has bloody bits inside.
  6. Ask questions to the staff.
    • Does the waiting staff know their food and ingredients? If you’re ordering a new or less-popular item and everyone’s having trouble explaining it to you, then trust your instincts instead. Then take notes. 
    • How do they respond if you make a compliment or a complaint? Watch out for defensive ones.
  7. Consider the ambiance. Do the people inside look like they’re enjoying themselves? Or is the restaurant emptying quickly or not filling up at all? Is the staff friendly? Is the place pleasing to dine in?
On the other hand, most food writers and bloggers have their own guidelines, tailor-fit for their style, audience, and medium. And then there are other, probably better, self-help reading materials on the subject. Your mileage may vary. It didn’t matter for me, though; I read as much of these as I could.
Let me admit something: At this point, I’m just writing whatever’s coming out of my head. I have a lot of questions, doubts, and worries regarding my food writing. For once, how can you write about food is you can’t eat out? How can you write about food if you can’t travel? How can you take pictures of food if you don’t have a proper still or video camera?
When is a food writer most inspired to write? Is it when he’s hungry, or when he’s full? Is it when he has spotted a new place to dine in or hang out? Or is it when his senses are stimulated by the look, the feel, the scent and taste of good food? How and where does one get the drive to write? Is it really possible to force oneself to write about food?
I know I sound like I’m whining about what I don’t have and what I can’t do, but I am whining. I’m facing a slump, and I’m not in good shape. October is coming soon, and I don’t have a lot of time left. I’m having a hard time writing and I don’t know what to do.
Now I have many others in mind that I feel like writing down too, most of them about love and enlightenment and other diabetes-inducing feelings, but I’ll stop now. So there.

(Pics from the anime “Chouyaku Hyakuninisshu: Uta Koi”)

Episode 32: A culinary adventure of epic proportions at Bale Dutung

Some time ago, I re-watched the Philippines’ episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”, just for kicks. The episode was one of the first materials I gleaned on while writing about lechon, so I figured I could find other stuff to work on.
One of the places Tony visited in the episode is Bale Dutung, the culinary sanctuary of artist Claude Tayag in Pampanga. Bale Dutung was Tony’s second stop on his journey to understand Filipino cuisine, and what better way to do so than to venture to Pampanga, the culinary capital of the Philippines.
It was fun watching Tony learn about our cuisine while dining on Kapampangan dishes. In fact, this was the reason dining at Bale Dutung became a culinary adventure of epic epicurean proportions. Hey, if Anthony Bourdain dined there and said the food is excellent, then it surely is, right?
Thing is, having a chance to dine at Bale Dutung is an incredible feat. You have to get a booking months in advance, and you need to be in a group of at least ten. You also have to shell out P1,800/head.  I figured that it would take a while before I could try out Claude’s cooking.
That is until one day, I found myself in a busload of tourists on its way to Pampanga, and into the doorstep of Bale Dutung.

Bale Dutung (House of Wood in Kapampangan) is inspired by the Kapampangan camalig (rice storage house). The house, which also has the ambience of an ancestral home, was constructed for seven years from when Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991.

Upon entering, one would be greeted by some of Claude’s sculptures, all standing amidst a wide, forest-like dreamland. The house itself showcases Claude’s wide collection of furnishings, and other artworks.
While Bale Dutung is marvelous on its own, my attention was at the ground floor, the dining area and outdoor kitchen where all the action is – guests chatting and walking around while admiring the place, Claude and his wife Mary Ann preparing lunch, and the kitchen helpers going around to help fix the tables.
P1,800/head is expensive for a full-course meal, but you’re paying for a four-hour, slow-paced, authentic Kapampangan lunch prepared by one of the country’s best culinary experts. Experiencing lunch at Bale Dutung is worth the wait, or best enjoyed nice and slow.
Our lunch started with a glass of dalandan juice with “muscovado ice,” or frozen calamansi juice sweetened with muscovado (unprocessed sugar).
Several appetizers came next. The first was a set of crackers served with toppings of crab fat (aligue) sauce, buro and pesto. Mary Ann suggested that we mix and match the toppings to explore the blend of flavors (the pesto and aligue sauce seemed to be a good combination).
Next is fresh pako (fiddlehead ferns) salad with tomatoes, quail’s egg and a mango vinaigrette dressing. I remember seeing this in the No Reservations episode – Claude said pako was just a lowly weed that could be eaten anytime anywhere, to which Tony said that the “weed” commands a high price in the foreign market.
The third appetizer is fried lumpia ubod. Mary Ann advised us to “give us the first bite,” that is, taste the dish without adding any sauces. I ended up eating the whole lumpia without any sauce.
Next came chicken wing inasal (roasted) served with a small serving of aligue rice.
After finishing off the chicken wing, the servers passed around platters of talangka sushi, nori-wrapped rice topped with crab fat and kamias.
Not far behind is a type of fresh lumpia: buro and slices of fried hito wrapped in a mustasa (mustard) leaf.
Finally came the main course and the star of the show: five-ways lechon, roast pig cooked and served in five different ways, at which point we were told to serve ourselves. For food adventurers and lechon lovers, this is surely heaven on earth.

