New Year Cruising

“The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.” — Ashely Montagu

 New-Years-at-High-SeaCredits: JSprague Digi in Deeper course materials

This year, 68 of my family members from all over flew to Singapore for a grand reunion. For the first time, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins took the time and effort to fly from all over and spent New Year holidays together, on the high seas to boot.

mariner's-of-the-seaInside Royal Caribbean’s Mariners of the Seas

A perfect venue, truth to tell, as none of us could go very far—not saying though that the ship isn’t big and off-shore excursions aren’t aplenty. It was contained enough to allow us to catch up.  Some met each other for the first time.

new-year-in-patongFireworks before the New Year in Patong Beach

It was an experience I surprisingly enjoyed. Being the traveler that I am, I thought that this was merely something I had to do, an obligation of some sort. The destinations were nothing to rave about but the togetherness was awesome. It was something unexpected… Which are usually the best, yes? You know what they say— “the things you don’t see coming tickles you the most.”

Port Klang

So the destinations weren’t great, they weren’t total disappointments either. Our first port of call was Port Klang. What is there to see in Port Klang, the principal port in Selangor state of Malaysia? Nothing much though we heard that it is a haven for local foodies—good enough for us (by us I mean my immediate family).


Seafood aside, Klang is famous for its Bak Kut Teh, in fact they say that this pork rib soup which has become a staple in Malaysia, Singapore and some parts of Indonesia started here. Considered a breakfast food, BKT, as locals call it, is pork ribs (or other parts of the pork meat) slowly simmered in an herbal broth.


Across the AEON Bukit Tinggi Shopping Center, about 30 minutes away from the Star Cruises Terminal, we randomly chose Restoran Bak Kut Teh. A small shop sans the fanfare – open air and round tables and stools to sit that serves (in my opinion) quite a good and (I assume) authentic BKT.

restoran-bak-kut-tehFood tripping with the family

The Bak Kut Teh has an herbal taste (of course), salty with the hint of sweetness; meat was falling off the bone. Extremely enjoyable with soy sauce, garlic and a bit of chopped chili.


Next port of call was an overnight in Phuket. Arriving Phuket at 11AM, it was too late to do much so we decided on a late lunch in Old Phuket Town and a massage after. We took the tender to Patong Beach and haggled with one of the many vans peddling their services to take us to town.


Old Phuket town shines with personality with its rich history. In this old quarter, you will see beautifully ornate old shophouses, quaint cafes, Buddhist and Chinese temples, and some grandiose Sino-Colonial mansions once occupied by Phuket’s tin barons of years ago.


In the middle of town, on New Dibuk Road is a two-storey Sino-Portuguese house converted into a restaurant.


Tinted glass windows and wooden shutters, hard to find Machuca floor tiles,



rustic ceiling fans, vintage posters, a wooden staircase,


and an antique bar, this old house exudes old colonial.

raya-dishesL-R: Pork with Kafir Leaves; Deep Fried Sea Bass with Shallots and red chilli in Tamarind-Lemongrass Sauce; Green Mango with Dried Squid Salad

The food, known to be THE Thai restaurant in Phuket; its specialty is said to be the Crabmeat Curry served with rice vermicelli. Being a sucker for all things crab, this was a definite winner. Big chunks of crabmeat and the strong curry muted by the addition of coconut milk produced a subtle creamy curry dish. The deep-fried sea bass with shallots and red chilies in tamarind-lemongrass sauce and the pork with Kafir leaves were fantastic too. When in town, do visit Raya Restaurant if you can.

We could and should have walked around town, but we opted instead for a massage. We could and should have gone to the spa just around the corner from Raya. On a previous  trip (a post I still owe) the boutique hotel I stayed in offered a discount at The Raintree Spa when booked through them.


It was most satisfying, in all the right ways—service, skills, and ambiance. I should have known better than to indulge our driver but, hindsight is always 20/20, so yeah… We could have saved the 30-minute drive to the spa he recommended (name and place I won’t even bother to tell) and used it to walk around the charming old town instead. And to think, I convinced my whole family to that massage.

