It’s been five months since I last posted in this blog. This is not to say that I’ve scrapped it entirely; indeed, my current line of work has made me even more enthusiastic about food, cooking, and dining out.
It has been, to be perfectly honest, a roller-coaster year. There have been some serious downs and equally serious ups: triumph and tragedy all on a single plate. My paternal grandmother, the last of my grandparents, died at the end of November. Paired-off friends broke up, single friends found partners, and – alas – I found myself estranged from the person whom I still consider one of my very best friends. Too many words said and left unsaid, again. But I’ve made new friends, met lots of new people, gone to numerous places, and eaten my fill of amazing dishes cooked by some of the best chefs.
I’ve learned a great deal about food over this past year thanks to interviews I’ve done for work and also because of a number of chance meetings that came about because I love traipsing through the city for new gastronomic treats. I daresay there is still so much for me to learn.
In the meantime, bear with me. I’ve hardly had time to write for the blog, but if you follow me on Instagram, I daresay the photos and the tempting descriptions of my latest culinary projects and restaurant jaunts will be worth the visit.
Twelve years of food writing; still here, still hungry, still writing.
The weather continues blisteringly hot and the heat index has been hitting record highs of late – devastatingly record highs, if I may add, alas.
It’s times like these when I wish that Cebu would send over one of their best refreshment chains up north to us in Manila. Seriously, I’d do anything to have a Tubo Cane Juice kiosk somewhere within walking distance right now!
As its name suggests, TCJ’s stock in trade is sugarcane juice (Tag.: katas ng tubo). Sugarcane stalks are run through a mechanized press that crushes the sweet juice out of the hard, fibrous sticks. This liquid is a pale amber in color, surprisingly mild with regard to its sweetness considering what is produced when it gets reduced by heat into the familiar crystalline granules we use for cooking, baking, and sweetening our morning cup of caffeine. Each cup is pressed to order, thus ensuring the pristine quality of the end product. Poured over crushed ice as is, sugarcane juice is a delicious, revivifying drink with which to cool down.
But TCJ isn’t content with slaking the southern crowd’s thirst with plain sugarcane juice; oh, no, sir! To add value in terms of both taste and nutritional value, TCJ blends freshly-pressed cane juice with equally-fresh, equally just-squeezed juices to create a delicious line of refreshments. While I could have opted for a right-in-season mango infusion or sipped a superfood mix featuring milky-white and tangy guyabano (soursop), I needed something to soothe a throat that was threatening to ache along with a serious dose of Vitamin C. For that, I had to order the Ginger-Mansi.
Here, fresh root ginger is run through the same crush-and-extract procedure as the sugarcane. The resulting ginger presse is sharply aromatic, hinting at just how potent and pungent it will be if sampled straight. This is mixed with fresh cane juice and a good squeeze of fresh kalamansi lime, poured over ice (a large will set you back P 90.00 – not a bad deal as Manila juice bars tend to be a bit more expensive), and handed to you with a typically cheerful Cebuano smile by the staff at the counter.
To describe it is to say that it is, pretty much, a still [non-carbonated] version of ginger ale: bright and spicy, just fiery enough to wake up your tastebuds, just sweet enough to stave off the burn. The citrus tang of the lime cuts through and each sip is a soothing, harmonious blend.
Now, there are sugarcane juice kiosks here in Manila. However, these are few, tend to be far between, and rarely feature other flavors. Which begs this question from me: when does Manila get a TCJ franchise…or do I have to take another trip to the Queen City of the South for a sugarcane and ginger fix?
Tubo Cane Juice – Departures Lounge, Mactan Cebu International Airport, Pusok, Cebu
Here’s the assignment: fly in, fly out on the same day for an Institute event in the Visayas. You won’t have time to tour ’round as this is all work (and you will be shlepping equipment – laptop, DSLR camera, recorder, tarps in a carrying sling – for much of the day; you will be interviewing senior members of the Cebu business community; and you are the [sort-of] official photographer so you’ll be on your feet much of the time). You shan’t have that much time to sample local delicacies, but – at the very least – you will be fed well.
Thus was the scenario from last week when the Institute of Corporate Directors for whom I work as a marketing/communications specialist flew over to Cebu for an event honoring two new fellows for the Institute. Fly out of Manila at the crack of dawn; fly back to Manila in the early evening (air traffic permitting). And don’t worry about going hungry as the City Sports Club in Cebu caters quite well.
The City Sports Club is a gem of a facility: excellent sporting facilities, a refreshing-looking pool that made us want to jump in, ample conference and banqueting facilities for the locals and for those from outside Cebu. The downstairs resto-bar, Bistro 88, does good eats with more than substantial portions.
