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?

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

 

Advertisements

Episode 94: Setting up base at Coreon Gate


To be honest, I depend on coffices to do most of my writing. Finding a coffice with good food, an environment conducive for working, and a reliable internet connection is quite a chore. Luckily, I found a good place in Manila where I could somehow settle down.

Coreon Gate is an internet café located along Adriatico Street, just near the Remedios Circle in Malate, Manila. It’s quite easy to spot; it’s at the second floor, one floor above a Thai massage parlor.

Not surprisingly, Koreans frequent the place, most of which play online games, watch movies, or download shows. A good number of students and professionals, however, come over to study and work even up to the wee hours of the morning (like me).

The café has about fourteen tables and dozens of chairs, which shows how many groups it can accommodate. The area is cozy and comfortable to work in even with the ambient noise such as the conversations or the K-pop music playing in the background. There’s a smoking area, where most of the computers are incidentally found. (That’s also where all the gamers are hanging out. Don’t worry, minors are off-limits.)

 

Customers can buy an assortment of snacks, chocolates, and meals such as noodles, sandwiches, and kimbab. The place also have a wide selection of hot and iced drinks.

What’s impressive about Coreon Gate is the internet connection itself. The place boasts of a 200Mbps internet speed, optimal for gaming, downloading, and online multitasking. Each customer is given a WiFi voucher, which lets them avail of up to 5Gb worth of internet bandwidth, consumable within six hours.

Coreon Gate is a nice place this side of Manila to hang out in while working, playing online, or just staying connected.

 

Episode 77: Return to Binondo! Masuki’s Special Mami!

Binondo is such a great place for foodies to visit. The last time I came to Manila’s Chinatown on a food trip was almost five years ago, when I joined Ivan Man Dy’s “Big Binondo Food Wok”. And even now, I’m hearing more marvelous places to dine there.

Some time ago, I joined the crew of “Foods Tayo” in visiting Masuki, one of the most popular dining spots in Binondo. No surprise about the restaurant’s fame; the family that manages Masuki is related to Ma Mon Luk, the legendary father of the Filipino mami.

After we had our usual product shots and rom-com skit (the owner, Mrs. Willen Ma, had a cameo role), I decided that I had to go back someday and dine there once again – this time, by myself.

Masuki’s mami comes in asado, chicken, wonton, beef, or a combination of two or all. Each is served with Masuki’s signature soup and wheat noodles, chopped spring onions, and a special sauce served separately.

Another favorite is their version of siopao, big meat buns filled with savory asado and sauce, the perfect dish that goes best with the mami.

Being the voracious eater that I am, I got for myself a Special Beef Chicken Mami, normally good for 2-3 persons, three pieces of siomai, and siopao (which disappeared immediately)..

The best part about Masuki’s mami is that it’s served piping hot, letting you savor the sweet scent of the noodles and the meaty toppings. This is served alongside some chopped spring onions, and a platter of thick special sauce (this is actually asado sauce; how it’s made is a different story, and a trade secret).

The soup is mildly salty, though it may taste bland for some. This is where the special sauce comes in. One may pour a spoonful of the sauce into the soup to give it a sweet-savory flavor.

Sauce or no sauce, the thick slices of beef give the mami a rich, sweet-salty taste, complemented by the soft chunks of chicken. The noodles are no pushover too; they help balance the flavors swimming in your mouth by the time you get in too deep in enjoying your ingredients.

Masuki’s siomai is a great side dish for your mami. And by “great”, I mean “meatball-sized, packed with pork goodness” great. At P35 a piece, it’s worth shelling out an extra buck or two.

Masuki’s food is just as stellar as those served in their ancestor’s mami houses, but they still stand out as their own brand. Every bowl of mami, siomai, or siopao sates the appetites of those who need their filling, fulfilling fix of warm broth, meat, and noodles.

