Just Tried: Snails!

It’s been a while! My golly! I haven’t written anything for weeks. I feel so bad for neglecting this baby (my blog). I have so much catching up to do when it comes to writing.

The past few months have been like a rollercoaster, especially at work. Year-end is always crazy in any office, I think. November and December workload felt like giant waves slamming against the huge rocks of Laswitan in Surigao! I had to give up yoga because I needed all the extra time I could get to meet deadlines. We’re down to the last three weeks and everything shall be over after Q4 sign-off.

While I have mostly stayed at home these past few weeks, I still had some mini adventures from time to time. There was also a lot of eating (more like pigging) out lately that’s why I gained a few pounds lately. My clothes are now tighter than when I first bought them. Oh dear, I need to go back to yoga and lose weight!

Before my uncle, Greg, went to the US to be with his family for the holidays, he invited me and Mom to have dinner out. I initially suggested going for Italian food at Mamma Mia in Uptown Mall in Bonifacio Global City, but Uncle Greg went looking around while waiting for us. He then discovered El Corazon, the Spanish and Filipino fusion restaurant where I brought Mom to for Mother’s Day. So, back to El Corazon Mom and I went.

We ordered the same Paella Valenciana that we did last time. We highly recommended it to Uncle Greg because we really loved it back in May. With it, we ordered Seville (shrimp gambas sautéed in olive oil and garlic, served with a basket of Pan de Saland what my uncle went there for, Caracoles (escargot in coconut milk).

I have never tried snails my whole life so that night proved to be an adventure for my taste buds. Armed with a wooden skewer to poke and take out the flesh inside the shells, I started going through this appetizer with Uncle Greg while he shared stories of how his Japanese guests loved eating the snails from a different restaurant. Mom didn’t want to try and could not be coaxed to try them at all so uncle and I helped ourselves to the plate of kuhol. None for her meant more for us!

I honestly and truly loved them! The meat from these snails reminded me of the meat from tahong (Asian green mussels) because they somehow have similar texture in the mouth. They weren’t mushy nor were they gummy. They weren’t the melt-in-your-mouth type, but they had this perfect amount of chewiness. Paired with creamy coconut milk sauce, my taste buds were having a party eating the escargot! I wanted to get a second order!

And the gambas? So delicious! The shrimps were cook just right, not gummy at all. There was just the right amount of olive oil to spread on the bread that came with the appetizer so the shrimps were not swimming in oil. However, I still love the gambas from Lorenzo’s Way better. I can’t figure out why but it has something to do with the garlic. Nevertheless, the dish was enjoyable.

Meals are best eaten over awesome conversation. Uncle Greg never runs out of amazing topics to talk about. That night, he shared with us his experience reading the book, Ikigai, and how fascinated he was over this Japanese secret to a long, happy life. This led us to a discussion on the corporate culture in Japan to their education system to their values and discipline that I almost booked a trip to Japan right there.

For dessert, we went to the Hello Kitty Café where we ordered L’Opera cake, Kahlua Cream Cheese Torte, Strawberry Peanut Butter Frappe, and Cappuccino (dear Italians, please don’t get mad).

At the café, our uncle finally got to talk to my sister’s Korean boyfriend over video call. It was so funny because we were in one video call with my sister while the boyfriend was in a separate video call. So many gadgets were involved and thanks to technology, I think the boyfriend passed level one of my uncle’s “interrogation.” I wonder how many more levels there are to go.

Back to dessert, the L’Opera cake was great! It wasn’t too sweet, the cake was tender but not mushy, and the chocolate was rich but not too milky. The cream cheese torte, was also delicious but after a few bites, my taste buds did not want to have any more of it. That being said, I think four people can enjoy that small cake. The frappe was refreshing and did not taste of artificial flavoring. I sure hope I am right in assuming that they used fresh strawberries for it.

I cannot wait for my next food adventure with Uncle Greg. He’s currently enjoying being with his family in the US, especially his grandson, Ell. I hope to meet that kid one day because I live for his mom’s IG posts about him! He loves food like his grandpa and so I look forward to future food adventures they’ll have together.

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Occidental-ly in Awe

In June of 2017, I was able to go for the first time to Bacolod City in Negros Occidental. We were six, split up into two groups to audit two large branches in the area. Karen and Clare were in my team while Claud and Yassi were in Joan’s.

Known as the city of smiles, the locals were very hospitable and approachable. One cannot help but think the locals have so many things to be happy about. Sometimes I wonder if all the sugar that are massively available in the area cause them to have so much energy to keep those smiles on their faces all day. I liked the people of Bacolod.