The First Way: crispy lechon skin (and some of its meat) with liver sauce. Pure, unadulterated heaven, lechon as we’ve always known and loved.
The Second Way: lechon tortilla – pritson or fried lechon belly wrapped in a soft tortilla with kimchi, tomatoes, basil, and onions. Crispy and fresh, bursting with flavors that enhance the taste of the fried lechon.
The Third Way: lechon sinigang. Hot, sour broth + assorted vegetables + juicy, fatty lechon goodness = a brilliant take on a classic Filipino delicacy.
The Fourth Way: barbecued lechon ribs – roasted lechon ribs with a grilled eggplant boat as a siding. Simple as it may be, seems like nothing goes to waste at the hands of Claude Tayag.

Thie Fifth Way: sisig – Having a taste of Claude’s take on the classic Kapampangan pork dish is exciting, to say the least. Add a few chili flakes, some soy sauce and onions, and you’re good to go.
Of course, this gastronomic adventure won’t end without dessert. First up was Paradiso, a bed of carabao milk served crème brulee-style and topped with a ball of macapuno, yema, and ube. Served along with it is a cup of brewed coffee and carabao milk.
One more dessert came up: tibok-tibok, a sweet and rich maja blanca enriched with carabao milk. At this point, my stomach was already full, not really bloated, but very satisfied nonetheless.
Just so you know, Bale Dutung serves three kinds of menus, which you have to choose from when you book your reservation. These are:

Menu #1: Kapangpangan Menu (P1,800/head)

Ensaladang Pakô
(Fiddle head fern salad)

Piniritong Lumpiang Ubod sa
Claude’9 Oriental Sauce

(Fried all vegetable spring roll with
lemon coriander Thai basil sauce)

Inasal na Manok at
Claude’9 Talangka Rice

(BBQ chicken wings with lemon grass
marinade and crab fat rice)

Adobong Pugo
(Quail – adobo style)

Talangka Sushi
Hito at Balo-Balo Sushi
(Sushi of crab fat and cat fish)

Tortillang Lechon
(Crispy roast pork flakes on a tortilla)

Bulanglang Kapampangan na may Tian ng Bangus,
Ulang at Tadyang ng Baboy

(Milkfish belly, spareribs, crayfish or prawn soup,
flavored with native guava)

Begucan Sisig Babi at Ensaladang Talong
(Pork cooked in shrimp paste with grilled eggplant)

Kare-kareng Laman Dagat
(Sea food cooked in peanut sauce)

(Dessert of yam, and coconut, eggyolk in water buffalo milk)

Sinaunang Kape, Tsaang Pandan
(Coffee and tea)

Menu #2: Lechon Menu(P1,800/head – highly recommended)

Ensaladang Pakô
(Fiddle head fern salad)

Piniritong Lumpiang Ubod sa
Claude’9 Oriental Sauce

(Fried all vegetable spring roll with
lemon coriander Thai basil sauce)

Inasal na Manok at
Claude’9 Talangka Rice

(BBQ chicken wings with lemon grass
marinade and crab fat rice)

Talangka Sushi
Hito at balo-balo Sushi
(Sushi of crab fat and cat fish)

Balat ng Lechon at Liver Sauce
(Crispy roast pork skin)

Lechon Tortilla
(Crispy roast pork flakes on a tortilla)

Inihaw na Tadyang na Lechon
at Ensaladang Talong

(Grilled pork ribs with eggplant salad)

Sinigang na Lechon
(Pork meat in sour soup)

 Lechon Sisig
(Pig’s cheeks with onion and liver sauce)

(Dessert of yam, coconut, egg yolk in water buffalo milk)

