Of bacon, octopi and caffeine (Hana, Little Tokyo)

You know a restaurant has secured a spot in your heart (fine, fine, your tummy :-P) if you can still write about it a year after the actual meal.

Seriously. How can one forget about this pork senbei which is essentially chicharon-ized bacon?!? Deym!

The recent Kikufuji experience got me reminiscing about a dinner I shared with the Wednesday group (+1!) July of last year. We’ve had quite a successful run around Kapitolyo, wanted to venture off to a different city, and eventually ended up in Makati. Life happened and for reasons that escape me now, I wasn’t able to write about it then. I. Know. Right. Talk about backlog.

Hana’s menu, which, I’ve been told has been updated already. Don’t fear, it has pictures and English descriptions so you know what you’re getting.

We didn’t plan on it bu it’s always great to personally meet the brains behind a good restaurant. That’s me, Noriko-san, Rachel and Wena.

If we had lowlah Olivia at the nearby Little Tokyo izakaya, we had  Tenguin at Hana. Again, the power of connections! Turned out Rachel knew the owner’s daughter personally and had been to the Japanese joint more than a number of times, so the Wednesday group was definitely in good hands. The lovely proprietress, Noriko-san, even dropped by and joined use for a quick chat. :-)

Hana was much smaller compared to Kikufuji, and because of that, the ambiance was cozier. Tinier spaces run the risk of making the diners claustrophobic, but that wasn’t the case. It felt more like I was eating at the house of a friend than dining in a formal sit down resto. Oh! We had the advantage of time too, and as such, got the almost private, recessed area at the far end of Hana for ourselves. Best seats of the house!

Hana is basically this bar, three tables on the other side and the area we sat at…

…a room I reckon should be comfy enough for a party of six. Go beyond that number and it may feel a bit cramped. Also, Jason, what are you looking at? :-P

Wena-san. Define: pa-bebe. Hahaha!

From what I gather, Hana is famous for their takoyaki. Now I know I’m getting ahead of myself, but I will confirm as early as now that word on the street is legit. Those were the best, most authentic and largest octopi-filled balls I’ve ever had, incomparable and many, many miiiiles away from the impostors that flood the malls, side streets and MRT stations of Metro Manila.

I will, however, unapologetically add that as good as they were (and trust me, they really were), the takoyaki wasn’t the most memorable item in their menu. I guess from the first photo of this post, you have an idea what it is.

This side salad almost went unnoticed. Banchan looking yes? Can’t go wrong with beer here, either. Now if only they had Red Horse…

Hana’s spicy tuna salad, creamy and fresh, but still a far cry from Kikufuji’s.

The famous takoyaki, and it did not disappoint. Over-all very texturally interesting , and uber flavorful, This was a visual spectacle as well, what with the bonito flakes dancing atop these huge balls. Everyone loved these!

Salmon and cream cheese. ‘Nuff said.

I believe this was California maki. Nicely plated ‘no?

Pork senbei. I. Want. This. Now.

Another look. Oh what torture… *wipes drool off mouth and chin*

The not-so-camera-friendly but surprisingly satisfying cheese chikuwa: “two pieces of long fish cake stuffed with cheese and topped with mayonnaise and bonito flakes.: They had me at “stuffed with cheese”. Gooey goodness! Yey!

Juicy tori karaage…

…and tender tako karaage. Loved the light handed way these were seasoned, battered and fried.

At first I thought this was Himalayan pink salt, but I was informed this was actually shichimi, a seven spice seasoning mix. It came with the deep-fried octopus strips and punctuated the already good flavor profile. Don’t be afraid to try it. :-)

Sizzling plate elevated to the next level. The cube steak’s meat was so tender and delicate! Well-balanced sauce of soy and garlic too. Love!

Yes, it’s the pork senbei.

The description in the menu reads:

Crisp pork cracklings with a dash of sweet mirin. It’s perfect with beer.

but seriously, they could have stopped at two words: IT’S PERFECT.

Slightly sweet, amply salty, wonderfully crisp, and sooo sinful, it’s just about everything your body doesn’t want you to put into it. If bacon and chicharon had a love child, pork senbei would be it, minus the greasy mouth feel. I badly wanted seconds and thirds, but I decided I love my heart more than my stomach. That, and we already have a generous feast in front of us.

That being said, I am not discounting the tremendous quality of all the other food items we got served. My favorites included those melt-in-your-mouth cube steak, and the “It’s so cheesy, I almost died!chikuwa. Both karaages were executed rather well too, and can’t deny the fact that those makis were both pretty and tasty.

Clockwise from bottom: green tea with red beans, strawberry, lemon and peach kakigori. Spot on palate cleansers!

Ugh. I’m so disappointed at how this photo came out. Doesn’t do justice to this awesome dessert! Apart from the takoyaki and the pork senbei, this is a must try.

We ended that beautiful night with various kakigori and the best coffee jelly I’ve ever tasted. We even got the back story and recipe behind the latter! Sorry guys, I’m not telling. :-) What I can disclose though is that you should not pass up on these icy treats: the green tea shaved ice with red bean was really special, true to flavors and not too cloying, while the gelatinous dessert would for sure perk you up after all that rich and savory food. Caffeine addicts will definitely approve.

Hana may be found at the left side of this beautiful courtyard. We also dropped by a nearby Japanese grocery store. Little Tokyo indeed…

The Wednesday group plus a Lifechanger. When’s the next one?

Ahhh Little Tokyo… What other treasure do you hold? Friends, high time we go back yes? :-)


Hana, Little Tokyo
2277 Pasong Tamo, Makati City, Philippines
Telephone: +632 828 8471
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Hana.Restaurant.Little.Tokyo.Makati
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Hana_LT

Of bullies, tuna and bananaaaaaaa (Izakaya Kikufuji, Little Tokyo)


(adj) befitting or characteristic of those who incline to social exclusiveness

Ahh… cliques. That societal phenomenon where a group of people bestow upon each other a certain level and an unspoken bond of exclusivity, and cling to each other like there’s no tomorrow. Ok, maybe that descriptor’s taking it a bit too far, but you get what I mean. :-P Neither wrong nor right, for better or for worse, it just happens. Similar-minded folks (or most of the times, of different strokes) gravitate toward each other and before they know it, they’ve already come up with a cheesy label to call each other. Actually, that group name is one of the telltale signs that you’re in one.

