Author Archive for Gelo Santos

20
Jul
14

IFTAR BUFFET AT DUSIT THANI DUBAI

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If you must know, Iftar is the break of the fast at around sunset during the Islamic month of Ramadan. And if in case you’re in Dubai or nearby emirates, why not celebrate Iftar at Dusit Thani Dubai?

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Imagine the exquisite fusion of Arabian luxury and Asian hospitality.  The Emirati sophistication and Thai elegance.  Fascinating qualities combined under one roof, in a remarkable twin-skyscrapers that physically resemble two-palms-put-together greeting everyone, Sawasdee!

Conveniently located along Sheikh Zayed Road, Dusit Thani Dubai is only a stone-throw-away from the world’s tallest man-made structure, the iconic – Burj Khalifa, the massively impressive, Dubai Mall and Dubai’s World Trade Center and the rest of establishments comprising its commercial and financial district; not to forget its proximity to Dubai Metro Station – that defines accessibility in truest sense of the word.

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Dusit Thani Dubai.  A glimpse of Asia in the heart of Dubai, UAE (photo sourced from its website).

One will not only savor a sumptuous buffet spread at Dusit Thani Dubai while enjoying  Asian-Arabian ambiance, but would also make Ramadan more meaningful, as a percentage of proceeds from the dinner buffet goes to Operation Smile.
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Although I have an idea of the Fasting month, as a Non-Muslim-Overseas Filipino Worker who came from a 3-year-work-stint in Malaysia that’s also predominantly believer of Islamic faith, where I had a chance to partake in Berbuka Puasa (breaking of the fast in Malay) and go to Ramadan Night Markets, there’s still a bit of curiosity for me to experience Ramadan (and summer) here in UAE for the first time.

About 2 weeks after our company threw an Iftar buffet party at a different premier hotel, I was blessed to try the Iftar offerings at Dusit Thani Dubai with one of our young colleagues who generously accompanied me on the eve of Friday, 18th July 2014.

Together with Jessica, my taste buds were challenged by not one but three restaurants in Dusit, participating in its Iftar – The Californian (Continental cuisine), PAX (Italian cuisine) and Benjarong (Thai).

The Californian

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Benjarong

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PAX

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Because the three restaurants are located at the 24th floor of Dusit Thani, the view from where we sat at PAX gave us a breathtaking visual feast of the stretch of Sheikh Zayed Road and the magnificent, Burj Khalifa at another corner. The dining experience was heightened as the sky dramatically turned into dusk.

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Jessica, one of my young and brilliant colleagues at work in Dubai.

With fresh orange juice and Arabic beverages and tea inclusive in the buffet, dishes of 60% Arabic and 40% Asian-Continental were on the spread located at the middle of  the 3 particpating restaurants. Although the volume wasn’t as great as our expectations, I honestly found some of my favorites (Shawarma, Hummus, Babanoush, Tabouleh, Greek Salad with feta cheese, Caesar salad, Chicken Biryani, Chicken ala Kiev, various pasta dishes cooked on the spot and others) appetizingly good!  What I did was random sampling of little portions of what I fancied.
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Dates and tea.

Why dates at Iftar? A quick glance at Wiki states, “Traditionally but not mandatory, three dates are eaten to break the fast in emulation of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, who broke his fast in this manner. Many Muslims believe that feeding someone iftar as a form of charity is very rewarding and that such was practised by the Prophet Muhammad.”

*photos below are only a fraction of the entire Iftar offerings at Dusit Thani Dubai.

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What’s dining in Dubai without Shawarma? Unlimited Chicken Shawarma, anyone? :)

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Traditional Roasted Lamb Ouzi, served with Oriental rice and toasted nuts.

No meal is complete without sweet endings… Here are some of the desserts in the middle of the desert! :)
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Good food, good company, good times… Thank you, Dusit!

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I love that Pasta! Go figure why. Troop to Dusit Thani for your Iftar if you’re in Dubai!
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Special thanks goes to Ms. Danelle of Dusit Thani Dubai for the invitation to this Iftar.

Dusit Thani Dubai | 133 Sheikh Zayed Road, P.O. Box 23335 Dubai | Tel: +971 (4) 343 3333+971 (4) 343 3333 | Fax: :+971 (4) 343 4222+971 (4) 343 4222 | website : http://www.dusit.com/dusitthani/dubai/default-en.html

>><<

11
Jul
14

DOCGELO’S CHOICES : REMARKABLE TASTES FROM MEMORABLE CITIES

Traveling and eating.