Kapeng Sinaunang Panahon
(coffee/ tea)

Menu #3: Anthony Bourdain Menu (P1,800/head) 

Ensaladang Pakô
(Fiddle head fern salad)

BBQ Paldeut at
Claude’9 Talangka Rice
(BBQ chicken tails with lemon grass
marinade and crab fat rice)

Adobong Pugo
(Quail – adobo style)

Hito at Balo-Balo Sushi
(Sushi of crab fat and cat fish)

Lechon Tortilla
(Crispy roast pork flakes on a tortilla)

Bulanglang Kapampangan na may
Tian ng Bangus, Ulang at Tadyang ng Baboy
(Milkfish belly, spareribs, crayfish or prawn soup,
flavored with native guava)

Sisig Babi
(Sizzling pork in onion and liver sauce)

Papaitan Soup
(Goat meat sour soup) or
Bone Collector
(Bone marrow in XO Adobo sauce)

Kare-kareng Buntot
(Oxtail stew in peanut sauce)

Tibok Tibok (dessert)
(pure carabao’s milk maja blanca)

Sinaunang Kape
(Coffee and tea)

The first showcases classic Kapampangan dishes, while the second (the menu we had) features the five-ways lechon. The third menu features the stuff Anthony Bourdain ate during his visit at Bale Dutung.

Kapampangan cuisine is fascinating. Pampanga’s food culture thrives on the province’s earthy abundance, meaning everything you see in your plate is fresh, natural, and taken straight from the farm or garden.

 The people of Pampanga are known to be great cooks. The cuisine highlights their creativity and talent, and their ability to make new delicacies from scratch, or existing food trends. It also helps that Kapampangans cook and eat anything that’s edible, thus giving rise to culinary jewels such as sisig, and oddities such as frogs and locusts.

Bale Dutung is worth traveling far and investing time and money for. Not to mention there’s nothing like having a slow, leisurely lunch featuring Claude’s culinary masterpieces that are, by far, the best I’ve tried in Filipino regional cuisine. It’s the greatest culinary adventure I’ve had.

Bale Dutung, House of Wood
Villa Gloria Subdivision, Angeles City, Pampanga 
Mobile: +639175359198
Telephone: +632 668-4038, 502-4527
Email: mquioctayag@yahoo.com, yhannguevarra@yahoo.com
Official Website: BaleDutung.com

Episode 26: Lechon, The World’s Best Roasted Pig (Part 2)

Lechon is cooked in different ways all over the Philippines. One of the most popular types of lechon, aside from La Loma, is the Cebu-style lechon or simply lechon Cebu.
Nowadays, mention “lechon” and Cebu quickly comes to mind. Lechon Cebu is so sought after, some even have it delivered directly from Cebu, never mind the shipping fees. Eating lechon is also a must-do in Cebu. Which begs the question: How good is lechon Cebu?

The difference between lechon Cebu and other types is that the pig is seasoned with fresh herbs, spices, and flavorings throughout the cooking process. The pig is also roasted over charcoal made from a local wood, giving it the impression of smoked meat. The result is a pig that no longer needs the sauce to give it taste.

And why not? The meat is tender, and bursting with fat and flavor with an herby aftertaste. The skin is sweet and as crispy as chicharon. The whole pig is perfumed with an overload of scents. This is the lechon that made Anthony Bourdain say “I got the best pig ever.”
Lechon Cebu’s claim to culinary fame started a long time ago. According to the records of Antonio Pigafetta (the historian who chronicled Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage to Cebu in 1521), the locals dined on roasted “black pigs” with rice wrapped in leaves (locally called “puso”), roast fish, vinegar dip and rice wine. So lechon has been enjoyed by foreigners over 400 years ago!
Some lechon enthusiasts would refer you to Talisay City to get your lechon fix. Talisay is best known as the home of the “inasal baboy”, and most residents say this is where everything about the lechon industry in Cebu started.
Teresa Mancia Olo or “Nana Ising” owns the credit for starting the first lechon business in 1945. Legend has it that she single-handedly prepares her lechon and supervises the whole process. Mostly Americans and rich locals were fans of her pork. By the time Nang Ising retired in 1975, others in Talisay have opened similar lechon businesses.
Things changed for lechon Cebu’s reputation when Anthony Bourdain visited Cebu as part of an episode of “No Reservations” in the Philippines. Here Tony praised the lechon he tasted in the province, thus proving the claim (in extension) that “the Filipino lechon, a whole roasted piggy, is the best in the world.”
Cebu has no particular brand that stands out among the lechon businesses in the province. In fact, there are so many lechon brands in Cebu, one won’t be able to pinpoint which is the best.
One example is CNT Lechon House, probably the most popular among Manilenos. Then there’s Rico’s Lechon with their spicy roast pig (a favorite of former president Joseph Estrada and other celebrities), Alejo’s, Ayer’s Lechon Restaurant, and others more that are not well-known but whose pigs are just as good.

