139 – #howtobeyou

(I don’t usually rant and I prefer to keep things to myself, but this one really needs to get off my chest.)

They say being a blogger is hard work, but I disagree. In fact, some have it as easy as pie – and without even lifting a finger! Simply re-posting press releases, collecting event loot bags, and not giving two shits about grammar – but still gaining a lot of followers online. A lot of them even hit the big-time…now that’s the life!

Meanwhile, I do steps to ensure that the posts I publish are readable, sensible, and understandable. In short, I make sure that I don’t serve crap to the intended audience. After all, would you expect people to react positively when you give them stones but they ask for eggs all the while? Yes, my grammar may not be that impeccable – but at least I try to hit a high rate of accuracy.

I’ve been blogging for three years now, but I’ve barely hit the big time. Maybe because I still prefer using elbow grease than taking the easier way to the top? However, some serve up crap – and get money and blog hits in the process, plus a free pass! I’m amazed at how these people can turn shit into gold! Step aside, Nicolas Flamel; now there are better alchemists than you!

Let me use this hashtag to summarize what I feel: #howtobeyoupo – how can I create money out of plain crap. It’s something I want to seriously learn. I’m working hard and exerting effort, only to get a measly number of views. I’m jealous of their capabilities, you know; I don’t have the looks and I don’t have the followers. All I have is…well, what do I have anyway? How to be you guys, really? They’re hot, I’m not…what a shame.

I did some research about packages that public relations (PR) companies offer to bloggers, but to no avail. I once considered getting in touch with some PR people; however, even they wouldn’t believe that I’m a blogger.

(Speaking of which, I once considered applying in a PR / ad agency as a press release writer. I had this image of being abruptly thrown into the world of Mad Men – yes, the one with Don Draper – when I get hired in one of those Taguig-based agencies. Sadly, this never happened – mainly because of my introverted nature and lack of credentials.)

Oh well, I guess raw effort is no longer popular in this day and age of fads and trends. The millennials have it better; hell, most of the new ones (up and running for less than a year) have more views than mine! I feel a shred of pity for the next generation, though; not knowing the value of hard work and being used to entitlement and instant gratification?

Seriously, has humanity gone this low?

138 – On Woking Class Coffee: Costa Coffee, Eastwood City Walk

The entry of British coffee purveyor Costa Coffee in the Philippines some time ago generated much publicity. Filipinos can now enjoy coffee “London-style”, thanks to the efforts of the Gokongwei family. Yes, if you ought to thank someone – thank the ones responsible for Top Gear and FHM Philippines, True Value, Mini Stop, Cebu Pacific, Jack ‘n Jill, and Robinsons Malls. From what I’ve read, Costa Coffee is the Robinsons Group’s first foray into the restaurant sector—and it looks like they are doing a great job so far.

Moving on, this is not my first time to feature a British-themed restaurant here at The Monching’s Guide. I have written about The Eatles along P. Noval Street in Manila, that featured the Fab Four from Liverpool. That was followed by The Royal Piccadilly along Katipunan Avenue beside the La Vista Subdivision entrance, which evoked a country house owned by Her Majesty’s family. However, Costa Coffee’s theme revolves around metropolitan London; a different league from the first two, but still true to its British roots nonetheless.

This branch at Eastwood City Walk is Costa Coffee’s flagship location. As of this typing, it now has other branches in Robinsons Malls such as Metro East, Manila, and Antipolo – and another in SM North EDSA. I find this branch reminiscent of somewhere The Style Council would frequently hang out at, much like their Cafe Bleu album. I can even visualize people in fashionable clothes from either Savile Row or Carnaby Street, having a warm cup of joe whilst talking about issues of the day.

Prepare to be transported to London as soon as you step in. There’s the iconic red telephone booth for photo ops, situated beside an al fresco area for smokers. Pictures of iconic landmarks such as Big Ben and the double-deck buses adorn the walls. The lower level hosts the counter, food preparation area, and a few seats meant for customers with take-away orders. Don’t let the small ground floor area deceive you, however; most of the coffee shop’s seating area is located at the upper level. (Here’s a little tip: the best seats are the couches located near the window, as they provide a good view of Eastwood City Walk—especially at night.)

Ah, speaking of coffee. Costa Coffee has a different approach to the brew – a far cry from how Starbucks does it. I’m not a fan of blended frappes or any beverages related to it, so don’t expect any verdict from me on their Frostinos. Their hot drinks appeal more to me, however; I consistently ordered the Massimo size during all my visits. The Massimo is Costa’s largest size, equivalent to the venti, and is served in a two-handled mug. Costa Coffee has a fair selection of sweets and savories for pairing. Nevertheless, there’s one treat that got my attention. The tiffin is similar to a chocolate icebox cake: biscuit pieces and raisins lay at the bottom, and it’s protected by a layer of chocolate. It is then topped off with cocoa dust, whose bitterness serves to cut the sweet taste of the entire thing.

