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!

134 – The Monching Walks: 11 June 2016

Welcome to this edition of The Monching Walks, the first for this year! My, it’s been more than a year since I last did a post like this…I’ve been really busy that doing an urban hike around the metro is more of a luxury now. Anyway, let me go to my main point.

It has been a yearly tradition of ours to treat my younger brother out on his birthday every June. We set aside one weekend to eat at a restaurant with our siblings. The 2014 and 2015 ones turned out fine, but CJ’s younger sister was unable to join us this year. Who would have thought that a simple trip to Pasig to have a laptop repaired would reach Bonifacio Global City in Taguig? We started off early by picking up CJ from her house and heading over to the MSI-ECS compound in Maybunga, Pasig City. The compound was located in an industrial area, but we researched the directions to the place – and finished our business there in no time.

We originally planned to head north at UP Town Center, but decided to go south at The Fort only at the last minute. (Admittedly, UP Town is now a favorite hangout spot of mine.) Surprisingly, the traffic was light for a Saturday! After parking the car at SM Aura (that’s the cheapest parking in the vicinity with a flat rate of P50), we had lunch at Kettle near the 5th floor dining area. Kettle has branches in Eastwood Mall and Shangri-La Plaza Mall, and a sister restaurant (Fireside by Kettle) at SM Megamall. We ordered three dishes: Pork and Potato Strips, Baked Brie, and Kettle Fried Chicken. My bet goes to the last two; the Brie cheese and forest berries jam jived together, and the fried chicken is leagues better than the usual Southern style variants. Plus points for the country muffins!

A long stroll is necessary after a hearty meal to help the food go down. This wasn’t a problem for us; Market! Market!, Serendra, and Bonifacio High Street were nearby. We started walking the stretch of stores along the latter, occasionally stopping by a few ones (I bought a bottle of body spray from the Lush Cosmetics outlet there). There was an exhibit sponsored by Grab at the Central Square area, where some vintage vehicles were on display. In addition, a few restored vintage cars were there to tour customers around. This was Grab’s campaign for the Philippine Independence Day—GrabVintage. CJ suggested that we ride the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado owned by Elvis Presley, which we did.

Continuing our journey on foot, we reached a lot of new destinations in the former military base. Out of the blue, we decided to visit Uptown Mall – which was really far if you didn’t have a vehicle. CJ went there a few days prior for their company’s event. It took a lot of foot power to reach the mall, but it didn’t matter as we were all used to traversing long distances. The newly built Uptown Mall, operated by Megaworld (of Venice Piazza and Eastwood City fame), had a few operational shops: Churreria La Lola, Base London, and a Rustan’s Supermarket at the basement. Walking back to civilization (read: Bonifacio High Street) with a light rain shower was an equally fulfilling experience.

That trip from Uptown Mall to High Street made us hungry, so we decided to have dinner at Serendra before going home. The usual question of where to eat popped up once more with a few choices emerging: Zao Vietnamese Bistro, Wee Nam Kee, Mamou, Chelsea Cafe, or Saboten. The last one was our unanimous choice that evening, since we all craved for a good rice meal! Saboten is a Japanese katsu restaurant in the same line as Yabu and Katsu Sora, and operated by the Raintree Group (of Chelsea Kitchen). We ordered individual sets for the three of us: Miso Katsu, Katsu Curry, and Clay Pot Katsu. I liked the first and third meal set we ordered, but the Katsu Curry one was rather drab and lacking. Incidentally, my younger brother ordered it! (On a side note, do try their tenderloin variants for your katsu order.)

All in all, we enjoyed this sudden trip to BGC – in celebration of my younger brother’s 18th birthday! I wish him the best, now that he’s 18 years old and an incoming college sophomore. It’s a long way to go before law school, but I believe he’ll make it.

Until the next The Monching Walks post, see you!

Circa 2014.

Inflation is an undeniable fact of life.

With each passing year, prices of goods sold in the market increase while people get less and less spending power. Their money’s value decreases, leading them to purchase fewer items with a certain amount compared to before. Even foods are affected by this economic phenomenon, with serving sizes getting smaller and smaller. An option would be to increase prices to avoid reducing the serving size—but this carries the risk of driving away customers.

One such example is the Pepper Salt Chicken Chops from Chatime. I’ve written about it in a triptych post two years ago, but I only got to try it again recently. Same story goes: one order of chicken chops, two cups of their annatto rice, and a tea drink. Notice that the lower picture has a smaller chop size compared to the upper one (which was taken in 2014).

Now, see what inflation does.

Circa 2016.

133 – On How Inflation Affects Chicken Chops

132 – Get Back

First things first.

If you’re connected to me via my old personal Facebook account, I owe you a rather long and overdue explanation and an apology at the same time. You might have noticed my sudden disappearance there and wondered exactly what happened. I posted one last status before I deleted that said account; however, some of you might have missed it. Well, here’s the main reason why I did so—and this is for the record.

Some things happened that almost compromised my relationship with CJ, and it was brought about by the consequences of my actions. I admit my hand in and take full responsibility for those things. Thus, I decided to get back to what really matters and focus on getting back my shit together.

Now that I’ve laid down my cards on the table, I just want to inform everyone I know who’s reading this post right now that I’m still here and alive, though I don’t know if things will turn out right. It may be difficult to do so, but I’ll try my best regardless of what consequence it may bring. I’m aware that some of you know my contact details, so just hit me up through those channels if you want to meet.

Here’s a recent selfie with Gretchen Ho.

On another note, I know most of you remember the time when I posted my frustration with repeatedly failing to land a new job. Well, I’m glad to announce that the woes have finally ended after seven months of scouring the job market. I finally found a new job, incidentally—at Eastwood City in Libis. My first job right after college (in 2012) was also in Libis, and I left after more than a year due to redundancy.

And incidentally, Eastwood City was also the place where this blog started out. I commenced work on The Monching’s Guide in late 2013, around the time when the redundancy was nearing. Three years down the line and more than 130 posts later, little did I know that I’ll be returning to where it all began.

Get back to where you once belonged…