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Archive for the ‘Lunch’ Category

The undeniable draw of egg tarts

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With one of the local malls always seeming to have some kind of “food festival” at any given time, the selections offered have become somewhat commonplace. While still delicious, with the same vendors participating, there isn’t much variety. However, during one of the recent events, came to an abrupt stop when noticing egg tarts on display.

On previous occasions, I have had the opportunity to enjoy egg tarts in Hong Kong, Macau, and New York City’s Chinatown.

An export from Portugal to their former colony of Macau, the egg tart has since been adapted by China and proliferated throughout their culinary culture.

On visits to Hong Kong, there always appear to be egg tarts on display at any given bakery. With the small pastries usually sold at a really low cost, it’s hard not to pick one up to enjoy later on. In Macau, a shop at the foot of the Ruínas de São Paulo sold fresh egg tarts, nice and warm with a beautiful view of Macanese history.

When it comes to choosing between Hong Kong and Macau style, it goes to Macau.

While in New York City, also happened across a restaurant in Chinatown that offered egg tarts and picked up a couple. From there, proceeded to Columbus Park and took a seat on a bench while indulging in the sweets.

On the most recent encounter, found out they sold “Macau” and “Portuguese” style egg tarts; got three of each. To be honest, I couldn’t really discern one from the other, but they were delicious nonetheless.

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Finding authentic coffee in a place where instant is king

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Even before moving to the Philippines, I remembered always having to send ground coffee, along with a myriad of other items, when packing those ever-present balikbayan boxes for family members back in the “motherland.” Now, after living in Bacolod City for over five years, it has become very apparent why coffee was in such demand – it’s really hard to find genuine coffee here.

Most, if not all media, is obsessed with instant coffee. In the Philippines, there also tends to be an affinity for “white coffee,” a drink that lacks the look or genuine flavor of coffee; it tastes good, but it’s more like a sweet coffee-flavored beverage than coffee. There’s nothing wrong with instant coffee, it’s good when in a pinch, have also used it when the power was out and had no coffee maker available, but it is not a substitute for brewed coffee.

However, they want consumers to believe it is, with ads constantly showing celebrities with the choice of brewed or instant and picking the latter, then sitting back in a comfortable chair and claiming it’s the same (if not better) than freshly-brewed coffee – that’s just false advertising!

For a while, went with the so-called “native coffee.”

Was told of the days when native coffee stands were all over the place, serving up strong local coffee, brewed fresh in the morning. After stopping at a couple of the still-lingering shops, can only conclude the quality has dropped or they have all started cutting corners. It was hot water with a hint of coffee. One spot, however, at the Victorias City market, a few miles from Bacolod City, serves up really good native coffee for P11 (or around 20¢) for a cup of black, add extra for milk.

Began buying native coffee at the market a while back, but even that too started to wane as of late, the taste was more bitter than usual and wasn’t as tasty.

For the longest time, walked past a coffee stand in the mall called Little Farmers Coffee but never stopped to peruse the selection. One day, decided to inquire and saw, not only do they offer local beans but customers can get up close and give them a whiff. They sell coffee by the kilogram and by the cup, P55 a cup (or just over $1).

Their selection is local and comes from across the northern part of Luzon.

After picking up a half-kilogram of ground hazelnut coffee a while back, a good medium brew for the entire household and guests, have since tried different varieties on every visit. With a preference for a stronger brew, have tasted the Benguet Barako, Sagada Dark Roast, and, on the most recent visit, the Kalinga Dark – none have disappointed.

Only regret not stopping by sooner. At least I know there’s a place to fulfill that yearning for a rich cup of coffee and not having to settle for watered-down and sugary instant or questionably-blended ground coffee from the local market.

A cup of the Kalinga Dark from Little Farmers Coffee.

Written by Paulo Loreto

June 25, 2018 at 8:11 AM

Indulgent patatas bravas steps away from La Sagrada Família

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On a recent trip to a local mall in Bacolod City, ordered, what the restaurant purported to be, patatas bravas. When the dish arrived, it was, essentially, potatoes served in a tiny cast-iron skillet topped with spaghetti sauce and cheese. While it was tasty, it shouldn’t be called “patatas bravas.”