Years of being a social butterfly have gifted me with a select few: my Katipips from UP, my Bubong Pips from HP, and my Wednesday Group from ADB. (Notice the use of the possessive pronoun “my”?) Now that I think about it, listing that reads a lot like my CV, and that says a lot. Can’t go wrong with having a solid support group wherever you are, right?

What follows is a story about a recent lunch I had with my newest one. The sometimes “clean“, at times “dirty“, almost always crazy collective that has adopted me under their folds almost eight months in at my new company – the Bullies. (Woohoo! World premier ang peg! Haha!)


Last week’s Tuesday was a jovial one. Olivia and Nerison just celebrated their corporate anniversary, while Shelley reached her sixth month in the company. I’m not sure if this is a cultural thing, but milestones like these are reason enough for Filipinos to be in a festive mood. And feast we did at one of Olivia’s favorite restaurants, Izakaya Kikufuji.

Come for the mains, stay for the appetizers. :-)

More commonly referred to as simply Kikufuji, it doesn’t fall short on the aspect of authenticity.  It’s a vibe one gets even with just that particular smell when one first steps in the izakaya. With interiors replete with wooden elements, display after display peppered with bottles of both untouched and partially consumed wines, and, most importantly, a considerable percentage of the diners Japanese, it’s no wonder it is considered a Little Tokyo institution.

They could have had ten of these. I swear. Kikufuji probably has the most I’ve seen in a Japanese resto in Manila.

Dining area options inside. I wanted to take photos of the ones in front, especially the open kitchen facing central one, but I was too shy. Too many people eating already!

The table we settled in, because it was the only one which can accommodate all of us. Haha!

As for the food, the Bullies were fortunate enough to have a lowlah Olivia. See, I did not mean it lightly when I alluded to her knowledge of Kikufuji earlier. Evidence #1. Even before she arrived, she’s already placed an order good for our group. Evidence #2: She did so over a quick phone call with a server she knew by the first name. Evidence #3: Everything that was eventually laid out in front of us lived up to the hype. O ha. Ansabe? Haha!

Setting the mood for a hearty meal, we started off with some tea (with an option to go either hot or cold), a light salad of cabbages, tomatoes and cucumber, and spicy tuna salad:

Everything in order as expected.

Light and crisp, and bathed in a soy-based dressing. Perks up ones palate just right.

Everyone went bonkers for this, and for good reason. Tuna fresh, dressing not overpowering, just the perfect amount of heat, and a surprise crunch. My goodness, IT WAS THE BOMB! And oh, did I mention it was free?

Not an appetizer this one. Seriously. Not edible.

Appetites whet, we proceeded to the heavier dishes: beef teppan, pork katsudon,  chicken teriyaki, and salmon and tuna sashimi over rice.

Nothing special for me but I appreciated, one, the generous amount of vegetables that served as the bed of the meat, and two, that the beef itself was really tender.

As non-photogenic as this is, this I loved. Uber succulent, this was the good kind of fatty. The flavors permeated the pork and were not just skin deep too! Lovely.

I first confused this as karaage, but Olivia tells me this is teriyaki. I’m missing the sauce, but this was well executed.

One fine miso soup with the saltiness levels perfectly balanced.

Good sashimi on top of good rice. The wow factor is the simplistic beauty of how it was presented. Just look at those superb colors!

But wait, as if those were not enough (well, in reality, owing to the nature of our tummies, they weren’t :-P) there’s more! Three humongous plates of these:

I recommend getting four for a party of 12. ;-)

Ha! Check out the marbling on that beef! Gorgeous yeah?

Oh what beauty!

Now I’m not sure if this qualifies as teppanyaki since the cooking surface used is a cast iron pan instead of an iron griddle, but what the heck. Proper semantics aside, slabs of pork fat were rendered and served as the non-stick agent, after which the beef was quickly cooked, fried if you may, after being dipped in some sort of sauce. Please don’t blame me if I did not get the exact terminologies. (Points to Olivia :-P)

Photo credit: Kebs Asilo. Ayan ah!

Our very own master chef…

…looking all serious and stuff.

Sizzle sizzle. Maygahd. Looking at this specific photo just reminded me of how that tasted. *drools*

I had to run to a meeting so I wasn’t able to grab dessert afterwards, but everyone who stayed had complimentary fruit of the day (bananas that Tuesday) and iced coffee jelly. I am still waiting for their apologies (and their make-up munchkins) for not getting me a takeout of the caffeinated treat.

Minion Donn and her bananaaaaaaa. Guess what she did to this poor banana?

You know those meals where you’re aware that you’ve eaten so much and that you know you’re full yet you feel otherwise? It’s a chillax, leisurely meal, coupled with a raucous group that doesn’t fail to insert teasing every chance they get, that give you that.

Thanks again my Bullies! Cheers for indulging my “No one touches the food until I’ve taken photos!” rule. Haha! Here’s to more gustatory adventures and years of friendship ahead. :-)

The Bullies take 1! Photo credit: Liisa Tolibas.

The Bullies take 2! I knew I should’ve just brought my tripod… Photo credit: Shelley Jarin.

Light bulb moment: how about a Little Tokyo series? Hmmm…


Izakaya Kikufuji, Little Tokyo
2277 Pasong Tamo, Makati City, Philippines
Telephone: +632 893 7319

Taipei, Taiwan: Of skyscrapers, quick hands and jump shots

Ahhh… The bittersweet last day.

After the literal and figurative high of the earlier night, we weren’t sure how our third was going to pan out. We didn’t have much planned in terms of schedules or direction (a lot like our first day), just that we wanted to hunt down a Taipei landmark, a popular dim sum restaurant and any of the city’s cat cafés. I can tell you right now we ticked off three out of those three. Woot!

We started that morning a bit late because we got home at almost dawn (IKR?!?), and we had to check out of our hostel already. By the time we arrived at Taipei City Hall Station, it was forty five minutes past ten. Our destination? Taipei 101.

The journey begins… or ends, depending on how you look at it. Nice capture by the way Jan!

