On Accepting Food from Strangers

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You know how your mother tells you never to accept food from strangers?

I broke that rule during my first time in Laoag, the capital of Ilocos Norte.

My companions and I were checking out Dap-Ayan ti Ilocos Norte, the hawker food court where you can get fresh Ilocos empanadas and other provincial treats, but mainly Ilocos empanadas, which are quite tasty. A mixture of meat, shredded green papaya, and other vegetables, and hopefully an egg are stuffed into an orange-colored flour-based casing and deep fried so that it’s crisp on the outside and piping hot on the inside. It is street food at its best, and the Ilocanos are very proud of it, as they should be.

We stopped at the first empanada stall in Dap-Ayan and my companions struck up a conversation with the vendors. I noticed that one of the proprietors was having dinner. She was spooning tiny fish swimming in a cloudy liquid onto a plate of rice and eating everything with gusto.

My friend asked what the lady was eating and the lady said it was kilawin na dilis (ceviche), and would she like some? My friend declined, but jokingly asked me if I wanted to try the dish.

Not being one to back down froma challenge (and from the offer of food), I said yes. The lady handed me her spoon. I scooped a few small fish with some of the vinegared sauce and put it in my mouth.

The dilis was salty and a bit bitter, not my thing at all. I’m happy the lady was nice enough to offer me a bite of her dinner. Now I know that kilawin na dilis isn’t for me, and that the way I found this out is a story in itself.

Just don’t tell mother.

Jonah’s Fruit Shake and Snack Bar, and Why I was Trying to Get Drunk in the Middle of the Afternoon

I accompanied my mom to a wedding in Boracay, which essentially meant that I spent a lot of money so that I could be slightly miserable outside Manila. I love traveling with my mom and her friends are generally cool, but after three days stuck in the Shangri La with no time to myself, I needed a drink, if only to get into my own space.

When we finally got the chance to go to White Beach, I said that I wanted to go to Jonah’s, hoping that my mom and her friends would think it too much of a ‘youngster’s place’ and not come along. They didn’t take the hint and followed anyway, but that didn’t stop me from ordering a piña colada shake in the middle of the afternoon.

Jonah’s Shake and Snack Bar in Station 1 is a Boracay institution, and serves the best shakes in the world. This is not an exaggeration. They have a long list of fresh fruit, cocoa, and dairy combinations, all of them extremely thick in a didn’t-scrimp-on-ingredients way. My favorite is the Avocado Shake, a mix of avocado, milk, and sugar. The texture of semi-melted ice cream, it’s both a thirst quencher and comfort food. This is normally my first choice, but it wasn’t the kind of comfort that I needed that day.

Jonah's Piña Colada Shake

Jonah’s Piña Colada Shake

The Piña Colada Shake combines pineapple, my favorite fruit, and alcohol, which I severely needed to stop myself from going crazy. It was sweet, but didn’t mask the pineapple’s tartness, and enough alcohol to get just slightly off-center.

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Jonah’s Seafood Taco

I also ordered the Jonah’s Seafood Taco, a giant taco shell packed with vegetables, cheese, and shrimp. It’s a weird pairing, I know, but the taco filled me up and took a bit of the edge off the alcohol.

I finished my shake, tipsy and in a considerably better mood, ready to endure another two days in one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Ryuma Restaurant

Yesterday, I accompanied a friend to a meeting in Tagaytay. We drove through McDonald’s for breakfast, stopped by Sonia’s Garden so that he could buy their famous Spanish Bread, then ended the day in Makati by watching The Hobbit. But in between Tagaytay and Makati, he took me to a den of pitch in the middle of Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

Ruyma Restaurant is located on the 2nd Floor of Paseo de Rosa in Greenfield City, one of those strip malls that seem to be popping up everywhere in the South. Aside from a restaurant, Ryuma is also the name of a Japanese grocery store and baby clothes shop (that also sells the type ladies’ clothes that will end up giving them babies), all of them on the same floor.

