Travel

[TRAVEL NOMS] Taipei Street Food

Hey guys! I hope you all had an fantastic weekend like I did. As we get ready to go back to the daily grind, I thought of flooding you with pictures of noms from a recent trip to Taipei.

As a first timer, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Unlike Bangkok which is known for tasty meals and cheap shopping, or Japan with their endless Kawaii stuff and their vending machine noms, Taipei is a bit on the down low. There were many surprises as soon as I got there. Firstly, did you know that Taiwan was under Japanese rule for half a century? No? Neither did I. Secondly, did you know that weather in Taipei could get as chilly as 8°C in spring!? Yes? Oh, so it’s just me. Thirdly, did you know that they have really interesting and tasty noms? Yes too? Okay, I really need to brush up on International cuisine.

Anyway, check out some Taipei street food I saw and tried while I was there-

Ximending

Ximending is one of Taipei’s busiest shopping areas. To the left there’d be a Starbucks, to the right, there’d be a booth with roast duck and pork. It’s a fun fusion of local and international food and goodies.

ximending_ampalaya
They seem to have a thing for ampalaya (correct me if I’m wrong), making them into shakes and other things.
ximending_duck
Roast duck and pork by the sidewalk.

Nanmen Market

Nanmen Market is a building near the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial. The first thing you should know about this building is that is entirely powered by solar power (air conditioning and all). On the ground floor, you can buy fresh fruits, meat jerky, nuts, and dried fruits by the gram.

nanmenmarket_fruits
Fruits galore!

Upstairs, there is a food court where you’d be hard pressed to find an English menu. So, you’d have to copy whatever the person ahead of you in line ordered and pray it weren’t something weird like lizard eyes or something.

Shilin Night Market

It would seem like EVERYTHING can be bought in Shilin Night Market. From dog clothes, to cellphone accessories, to bike parts, to clothes, you name it, they’ve got it. Outside of goodies, there are a bajillion food booths all over the place, it smelled like food whichever way you turn.

shilinnightmarket_froglegs
Not actually frog eggs, it’s just sweet milk tea.
shilinnightmarket_fruits
Fruits are really sweet. <3
shilinnightmarket_innards
Taipei’s version of isaw and other weird animal parts.
shilinnightmarket_quaileggs
These are later fried with batter and served on skewers, much like our own kwek-kwek.
shilinnightmarket_sausages
Sausages aplenty!
shilinnightmarket_sausages
So many food booths next and across each other.
shilinnightmarket_candiedtomatoes
Candied strawberries (I think) and tomatoes (yep).
shilinnightmarket_friedstuff
Fried seafood.

All in all, the food culture in Taipei is a thumbs up. There’s still so much to discover from this pleasant city, will definitely go back again.

Travel

Strawberries! Strawberries Everywhere!

On a whim, my family decided to head to Baguio one random Monday in February.

We had three fairly logical reasons for embarking in an impromptu road trip up North–
1. Cheap gas. Gas prices were down and the long drive would probably be cheaper than usual. Diesel was around 30 bucks a liter, and you cant get a fairer price than that these days.

2. No traffic. EVERYONE seemingly planned a trip to Baguio that weekend after Christmas. After that epic traffic hell they went through, hardly anyone would make a trip back so soon. Getting there took us less than five hours from Quezon City via SCTEX and TPLEX. And we left at 6am, which is normally a little late to expect a pleasant drive.

3. The weather. The start of February usually signals the end of the Christmas-y climate, extending it for a few days more up North sounded like a good idea. Now, the last time I was in Baguio, they said it would be cool and crisp but when I got there, the sun was so high up that I was wishing for sunglasses and a piña colada. Not sure if they deliver there but I found out that Zalora lets you shop for sunglasses by model, frame, shape and lens color. I was almost tempted to get one right there and then. This time around, I was in a thin shirt, thin leggings and was armed with the proper eyewear. I regretted my outfit choice as soon as I stepped out of the car. It was really cold, almost like Japan end of winter kind of cold.

A consolation to my freezing legs is that cool weather usually means it’s strawberry hoarding season! We kicked things off (and hardly stopped) with the famous Baguio strawberry taho next to the iconic Lion’s Head. There were a handful of sellers near the tourist attraction but we got from the guy that took our picture for us (lulz).

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When in Baguio, Strawberry Taho is a must try!

The warm soy drink with fresh Baguio strawberry syrup with fruit bits was the perfect thing to shake off the cold. Delicious. This fueled our strawberry cravings even more that we hurriedly made our way to our next stop– La Trinidad, the nub of all them beautiful Baguio strawberries! Okay, maybe not all, but a ton.

What welcomed us was a lineup up of “dirty” ice cream carts, all selling, you guessed it, strawberry ice cream. Since there was a lot of competition, it took some convincing for us to pick a cart. One cart guaranteed the deliciousness of his product bearing the sign “Special Strawberry Ice Cream. Masarap, promise!!!” He offered us a free taste, and we discovered out that he made good on his promise– masarap nga!