Koh Phi Phi

Thank goodness for Phi Phi Islands.


Praised as one of the most beautiful beaches in Southeast Asia, thanks to the film “The Beach”.


A 45-minute bumpy (because we decided to sit in front) speed boat ride from Phuket, the Phi Phi archipelago comprises 6 islands boasting of white sand beaches, stunning limestone cliff and turquoise water, many parts ideal for snorkelling.



Popular with backpackers even before the movie, but the world seemed to have flocked here after the film was shot in 1999. In spite the crowd, the limestone outcrops that swept the archipelago still impressed.





Bounded by the sea on a narrow wedge of land is the province of Cadiz, said to be Europe’s oldest inhabited city.  A typical Andalusian city with a wealth of well-preserved historic landmark in its charming old quarter.

It may not have architectures that shout “look at me!” like Barcelona’s Casa Batllo, Bilbao’s Guggenheim, or Granada’s Alhambra, but the Moorish looking old city offers a taste of the great days of the 17th century.


Walk around its cobblestone narrow, winding alleys and open squares and you will feel like nothing much has changed.


This and the easy-going, everyday vibe of Cadiz makes for a pleasant walk around the ancient city, the rain notwithstanding.


Friendly locals would always strike up a conversation, if you speak Spanish that is; otherwise a welcoming smile is always at the ready.

Founded as the Phoenician port of Gades a millennium before Christ, Cadiz has an old and interesting history.


A worthy place to learn more about it is at the Museo de Cadiz, on Plaza de Mina.


It offers a journey that goes from Phoenician and Roman culture through to the 20th century Spanish paintings.

Just across Cadiz is El Puerto de Santa Maria, our home for a few days.  A lively harbor town and beach resort during the summer.


It was quiet, however, when we there in April.  We’d walk around and end up at La Playa de Valdelagrana, the beach closest to where we stayed.



It is one of the Costa de la Luz beaches facing the Atlantic Ocean.


The various cafes, restaurants and pubs dotting the promenade are a telltale sign that this playa can be very busy during summers.

Never on my radar, if truth were told, but thanks to Anton for wanting to visit his roots, I am happy to have made it to Cadiz.  We had the grandest of time chilling as activities get halted every afternoon for siesta.  Nothing beats excellent home cooked meals coupled with fantastic stories shared till the wee hours of the morning.

Useful Info:

Museum of Cadiz (Museo de Cadiz)
Plaza de Mina s/n
11004 Cadiz, Andalusia
+34 8 56105023
+34 8 56105034

Singapore Fling

Credits:  Papers by Queen of Quarks; Elements from Scrap Matter’s Life’s Little Surprises kit and You Are Awesome Kit by Crystal W.

Daniel Boulud’s Bistro Moderne, Mario Batali’s Mozza, Boon Tong Kee’s Chicken Rice… all part of my dad’s 70th birthday celebration.  Our whole family of 8 flew to Singapore in lieu of a big celebration and could be the best decision ever.

Not all with favorable reviews, I’m afraid.  The Marina Bay Sands was a let down.

The long lines at the check-in counter had me by surprise, and after that long wait, one of our rooms was not even ready.

We could go up to the famous skypark infinity pool while we wait, they suggested.  If the line at the check in counter had not turned off me off yet,

the pool in similar fashion definitely did.  It looked like a market place – although it did boast of 12.400 square meter of space that can host about 4,000 people and it probably did that day.  We ordered drinks and bar chows while the kids had a swim.  Service leaves much to be desired for…   Chefs Boulud and Batali were the reasons why we opted to stay at the Marina Bay Sands.  Next time, we will take a cab.   😦

Dinner at DB Bistro Moderne was superb, I had the classic Coq Au Vin and a Yuzu flavored ice cream dessert.

The pizzas at Pizzeria Mozza, I truly enjoyed.  I also had my first Burata here.  Yum.

To save the best for my dad’s night, we dined with gusto at Osteria Mozza – a great choice to mark his 70th – he loves food more than all of us combined.

