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Tuesday, January 22


Our trip to the Philippines was planned but for the first time in a long time I didn’t search the internet high and low for good places to visit and restaurants to try. We had friends and family of friends that were locals, what more did we need?

We spent a night in Manila before heading on a few days beach trip with our friends. Our first meal in Manila was at the family’s home and full of delicious food. We tried Laing, Chicken Adobo, Whole stuffed fish and Flan. (Everything pictured below.) Laing is taro leaves cooked down with onion, garlic and spices. I believe spinach or water spinach can be used to make it as well. It was primarily fresh (& green) tasting. The chicken adobo was exactly the comfort food we needed after an 8 hour flight. It was garlicky and slightly vinegary, very appetizing. The fish with crispy skin and moist meat was tasteful. And finally the flan, it was memorable. I’ve had flan before but this was exquisite.
The four of us spent 3 days in Boracay, an island south of Manila. The weather wasn’t cooperating and rained into the night. However we made the most of the rainy day. We rode on the Tricycle, a motorbike connected to a side car. And the side car is covered for passenger seating. It was unique.

On a rainy arrival, we ate chicken wings, grilled squid and Tinola for lunch. Tinola was outstanding, soup made with broth, vegetables and chicken meat. The broth is flavorful and comforting, just the meal for a wet day on the island.

With sun shining we spent many hours in the water the next couple days. The water is clear enough to see our feet at the bottom of the ocean. A picture forever etched in our minds is many shades of blue water surrounded by palm trees on the white sandy shore. Magnificent. Boracay has been rated, repeatedly, one of the world’s beautiful islands; rightfully so it deserves the recognition. The three days we spent there weren’t enough.
We woke up the next morning to open skies and rising sun. We ate breakfast with a platter full of mangoes, pineapple and papaya. It was a delight to have local, tropical fruits. There we tasted Longanisa, a Filipino sausage. Vinegary and sweet at the same time; we were both surprised by the taste and enjoyed it.

For dinner we went to a Spanish restaurant called Dos Mesquitos and ordered a seafood paella. The rice was cooked perfectly but the Spanish flavor was missing in the paella. Thankfully the fresh seafood covering the paella made up for it.
Two memorable dishes, at another restaurant, were chicken and fish in coconut milk
sauce. The grilled chicken was tender and juicy and it came with two dipping sauces, sweet and spicy and another salty. Our friend said the coconut milk with the fish is Thai influence. While whole fish isn’t for the faint heart, it’s typical to get fish with head and tail on in Asian countries; Philippines is no exception. Something we enjoyed with most meals was garlic rice. We’re garlic fans and rice loves so having those two combined was eye-opening.
Another time I ordered Pancit, a noodle dish with vegetables, shrimp and chicken. It reminded me of lo mein with citrus notes. Speaking of citrus, there are varieties of fruits available in the Philippines we haven’t seen or heard of elsewhere. One is Calamansi (pictured below with Pancit), a sour citrus the size of a golf ball. Dalandan is a type of a sweet orange. At the family home, we drank Dalandan juice, daily. Our friend had heard about the Calamansi muffins at a local café in Boracay so we bought some before departing the island. The muffins tasted like citrus muffin with a hint of sour. Comparatively the muffins were milder in taste than a Calamansi shake (pictured below).
We arrived back to Manila with our luggage and a sick stomach. We ate at a Mexican restaurant in Boracay on the previous night and caught a stomach bug, unfortunately. The next couple days in Manila were troublesome but we got through it with lots of medication and homemade food.

The joy of living with a family includes the luxuries of home cooked meals. Each morning we woke up to breakfast that included sausages, eggs, fresh fruits, and local cheese. I had no idea Philippines produced their own cheese but I am glad they do. We ate the cheese with Pan de Sal, a bread roll. That’s the way to start off breakfast. And if that wasn’t enough, one morning we had hot chocolate. HOT CHOCOLATE FOR BREAKFAST! When I’ve made hot chocolate, it’s been runny and watery but this was thick and rich,  liquid gold. A tablespoon of milk is added when the hot chocolate is ready. We learned both coffee and chocolate are locally grown in the Philippines. I am sad I didn’t watch someone make it.  My mouth is salivating thinking about the chocolate.