The manageable walk had us pass by the Taipei City Hall…

…and a side walk with interesting pieces like this…

…and this! I’m sure these exhibits change from time to time, but we had a field day having photoshoots with them. Here’s me falling while Spiderman’s still all smiles. Fun Taiwan indeed!

Now I’ve had my fair share of towers (Seoul’s N and Tokyo’s Skytree, among others) and they never fail to amaze. For Taipei 101, I particularly admired how it still looked characteristically Asian, overflowing with regional symbolism and inspired by both the classic pagoda and bamboo stalks. It was architecturally the first one I saw that was square-ish and very angular too. We didn’t get to the high floors of the skyscraper itself because we were short of time (Ish had to catch her flight shortly after lunch), but we were happy to have witnessed it at first from afar, and later from a worm’s eye view.

Ang galing lang ng tao ‘no? And yes, cheers to Physics and Engineering. ;-)

Speaking of lunch, we hit two birds with one stone since the world-renowned Din Tai Fung had a branch at the basement of the mall adjacent to Taipei 101. Sure, it wasn’t the original, old-school spot of the franchise but eating at the birth city of a famed soup-y dim sum more than sufficed. We couldn’t have had a better timing too. Although there was a short line, we didn’t have to wait for long. It might’ve helped that there were just four of us and the groups we were in line with were bigger. :-P

Yey! Din Tai Fung!

To be honest, I felt under-dressed. :-P Just look at how sharp most of the diners (and the service crew!) looked.

Oh di ba, very courteous? They even cover the side table they set up for the diners’ bags. Lovely idea executed by lovely staff.

Where most of the xiao long bao assembly magic happens. Those were some quick hands!

How quick? This quick:

I was initially held back by how classy the place was, intimidated at first even. The interiors were replete with clean lines, there was an open kitchen ready for public viewing (see photo and video above), and the all-smiles service was top notch. I was also pleasantly surprised when I saw the price of the items in the menu. The leisurely hour long lunch for us four set us back less than 1,500.00 TWD (~2,180.00 PHP, ~49.85 USD). Not bad at all considering the amount and the quality of all the grub we downed! Here’s the lowdown:

Pork Xiao Long Bao. Sooo irresistably good, we had two baskets of these. :-P

We also had a basket of Chicken Xiao Long Bao. While I prefer the pork one, this was equally well made.

Eating xiao long bao 101. Don’t worry, they have an illustrated guide if it’s your first time. ;-)

Steamed Shrimp and Pork Shiaomai. So purty, yes? This was, quite unexpectedly, very juicy too.

Shrimp Fried Rice with Egg. Oh that glorious sheen… Those grains that had a yield to it and were not mushy… Those copious amounts of shrimps… This rice, I will eat without hesitation. Sarap!

Egg Flower Soup with Tomato and Stir-Fry Water Spinach, because we’re healthy like that. :-P

Amid the gustatory sounds of praises, we were ultimately all in agreement on how clean and beautiful everything tasted. The no-frills, fresh flavors were most apparent with the veggie dishes, just pure, unadulterated goodness. The xiao long bao was, as expected, perfection –  the skin hitting the sweet spot in terms of thickness, and the broth and the parcel of meat the tastiest of all I’ve had. Another stand-out was the umami-filled fried rice. Man, those were some well-executed grains!

This was the queue as we stepped out of Din Tai Fung. Lucky us! By the way, to the right of this photo are all your pasalubong stalls. Din Tai Fung has one too! I bought their pineapple cakes, chili oil and as an addition to my collection, chopsticks. Pretty affordable, I would say…

After bidding Ish goodbye, and shopping for the requisite pasalubong (we were, after all, on our last day in the city), Jan, Alex and I headed outside to do more of what we do best. You guessed it. Jump shots! Don’t ask me how we managed to do so with full tummies and the sun still up high, we just did. :-P Funny thing is we all knew we were going to do it as soon as we saw Taipei 101. Kami na ang adik sa pagtalon. Haha!

A local, without us asking, directed us to a nice spot to take photos, and he was spot on. (Thank you anonymous mister!) Unfortunately, we were too loud that a security guard reprimanded us and asked us to leave. Hahaha! Good thing we had our fill of shots already. :-)

Jan had a funnier jump shot but she would kill me if I posted it. :-P And good effort from Alex no?

I <3 Taipei 101!

It was quarter to two when we decided we all had our “best shots“. Tired, sweaty, but  still very much giddy, we hailed a cab and headed towards our next and final stop.


Up next: Meoooooooow!

Taipei, Taiwan: Of river drops, tempting fate and street treats

Sometimes, when luck is on your side, you get more than what you are looking for.

That free hotel room upgrade.
That complimentary cookie from your favorite coffee shop.
That kiss when you weren’t even expecting a hug.

Travel endows people with unexpected finds like these as well. There are destinations where you go specifically for one thing, and then you get pleasantly surprised with something else. Taiwan is one such place, generously topping our Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival sundae with the cherries below.

Man, score(s) another! :-)


Nature: serene, calming, beautiful

While we weren’t blessed with fair weather at Yangmingshan, we got our second chance of appreciating the splendor that is Taiwan’s nature while walking around Shifen. The four of us briefly passed by what I suppose is the Keelung River, flat and still. Half an hour away, on the other hand, is the roaring Shifen Waterfall. Interestingly enough, even though the power the two exude are very much polar, both brought me that feeling of peace and tranquility. Stress and chaos begone! I love it.

Inanimate yet still so full of life. Lovely.

Entry to the park where the waterfall can be found costs 80.00 TWD (~114.80 PHP, ~2.65 USD). Not expensive, yet not “free” cheap, but if it goes to preserving something like this, I’m all for it.

Something about the sound of cascading water is so relaxing, yes?

Cheers to friendly co-travellers, and Photoshop skills. :-P

Literally getting down and dirty

Now before anything else, A DISCLAIMER. Kids, do not try this at home. (Not literally of course, unless you have train tracks inside your home. If you do, well dayum!) I was not thinking straight, was being playful and stupid, and I acknowledge I put myself in harm’s way. Bad Paolo! Not a good example!