Wonderful French and Italian cuisines aside, we also had our share of chicken rice, but of course!

One day for lunch, we headed out to River Valley Road for an authentic Chicken Rice at Boon Tong Kee.  The chicken rice here ranks high on the best chart.  We ordered the steamed and the roast chicken and were not disappointed, the meat was tender and flavorful, the rice fragrant.  Many tend to think though that BTK is over-priced and maybe it is.  The chicken, although not disappointing, leaves no lasting impression, sad to say.

To be in Singapore with kids and not go to Sentosa is a crime – at least to my 6-year old nephew.  Not too large a place with an array of interesting marine life, Underwater World achieved to fascinate even (a kid at heart like) me.

I sat through the dolphin show with a cup of Cherry Garcia’s at an air-conditioned café overlooking stage/pool. We stumbled on it when we went to get ourselves some Ben & Jerry’s and found out that we could stay and watch the show comfortably for a reasonable consumable fee.

A great deal, if you ask me.  My nephews were equally as happy with their own ice cream cups in their little corner with a great vantage point.

The reason I love food so much is because I grew up in a family that enjoys good food.  More often than not, trips with my parents always involved food, so I say this weekend Singapore fling was a hit despite some lows.

Weekend fireworks at the Marina Bay Sands

Overall, we celebrated my dad’s birthday literally with a bang.

A Side Trip to Danville

Whenever I am in the US, my time with my cousin and good friend S has always been short – only a few hours for either lunch or dinner depending on how our schedules connect.  On my recent trip to the Bay Area, we made it a point to spend a couple of days together starting with a mini family reunion at her parents’ home in San Ramon and ending with lunch I immensely enjoyed in downtown Danville.

Just 30 miles east of San Francisco, Danville, the heart of the San Ramon Valley was a pleasant surprise.  As with many towns, it features various interesting shops, art galleries and upscale eateries.  One such eatery is Sideboard, a neighborhood café at the old Danville Hotel.

It spells quaint the minute I walked in with its charming French country décor.  One gets a choice to dine on wooden tables and cozy chairs indoors or on the mosaic tiled patio tables outside – which we chose despite the chilly weather.

A perfect choice for summer but if like us, one still prefers to sit outdoors on a cold winter’s day, they offer heater stands and thick woolen blankets to keep one warm.  Having a meal at Sideboard is like having dinner at your good friend’s home as the owner Ford Andrews goes around talking to diners as if we are his long-lost friends.  The self-service style is evidence to the friendly casual atmosphere it has come to project.  And the food is comforting and personal.  Ford’s wife Erin uses regionally grown produce, which she personally hunts for at the Farmer’s market nearby or at the Ferry building in San Francisco.  What we had that day:

A must try!  Fried Brussel Sprouts.  One after the other, I just kept popping these gorgeously fried babies into my mouth.  The best dish I had here.

I went for the comforting Pulled pork sandwich while my brother chose this delectable bowl of Chili (a favorite of his).

The scones, he said, went so well with the chili, he asked for second servings (of the scones), which Ford gladly gave.

Also not to be missed is their famous burger made from Prather Ranch beef.

This homemade Banana bread and a mug of Blue Bottle coffee is the perfect cap to a wonderful lunch.

My visit to Sideboard had me wishing I lived in the area so I can make it my regular go-to café – a great place to kill time with a good cup of coffee and terrific homemade desserts. Thank you S for taking me there.   🙂

Useful Info

Sideboard Cafe
The Danville Hotel
411 Hartz Ave.,
Danville, CA
(925) 984-2713

Rustic Italian in Sausalito

My mom once told my dad while driving around Sausalito that it would be lovely to own a house there — overlooking the marina would even be lovelier.  Gulp!   😯   I want one too.   😛  Its neighborhood oozes with charm, the steep wooded hillside on one side and the water on the other faintly reminds me of the Mediterranean, although Positano it isn’t.

With the wide choice of restaurants from charming outdoor cafes and bistros to chic dining right on the waterfront, this endearing city of Marin County has captivated my heart since long ago.