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Masarap, promise!

We then proceeded to hoard his stock before happily heading to the farm for fresh strawberries. While the taho and the ice cream were really nice, the real draw of the trip to the strawberry farm is the freshly picked, sweet-smelling, and plump Baguio strawberries. Baguio strawberries are by far the best strawberries I’ve had, even compared to produce from cooler climates. Specially the ones harvested from La Trinidad, Baguio strawberries are near perfect, evenly shaped, with smooth red skin, super fragrant and oh so sweet.

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Destemmed fresh hand-picked strawberries from La Trinidad, Benguet.

It was lovely to nibble on this sweet little things throughout the day. Later that first night, we capped off a homecooked meal with more of these fresh strawberries topped on good old vanilla ice cream. Incidentally, there are also a bunch of other fresh produce that can be got from La Trinidad. There were fresh broccoli, carrots, potatos, seedless Benguet oranges (which I fell in love with at first taste), cherry tomatos, lettuce, all freshly harvested in the farm and inexpensive to boot.

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Chunky stawberry smoothie.

After enjoying the sights, sounds, and weather, we headed home with a trunk load of strawberries, oranges, various vegetables, jam, walis, and some happy memories of family and Baguio. If only the handling of strawberries isn’t too delicate, we would have gotten more to bring home.

As a last hurrah of sorts, I used my remaining strawberries to make strawberry muffins back home in time for V day. The sweet smell of strawberries wafted from the oven and I was giddy when I took the muffins out. I had trimmed the fruits to look like hearts and topped the muffins with them. They looked super cute. Unfortunately, they were also super gross. The muffins were a tad underbaked and were inedible so I just scooped out the heart-shaped strawberries and called it a day. Still a win.

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V-day muffins.

 

Travel

Tokyo Eats: Ichiran’s Ramen Is The Answer To Life

Unfortunately, my visit to Japan happened at that unfortunate time between the end of winter and the start of spring. This meant some muddy snow, winter coats, near empty sakura trees, and people with face masks everywhere. Thankfully, ramen is all year round.

We arrived just in time for lunch, freezing our tropical toes off. As soon as we had checked in to the hotel and played with the famed Japanese toilet bidets, we were already hankering for some ramen. No trip to Japan is complete without getting to taste actual Japanese ramen after all. The staff of Best Western Astina (a hotel I highly recommend if you’re staying in Shinjuku area) were really nice and helpful, they even printed out maps and painstakingly wrote down directions to help us get around the city that day. Best of all, one of them pointed us to his favorite ramen place, which was gladly within walking distance away from the hotel.

Ichiran in Shinjuku
Ichiran in Shinjuku

Ichiran can be found in the heart of the shopping district in Shinjuku, just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the massive five-floor Uniqlo in the area (boy, we had a lot of fun here). Given that most street and store signs were in kanji and none of us could speak or read Japanese, it took us some time to find the place. Believe it or not, we had to rely on gut feel and checked each place that looked remotely like they serve food.

Ichiran has a large round black and red signage at the entrance in kanji so we couldn’t read it, we weren’t sure until we saw a small sign to the side that actually had the word “Ichiran” in letters on it. The dining area is in the basement and can be accessed by either a narrow flight of stairs or a tiny building elevator.

Ichiran in Shinjuku
Ichiran in Shinjuku

The first thing you see when you reach the basement is a couple of vending machines for ordering. I had read about vending machines in Japan beforehand and was looking forward to order a hot meal on a machine. It wasn’t exactly how I imagined it to be.

For one, I thought it would at least be a touchscreen with language options and food selections in my preferred language and mayhap a holographic image of a Japanese waitress in a cat costume asking me how my day was. Alas, there was none of those things. Instead, the vending machine was an old-fashioned grid of illuminated printed photos with labels in Japanese and clunky buttons below each one. Because I was so hungry, I picked what looked to be a safe choice and prayed that I wouldn’t accidentally order whale meat or something. Thank heavens for pictures.

Ichiran in Shinjuku
Your seatmate won’t get to watch you inhaling your ramen.

Another assumption I got wrong was the arrival of the food. I was half-expecting my food to magically be given to me by advanced AI, ala robo-maid Rosie of the Jetsons but with curves and anime eyes. (What? It’s Japan, I have high expectations of their technology.) Instead, the food is boringly served by a human. The vending machine is merely an ordering tool that is seemingly aimed to limit human interaction.

The theme of the whole restaurant feels the same. This dining area seems to be designed for individual diners hoping to get a quick, hot meal privately. Stools are positioned in a row and a long table is divided into single booths for the individual diner. To order, you fill up the paper survey on the table (you can specifically ask for English forms) to customize your ramen, ring an old-school bell and give your paid stubs to the server behind the flap in front of you whose face you can’t see.  

Ichiran in Shinjuku
1. No, he’s not Harry Potter. I checked.
2. Tap water is potable in Japan. Including the tap water from the bathrooms.