Food and places.

These are indubitably inseparable.

Each time I set foot in a country that’s absolutely new to my senses, I try my best not to leave without sampling any dish that at least represents that place, or any plateful delight that could make my days more memorable. Frequently, I crave not only for the food itself, but there’s so much longing for vivid moments inked in my memory to be re-experienced, to be replayed.

Imagine my joy when I read the below email sent to me by TheBetsy.com, asking my humble recommendation of the best restaurants from various cities I’ve been to.

 

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Admittedly, it’s flattering (and overwhelming). I’m honored actually. No word is enough to express my gratitude.

So without further ado, here’s my random list of remarkable tastes from memorable cities…

CHAR KOAY TEOW.  PENANG, MALAYSIA.

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Char Koay Teow, from Kafe Heng Huat, Lorong Selamat, George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Dubbed as Malaysia’s gastronomic paradise, Penang boasts of diverse flavors, textures and tastes. Of all the countless dishes from local ethnic groups of Malays, Chinese and Indians, I consider Char Koay Teow as my ultimate favorite Malaysian dish. My taste buds fell in love with every plate of fried flat noodles, mixed with chili sauce, egg, fresh sprouts, cockles, Chinese chorizo or pork sausage and large prawns!

During the years of 2010 to 2013, when I had Butterworth, Penang as my second home, I usually satisfy my craving for CKT by going to the island via buses and ferry, just to indulge myself with such noodle dish, cooked on the spot in a hawker stall in Gurney Drive or in Kafe Heng Huat at Lorong Selamat, Georgetown. Full blog post here : http://docgelo.com/2013/03/16/more-than-a-plateful-of-char-koay-teow/.

 

 HAINANESE CHICKEN RICE. CHINATOWN, SINGAPORE.

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Hainanese Chicken Rice, from Maxwell’s Tian Tian Chicken House, Chinatown, Singapore.

Maxwell’s Tian Tian Chicken House became a word of mouth after Anthony Bourdain gave it a thumbs up.  So famous, that what made it popular became one of my favorite chicken dishes too –Hainanese Chicken Rice…(believe me, this plate tasted so much better than it looks on photo). The rice was boiled with seasoned chicken stock; it’s already tasteful sans the tender chicken itself. Full blog post here : http://docgelo.com/2011/09/07/chinatown-singapore/

BUTTERMILK FRIED CHICKEN. KETTLE, METRO MANILA, PHILIPPINES.

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Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Kettle, East Wing, Shangri-La Plaza Mall, Mandaluyong City, Philippines.

Kettle’s brilliant expression of the usual comfort food, fried chicken left all of us in awe and wonder. From its crispy and lightly battered skin (Sinful. Spells HYPERLIPIDEMIA, I know!), the tender chicken fillets in huge fractions were gloriously seasoned to perfection! They’re beautiful and ultimately delicious even without condiments! However, for complete Kettle experience, you need to dip a chunk of that happiness to its country gravy and drizzle it with cajun honey, toy it in your mouth, swallow smoothly then dunk your fork to those equally tasteful honey glazed cornbread muffins. Bliss! Full blog post here : http://docgelo.com/2014/01/27/kettle-at-shangri-la-plaza-east-wing-inspiring-comfort-food/

 

ONE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS TEA. ARABIAN TEA HOUSE, BUR DUBAI, DUBAI, UAE.

 

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Exotic Chicken Salad, 1001 Nights Tea, Arabian Tea House, Bur Dubai, Dubai, UAE.

My so-called comfort place in Dubai at present is Arabian Tea House in Bastakiya, Old Dubai. I love their 1001 Nights Tea from Sri Lanka. Fruity. Sublime. Soothing. They also have Green Tea and Jasmine, White Tea Jasmine and Marigold, English Breakfast, Early Grey, Fairytale, Turkish Delight, Ceylon Sencha, Exotic Paradise, Milk Oolong, Raspberry and Mint, Mysterious Passion and a whole lot more teas!

From their menu, I usually opt to have Exotic Chicken Salad.  Heavenly!

Served with complimentary Arabic bread, the Exotic Chicken Salad is the most delicious and freshest I’ve had! The fusion of textures and flavors of ripe mango and avocado, cucumber and lettuce was simply divine! The BBQ-flavored chicken also doesn’t disappoint. I can have this simple all-in-one-meal plus that 1001 Nights tea as my last meal when I die. I kid you not. Full blog post here : http://docgelo.com/2014/04/05/bastakiya-al-fahidi-my-favorite-place-in-dubai-to-date/.

