Monday, November 30, 2009

Little Gems

I debated actually writing about this. I had a great long weekend at what can be described at a little gem of a place. I am torn at describing it because as much as I want to publicize it and bring development to the area, I hate to over commercialize it to the extend what makes the place special is lost. After debating it, I decided that eventually development will come and the best thing to do is warn about uncontrolled development.

The place is somewhere near the town of Nusugbu, about 120km to the South-West of Manila. The area is full of coves and small beaches that pretty much defines a lot of places in the Philippines. The more popular place to go near Manila now is around the Subic Bay area. But this place is different and I won't reveal everything but if you love rustic charm, this is a great place. It is relatively undeveloped because its actually rather hilly and roads are relatively new to the area. But in recent years, the wealthy have started to built weekend and vacation homes here including a number of big gated community development. There is even a golf course now. (I love golf but seriously, it has no place near the sea rich marine life because of the runoffs from all the chemicals they use. See what I mean about not wanting to over commercialize it??)

While its not that far away, it actually takes 2-3 hours to get there because almost 2/3 of the way are provincial roads. You have to pass through weekend tourist destination Tagaytay. This means the roads are full of motorised tricylces, jeepneys, trucks and buses. These makes going slow.

BUT after you get there, then what you see and experience especially when the weather is perfect like it is now, is simply relaxing and enjoyable. Let me put it another way, I felt like I was back at Monterey/Sausalito without the crowds and high-end shops and restaurants. There is no mall, there is no McDonalds although there is a Jollibee and they are building a Chowking which worries me. We hiked, swam, played badminton, a lot of cooking, eating and drinking, star gazing, reading, music etc. There was a lot of other things but I am not going to reveal them all to cause a stampede of spoilt tourists.

I will talk about one thing: Buffalo Milk or Carabao Milk. Its produced near Tagaytay and its delicious. It taste slightly sweet, creamy and tasty. I regret not getting the cheese and the yogurt. Those who knows Buffalo Mozzarella is a luxury item in Italy. Its supposed to be healthier has a unique taste. It is widely served fresh with olive oil, vinegar and a bit of herbs in restaurants in Italy and other Mediterranean countries. Its popularity continue to grow in US and rest of Europe. Its priced anywhere from US$35-$70/kg in the grocery stores in US. Its a lot cheaper here. Its one of the little gems around here.

In fact, this is what Philippine as a tourist destination is - its full of little gems to be discovered. I have a long list of stuff I want to try, see and experience. But I will keep the treasures of Nusugbu to myself and the friends who brought me there. Bargain tourists can stay away...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Gems of Legazpi Sunday Market

As promised I would blog about the Sunday Market at Legazpi Village in Makati. Its actually located on the corner of Legazpi St. and V.A. Rufino St.

As I said before, its one of two Weekend Open air market in the Makati area. The bigger one is Salcedo Village Saturday Market. There are significant overlaps of the two markets i.e., many of the stalls are also available in both days but not entirely. If you been one, its still worth it to visit the other.

In Legazpi market I found a number of real gems. Firstly they have a big organic section with a wide variety of offerings. I tried some cakes and bread and they were quite good.

The real gem that I found was an Indonesian offering. You get Goreng Ayam, Gado-Gado, Kari Ayam, Rendang, Satay. But the best offering is the authentic Sambal Matah that was available either with boiled egg or eggplant. Those who have tasted the Indonesia fresh sambal most popular in Bali knows how different it is from Malaysian or Singapore sambal. It uses a version of shrimp paste called terasi but includes ingredients like lemongras, lime, shallots and also coconut oil. Its bright red in color and taste very fresh and natural. Its good with just about anything including just simple vegetables and eggs. I love it with simple Nasi Goreng or Mee Goreng. In Indonesia, I ate it with simple Bakso (or chicken noodle soup) or as a bread spread which the Indonesian find strange. In this city where spicy food is not anywhere, its really a good find.

There are other good finds in Legazpi Sunday Market including decent Spanish, Middle East, Italian, Malaysian, as well as offerings from different provinces here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


There are some of us who are noodle soup fans whether its wanton noodle, fish (including fish head and fish-ball) noodles, Japanese Ramen. Its why we take to instant noodles like no where else on earth. Here in Manila, its not that you can't find them, you just can't find them conveniently - at least not in a good enough quality in a lower price range. And its impossible in the early morning. Sometimes, you just want a bowl of noodles for breakfast.