A good brunch option if you’re feeling peckish from the drive from the airport is the amply-portioned Club Sub Sandwich. Here, a crisp-crusted mini-baguette is grilled and filled to the gills with ham, bacon, salami, and crisp mesclun leaves. The sarnie is simply dressed with mayonnaise and ballpark-style mustard and a dish of fat, chunky potato edges is served on the side.
While the flavors are typical of many sandwiches, the heft is what sets this wee beastie apart. One sarnie easily feeds two ravenous people (seriously) and keeps them stoked for a morning’s worth of setting up, running around with cameras or clipboards, and interviewing local brass.
The City Sports Club’s function food is also pretty good. In this case, the meal began with a mild spin on traditional pork sinigang – not bland, so you could mistake it for nilaga; but just tart enough to let you know that tamarind leaves and not pulp were used as the souring agent. It’s the sort of thing that helped whet the appetite for a neat spin on chicken cacciatore.
This Italian classic featured chicken breast and thigh fillets rather than bone-in pieces, but these were tender and coated with a savory tomato sauce. The chicken was a good match for the parsley flecked rice that came with it. The vegetables, I must say, were standard-issue banquet food.
While sodas and iced tea were offered to slake intense summer thirsts, one would do well to grab a watermelon shake (or, for that matter, any other smoothie made with fresh in-season fruit) to cool down on a hot day.
City Sports Club: Cardinal Rosales Ave., Cebu City 6000, Cebu
The cuisine of Iloilo in the Visayas Region is known to be robust, full-flavored, and deeply satisfying. The last time I was there a few years ago, the locals fed us with rich molo and batchoy soups made with stocks rich with schmaltz (chicken fat) and pork bones, deliciously porky little sausages served with fried eggs for a suitably magnificent breakfast, Spanish-inspired stews that stick to one’s ribs in the best manner possible, fine grilled fowl marinated in kalamansi lime and annato (achuete) oil [inasal], and fabulously rich desserts straight out of a Spanish-run convent.
I’ve not had time to return to Iloilo, though I was recently on the neighboring island of Cebu (more about that in another post), but Ilonggo and Bacolonon (from the nearby city of Bacolod) food can be found in various places here in Manila for a reasonable price. Fortunately for this hungry urban warrior, the nearest place is just a short walk away at Inasal Joe.
Here, P 99.00 gets you the Liempo Inasal (pork belly marinated and grilled inasal-style) with rice sprinkled over with toasted garlic and a small portion of achara (pickled green papaya).
While it may look like a rather meager portion to most eaters, the amount of meat here is actually sizable. Plus, it was tender enough to slice through with the edge of a spoon. It was nicely seasoned: tangy and salty and smoky all at once, playing up the natural sweet savor of the pork. I also liked the fact that the fatty edges were good, crisp, and charred just right. Eaten with the garlicky rice and the sweet-sour pickles, it definitely made for a good meal.
But, wait: there’s more!
If you add P 25.00 to your meal, you get a small bowl of batchoy: that rich noodle soup cooked in an incredibly soulful pork broth and made sinful with pork cracklings, fatback bits, and diced pork heart and liver.
Inasal Joe’s small bowl of batchoy is actually deceptive: don’t let the size of the bowl fool you as it’s filled to the brim with noodles and good stuff and that rich broth. Definitely good value for an extra twenty-five bucks and it makes a hearty meal so much more satisfying.
Inasal Joe: 3rd Floor – RCBC Plaza, Ayala Avenue cor. Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue, Makati
I rarely travel. This, in and of itself, is somewhat ironic because I traveled extensively as a child. Fortunately, the situation somewhat rectified itself when I headed to the Queen City of the South, Cebu, for a fly-in/fly-out business trip.
Now, if there is anything I’ve learned from traveling in the past, is that it is never a good idea to travel on an empty stomach regardless of whether it’s a short- or long-haul flight. Fortunately, travelers these days are spoilt for choice when it comes to light and substantial eats at the NAIA Terminal III. And so: breakfast…
Chaikofi offers some fairly substantial breakfast options under its Breakfast Delights menu. Each tray is perfect for one hearty eater or two light appetites as it comes with a fried egg, one’s choice of additional protein, a substantial glob of ready-to-spread butter, and four slices of whole-grain toast.
I chose the Breakfast Delight with Hungarian Sausage (P 185.00) and it was a rather satisfying choice. The sausage was properly smoky and fried just right: crisp skin and succulent innards that were more meat than filler. The toast could have used another few minutes in the panini press, but these were warm and nutty tasting; there was enough butter to generously slather on every slice.
Caffeine is, of course, a must when traveling for work. (Otherwise, you’d be cranky and sleepy from being roused out of bed at 3 AM!) Chaikofi’s caffe mocha is just strong, sweet, and creamy enough to suit and has nice cocoa notes in the taste.
Chaikofi Xpresso: Level 3 – NAIA Terminal III, Pasay City