Sunday, October 18, 2015

Saturday Lunch and Dessert at Toast Box

Before parting ways after our Cafe Seolhwa meet-up, Mica and I agreed to have our next food trip at Toast Box, a Singaporean restaurant. So last August 29, we met up there for lunch and dessert. 

I've been missing the taste of Hainanese Chicken. The last time I had it was 11 years ago when I visited Singapore with my family for the first time. So, even before our meeting day, I already decided that I was going to have Toast Box's Hainanese Chicken with rice meal. Saying that I was excited would be an understatement. When the waitress placed the meal on our table, I felt like I have met with an old friend whom I haven't seen in a long time.

The chicken was served along with a cup of rice, a bowl of soup, and three dipping sauces: soy sauce, chili sauce, and ginger shreds with some oil. These sauces are essential in eating Hainanese chicken because without them, the chicken would be tasteless. The combined flavors of the soy sauce and chili sauce is my favorite. The ginger shreds on the other hand is almost bland. 

Their Hainanese Chicken had the same taste and presentation with the one our family had in Singapore. Some of the broth where the chicken was steeped in was served underneath the meat. I mixed it with the rice to give the latter flavor. After finishing the meal, I was reminded of the two reasons why I love Hainanese chicken: it tastes fresh because of the broth and it's not fried which makes it a guilt-free and healthy dish.

For dessert, I got their blueberry and cream cheese toast because I'm a sucker for anything blueberry. I was very happy with the dessert's presentation and quality. The blueberries were almost spilling out of the warm toasts and the cream cheese slices were very thick.

For my drink, I was stoked to see Horlicks in their menu. Just like with Hainanese chicken, it's been years since I last had it so I ordered it right away! And OH MY GOD, it tasted SPECTACULAR. It was a mixture of vanilla, malt, and sugar and it was really lovely how these three flavors blended so well. Everything was balanced and no one flavor overpowered the other two. 

Since my first visit there, I've been having my me-times at Toast Box for several times now. It's just near my office so I go there after work to unwind and read a book. It's my new favorite place!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Cafe Seolhwa: A Bowl of Snow

Last Wednesday, I have finally met with Mica, a friend whom I haven’t seen in a long time. We’re both Korean cuisine enthusiasts so we decided to try Café Seolhwa, a Korean desserts place located in Bonifacio Global City Forum that opened just last summer, yet grabbed the top spot in this looloo list of Top 10 New Restaurants in Manila for the First Half of 2015.

I was welcomed with a warm greeting the moment I entered. The walls were mostly in white and gray tones. One of them was covered with a huge mirror while a couple of them was designed with cute wallpapers showing a polar bear with a bowl of bingsu and a penguin with a frappe. The wooden chairs and tables gave a warm ambiance

I ordered their Bulgogi Croissant for lunch. I didn’t have other options in mind. I was determined to try it because it was my first time to hear such fusion: the Korean signature beef viand, bulgogi, and the popular French bread, Croissant. It’s one of those East-meets-West dishes combined in one plate. Bulgogi is normally eaten with rice while Croissant is usually eaten with lettuce, tomatoes, and ham or tuna. I wondered how their combination would taste like. After a few bites and chews, my tongue recognized that it was a blend of sweet, salty, and sour. The bulgogi strips exuded the sweet and salty taste while the sourness came from the tomato slice. I must admit, it was quite a weird combination. Lesson learned: bulgogi and tomato don’t go well together. But looking at the quality of each of the ingredients, it was a satisfying meal. The bulgogi was savory and juicy while the lettuce, cucumber, and tomatoes tasted fresh. 