That being said, sitting AND THEN lying on a railway with the train seconds away is the most spontaneous thing I’ve done while on travel, and I haven’t regretted it since. The sense of not being in control was both exhilarating and liberating. Granted, the spur of the moment stint almost ruined a good pair of jeans but, hey, it’s not everyday I get to do something like that (and not get arrested) right?. Y’all should’ve seen Ish’s face! Priceless!

See how close people were to the passing train? Crazy!

But it gets crazier. This was the harmless and innocent first pose insde the tunnel adjacent to the gate of the Shifen waterfall park…

…and then this. Haha! Notice two things. 1. The blurry shot, and 2. the other group running towards the photographer. I guess that’s what you get when you snap a shot soon after hearing the honk of a fast approaching train. :-P

That was the tunnel, and that was the train. :-)

So much fun! What isn’t is the aftermath: greasy pants. Thanks Jan for helping me clean this. :-P

More good eats!

Three words Ish, Jan, Alex and I all agreed on:




We got our first taste of this treat along the streets near Yuangshan, and it wasn’t long after until it dawned on us how good, no, great Taiwanese are in frying their stuff. The way those deep-fried goodies tasted was consistent across the board, may it be on seafood, mushrooms or chicken. For reference, the closest I can think of that have a similar flavor profile offered in our local shores are the porkshops of Shi Lin, and just recently, the breast fillets of Monster Chicken, a new stall at SM MOA.

Now back to the calamari. Those buckets of squid were PERFECT. For 80.00 TWD (~114.80 PHP, ~2.65 USD) you get fried to a non-oily gorgeous crisp, tender, almost melt in your mouth calamari that’s dusted generously with a mildly sweet but still spicy pepper mix. Maygaaaaahd. They were sooooooo goooooood, we consumed tons of this.

Now I’m sad that street-side squid here doesn’t even come close to what we had there. Someone over there send some over here please?

And it’s not like one stall is better than the others. No misses in all places we bought this from. Amazing lang.

How come they have fat squid pala? Unfaiiiir!


Oh! This! I initially thought this was some sort of sausage. Realized it was grilled rice (think suman) when I bit into it. I was punked! Haha!

Chicken fillet, found this time at the Shilin night market. Different protein, same yumminess.

Ang sarap lang! I ate this as shown: whole. I think you can opt to have it sliced either by cleaver or by scissors too. That is if you can successfully make the lady understand you. :-P

We closed our second night again at Shilin. Here’s Ish recreating Taiwan’s favorite sign with her hands, and mirroring my cappucino art. Good times. :-)


Up next: 1. 0. 1.

Of in-laws, durian and foie gras (Luzviminda buffet, F All Day Dining, F1 Hotel Manila)

I’ve said this before, and I say it again, it’s difficult for me to be impressed with Filipino food, the primary culprits being my Kapampangan heritage and the amaaazing home cooks I grew up with. Ask Kite what my default answer is when faced with the question “Where do you want to eat?“. Yep, you guessed it right. Most of the times, it’s going to be “Anywhere but Pinoy cuisine please.“.

Now haters, don’t get me wrong. The Philippines offers some of the best cooking in the world, and a lot of great press (from international sources at that) have been accorded to it of late. I looove Filipino food, but, and this is a big BUT, it has to be at a level beyond how my mom or my lolas cooked it. That, or it has to be something new to my palate. If someone I know can make it better than the plated ones you serve before me, well, you can forget about it. (Boom! Such a snob!)

At times though, I encounter restaurants that offer dishes like the one pictured below that make me re-consider:

Repeat after me: foie gras sisig. Deeeeeym.

Foie gras? In sisigIt makes so much sense and is so spot on that you’d ask yourself why you didn’t think of it before. I know I did.

The restaurant behind the genius creation? F All Day Dining at F1 Hotel Manila. Newly revamped and with its offerings overhauled, it is now under the helm of Chef Sau Del Rosario. O ha, huma-high profile. Haha! Kite, fourteen other family members (Talk about being a part of a Filipino family eh? Sooo Pinoy talaga.) and I had dinner there one fine Sunday night to celebrate the mother-in-law’s birthday. Below’s how my second buffet (and the in-laws’ first) of the year fared.

The Interiors

Expectations were high before setting foot at F1, and it didn’t disappoint. It was a relatively new hotel after all and everything was still in tip-top shape. There were even some attention grabbing pieces at the lobby fronting F. As for the restaurant itself, I really dig the good use of space. I believe it’s the first hotel buffet I came across with where I didn’t feel I have to weave in and out to navigate the different stations. There was ample room to move around without bumping into fellow diners too. Seating wise, the window-side tables are the best of the house what with its good view, comfortable shared couches and beautiful solo seats. I recommend staying away from the side farthest the entrance – the bland space looked sad to me.

This grabbed almost everyone’s attention. For me, it was interesting primarily because I don’t think I’ve seen something like it before. But then again, I’m not the furniture connoisseur in the first place.

While most will see this as “Ahh, limited offerings…”, my take on this is “Yey! Space!”

Do yourself a favor and reserve the tables by the windows. If you come in during the time we did, you’d have terrific, romantic, soft lighting. The skyline view at night isn’t that shabby too.

The Spread

Compare the variety of food that F serves to that of Heat or Spiral, and one would easily be disappointed. I’d go out on a limb and say that it is unfair as comparisons go, though. First, F’s is significantly waaay cheaper (by price, that is) compared to the bigger, more established hotel buffets. Second, the quality outweighs and makes up for the lack in quantity, as we soon found out. I’d be screaming my head off (well, not really, but you get the point) if I heard people around me say “Kaunti na nga, di pa masarap“. Fortunately, there was none of that. :-)

Oh! One thing that needs to be mentioned is we feasted on the Luzviminda buffet they have running for the whole of June, the month when the country celebrates its independence from Spain. (That’s today by the way! Happy Independence Day Pilipinas!). The theme carries over from the appetizers, to the mains, and up to the desserts and celebrates Filipino cuisine from the three major regions of the country – Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. That being said, I assume the menu will vary come July, so heads up. :-)

A humongous yellow fin (I think) tuna commanding the centerpiece of the salads and appetizers stations. Nice touch!

This one triggered nostalgia. Haven’t seen this dish in a long while! Steamed fish like this, replete with its colorful toppings, used to be a staple in celebrations of the past. Coolio.