Drop by their Facebook page and Instagram profile to stay connected. Until the next review, bon appetit!

Costa Coffee
C2-3B, G/F Eastwood City Walk 1,
Eastwood City, Bagumbayan,
Libis, Quezon City 1110

137 – On Massive Formosan Fillets: Hot Star Large Fried Chicken, Eastwood City Walk 2

Taiwanese fried chicken is a staple snack, popular in the night markets of the nation′s capital Taipei. These are usually made of chicken fillet slices or one large chicken fillet sliced butterfly-style, then fried twice—the first to seal in the flavor, and the second to cook it to the proper doneness. The chicken pieces get sprinkled with a mixture of salt, pepper, and chili powder for a hint of taste plus an extra kick. Usually, this is eaten alone with an accompaniment of gravy—but this specialty hailing from the Republic of China is also an excellent viand in itself, best with a cup of rice.

Hot Star Large Fried Chicken is among the Taiwanese fried chicken joints emerging here in the Philippines. Hot Star prides itself as the creator of the XXXL fried chicken, since its inception in 1992. This restaurant already had an established presence in major cities around the world—like Australia, Singapore, and the United States. Its first foray into local shores started in 2014, with a branch at the Blue Bay Walk in Pasay City. Since then, it has expanded to a few more branches—such as F. Dela Rosa Street (near Katipunan Avenue), P. Tuazon Boulevard (a few steps from SM Cubao and Ali Mall), Banawe, and Eastwood City. CJ and I have been to the Eastwood branch last year, and I wasn′t able to return until recently – which is timely. Well, what do you know…I′m back in Libis!

Here′s a random piece of trivia: this Hot Star branch used to be the Eastwood City Walk branch of the Station 168 internet cafe. This computer shop, which served as a sort of predecessor to the Mineski internet cafe chain of today, mainly catered to a South Korean clientele. It occupied this spot until 2013, when it closed down due to lack of customers. Why, you might ask? With an hourly rate hailing from the early 2000s—P60 an hour—some people found it too expensive. Internet shops had a pricing like that during the time when DSL internet was just being introduced! Okay, moving on – expensive and slow internet is for another day.

An unforgettable scent of freshly fried chicken and spices instantly captures one the moment he or she enters Hot Star. One or two dining tables are present at the ground floor, but the upper level has more dining space—a feature retained from its former iteration. There is a function room beside this upper area but it′s mostly closed. Hot Star′s signature unlimited gravy is present, but you have to go down to the lower level to get refills. It uses the ordering system found in most milk tea shops: place your order, they give you an RFID coaster, and then claim your order once the coaster vibrates. Their rice costs P20 per extra order, so it′s best to get extra rice early on if you′re a heavy eater.

As usual, below are some pictures of Hot Star′s Eastwood City Branch. Do check out their official website, Facebook page, Twitter profile, and Instagram profile to stay connected and be updated with their latest promotions. Until the next review, bon appetit!

Hot Star Large Fried Chicken
Units 2B and 2C, Eastwood City Walk 2,
Eastwood City, Bagumbayan,
Libis, Quezon City 1110

136 – On Writing, Cooking, And Being Inspired

I want to cook and become a chef when I graduate.

Such a statement is an irony in itself—considering I am in a liberal arts university. Some even wonder why I even took up creative writing in the first place, when I have an almost devil-may-care attitude about the discipline. To answer that question, it’s mainly because I am planning to take up a short course in culinary arts after graduation. This is a radically different path from most people in my course, who usually take up graduate degrees in writing. A blockmate once told me that culinary arts and creative writing do not mix, but I beg to disagree. Some writers find having skills in the kitchen advantageous, and some chefs are equally proficient with both a pen and a kitchen knife.

However, my interest in food spans from way back – even before I went to college. I grew up in a home where the family meal was a time where our parents would catch up on our lives. My parents would typically ask my younger brother and I how our day went about, alongside my mother’s signature dishes. Whenever either Mom or Dad cooked a new dish, I was always the first one to try it out. Aside from the family meal, television also whetted my interest in gastronomy. Saturdays meant watching Cooking With Sandy Daza on Channel 5, and tuning in to Chef Fernando Aracama’s How ‘Bout My Place on Channel 9 after finishing the household chores.