Five minutes later, your food is on your table through the flap, served by the faceless server doing hand gestures and stuff. Human interaction or not, I’ll take it. Ichiran ramen? Best. Goshdarned. Ramen. In. All. The. World. I swear I’m not exaggerating. The meat in particular was outstanding. The thinly sliced pork was the melt-in-your-mouth-please-have-my-babies kind of meat. The entire meal was so tasty and happy that it had my belly gurgling in joy all throughout lunch hour and then some. It’s sooo good it could be the answer to life.

I mentioned earlier that there’s a survey form for customizing your order. This is one thing I wish we had here (among others, like discipline for instance). In Ichiran, they let you specify how you want your ramen to be cooked. You have options for flavor strength, garlic, onion, meat, chili, and most importantly, noodle texture. This gives you the flexibility to make you ramen suit your own personal preferences. If you’re undecided, you can pick medium for all anyway and it would still be a win. The basic bowl has soup, noodles, and a couple slices of (melt-in-your-mouth) meat but you can also get add ons to well.. add on. Eggs, nori, meat, and additional noodles are available for an additional cost.

Ichiran in Shinjuku
The beautiful Ichiran Ramen

All Ichiran ramen have the same basic ingredients but with the available options, you can customize it to satisfy your picky tastebuds. If you like dining alone but do not like the awkward stares, you’ll enjoy the design of the place. They take your personal space seriously, the division between customers effectively separates each single diner from the next and gives you some privacy while inhaling your beautiful, beautiful ramen. I guess the only drawback is for those when you actually want to enjoy your food with company. But for this kind of ramen, I’ll take it any which way. I’d be more than happy to savor every last drop of Ichiran ramen alone and in bliss.

Take a closer look and be jealous-

Ichiran in Shinjuku
Ichiran in Shinjuku

The good

  • Customizeable ramen.
  • Quick, hot meal available right in the heart of the city.
  • You can dine alone in peace.
  • Best.

The bad

  • Not anywhere close to where I currently am.
  • No seating available for groups.

The bacon

5 out of 5 bacons! Ichiran quite honestly deserves all the bacon I can give it.  The best thing about them is the customizeable ramen. We all have personal preferences after all. Having options to add noodles, as many eggs or nori as you want, or have the broth made less tasty makes sure you get YOUR perfect ramen in every bowl.*Apparently, they have a branch in Hong Kong! At least that’s only an hour and half away from us. 😛

Ichiran

3-34-11 Peace Building-B1F
Shinjuku Shinjuku-ku Tokyo-to

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Travel

Hong Kong Street Food: Looks Can Be Deceiving

Let me begin this post by saying that I’m not all that adventurous when it comes to weird animal parts. I can’t even think of eating Betamax because the thought that it’s coagulated chicken blood gets me all iffy. I don’t eat the baby duck in the balut, because when I see a baby anything, all I want to do is make funny faces so it laughs and loves me back. Neither do I particularly enjoy the Chinese-style steamed frog legs because it’s severed legs from what could have been a prince. You get it, I don’t like nomming weird animal things.

Wah Kee Snacks serves street noms Hong Kong style!

When we went to a street food place in Hong Kong freezing in socks and scarves, I wasn’t the most excited. I wanted to try new noms but I wasn’t all that worked up about eating (or even seeing) pig eyes on a stick or something. Mind you, although it’s called “street food”, it isn’t a setup where a vendor sets up a push cart with his cookware and meatstuff on the sidewalk of a  particularly crowded street. It’s actually a corner stall in the ground floor of a building with an actual kitchen area, prep area, and a cooking/serving area. Nothing fancy, but it’s legit.

The first section we saw had a bunch of normal-looking, even pleasant, skewered balls perhaps made of squid or crab or lobster (or cat, who knows really?) being boiled in some spicy-smelling murky liquid. That was fine by me. I could eat those.

These look vanilla.

Then in another corner, there was a selection of safe-looking cheese dynamites (or whatever they call it), some sliced sausages, skewered eggs, some wings, all on sticks ready to be fried and served. By this time, potential hurling had been averted because the food actually looked pretty good.

Nothing too strange here.

And then in the next one, I saw these vile-looking creature things sitting in thick, brown, murky, and smelly unidentified liquid.  This is about the time when my eyes started to water and dinner started making its way back up my esophagus.

Chocolate-y! Not.

Upon further inspection, they looked like (hopefully) cooked (hopefully) beef and/or pork (hopefully) liver all ready to be gobbled up by a local or an unknowing brave tourist. This isn’t anything revolutionary though, Filipinos also find a way to incorporate liver into our menus- be in pancit, or mechado, among many other Pinoy noms. If you like the taste of liver, you’d probably have a blast with this one.

Then I came to the last section of the store and it wasn’t a pretty sight, to put it mildly. In a doughnut-shaped pan were strings of what looked like some sort of animal part/product that you don’t even want to know because whatever it is comes in various unpleasant shades of brown and yellow and goop.

