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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Just the essentials

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Housesitting for the night and had everything else in mind except (ironically) dinner and snacks.

First and foremost, it was a work night, so the laptop and charger went in first. That was followed by the iPad and all the other chargers necessary to both get through the evening and begin the day – like making sure the Bluetooth headset was charged for a morning at the gym.

After packing clothes, then came the toiletries.

As somebody on a daily routine (and with the basics at the ready in the place I was housesitting), it was all about gathering the “beauty essentials.” Face wash, toner, moisturizer, face mist, hand cream, body lotion, and sunscreen were all thrown in the bag.

All packed and ready to go and I’m reminded, “What are you going to eat?” Perused the kitchen and packed more essentials.

Just happened to pick up terra chips at a local supermarket that morning, they were on sale ‘Buy 1, Get 1 free.’ They’re pretty dangerous though, especially during work, the bottom of the bag sneaks up on you. Also brought some mate tea bags, always works for a pick-me-up when staring at a computer screen and for a nice morning wake up call.

Then it was dinner itself. What else but ramen? A trusty bag of ramen, a bottle of soju, and also packed a container of kimchi – complete.

Needless to say, the evening and following morning flew by. On subsequent overnight stays, have found the same formula works every time.

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Written by Paulo Loreto

June 18, 2018 at 12:01 AM

A reliable source… for dinner

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On numerous occasions I have found myself ending the workday, shutting down for the night (way past a traditional dinnertime), and scrounging around for something to eat. When there weren’t leftovers from lunch or a random smattering of ingredients in the refrigerator – resulting in one’s personal episode of “Chopped” – there’s always the old reliable ramen.

While the ramen collection sits proudly on top of the refrigerator, with a variety of flavors on display, the old favorite sits along the side. Whenever I’m not in the mood for a hot, steaming bowl of ramen, with a delicious broth ready to be savored after slurping a big pile of noodles, there is always jjajangmyeon.

At first, was unfamiliar with the dish and had no idea how much of a classic it was in South Korea. Going through the instructions, it said to drain most of the water, with the remaining left to be mixed with the sauce powder. Putting it all together, it was delicious, rich, and savory – became apparent why the dish is so popular.

On the first visit to Seoul, had work obligations and was left to scrounge for dinner late into the evening. Staying in the Myeongdong section of the city, there was plenty of activity late at night and managed to find a hole-in-the-wall spot selling a variety of local fare. Spotted jjajangmyeon on the menu and there was no question a fresh-made bowl needed to be sampled.

Obviously, it was better than the instant variety.

The sauce was creamier and, with real bits of meat scattered throughout, the savory flavor was even more pronounced. Visited Seoul again the following year, stayed in the same neighborhood, and, by chance, found the same spot – ordered jjajangmyeon.

Locally, there is NOWHERE to find jjajangmyeon; and the places that purport to sell it are just serving an order of the instant pack (and adding half a hardboiled egg as a garnish). At least, on those late nights at home, can enjoy a bowl of one of the most unique-tasting noodle dishes and pair it properly, with danmuji (picked radish).

Something missing at the airport in Manila

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After a couple months of travel, making stops on three continents, was finally heading home and, given the past few years, was not looking forward to the last stop before the final leg home, Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). Consistently ranked as one of the worst airports in the world, it has seen a bit of improvement as of late; however, it is still light years away from the world’s best hubs.

Even though the airports visited on this trip, Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in China, John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, and Barcelona–El Prat Airport in the Catalonia region of Spain, aren’t among the top levels based on global surveys, they all still provide amenities superior to Manila’s gateway.

Landed in Terminal 1 and was preparing for the task of waiting for the airport shuttle, standing out in the humidity with luggage in tow. Must say, the shuttle service has improved, but there are still difficulties in trying to determine where exactly the shuttle is headed. On the flight out, took the shuttle in the opposite direction, from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1, and that process was more efficient, with a decent waiting area and an attendant to guide travelers.

Getting to Terminal 3, arguably the best of NAIA’s terminals, it had the most proficient check-in process, with rows of self-check-in kiosks for Cebu Pacific Air passengers. Managed to get through it fairly quickly and, after earlier purchasing extra luggage weight online, did not encounter any problems sending the luggage off either.

Went upstairs to the main food area and made a couple rounds without finding anything too enticing. It was also really warm, as if the air conditioning were on really low – if on, at all.