We stayed at O Hotel for the entire duration of our stay and found the place to be clean and cozy. We got connecting rooms which made our stay at the hotel more fun because we could just leave the connecting doors open and act as if we had one huge room to ourselves. The only issue we had was with the elevator because it would close very quickly before all of us could get in. Make sure someone goes in first to press the “Open” button on the control panel.

When you are in Bacolod, you MUST try their chicken! On our first day of audit, we ate at Chicken House in the Shopping area. I was expecting Mang Inasal-like chicken but my order turned out different. Still, the chicken was delicious and so unlike the usual fast-food chain chicken we are more used to. And because we could not get enough of their chicken, we went to Manokan County on a separate occasion. I forgot which specific food house we went to but I think every place offer delicious food anyway.

There are a lot of food choices in Bacolod. We once ate at Bob’s Restaurant and while I cannot remember any particular food that we tried there, I remember having a pleasant food experience. Although, serving time took a little longer than expected. It is one of the oldest restaurants in the city and are always packed with diners.

IMG_1349Lory Byron’s Baby Back Ribs offered the most delicious baby back ribs I have ever had! The serving was huge despite its very affordable price. Plain rice is already good enough to eat with it already since the ribs are really tasty, juicy and tender. It’s the melt-in-your-mouth kind that will leave you asking for more. No one will stop you from getting the Java rice though.

When we wanted to pretend to be healthy eaters, we went to Kuppa Coffee & Tea for their Soup and Salad Bar where you can have as much as you like. I do not remember the exact price but I am pretty sure it is less than Php 300. They do offer sweets to indulge in after you have had your fill of leaves and liquid. Their French macarons were a hit to me.

Negros Occidental is very progressive because of the sugar industry. Expect there to be A LOT of sweets that are very delicious but also very, very affordable. BongBong’s is the best place to get piyaya! They also offer really good barquillos and caramel tarts. On the other hand, I really loved the napoleones from Merzci.

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Our cake slices from Calea

If you’re feeling a little indulgent, try the cakes in the city! Believe me, they are abundant in the area. We went to Calea to satisfy our sugar cravings but it took us a while to eat because the cakes looked so good that we simply HAD to take photos first.

The cake flavors at Calea were not your usual chocolate, mocha or black forest flavors. It would be fun to eat here with friends so each of you can order a slice. Share you cake slices among yourselves while enjoying a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. I loved their coffee crumble the mud pie flavors the best.

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Cakes at Café Bob’s

Other places to get good cakes from are Café Bob’s and Felicia’s Pastry Shop.

Despite how good the food is in Bacolod, one cannot simply spend every day eating and eating. Negros Occidental also has tourist spots that one can easily reach from Bacolod.

Our first trip was to Silay City where one can see beautiful old houses that have become heritage sites. The city is just a Ceres bus away from Bacolod and is perfect for people who love learning about history and culture of places they visit. Silay’s heritage houses are just as beautiful as the heritage spots in Vigan.

For our first stop, we went to Balay Negrense, the ancestral house of Don Victor F. Gaston, where he lived with his twelve children after his wife died. There was a beautiful garden that led to actual house and grounds that probably served as playing area for the children before.IMG_0025

The first things that caught my attention inside the house were the beautiful white dresses. Thankfully, I did not see them suddenly floating as if someone invisible was wearing them and walking around.

I loved how they were able to preserve a lot of the family’s possessions like the vintage wheelchair that I saw. I wonder how my sister would have fared if the wheelchair she had after her knee surgery was like the vintage one I saw. Then again, MPFL reconstruction surgeries were not yet a thing in those times.

The entrance fee for this house ranges from Php 30 to Php 60. We did not have anyone to tour us around and were pretty much left to our own devices.

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I wanted to take a picture of the house but I was going to get run over by cars if I tried.

The next house we visited was the Bernardino Jalandoni Museum that was owned by Don Bernardino and Doña Ysabel Jalandoni. For this house, we had a tour guide with us to show us around and give us a background on the things that we could find inside.

This house was not much more modern compared to Balay Negrense that was constructed ten years before the completion of this house.  This was much smaller too but still looked very cozy.

IMG_0225I found a harp in the living room and I wondered who among their children knew how to play it. It was my first time to see an actual harp which I have always been curious how one could play without being confused with all the strings.

Unlike Balay Negrense that is situated in a quieter location, the streets outside the Bernardo Jalandoni Museum were busy and buzzing with vehicles. There were also a lot of people around, probably running some errands.

Not very far from the museum was the Maria Ledesma Golez Ancestral House which is currently housing the Silay branch of Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation.  I am not sure how the bank was able to put up this branch in an ancestral house but I heard that it was also preserving the vintage feel inside the branch.

Unfortunately, the bank was closed so we could not catch a glimpse inside. However, we took advantage of the ATMs available because our next stop was to buy pasalubong from El Ideal Bakery which was established way back in the 1920’s!

