Monday, December 15, 2008

Thanksgiving in the Philippines - Part 2

(This is a continuation of my earlier post about our Thanksgiving holiday vacation in the Philippines)

When we were in the States, I kept telling my wife about the absolutely divine paella (a savory dish made of rice, meat, and seafood) that they make in the Philippines. Paella is not a dish native to the Philippines, but arose from the pervasive Spanish influence in Philippine culture (the Philippines was a colony of Spain for over 300 years).

Because of that strong Spanish influence, there are a good number of fine restaurants in the Philippines that specialize in Spanish-Filipino cuisine. One of the most memorable of these (whose delicious paella has delighted me since my boyhood) is the Alba Restaurant in Quezon City.

We went for the lunch buffet, which offered numerous scrumptious dishes like: Callos Madrilena (beef tripe in tomato sauce), Costillas de Vaca (beef spare ribs), Pescado Polaris (fish with garlic & chili sauce), and many, many more...

To discourage waste, this restaurant has a "no leftovers" policy - which means they will charge an additional 500 pesos (about 10 US dollars) per table if diners don't finish off everything they put on their plates. There is an ominous-looking sign stating this policy right next to the platter of delicious Cochinillo (roast suckling pig). Click on the picture below to enlarge:

All the above dishes are great. But for me, the real star of the show is the splendid paella, which I've been hankering for while I was in the US. The fragrant aroma and zesty tang of the seasoned rice, combined with the fresh, tasty seafood, was every bit as heavenly as I remembered it to be (and my wife agreed that I wasn't exaggerating in my praise for Alba's paella):

All these great ingredients allowed us to whip up our own lavish concoctions:

As a perfect finish to this great ensemble, we had some refreshing dessert. Pictured below - leche flan (custard), canonigo (meringue), and chocolate cake:

I left Alba feeling deeply satisfied. An experience that I had been looking forward to for a long time, had come to reality and totally lived up to my expectaions. Aahh, what a feeling ... ;-)

(To be continued)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Thanksgiving in the Philippines - Part 1

My wife and I had the good fortune of visiting the Philippines during the Thanksgiving holidays. We had a jolly good time reconnecting with family and friends in Manila, shopping, sightseeing, and of course, indulging in some seriously good eating along the way.

One of the first places we visited shortly after arriving in Manila was the SM City Mall in Santa Mesa, Manila. This was one of my favorite places to hang out back when I still lived in the good ol' Philippines. Just a 5 minute drive from our house, it's a very convenient and comfortable place to shop, watch movies, eat, and just relax while escaping the hot and humid weather in Manila.

The gay (meaning happy, not homosexual ;-) Christmas lights and decorations, and throngs of people scurrying about, told me for sure that the Christmas shopping season was in full swing at the mall. (With over 80% of Filipinos following the Roman Catholic faith, Christmas is the most anticipated and beloved celebration of the year in the Philippines.)

We experienced the exceptional warmth, friendliness, and hospitality of the Filipino people while shopping at the mall (and everywhere else we went, for that matter), where we received excellent customer service. There were some good bargains to be had, too. My wife bought a very nice pair of jeans for 900 pesos (about 18 US dollars). The same thing would probably cost over $35 in the States.

After a full day of shopping, my mom suggested that we have dinner at one of her favorite Chinese restaurants - Luk Foo in Quezon City. So off we went.

We enjoyed delectable morsels like barbecued pork:

...and roasted duck (my mom's favorite!): fillet with sweet and sour sauce:

...fried prawns:

...and some xiu mai (pork dumplings) thrown in for good measure:

After our appetites were sated, we headed home for some much needed rest.

(To be continued)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Mitsuwa Marketplace

There's a small slice of Japan in San Jose, on the corner of Saratoga and Moorpark Avenues (just off the I-280 freeway). There one finds a little mall that features a variety of shops that specialize in Japanese goods - like the Kinokuniya bookstore and the Mitsuwa Marketplace, as well as Japanese restaurants, and a Japanese video store.

I would sometimes spend many blissful hours immersed in the endless rows of manga (Japanese comics) and anime (Japanese cartoons) DVD's at Kinokuniya, and then swing by the food court at Mitsuwa for a quick bowl of udon (thick wheat noodles) or some other Japanese treat.

To me that's where the Mitsuwa Marketplace food court shines - as a convenient place to stop by for a quick, inexpensive bite of something authentically Japanese, whenever cravings for such goodies occur. It was precisely those cravings that drove us to Mitsuwa's food court for a quick lunch one fine afternoon.

Those in a big hurry can grab a bento (boxed lunch containing rice and meat), stick it in a microwave, and be on their way in snap.

Others who prefer a more leisurely pace can get something cooked to order by Miyabi-Tei (the food court's vendor). The choices include: ramen (a Japanese noodle dish of Chinese origin), donburi (a big rice bowl topped with meat), tonkatsu (breaded deep fried pork cutlet), kare raisu (curry rice) and many others.