While they already have branches in SM Megamall, Greenhills, and Mall of Asia,  I would still prefer dining at their Binondo branch. Their mami one of the tastes and scents of Manila that’s worth coming back for.

—————————————————

Masuki
The Antigua Mami in Binondo
Since 1930
Address: 931 Benavidez St., Binondo, Manila
Tel. Nos.: (02) 244-0745 / (02) 243-2674 / (02) 244-0737 / (02) 502-2300
Email: yalancatering@gmail.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Masuki/193897223966668

—————————————————

To learn more about “Foods Tayo,” visit:

To have a behind-the-scenes look at what we’re up to (and for some hardcore food porn), visit:

Episode 73: Monster-sized burgers at Monster Bites!


Tucked in a far-off corner of Tondo, Manila is a food shop known for its cheap, humongous beef burgers. The name of the shop itself – “Monster Bites” – suggests that one can expect to find thick, bulky chunks of beef patties in oversized buns, lying in a thick bed of vegetables and slathered in cheese and sauces.
It took a while for the crew of “Foods Tayo” to find the place and see for ourselves if the stories about these massive burgers are true, and we could say we were not disappointed.

First things first: Monster Bites opened around April this year, but then moved to its present location – a larger venue – a few months later. The shop opens from two in the afternoon to two in the morning, and serves dine-in and take-out by the numbers, mainly because customers flock the store and line up early.

True enough, the place was jam-packed when the crew arrived. A small crowd had gathered in front of the cashier, each awaiting their turn to get their orders. In front of the store, patties of various sizes were being grilled by the dozens over blazing charcoal grills. Some customers have resorted to standing watch as their prospective orders are being grilled, while servers periodically come and go to pick up the freshly grilled patties.

 
Monster Bites particularly takes pride of the size of their burgers, starting from their so-called humble quarter pounders. Each patty is a solid, meat-packed chunk that starts dry and chewy in the palate, but draws out the beefy juices with every succeeding bite.
The half pound patty is a different story altogether. To say it’s just like the quarter pounders but only bigger in size is an understatement, because these were probably born to make sure you’ll enjoy more of the burger and never go wanting by the time you’re done with it.
Speaking of the burgers, how do these sandwiches fare, you ask?  

Behold the Monster Sandwich, a monstrosity made of juicy, beefy goodness and tons of coleslaw and saucy toppings. One of these would probably fill up a group of four.

Then there’s the Black Bun Burger, a chunkful of beef with a bun as black as your sinful heart. Cue Penance Stare by Ghost Rider. These buns are baked with squid ink and roasted on bamboo charcoal, giving a smoky feel to every bite of the beef patty.

Monster Bites has a lot of varieties to choose from, which you can enjoy for as low as P50. Aside from these titans and the usual quarter pounder, they also have burger steaks, German franks, and sidings such as fries and buffalo wings.

—————————————-
To learn more about “Foods Tayo,” visit:
To have a behind-the-scenes look at what we’re up to (and for some hardcore food porn), visit:

Episode 58: A Meal In Memory of Dolphy at Za’s Cafe

Filipinos marked the first death anniversary of the Comedy King, Rodolfo Vera Quizon AKA Dolphy, last July 10. The day he died – and the days that followed up ’till then – was a short but solemn time for everyone to remember the life of this legendary icon as a comedian, artist, and father to a nation entertained by his antics and driven by his simple wisdom.

What better way to remember this great man but by looking back at his movies, his performances, his impressions on others and Filipino culture in general, and of course, his favorites.

One of the most resounding slice of life stories about Dolphy involved a small restaurant called Za’s Cafe, along with its neighbor, Hizon’s Cakes and Pastries, neatly tucked at J. Bocobo corner Arquiza Streets in Ermita, Manila.

It’s said to be Dolphy’s favorite (and probably secret) hideout where he enjoyed his favorite ensaymada and chocolate cake, as well as some of its main courses.