Now here’s something you don’t see often (or at all!) at hotel restos: Pinoy candies! I didn’t touch any of this, but it was an inspired addition to the themed buffet.

This too! When’s the last time you saw rambutan and dalanghita served in a restaurant? Never? I thought so too. :-P

The LuzViMin theme carries over to the cheeses as well. Happy to see these varieties which I read have been flown from a cheese farm in Davao.

The Food

Finally, without further ado, presenting the five plates I had that night. I won’t even apologize this time. Long-time readers would know I’ve got the skills to handle buffets like this one, and a cooperative tummy to boot. :-P

Plate 1: Salmon, tuna, mussels, and shrimps

Plate 2: Baked mussels, embutido, and cheese (blue, goat, chevre and puti)

Plate 3: Shrimp and brocolli, bagnet, and foie gras sisig

Plate 4: Kambing sa langka, mahi mahi with tausi, BBQ ribs, and habechuelas

Plate 5: Durian panna cotta and leche flan

The verdict? Congratulations! Way more hits than misses!

1. Foie gras sisig, hands-down, is the star of the night. It is the best sisig I have ever eaten. So sinful, so rich, so umami-filled (minus the MSG I hope), I really fell in love with this dish. A close second would be the habechuelas – the love child of mashed potatoes (for its texture) and pork and beans (well, because it is made of white beans and bacon). Other stand-outs were the fat and juicy mussels (both the steamed and baked ones), plump shrimps (again, both boiled and those mixed in with brocolli) and the tender kambing sa langka (goat stew). Loved all of it!

2. The thumbs down for me came from the bagnet. I think what can be faulted though is the cut I got, and the time the meat has been sitting around. Another thing we sorely missed was the lechon. The buffet would’ve really rocked if that was present.

3. The desserts were a bit polarizing. The leche flan (please stop calling it creme brulee if it doesn’t have a crackly caramel top!) was perfect: thick custard with a lovely mouthfeel and an appropriate level of sweetness that even seniors in the group liked. The durian panna cotta, on the other hand, was a different case. Only Kite and I liked it.  Truth be told, they should’ve called it shooters or shots instead of panna cotta. It was too liquid to be called the latter.

4. Service was fantastic. Two dishes got alternated at one point (chicken inasal and barbecued ribs) and I asked if there were still some left for the one I preferred. The lovely lady not only asked people from the kitchen, she even went out of her way to get some for me on a plate instead of just telling me that yes, it’s sill going to be served later. Good stuff. :-)

Do I think it’s worth the price tag? Considering the novelty of key dishes, the general flavorful-ness (wow, did I just invent a word?) of the food and the fabulous service, I’d say yes. It helps that the in-laws gave their seal of approval as well. Woot! If you’re not sold on the idea of paying for ~1,400.00 PHP for this though (No judgment, I’m stingy too. :-P), you might want to check out Deal Grocer ASAP. They’re offering it at ~900.00 PHP and I am telling you, that is a steal.


F1 Hotel Manila
32nd Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City
Telephone: +632 928 9888, +632 908 7888
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Taipei, Taiwan: Of lanterns, strawberries and stinky tofu

Not so fresh from a not so successful Yangmingshan undertaking, Ish, Jan, Alex and I took a bus and endured more than an hour of heavy traffic going back to the city. We weren’t even shocked of the traffic jam as that was a Saturday night after all and people were flocking to the event we were targeting as well: the Taipei Lantern Festival at the Taipei Expo Park.

Nose to nose ba kamo? :-P

But first, we ate “dinner” from the many food stalls that lined the streets of the nearby Yuangshan station. It was 7 P.M. then and our tummies had already decided they wanted to be filled. Earlier, Ish had also pumped us up about the quality of  street food Taipei has so we already had really high expectations.

The verdict? LEGIT. None of that high-society eats pretending to be fare for the masses. (Pinoy foodies would know what I’m talking about. ;-)) Just honest-to-goodness kanto-worthy goodies all the way. Our favorites? The plump, tender and flavorful fried calamari and the perfectly sweet candied strawberries, memories of which are enough to make my mouth water.

Good food means good crowd. And there were a couple of cars who attempted to pass by this alley ah! Wild!

I have never seen such a rich assortment of dim sum ever. Ansabe ng Master Siomai?

Winner! Photo credit: Alex Acapulco.

Is Taiwan Is Chocolate! Hahahaha! Photo credit: Alex Acapulco

All that jazz did not prepare me for my bizarre foods episode at Taiwan though. I wasn’t planning on one until my nose picked up on a scent that shouldn’t be present in a place where food is served – a whiff of a smell similar to the gunk that oozes off of wet garbage. Gross right? That’s what I was reminded of. I looked left and right and finally saw the sign: stinky tofu. The smell threw me off but I knew very well that I couldn’t resist. I bought one and after some snaps took a bite.

Oh I can clearly remember how these smell… as much as I want to forget about it. Never has food been so aptly named.

Taste-wise, it’s like your average deep-fried tofu slathered in some sort of barbecue-ish sauce. But as we all know, a huge part of flavor comes from the aroma.  That being said, I wasn’t able to go beyond two bites. (I don’t remember any of the three trying it, by the way.) It was just… too much. Gaaaaah. The worst part? The smell lingers in the mouth for a long time. I think the reason why I had one too many candied strawberries was to wash off that aftertaste. Double gaaaaah. Anyway, achievement unlocked naman, so keri na! :-)

I hate food wastage but I threw away more that half of this. Eek. Experience points for the win, though. :-)

It took us an hour to be satiated and we quickly moved towards the lantern festival which was just across the street. First things first: no entry fees! Woot! Taipei Expo Park was expansive and provided more than ample space for all the lanterns in display. The crowd turnout was equally massive, with most of the people obviously locals. There were some spots where we had to huddle close while walking lest we lose each other among the mob. :-P

At the center of it all (and bursting to the seams, actually) were the obvious main attraction – colorful and jovial lanterns of all shapes and sizes. The variety was just awe-inspiring, and this coming from a UP alum ah! We were all amazed at how much fun we had considering we were just looking at things and not actually doing anything. Lookie lookie below and even some more here.  Good clean fun, I tell you. :-D

I think this was Ish’s favorite lantern…

…and this was mine. Well, actually, all four of us loooooved this. Wagas lang ang tawa ni kuya. Kyooot!