“Looks like kikiam. It’s probably kikiam. I hope it’s kikiam. Oh god, please let it be kikiam.”

When the initial shock wore off and I noticed that no one around is vomiting or dying of some unknown instantaneous death, I started thinking that it might actually be good stuff. The thing looked like pig (or cow?) intestine stuffed with something. We’ll call it intestine goop, for future reference. In the middle of the preparation pan where the doughnut hole would have been is a pot of hot seasonings and oil; this is where they dunk the sticks of Hong Kong-style isaw and let it simmer in the sauces for a few minutes before serving.

When served, you can choose to squirt a couple of sauces on it. A brown one- sweet Hoisin sauce, and a yellow that’s some kind of mild mustard sauce. Combined with the unique taste and texture of the Hong Kong Style-isaw and the intestine goop inside it, it actually makes for a very, very tasty snack. A snack we came back every night for.

It wasn’t kikiam. It’s Hong Kong’s version of the Pinoy favorite isaw (grilled intestine).

These street food stores are everywhere too. This one shown in the pictures is Wah Kee Snacks, located at the corner of Hart avenue and Prat avenue in Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong. Their store is only a couple of streets away from where we stayed and it became a favorite midnight snack destination for us then, specially for my little munchkin cousin (in picture) who once ate all of 4 isaw sticks in one night.

The sticks are sold for 10-20 HKD each, depending on which one you want to risk your life for. Honestly, it all looks to be safe, unless you have a particularly weak stomach for these kinds of noms, literally and figuratively. To help ease your mind,  these street food stalls were busy every night we stopped by. A bunch of regulars, local fashionable yuppies, can usually be seen stuffing their faces with these boiled/fried street food in the wee hours of the morning whilst chatting up with each other, not unlike the afternoon situation in Makati Jollijeeps.

Travel

Selera Highlights Davao Favorites – Durian and Mangosteen

On our last Day in Davao a few months ago, we had plans to have lunch with relatives since our flight wasn’t until late afternoon. Location-wise, we were already near the airport so we opted not to venture far in case of any delays. One of Davao’s premier (and newer) malls, SM Lanang, was just a hop and a skip away from the hotel we were staying at so it seemed like the most logical choice.

SM Lanang is a modern-day mall designed similarly to Taguig’s SM Aura- with glossy interiors, high-end shops, large open spaces, and of course, a good number restaurants to choose from for our last Davao lunch. Being based in Manila, this makes us sort of tourists in Davao, and we wanted (or at least I did) to try out unique Davao dishes instead of the usual ones. This is where Selera Bistro comes in.

Selera Bistro in SM Lanang

Located at the Fountain Court of SM Lanang, home to a row of restaurants overlooking the fountain with a large fixture that reads DAVAO in colorful block letters, Selera’s clean and homey ambiance made it a good choice as any.

It didn’t hurt that their staff nicely offered us to taste their free appetizers and introduced their specialties when they noticed we were hovering outside while looking for a place to eat at. The interior has nice neutral hues of beige and white accented by mahogany shelves and various local artwork, giving for an elegant and pleasant design. But we’re not here to dwell on the design. Let’s get on with the noms, shall we?

Bam-i Noodles (p225), Bacon Wrapped Bagaybay (p260)
TESTICLES, I ATE TESTICLES.

We started off with appetizers- the free not-on-the-menu-yet chicken fingers, a plateful for sharing of Bam-i Noodles, and Bacon Wrapped Bagaybay.

I ordered that last one knowing what a “bagaybay” was.  The dish had me at “bacon wrapped”, which is usually a safe choice, albeit not the healthiest. Before continuing, what is most important to note is that I enjoyed it these little salty appetizers. Upon further research (and I mean just now), bagaybay is the term for testicles of a tuna.

Yes, ladies and gents, without knowing it, I ate actual fish balls. And I liked it.

Salpicao (p310), Crispy Pata ala Selera (p465), Crispy Tadyang ng Baka (p375)

Next came the entrees- Salpicao (technically an appetizer), Crispy Tadyang ng Baka, and the good old Crispy Pata. Review? K, k, k. They’re all okay but none stand out particularly. The Crispy Tadyang ng Baka was a lot less crispy than I would have liked, but perhaps that’s a personal reference. Salpicao had some gummy bits, but then again, maybe I’m too nitpicky. The Crispy Pata is yummy as usual, but a little on the small side for the price. They aren’t Selera’s specialties, so I’ll forgive them.

This next one though, is the most unique dish of all, if I may say so. Davao, of course, is known for the abundance of their produce of durian, aka the king of fruits. Selera thought to infuse it with seafood curry, a dish prepared with coconut milk and curry powder (or paste). I thought it would make for an interesting mix.

Seafood Durian Curry (310)

The Seafood Durian Curry definitely smelled of durian, and the flavor of the fruit gave the usually rich, milky dish a slightly bitter taste. While many dislike the strong aroma of durian, I don’t think it’s any worse than the smell of other tropical fruits langka and marang. The distinct flavor and creamy texture of the fruit is more than enough to forget about the scent. However, in this case, it didn’t seem like the flavor complemented the dish. It wasn’t horrible, but I think I would rather keep durian and seafood curry separate. It did make for an interesting combination, thumbs up to Selera for offering a unique mix.