After Dolphy’s death, this 65-year old establishment became something like a pilgrimage site for foodies who wanted to walk in Dolphy’s footsteps, so to speak. It’s a bit hard to spot, but once you find the place, the long walk or ride will feel worth it.

One weekend, I made sure I’d make time to visit and dine in Za’s Cafe, especially since it has been my target for a while now. Over an hour of driving from work later, I found what I was after.

Za’s and Hizon’s is a simple establishment from the outside, but once you come inside, you’d feel very relaxed with its refined yet homely ambiance. The scent of freshly baked bread is invigorating, and seeing all those cakes, breads, and pastries lined up on its shelves is food for the senses. The place was old, but what dear memories it surely held!

As I mentioned, Dolphy had a bunch of favorites from both Za’s and Hizon’s, so I took the opportunity to try out some of them.

Before entering the cafe, I bought a slice of chocolate cake and a cheese ensaymada from the bakeshop. It’s said Dolphy liked his ensaymada grilled, but this is for take-out, you know, and starting with the basics is a must for me.

In the cafe, I had hoped to order the baked turkey with glazed camote, a specialty that I heard was also made in honor the comedy king’s honor, but sadly it was only available every Thursday. The braised ox tongue wasn’t available too, so I had to make do with what’s left of his favorites: the hamburger steak.

The hamburger steak was as simple as it gets: a thick Salisbury burger patty with a few spoonfuls of mashed potatoes, a few slices of sauteed sayote and carrots, butter on top of the patty, and gravy. This came with a small cup of rice (a separate order), and mushroom soup, their Soup of the Day.

Finesse and nostalgia-borne civility flew out the window as I dumped the rice and potatoes over the hamburger steak, poured the gravy on top of everything, and ate the mush like it was a kid’s meal.

The meal was capped with dessert: Chocolate Cake a la Mode, a slice of Dolphy’s favorite cake with vanilla ice cream, and a cup of brewed coffee to wash it down.

The whole course was quite expensive but pretty much worth it. The hamburger steak was juicy and filling, and the cake-and-ice cream combo was delicious though not too sweet. I felt like a revived being after that sumptuous meal.

As I ended my meal, I could feel nostalgia pouring over me. I could imagine Dolphy quietly sipping his drink while munching on a toasted ensaymada, chatting with his family or other companions over cake, or just staring at the window and his surroundings in peace while savoring his dinner.

There are so many things to try out in both Za’s and Hizon’s, but it will take a while to try their bestsellers, even the ones that aren’t in Dolphy’s menu. Still, I’m glad that for once I’m able to relive Dolphy’s gustatory memories, and know why the comedy king loved this place – and its food – so much.

Episode 54: Walk This Way to Ermita (and all its hidden gems and whatnot)

I’ve been visiting the streets of Ermita for years now, partly to entertain myself with drinks and/or company, and partly to live out my fantasies as a traveler, finding a quiet place to rest amidst the noise and lights of the night, stuff like that. Manila’s so-called “red light district” has an old school feel in it, as if I’m in another era or something.

It also helps that Ermita is closest to some of Manila’s major destinations, such as Intramuros, Binondo, Luneta, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Manila Bay and the major malls and hotels, making it something like the center of the city’s tourism and culture.

Sadly, the only probable image people have of Ermita is that of a red light district, and nothing more. Who could blame them? This is what is often seen in this district – girlie bars, thieves and robbers, street walkers, discos, watering holes filled with creatures of the night (not the supernatural ones), among others.

As I would learn some time later, there’s more to discover about this side of Manila.

Just a few weeks ago, Manila’s tourism consultant Carlos Celdran took some about two hundred or so tourists from around Metro Manila out on a walk around Ermita. This is part of his “Viva Manila” campaign to revitalize and drum up interest in the city, and to inspire others to bring it back to its glory. This tour also has the blessings of the Manila City Hall too. Way to go, Mayor Erap.