This one too! How can you not smile after seeing this? :-P

We took a closer look and found out this centerstage piece was made of pet bottles. Amazing. We also saw one tower made of Yakult bottles. Way cool.

Just look at all those people…

…which led to some doing this. Smart!

Our first Taipei 101 sighting! So colorful yes?

We exhausted everything that can be seen (or at least we would like to think we tried) at the festival after almost an hour and a half.  Surprisingly, we still had some fuel left and our feet were not feeling sore at all so we decided to milk more out of that night. We found ourselves thirty minutes later having hot drinks at A Cup of Coffee in the Shilin district, just a couple of stations away from Yuangshan.

It was almost eleven in the evening so we made do with the shops that were open around the famed night market area. In the half hour we spent there, I remember that Ish and Jan shopped, while Alex and I quickly downed baked pork buns. Haha! Girls being girls and boys being boys. :-P We eventually called it a night and hailed a cab back home,  everyone in agreement that we wouldn’t fly home to Manila without coming back to the streets of Shilin. It was almost midnight.

Bokeh lovin’ at the counter of A Cup of Coffee. Me likey.

Exhibit number two of eating at where the locals line up…

…and of course, the masses were right. It’s a fragrant baked bun brimming with a herb-y and very moist ball of ground meat. I’d like to think of this as Asian burger. :-P Yum-o!


Up next: Done with stationary lanterns, we go for the floating ones. :-)

Taipei, Taiwan: Of oysters, cherry blossoms, and hardcore drivers

You know your adventure’s off to a great start when you land on your airport destination at 12:40 AM, and the last bus out to the city is at 1. Man, these Amazing Race moments never fail me…

Jan and I took the same flight out of Manila and, quickly after landing, hopped on the final bus to TRA East Exit. That hour-long trip was pretty straightforward, but the cab ride to Wanghua District was a bit tricky (hint: No English! No English!). Good thing I was with a seasoned traveler who remembered to print graphic directions and maps both in English and Mandarin. (That’s a pro-tip right there. ;-))

We arrived at our hostel, the interestingly named Mango53 Inn, unscathed and were welcomed by a sleepy Ish who had already spent a good day exploring the city and Xinbeitou by herself. Because of the ungodly hour, Jan and I decided to sleep it off until the last member of our group, Alex, arrived. Funny thing is that when he did at around six in the morning, he asked for some time to recuperate too. Haha! The girls and I, not wanting to waste any more precious time, just wandered around the adjacent Bangka area. Fortunately, there were a lot to see:

Just a couple of blocks from the hostel, and adjacent to its namesake station, Longshan gave us our expected dose of Asian temples. A first for me: one that mixes worship for Buddhism, Taoism and folk gods and goddesses. Talk about being inclusive.

Didn’t capture it quite successfully here but those were some beautiful pillars, columns and ceiling details. Love!

Beautiful as it was, I’m not sure what this peacock stood for though.

Another block away is the old street of Bo Pi Liao. I believe it has some level of significance in Taiwanese pop culture apparent from the effort being taken to restore it. Seen here is one of the street’s many interesting artsy installations.

This time, with Ultraman. :-P More on Bo Pi Liao on succeeding posts. (We went back here with Alex the day after…)

Cannot be missed! The wet market at the back alleys of the area was an experience on its own. Black chicken, cooked dishes, dry goods (undies! gasp!), exotic fruits and vegetables, and what have you’s right next to each other was fun to see.

We went back to check on Alex, and true to form, he was still asleep. :-P We woke him up, and freshened up ourselves as it was nearing lunch time already. We had no idea where to eat, so we hunted down a place along Heping West Road recommended by an uncle from the hostel. If my memory serves me right, we didn’t know what the place was called, just the name of the street and the food that was served.

As we would soon realize, Anglicization isn’t a norm in the city, so we relied heavily on visual cues (read: memorizing the shape of the characters :-P), gestures from people we encountered along the way and our sniffing skills.  Only now after some Googling am I made aware that the roadside resto’s name is Chen’s, and that it is actually pretty popular for its oyster noodles. For 50.0 TWD (~69.00 PHP, ~1.65 USD), we got our first taste of Taiwanese cuisine, and it didn’t disappoint.

Another proof that lining up where the locals do is always a good idea.

Al fresco, Taipei style. Seats and tables are limited so one has to be quick both on spotting the next one available, and on finishing one’s bowl so others may eat theirs.


Voila! The famed oyster noodles: rice noodles (or as Pinoys refer to it, misua), pork intestines (isaw baboy) and oysters (OH EM! TALABA!), swimming in a relatively viscous broth spiked with chili oil. The serving lady asks “Small, medium or large?” and “Chili? Chili?” so there is a level of customization here. We chose small with chili, because it was *drumroll please* chilly… Hahaha!

Up close and personal. This is not as scary as it looks. The dish is filling, flavorful and perfect for a cool morning. Can’t pinpoint a similar dish to compare, but it was salty (but not too much) and savory, characteristic of Asian cuisine. I personally loved this.

After lunch, we continued our “we have no plans whatsoever so let’s see where the roads will lead us” journey. Ish shared having read some free brochures and leaflets earlier and the words “cherry blossoms” popped out. We really didn’t need any more prodding. :-D

An art installation at the Main Station. Did you notice the pencil? #creepy

Candid shot while deciphering the bus routes of Taipei. I trust them about anything travel-related; the mileage these two girls have are crazy!

Unfortunately, we were welcomed with rain and friggin cold wind. We were wet AND freezing! I think I was wearing slippers then. Haha! The only thing that held me back from going all nuts and screaming “We should’ve gone to the hot springs instead!” was the  fact that I was with the three people I was with. Seriously, I needed the company and the humor to see the positive side of travelling by bus for over an hour, spending around moolah (30.00 TWD one-way bus from Main Station to Yangmingshan, ~12.50 TWD for each bus ride within the mountains) and seeing, well, fog. :-P Now I’m sure the place is gorgeous on any other fine day, but deym, just our luck…

What frustrates me about this photo was I was the only one not in it. No photo with the cherry blossoms. Buti pa sila… Huhu! :-(

BEST. DRIVER. EVER. Zero visibility, zigzaging, wet roads AND still at top speed? We were literally gripping our seats. Haha!