And on to desserts!

Mangosteen Mousse (p138)

The Mangosteen Mousse caught my eye from the get go. I mean, where can you get a mangosteen-flavored dessert in Manila? I’d say probably nowhere. It’s a frothy little number with the distinct sweet and slightly sour flavor of the mangosteen. Nom! The only problem I had with it is that the serving size was way too small, I could have finished it in two spoonfuls.

Thankfully, we had other desserts to share. One of them is the Caramelized Tapioca with Choconut Ice Cream. Sweetened sago is topped with a scoop of chocnut flavored ice cream. It was really sweet, but it’s chocnut ice cream! We gotta live a little sometimes. 🙂

Mangosteen Ice Cream with Biko (p120), Caramelized Tapioca with Choconut Ice Cream (p115)

Last but not the least is another mangosteen-flavored sweet, Mangosteen Ice Cream with Biko. It tasted like a creamy version of a ripe mangosteen. Sweet and sour at the same time. Having biko on the side was also a nice touch, for when you need to take a break from the summery flavor of the ice cream. To top it off, the plate is drizzled with mangosteen syrup, which is nom. You can also choose to not get the biko for a little less.

My aunt said that the word selera means tasty in Malay. It’s a fitting for this bistro, everything was pretty darned tasty. My favorite of the night was Mangosteen Ice Cream. Yum-o!

The good

  • Dishes are infused with unique Davao flavors.
  • Desserts are nommy.
  • Nice staff and comfy ambiance.

The bad

  • Besides the few unique dishes, the rest are just alright.

The bacon

3 bacons! Selera has a distinctly Davaoeno menu that not only caters to tourists, but has enough appeal for locals as well. Prices are not too bad, servings are a slightly on the small size but their menu offers you a unique taste of Davao. Props for thinking up unique dishes!


Selera Bistro

Address: 2nd floor, Fountain Court, SM Lanang, Davao City
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Travel

Davao’s Tiny Kitchen is Big on Flavor

And as we start this wet, wet Tuesday, we shall tell you about yet another Davao find from my last trip. The last time, we went on a juicy burger binge at Backyard Burgers. This time, we’ll be talking about a not so tiny Spanish-Filipino restaurant called Tiny Kitchen (according to their FB page, their full name is Tiny Kitchen Creations).

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caption

It was pouring when we got there, but their guard kindly assisted us with an umbrella. As soon as I set foot inside, I was instantly reminded of Mom & Tina’s (incidentally one of my go-to restaurants here in Manila). The interior was homey, decorated in warm yellow, wood, and accented by blues. Right by the entrance is a cake shelf, filled with rows of inviting looking sweet cakes that are sold by the slice, on the shelves and on the counter are jars of biscuits, cookies, and various other baked treats. We’ll go back to that later. For now, let’s talk about the main entries.

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Gambas Al a Jillo (p270), Sopa Rojo (p210), Alicante Ensalada (p265)

For starters, we ordered Gambas Al a Jillo, Sopa Rojo, and Alicante Ensalada. Gambas Al a Jillo is shrimp sauteed in garlic served with lightly toasted herbed focaccia bread. Sopa Rojo is a seafood tomato soup with fish, shells, shrimps, squid, and perterters. Alicante Ensalada is a house special, greens tossed with ham slices, cheese, egg, capers, and special honey dressing. Of the three, I liked the Gambas the best, if only for the herbed focaccia bread. They’re also selling them in packs and I would’ve brought some home if I had space left in my luggage.

Calamari Relleno en su Tinta (p235), Callos Al a Tiny (p265), Pollo Tomate y Rosmaria (p290)

For main entries, we had stuffed baby squid dish called Calamari Relleno en su Tinta, slow cooked beef stew with assorted meats and chorizo de bilbao called Callos Al a Tiny, and chicken stewed in tomato sauce infused with rosemary herb called Pollo Tomate y Rosmaria. The Calamari Relleno in particular was quite tasty, the ground meat stuffing inside the perfectly cooked squid was an interesting combination.

It’s not a complete Spanish noms experience without nomming on good old paella. Last of the main dishes we tried is this gorgeous paella-

Paella Negra (Medium, p770)

Tiny Kitchen has a number of paella options but we settled on a medium sized Paella Negra, a classic paella dish of black squid ink paella rice mixed with assorted seafood. Their paellas need a cooking time of 30-40 minutes and come in six sizes: Extra Small (good for 1), Small (good for 2), Medium (good for 4-5), Large (good for 6-8), Family (good for 10-15), and Party (good for 15-20). Their paella is is nicely topped with a good amount of seafood bits and the rice itself is flavorful enough to eat on its own. I’m no expert on Spanish cooking but this paella is one I’d order again if I could.

