Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Nose for China Town

Do you remember a place by how it smells?  I do. San Francisco is brewed coffee and cinnamon, a dive vacation is Beach Hut's SPF 15, and family lunch is the unforgiving Filipino dish Adobo.  

When we were small, Dad used to take me to his office.  When stepping out of the building, there's this distinct mouth-watery smell of good food and flavor which made me pull his hand for merienda several times.  He used to work in Quintin Paredes St., or in China Town.  

So when we came across Ivan Man Dy's Big Binondo Food Wok, I knew that this will be another hand-pulling merienda jaunt not only for the nose and tummy, but for the eyes as well.  I brought the old-timer and trusty Canon EOS 620 with me, packed with it a Kodak T-Max 400 Black and White Film to capture street action, old style.

The alleys of China Town, even at day, remains dark, mostly shaded, with only little light coming in, but is where some of the best street food can be found. The windows found in each alley exchange eastern aroma from different kitchens with milestone specialties like Chinese lumpia, congee, fresh dumplings, and fried siopao!

When exiting each alley, watch out for pedicabs playing Daytona with jeeps, while delivery boys crisscross their way carrying tonnage and assortment of loads from giant TVs to fruit crates like they were on rails.  

Our first stop was at Dong Bei Dumplings. I say these dumplings are made in heaven, boiled 5 minutes, then served in it's glorious white fragile form! Not to mention the authentic Chinese cook (who moves away for a photo wearing his spanking white sando) who prepares these dumplings in a dark, smoke-filled room. Who cares what happens in there, all I care is Dong Bei Dumplings are darn good!

A hole in the wall gem and fantastically cheap, php 100 for 14 pieces! It's can even be a vegetarian's dumpling or for the healthy bud in you, cooked with chives, celery, cabbage, bell pepper, then little pork (what's life w/o pok, or pork?)

Meow-pao...a popular urban legend born in Manila! They say that the best siopao is made of cat meat. As in cat-woman-michelle-pfeifer-cat-meat! But believe it or not, the most delicious from of siopao is not a cat of course! Not even little traces of it! The siopao we found in China Town is fried to it's tenderness...just right to add a glitter of oil in the dough to let the flavor come out. Here you can see Ivan holding the siopao attesting to its goodness. Go ahead take it home!  But good luck to finding it because there's no name yet for the store that's located in Benavidez St., across Manila China Town Hotel. Php 15/piece! Affordably good!

Finally, a great way to end the Big Binondo Food Wok, is to feast on the authentic Chinese lumpia worthy of a podium. Visit the popular restaurant in Quintin Paredes Street, New Po-Heng Lumpia House, and go through another dark alley (let the smell lead the way) ending in a naturally lit courtyard, and grab that Chinese lumpia! For only php 50 a piece, time to forget your next meal because it's very filling! 

Let's end this write-up with an egg, a lucky round object to welcome the new year, according to the Chinese. Make sure you have one of those in your dinner table when the clock hits 12 on new year's eve. 

Make sure also we remember places in our country which play an important piece in our history's puzzle, like China Town! Let's stay Pinoy and study more our history. 

Get a small bite of China Town and drool for some more! Call Ivan Man Dy and check out his Big Binondo Food Wok.

Do you smell it now?

Xie xie!

That's "thank you" in Mandarin Chinese :-)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My Island Date

Exclusive dinner for two in Manila is hard to find.   There's traffic, a long waiting list, and a pricey corner table.  When you have tried almost every restaurant in Manila, it's time to change your "the usual" date plans.  

How about sitting on a small hut during low tide set on a long and white sand bar, drinking buko juice served by a fisherman on a banca, and just slowly watching the tides change?  How does that sound?

Picking the islands of Caramoan for the idea of an exclusive date came with bonuses and twists.  Twisty because getting in and out of the island is like joining an adventure race.  However,  paradise has it’s rewards which can only be revealed to the willing. Here’s an example taken from my notes during the trip:

 “Harry, our 15-footer commuter boat, carrying 50 plus tourists from Sabang Port, danced in the sea like a can of sardine thrown inside a washing machine.”

The islands of Caramoan is in a days journey. An hour plane ride, another hour for the land trip, a two hour boat ride, and finally a 15 minute land trip. 