When photographing Boracay, alone, I’d run into a soymilk vendor. When I told our friend, she explained soy milk is drunk in the morning with sugary syrup. One morning in Manila when a soymilk vendor strolled through the neighborhood, (this reminded me of India with vegetable and milk vendors walking through neighborhoods, selling their produce off of a mobile cart), the family bought some. It is curdled tofu with its liquid. Instead of the sugary syrup, our friend suggested adding agave. At first glance it looks odd but after the first sip, I was a convert. Don’t judge a drink by its cover looks.

The family hosted a birthday party at the house the next day. I was still recovering from the bug but I managed. The husband had already recovered so he ate like he’d never seen food. I tried Pancit, again, and Lumpia. Lumpia is spring roll filled with vegetables (sometimes also meat) and then fried. It is eaten with a lot of sauce. Lumpia is like Vietnamese or Thai fried spring rolls. A highlight of the party night was lechon, whole roasted pig. Although I tried very little of the lechon, the husband approved. He went back for fourths. We both liked the skin; crackly, slightly sweet and overall tasty. From lechon began a conversation to try chicharon. Chicharon is pig skin fried. It’s eaten as a snack and we devoured half the bag. We liked it so much, we brought some to Germany. Filipinos eat chicharon with garlic, vinegar, black pepper. Speaking of vinegar, we learned (and experienced) Filipinos love their vinegar. Many dishes are cooked with vinegar or many foods are eaten with vinegar. For a country in Southeast Asia, in the middle of the Pacific ocean, I am amazed how important vinegar is to the cuisine.
Sinigang is traditional Filipino soup that’s made from broth and vegetables. It sounds very much like Tinola but the key difference is in the broth, Sinigang is sour and Tinola isn’t. I’d never heard of Sinigang before this trip, so when a Top Chef contestant made it for a challenge (and won!) last week, I was thrilled for Filipinos. Crazy, I know.
On New Year’s Eve, we toured Manila and its malls. A well known architect has put a lot of thought into the design of these indoor spaces and earned awards. The layout and the design were modern. We were taken aback by the high clothing prices at designer shops. It confirms Manila is a bustling city that attracts high earning individuals from other parts of the country, as well as the world. Another outdoor shopping mall is connected to one of the green markets in the city and the drastic difference between high-end shopping and an outdoor, pedestrian market couldn’t be more distinct than here.
Filipinos speak fluent English and though it’s not shocking for most people, it’s a change from Germany. Not only the language but the attitude towards customers (& strangers) was far different than what we’re used to. I’ve read about Filipinos but to experience their friendliness in person was striking. Everywhere we went we were greeted with a hello and a smile. Even the maids at the house greeted us with a warm welcome. Did I type maids? Yes, I did. There were 2- 3 live-in maids at all times. I was content they washed the dishes and did the laundry, but the plates cleared after dinner and beds made everyday? That’s luxury! I am thinking about asking to be adopted by the family.  On language, the husband was fascinated by Filipinos' poetic speech. It wasn’t How are you? it was Howwww are you, sirrrrr? with bells and whistles and a little rhyme in their question (or statement).