 

YAKINIKU BUFFET. KARUNESUTEHSYON GINZATEN, GINZA, TOKYO, JAPAN

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Yakiniku Lunch Buffet, Karunesutehsyon Ginzaten, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan.

Price for lunch buffet inclusive of drinks (sodas, juices, coffee) back in 2010 was Y1,000 and for dinner -it’s a whopping Y3,000/pax!  I don’t have idea what Karunesutehsyon Ginzaten serves for dinner but obviously, it must be something better as it’s thrice expensive compared to their lunch. Nonetheless, the marbling of the beef slices to grill, the tenderness of the pork and freshness of the fish cuts, and the pure excitement of grilling your own food made the entire dining experience memorable. Full blog post here : http://docgelo.com/2010/03/26/letters-from-tokyo-7-yakiniku-buffet/

 

 
HALO-HALO. ICEBERG, THE PHILIPPINES!

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Special Halo-halo, Iceberg, Timog Avenue, Quezon City, Philippines.

If there’s one dessert that could best describe our being Filipino, it’s our very own, Halo-Halo in my own opinion. Troop to Iceberg restaurant in any of its branches in Metro Manila or to any street vendors of Halo-Halo in any parts of our country and you’ll know what I mean. Full blog post here : http://docgelo.com/2010/04/25/much-ado-about-summer/

 

JORDANIAN BUFFET, Near MOUNT NEBO, JORDAN.

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Assa Mosa restaurant near Mount Nebo – Middle Eastern Buffet, Jordan.

I was never fond of eating lamb dishes unless it’s cooked well without leaving an after-taste. Luckily, my taste buds were treated to a few delicious lamb dishes I’ve ever sampled! I never found a single fault on everything we’ve feasted! Jordanian-Arabic food was that good!

I loved the Shish Kebab, the Oozie rice dish that was nicely seasoned,  the hummus dip, the local salads and everything that I paired with a small bottle of that smooth-tasting local red wine, appropriately called Mount Nebo. Full blog post here : http://docgelo.com/2014/06/10/jordan-road-trip-x-food-trip/

 

MOMO AND VARIOUS NEPALESE DISHES. COSMO DE CAFE, KATHMANDU, NEPAL.

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Our lunch at one of the rooftop restaurants in Kathmandu, Nepal.

We had vegetable momo (Newar dumplings) instead of chicken momo (others offer buffalo momo) simply because there’s bird flu in Nepal during the time of our visit. How exciting, isn’t it? Going back to momo; We had it two ways – fried and steamed and found it just okay, nothing to rave about. What made it unusual or special perhaps, was its dip compared to the soy and chilies of Chinese. Full blog post here : http://docgelo.com/2013/08/11/our-unforgettable-journey-from-malaysia-to-nepal/

 

SEAFOOD BUFFET. SARKIES, EASTERN AND ORIENTAL HOTEL, PENANG, MALAYSIA.

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Salmon Sashimi, Duo of Gravlax, Seafood Extravaganza Dinner Buffet, Sarkies, E&O Hotel, Penang, Malaysia.

Two words. Favorite and fresh! Full blog post here : http://docgelo.com/2013/03/17/sarkies-seafood-buffet-dinner-extravaganza-eastern-oriental-hotel-penang/

PAD THAI. CHATUCHAK WEEKEND MARKET, BANGKOK, THAILAND.

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Best Pad Thai on my list. From a hawker stall in Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok, Thailand.

Flavorful, mouthwatering, fragrant and inexpensive dishes pleased us all on our very first meal in Bangkok. From an eatery in the heart of Chatuchak Weekend Market, we had Shrimp Fried Rice, Pad Thai, Pork Barbecue that we’re missing in Penang, and a few fried goodies for our son, Gabby. Full blog post here : http://docgelo.com/2012/08/31/bangkok-2012-series-thai-food-porn/

I could continue to enumerate more however, these are the top 10 on my list as of present. Each taste reminds me of a moment. Every texture and spoonful of goodness relay something to cherish.

>><<

29
Jun
14

REMEMBERING GREATER HEIGHTS | AT THE TOP OF BURJ KHALIFA, DUBAI AND MORE

I remember the ticket that I paid online for 130 dirhams (or roughly 35 USD which was actually 4 times cheaper than availing it on the spot) exactly 5 days earlier, which I claimed at the basement of Dubai Mall reads:

“Get Ready to Enter the Record Books.