And then there’s Zubuchon. Now why the special mention? The lechon sold here is the same that Tony ate during his stay in the Philippines!
Zubuchon is the brainchild of food blogger Marketman, who joined Tony in the Cebu segment of the “No Reservations” episode in the Philippines. Marketman demonstrated to Tony the traditional way of cooking lechon, along with his own improvements to the process.
The Zubuchon pig is cooked naturally without any MSG, artificial mixes, and artificial painting of the skin. The lechon skin is also “acupunctured,” meaning, it is punctured during the cooking process to make it crisp.
“We use only the freshest and often home grown organic lemongrass, green onions, siling labuyo or peppers, local sea salt, and other herbs and spices. We use good olive oil,” Marketman said in his blog.

Needless to say, lechon remains the best dish to top a Filipino feast. Whether it’s Cebu-style, La Loma-style, a whole roasted pig (or even a few kilos of it) is the kind of stuff one will always love to dine on. Everything from the skin to the meat gives a taste of heaven. Nothing can be more exquisite than the lechon.

Episode 26: Lechon, The World’s Best Roasted Pig (Part 1)

Ah, lechon. One of the national dishes of the Philippines. A big, fat, red pork dish filled with mouth-watering, tender, juicy, crispy goodness. The star of Philippine fiestas and every other special occasion. Definitely one you can’t miss.

Lechon is not just your average pig on a bamboo stick. One can only marvel at this delicacy that is golden brown and crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. It’s expensive, but it can attract the crowds to your side whenever you have a feast. One bite and you can never ask for anything better.
To prepare lechon, all you need to do is get a suckling pig, remove its innards (and cook something else with them), bathe the pig in sauces, stuff it with herbs and spices, and then roast the pig slowly over a fire. The sauces you may want to use can vary, much more with the spices (stuffing can include any combination of lemongrass, tamarind, star anise, garlic, green onions and/or chili leaves). It’s not as simple as it looks like.
Barangay La Loma in Quezon City claims the title of “Lechon Capital of the Philippines”. When we say “La Loma,” we’re talking about a barangay where the best lechoneros (lechon roasters) can be found.
La Loma has a rich history long before lechon was born. A long time ago, the district was synonymous with the La Loma Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in Manila, and the La Loma Cockpit, believed to be cockfighting’s oldest home in the country.
It’s said that one of the hottest places in town in the ‘50s was the house of Mang Tomas Delos Reyes, a meat vendor, which was located in front of the cockpit. After a day’s worth of cockfights, the winners would buy pork meat from Mang Tomas to be roasted and served for their merry-making.

Mang Tomas decided he’d rather roast the meat himself and sell the cooked pork. Eventually, he set up shop in 1954, and the first lechon business in the Philippines was born.

As a side note, Mang Tomas created a special liver sauce to complement his lechon. This sweet sauce is what we know today as “Mang Tomas All Purpose Sauce,” “Sarsa ni Mang Tomas,” or simply “Mang Tomas.” Cue the MacGyver theme.
Today, Mang Tomas is not the only lechonero in La Loma. The district gave birth to popular lechon brands such as Lydia’s, Ping-Pings’, Mila’s, and other less-known brands like Monchie’s, Nelia’s and others.
There seems to be a difference with each lechon. Lydia’s, for example, has a thick, crispy, fatty skin to go along with its tender meat. The lechon skin in Mila’s is thinner, and the meat goes best with its creamy, semi-sweet sauce. The lechon meat and sauce combination from Ping-Ping’s gives out a lemony aftertaste. It must be the preparation or the spices stuffed in the pig, I dunno.

The truth is that the lechon’s taste can vary with each person. What seems lemony for me may taste rich and tasty to another. Whether one loves the fat, the skin, or the flesh itself is another matter as well. Still, the praise for lechon is endless, “delicious” would be an understatement.

Of course, lechon is good and all, but one must be reminded that this dish, when taken in excess just like everything else, is unhealthy. 

