April in The Philippines: Eats

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After Malapascua, Omar and I ended up at SM City Mall at Cebu City. Having seen so many Jollibee branches along the way, we couldn’t help but try out the Filipino answer to McDonald’s. My Palabok Fiesta with Chicken Joy was such a joy for the carb lover, it had so many different types of starch! There was the Palabok Fiesta, some kind of bihon (thin rice) noodles topped with a gloopy salty sauce, egg, shrimp and crispy bits; then there was the patty of rice wrapped in burger paper; and the mashed potato; plus don’t forget that corn and carrot have loads of carbs too. The fried chicken was very good, much better than KFC. I pretty much gave up at the brownie (more carb anyone?) at the end and only managed a couple of sips of my seemingly extra sweet iced tea. What an experience!

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The next day, we did enough walking around Cebu City’s Carbon Market to work up an appetite.  No pictures of this place partly because it was crowded and I was afraid of getting anything stolen and partly because when I felt safe enough to take pictures, I felt like I was intruding on the friendly locals. It was a strange dichotomy I know, but that’s the strange charm of Carbon Market. The place is one of those messy markets that makes it clear that on no uncertain terms that it was not built for tourists and would never be. There were stalls of all kinds selling things from clothes to cooking pots and hardware, to cooked food, to grain, to vegetables, to meat. There were queues snaking all over at the grain stores. Yet strangely there was no problem at all getting a spot on a bench to grab a quick bite of lunch. There the local food was unbelievably cheap and also very good, and the lady boss delighted that two very foreign looking people would pull up to her stall for sustenance.

Yet there was another side to Carbon Market. There was debris strewn all over most parts and the more deserted areas were more than slightly dodgy. The ground was covered in a thick layer of grey muck from all the crap built up over the years. I suppose that’s where the “carbon” bit of the name arose. (After exiting the market we doused our feet in bottled water before proceeding.)

Some other bits of the market were slums packed with squatters. We didn’t realise this till we wandered down one alleyway again in search of food. There was a lady frying a whole load of springrolls. Assuming that she was selling them, we asked how much one was. She simply gave us each a crispy lovely parcel of goodness to try and it suddenly dawned on us that she wasn’t selling them! It was her daughter’s seventh birthday and they were celebrating with the entire neighbourhood. Before we knew it, she stuffed a good dozen perhaps of them in a plastic bag and pressed it on us, of course refusing payment. Such generosity and hospitality was almost too unbelievable. It was beautiful.

By the time we left Carbon Market it was time to eat again. We tried out Chow King’s halo halo, one of those uniquely Filipino concoctions with everything and the kitchen sink in it. Think ice kachang and an ice cream sundae cross-bed in a bizarre Frankensteinian way. This one had lurid purple yam ice cream, various types of radioactive hued starch balls, comparatively normal red beans, oat bits, jelly, creme caramel and even some kind of tapioca cake in it. The fruit in the mix was candied banana and candied jackfruit, plus some coconut shavings (if you call coconut a fruit). It was, well, very sweet from being drenched in so much syrup.

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Here I am doing my darndest impression of enjoying it. We ended up eating most of the shaved ice and then headed outside to get some mango from a street-side hawker.

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Last up in the series is this tea time set I had. It was in a fairly chi-looking cafe. Needless to say, everything had carb in it and everything was faintly sweet. It was very good though. There was one of tapioca strips studded with prawn and then fried to a crisp, then there was more of that Palabok bihon stuff, there was also a purple version of kueh dadah (coconut pancakes rolled up and stuffed with coconut sugar) and there was a kind of sweet, moist donutty batter with an salted egg wedge in it. Very yummy and lovely.

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April in The Philippines: Malapascua

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Malapascua is a beautiful little island north of Cebu. I met up with Omar at Cebu city’s northern bus terminal for the 4 hour bus ride up. Following that was a short 15 minute boat road across and then this idyllic sight met us.

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We spent a good few days diving with Sea Explorers, a very good scuba outfit that took really good care of us. The board below shows Malapascua (right below the tresher shark) and the types of wildlife you can see there. It’s most famous of course for the thresher shark, but there’s lots of other stuff to see there too, like mandarinfish (mating ones at that!), blue ring octopi (which I didn’t spot), lots of other types of sharks and unusual stuff like hairy frogfish and harlequin shrimp.

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It was pretty fun except for the early morning dives, the earliest of which requiring us to be awake at 4.30am. These were to catch the thresher sharks as they came out early to the cleaning stations when the water was cooler. Here’s one of me and the dive guides at sunrise. I look uncharacteristically cheerful in this picture.

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So did we see any threshers? Yup, just one for a couple of seconds out of maybe four hours underwater for the dives we were down there. It was a pity but the rest of the diving made up for it. Omar’s blogged about the trip here and I think he’s done a better (and far faster) job of it.