Tiny Kitchen’s noms are are rather small for the prices but most were rich and tasty, exactly how Spanish noms should be. Now on to desserts. (FINALLY!)

Yema Cake (p80), Mango Sans Rival (p90), Red Velvet (p110), Marta's Fave (p105), Frozen Mango Brazo (p95)

Oh dear, this portion could totally be an entire post on its own. Tiny Kitchen has a huge, and I mean HUGE, selection of desserts, snacks, and all sorts of sweet treats, it’s insane. Thankfully, we were a big enough group to justify trying out a bunch of them. Here’s our bunch:

  1. Frozen Mango Brazo is the ice cream cake version of the much loved brazo de mercedes where mango ice cream takes the place of the typical sweet egg yolk center. Must try!
  2. Mango Sans Rival is a classic sans rival cake enhanced by the flavor of ripe mango. Super good (and sweet)!
  3. Red Velvet Cake was fluffy, thick, and moist. It was a little too crumbly and had too little icing for my taste.
  4. Yema Cake is my favorite for that night. It’s a simple white fluffy cake topped with a yema frosting that’s not too sweet. Omnom!
  5. Marta’s Fave is a bestseller at Tiny Kitchen. It’s a dulce de leche mousse cake with a milky mousse base topped with a thick cream. It’s delicious, but also really sinful.

One of the disadvantages of a food blogger is that writing about delicious noms usually makes you crave for them. Listing all these cakes from Tiny Kitchen has me licking my lips, darnit.

The good

  • Really tasty Spanish noms.
  • Really delicious desserts.
  • Friendly ambiance.
  • It’s a restaurant, bakeshop, and coffee shop in one.

The bad

  • Fairly small dining area.
  • The staff needs a little bit more training.

The bacon

4 bacons! Tiny Kitchen Creations in Davao City is a wonderful find. They serve a good number of tasty Spanish noms to choose from for lunch/dinner, a huge selection of desserts, and a bunch of baked treats. They’re a little pricey and their staff could use a bit more training (one almost spilled a giant bowl of hot soup on my cousin’s shoulder) but the noms are definitely worth it if you’re in the mood for a tasty Spanish dinner.


Tiny Kitchen

Address: F. Torres Street, Davao City
Contact no/s: (082) 305-9232
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Gigi’s Coffee & Cupcakes
Travel

Davao’s Backyard Burgers Are What Burgers Should Be

One of the reasons why I was excited to go to Davao this time around was the anticipation of getting to try the burgers of Backyard Burgers. A few days before my flight, I saw this beautiful picture on my FB timeline.

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Ain't it a thing of beauty?

Too bad my own photos turned out horrible. I guess it was because we ravaged through the burgers all too quickly. As soon as I landed in Davao and things had settled down a bit; I duly informed my cousin, Kuya K, of my intent to go to Backyard Burgers. One day we did.

Backyard Burgers is an actual backyard.

The branch we went to (this geographically-challenged blogger is not sure exactly which one) looked authentically like a backyard with the rustic design. I don’t even think design is the proper term to call what it was. The area had a bunch of plastic tables and chairs arranged in rows and was covered from the heat of the sun with simple, almost crude, metal roofing, not unlike many carinderias all over the Philippines. If not for the tarpaulin displaying the Backyard Burgers logo and larger-than-life burgers, and the high flames in the kitchens; I would have thought it was the wrong place.

It wasn’t, of course. We were quickly handed out menus by the crew and there they were- beautiful burgers of different shapes and flavors all available for taking.

BB Signature Burger (p280)

The BB Signature Burger is the burger lover’s favorite. Sandwiched between a soft sesame burger bun are two thick, homemade burger patties piled on top of each other alternated with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, garlic mushroom, Yakiniku beef, and sweet ham, and then slathered with Backyard Burger’s special sauce. Oh, it’s a combination that’s close to heaven on earth.

BB Cheesy Steak Burger (p165)

Another bestseller is the BB Cheese Steak Burger. Like other single burgers, it has a single thick homemade burger patty and all the works (cheese, tomato, lettuce, onion, garlic mushroom, slice of bacon). What sets it apart is the handful of potato fries that gives every bite a nice crunch.

BB Yard BBQ Burger (p125)

Instead the Backyard Burger’s special sauce, the BB Yard BBQ Burger is slathered generously with homemade BBQ sauce. It simply satisfies barbecue burger cravings. The BB Philly Cheese Burger is an ooey gooey lovely mess. I would have preferred raw onions over the caramelized ones though.

BB Philly Cheese Burger (p200)

The BB Garshroom Bacon Burger is a classic. It’s a traditional burger spiced up with bacon slices and garlic mushrooms fried in butter. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Sorry if that’s TMI.

What’s great about Backyard Burger is that their burger patties are flame-grilled, juicy, and awesomely thick. Their sesame burger bun is also one for the books. It’s buttery and soft to bite and yet firm enough to hold the thick patties and various add-ons.