Well, I found it this weekend at Legaszpi Village Sunday Market. I had only previously briefly visited the market after going to bigger Saturday Salcedo Village Market which I have been frequenting for the last few weeks. It had not looked different and smaller.

This weekend since my Saturday was shot because of events, I decided to spend my Sunday here. To my surprise it yielded a number of gems the big one being getting good wanton noodle on a Sunday Morning..

The place is called Your Daily DimSum and it did not attract me in my previous quick walk-through because you can get Dim Sum everywhere here even really early in the morning. Again, no decent noodle soup before 10am, attracted me. So for 120 Peso, I digged in what is pretty decent soup with acceptable noodle quality. The wanton was whole shrimp which impressed me. The noodle quality is what you would find in Malaysia in most places - on the soft side not like in Hong Kong which is has more 'spring' in it. But the best is the soup, very light on the MSG, quality soup like in decent places in Hong Kong and US Chinatowns - not the MSG-filled ones you get in Singapore and Malaysia hawkers. So value wise, it was a good buy. I definitely recommend it over most places here. Oh, the dimsum was good too - not the low quality ingredient type - pretty much restaurant quality.

There are other great finds in Legazpi Market but I will talk about it later...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Steaks and Beef

I have to confess to the growing population of vegans that I keep meeting these days that I get craving for Beef once in a while. I would not call myself a Red Meat lover (do anyone still say that in these politically correct time?) but having worked in some of the places that produce great beef like in Texas, Osaka Japan, France and great restaurant places like in Chicago and New York, you learn to appreciate good beef. I like good steaks, burgers, roast beef, grilled beef slices, beef Bolgogi, beef noodles, beef stirred fried with brocolli or celery, beef slices with hot pot or shabu-shabu.

One of the things I gripe about in Singapore and Malaysia is a lack of affordable good beef. In Singapore, the beef noodle taste good but its all about the sauce and beef really is not of good quality. In Malaysia, it seems like there are Buddhist/Vegan everywhere who don't eat beef and few restaurants offer them. I do the Imbi Road Hor Fun every so often but that is treated and flavoured beef. The natural taste of good beef is really something unique. Its available at places like Morton's of Chicago at Suntec or other higher end restaurants but you pay a bomb!

Here in Manila, you can really get good beef at affordable price. If you are a steak lover or looking for a good burger (i.e., made from good cuts and not mass produced patties) or other simple beef dishes, Manila is a great place to be. Even the fast food Chinese restaurants serve up pretty OK beef. You have to try Beef Caldereta - a Spanish stew that is just delicious.

Yesterday I ate at Mamou at Fort Bonifacio. Having tasted steaks from great places all over the world, I have to declare that Mamou does not dissapoint. I have not had a real steak for a while and decided since the weather was fantastic and the pretty girls were out in full force, to enjoy a good steak in this, what I can only describe as 'simply charming', place while I watch the girls go by.

Some may not understand the enjoyment of this experience. If you don't appreciate Morton's of Chicago, Smith & Wollinsky or Peter Lugar in New York, you won't understand what I mean. My Mid-West and Japanese friends understand what I mean. The best pleasures in life are the simple ones and this is one of them. When the steak is done just right (medium rare - there is no other way to have a steak) and a glass of wine (the French and Spaniards taught me this), the taste is just simply like nothing else. No other meat taste like this done in such simple way. Its basically the same state of mind as appreciating sashimi or steamed fish. The simple rich natural taste made by nature (/god if you are religious).

I also like the portion which is just nice. Not too big, not small. Just right. The tendencies of most restaurants in Singapore is to serve up American size portion which is really too big for me these days. Its about the taste, not the filling of the stomach.

Now if only I can find Beef Noodle Ying-Yong done Malaysian style. (For explanation, keep tuning in), life will be perfect.

Plaza Serendra
Bonifacio Global City

Monday, November 16, 2009


Its been many years since I celebrated Christmas in a big way. I hate crowds and have taken to avoiding the mad rush that is Christmas starting way back in New York. Then, I discovered that if I did not go anywhere, New York was THE BEST place to be during Christmas because people from New York comes from all over and the leave the city during that period. With the city empty, you can walk around leisurely enjoy the sights, no waiting at restaurants, movies and shops. If you go down to Chinatown during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, its actually quite merry because New York is full of Jewish people as well as other denomination that go there to have a meal as most places are closed. Then there is Rockefeller Center, The Rocketts, the Nutcracker and great windows of Macy, Bloomingdale etc.

Since then, unless there is a compelling reason, I have a policy of not traveling during major holidays particularly Christmas. So with that default, I was planning on not going anywhere for the holidays but now I am not sure.

