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Archive for the ‘Travel’ 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.


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

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.