We definitely belonged to the more leisurely category. I haven't had udon in a while and was hankering for those thick, chewy noodles immersed in savory broth, so I ordered a bowl of beef udon:

For me the real heart and soul of udon is the broth, and although Mitsuwa's broth was not as flavorful as that of other places, it was still okay. "What do you expect? This is fast food. It's good enough for that price" my wife astutely pointed out.

My wife had a box of assorted sushi. It was so-so. The rice wasn't as soft and fluffy as we would've liked but the overall result was still okay. My wife's earlier words rang true once again: "What do you expect?..."

Still feeling hungry after my bowl of udon, I got an order of takoyaki (octopus balls). The outer portion of each ball was very soft and reminded me of marshmallows. Chewing diligently to the core of each ball revealed only a very small fragment of actual octopus meat, which kinda left me wanting more. (Everyone say it with me now: "What do you expect?...")

The most delightful part of the meal was an Okinawan dessert known as sata andagi, which are deep fried balls composed of egg, flour, and brown sugar. These were really delicious as the crust was delightully crunchy and the inside had a light, refreshing sweetness.

The sata andagi is made by the mom of one of the Miyabi-Tei employees, and only a limited quantity is sold each day. On a subsequent visit to Mitsuwa, we were not able to buy more sata andagi as it was sold out (reminds me of that time-honored marketing slogan: "Hurry, while supplies last!") People know a good thing when they taste it.

Mitsuwa Marketplace on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Joy Luck Place

A friend of ours swears by this place so we immediately said "Yes!" to his invitation to have dinner at the Joy Luck Place in Cupertino.

I've heard a theory that says that the best Chinese restaurants are the dingy, hole-in-the-wall places that are dirty and run-down inside. The Joy Luck Place definitely goes against this theory as it offers great food in a clean, well-lit, spacious and classy setting.

While waiting for our orders to arrive we enjoyed some appetizer peanuts, which were quite tasty:

I checked out their fish tanks and found some fine-looking specimens:

Soon our food arrived. We started off with braised scallop and vermicelli (thin rice noodles) soup. I greatly enjoyed its light, refreshing flavor:

Next came the sauteed snow pea shoots, which were fresh and crunchy:

We had some crispy and delicious fried shrimp:

Our meal reached a climax with the absolutely gorgeous Peking roast duck, whose perfectly glazed, crispy, thin golden brown skin was a joy to bite into:

The duck came with some very soft and sweet buns, with which we made little Peking duck sandwiches:

I can understand our friend's unreserved enthusiasm for this place. By the end of the meal we were converts too.

Amen ;-)

Joy Luck Place on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Seattle Foodie Moments

My wife and I recently spent a fun and relaxing weekend in Seattle, where we enjoyed many interesting sights, sounds, and activities. We visited many of the tourist hotspots, like the Pike Place Market, Space Needle, Museum of Flight, Pacific Science Center, and more! Along the way, we indulged in our beloved hobby - eating - and collected some fond foodie memories. Here are a few of our favorite foodie moments from Seattle.

Since my wife is a rabid fan of Starbucks, it was absolutely mandatory that we visit the original Starbucks store, located in the world-famous Pike Place Market. Upon arriving at Starbucks, we encountered a group of very talented street performers standing right by the entrance, who regaled visitors and passers-by with their spirited a capella renditions of old R&B classics, such as "Cupid" by the Spinners:

Inside Starbucks, we ooh'd and aah'd at the renowned pig made out of coffee beans:

We found our way to the Pike Place Fish Market. This market is famous for its "flying fish", which refers to the way employees pass fish to each other by throwing them (sometimes at distances of over 20 feet) rather than just handing them off. Customers are often invited to try their hand at catching a flying fish. The young lady below (wearing a black T-shirt) gamely tried, but was unsuccessful. "But I caught a fin!" she said.

Seattle's Museum of Flight features some truly marvelous flying machines, such as the ones shown below...

...but one exhibit really caught our attention, and that was the space food consumed by the early astronauts and cosmonauts:

The Soviet cosmonauts ate canned foods and vegetable paste which they squeezed out of tubes (not the most appetizing menu):

The US astronauts didn't fare much better, as they also had to eat out of tubes:

We had to get our Asian food fix somehow, so we headed off to the Great Wall Asian Mall:

Inside the mall we found this charming little model of the Taj Mahal:

And we also found a place that's a very familiar sight to us - 99 Ranch Market. 99 Ranch Market is an Asian supermarket chain that is very popular in our home, the San Francisco Bay Area. We buy a lot of Asian foods there including Filipino longganisa sausages and Vietnamese pho noodles. We were pleased (but not entirely surprised) to see that they had established a presence in Seattle as well:

There are quite a number of Asian restaurants in the mall. After looking around, we decided to go with the Edokko Japanese Restaurant.

We ordered bento (combination of meat, vegetables, and rice served in a box). My bento had beef and tempura while my wife had chicken and sashimi. The meal was okay, but nothing really special.

We weren't the only foodies gorging ourselves in Seattle. At the butterfly habitat of the Pacific Science Center (right next to the iconic Space Needle), we saw a bunch of hungry butterflies going absolutely gaga over some rather nasty-looking bananas - while ignoring the perfectly good orange right next to them. Oh well, as long as they're happy...