A few years passed but, at that point in time, I longed to work hands-on in the kitchen without any supervision. I could cook (if it could be called that) the most basic dishes—hotdogs, scrambled eggs, and instant noodles. I never handled raw ingredients, I never knew how to chop garlic cloves and onions, and I was afraid of fire. Two anime shows I was watching that time inspired me to pursue learning some kitchen skills. First was Cooking Master Boy, which was a story of a young cook and his journey to become the Legendary Chef. Second was Yakitate!! Ja-pan, which was about a young baker caught in the rivalry of two major bakeries and his adventures while working for one of them. My preference for such genres proved to be fruitful, as I already managed to work unsupervised .

However, there was one show that reminded me about the seriousness of cooking. It was titled Ryorin no Tetsujin (Iron Men of Cooking), but it’s more commonly known to Western audiences as Iron Chef. I always made sure to catch it wherever channel it was aired—Channel 9, the Asian Food Channel on cable television, and on Channel 11. The show’s premise was simple: four chefs specializing in Japanese, French, Chinese, and Italian (a later addition) were the titular Iron Chefs. Every episode saw one of the four being challenged by other chefs, on the show’s Kitchen Stadium. There would be a common ingredient that the chefs should use, and they should be able to create a full-course meal utilizing it. I rooted for Iron Chef Chinese Chen Kenichi whenever he competed, as he always did a modern take on traditional Sichuan dishes.

Looking at it, cooking and writing have similarities too. Writing any piece of literature is no different from preparing a full-course meal, as both require discipline. Focusing on one’s work, constantly practicing, and learning from one’s mistakes applies to both fields. In the end, both produce excellent output from hard work – a finished creation and a finished dish both elicit satisfaction.

As they say, it’s all a matter of taste.

Allez cuisines!

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: I published this piece around 2008 it in my old Multiply page, albeit in a much longer form. I managed to recover it from the site in 2012 before it was permanently deleted, and this remained untouched for more than three years.

Meanwhile, I graduated in 2012 but did not push through with plans to take up culinary arts. A lot of personal things happened around that time, and I entered the workforce as soon as I obtained my college diploma. As of this time, I have had three jobs and have been employed for four years and a month. Despite veering away from my original plans, my interest in gastronomy never waned—thus, you have this blog right here.

See how long it took me to work on this, given that it’s already an abridged version? Well, I haven’t finished a large chunk of my backlogs so these creative writing pieces will have to do for now.)

135 – On Farewell Mentions: Triptych 18

It was March 2014 when I first stepped into this company located at the other side of Araneta Avenue, the one heading towards Sgt. Rivera and A. Bonifacio. I originally applied as a development editor, but compensation issues led me to take a marketing-related post. My job involved writing content for promotional materials, multimedia scripts, and publicity articles—aside from helping out in company events.

Fast forward to two years and four months later. An unexpected promotion led me to become an administrative assistant, but now the time has come for me to depart. This has been long overdue, but I felt that I’ve reached the end of the line career-wise. Adding the fact that I’ve been unwittingly involved in a power struggle between company executives made me decide to file that resignation letter and realize that there is a life outside of this place. Besides, it slowly dawned upon me that staying here any longer wouldn’t bring me any further anymore.

Of course, despite all the workload—I didn’t stop working on this blog. In fact, I’ve done reviews for a lot of places during my stay such as:

However, nothing lasts forever just like anything in this world. I just ended my tenure more than a week ago and now, I’ll be leaving this vicinity with no idea if I will even return. Regardless, I’ve enjoyed the times I had a good meal or two in a few dining spots near my office—which are typically a short walk or drive away. There’s no better way to say farewell than to cite the most unforgettable meals.

Thus, this triptych will showcase six food instances, divided into three common themes. I hope this will suffice for a formal goodbye and a close to more than two years of new gastronomic discoveries.

Teh tarik and kaya toast

The memorable tandem of black tea mixed with milk and toast with kaya (coconut) spread and butter, with a soft-boiled egg seasoned with soy sauce and pepper, is a standard breakfast staple in Singapore. I’ve tried Toast Box’s version previously, but driving from the office to its nearest branch in Trinoma is a hassle. Thankfully, there are nearer restaurants offering this remarkable pair.

First up is Kopi Roti along Tomas Morato Avenue. It has branches in Resorts World Manila and Katipunan Avenue, but the Tomas Morato branch is the main one. This franchise from the Lion City prides itself as the one that introduced the kopi bun to Philippine shores. However, they also serve the ubiquitous pairing alongside their basic offerings. If you will remember, their branch at NAIA Terminal 3 was the place where I had a snack during our Cebu trip. Despite the small size of their toasts, they are seriously packed—kaya and butter oozes out with every bite. I also liked the fact that they serve teh tarik with its trademark foam still intact. However, the cold teh tarik serving is smaller compared to that of Toast Box; maybe a larger glass will do?