We first gathered at the MMDA Children’s Road Safety Park across the Manila Zoo. I took a quick tour around the zoo by myself, by the way. For those who think Manila Zoo is deteriorating, I say no, it’s doing fine despite the maintenance it’s undergoing. The zoo is still a great hang-out spot for families and tourists. The animals are doing fine and taken care of, despite what the animal rights activists say. But I digress.

The MMDA Children’s Road Safety Park was based on a similar park in Singapore. Here, visitors can walk around miniature intersections, overpasses, pedestrian tunnels, and structures commonly found in our streets. They’re also reminded of the various traffic signs and rules that motorists are expected to follow. It pays to teach children traffic safety.

(facepalm)

We took a quick walk through the bicycle lane from the Manila Zoo leading to Mabini Street. This was a project by the administration of former Mayor Alfredo Lim to encourage bicycle riders to travel around the city. (Keeping them safe is another story.) From there, we rode a jeepney to the Padre Faura – Mabini Intersection for our first stop.

As a recap, Ermita (“hermitage” in Spanish) was a secluded area in the city, considered a peaceful place where the upper class built their vacation homes and retreat sites. During the American period, the colonizers set up exclusive establishments around its residential area.

The hermitage feel of Ermita was shattered during the 1945 Battle of Manila, when it became the scene of some of the most horrific local massacres of World War II.  Then in the ’70s, girlie bars started to pop up around Mabini and MH Del Pilar Streets, thus giving rise to its notoriety as a red light district.

In the ’90s, the city government closed down these bars, but establishments in the area were affected by the closure. Despite this, some of the old homes survived and became historical and cultural icons. One such place is Casa Tesoro.

Casa Tesoro is a stately home built in 1901, and is said to be one of the oldest Art Deco buildings in the district. The house has been a part of much of Manila’s history, being a vacation house turned army headquarters, and eventually a witness to Ermita’s rise and fall as a red light district.

Today, Casa Tesoro is home to 1335 Mabini, a gallery that houses tribal art and antiquities such as  sculptures, textiles and ritual objects. Contemporary artists gather here to exhibit works of various media, and even create some of their own on the spot. (It helps that there are empty rooms in the building that act as studios for these artists.)

The place kinda makes me think of one of those old period dramas, or perhaps a scene where the protagonist scouts a museum for artifacts to play with or steal. Sorry for the side comment; museums really are fertile ground for one’s imagination.

Our next stop was a building they called the “Marilou Apartment”, now known as the Lotus Garden Hotel. Despite the renovations, this three-star hotel commands an Old Manila-feel to it, and is nowadays one of the preferred hotels in Manila. We also got a tour of the hotel’s rooms and other amenities. Promotion, much? I don’t mind; it’s expected of a tourist destination.

After a while, we walked the whole stretch of M. H. Del Pilar. Along the way, I noticed how old many of the buildings in the area have become. Some have fallen to a state of disrepair, now used as homes for poor families. They remind me of those hideouts where movie thugs would hide their contraband, or keep their hostages tied up and threatened with rape or torture. What’s up with this? Can these be converted into socialized housing or something?

It’s a good thing, on the other hand, that business is still picking up in this part of Ermita. Tourist establishments are now open for local and foreign tourists.

One of these is The Hobbit House, one of the most unique restaurants in the world. Formerly standing at Mabini, this restaurant and bar remains a place of interest, not only because of the little people in the establishment, but because of its good food and entertainment. (Carlos recommends this place, by the way. I better check it out soon.)

Our next stop, the Ermita Church, is the prime religious center of Ermita. It enshrines an image of the Nuestra Señora de Guia (Our Lady of Guidance), widely venerated since the Spanish Period. Lonely Planet says “Legend has it that this richly robed image of the Virgin Mary was found by (Miguel Lopez de Legazpi) on 19 May 1571, the day the Spanish forces took over Manila.”

Carlos mentioned that churches are important in reshaping a city, since it shows how much importance we show to our culture. It’s a good thing then, that the area is very much well maintained, despite the usual dregs and street walkers hanging around its walls, a reminder of the realities beneath the church’s hallowed walls.