Our reward? Buy one, take one coffee. Woot, Venti all the way! Sorry na, but we really needed the warmth, and the caffeine.

Photo care of the Panda. :-p Hay, what a first day. Fortunately, that was the first and last misstep of our Taipei trip. Major good vibes coming up!

We hailed another shuttle to go back to the foot of the park, comforted ourselves with the warmth of coffee (I don’t recall having been THAT happy seeing Starbucks) and shared an hour of so of stories, laughter, and teaching Ish Candy Crush. :-P It was four in the afternoon when we decided to bid goodbye to the mini-heartbreak that was Yangmingshan and head back to the city.


Up next: “Ish, can you move closer to the light please?:-P

Tacloban, Leyte: Epilogue

“Where will I meet you?” || Good coffee and pseudo-kaya toast at The Coffee Lounge, Robinson’s Place Tacloban. I have to say, that was one nice provincial mall.

It may not have been the most exciting of destinations (keepin’ it real y’all…) but Tacloban surely has left its mark on our hearts, largely due to the special couple we went there for and the foodie surprises we encountered along the way. Would we have a reason to come back? Probably. I am still bummed that we didn’t get to experience Libro Atbp., and the supposedly gorgeous beaches of Leyte, so yeah, maybe some day. That and I have to re-do my MacArthur photo because my idol uncle sent over his, and it clearly topped mine. RAWR!

This was Mona and Ode’s wedding souvenir, five months after it was given to me and Kite. Can you guess which is whose? ;-)

Just quickly, here’re this series’ posts. Damo nga salamat Tacloban! Ngada hit aton pagkita utro! (Special thanks to my Waray coach, Liisa. Haha!)

Downtown Tacloban: Of kisses, idols and photobombing kitties
Ocho Seafood and Grill: Of sarad, chance and coconut
San Juanico Bridge, Rafael Farms Garden Restaurant, and Gen. MacArthur Landing Memorial: Of postcard moments, diving ducks and “I shall return”
LeyChon Diner: Of lechon, lechon, and oh, did I mention lechon?

Tacloban, Leyte: Of lechon, lechon, and oh, did I mention lechon? (LeyChon Diner)

What is it with the Visayas islands and lechon?


Why do they have the most freakishly delicious roast pork? You know, the type that’s dripping with herby goodness and doesn’t need sarsa. The one that makes your mouth and tummy scream “Eat mooooore…” while your brain and heart goes “Noooooo!”.  The one that makes you down rice and cola, things you normally wouldn’t touch even with a ten-foot pole.


I hope you see only two pigs in this photo…

If you noticed (it’s perfectly fine if you didn’t) in the first sentence above, I used Visayas, instead of the province whose lechon is of international fame, Cebu. I’ve had multiple encounters with Cebu lechon before – the one in C. Padilla St. remains my all-time favorite  – and Kite and I came across something really close to it in Leyte (and saw heaps of lechon stalls scattered across the city, actually) that I feel merits the generalization.

LeyChon was our second unexpected food discovery in Tacloban, Ocho being the first. The day we found it, we were originally gunning for Café Lucia, but since the more popular resto was closed, we hunted down LeyChon instead. We had passed by the diner a couple of times while in transit on earlier occasions and already got intrigued by its clever play on names so we decided to go for it.

Kite and I were fortunate enough to be the first customers that day and we got all the benefits that came along with that distinction. We saw the place in its untouched glory (bright and cheery with interesting artwork on the walls), had the crew’s undivided attention (always a plus) AND got first dibs on the lechon served that day (read: no shortage of the much anticipated crackling skin). Triple win!

Yellow, sunny and bright, the UST graduate I was with couldn’t be any happier. :-P

After a rather quick discussion with the waiter, we decided to order half a kilo of lechon, and a plate each of pancit Leyte and rellenong talong. We also got buko pie with pandan ice cream for dessert. The end result?

Heart attack-inducing calorie heaven.

The lechon was everything we wanted it to be. The generous amount of skin served to us was still warm and was very much crisp. The meat was tender, had copious amounts of lovely rendered fat and exploded with that characteristic flavor of lemongrass mingling with a mix of other herbs and spices. Our moans and groans and oohs and aahs of pleasure with matching clenched fists and closed eyes were just too much, it was good that we were the only ones in the resto that time. :-P

Kite and I gobbled what could’ve fed four. It was that goood!

A macro shot to make you more envious. Permission to drool granted.

My heart probably wasn’t as happy as Spongebob and me…

You need this more to cut the fattiness of the pork rather than as a flavor enhancer. Forgot to ask what kind of vinegar this is though…

The other plates on the table fared equally as well. The pancit Leyte, which to me appeared to be just the province’s version of pancit canton, was loaded with a cornucopia of seafood and veggies. The noodles were wonderfully firm accompanied by a sauce that was perfectly seasoned and was rich but not too cloying. The same observations held for their rellenong talong, or tortang talong for us Tagalogs. The dish which if I’m not mistaken was made of three eggplants (!) was brimming with bits of tomatoes and other vegetables, and was fortunately not oily.

As for the dessert, I was a fan. While it will not win any awards for the creaminess of its ice cream component, the classic flavor combination was a homerun. I told Kite “Wow. Why didn’t I think about this?“.  The mini-coconut pie was pretty good, with a dollop of buko meat inside and a slightly cheesy and crumbly crust . The only thing I would probably change about it is that it could’ve been served a tad warmer. Other than that, it’s a beauty!

Can anyone confirm if Warays really serve pancit this way?

To offset the bad calories daw. Healthy daw kasi kami. Hahaha!

Major points for the presentation, yes? Didn’t expect this level of attention to detail when it was laid before us.

Tip: request for the pie to be warmed before being served. I feel that will elevate this already beautiful meal-ender to the next level.