Dessert time came, and honestly, I was pretty indecisive in choosing what kind of sweets to get. Cafe Seolhwa has a wide range of desserts. They have flavored toasts like Honey Butter and Cheese Garlic and mini pancake sandwiches à la petit four made of glutinous rice cake called hodduk, which comes in several flavors like Cream Cheese, Honey Nuts, Red Bean, Berries, and Grilled Banana. They also have the famous Red Velvet cake. But in the end, I chose to have Korea’s signature dessert, bingsu, which is the Korean counterpart of our halo-halo. What sets them apart though is that bingsu comes in a variety of flavors. I picked choco bingsu out of the 12 flavors they offer, some of which are: berry cheese, strawberry, mango, and green tea. The presentation and quantity were excellent: it was a tall serving of chocolate shaved ice, Koko Krunch, chopped Oreos, brownie chunks, and whipped cream with a sprinkle of chocolate powder. The chocolate shaved ice—or chocolate snow as Café Seolhwa prefers to call it—looked like miniature sparkling shards of glass. Gorgeous. Anyone would be able to tell that the ice was shaved delicately. The dessert was around six inches of chocolate goodness, perfect for anyone who wants to satisfy their chocolate craving.

I wasn’t even done with my bingsu yet when this cute Korean server placed a bowl of bingsu on our table. Mica and I looked at each other with wonder as neither of us ordered it. Then the guy said that it was a free taste test of coffee bingsu, their latest flavor addition. It consisted of milk snow with diced cheesecake on the sides, toffee toppings, and sliced almonds. At first, we were quite puzzled about how it was coffee-flavored as it didn’t taste or look like it in any way, but after getting a few spoons, we discovered that it had coffee jelly inside it, being embraced by the milk snow. Just like how Mica felt about her mango bingsu and how I felt about my choco bingsu, we both loved it. Everyone in the café got their own free bowl of coffee bingsu and I think that it’s a good way to form a relationship with your customers, regular and newcomers alike.

I consider the dessert part as the highlight of my first visit to Café Seolhwa. They lived up to their name, which means “snow” or “snowflakes” in Korean. Mica and I spent the hours well, catching up with each other and enjoying the food. We selected our next food destination: the Singaporean restaurant, Toast Box. I’m stoked. As they always say, good food + good company = good time.

PHP 180 – Bingsu (single)
PHP 240 – Bulgogi Croissant with Potato Salad side

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Little Tokyo: Itadakimasu!

August 18, Tuesday, I clocked out of work at exactly 5:30 in the afternoon and headed straight to that little food district dedicated to Japanese cuisine—Little Tokyo.

Little Tokyo is composed of five Japanese restaurants: RioZen, Hana, Uramesiya, Noda, and Kagura. RioZen was the one I saw upon arriving. 

There were very few people when I arrived that I actually thought that the place was still closed, not to mention how quiet it was. Most likely because I arrived early. The later it is, the more Little Tokyo is alive.

I was thrilled to see several Japanese restaurants standing side-by-side all in one place. I walked around first to check each of them before having a meal.

Outdoor tables and chairs for the different restaurants

Outdoor tables and chairs for the different restaurants

Inside Uramesiya

Uramesiya offers various kinds of alcohol
Uramesiya's raw meat for grilling displayed outside
You could say that they offer almost the same dishes, but each of them actually have their own specialty. Hana’s signature dish is the famous Japanese street food, Takoyaki. Kagura specializes in Okonomiyaki, which is the dish I tried the last time I visited Little Tokyo. Noda’s area of expertise is handcrafted sushi, sashimi, and maki. While Uramesiya’s forte is Yakiniku or grilled meat.
After several minutes of checking the restaurants, I decided to start my dinner with Hana’s Takoyaki. It took long before it was served because the waitress still had to heat up the metal where the Takoyaki balls are cooked.
Takoyaki balls being cooked in front of me
While waiting, it was getting darker and I couldn’t help but notice these glowing and beautiful Japanese-style lanterns.

The Takoyaki was worth the wait because each of the six pieces was very plump and every bite brought overflowing octopus flavor to my tongue.

The Takoyaki balls were soft on the inside that it was almost jelly-like to the bite.

Chewy octopus pieces inside the Takoyaki ball
Halfway through the meal, I asked the waitress for more Japanese mayonnaise because why not? You can never have enough of it, to be honest. It’s not too sour unlike the ones we have here in the Philippines. I was overall satisfied with the dish. 
After having my Takoyaki appetizers, I went to Noda to have a helping of Chicken Katsudon, which I have been craving for the past few days.
Unlike in Hana, the dish was served in a quick. Even without tasting the dish, I was already satisfied with its size and appetizing presentation. 