Yes, the food and the quaintness played a big role in endearing me to this town.

We had a few days to spare before heading home to Manila and we decided that a beautiful lunch in a beautiful city is the best way to spend our last day with our chef-brother and Sausalito it was.

We got a table at Poggio, a classic Italian restaurant at the Casa Madrona Hotel and Spa overlooking the bridgeway and the Sausalito marina.  Chef Paul McNee’s menu featuring Northern Italian classics, changes daily.  Rustic and soulful, he uses local ingredients and prepares nearly everything in-house from cured salami and prosciutto to fresh pastas.

For our starter, we had this beautifully prepared Octopus with Pork Belly confit, frisée, french beans and poached egg.  What an array of texture and flavor.

I had this light potato gnocchi tossed with a rabbit ragout – comparable in taste to our Chicken Adobo and the rabbit taste so much like chicken too.

I wish I had ordered this.  Tagliatelle with crispy pig face.  A winner I tell you, I wanted to devour the whole plate, except that it wasn’t mine.  Imagine large chunks of crispy pork with the fat melting in your mouth.  And the olives and the chilies added more levels of goodness to this excellent dish.

Yes, my trip to San Francisco is indeed a trip full of feasting.  I’m happy to say though that hours of slaving away at the gym during lunch break have helped me shed most of the pounds gained on this trip by now.   😀

Useful Info:

777 Bridgeway ,
Sausalito, CA
(415) 332-7771

Incanto and Offal Cuisine

Incanto is a rustic Italian style restaurant in Noe Valley, an upscale neighborhood and home to many urban professionals with young families.  It is not your ordinary Italian restaurant serving only Italian classics; there are always options on Incanto’s menu for the more adventurous gastronome.  Executive chef Chris Cosentino of “The Next Iron Chef” fame is known for his “Offal” cooking as seen on his blog.

And what is offal cooking, you may ask?  It is a word derived from the slaughterhouse phrase “off fall” or the pieces that “fall off” a carcass when being butchered – Not limited to entrails but also includes the heart, liver, brain and lungs.  In Filipino, laman loob and although not that uncommon in our cuisine, it has however only recently become recognized in the “foodie” community of America.

Known to often feature unusual ingredients such as lamb tripe and beef hearts in his menu, Cosentino is heard to still refuse balut!  That says a lot about our delicacy, doesn’t it?   😯

A restaurant find like this is not unthinkable especially if planned by my chef-foodie brother.

A lighted showcase of Boccalone goodies greets you as you enter the cozy, rustic restaurant, which instantly stole my attention and eventually my heart.  We were early for our reservations so I had time to study the menu and noted that they had more Italian classics than offal offerings, which is probably more sensible in the end as adventurous gastronome, albeit growing, is still just a small population and probably more so in the US.

We started with these beautiful breads, which are wonderful with the tapenade.  Anyway, for our starters, we ordered a Boccalone Salumi Platter in Boar.

Not really understanding what “boar” stood for until we saw this huge platter in front of us.  The options on the menu were Piglet, Sow and Boar; apparently it was describing the size of the platter.  Hearing so many good things about Boccalone Salumeria, I wasn’t worried about it.  The 4 of us devoured almost everything on the platter.

I loved it so much, on my last day of this trip, I went to their store at the Ferry Building and brought home some Nduja and Brown Sugar & fennel Salamis.  Needless to say, they’re awesomely good!

My brother had this Handkerchief Pasta and Rustic Pork Ragu, which I found delightful.  This is the classic dish while mine was more offal.

It’s Oxtail, Sweetbread with Rutabaga and Dandelion Salsa.  Oxtail is pretty common in my part of the world and as one would expect, I enjoyed this dish a lot.  It was tender, the salsa added crisp texture to the sweetbread, which is not a favorite if truth be told and I’ll take kidney or even brain over it.  Sweetbreads are the thymus and the pancreatic glands of young cows, lamb or pigs.

And then there was dessert!

