Friday, July 30, 2010

Quezon City: Where to eat in U.P. Diliman

The University of the Philippines, Diliman has been a big part of my life. I spent nine years in U.P. as a student, finishing three degrees. And now, I'm a member of the faculty, teaching tourism courses at the Asian Institute of Tourism.

And U.P Diliman food has definitely been a big part of all those years. I was a dormer for close to four years and had my share of isaw, fishballs and dirty ice cream, as well as food from the U.P. Shopping Center, U.P. Coop or aristocart when I missed my meals at the dorm. Some of the restaurants we used to eat at have moved to other places like Mommy Thai.

Contrary to popular notion, U.P. Diliman is not just about fishballs, isaw and dirty ice cream. I spent one afternoon and evening after class roaming around U.P. with friends and even celebrities to rediscover the food I've always enjoyed. So here's a list of things and places to eat in U.P. Diliman:

1. Beach House Canteen
This small hut beside the U.P Main Library and Sunken Garden is already an institution. They are most known for the Pork Barbecue (Php25 a stick), Pork Chop (Php50 a serving) and other grilled dishes. Beach House Canteen is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you are looking for affordable and delicious barbecue, Beach House is the place to get it.

2. R.O.C. (Restaurant of Choice)
This is the newest restaurant in U.P. Diliman located at the Ang Bahay ng Alumni. It's my favorite hang-out because of its great food and free WiFi Internet. R.O.C. is open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Among my favorite dishes at R.O.C. is the R.O.C. Burger, 100% quarter pound beef patty, aioli, lettuce, tomatoes and onions served in a sesame bun (Php158), Garlic Chicken, boneless chicken thighs, ROCs herb-garlic sauce, garlic rice and chefs veggies (Php185), Quattro Funghi, four-mushroom melange, garlic ream sauce and linguine (Php166), and the Bourbon Burger, 100% quarter pound beef patty, aioli, Bourbon glazed onions, lettuce and tomatoes served in a sesame bun (Php175). Also try out the Buco Sherbert (Php78) which is among their best-sellers.

I had lunch there with former U.P. Diliman USC chairperson Kris Ablan (few people know he was a FAMAS-nominated child actor who went by the screen name Kris Banal) and dinner with blogger Anton Diaz, and former actress Paula Peralejo of Tabing Ilog fame and a U.P. Diliman magna cum laude graduate herself. Being a vegetarian, Paula tried out the Margherita Panniza (Php228) and Quattro Funghi.

3. The Chocolate Kiss Cafe
This restaurant opened at the Ang Bahay ng Alumni when I was a freshman and was a regular lunch or afternoon break hangout of my block. They started with the second floor and opened another branch on the first floor of Bahay ng Alumni. The 1st floor branch opens at 7 a.m. and is closed by 6 p.m. The 2nd floor branch opens later but closes later as well at 10 p.m.

My all-time favorite snack is the Chicken Asparagus Sandwich which is grilled chicken with mayo and asparagus strips served in French bread (Php158). But The Chocolate Kiss is most known for its cakes. I personally like their Carrot Cake (Php70 per slice) and Blueberry Cheesecake (Php105 per slice).

4. Khas Food House
I like Middle Eastern food. Which is a good thing there's Khas Food House at the U.P. Arcade where the U.P. Swimming Pool is located. While Persian and Indian food are their specialties, Khas serves an array of international dishes such as Vietnamese and Korean, owing to the fact that it's located right across the International Center, U.P.'s foreign students' dorm. My personal favorite would be the Keema, minced beef with potatoes, onions, tomatoes, ginger, herbs and spices (Php45) which I partner with Pita Bread. Another best seller would be the Biryani Beef, vegetable rice cooked in imported spices served with beef (Php135).

5. Rodic's Diner
Another institution in U.P., Rodic's has been serving its very popular Tapsilog at the U.P. Shopping Center for decades. Today is the 61st anniversary of Rodic's if you didn't know! I was accompanied by Nico Ibaviosa, a member of the UP Diliman University Student Council and a Star Magic talent who is currently part of the cast of BFGF which shows every Sunday, 4:30 p.m. on TV5. We ordered their famous Tapsilog (Php70) of course!