Comfort for Sickies

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I was sick and in need of some easy and good comfort food. Even though there wasn’t a great deal in the fridge, thankfully there was  chicken stock and chicken breast in the freezer, and a carrot in the fridge.  This porridge made me feel miles better. It’s so easy to make it probably doesn’t really need a recipe, but he goes anyway.

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Ingredients:

½ cup rice
2 cups chicken stock
1 carrot, sliced
1 chicken breast
fried shallots

Method:

  1. Add the rice and chicken stock to the rice cooker. Slide the carrots atop the rice and sit the chicken breast  above the carrots.
  2. Start the rice cooker. Check back every few minutes. Fish out the chicken breast once the mixture boils and set it aside.
  3. When the chicken has cooled, shred it.
  4. After about 20 minutes, check on the porridge. The carrots should be soft and the rice cooked. If it’s turned into rice, simply add water and stir till you get the right consistency.
  5. Add salt, soy sauce and sesame oil to taste. Top with fried shallots and serve.

Serves 2 sickies.

TCM at Imperial

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Having been discharged from A&E without incident, DC decided that we needed a second opinion and he took me to Imperial Herbal Restaurant at Vivocity to see the sinseh. For $10, the Chinese physician told me that my body was weak and I needed to eat more red meat and green vegetables, and that I needed to drink tonic soup. Nothing that my mother couldn’t tell me.

Nonetheless, we got me some soup and I had the cordycep soup which was rather tasty. It was good soup done the right way and my inner Cantonese girl thoroughly approved the strong broth and pleasant herbal flavour.

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Now what I liked even more was the herbal menthol tea that the doctor provided for my persistent dry cough. The menthol was so strong that my nose cleared immediately and I had to close my eyes to avoid the fumes. It soothed my throat nicely, like a cough drop in liquid form.

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Imperial Herbal Restaurant
#03-08, Lobby G VivoCity
Tel: 6337 0491

A Very Dramatic Meal

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It was the end of a very long work week. I’d just recovered from one of those nasty bugs that was percolating round and round that sick building I work at. It was late and DC suggested we go for burger and beer at Smokin Frogz. That place was so packed we almost had to stand. We were lucky to get a table after a short wait.

The burgers were very good though: meaty and juicy. Although mine was a mushroom burger, the mushrooms hardly registered. Such a pity since the rest of the burger was good. There was soft bun and thoroughly melted cheese to top it all off.

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We were delighted to spot some harder to find beers on the menu. DC went for the Chimay Red and I had the Little Creatures Pale Ale. The Chimay Red was rich and malty but also quite hoppy. Surprisingly for something so malty and dark, it was rather fruity with a hint of apples. The Pale Ale was very forgettable: light and smooth but nothing much. It seemed like the Little Creatures took flight before putting in the flavour.

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The beer was also very heady! It was probably a combination of exhaustion, post-illness fatigue, a late dinner and the alcohol. One moment I was telling DC that the beer had gone to my head too fast and the next I was waking up from a faint, flat out on the floor. It must have been rather alarming to the rest of the customers. I was lucky that DC was there and also had the help of another diner who was a nurse. We’d arranged to meet a couple of his friends there for drinks but they showed up only to help haul me to car and get to A&E to be checked out. Such a pity since the Chimay was good and fairly cheap (less than $10 I think).

Smokin Frogz
879 Bukit Timah Road

[post script: I’m OK, don’t worry. The hospital couldn’t find anything wrong, so all’s well.]

April in The Philippines: I Will Survive

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After two days of uneventful diving at Panagsama Beach in Moalboal my young, fairly incompetent dive guide asked if I karaoked and if I wanted to join him and his friends for a session that evening.

Alan, mysteriously called Noel by everyone in town, claimed to be 23 years old, but I thought he acted and looked more like 18. His mother named him Alan; he couldn’t tell me why everyone called him Noel. No, he wasn’t born on Christmas Day and neither did he join the dive shop that day. I alternately called him Alan and Noel just to have a little bit of variety. He was extremely quiet and grunty, which I attributed it to his not-so-great English and the fact that he’s barely finished adolescence. (“Will we see bull sharks?” *grunt* “You saw the whaleshark but you didn’t tell me!!!!” *grunt*) I tried teasing him to get him to open up a bit more, but it didn’t work, making it even more  boring than it already was. Hence my surprise at the karaoke invite.

I couldn’t figure out where Days Bar was, so I just headed out to the general vicinity of the dive shop and there he was, baseball cap perched just-so on his head, coolly tugging at my sling bag to get my attention. (He didn’t say much, remember?) He gestured across to a dimly lit room in a shack next to the bar. It had a karaoke machine that took5 pesos (about SGD 0.20) per song. Only his friend Boi, whom I’d met earlier lurking on the diveboat, was there. I felt like a cornered animal. Alan told me that the girls were working next door and would join us soon. Gulp.