I grabbed my chopsticks, split it into two, and had a spoonful (or should I say chopsticks-full?) right away. The first flavor that welcomed me was the familiar savory sweetness of every Katsudon meal I’ve had so far. It’s highly worth its price because each ingredient that formed the meal was added in generous portions. Tender breaded chicken slices and egg covered the top of the huge bowl, strips of onion in every bite, flavorful rice because of the sauce that was distributed all throughout.

I was busy chowing down my meal yet I couldn’t help but be in awe of the situation. Out of all the Japanese restaurants I’ve tried, it was in Noda that I literally felt like I was in Japan. The food was Japanese. My fellow diners were Japanese chattering in Nihongo. The interior design was Japanese. Even the television channel was Japanese. Honestly, all I could hear and see was Japanese.

Fresh and raw seafood used for sashimi and sushi. Displayed at the sushi bar.
Japanese baseball game playing on the television
Customers who didn't eat at the sushi bar had their meals on tables with short legs and chairs that didn't have any.

The most striking part of my visit was the following scene: a Noda customer ordered sashimi and the head chef was quick to his feet and stood up to make the dish. It was very heartwarming and inspiring to see a very old man, most likely in his 80s, making sashimi with such enthusiasm and a huge smile on his face. It was evident that he has been doing this art for his whole life. He also greets and smiles at every customer, whether they’re coming or going. He never forgets to express his sincere thanks as well. He’s the type of person I’d like to call “happily tired”.

Little Tokyo is a place I’m sure I’ll go back to again and again. There are a lot of dishes I have yet to try and it never fails to give me the feeling of being in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Food Writing 101 - Day 2 (August 15, 2015)

For yesterday's session, the second one, we had to bring our assignment: an essay expounding on our chosen herb/spice/fruit from the Taste-Memory exercise. We were asked to read our essays out loud and have our fellow participants criticize our work so we could know our areas of improvement. 

I picked sweet basil because it's the one out of the thirteen I was most familiar with. My essay included the history and etymology of pesto, the dishes I make with it, and the fact that I find it as the perfect alternative for mayonnaise. One of the participants said that my essay "made me want to eat pesto". The other one said that she liked the last part because "it was a call to action". Some said that my work was informative and sounded like a magazine article, which was what I was after. For the negative comments, some of them said that it "lacked personality" and could be improved by having more details on the dishes that I make with pesto. But the most striking comment I've heard was that the voice of my essay was a bit confusing because it was informative at first but then became personal in the middle part. I agree with that comment to be honest. I know very well that I'm finding it a bit hard to find my writing voice, stick with it, and continuously improve it. SIGHS.

But I'm glad and relieved because a good solution to that problem was tackled yesterday! A fellow participant and Ms. Ginny said that in order to make a food writing essay both personal and informative in an effective manner, I could begin the essay by telling the story of a scene (better if based on my real life) with complete details. An example is (since my essay was about making pesto):
"When I went to the kitchen, I saw my mom, back facing towards me, grinding the basil leaves using a mortar and pestle. After that, she then started to add the other ingredients like garlic, salt, and pepper. And continued to grind them all even more. It didn't take long for the room to be filled with this medicinal and minty fragrance, which is all thanks to the herb being ground." 
After describing that scene, that's where I could put the informative paragraph about the history and etymology of pesto and relate it to the scene above.
"Just like what my mom did with the sweet basil leaves, Italians in the olden times used a mortar and pestle as well in order to grind the herb and turn it into pesto. This is how the word 'pesto' came about; it's derived from 'pestare' which is Italian for 'to crush' or 'to pound'."
After that, I could discuss the different dishes that I make with pesto and how I recommend it as the perfect substitute for mayonnaise:
"Since the day my mom first tried making pesto and had me and my siblings taste it, I was a fan. And now I always make my own from scratch. I often serve it with almost anything because it effortlessly turns any simple dish into something more special, both in taste and in presentation. I mix it with eggs to make a Pesto omelet. I serve it with Tuna to make a healthier sandwich or taco filling. I spread it onto Cream Dory to add flavor. And of course, it's the best when it’s served with what it was originally made for: pasta. But besides those things, what I really love about Pesto is that it’s a healthy alternative for Mayonnaise. It gives any dish that extra flavor without the guilt unhealthy ingredients bring."
There it goes! Though that's not the whole essay, I think it's way better than the one I presented yesterday! 