6. Mang Larry's Isawan
Few people know that Mang Larry's Isawan has been grilling isaw in front of the Kalayaan Residence Hall ever since the 1986 People Power Revolution. So that makes Mang Larry's Isawan more than two decades old! The stall, which is open from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily, has definitely grown by leaps and bounds. Having lived in the Kalayaan Residence Hall during my freshman year, I was initiated to isaw at Mang Larry's. (Update: Both isawans have now moved to the empty lot beside the UP Chapel and College of Law)

They serve Isaw Manok (Php3), Isaw Baboy (Php3), Goto (Php6), Tenga (Php6), Atay (Php6), Botsi (P6), Balun-balunan (Php6) and Pork Barbecue (Php8).

And guess who I saw buying isaw while I was there! It turns out Alessandra de Rossi is a regular of Mang Larry's together with other celebrities and friends who journey all the way to U.P. Diliman to savor Mang Larry's famous isaw. While I prefer Mang Larry's, others prefer the isawan beside the U.P. College of Law (which used to be beside Ilang-Ilang Residence Hall when I was still studying).

7. Lutong Bahay
If you're looking for cheap and affordable home-cooked meals, Lutong Bahay beside the U.P. Post Office is the place to be. I was joined by U.P. student Martin del Rosario, a Star Magic talent who played Johnny on ABS-CBN's Rosalka. Martin shares that he always hangs-out with his block in Lutong Bahay for lunch. Aside from the home-cooked meals, Lutong Bahay is also popular for it's really large fruit shakes which are very cheap. The Mango Shake just costs Php30.

8. Long Island
I was not familiar with Long Island since it's on the College of Engineering side of the U.P. Main Library which I rarely visit. But Nico Ibaviosa suggested that we try out the food there too. Their best-sellers used to be the chicken meals. But that is no longer in the menu due to some changes in rules for U.P. food stalls. Canteens complained that stalls competed with them. So stalls were disallowed from selling full meals. But Long Island serves really affordable pizza and pasta. If you're craving for some, Long Island is for you.

9. U.P. Manininda
I've already mentioned the isaw. But there are a lot of really yummy snacks which are available from the different U.P. Manininda. You'd see some of them walking around with Lumpiang Gulay, Turon, Banana Cue and Carioca (Php12 each), Taho, Monay with Cheese and Dirty Ice Cream. Siomai at the College of Fine Arts is cheap and delicious. And don't forget the Fishball, Kikiam, Squid Balls, etc. at your friendly fishball stand located all over campus.

There are more restaurants such as Likha Diwa sa Gulod and the Museum Cafe at the U.P. Vargas Museum. So this list will continue to grow. I wonder if I'll include the U.P. TechnoHub since it's technically inside the U.P. Campus.

I didn't mention college canteens and CASAA anymore since concessionaires come and go. While the famous Mang Jimmy's is outside U.P. Unfortunately, some favorites like Chateau Verde and Oz Cafe (I never got to try their legendary Lava Cake), are already closed.

Did I miss anything? What is your favorite U.P. Diliman food experience?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Malaysia: Gaya Street Sunday Market in Kota Kinabalu

Every Sunday, Gaya Street is closed to vehicular traffic as it hosts the Gaya Street Sunday Market. If you happen to be in Kota Kinabalu on a Sunday, you might want to pass by Gaya Street.

They sell almost everything one looks for in a market including souvenirs and handicrafts, gadgets, fruits and produce, plants and pets, food and snacks, Bornean coffee and other interesting local items you might want to take home. It’s best to be there early in the morning because it can get quite warm close to lunch.

Malaysia: Klias River cruise and Borneo's Proboscis Monkey

One major attraction of Sabah is its nature and wildlife. That is why I looked forward to visiting the Klias River to observe Borneo’s endangered Proboscis Monkey (Nasalis larvatus) in its natural habitat. If you decide to take the river cruise, you’ll be free for the morning. Tours are usually in the afternoon because the Proboscis Monkey comes out to feed very early in the morning or late in the afternoon just before dusk.