Alan and Boi picked their favourite songs from the thick index listing songs from Pinoy favourites to English oldies to the latest-ish pop hits to even hymns and gospel songs (Great is Thy Faithfulness on karaoke anyone?). Alan then asked if I had change to feed the machine. I pulled out a handful of change feeling like their sugarmummy. Boi disappeared for a while and came back with a glass and a one litre bottle of Red Horse (extra strong!) beer. Apparently they needed a little help to start singing. Boi took a sip from the glass and then passed it round.

The first song Boi massacred halfway and then passed the mike over to Alan, who mumbled his way through the next verse and chorus. I started to feel a bit uncomfortable when the video screen showed lots of scantily clad bikini girls on a low budget shoot. Later, it turned out that there were only two videos that kept getting repeated. One involved the model dancing awkwardly on the beach with a fixed smile while doing the 70s double fist twirl. It then cut to another model on all fours lifting her leg in a porno-type pose and giving a suggestive smile. The second video was the entertaining one: first, a close up on a pair of warthogs, complete with tusks. A bikini-clad model posed nearby, inching away from the hoggy pair, smiling uneasily at the camera. I couldn’t help but smirk.

I was relieved that Alan and Boi don’t force me to sing. I kept telling them (quite truthfully!) that I didn’t know any  of the songs! They then announced that they were going to sing one of their favourite songs. I had an exercise in keeping my face straight when I saw the title “Don’t touch my birdie”. The boys sang with such gusto I really couldn’t laugh. They also scored 96% on the machine. See lyrics I googled below:

Don’t Touch My Birdie (apparently a popular Pinoy song)

Look!
Up in the sky!
It’s a bird! Aaayyy!
Bird Nga!

Kapag ako’y nababato
Pinaglalaruan ko ang birdie ko
Ang cute cute naman kasi
Kaya ko siya binili

My birdie is my bestfriend
Ang dami naming maliligayang sandali
Madalas ko siyang pinapakain ng birdseed
Mahal kita o birdie ko, ‘wag kang lalayo

Chorus:
Don’t touch my birdie
Resist temptation please
You don’t have to grab my birdie
Just call it, and it will come

Ang birdie ko ay nakakatuwa
Parang cobra na mahilig manuka
Kapag nilabas na mula sa kulungan
Tuloy-ttuloy na ang aming kasiyahan

Di naman ako madamot talaga
Ayaw ko lang na hinahawakan s’ya ng iba
Ang birdie ko ay medyo masungit
Konting hawak lang siguradong magagalit

Repeat Chorus:

Interlude:

It will come

Bridge:

Huwag ka sanang magalit sa akin
Tuwing ang birdie ko ay aking hihimasin
Sana’y maunawaan mo
Mahal na mahal ko ang birdie ko
Pati mga itlog nito

Repeat Chorus: (2x)

Coda:

It will come
It will come

Thankfully the girls appeared at this point. They worked at the bar next door and dressed accordingly though They were very nice, all friendly and curious where I was from and why I was travelling alone. They belted out the songs with great relish, leaving Alan and Boi only two more songs to massacre.

Another one of those keep-a-straight-face moments came when at the end of a Filippino song, Boi calmly told me that the song was “I swallowed it all.” Thank goodness I’d finished my own drink at that point! Boi elaborated to say that it meant the guy swallowed all his pride. Oh my.

The evening ended when we all ran out of change and I scampered back to my room. I survived Pinoy karaoke!

April in The Philippines: Ho Hum Diving

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It was time to get to the next main island. Not even considering a ferry ride now, I flew out of Coron on another one of those small propeller planes. The view was stunning as usual.

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It was my last propeller plane ride of the trip.

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My next stop was Moalboal in Cebu. The most interesting thing that happened was that I had tropical fruit pancakes for breakfast. I kid you not. Aside from the pancake place (very aptly called Last Filling Station), there wasn’t good food to be had in walking distance.

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The diving was boring, as I had a mediocre dive guide who couldn’t even take care of himself let alone me. He didn’t point out anything at all. Once he saw a whaleshark but didn’t even bother to signal me and upon surfacing asked me whether I saw it. (Obviously not.) When I spotted what looked like a blue-ring octopus (neon blue pulsing rings anyone?) he told me it was a fish.

April in The Philippines: Wrecks and Good Food

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Coron is less than an hour away by plane from El Nido. By ferry, however, it takes an eternity. I caught the morning ferry and only got there 10 hours later. Nothing much happened on the way, save that we saw an eagle of sorts kept as a house bird.