Chocolate-Nduja ice cream and almonds – my choice as I am so into ice cream (or anything sweet for that matter) infused with some sort of savory flavor nowadays.  Nduja (en-doo-ya) is a spicy spreadable salami.  I have to say, the spicy, salty salami brought this chocolate dessert to another level.

Quince, Pecorino, Moliterno and Hazelnut butter.  

Myrtle Panna Cotta and huckleberries.  Two-thumbs up!

At one point through our course, a waiter knocked off a glass of wine – good thing our friend was wearing something dark – and this came on the house.  I’m liking this restaurant all the more.   🙂

If you find yourself in the neighborhood or somewhere near the neighborhood and if you want to add to your gastronomic adventures, include Incanto and/or Boccalone in your list of must-tries.

Useful Info:

1550 Church Street,
Noe Valley, San Francisco, CA
(415) 641-4500
Boccalone Salumeria
1 Ferry Building #21
San Francisco, CA
(415) 433-6500


Lombard Street overlooking Russian Hills

For a short while I called San Francisco home.  Straight from a pampered life, away from the watchful eyes of my parents, living (not exactly) alone in the Richmond District was uncharted territory (for us then).  Albeit a carefree time of my life, it was there that I learned independence and self-reliance.   It was one of the best times of my life.

I don’t return very often but I recently found myself back in San Francisco again and again.  Although our visit was mostly because of work, my brother and I managed to squeeze in some time for family, friends and some reminiscing.   I likewise seized the opportunity to spend precious time with my brothers – one arrived with me and was my roommate then, the other met us there from Louisiana where he now (temporarily) resides.

The bar escapes the need for reservations.

We met up with friends at the Slanted Door lounge bar no sooner than we landed.

Having Slanted Door’s signature drink:  Ginger Limeade with Hangar One Kaffir Lime Vodka.

The next day we decided to pay our old neighborhood a visit,

passed by our old apartment and had lunch at our favorite hangout.

Thai Cafe along Geary St. has good food at student-friendly prices thus a favorite hangout.

That weekend we spent a lot of time visiting old-time favorites.

Choco Fudge Sundae at The Ghirardelli Square

Breakfast at Mel’s Drive-in Diner.

Although many of those who stayed behind after school moved out of San Francisco, they remained within the Bay Area.  Some still lived in the same house we used to hangout in.  Once you’ve lived there, you can’t really shake San Francisco out of your system, can you?

Stockton St.  I used to walk this street a lot (in daytime, or course) to go to school.

It was an awesome weekend reminiscing about the juvenile things we’ve done and had gotten away with.  How we survived those reckless years was a miracle.  Ah to be young again… even for just a weekend.

Temple of Heaven

“The Temple of Heaven is a masterpiece of architecture and landscape design which simply and graphically illustrates a cosmogony of great importance for the evolution of one of the world’s great civilization.” – UNESCO World Heritage.

Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998, the Temple of Heaven is an extraordinary example of Chinese religious architecture.

Built in 1420, covering an area of 273 hectares, this temple traditionally was only for imperial use and commoners were not allowed to enter even the enormous park.

Today, it is one of the most popular parks among local people (mostly retired).

Many enjoy the park carrying out various activities from dancing to playing cards all day long.

The park has more than 100,000 trees of various kind – some spotted were

ancient cypresses and

evergreen pines to name a few.


Beijing Good Eats

I love Chinese food.  I think I blogged about it once before but I will say it again… I love Chinese food.  What excited me no end about visiting China was the opportunity to have real authentic Chinese food.  And interesting Chinese food, we definitely had.   Most of our meals were marvelous but I failed to ask our guide what and where they were so I leave you with 2 (of the best I’ve had on this trip) well-known restaurants that had left a lasting impression.

Ya Wang Roast Duck Restaurant

Peking Duck.  Absolutely my family’s favorite since I can remember.  And since we’re in Beijing, how could we not partake of what they consider their national dish?  And so to Ya Wang (Duck King) we went.  Whilst Quanjude and Dadong are favorites among tourists, we opted to go to a less famous but better (in my family’s opinion) tasting roast duck.