The tour operator picked me up at my hotel at 2 p.m. From my hotel, we went around for more passengers before driving two hours southwest to Kota Klias, the jump-off point for the Klias River cruise.

The Klias River is a large area of peat swamp which explains the brown color of the acidic water. The characteristic dark brown color of a peat swamp is a result of dissolved peat tannins in the water. At the port, we were served local snacks and coffee while we waited for ever more passengers from other tour companies to arrive.

At about 5 p.m., we were invited to wear life jackets before we boarded the small boats. We left in five boats. Each boat could seat about 15 to 20 people and had a guide who would spot the monkeys and inform the driver to stop and move closer.

It was challenging trying to locate the monkeys since they are quite elusive and know when there are boats around. At first, you would see only movements in the trees. Then the guide would point and let you focus your attention on the Proboscis Monkeys silently feeding or moving about. Many times, they’d be in groups so you’d see mature male monkeys, which are the most peculiar because of their long noses and large bellies, female and younger Proboscis Monkeys.

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to appreciate the features of the Proboscis Monkeys unless you have binoculars or a camera with a really good zoom. You only get to observe them from a distance especially since they are perched high up the trees and the boats can only go as far as the river banks. And taking photographs isn't that easy since the monkeys keep a safe distance from humans, the lighting is a bit dim, and the boats are quite wobbly especially when everyone stands up and tries to take photos.

We went from one area to another just observing the monkeys in their natural habitat. This is much better than seeing them in zoos. While reading some literature at the port, I found out that you should never feed these monkeys fruits or any sugar since their digestive system cannot process sugar. It turns directly into gas and that would kill them since their stomachs will explode. I wonder how true this is.

When it started to get dark, we proceeded back to the port for dinner. We’d stop every now and then as the guide spotted more monkeys on the way back. At the port was a buffet dinner of Malay dishes.

After dinner, we boarded the boats again for a quick river cruise to experience an early Christmas as the guides would call it. This time, we were out to appreciate the fireflies as they lit up the trees in the night sky. After showing us one tree with thousands of fireflies, we proceeded back to the port to board our vehicles back to Kota Kinabalu.

If I had another day, I would have wanted to see the orangutan and other wildlife, and rafflesias in full bloom. Hopefully that happens really soon!

How to get to the Klias River
The Klias River is about 100 kilometers southwest of Kota Kinabalu, in Beaufort District. It takes two hours to get from Kota Kinabalu to Kota Klias. You will have to book a tour or rent a car to get there. Tours cost between RM180 to RM200 per person. And that includes transfers, the river cruise, snacks and dinner.

Since the Proboscis Monkeys keep their distance, don't forget to bring a pair of binoculars. And since it's a swamp area, insect repellent will prove to be handy.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Malaysia: Island hopping at Kota Kinabalu's Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park (Manukan & Sapi Island)

The Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park is a protected area off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. It's composed of coral reefs and five islands namely Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, Mamutik and Sulug. One of the more popular recreation activities in Kota Kinabalu for both locals and foreign visitors are visits to the various islands of the park to swim, snorkel or dive.

I had previously been to Manukan Island, the most popular with local residents, being the most developed of the five. For this trip, I was returning to Manukan and visiting Sapi Island as well.

Boats to the islands leave from the Kota Kinabalu Ferry Terminal in Jesselton Point. There are no slow pump boats here, only speed boats. So expect to be at the islands in 15 to 20 minutes. There are several boat companies which ferry passengers to the islands and between islands. It costs RM23 (RM25 for Sulug Island) for a round-trip ticket to one island and an extra RM10 per additional island. You basically fix your itinerary for the day (time you will transfer from one island to another) while at the ferry terminal. There is an entrance fee of RM10 per island for foreigners and RM3 for Malaysians.

Our first stop for the day was Sapi Island. It has one of the nicest beaches of the park. And it's a popular snorkeling and diving area for tourists. In fact, I did my own snorkeling off the island. What I like about the park is that even close to the shore, you will already see a lot of fish swimming around you.