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The scenery wasn’t quite as good as that in El Nido. The limestone crags were still draped with lovely green, but the cloudy skies turned the water a dull grey-blue.

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We finally arrived as the sun was going down. Thankfully I’d booked ahead and the dive resort was right where the boat dropped us.

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Coron is famed for its wreck diving. An island surrounded by shallows, its warm waters are ideal for diving year round. It was this same shallow water that stranded a whole fleet of WWII Japanese warships and all of them went down under Allied fire. I didn’t yet have my underwater camera at this point, so all I have is this photo of the dive brief.

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I wasn’t particularly keen on wreck diving. All wrecks look pretty much the same to me and marine life on wrecks hardly seems varied enough to sustain my interest. I feel that wrecks, being dead things, are very unnatural and it’s quite spooky even in the day time to go there. The idea that people died there, that I’m diving a grave site is quite unnerving.

Obviously, I enjoyed mealtimes a lot more. The crew made excellent food and there was plenty to go round.

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Aside from the food, other things caught my fancy too. Here is the entrance to Barracuda Lake. The lake is enclosed within the island and to get there, we had to scramble up and down craggy rocks. Only some bits of the way was a proper path connected by wooden planks. And if that doesn’t sound hard enough, we had to do this with full scuba gear on. OK fine, so we hung the fins round our necks, but you get the idea. It was awful!

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The dive itself was fantastic though. I didn’t see the barracuda, later someone told me others had spotted it on the other side. What an experience it was! Fresh water running into the saltwater lake somehow forms a film on the top which traps heat from the sun. It results in (relatively) cold water of 30ºC at the top and warm water of 38ºC at the bottom. It felt like diving in a nice warm bath. I loved it. At 10m, there’s a halocline where salt water and fresh water meet in a hazy muddle. It’s really strange to pass through that transition. I saw the bottom at the shallower part of the lake and it was made of a strange kind of earthy, soft sand. You could dig your arm right inside and still not reach anything hard. Squeamish about odd encounters with the unseen, I only reached in up to my elbow. The dive guides told me that someone had once taken a photo with his head buried in the sand like an ostrich!

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As usual, the food was excellent, with fresh grilled fish at practically every meal. It was great.

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While we’re still on the topic of food, there was this great French place on Coron that served up amazing food, especially considering that we were hours away from freshly imported gourmet food. I had the booziest coq au vin ever, so full of red wine that I had to go back to my room to lie down before heading out to check my email and then head back Coron Bistro for some very good apple tart.

Orange Clove Cake

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It was a good thing sis-in-law borrowed my usual baking book. I had to dig out my folder of recipes printed off the net, most untried and some 10 years old even. This one came off epicurious.com and I’ve done the usual modification to my own taste. The cake turned out surprisingly good. Somehow the clove brought out the freshness of the orange zest and lifted the flavour very well. This is a great recipe also because it uses up egg whites, the bane of kitchen leftovers.

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I served it with yogurt, honey and orange slices for breakfast and it made for a faintly indulgent yet not too sinful start to the day.

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Ingredients:

240g plain flour
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp cream of tartar
½tsp salt
¼tsp ground cloves
170g butter
200g sugar
zest from 1½ oranges
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
2 egg whites
½cup milk

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 160°C. Line and butter a loaf pan.
  2. Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar, salt and ground cloves.
  3. Beat butter, sugar and orange zest till creamy. Add in the eggs one by one, beating in between each addition, followed by the egg whites and vanilla extract. Beat till light and creamy.
  4. Fold in the flour mixture and milk alternately till you get a thick batter.
  5. Smooth into loaf pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a satay stick comes out clean. Let cool in pan and slice when cold.

Makes 1 large loaf, approx 12 thick slices.

Tart at Toast

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Toast, like its sister joint Marmalade Pantry, is another one of those dependables that shouldn’t go too wrong if you’re stuck in the Orchard area. A bunch of us went shopping, first just me and G, then we picked up Misa and finally HM. When the troops were assembled, we thought tea would be a good idea and wandered over to the little corner of Taka that’s Toast.

I normally go for the ice lemon tea, it’s quite different from the norm as they blend it with whole pieces of lemon so the zest flavours it nicely and it turns slightly cloudy, almost milky. I like how fresh it tastes, though I’m on the fence on the latest less-sweet formulation.

I liked the lemon meringue tart. For something that’d probably been sitting around all day, the pastry was still quite short, unlike the slightly soggy texture you invariably get with stuff that’s not fresh out of the oven. I’m quite fussy about meringue and am not keen on super high spongy peaks. This version was nicely thick with smaller air bubbles and had lovely burnt tips. It contrasted very well with the sweet-sour lemon curd. A winner.

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Toast
#02-11 Ngee Ann City
391 Orchard Road
Tel: 6733 8489