You can now hear Christmas songs in the air now (which I love). The lights are out in major Shopping and restaurants areas. The weather is so nice that people are out in full force hanging out in outdoor restaurants and cafes until past midnight. I do enjoy just hanging out at my regular bar and just people watching while surfing the net (reading my NY times online).

But it struck me this weekend that if its already so crowded with 7 weeks to go until Christmas, what is it going to be like as Christmas approach? Then what about New Year day which could be unbearable for me? I don't do New Year parties having done the Times Square thing while in NY. I prefer intimate meals with friends and family, going to bed early and then watching college ball all day next day.

This is not a city where half the people will leave during the holidays and they will be out in full force. The traffic will drive this shopping-hater nuts.

I need a plan..

Friday, November 13, 2009

Talent II - Julia Roman Abueva

I talked about talent before and while I am not a fan of broadway music, I thought such global talent deserve mention. Her name is Julia Roman Abueva.

She actually is already famous, having being featured prominently by Oprah Winfrey Smartest and Talented Kids episode, sang in ASEAN games in Manila and have over a 100 major performance under her by age 13. She is now based in Singapore with regular gigs to the hoity-poity crowd (you know LKY, Annie at the Esplanade etc) and will be singing at the APEC for Obama this week. She is also actually the descendent of TWO Philippine President (wonder if LKY thought about his elitist genetic theory when he watched her performed!)

Actually there are a lot of talent like this that I am coming across. Names like Aria Clemente, Mark Mejia, Sam Concepcion, AJ Rafael, Albert Posis, Catherine Loria, Josephine Banig Roberto, Sarah Geronimo, Jessica Sanchez, Lica De Guzman.

ALL Of them deserve to be on the world stage and I pray they all get the chance...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I love markets all sorts of markets. From esoteric derivatives, rare collectibles and intellectual properties to your basic neigbourhood wet markets, night-markets and flea markets. Wherever I go, I try to visit wet markets as part of my intinery when I can.

The origin of my love of market is the love of commerce and money that was infused since young by my basic-money-grubbing Chinese business family. But now it has become something else.

I think I love markets now because all day and week, I wreck my head to come up with ideas and plans for businesses that going back to these markets is sort of going back to basics, to go back to the basic idea of commerce and trade. Especially when I am lost or losing faith that I will find the next great idea or solve the toughest problem, going back to these places help you see how markets and business not only survives but you will notice how enterprise itself does not end. You will notice how fish-monger or the vegetable seller will sell a new item. You will notice how a new store will appear once in a while. You will even notice how the traders change their business to adapt to times.

Even if I don't get anything valuable in what I do, its stress relieve especially for a food-lover like myself. A fresh fish at a good price is something to look forward to that night. Seasonal fruits that I like gives something to look forward to that week. Then there is some of best food to eat without paying for restaurant prices - whether is just a good loaf of fresh bread, freshly roasted pork, nasi lemak with all the topping, its really all the good things in life..

I have visited many markets all over the world. While in school in Philadephia and even when I visit my brother there now, we always start weekend mornings at the Redding market before heading to Chinatown. Canal Street was first stop every weekend while in New York. In Spain, the open market of Sevilla is something to look forward to. In Italy and France there are markets everywhere with some of the best cheese, breads, pasta, vegetables, delis, jams etc. You go to Australia in any major city, the produce is worth visiting the local markets. In Japan, the Tsukiji market is a real sight to behold with the fresh fishes that comes in everyday but the best breakfast and frankly the best meal is available next door.

Anyway back to Philippines, I have visited
1) Farmers Market in Cubao
2) Salcedo Village Saturday market
3) Legaspi Village Sunday market
4) Public Market in Malate

I will be talking more about these places in future..

Saturday, November 7, 2009


I have been here a few months now and very happy actually. The original intent of this blog was to point to the positives of this country, the people and share it. I had planned on not making any negative post at all but I decided that sometimes, its not a bad thing to be a positive critic.

So my first gripe is: BREAKAST!!

One of my favourite thing to do is early exercise and early breakfast on the weekend. There is nothing I love to do than to wake up to great weather which they have now, go jog for a while and a long leisurely breakfast with my newspaper. Its something I started to do while in New York long time ago.

I come from a country that you can get a good meal 24-hours. In Singapore or Malaysia, I can actually walk somewhere near my homes and get a good bite anytime of the day. Its something I really missed while living in US and Europe. But even while living in NY, I could get a great bagel at the neigbourhood diner early in the morning.