The bakery is not merely one of your usual establishments. It has been part of Silay’s rich culture because of its recipes. For pasalubong, make sure to get their señorita pastries. They are truly yummy!

After enjoying our trip in Silay, we took a jeepney to The Ruins. We paid a premium because we did not know how to get there from Silay but the driver and his companion offered to bring us there at Php 50 per head, I think? It took less than an hour to get to The Ruins in Talisay.

If you are looking for a great love story in Negros, you will find it here. Be warned though that the story was not one with a happy ending and that it began with a tragedy. The story I am about to share was what I picked up from the tour guide who was speaking to guests at that time.

img_03121.jpgDon Mariano Ledesma Lacson fell in love with Maria Braga, a Portuguese woman he met in Macau. It did not take long for them to get married and to settle in Silay. Already blessed with ten children, Maria became pregnant with their eleventh child. But, that child was not meant to see the world. A bathroom accident had Maria and her unborn child bidding goodbye to their family.

IMG_0313Heartbroken, Don Mariano wanted to find a way to immortalize his wife’s memory. He built a mansion adjacent to their ancestral house and dedicated it to Maria. The mansion was beautiful and grand, eventually earning the title of the “Taj Mahal of Negros.” It reminded me of the Temple of Leah, dubbed as the “Taj Mahal of Cebu.” Both were gestures of love of the husbands to their spouses.

Unfortunately, the mansion was burned down during the Japanese occupation in the efforts to keep it from being used by the Japanese as their headquarters. Despite the tragedy, the skeletal frame of the house remains intact, as if refusing to bow down to any attempts to erase this testament of love.

The following day, we decided to visit Lakawon in Cadiz Viejo. It’s like the Boracay of Negros Occidental because of its white sand. We took another Ceres bus to get to the boat terminal to reach Lakawon. The fees you have to pay can be pretty hefty. Terminal fee is at Php 20, entrance fee is Php 100, boat fee is at Php 150 (roundtrip), and the smaller huts that are good for six people are at Php 600. The food at the restaurant is also a little pricey because ingredients still have to be transported by boat to reach the island.

IMG_1088The verdict? I have been to better resorts but I cannot deny that the place was very, very beautiful! The water was so blue and contrasted prettily against the white sand. The huts were very cute too! Fortunately, because it is not yet as popular as Boracay, there were not much people around to make it feel too jam packed for comfort.

I did not join the swimming because of girly reasons so I just took their pictures and watched over our stuff in the huts. For someone who did not swim, I tanned the most among us.

You know what happens when you go to beautiful places like this? Photo shoots!!! IMG_1199

IMG_1324Soon after, we went back to the terminal where we entered. That was when we discovered black jellyfishes that looked so cute but we dared not go anywhere near. Not to worry because these were not anywhere near the resort.

We waited a few minutes for a Ceres bus that was going back to Bacolod. I thought it was going to be our last adventure in Negros Occidental but I was wrong.

June 26, 2017 was declared as a holiday because of Eid’l FitrI. This meant one more day to go looking for adventures before we went home to Manila. The girls were bent on visiting the Campuestohan Highland Resort in Talisay City and so we prayed for good weather because it was a little too cloudy for comfort that morning. We were lucky to find a guy who offered car rental services to bring us there because we did not know how to get to Campuestohan from Bacolod.

The resort had many attractions like the zipline, rope course, sky bicycle, hamster wheel, horseback riding and anchors away. Because I was getting cramps that day (it’s tough being a girl), I volunteered to take their pictures while they hopped on the rides.

The first thing they did was the hamster wheel. Clare was so cute during the course because she started walking later compared to Claud. But, she was so scared that she walked very fast and caught up with Claud just after a few moments. Just look at her go!

They said it was not totally scary because they had all the safety gears on. The whole ordeal was tiring though and that was going to prevent you from making the wheel roll forward as easily as when you started. Glad to say that the girls conquered the ride without any mishap!

IMG_0461There was also a gigantic King Kong made of stone that was great for taking pictures. Unfortunately, some people had no notion of waiting for their turn to get their pictures taken so I only had very few shots of just my friends without strangers in the background. Before you get any closer, please make sure that you are not the jumpy kind of person and are not easily scared by loud, roaring sounds (insert naughty smile here).

If you are a fan of Kung Fu Panda, you will find him and the squad here too! Choose your favorite and strike a pose with these amazing heroes.IMG_0487

After striking poses with these cool dudes, the girls went on to hop on the zipline. It was not very high so I doubt it was as thrilling as those in South Cotabato and in Bukidnon. But, it was a good starter for those who want to get into the groove of ziplining.