Ya Wang’s version did away with the fat and oiliness but kept the main feature of soft and crispy skin that melts in your mouth.  They say that they make sure that the ducks they serve are not too fat by growing their own ducks.  Also, the skin when carved into thin slivers has some meat on it, unlike the other establishments where they separate the skin from the meat. But it’s to each his own and I like it with some meat.

Crispy duck skin, duck meat, cucumber, scallions then topped with hoisin sauce…

Regardless, Peking Duck is a definite must try when in Beijing and Ya Wang is perhaps one of the best places to remember it by.

Xiao Nan Guo

…is a famous chain from Shanghai that found its way to Beijing and Hong Kong.  A renowned restaurant serving Shanghai dishes.  Yes that’s right!  Nothing wrong with that, right?  This wonderful restaurant is modern and elegant featuring a blend of Eastern and Western details.  The food, traditional, served in a way that is more contemporary.  The owner along with her sister started a six-table restaurant in Shanghai 23 years ago beside a restaurant called Da Nan Guo (Big Southern Country) so they named theirs Small Southern Country –Xiao Nan Guo.  Today, this small southern country restaurant is not so small anymore with 7 branches in Shanghai alone, with several in Hong Kong and Beijing.  Some of my favorites:

A lotus root appetizer

Hong Shao Rou (Red braised pork)

Szechuan styled fried chicken with chilies

Beijing, I found out could be a (Chinese) food lover’s happiness.  And if you feel that you have had too much…

Head over to Ten Fu tea.  They have a wide selection of different kinds of quality tea. Definitely a haven for tea lovers.

Useful Information:

Ya Wang
77 Jiangning Lu,
near Fengyang Lu
Phone: +86 10 6271 1717
Xiao Nan Guo
2/F Jinbao Tower
89 Jinbao Jie, Dongcheng Center
Phone:  +86 10 8622-1717
Ten Fu’s Tea
150 Wangfujing Street,
Dongcheng, Beijing
Phone: +86 10 6527 1888


Bird’s Nest

I was glued to the set on August 8, 2008 as I watched in awe of the spectacle that Beijing presented to the thousands of spectators that streamed through the gates of the National Stadium and to millions of others that watched (like me) on television.  Amazed at how they could even begin to prepare for this night — the thousands of dancers, drummers, percussionists, martial art performers, musicians and various artists in full regalia, all performing to the hilt.  Put aside the performers, I was equally awed at the stunning latticework structure that lit beautifully and was made more arresting when the fireworks exploded in its midst.  I knew that one of these days; I will be looking at it up-close and personal.

Two years later, we were entering a structure that is a feast to the eyes not only from afar, on TV but up-close as well.  This elliptical latticework has become an architectural landmark and an Olympic legacy.

The latticework echoing even to the garden lights.

An aesthetic and engineering marvel.  We see as we enter that the grid-like framework serves as both façade and structure merging the walls and roof into one integrated system.

The Bird’s Nest, as it is has been fondly referred to, is the Beijing National Stadium.  Designed by Swiss architects Herzog and De Meuron, this futuristic stadium hosted (as the world knows) the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Today, aside from it being a tourist spot, it continues to host sport events and has become a large scale sports and entertainment facility for the Beijing residents.

Tired local tourists

There seemed to be a lot of activities going on that day.  Aside from the visitors that flock in on a daily basis, there were athletes and other performers either rehearsing or practicing.

There even was a tightrope walker sans a net for entertainment, I think.  As it turned out, the guy hailed from Xinjiang, the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (Xin for short) located in Northwest China.

Alongside the Bird’s Nest, an aquatic center was built for the swimming and other water sports competition.  Also known as the Water Cube, the unique and inspired design was based on the way soap bubbles come together.  Before it closed for renovations after the Olympics, it became a ballet theater to host Swan Lake.  Last August, it opened its doors once again to the public, this time transforming into a water park.  At the time of my visit, it was still closed for renovations.