Despite the changes brought by time and circumstance, Ermita remained a place where all the art galleries, antique and curio shops could be found. I’ve always wondered why there are so many antique shops in Ermita. Perhaps this is a remnant of the district’s old culture, now merely a business venture but an important one nonetheless.

Our next stop is the United Nations Avenue. The Traveler on Foot website says UN Avenue was formerly known as Isaac Peral, “in memory of the Spaniard who successfully experimented on a submarine in the post of Cadiz in 1889. The street was renamed United Nations Avenue in 1962 to marked the 17th anniversary of the United Nations.” I also gathered that in the 1930s, the Ford Motor Company established its first assembly plant in the area.

Carlos took us to the Philam Life Building and the nearby Philam Life Center Theater. The theater is hailed as one of the most acoustically optimal performance venues for performances this side of the metropolis.

I actually have memories of the building as a kid. My mom would take me to Philamlife, where she paid insurance and such, so I was able to roam around the place until she was done. I’ve only glanced at the theater once or twice, but it was worth exploring. It would take a long time before the importance of this place sunk in.

The Philam Life Center Theater became the center of attention following the sale of the property to a real estate developer around last year. Due to fears that the theater would be demolished, a petition letter was passed around to save it. Thankfully, it turned out there was no plan to demolish it in the first place.

Next on the list was Luneta. It’s amazing that just a few months after we toured Luneta, a lot of great changes have happened in the park. The park is lively. The streets are clean. Security measures are tightly in place. A lot of cultural events are ongoing. One can clearly say Luneta has become a better tourist spot than before.

Unfortunately, the Rizal Monument is still going to be photobombed. To the right of the monument, a crane is silently standing, waiting for the erection of the condominium meant to be part of Manila’s skyline.

Soon enough, we were at the doorstep of the Miramar Hotel. Overlooking Manila Bay and Roxas Boulevard, the building was built in the 1930’s in the Art Deco style. The place was refurbished in 2009 and revived as a hotel while maintaining its pre-war design intact. If I remember correctly, the building has been declare a historical site, a reminder of a bygone era in Manila’s history.

The Miramar Hotel gives customers a feeling of nostalgia. The ’30s is definitely not my era, but it made me feel like I was in that time period, wearing a suit and walking down the corridor with swing music playing in the background. And then men in black suits start shooting me with tommy guns. Where was I? Old buildings like the Miramar Hotel are worth preserving and maintaining, especially if one has rich historical and cultural value.

Ermita is a cultural and business hub, nearly forgotten by time but standing out, like an old dame with her faded feathery gown and unpolished jewelry. Much could still be gleaned from its distant past, and brought over to the present for people to learn about and appreciate. We can’t remove the fact but Ermita is known as a red light district, but it would be nice if this place could be transformed into something Manila can be proud of.

At the doorstep of Miramar Hotel, right after the tour, I asked Carlos, “Where’s a good restaurant that you can recommend in this area?”

“The Harbor View Restaurant,” he said (non-verbatim). “It’s just near Roxas Boulevard.”

“How about a good coffee shop?” a guest interjected.

“The best place we have so far is Cafe Adriatico,” Carlos replied. Several minutes before, he had promoted The Other Office, an old piano bar at Mabini, and The Hobbit House further behind.

Which made me think: it would be nice to seek out and promote Ermita’s notable coffee shops, bars, and restaurants. After all, the Bicol Express was invented around the Malate area, and then comedy king Dolphy had a favorite bakeshop there; so there must be other food places, dishes and culinary gems that may be discovered and brought to the limelight.

If culture and churches can reshape a city, its menu can fill its belly and heart.

Manila, The Gates of Hell (or something to that effect)

Until now, I find it hard to tune in to the brouhaha that is Manila getting called the “Gates of Hell” in Dan Brown’s latest book “Inferno”. The responses have been varied, from utter shock and disappointment to total amusement. But for me, no matter how much I care, I’m playing the straight face card for this topic.