During last year’s Mediterranean cruise and subsequent stay in Barcelona, not sure why but, at nearly every meal, an order of patatas bravas was included; although, it did offer sampling of the different ways the iconic tapas dish is prepared (none of which includes spaghetti sauce and cheese).

One such occasion followed a long walk through the city, starting at Park Güell, which began the morning with a relaxing walk and a chocolate croissant, meandered downtown towards La Sagrada Família (it was a very Antoni Gaudí-themed day). Getting closer and closer to the destination, the spires of the iconic cathedral became markers, indicating we were heading in the right direction.

Arriving near the structure, there was still a while before our assigned entry time and stopped for some snacks. A tall glass of Estrella Damm, a delicious plate of pa amb tomàquet, and patatas bravas provided some delicious sustenance after the long walk.

The place, TapasYcia, which, according to recent internet posts, has reportedly closed up shop, offered a generous portion of patatas bravas, with the salsa brava and garlic aioli poured separately across the long plate of hot potatoes. While the taste of authentic patatas bravas will always be a pleasant one to think back to, the sheer sight of the TapasYcia version is definitely a unique memory; and if they, in fact, have closed for good, glad to have captured the beauty on camera.

Selecting croquetas at Mercat Santa Caterina

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The last trip to Barcelona, the fourth time in the Catalan capital, opened with a spot never visited on previous holidays; ironically have always seen it from afar but never made the effort to really take a good look.

Arriving in the city following a Mediterranean cruise with close friends, immediately got to wandering around the hotel’s neighborhood, the Barri Gòtic, and strolled towards the Mercat Santa Caterina.

Located along a wide clearing, a couple blocks from the Barcelona Cathedral, it’s not as vast as the famous La Boqueria along La Rambla, but it still offers a wide variety of goods; from fresh meats to ready-made meals. Renovated in 2005, the structure features a colorful ceramic roof, fitting for the city Antoni Gaudí called home.

After taking in the sights of the market was drawn to a display case filled with all kinds of croquetas.

Croquetas are delicious fried goodies covered in breadcrumbs and filled with a mix of mashed potatoes and some kind of meat. Anything with jamón was the easy choice, but with the array of options available, it was hard to choose – plus, was still planning a full meal afterwards, but was not going to be satisfied picking just one.

Given it was a few days in Barcelona, and it was close to the hotel, should have made it a daily stop and picked up a different flavor each day (something to think about for the fifth visit).

Written by Paulo Loreto

April 13, 2018 at 8:19 PM

Catching up with an old friend near Washington Square Park

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After returning from a Mediterranean cruise, was back in New York City and immediately made plans to meet up with an old co-worker. No better place to have lunch than at one of the old haunts by the old office, a long-established Japanese spot along W. 4th Street, a couple blocks from Washington Square Park, Dojo.

Looking forward to the lunch, got to thinking about the different Japanese specialties one is deprived of when in Bacolod City. Sure, there places that purport to be Japanese places, but on every visit, something always seems off – especially the sushi. Not quite sure if it is a matter of lacking the appropriate ingredients locally or if it’s just apathy by owners, believing the local populace will merely be happy with the label “Japanese” despite the substandard dishes (it would not be a far-fetched thought given the importance given to appearance over substance).

Pursuing the menu, went with something fairly basic. Ordered the chicken karage, one of their teishoku sets, which comes with miso soup, salad, and rice. The chicken was juicy and crispy, and every side dish was perfect match – could order the same box set every day and never get tired.

Being back in Bacolod City and seeing what was enjoyed a few months ago (almost a year ago), am definitely missing having delicious Japanese food just around the corner.

Written by Paulo Loreto

April 1, 2018 at 6:48 PM

A satisfying lunch in Manhattan’s Koreatown

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Based on the last couple experiences with Korean food establishments operating in Bacolod City, can only say the situation is disappointing. Have tried stopping by different places to give them all a try; I’m not even trying to measure it up against Seoul or Busan, but to at least attain that same satisfaction of enjoying authentic Korea cuisine – the kind served all over the world. While there have been highlights in the past from some of the local restaurants, it would appear everybody has begun cutting corners and it’s leaving customers with subpar offerings.