Here in Manila, the only thing open at 7am is McDonalds/Jollibee and a chain belonging to my friend call Pancake House. Even Starbucks don't open until 8am and the bagel at Starbucks here is a poor poor distant relative to even in Singapore and a shame to its parentage in New York!

Seriously, I am not that demanding - a bagel, a croissant or Chee Cheung Fun, noodle, decent pao will do and most important - a decent cup of coffee!

For country strongly influence by coffee-loving Spanish and Americans, I can't understand why coffee drinking is not BIG here for the everyday man. We from Malaysia and Singapore were influenced by tea-drinking British and yet our kopitiam coffee is so ubiquitous and such a great deal! Furthermore, they actually have great coffee here. A significant portion of the supply of natural Luwak (they have faked ones from Vietnam ones now!), the most expensive coffee in the world, comes from here!

But back to breakfast, why is breakfast places not as ubiqutous? I noticed that a traditional breakfast here is rice and meat/fish. Traditional breakfast does not seem any different from lunch/dinner. Things like 'kuih' or cakes and 'noodles/beenhoon' is not part of breakfast although its part of their cuisine. They do have some good 'kuih' like cheese bun or ensaymada and rice-cake or bibingka which I like. BUT the only place you can get these early in the morning is of all places, STARBUCKS!! I would actually like their most famous noodle dish, pancit, in the morning but you can't find that in the morning in most places!!

I have to confess one thing, in keeping to the positive theme of the original intent of this blog, I just went to my first Saturday open market at Salcedo Village in Makati. It does offer the best place to get good breakfast at 7am in the morning on a weekened beside getting some other good stuff. You can even get Nasi Lemak, Roti Canai although it would be best to bring your own coffee!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


The entertainment talents of Filipino is well known and almost a cliche especially around Asia.  Filipino bands play in bars and clubs all over Asia. There are a few well known global names. Lea Solanga is known anywhere and most have noted  Apl de Ap of Black-Eyed Peas is from the Philippines. Long time ago there was Freddie Aguilar. Recently there was Charice Pempengco and Arnel Pineda. I have listened to Arnel Pineda so many times and I can't believe it took Journey and Youtube to discover the guy even though he has been around for literally decades.

But there are many more talents that are to be discovered by the world.  My new favourite is Mocha girls. If you listen to them, you can't help but think of the Pussycat Dolls and style wise they are the same but listen to the voice, the vocal and more importantly the song - its all original and good. Their latest song Take a Sip makes me think of coffee in a whole different way.  I can think of so many big corporate events in KL, Singapore that would go nuts having these girls perform for them..

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hawaiian weather

I woke up this morning, like many weekend, just put a pair of shorts and t-shirt to go jogging, stepped out only to rush back in to grab a jacket. It was actually pretty cold!! It felt more like a California morning..

OK. so its been a long time since the days I consulted in Ottawa Canada in February and my school days in Boston but still, I have never experience this kind of cold since I came back to tropical weather. I have been in Singapore and Malaysia more than 12 years now..

One of the least known thing about Philippine is the weather.  People who have never visited here think that just like other South East Asia country, its rain and heat.  Most people have been in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and even Indonesia gets some attention because of Bali and foreign businessmen  in Jakarta. So many people think they know what its like in Manila.

The truth is the only comparison of Philippine is Vietnam weather and even then, its only the coastal area that is close to what Philippine is.  You see while Singapore/Malaysia/Thailand/Indonesia experience hot weather, Philippine experience a lot of rain so its not as hot.  During the rainy months in Singapore/Malaysia/Thailand/Indonesia, it does not rain as much here and in fact the weather is perfect for every imaginable outdoor activities. Essentially between Nov-Feb, its like Hawaii here.. I call it the Hawaiian period..  (Maybe that is why you see so many Hawaii loving Japanese and Koreans around !) Its one of the least marketed thing about the Philippine, the weather is perfect, it does not rain much - perfect golfing weather and just about every imaginable kind of out door activities. And its not humid.. Its actually kind of dry and you need to drink more water..

Those who love golf and dream of Hawaiian vacation they can't afford it, Philippine is the perfect alternative. At this time of the year, there is nothing better than to play around of golf in the day, go to the beach or have a picnic afterwards and then hang out at a cafe or outdoor bar and watch the sun go down.

Of course there are other things to do here besides golf and I will talk about it more soon.  I am missing a lot of hot looking girls walking by the bar I am hanging out in go by.. My favourite outdoor activity!!.