We spoke to the staff and asked how long LeyChon has been around and they told us it opened only late last year. I figured that was why I haven’t read or heard anything about it online or from friends who hail from Tacloban. That being said, I hope LeyChon continues to prosper and attract a steady customer base. I would hate to see this diner go to waste, especially since I see that it potentially has the makings of being an iconic Leyte restaurant as much as CnT and/or Zubuchon are in Cebu. If every customer experiences the same quality of food and service Kite and I had, I say LeyChon has a chance. :-)

I haven’t tried enough lechons from Leyte for me to validate their claim of being “Leyte’s Best Lechon” but I can wholeheartedly say theirs is pretty darn good. :-)


LeyChon Diner
384 Richcom Bldg, Real & Kalipayan St.
Tacloban City, Leyte, Philippines, 6500
Telephone: +6353 321 9865
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/LeyChon-Diner/468327333188285

Tacloban, Leyte: Of sarad, chance and coconut (Ocho Seafood and Grill)

It is no secret that I’m borderline obsessive-compulsive. I’ve been known to be quite the perfectionist, control freak (the tolerable type, I hope), am a huge fan of careful planning and is madly, deeply in love with spreadsheets. Don’t get me wrong, I can be spontaneous if the situation calls for it (really, really impulsive, actually :-P), but most of the times, I prefer schedules and structure.

This is why I feel two of our Tacloban food finds (and the trip in general, now that I think about it) are a fluke. No plans. No destinations in mind. No preparation at all.

First case in point: Ocho Seafood and Grill.

Don’t be fooled by this facade…

Ocho was a serendipitous find. Kite and I were just aimlessly walking around (no, actually, we were looking for some hangout spots :-P) on our last night in town when we noticed our stomachs grumbling. We have already passed by several fast food chains and some nondescript roadside restaurants but, for reasons I cannot remember, we eventually only got interested in exploring Ocho. (I think I was craving for seafood then and I saw the sign?) Little did we know it’s a fairly popular restaurant in the city, and, after sharing a meal for two, we understood that it was for very good reasons.

We really didn’t expect what we saw when we stepped in. The outside of Ocho betrayed its inside to some degree; the interiors were almost too posh, what with its ceiling details and rows, upon rows of bottles of wine. Kite and I went “Oh. This is a surprise.“, and a nice one at that.

…as these will welcome you once you get in. Ambience ba kamo?

This one was right beside our table. Who would’ve thought?

After being assigned a table, we were led to a dampa-esque area at the back of the resto where diners pointed and picked among a wiiide range of fresh seafood. (It was unfortunate that they didn’t allow people to take photos of their spread, though. I found no reasons for them not to, but I didn’t bother asking why…) There, guests are asked how much by weight their order is and in what way they prefer it cooked: grilled, fried, adobo, you know, the works.

To help us down our food, we ordered fresh mango (mine) and guyabano (Kite’s) fruit shakes. The mango was good, but major points for the guyabano.

It was a gargantuan task choosing from the many options, so we left our dinner’s fate to the recommendations of the ladies who served us. They gladly (and quite honestly, I must say) gauged how much will do for a serving for two and what we ended up with are supposedly their bestsellers: a bivalve called shell sarad, adobo-style, shrimps fried in garlic and squid served on a sizzling plate doused in sweet spicy sauce.

We sat down, enjoyed the feast bestowed by the Philippine seas, and well, nothing else to say but craving very much satisfied. :-) The sarad (apparently pen shell in English) had an interesting chewiness, with a texture and taste reminiscent of kuhol or golden snails crossed with that of the familiar mussels or clams. The way the adobo was cooked was peculiar too, with a sauce that was a bit viscous. Don’t worry, it’s the good kind of peculiar. ;-)

Excellently prepared too were the squids and shrimps. While advertised as “fried“, the shrimps weren’t oily at all. Both it and the sizzling squid turned out tender and sweet, and the sauces were not cloying and kicked varying levels of heat. Kite, no doubt, loved it, and so did I. :-)

Our waitress was “Sir, I recommend adobong shell sarad.” and we were like “Sarad? What’s sarad?”. Ayan. Ayan ang sarad. Cheers to bizarre foods!

Fried. Sweet. Garlic. Shrimp. How can you go wrong with that?

The color was a bit off when we first saw it – too bright I think – but one bite and were won over by Ocho’s sweet spicy sizzling squid. Spicyyy!

Oh, they have a menu too, and we chose two items from it, again based from the staff’s suggestions: porbidang kangkong and chicken binakol. The vegetable dish we ordered to balance off the calories from all the seafood, but well, it failed on doing that. Haha! It was extra rich and creamy! Think laing, but less viscous.  So much for adding a healthy component to the meal. :-P

From the menu: “Porbidang kangkong is an Ilonggo vegetable dish made with kangkong leaves stewed in a spicy broth of coconut milk. This rich dish goes perfectly with a great heaping of warm rice and is one of our bestsellers.”. Hay. Rice.

Now the chicken binakol, oh the chicken binakol… As amazing as their marine fare was, Kite and I  were floored by this. Comfort food at its finest! The broth was to die for; naturally sweet, flavorful, heartwarming, the type of soup you’d like to sip whole night long. The person who invented this dish, adding coconut water and coconut meat to an otherwise average stock of boiled chicken, was a genius!

And this one at Ocho? I remember this was the day Pacquiao lost a match to Marquez. Chicken binakol made us forget about that. It was that goood…

And the award for best dish of the night goes to… a dish with no seafood! Haha! Can’t get over how awesome the flavors of this dish were. By the way, what other dishes are served on empty coconut shells like this one?

A closer look. See those white slivers? After we slurped all the soup away, we even scraped the leftover coconut meat on the inner sides of the shell. PG mode lang. :-P

Ocho may be onto something as they claim they are “Tacloban’s finest seafood restaurant”. While I have no basis of comparison, I would still highly recommend it to anyone going to Tacloban. I hear Liisa (a proud local) and Kebs (her very own Jay Durias :-P) loves it here too, so I guess Kite and I are not an isolated case. That being said, don’t skip their chicken binakol! Don’t even think about it, just order for one. Well, unless you’re allergic to coconut, or great food. :-P

And yeah. Goes to show some of the best things in life we come across with even on unplanned occasions. Woot! ;-)

Ocho Seafood and Grill: Tacloban’s finest seafood restaurant


Ocho Seafood and Grill
Senator Enage Street, Tacloban City
Leyte, Philippines, 6500
Telephone: +6353 325 4171, +6353 523 3220
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OchoGrill


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