One place that promotes an all-you-can-eat samgyeopsal (pork belly) special has been good in previous times; however, on the last visit, was told by the waiter they may not have enough inventory to supply an all-you-can-eat order – he, then, proceeded to offer higher-priced options. Having a hard time seeing how that is anything but deception and walked right out of the place. What kind of management offers a promotion they cannot support? Not sure how many others fell for their bait-and-switch scheme, but it didn’t work for me.

Another place offered banchan comprised of vienna sausages in a mystery sauce, along with kimbap that was made with canned corned beef and mini squares of cheese. Thinking between whether the kitchen was working with scraps that day or those were their choice ingredients, either way, the circumstances were unacceptable. Both street vendors and even convenience stores in Seoul have much better kimbap. During the last visit to Seoul, a samgak kimbap, the triangle kimbap offered at every convenience store, became a daily habit.

With two places checked off the list, went to a third, which was once believed to be a reliable spot. To my surprise, that same corned beef-cheese kimbap found its way to the table. Oddly enough, the menu options were beef or tuna, considering the “beef” was canned corned beef, can only assume the tuna is canned tuna.

That questionable kimbap is most definitely a deal-breaker.

Officially, there are no places in the city where one can really enjoy delicious Korean food, which leaves me longing for places that do serve quality dishes, like in New York City’s Koreatown.

When hitting the strip of Korean establishments, located a few blocks from New York City’s Penn Station, usually eat at Miss Korea BBQ or Kunjip – the former was one of the first restaurants visited in the area, while the latter was introduced by a good friend.

One of the primary differences was made apparent immediately, the banchan. This wasn’t just two of three plates offering kimchi, wilted bean sprouts, and (like the second mentioned restaurant in Bacolod City) a plate of chopped up vienna sausages. It was a full array of side dishes, maybe around 10 small plates, along with a whole fried fish – a pleasant surprise.

Have found bibimbap is a regular go-to and having ordered other dishes like tteokbokki in previous visits, needed something different on this particular visit, and spotted the nakji bokkeum. Spicy, stir-fried octopus served with udon noodles on a sizzling plate – amazing stuff. The meal was so satisfying, threw back two bottle of soju with lunch; left both full and happy.

Doubt I could ever have that same feeling walking out of any of the restaurants in Bacolod City purporting to serve Korea food.

A barnyard wedding at Yankee Stadium

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A visit to New York City is typically not complete without a visit to Yankee Stadium. However, this time around, it wasn’t for baseball, but for soccer. In New York City, am still a New York Red Bulls supporter, but was more than willing to catch a couple New York City Football Club (NYCFC) matches and even went home with a David Villa height chart (which still has not been put up, but will at some point).

One of the highlights with every visit to the stadium is the food. During the days of catching baseball games with a good friend who had season tickets, a part of the experience was also seeing what food to enjoy – trying to pick something new (after a while, though, one ends up coming back to a favorite).

At one point, picked up one of the signature sandwiched from Lobel’s, at the time, they only had one item on their menu. They have since expanded and will probably peruse the latest selections on the next visit.

Approaching one of the concession stands and checking out what they had to offer, was juggling choices with every column scanned. Was intrigued by the “barnyard wedding” at first glance, but kept my options open. In the end, went with the instincts.

Hard to argue against a sandwich that includes a beef patty, a fried chicken cutlet, and a hash brown.

The sandwich was pretty stacked, not impossible like those items shown on TV, where the host is unlatching their jaw like a snake, but it was a sizeable bite. Oddly enough, the most exciting part of the experience might have been the hash brown. I am a big fan of hash browns and wish they were served all day long, and not cut off after 10:30 a.m., and this sandwich offered that fix. However, as random as the sandwich appeared, it made for a delicious day.

Written by Paulo Loreto

March 10, 2018 at 1:03 AM