Always get mixed up when trying to remember where that particular terminal kept their other food options. Once again, got it wrong, and went through security thinking there was more to pick from near the departure gate – they have them in the international hall, not the domestic hall. The sad part is, the international hall is visible from the domestic hall – sad.

Walking back and forth in the scant alleyway of food, along with being hassled by a charity worker, stopped at a café and ordered a frosty drink and a sandwich – should hold me over until getting back to Bacolod City. Can’t quite recall the drink specifically – it was a bright pink slushy beverage with a cookie stuck in the middle – while it was very tasty, it was also sugary sweet (although, not necessarily a bad thing for the moment).

Other airports typically offer a decent respite after sitting on a plane, not all of them off-the-wall amazing like Incheon International Airport, which serves Seoul, South Korea; however, have yet to experience a comfortable layover at NAIA, no matter which terminal.

Written by Paulo Loreto

June 1, 2018 at 6:42 PM

Stopping in Guangzhou before heading home

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After a couple months away, cruising the Mediterranean and reuniting with friends in New York City, it was time to head back to the Philippines. On this trip, flew with China Southern Airlines – a first. On the flight out, had an 11-hour layover and got the opportunity to explore Guangzhou, the airline’s hub. Passengers with a minimum eight-hour layover and eligible to receive an entry visa for the day, along with hotel accommodations; for me, I used the entire time to wander.

The return leg wasn’t as exciting, it was a shorter time period, so it was just wandering the departure hall at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport. To be honest, it doesn’t have the amenities of Seoul’s Incheon International Airport or Hong Kong International Airport, especially getting in early in the morning.

After arriving from New York City and getting through security, prepared for a few hours in the departure hall. With most of the places still closed, took the time to explore and see what they would have available once everything opened. There really wasn’t very much, unfortunately. One would need to leave the departure area to see more of what the airport had to offer, noticed a lot more amenities after getting through customs on the flight coming in

There was, however, one restaurant open. Looked over the menu and they served a variety of basic Chinese dishes; went with an old favorite, noodle soup with beef. It’s become an odd tradition at this point, when visiting Shanghai, had noodle soup at Shanghai Pudong International Airport, had noodle soup when leaving Guangzhou for NYC, and now before the flight home.

It was one would expect; delicious, chewy noodles served in a rich broth. The experience was one of those “people watching at the airport” moments, seeing the restaurant fill up and empty out while enjoying the meal; watching people rush back and forth, while, with the security of a couple hours (and eventual delay), having the chance to savor the dish. In addition, the pickles served on the side were exceptional.

Written by Paulo Loreto

May 27, 2018 at 8:40 AM

Macaron ice cream sandwiches at La Boqueria

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There is no visit to Barcelona without a stop at La Boqueria, the vast and crowded market situated along the ever-popular pedestrian street, La Rambla. Before the first visit, it was among the first sights recommended. Just looking around the place is amazing, seeing the variety of food – baked goods, fresh seafood, colorful fruit, etc. – and, of course, sampling.

After the Camp Nou, it might be my favorite place in town; it’s definitely my Dad’s favorite, when in town, he makes sure to stop by at least once a day.

On the last trip (coincidentally, the photos from that vacation are currently popping up on Facebook’s “On this day”), spotted a booth that was not there on the previous visit (which was a few years prior) selling macaron ice cream sandwiches.

Of course, I was stopping for one.

First enjoyed macaron ice cream sandwiches at François Payard Bakery, their location along W. Houston Street in New York City was only a couple blocks from the old office and walked over with a friend to try out their goods (have since found out they closed all of their locations earlier this year). Split a chocolate and strawberry sandwiches (if I remember correctly) and they were both amazing.

The next opportunity came in Seoul, encountered street vendor with a variety of flavors in Myeongdong – another lovely experience.

The selection at La Boqueria, like the market itself, was wide. They were also really colorful, like the many fruit stands throughout the place selling fresh juice. Decided on speculoos. Not entire sure why they went with blue for the macaron – delicious nonetheless. The macaron left a bit of a stickiness on the fingers, not sure if it was a matter of humidity or if it was the market air, but it was still a worthwhile purchase and would definitely go back to sample another flavor.

Written by Paulo Loreto

May 19, 2018 at 8:28 AM

Dining at Lasarte

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Before the most recent trip to Barcelona, I spent a lot of time researching various restaurants to dine at for a good friend’s birthday. In a city known for its food, narrowing down the choices was not an easy task. Obviously, the first place to look was anywhere with the name Adrià, either Ferran of elBulli fame or his brother, Albert, who runs the much-raved about Tickets, along with Enigma.