We stayed in Sapi Island for about three hours before moving to Manukan Island. Since it had the resort facilities and a restaurant, this was where we were going to have lunch. It was a grilled meat and barbecue buffet at the restaurant which costs RM95 per head. Unfortunately we arrived a bit late and some of the grilled meats were not fresh anymore. It's best to arrive there by 11:30 a.m. when the buffet opens.

But if that's too much for your budget, Manukan Island also has a canteen which serves affordable meals. The rest of the afternoon was spent walking around the beach of Manukan Island. The island also has hiking trails through its dense vegetation. If snorkeling bores you, then try the Scuba-Doo which is a motorized scuba bike.

If two islands are not enough for you, you can also visit Mamutik Island on the way back. We were in Kota Kinabalu by mid-afternoon.

Back at the hotel, I took a nap and rested, a perfect way to end a very sunny day at the beach in an otherwise rainy season. Maybe next time, I could stay overnight in Manukan Island.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Malaysia: Hello again from Kota Kinabalu!

Hello again from Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia! I found myself back in the city where Ivan About Town was born. I wrote my first blog entry in Trekkers Lodge, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia on April 19, 2005. Sabah then was such an exotic destination to me. It still is now as I discover new places outside Kota Kinabalu.

The Sabah Tourism Board had graciously arranged my itinerary for this trip. From Terminal 2, I was brought to the Novotel Kota Kinabalu 1Borneo which would be my home for the next three days. It's several kilometers from the city center but is integrated with the 1Borneo Hypermall together with several other hotels. 1Borneo has a free shuttle service between the complex and major points of interest in the city every 30 minutes.

The rooms are very chic and modern with really comfortable beds. And there's free LAN Internet access in the rooms which is obviously very important to me. Breakfast was a feast. And I enjoyed in particular the roti canai and other local dishes that is included in the international breakfast buffet they serve every morning. I was guilty of a food binge almost everyday.

During this visit, I got to return to Manukan Island and visit another island in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park called Sapi Island. I also got to visit the Klias River in search of Borneo's Proboscis Monkey. I'll talk about that in my next posts.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Makati: Legazpi Sunday Market turns five on Sunday!

Legazpi Sunday Market will be celebrating it's fifth anniversary this Sunday, July 25, 2010 with a Grand Buffet featuring dishes from all of Legazpi Market's food vendors. The one-go buffet starts at 11 a.m. and costs only Php180 per head. Raffle prizes will also be given away to lucky shoppers.

To learn more about Legazpi Sunday Market, check out Legaspi Sunday Market is Makati's undiscovered food haven. And when you're at Legazpi Market, don't forget to take home Imang Salud Ensaimada. It's best to reserve since supply runs out really quick.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Palawan: La Terrasse is Puerto Princesa's next big restaurant

It all started with a search for this secluded French restaurant called Ditchay's Bistro. I was told about this really cozy restaurant which serves French cuisine in an area near Rene's Saigon Restaurant. It was not even along the main road and you had to go further inside to get to it. When I finally got there, there was a sign that Ditchay's was closed for the time being. And it invited guests to try out a new restaurant called La Terrasse along Rizal Avenue.

La Terrasse is also managed by Ditchay Roxas, who is married to a Frenchman. She was at La Terrasse when we got there and introduced her new concept to us. La Terrasse is a representation of Puerto Princesa's international vibe, owing to the fact that the city has a large expat community. It offers a mix of international cuisine fused with local flavors, in what she calls a balance of Asia and Europe. She also mentions her effort to make some local Filipino delicacies palatable to the foreign tongue such as dilis which she tastefully mixes into fried rice.

We got to try the sumptuous and sinful Adobo Overload which is chicken and pork adobo twice fried served with a generous portion of rice fried in adobo oil and topped with adobo flakes and chicharon. We also ordered Crackling Belly which is her version of bagnet. The menu is still a work in progress though since it's still on soft opening. They expect to launch the restaurant in August.