Eating lechon on a regular basis makes for clogged arteries and cholesterol build-up in the body. And like any fatty food, lechon contributes to some of the leading causes of death in the Philippines, like stroke, heart problems, and the occasional stabbing by the drunkard who wanted that pig cheek on your plate… wait.

Time Magazine declared lechon as “The Best Pig” in the 2009 edition of its Best of Asia series. Time writer Lara Day described lechon in her write-up as a discovery waiting to happen, a recipe with the most desirable results imaginable, and a beloved dish of Filipinos. Old news, but worth reflecting on.
“You could call it the Platonic ideal of a pig, but it’s doubtful if Plato, or even an entire faculty of philosophers, could have imagined anything so exquisite,” she said.
Lechon represents a lot of things about Filipinos: the importance of bonds (family or otherwise), respect for culture, the pursuit of good things in life, and celebrating everything that is rich, delightful, and exquisite. So come over to La Loma sometime and try their lechon. It’s worth the food trip. Really.

It would be nice to note that lechon owes this distinction to celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, incidentally knnow for his voracious appetite for everything pork. Again, old news, but worth reflecting on too. 

During the episode of his show “No Reservations” shot in the Philippines, Tony ate his way around Manila, Pampanga and Cebu Among the dishes he tried was lechon.

The episode showed Tony sampling the skin of a steaming newly-roasted pig and jokingly asking his show’s guest/tour-guide, Filipino-American Augusto Elefano, not to let anyone touch the pig’s cheeks (or at least one side), intending to have it all to himself.

In his blog, he placed the Philippines at the top of his so-called “Hierarchy of Pork”, followed by Bali, Indonesia and Puerto Rico.

Let me quote his entry: “It can now be said that of all the whole roasted pigs I’ve had all over the world, the slow roasted lechon I had on Cebu was the best.”

Wait a minute, Cebu?!

Episode 21: Balut is Luv

My doctor once told me to lay off the balut because of its high cholesterol content. Easier said than done, or so I thought. I actually found it easy to stay away from balut, though when I get really hungry, I storm the nearest balut stand and chomp one. Thankfully, my blood pressure hasn’t shot up.

While eating balut is normal in the Philippines, foreigners (except, probably, the ones I dined with in Binondo) still get queasy looking at, much more eating, that developed duck fetus lying on a partly-raw yolk in a half-shell. Still, this hasn’t stopped various people from having a taste of this thing.

Anthony Bourdain, for example, didn’t eat balut (referred to as fetal duck egg) when he visited the Philippines, but he did so in Vietnam. Hột vịt lộn, as it is called, is served there like a regular breakfast meal or snack. He found the dish to be just fine.

Andrew Zimmern (of “Bizzare Foods” fame) ventured to the Philippines once, and ended up in Pateros, where he learned how balut is made. The balut exceeded his expectations, and even called the egg’s juices “funky”. (This is Part 1 of the Philippines’ episode. Balut-chomping begins at 6:37.)

American Idol champion Kris Allen was challenged to eat balut when he came to the Philippines around last year. Good thing he endured it.

Ten-year old Remy of “Food Oddities” featured balut in one of his episodes. “Food Oddities,” by the way, is “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” hosted by a kid. (Heck, Zimmern himself liked the kid’s show.) He sampled weird food and then tells his fellow Americans how they taste like.

While there are brave souls who enjoyed eating balut, there also are unfortunate ones who are swallowed by fear and succumb to the sick feeling that goes with the damned duck egg… Such as this guy.

For some people, eating balut is a test of manhood, as in the case of these guys, Bau and Zeth, who were challenged by some Filipino bloggers to have one. The two kept playing with the eggs for a while, but they passed the test, eventually.

Seriously, balut, even in its high-protein, high-cholesterol glory, has been a symbol of a Filipino’s culinary prowess. It’s best eaten on its own, with beer, rice, or with any meal imaginable. It’s a “funky” (to borrow Andrew’s words), freaky dish that challenges the sensibilities of any food-lover, and rewards those who endure biting on its grotesque, abortion-reminiscent features with a rich, velvety flavor and a filling experience. It gives bonus bragging points too.

As for me, I’m still not allowed to eat balut.

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:


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:


Vigan, Ilocos Sur

The Bohol Tarsier
El Nido, Palawan
Tubbataha Reefs, Sulu
Paoay Church, Ilocos Norte
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!