The restaurant is part toy store, part home shop, and part museum. Museum to what? I’m not sure. Stuffed toys and toy dispensers line the entrance, a makeshift doorway into the white leather couches and formica topped tables that lie beyond. Aside from toys (all of which are for sale), the restaurant’s decorations include glass decanters (also for sale), a full suit of Japanese armor, a juke box and a dance floor. Top all these with Christmas decorations, and you have one confused eating place. This actually works to its advantage, giving the restaurant a weird kind of split-personality charm that only a Japanese restaurant can pull off. And they also have place mats that look like this:

How can you not want to eat at a restaurant with a giant flying turtle in the middle of its placemat?

How can you not want to eat at a restaurant with a giant flying turtle in the middle of its placemat?

We haven’t even gotten to the food yet. The restaurant features an extensive menu of Japanese dishes, plus set meals at fairly reasonable prices.

I settled on the Tofu Steak Teppanyaki (Php185) while my friend ordered the Seafoods (sic) Curry (Php310).

The Tofu Steak Teppanyaki consists of batter-coated blocks of tofu served teppanyaki style with three kinds of fresh mushrooms and a lovely, sweet-umami sauce with the flavor of margarine running underneath that adds richness and binds everything together, tastewise. Even my friend, who won’t eat non-meat dishes if he can help it, admitted that it was tasty.

Tofu Steak Teppanyaki

Tofu Steak Teppanyaki

The Seafoods Curry is shrimp, fish, and octopus cooked in Japanese curry sauce and served with a generous amount of rice and shredded cabbage, with raw garlic and chilies on the side, just in case you think it isn’t hot enough.

Seafoods Curry

Seafoods Curry

We were further entertained by a group of diners whose conversation was dominated by a woman who lectured about subjects as eclectic as the Mayan end of the world to self-help buzzwords such as “FOCUS – Follow one course until success,” which became our Quote of the Day (and should be yours, too). We didn’t have to talk. The menu, ambiance, and fellow diners were entertainment enough.

Sta. Rosa is quite a ways to go for decent Japanese food, but if you’re in the area, Ryuma is worth checking out. I know I’m going to be back because I’ve only tried two dishes out of, oh, lots, and if my enjoyment of the curry and tofu steak are any indication, the others are going to be pretty tasty as well.

Ryuma Restaurant

Paseo de Sta. Rosa

Commercial Center 4

Greenfield City, Brgy, San Jose

Sta. Rosa City, Laguna

+6349-5410264

Durong’s Malunggay Pan de Sal, Laoag, Ilocos Norte

There are many kinds of food to try in Laoag. There is empanada, bagnet, everything in Saramsam, and the carrot cake at La Preciosa. And then there is Durong’s Malunggay Pan de Sal.

Durong’s Pan de Sal Laoag Branch

These will be one of the best pan de sals you have ever tasted. They’re tiny, but dense, with no trace of malunggay at all. They cost around Php50 a dozen, which may sound expensive for pan de sal, and a dozen might sound like a lot, but that dozen gets cleared away fast, especially if you buy them freshly baked. Eat them by themselves, or pair them with butter and dunk them in coffee, preferably instant.

Since we passed by before going on a road trip, the pan de sals got eaten on their own, then paired with roast chicken from Chooks to Go, which seems to be figuring more and more in my trips, as they are everywhere, especially outside Manila. They have liempo to die for. As with all good things, it sells out quickly, so you have to go there early (or be textmates with the sales girl, which someone I know really is) if you want to buy some.

The Laoag branch of Durong’s is located on 7A Gen. Luna St. It’s a bit hard to find, even on this main thoroughfare, but everyone there knows it, so all you have to do is ask around. I would have taken a picture of these tiny treats, but we ate them before I remembered.

Photo from icanhascheezburger.com

 

I would have

Eating at Kapuluan Vista Resort

Just so we’re clear, this isn’t really a food or travel blog. It’s more a place where I can keep my photos and impressions. A kind of pensieve, if you will, because I have such bad memory. But since this is a public blog, I’ve  consciously been using more “I”s in my writing, as opposed to the more neutral magazine feature style that I’m used to.