On a sweet note, we had many desserts. Bibingka (pictured) definitely stands out in my mind. It’s sticky rice cake with caramel-like topping. (It doesn't photograph well because it's too good for photo ops.) At the party, the rice cakes were filled in banana leaves (used as a vessel) topped with sugar and cheese and grilled on charcoal. I enjoyed the sweet- salty with sticky rice. The husband favored the puto bumbong. Also sticky rice (I believe) steamed in a cylinder and topped with shredded coconut before serving. This blogger does a great job explaining the difference, in photos! Suman is another glutinous rice cake, slightly sweet and wrapped in banana leaves. It was the simplest and stickiest of the three. Ube jam is purple yam jam. Say that 5 times. Purple yam jam, Purple yam jam, Purple…. I was expecting a gluey texture but it was smooth and sweet. Buko pie is coconut pie, crust filled with thick slices of coconut and coconut milk filling. I wouldn’t think to make this but it worked and featured coconut brilliantly.
We took a day trip with the family to Tagaytay, 2 hour drive from Manila. We arrived at a sophisticated restaurant, Antonio’s. Tucked away on an inside road, Antonio’s is serene in the middle of a lush garden.
The menu is refined with local ingredients. There was roasted chicken, duck confit, rack of lamb and risotto. I remember risotto because we ordered that with the roasted chicken and a salad. The chicken and risotto were topped with a red sauce (possibly a Romesco sauce). The risotto was creamy and the chicken had a crispy skin implying it was fried. For dessert we ordered Dark Chocolate Soufflé with Cardamom Crème Anglaise. Overall the husband favored the chicken and I favored the Soufflé. We finished lunch with a stroll through their garden. The traffic back to Manila from Tagaytay was horrendous and it took us 4+ hours to get home. Now I understand why our friend complains about the traffic in the Philippines.
We saw many “Chooks to go” signs and the husband had to find out what this was. Chooks means chicken in Filipino and this is their version of KFC. After Tagaytay, we had take-out chooks to go, homemade scrambled eggs, Gising Gising, dried fish and bier, (pictured). Chooks was unfortunately the least memorable of the meal. It was roasted chicken with a semi-sweet glaze. Gising Gising, on the other hand, was an eye opener, literally. It means wake up, wake up and it woke us up, even at 9pm. It’s a greens dish (like Laing) but this had extra chilies for a kick. The family believed it was too hot but we Indians appreciated it. Out of the many foods we ate, Gising Gising will be unforgetable for its simplicity and fiery kick. The dried fish was unusual; crunchy, salty, and slightly fishy. Since it was dried, there wasn’t much meat to eat. It was fine with rice and other things, but I wasn’t wowed.
Some rave about San Miguel bier. The men drank it like water but for me, it was a cold beverage. I am spoiled from German bier.

New Year’s Eve was pleasant. We ate an extravagant dinner at a Chinese restaurant and then sat on the front porch at home, watched the fireworks and wished everyone a happy new year at midnight. It was just the type of evening we needed before heading home.

There aren’t enough words to describe our experience in the Philippines. The Boracay beach with clear blue water is unreal and the people are friendly, accommodating and always smiling.

We are beyond grateful to Tito and Tita, C & C and little P and the entire family for their warm welcome, kindness and generosity in opening their homes to us. We felt like part of the family. Thanks to you, we ate our way through Manila and can't wait to come back for more. Sarap!

More importantly, we are lucky for some of the best friends we have! Thank you ma'amsir!


  1. I absolutely LOVE this detailed commentary! I expected nothing less from you, of course :)

    Correction though, if you don't mind - "Dos Meztisos"

    You guys really should have tried the "Chickenjoy" at Jollibee - this is, I think, more appropriately our version of KFC. The "chooks to go" is relatively new, I think (I don't remember it being there when I left), but Jollibee is like an institution. Yes it's fast food, but it's Filipino fast food ;-) On your next trip, right?

    Mmmm I am really, really craving gising gising right now. The spicy version would be so good right about now - with our frigid temps. I found several recipes on blogs but many used a different green vegetable from what they used at home.

    "Ma'amsir" is the perfect ending - icing on the cake! Touche.

    I'm homesick as I ironically look at the snow outside our window...

    1. phew I am glad you liked my "review" :)

      Thanks for the correction; I knew something about Mesquitos didn't sound right.

      Don't worry Jollibee is for the next trip. Thanks for the advance offer.

      Like you, I also searched the internet for a recipe as well as flipped through the cookbook and didn't see a version that resembled what we had. I'll try from the cookbook and let you know how it turns out.

      Hope you stay warm, with the Lasagna :), in the cold temps.

  2. great reading about your trip, especially the detailed explanation of the food! i know that sounds funny, but since i grew up in a chinese home, i was more used to eating more chinese, than filipino, food - i was also a very picky eater :D for A and his family to have a better idea about the food, i had to keep bringing in my sister-in-law who is filipino and can better explain (and order!).

    but another comment to add: i am still as surprised as you seeing all the designer labels in the malls! for one, rent is most likely cheap for these labels, and the rich are really rich in manila, so there is enough demand - a huge gap between social classes is obvious when you see these shops, and see all the shanty towns.

    1. Anne, that just means one thing. We'll have to do another Philippines trip with you (in addition to the one we've already planned with Mia) so we can try the specialties of your home. :)

      That's a good point about status of Filipinos in Manila and the correlation between the demand for high end products increasing with salaries.

  3. Krishna - so great to read your blog and experience. I told Mia I almost went home and decided last minute not to. My house is less than five minutes away from MIa's and walkable... Maybe someday we can all go back together - that would be fun! Hope all is well..