Also in the works is a deli where they plan to sell locally-sourced products such as breads and locally-processed meats such as bacon and ham from Ernie Lim, sausages from a German national based here, and a Spaniard who makes chorizo. Also available will be locally-made cheeses such as Davao's blue goat cheese, carabao cheese from Nueva Ecija, blush blue and pink and margarita cheese.

While the quality of some popular restaurants in Puerto Princesa are going down as they continue to sit on their laurels (I hope certain by-reservation only restaurants realize that word is going around that the quality of their food and service is decreasing), La Terrasse provides a breath of fresh air, offering a new choice to Puerto Princesa's locals and visitors. Owing to the success of Ditchay's Bistro, I can foresee that La Terrasse will be Puerto Princesa's next big restaurant.

To the fans of Ditchay's Bistro, the restaurant will remain closed until the operations of La Terrasse will normalize. Hopefully, when I do return to Palawan, I can eat at both!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Palawan: Chaolong & Vietnamese food in Puerto Princesa

Puerto Princesa has a lot of Vietnamese restaurants owing to the fact that it was once host to many refugees from Vietnam. Locally, these restaurants are known as chaolongan because they serve a noodle dish called chaolong. I wonder though why they call it chaolong when the noodle dish is more aptly called pho (phở). Chao long is congee (rice porridge) with pork innards.

The best of these Vietnamese restaurants is Rene's Saigon Restaurant. Unlike other restaurants which serve the local chaolong, Rene bakes his own Vietnamese baguette or bánh mì. Plus he's half Vietnamese and his wife is Vietnamese. The other chaolong restaurants are owned by locals who inherited the restaurants from the Vietnamese after they migrated to the U.S.

At the same time, Rene's Saigon Restaurant has more choices when it comes to Vietnamese food including fresh rolls or gỏi cuốn and fried spring rolls chả giò and authentic bánh mì sandwiches among others. In the menu, you will see the sandwiches under the heading French Bread.

We ordered fresh rolls (Php100) and fried rolls (Php85) for starters. Both are not in the menu but are served upon request. The fresh rolls are wrapped in rice paper and have pork, shrimp, bún or rice vermicelli, herbs, and other ingredients inside.

For the chaolong (again the right term for this is pho), we got Beef Stew with Noodles and Beef with Noodles (Php60 each). And for French Bread, we got French Bread with Pork Barbecue wich is a very popular bánh mì filling in Vietnam.

Among the Vietnamese restaurants in Puerto Princesa, Rene's Saigon Restaurant is on the higher end and rightly so because it serves the most authentic Vietnamese food of all the chaolongan. But even then, it's still very affordable.

The masa version of chaolong is served at Bona's Chaolong House and Restaurant. This is very popular among the locals because prices are very cheap. I ordered the Beef Stew with Noodles Special (Php45) and French Bread with Chicken (Php25). I even took home one of their fusion sandwiches, French Bread with Longganisa (Php28). While it is cheap and good, they're also very generous with the MSG. Not good news for the health conscious.

There are several more chaolong restaurants in Puerto Princesa which are also worth the visit. So if you have more time, you might want to visit them too. Tricycles know how to get to most of these chaolong restaurants.

You can also get authentic Vietnamese food at Viet Ville which is on the way to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Palawan: Weekend in Microtel Puerto Princesa

I just needed a break last weekend. So off I went to Puerto Princesa, Palawan. Having been to Puerto Princesa previously, I decided to forgo the tours: Puerto Princesa city tour, Puerto Princesa Underground River tour and Honda Bay island hopping, and decided to use my time instead to relax at Microtel Puerto Princesa. Although there are two tours I have not tried: Dos Palmas and dolphin watching which is seasonal, which I will reserve for another trip.

Microtel Puerto Princesa just opened last year. Its beach front location is quite secluded and very cozy. But the downside of being secluded is that the hotel is a bit far from the city proper. But they have scheduled lunch and dinner shuttle services to and from the city proper as well as the airport. I took both their lunch and dinner shuttles to the city proper to try out the different restaurants in the city. Unfortunately, if you want to venture out on your own, tricycles charge between Php150 to 200 one-way to get to and from Microtel.