BB Garshroom Bacon Burger (p150)

Another burger of theirs I wanted to try is the BB Triple Whammy which features 3, count it, THREE thick burger patties all in one particularly interesting burger. I decided against gorging on one because I still like my arteries clear and unclogged.

For dessert, they were promoting their S’mores Cheesecake all over the place. Photos of it were plastered everywhere and the torched sweet treat looked to be an excellent ender to a greasy burger meal. It was sadly not the case. More than s’mores and cheesecake, it tasted like a cupcake with meringue frosting. It was weird, is all. And didn’t justify the 70 peso price tag. Thank jeebus their burgers more than make up for their desserts.

S'mores Cheesecake (p70@)

What is also most awesome about Backyard Burgers is their regular promo deals. One day they’d offer a burger, drink, and fries combo for just p150. Another day they’d offer the BB BBQ Burger for just p100. Other days they go for a Burger/Fries/Drinks All You Want for p350. You can get all these announcements via their very active and amusing social feeds (links below).

The good

  • Their flame grilled burgers are honest-to-goodness feel good, real burgers.
  • You can customize your own burger.
  • Great online presence.

The bad

  • Not available in Manila!

The bacon

4 bacons! Backyard Burgers resto is by no means a fine dining kind of place. If you’re looking for an elegant and classy place to take a date, this isn’t it. Backyard Burgers is where you can (and should) get down and dirty, paying no mind to the sauce is slowly dribbling down your front as you inhale their thick, juicy, flame-grilled burgers. Backyard Burgers should be brought to Manila.


Backyard Burgers

Address: #88 Quimpo Blvd, Ecoland Phase 1, Davao; E. Quirino Avenue, Ilustre Davao City, Davao
Contact no/s: 295-6935; backyardburgersdavao@gmail.com
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Travel

Cecil’s Snack Inn & Bakeshop is a Davao Classic

There will always be that old favorite that will never be eclipsed in greatness by any newcomer, no matter how grand. The classics are those you opt to go for despite the vast number of choices laid out in front of you. On a free night, I’d choose to watch Die Hard than some other new Jason Statham action flick. Some days, I’d go for Max’s fried chicken over KFC or Jollibee chicken.

One such classic is the Cecil’s Snack Inn & Bakeshp in Davao City. From when I was a little kid, everytime I visited Davao, there would always be a trip to Cecil’s. Be it to start the day with their breakfast silogs, snack on their luscious durian roll, or to stock up on their pastries to bring home to Manila.

Cakes and more!

Last month’s visit was no different. By hook or by crook, I was going to stop by a Cecil’s branch. The entire city is peppered with branches and one such branch was right across the hotel we were staying at (yey!). Before meeting up with relatives, I took the chance to (drag my parents and) grab a quick bite.

Because we just had breakfast, we just ordered light meals. They have combo meals that come with a drink and a brownie, all for an affordable p88 (owners must have Chinese leanings, eh). Here are some of their snack meals that are sure to comfort and warm up your tummies as they did ours.

La Paz Batchoy (aka chicaron soup)
Fried Lumpiang Gulay
The signature Pancit Luglug

Besides all these, I am also in love with Cecil’s cream puffs and eclairs and make sure to bring some home after every trip. If you’re all about the fancy, you may scoff and find that they aren’t up to your standards. Cecil’s baked goods are not artisan quality but they are nommy, well-made, comforting, and cheap. They have a booth in the Davao International Airport, which makes it easy to grab a box or two of these sweet and savory treats after every trip to Davao.

No bacon rating for Cecil’s for the simple reason that they are a classic and everyone should try their noms. If you are in Davao, or will go to, and haven’t had a chance to do so, stop by soon for a comforting snack.

Cecil’s Snack Inn & Bakeshop
Address: Everywhere in Davao city
Contact Details: (02) 999-9999
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Travel

Hukad sa Golden Cowrie in SM Abreeza

Before this year’s visit, the last time I was in Davao city was a little over a couple of years ago. Since then, there have been a lot of changes within the city that it seems to have become a better version (or a at least, a cleaner one) of Manila. Everything you find here in the metro, I am almost sure you can get somewhere in Davao city. Despite all the architectural changes, Davao has remained a laid-back city with colorful people that combine a healthy balance between work and play.

Prehaps it’s just me, but I think it’s novel when I see people playing actual mahjong on weekdays (this I’ve only seen in Davao), when the closest version I do here is to play bingo online. The Davao malls also rival the many “luxury” malls here in the metro. One of the malls I went to was Abreeza, it’s not the newest and yet it looked like a fancier version of Glorietta and its adjacent malls. There was a multitude of restaurant choices for dinner, but we settled on Hukad which came highly recommended by nearly everyone.

Hukad sa Golden Cowrie
Hukad plates are lined with banana leaves.

Hukad means “to scoop” in deep Bisaya and although I couldn’t find any correlation to the restaurant’s theme, it’s a catchy and unique name. Hukad’s interior is fairly modern, the only local flavor being the banana leaves that lined the plates. The small area is rather crowded, even the small hallway had tables arranged in a row to maximize the space, leaving little room to move around. What’s nice is that they have a balcony, for customers who would like to dine al fresco.