For our next assignment, we have to write our experience after cooking something or dining at a restaurant. I don't really have time to cook so I decided to have dinner this coming week at Little Tokyo, a small food district dedicated to Japanese cuisine lovers. I'll write more about it and my experience with it next week! 

Food Writing 101 - Day 1 (August 8, 2015)

Last Saturday, August 8, was the first day of the workshop I recently signed up for, Food Writing 101. It's facilitated by one of Philippines' prominent Food Writers, Ms. Ginny Mata. 

Our main agenda for the first meeting was to learn about food writing through the Taste-Memory method and practice it with a very interesting exercise. Ms. Ginny brought around thirteen herbs, spices, and fruits. Some of it were vanilla bean, kaffir lime, lemon, orange, curry leaves, cinnamon, sweet basil, Italian oregano, and lemongrass. She asked us to smell each of the thirteen and write two things: (1) at least three words/phrases that came to our minds upon smelling and (2) an invented/imagined or true memory related to the herb, spice, and fruit. Below is what I wrote for vanilla bean, as an example:

Vanilla Bean - cookies, cheesecake, desserts in general - baking oreo cheesecake with my mama

Being able to smell the different fragrances of the herbs, spices, and fruits was a very refreshing experience. It also taught me appreciation and made me realize that subconsciously or not, we take for granted even the smallest things like the smell of a staple ingredient that we keep in our pantry and use for our meals. So next time, it wouldn't hurt to take a few seconds to smell that one herb, spice, or fruit.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

One Year Since Graduation: Then and Now

Exactly one year ago, June 7, was the day I graduated from college. Since I consider that day as an important milestone in my life, I would like to ponder over the changes I've experienced since that day. 

June 7, 2014 - It was the day I felt this huge relief, excitement, and a tinge of nervousness. I was excited because finally, I was about to enter the real world. I remember telling myself that day that I would start looking for a job right away, since I didn't want to waste time bumming around. But there's this tiny feeling of doubt and nervousness. A small voice was asking me, "What if you couldn't find a job? Let alone soon?" But since it was a happy day, I just shrugged it off.

The graduation photo I chose for our yearbook

Unfortunately, I did have a hard time landing a job. At the first few rejections, I was still fine. I was still feeling kind of optimistic and just convinced myself to just push, push, and push. But around mid-November, I finally broke down. I was already getting seriously frustrated and scared to the point that I actually wanted to give up and take a break from job hunting. But honestly, I felt that the cry I had at that moment was a huge help. After crying my frustrations out, I felt a LOT better and  had a new perspective of my situation. I was like, "Okay, I'm having a hard time right now, but if I stop looking for a job and give up, then I really won't find a job at all. There's no other way but forward." Having that short pep talk with myself really pumped me up! It's like I gained back all the excitement, optimism, and determination I had during my graduation day. 

After that, I was called for a couple more interviews. I got accepted at both but I chose the second interview I attended. And now, I'm working for the first bank in the Philippines and one of the leaders in our banking industry: Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) as a Client Service Associate under the Corporate Banking Department. It really feels good earning and using your own money! I also give a portion of my salary to my mom to help with the family/house expenses, which is a big fulfillment for me. In the workplace, I'm also moved and inspired by how my superiors believe in me. They've said it several times and it's a huge boost to my confidence.

My first ever company ID!♥

Besides getting hired, another change I've seen in the 'me' now compared to the 'me' last year is in my maturity level. I'm the type of person who reflects every single day about what happened on that day and about myself as a whole. It's actually hard to put into words why but I honestly feel that I've become more mature. Maybe the whole happening helped: graduating, looking for a job, landing a job, dealing with work and colleagues. But besides those things, I would like to add one more event that happened to me (and my family) in the past year that helped me gain a higher level of maturity: dealing with my grandma's death. She died weeks before my graduation and I've been trying to move on since.