But no need to worry about the tours I mentioned above since Microtel can book all these tours for you and the tour vans pick you up right at the hotel. So it's very convenient.

Those who who want a quiet place with a beach front to relax in Puerto Princesa will enjoy a stay at Microtel. The view is picturesque. And I must admit I spent some time just sitting in the lounge chairs or the hammock for a quiet afternoon nap. The only downside is that the water is too shallow for a swim. So most of the swimming is done in the pool conveniently located beside the beach.

I always look forward to stays in Microtel because of their chiropractic-approved beds which are exclusively made for the hotel chain worldwide. So any Microtel will have the same kind of bed and pillows.

There's free WiFi Internet in the lobby and paid WiFi/LAN connections in the rooms. Ask them for ongoing promos. Right now, they have a Php5,860 per person 3D 2N package (based on quadruple sharing) which includes daily breakfast, the city tour, Honda Bay and Underground River tours, and a one-hour massage. It's almost all-in except for the two dinners. But given that three tours are included, that's a total bargain!

Microtel Puerto Princesa
(02) 8997171 / 8700100 / 8971039
(048) 7320977

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Issue 5 of Northbound Magazine is online!

Northbound Magazine Issue 5, which came out during the summer, is now available online! Sorry this took a while since things have been really hectic. In this issue, we featured nine adventure destinations in North Philippines including sandboarding in Ilocos Norte, kayaking and spelunking in Cagayan, surfing in La Union, island hopping in Pangasinan, trekking in Tarlac and Pampanga, horseback riding in Clark, off-road go-karting in Benguet, and zip-lining in Subic Bay. Northbound Magazine is a publication of the North Philippines Visitors Bureau. You can download the online version from the NPVB website.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

General Santos: Dinner at Euro Kitchen (Tiongson Arcade) and visiting the General Santos Fish Port

General Santos is the jump-off point for Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, and Glan (Gumasa) and Maitum, Sarangani. After whitewater tubing in Maitum, I was back in General Santos. I had one more night before my flight back to Manila the next day. So that was enough time to try out at least one restaurant and visit the General Santos Fish Port early the next morning.

The city has some good dining options. So I made sure to try out one restaurant in General Santos for dinner. I was told there are several restaurants which serve really good steak. After getting some leads, I asked for directions from the front desk. When I told them I wanted steak, they suggested this new restaurant called Euro Kitchen.

So I went to the Tiongson Arcade area by habal-habal. Tiongson Arcade is a long stretch of outdoor grills and restaurants such as Gio's Mongo Grill which serves Mongolian bowls and Gusteau's which I heard serves really good crab. If I had more time, I would have explored more.

Euro Kitchen is owned by Finnish chef Henrick Stork and his wife May, which explains the Finnish translations in the menu. The serving sizes are really big which is why I'd give the restaurant a two thumbs up for value for money. I ordered the T-bone Steak with Rice (which ranges from Php300 to Php500 depending on the weight of the steak) and Pork Kebab with Rice (Php90) which I really had a hard time finishing since the serving size was just too much!

The next morning, I woke up early to visit the General Santos Fish Port. I didn't know that they had very strict rules to enter. You can't wear shorts, slippers, or sando. Plus if you want to get in the market area, you need white rubber boots. They won't accept any other color of boots.

We were able to borrow white rubber boots at the hotel. Unfortunately, I did not bring any pants during this trip and was hoping they would allow me in. But the guards were very strict since there was a camera monitoring the gates. So I ended up buying something at the nearby ukay-ukay just to get in.

It's arguably the cleanest market in the country and if you are fascinated by markets, this one is worth the visit. You can even buy your fresh tuna there if you want. The earlier you visit in the morning, the better since the supply of fish comes in quite early. And the better stocks are gone really quick.

With the visit to the fish port settled, I returned to my hotel to prepare for my flight back to Manila. Now I'm craving for sushi and sashimi!
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