Making reservations turned out to be somewhat vague, with no clear confirmation a table would be available once in Barcelona. In the end, decided it was important we had a confirmed table to make sure it was an amazing birthday celebration. Running through various travel guides and, especially, the Michelin guide, found out about Lasarte, a three-Michelin star establishment located just off the Passeig de Gràcia.

The reservation process was straightforward and when inquiring about their menu, with regard to dietary restrictions, their response time was remarkable (they are very accommodating when it comes to dietary restrictions). The reservation process alone was just about enough to confirm the birthday would be celebrated at Lasarte.

The day arrived and we took a walk down the Passeig de Gràcia, even stopping for tapas on the way.

Upon entering the establishment, it was amazingly clean and modern. We were seated right away and noticed a few of the other tables with elegantly-presented dishes and just as elegantly-dressed patrons. It was already exhilarating walking into such an establishment, it got even more exciting once the menus arrived.

The evening began with an array of ornate appetizers, each served in a unique way, with a variety of textures to start the evening. The first course began with an oyster dish served with an iced watercress slush, parsnip, and sea mist. For molecular gastronomy fans, seeing anything with foam arrive to the table automatically get the senses going.

Probably the most beautiful of the 11 courses was the red curry dish. Described as scarlet shrimp royal with red curry, raw artichokes, celery, and apple, the dish offered a variety of colors and textures. It’s the typical go-to photo when telling people about the dinner.

Scarlet shrimp royal with red curry, raw artichokes, celery, and apple.

If I were to name the most memorable dish, there is no doubt it was the charcoal grilled pigeon with citrus, capers, black olive, and smoked sauce with galangal. The idea of eating pigeon was a rather foreign concept, which made it the most striking option when first perusing the evening’s menu. There was a red meat quality to the flavor and texture and, overall, it tasted good – it was mostly about getting over the idea of a pigeon being on the plate.

Charcoal grilled pigeon with citrus, capers, black olive, and smoked sauce with galangal.

Dessert was amazing – and gorgeous. Almond and salt praline, apricot, and rum ice cream. It’s cliché to say “it was too beautiful to eat,” but this, in fact, was; and it was all worth it once getting that first bite.

Almond and salt praline, apricot, and rum ice cream.

There’s a reason places like Lasarte are acclaimed. The aesthetic really makes a difference in the overall experience. A quiet and relaxed room with perfect lighting made the dinner all the more appealing. Very attentive staff – who even walk you to the bathroom – add an appreciation for the care the restaurant puts into service.

Then, there’s the food. 11 courses, each with its own unique taste and beauty, it truly presents the soul of the restaurant itself.

All of it comprises the “dining experience,” and this was one of the most memorable ones.

Pintxos along Via Laietana

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With the sun was going down on a relaxing afternoon in Barcelona, it was time to step out for dinner. As with local custom, before sitting down to a formal meal, tapas first, small plates of food to kick off a long night of deliciousness.

Staying in the Barri Gòtic, right by the Barcelona Cathedral, started with drinks at a nearby bar and then proceeded to Tapa Fina, a tapas bar that was literally steps from the previous spot.

Having stayed in the area a few times prior, for whatever reason, had never walked into the place. Visited the next door coffee shop several times for a morning brew (and an afternoon pick-me-up), also stopped into the FC Barcelona shop located on the other side, but have always bypassed the tapas bar in between.

On this first visit, got a glimpse of a small and packed place – it was lovely. Bottles of wine lined the walls and heaps of pintxos, traditional Basque bar snacks, beautifully littered the display case.

Browsed the menu and spotted it; on a visit a tapas bar the night before, made a request for txakoli, a light Basque white wine that I had been introduced to at a New York City tapas bar, but they didn’t have it available. Tapa Fina had it right on their menu and it was the perfect accompaniment for what was just the beginning of the night.

Next came the difficult task of choosing what to order. Walked up to the display case and, pretty sure, I paced back and forth a bit in indecision. So many delicious-looking selections, but had to order just enough that it wouldn’t be filling, along with making sure it was something that would keep the appetite motivated throughout the night.

Both options were served on a lovely slice of crusty bread, one was topped with jamón, potato and red pepper; while the other comprised of salmon and cream cheese – wonderful. Tapas are a beautiful thing, both physically and to the taste buds.

A beautiful pair of pintxos. One topped with jamón, potato and red pepper (left) and the other with salmon and cream cheese (right).

Written by Paulo Loreto

May 6, 2018 at 8:46 AM