It was difficult getting over a loved one's death, finding a job, and getting rejected all at the same time. But it made me stronger. And here I am: a 22-year-old girl having her first job ever and just trying to lead the best life she could have. 

I think that gratitude played a huge part in this period in my life. I had my ups and downs but even in the downs, I was still grateful. And when one is grateful, the emotional baggage lessens and a new and better perspective is gained.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The #1 Benefit of Deactivating your Facebook account. And it’s more than just having less hours on your devices.

Around October last year, I decided to deactivate my Facebook account. I wanted to take a break. A break from the news feed I kept seeing whenever I log on to Facebook. I wasn’t really sure why but it felt like everything was too much. It was noisy and everything looked cluttered. Friends posting every minute, showing off, ranting, etc.

I needed a break.

I started to feel better the moment I clicked “Deactivate”. I swear, it was one of the right choices I’ve ever made. And the #1 benefit I was talking about in the title is this: deactivating your Facebook account actually helps you focus on yourself. Below are a couple of observations I got from my deactivation experience.

Firstly, deactivating your FB account eliminates the need or desire to log on it every time. No distractions. I observed that after leaving Facebook, I was able to do the things I needed and wanted to do. I was more productive.

Another observation is that my tendencies to compare myself and my situation with that of my friends greatly lessened. I’m not an envious person but when 90% of what you see on your news feed are posts and photos of your friends showing off the places they've been or the food they've tried, then sometimes it’s really inevitable to compare and get a little envious.

Now, I’m active on Facebook again. But I still deactivate from time to time. I noticed that I no longer feel the tendency to get a bit envious or irritated when my friends show off. Maybe it's just really nice to take some time off social media. For me, it gave me time to breathe and re-focus.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Family Trip to a Waterfall ♥

It's been so long since my previous post!!! I am so sorry. In order to make up for it, I'll make this post as special as I could :D

Here in the Philippines, March signifies the beginning of Summer. So last April 1, my family and I went to an out-of-town trip to a waterfall. We went to Ambon-Ambon Falls, or in English, Drizzle-Drizzle Falls. It was located inside a huge ecopark in the province of Laguna.

We were welcomed by kind and hospitable people. A father-and-son tandem helped us carry our bags all the way to our cottage. There were several cute kids who also tagged along to help us settle down. It was so nice to hear them say that they would stay around so we could call them whenever we needed something.

There were simple cottages by the side of the river, and we stayed in one of them. Among all of us, I was the first one to swim. I was excited because it's been so long since I swam in a natural body of water, I usually swim in pools. The water was clear and super cold!!! It felt totally refreshing. 

There were stones on the riverbed so for safety purposes, we wore our slippers while swimming. It was a little hassle but it was a big help to avoid getting wounds. Or so I thought. I was walking against the current of the river when one of my slippers got carried away. I was chasing it and was actually close to it already when I suddenly slipped. The result was a huge wound on my left knee and some scratches on my left foot. Horrible. This happened only a little over an hour since we arrived. UGH.

Right after the incident, we had our homemade lunch that consisted of: beef steak, coleslaw, Cream Dory fish fillets, and rice. After eating, my family all went to the river. As for me, I poured alcohol on my wound and rested for a few minutes. Then I eventually joined them. 

After resting for a few hours, we left our cottage and some of our belongings to one of the caretakers of the place. Why? Because we were about to go trekking!!! In order to get to the waterfalls, which was the highlight of the trip and of the place, we had to trek all the way up! We had a tourist guide/lifeguard with us, without one, tourists wouldn't be allowed to go to the waterfalls. 

We used several bamboo boats to cross rivers.

It took us almost an hour going there. Tiring but super fun because of the picturesque landscapes around us! Mother Nature is indeed beautiful♥ 

The whole trip and everything about it was memorable for me. It's really fun going out and doing extraordinary things with my family. Everyone should really try it! It strengthens your bond and at the same time helps you gain new experiences as an individual.