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Appetizers aplenty!

The staff is friendly, accommodating our requests for our large(ish) party with a smile, including my request to speak in Filipino rather than Bisaya (because the only Bisaya words I know are “dili” and now “hukad”). For appetizers, we had Baked Scallops (p135), Shrimps in Garlic (p95), and for the less adventurous, the all time classic, Calamares (p148). Of the three, I liked the scallops the best as they were fresh and flavorful. The tiny shrimps were a little too salty, and the calamares tasted like, er, calamares.

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Pinoy fare with a twist.

I was looking for a distinctly Davao dish to sample for a more dedicated review but found none. Not that it’s a bad thing, they do have a wide variety of very Pinoy main course options. We settled on a combination of chicken, seafood, beef, pork, and greens. We got the Chicken Pandan (p120), Tuna Belly (p189), Laing (p99), Pinakbet (p83), and Puso Salad (p59). Perhaps because I get Pinoy classics on the regular that I thought them just alright. They weren’t bad, they were just okay.

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All crispy!

And then we tried their crispy fare, namely: Crispy Pork Kare Kare (p198), Crispy Dinuguan (p99), Crispy Pata (S: p279/L: p339/XL: p375). I was told that these are Hukad specialties. The dinuguan and pata are fairly common, with Kanin Klub (still my favorite) and Lime both offering their versions of these crunchy artery cloggers, but crispy kare kare is something new to me. The only thing close to it that I’ve tried is Pino’s Bagnet Kare Kare, which is nothing short of delightful. Unfortunately, Hukad’s version was a bit of a letdown. It was merely fried pork chop served with a side of vegetables, kare kare sauce, and shrimp paste.

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My favorite of the night.

What I really liked was the Linat-ang Baka (p178), or nilagang baka in my household. The hot soup was tasty and in the bowl was a huge slab of tender beef shank with a handful of corn and various greens. It was delicious, it was homey, it was sulit. I’ll even go so far as to say that it can rival Leslie’s famous one.

The good

  • Unique name.
  • Different take on old favorites.
  • Cheerful staff.
  • Location is convenient.

The bad

  • No option to order just a single cup of rice (all bottomless).
  • When busy, the place gets uncomfortably warm.

The bacon

3 bacons! Hukad offers classic Pinoy dishes with a twist. Although I’m not a fan of some of their alterations, they get bonus points for innovation. Overall, their noms are good but not too spectacular. The prices are affordable enough to recommend to family and guests alike.

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Hukad
Address: 2nd floor, Abreeza Mall, Davao city
Contact Details: (02) 355-5755 loc 119
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Travel

Davao’s Caffè Firenzo

Are you in the mood for coffee? No? Well, I am. It must be sad not to like coffee for it is a magic drink (it’s true, it’s true). Lately, I’m never NOT in the mood for coffee, it’s almost worrying. It’s like caffeine has barely any effect on me anymore. That’s not such a bad thing, it only means I can have all the coffee I want and still sleep through the night like a baby. Which is what I did on my second night in Davao.

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Caffè Firenzo is cozy.

A week ago, I was in the colorful city of Davao to attend a cousin’s wedding. Right after the reception, which was a full buffet spread, a group of Davaoeños, some Manileños and I headed to this coffee shop called Cafe Firenzo. Initially, I was planning to get just coffee but then there was a cake chiller in full display filled with various nommy looking sweets and a gelato ice cream freezer with a buncha sweet looking coolers.

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Yes, we had all these. Among other noms. After a buffet dinner. Because that's how we roll.

Obviously, we had to try some despite the full tummies. Unfortunately, I don’t have their names and prices because I forgot to take down notes but I personally recommend the Lavazza cheesecake, I think it’s called. It’s a moist and creamy number with the scent and light flavor of wonderful coffee. In the picture above, it’s that cake below the blueberry cheesecake (everyone knows what that looks like, right?). The rest were okay, but nothing too spectacular, imho.

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The good ole reliable.

Because my benchmark for a good coffee shop is their cappuccino and because it was near midnight, I had to try Caffè Firenzo’s. It was pretty nice. The coffee was smooth and strong without being too bitter and the cup had a decent amount of foam to top it off, like a good cappuccino ought to be.

The good

  • A lot of desserts!
  • Good coffee.
  • Open fairly late.
  • Cushy and comfy couches.
  • The name reminds me of the Harry Potter centaur Firenze (that’s a good thing!).

The bad

  • Some cakes were meh.
  • A bit out of the way for locals.

The bacon

3 bacons! Conveniently located across a hotel (the one we stayed at), Caffè Firenzo is a perfect place for a nightcap after a tiring business trip or a day about town. They have good coffee and a nice selection of entrees and desserts offered at average prices.

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Caffè Firenzo
Address: G/F Damosa Business Center, Angliongto Road, Lanang, Davao
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