We tried the anchor’s away ride next and I regret every single moment of it not because it sucked, but because I terribly hated the feeling it gave me like my heart was going to drop several feet high. There were several instances too that I thought my heart was going to stop. I am never going on a similar ride ever again! But if you have a strong set of heart and lungs and is not afraid of it, go ahead. I am sure you will enjoy the ride.

IMG_0589The place is filled with cute attractions that are perfect for taking pictures. Feel like living in a cottage? Take a picture in front of Raphaella Mill! A restaurant is just nearby in case you want to grab a bite first.

If you want to be shouting “Knight to H-3!” like Ron Weasley, check out the Ryan Rupent Chess Garden. The cute house has an adorable chess garden that you can play in!IMG_0604

I think you can also pick up the chess pieces to playfully hit your friends with. But, no matter what happens, never resort to violence even if your friends are trying to photobomb your attempts at taking a picture with the giant chess piece.

The resort also has its own set of mascots that children will love. We were invited by one of the place’s official photographers to take a picture with two of their mascots—a rabbit and a bear.

Both looked very cute and we had fun taking pictures with them…

…until the bear decided he liked our bags too much and seemed to have developed a crush on Yassi.

That bear had one hell of a grip! Luckily, we managed to go home with our bags and Yassi too.

Our assignment in Negros Occidental was not without its challenges. Still, we managed to make the most of our free time and got to explore places outside Bacolod. I am pretty sure there are still a lot of places we have not seen and I look forward to seeing them again when I get the chance to go back.

Riddles Over Steamed Cakes

“People who love to eat are always the best people.” – Julia Child

After moving into my new job, I have to admit that I do miss my teammates from where I used to work. Before I left, I made them promise never to forget me and that we will always make it a point to find time to bond.

Two and a half years ago, Jana and I were hired as internal auditors of a bank. She was hired two weeks ahead of me though. We were together for our first and second assignments and relied on each other greatly as we learned the ropes of our job. You could say that we have formed quite a bond after everything we have been through at work.

IMG_4326Last month, I got to visit my old workplace and asked Jana to have lunch with me. By that time, we have not seen each other for almost a month and I terribly missed her so. Our feet led us to XO 46 Heritage Bistro in Makati.

Having an English name, I did not expect the restaurant’s atmosphere and ambiance to be heavily Filipino. The servers wore barong Tagalog and Filipiniana gowns. They also had huge smiles on their faces as they curtsied to the customers and greeted them in straight, deep Filipino. 18699308_464711953867983_3013890903851372601_oThe menu made use of the Filipino names of the food they served although the descriptions were in English, probably to help the foreigners have an idea of what the food was made of.

It felt good to catch up with my friend. I terribly missed going home with her. Since her home was in the street next to my place, we shared Uber rides going home every time we were both at the head office. When we worked on weekends, she sometimes brought her car and would pick me up so we can go to the office together. IMG_4329We had lots of plans about stuff to do and restaurants to try but our busy schedules sometime prevented those plans from materializing.

We were served these cute little steamed cakes called puto along with plain and garlic butter. With these appetizers was a rolled piece of paper containing a bugtong (riddle). In the olden times, Filipinos bonded by guessing what the riddles referred to.

For our actual lunch, we ordered Crispy Binagoongan (crispy fried pork tossed in shrimp paste) and Tokwa’t Baboy XO Style (tofu and pork). I am realizing only now how unhealthy our choice of combination was. At least the tofu and pork were accompanied by lots of veggies. Ha-ha!

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Crispy Binagoongan (left) and Tokwa’t Baboy XO Style (right).

Theirs was the best binagoongan I have ever tried.The shrimp paste where the crispy fried pork was tossed was not overly fishy. The amount of shrimp paste used was also just right to give the meat a light coating so it was not overwhelmingly salty.

The pork and tofu dish was also delicious. Normally, I only eat the sizzling tofu from Max’s Restaurant (my absolute favorite tofu dish!) and avoid all other fried tofu dishes because I am picky when it comes to that food. This one though, I absolutely liked (although the sizzling tofu is still more delicious in my opinion).

We had a good time talking about new assignments, new challenges and new activities we plan to take together with our other good friends. Conversations do get better when accompanied with really good food.

The food served by the restaurant are truly a bit on the pricey side. I don’t think a regular employee would drop by every day for lunch here because that will really damage one’s budget. From time to time though, one may wish to treat himself/herself to really delicious food. This place looks promising and judging by how packed it was when we went there to eat, I guess it’s worth the price.

My only disappointment though was that the servers tended to look down or focus solely on whatever task they had in mind. For that reason, they would sometimes fail to notice when a customer is trying to get their attention. I believe I spent a good five minutes calling out or waving at the servers to get our bill before somebody approached us. That is something that can be worked on though.

Have you tried eating in XO 46 Heritage Bistro or any other Filipino restaurant? What were your favorite dishes?