For those who have been living under a rock (or a pile of sweets from Candy Crush), the “Gates of Hell” remark came from a scene from “Inferno,” where the character Sienna Brooks joins a humanitarian mission in Manila.

Here, Sienna took note of Manila’s widespread poverty, the traffic jams, the garbage, and the rampant crime and sex trade. To put it simply, the whole ordeal traumatized her. (Follow the link above to read the excerpt of the novel.)

While it makes for a gripping yet nauseating example of human drama, many Filipinos found it offensive.

The Metro Manila, Development Authority, for example, took exception to Brown’s statement. “We are greatly disappointed by your inaccurate portrayal of our beloved metropolis,” MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino said in an open letter. (Note, however, that Tolentino once made an article lambasting Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” and lobbied to have its movie version banned.)

Malacanang insisted that foreign tourists who have seen Manila know better, and that the Philippines remains to be a prime tourist destination. Meanwhile, cultural activist Carlos Celdran urged Filipinos to remain calm and do something about the bad parts of Manila instead of protesting.

The comments from netizens were more polarizing: Brown’s Facebook page was swamped with comments and wall posts from Filipinos. Some defended Brown’s work and criticized the narrow-mindedness of his critics. Others took to lambasting Brown himself, wishing him and his family misfortune.

While comments against Brown’s depiction of Manila fly around, Adobo Connection had something else in mind. Not only did they offer the author a round-trip to Manila, but they are also developing an adobo recipe just for him. Incidentally, they called it “Adobo Diablo.”

Even popular author Paulo Coelho has joined in the discussion, though he sided with the Filipinos.

To his credit, Brown had something redeeming to say about Manila, as depicted in “Inferno.”

So why am I keeping a straight face with this issue?

Crazy as it may sound, I say Manila does qualify as the “Gates of Hell.” The fiery Bicol Express recipe was invented in Malate, for crying out loud. Some of the hottest night spots and party venues are there (YMMV). It was once the place to be for the artists, politicians, and the other members of society’s elite. The view of the sunset from Manila Bay and Roxas Boulevard is marvelous. Malacanang is located in Manila. (Wait.) Not to mention we have our own Hell’s Kitchen, but not the likes of the stuff from the pages of “Daredevil.”

On the other hand, we cannot deny that there’s a darker, more blatantly obvious meaning to Manila’s “Gates of Hell” tag. Mention Manila and the first to pop in a person’s mind would either be the trash-ridden slums of Tondo, the red light districts of Ermita, or the sleazy nightspots of Malate.

Also, take into account Quiapo, a melting pot of religion and superstition; Roxas Boulevard and its trash (ironic, isn’t it?), and Avenida, Manila’s old central business district, now a piece of a Batman-less Gotham City. Not to mention the traffic, the clogged esteros, the air pollution, the prostitutes, beggars, conmen, and corrupt cops. What other faults of Manila should I find and count?

The local elections just ended in Manila, so I’m pretty sure mayor-elect Joseph Estrada know what just got himself into. He did promise to improve and clean up Manila, even the poor parts of it, and damn well he should. As Celdran would say, “The world will always judge us by the old Manila, not the newer parts of Manila.”

But let’s go back to Dan Brown. “Inferno” is a work of fiction and all, but his description of Manila hit a really raw nerve on every one of us. Still, I’ve yet to read the book so I’d like to experience for myself how bad it is, if it is that bad in the first place.

Which reminds me, how often have we violently reacted against Manila’s critics? We can defend the city – and the Philippines, by extension – all we want, but we have to be reminded that we’re supposed to show the world how beautiful Manila is, and keep it that way. A balance of interests is in order. Instead of extolling Manila’s beauty and virtues, or engaging in fault-finding and vilifying, we should make use of what the city has and make it a great city, “Gates of Hell” or not.