The second restaurant for this category is Shiok Shiok along Maria Clara Street. This newly established restaurant is owned by the same people behind Eat Fresh and Tuen Mun Roasts, and occupies the old spot of Bugis (which transferred to a larger location just across the street). Their teh tarik and kaya toast combo is the cheapest I’ve had so far at P120, but I think it needs more improvement. The teh tarik is served hot in a small cup, but lacks the sweet taste of the condensed milk mixed in it. I asked the servers if they have it cold, and was told that it would be the same as the nai cha (milk tea) in Eat Fresh. The nai cha was better; I was expecting almost the same taste if this was a hot version of it. Kudos to them for using wheat bread as a base for the toasts, though.

Meat skewers on rice

Whether it’s street-style Filipino barbecue or yakitori skewers from a Japanese restaurant, meat on sticks served with rice is a perfect meal in itself. Being a heavy eater myself, I would typically prefer two to three sticks to go with my rice. Below are two memorable meat skewers I tried out.

I first encountered Yakitori One during a trip to SM Aura in Taguig, for a seminar we attended. I was initially curious, but hesitated to try it out—until I saw it again at the food court of Robinsons Magnolia. This platter consisted of their Chicken Thigh, Chicken Bell Pepper, and Pork Asparagus Wrap skewers served on a bed of rice. A small amount of pickled ginger came with it to cut the savory taste. One stick here is sufficient for a serving of rice and, with two more available, was able to taste everything. The Pork Asparagus Wrap is my personal choice as it makes the otherwise bland asparagus more appetizing.

I already mentioned Bugis in the previous section, and now – let me do a full post on it. CJ and I were frequent diners at their N. Roxas branch back when we were still in the same office, ordering their rich Singapore Laksa with every visit. For this instance, however, I tried out something different. This was actually two separate components: Pork Roll and Nasi Goreng Rice. The rice was savory enough on its own with no need for a viand, as it had seafood, mushrooms, cabbage, and Chinese sausage mixed in. The Pork Roll, on the other hand, served to reinforce the umami taste—with its asparagus, shiitake mushroom, and scallop filling. Two sticks with three rolls each, bigger than that of Yakitori One’s, made this a filling meal for a perfect day.

Coffee with accompaniments

I’m no stranger to coffee shops. In fact, I’ve done a post or two about some places I occasionally stop by for a warm brew. Nevertheless, a lot of third-wave coffee shops are springing up in various locations around the metro. These new joints pride themselves on artsy and snazzy interiors, unique coffee creations, and mouth-watering accompaniments like cakes and pies. Below are two instances from two notable coffee shops I discovered around the vicinity of the office.

Ah, Craft Coffee Revolution. I’ve only seen the Esteban Abada branch (which caters to students from Ateneo and the other schools around), and the in-mall locations at Estancia and Podium (which have yuppies as the main customers). Craft Coffee is known for its affordable third-wave coffee creations, putting aside the free Wi-Fi. Who would have thought that they would open a branch along West Avenue? I had the chance to try out their Macadamia Sansrival paired with a cup of Mocha Coffee. I’m now a fan of the sansrival—which makes use of buttery macadamia nuts—after the first bite. For savories, there’s the Chicken Empanada paired with a glass of Iced Chocolate. I loved the empanada and its pronounced curry flavor, and the fact that the drink had some undissolved tablea at the bottom. This I ate without any hesitation.

Respite is among the new restaurants popping up along the stretch of Mother Ignacia Avenue. Located across St. Mary’s College, it has become a hub of students looking for wonderful coffee and a place to hang out after classes. Sisters Sylvette and Jessica run the coffee shop; Sylvette is in charge of coffee matters, while Jessica handles cakes and pastries (she also makes other baked goodies under her own brand Jes Bakes). I had the chance to taste their Tuna Empanada, paired with their 10-Hour Cold Brew Coffee (with Davao-sourced beans, mind you). The cold brew coffee, sans the acidity found in hot brewed versions, served as a palate cleanser for the savory pastry. I capped this off with a slice of their Chocolate Yogurt Cake and Iced Chocolate…and you know what? That cake is condensed awesomeness, simply put. There’s no hint of yogurt whatsoever—only pure chocolate minus the cloying sweetness. Maybe the fermented milk product toned it down, which was a good thing.

And that closes more than two years of being employed in my old job. I might not have the chance to say goodbye to each and every person I’ve known during my stay, so let me take this chance to do so. It was great knowing all of you guys, and see you in better times! I might be saying farewell to Araneta Avenue, but Eastwood City awaits.

And before I end this, watch out for future posts here at the Guide—featuring new spots!