I have a list of things to write about, and have, these last few days, been focusing on my trip to Pagudpud, which started with being stranded in the middle of a deserted highway on a dark, rainy night, to enjoying a quiet stay in a resort in what feels like the edge of the world. Now, I’d like to write about the most exciting part, the main reason I travel, and the biggest factor in picking where I go next: food.

All my free time in Pagudpud was spent in Kapuluan Vista Resort, which is far from any eating establishments. Fortunately, it has its own restaurant manned by a friendly, fairly efficient, laid back staff, that serves decent meals at Makati prices. Considering that this is a beautifully maintained resort that’s hard to get to, it’s quite reasonable. When you arrive, you get a welcome drink of the resort’s famous (everyone I asked told me to order it) Alma’s Margarita (Php75 if you order it ala carte), or some non-alcoholic drink that I forget. The margarita is a sweetish citrusy slush that gives you just enough of a buzz (take note that I have very low alcohol tolerance). A good way to start a vacation.

Alma’s Margarita

Each night’s stay comes with a plated breakfast. I managed to try most, if not all of the selections. The Dried Fish (Php200 ala carte) is fried dilis (anchovy) served with steamed rice, fried egg, fresh tomatoes and onions and a vinegar-based dipping sauce. The dilis aren’t marinated with anything strong, so you get to enjoy their crisp flavor. Of all the breakfast choices, this one is the lightest on the belly.

Dried Fish

I’m not a fan of longganisa, or of sausages in general, but since every province seems to have a longganisa specialty, I make it a point to try it. Ilocos Norte is known for its longganisa, which has a lot of garlic and not so much fat, so if you’re in the area and want to try some, they offer it in the longsilog, the longganisa, steamed rice and fried egg combo that is a breakfast staple almost anywhere you go in the Philippines.

Longsilog

Not leaving out the octo-lacto vegetarians, Kapuluan offers the Basil Scrambled Eggs (Php200). This may not look like much, but the dish is deceptively filling. More filling, I daresay, than the dried fish! The eggs are well done but not rubbery, with an herby taste imparted by a generous amount of basil mixed into it. The homemade bread is dense, almost cake-like, with a certain sweetness. Unfortunately, it is served with margarine (there doesn’t seem to be any butter on the premises). Still it makes for a filling meal.

Basil Scrambled Eggs

 

I really love this resort, and I love the restaurant in it, but I will tell you to stay away from the brewed coffee (Php40), which does not taste good. It tastes like what dirt probably tastes like if I scooped up a handful from the ground and brewed it. You’re better off bringing your own coffee and having them brew it (I don’t know if this is allowed, but they’re pretty nice, and might say yes), or bringing a 3-in-1. If you are going to suffer with a 3-in-1, I recommend the Kopiko Brown Coffee, which is by far the best of its kind in the Philippine market. It has an intensely smokey flavor and none of the tinny aftertaste that other 3-in-1 instant coffees have.

Now, breakfast isn’t the only meal in the day. Since I was in Ilocos Norte, I had to try the Bagnet (Php350), the super crispy fried pork belly that the province is famous for. It is supercharged crispy pata (okay, different pig parts, but still). It is liempo on steroids. It is a heart attack waiting to happen. Kapuluan’s bagnet is more chicharon than bagnet, with some parts a bit tough, but everything crunchy. And they give you a lot of it too, making the dish big enough to share. After all, it is just wrong to eat that much fried pork in one sitting. Not that I will judge or blame you if you did. Besides, it comes with a native salad, which you can use to make yourself feel better about indulging in something so deadly.

Bagnet

My favorite, though, was the Kapuluan Kilawen (Php300), a huge dish of raw fish marinated in tomatoes, onions, herbs and vinegar. This serving is huge, and is best to share. The fish is fresh, and the marinade gives it a bit of bite.

Kapuluan Kilawen

It is also worth mentioning that the restaurant plays excellent music. No overused reggae or bossa nova tracks here. It’s mostly a lot of laid back music that ranges from The Beatles to Tori Amos. In a word, paradise.