But all the harshness of getting there is replaced by the fantastic island vibe of the locals, or from the people of CMC Villa Caramoan.  They just love the sight of tourists! The owner of the resort Coleen, the staff , the boatmen, and our tour guide is just plain happy to see us.  Their island vibes are just so addicting and very natural!

We also love the simplicity of Coleen's resort, and it is just how we want it to be. It's no fancy place, not even a view of the beach, but surrounded by lime cliffs, and in the morning it is so quiet you can hear old fashioned brooms or “walis ting-ting” cleaning the grounds while happy children playing. The smell of burnt leaves and the morning light slowly crawling in the surrounding cliffs were a bliss.

The staff of CMC Villa Caramoan beats any 5-star concierge service we've had. Try asking for anti-constipation pills in the middle of the night, they come rushing back and hands you a pack of Diatabs from the local drugstore. 

Have you had a personal tour guide? Maybe yes for a big group. How big was our group? It was only a husband and wife date-getaway, but we still had the luxury of having Edward with us like our personal butler. Edward carried with him everything like he has got this Swiss Knife of tricks. He carried lunch, cold water, and big, colored, fancy beach umbrellas to fashionably shade us in the gold and white sands of Caramoan. 

Oh Manang Tita, just before we leave for the islands everyday, hands to us freshly caught pan-fried Malasugui Tuna and tenderly cooked big red crabs in tomato sauce garnished with bell peppers prepared in heaven or in the resort’s kitchen. I can still smell the hot white rice I ate while hearing the waves play below our feet in our favorite beach in the universe, Manlawi Island. During low tide try running a meter dash in the endless, flat, powdery white sands (even autofocus of the camera got confused).

During high tide, fancy lunch in small huts on stilts while crystalline knee-deep waters tickle your toes. 

The last hours of our four-day date in the islands were spent inside a plane going back to Manila.  From the small window, I can already see taillights on the traffic below while heavy rains pour.  I recall writing this while the plane landed:

“Why swim in a sea of traffic when you can pick your own private hut in a low-tide white sandy beach?  Why stare at the “wait to be seated” sign in a crowded restaurant when you can have your own tour guide arrange everything for you so you have the whole day to stare at your wife while having the time of her life?”

Don’t you think it’s time for you to arrange a date in the islands for a change?  Guaranteed, your date will love it.  My island date did.

CMC Villa Caramoan, www.cmcvillacaramoan.com, 09178265336, 09999923949, look for Coleen Cordial         

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Taal Fisherman

For some people, Taal Volcano is just a small volcano in Batangas viewed from Tagaytay.  That makes sense, for the tourist.  But for a traveler looking for roads less traveled and personal experiences while taking home never been seen photos, steps to move away from the tourist populated area of Tagaytay will make one big difference.    

It is during these moving away decisions you'll find amazing details; and when magnified, unique stories come out that form a bigger and colorful picture.

This set puts me in a 6am journey from nets to boats, and fish pens to sunrise of Taal Lake.  I din't take the "boat ride to Taal" signage, but decided to visit a fishing village in Talisay, talk to a fisherman on break, then contracted him to an early morning ride the next day to see them in action.

Check out the little boat that exactly fits 2 people. I had to ride it with Arwin, my boat man for the morning. A php 200 bucks tip for Arwin while carrying 2 bodies of camera made my day and put my balls on fire (not the fear of getting wet, but the fear of treading water with 2 cameras).

I love fishing villages.  It's not only the colorful parked boats on the shoreline... 

...but also families of fishermen or people behind their drive...

...nets being dried, fishing lines being arranged, and the untangling of nets being prepared for the night. 

It is inside these villages that you'll also see the Pinoy's secret strength.  It's the fellowship and storytelling time under the tree after a day's work, or a night's catch.  While joining these under the tree sessions, I made few shots and already found myself immersed and inspired on how a simple-living fisher folk make ends meet by fishing.

The photos in this story support my favorite line... "Sometimes it's not the picture, but it's the experience taking it."  If you are still taking tours plucked from a pamphlet found in a hotel lobby, still sitting on a couch fiddling with the TV remote, and still afraid of getting wet, you are maybe missing half of your adventure life.

So for now, stay away from the guided tourist service, take a few steps back, and head to a place where your adventure sense takes you.  

Happy fishing everyone!