Valid for ONE Admission, Adult.

Entry Date & Time : 18-May-2014, 10:30AM.”

I remember it took 3 months of stay in Dubai before I finally found a chance to set foot at the viewing deck of the tallest man-made structure on Earth as of present. The iconic, Burj Khalifa.

I remember the moment I pressed Enter on my laptop’s keyboard after I decided to reserve an admission ticket, I wondered how would it feel to be on top of the world literally; to set my gaze below and afar from the 124th floor of the tallest of the skyscrapers. I casually thought if the experience of ascending Burj Khalifa would matter to me  5 or 10 years from now. If the experience would be any different from those few times I placed myself at a great vantage points.

I remember when I went to 1-Altitude Bar in Singapore with a bunch of fellow Asian bloggers, where we grabbed our drinks while watching Marina Bay Sands bursts its fireworks and laser beams. Will it be the same feeling when I go up the Burj Khalifa?

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I remember when I was escorted by the PR-Coordinator of Marina Bay Sands to its Observatory deck and famous infinity pool. Will it be the same feeling when I go up the Burj Khalifa?

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I remember when I saw the Lion City from its Singapore Flyer. Will it be the same feeling when I go up the Burj Khalifa?
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I remember when I was looking down the huge boulders and gorge from a higher ground in Wawa Dam in Montalban, Rizal back home. Will it be the same feeling when I go up the Burj Khalifa?
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I remember when my family and I went up the Sky Bridge at  41st level of Malaysia’s magnificence – the Petronas Twin Towers, and when excitement was brought even higher to its Observation deck at its 86th level. Will it be the same feeling when I go up the Burj Khalifa?
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I remember when my family and I went up the rooftop restaurants in Patan, Nepal. The view from above was amazing! Will it be the same feeling when I go up the Burj Khalifa?
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I remember when my family and I went up the Swayambhunath Stupa or Monkey Temple -one of Nepal’s most sacred Buddhist shrines where we savored the breathtaking view of Kathmandu valley. Will it be the same feeling when I go up the Burj Khalifa?
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I remember when my family and I went up another rooftop restaurant across Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu. The serenity from that height was unforgettable. Will it be the same feeling when I go up the Burj Khalifa?
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I remember when my family and I spent our last night in Nepal at Peaceful Cottage in Nagarkot, a simple yet incredibly fantastic accomodation perched above 7000 feet, overlooking the Himalayan range. Will it be the same feeling when I go up the Burj Khalifa?

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I remember when I stood at Mount Nebo in Jordan, the holy mountain where Prophet Moses breathed his last; where a vast mountainous desert and bodies of water are seen dividing Jordan and Israel geographically. Will it be the same feeling when I go up the Burj Khalifa?

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Fifteen minutes before the scheduled flight to the 124th floor of Burj Khalifa via its rapid but smooth lift, I was still thinking if the experience will be the same as the others. My stimulated thoughts of being At The Top were not interrupted by caffeine and a fruit tart.

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The queue was long but organized. Apparently, I was not alone in wanting to experience being  At The Top.
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I remember I read inspiring words on the walls on way up.
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Then at one corner, Kabayan-staff was repeatedly saying something like, “Stand in the circle, focus your gaze at the star inside the circle. That is where you’re going. You’re going to the 124th floor of Burj Khalifa.”
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I remember looking at plastered photos on the walls, depicting how the tallest building was built.
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I remember going inside the lift, and a few seconds and a blink after, I went out with the other tourists. We stepped out of Observation deck at Burj Khalifa’s 124th.

I remember I was there.
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I remember looking at Sheikh Zayed Road from above, the highway seemingly guarded by handsome skyscrapers, the majestic stretch where I and my colleagues pass by daily, to and from the office. The view was different At The Top.
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I remember clicking my camera several times over that intersection and Dubai Metro railway.
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I remember how beautiful Souk Al Bahar in front of Dubai Mall appeared At The Top.
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I remember being At The Top of Burj Khalifa was almost the same experience of being at any elevated places somewhere else.

I remember how humbling it was to feel so small from all the higher grounds I’ve ever planted my foot on.

>><<

 

10
Jun
14

JORDAN | ROAD TRIP X FOOD TRIP

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Similar to an impulse that travels from the brain to the spine and elsewhere, the decision to take my feet to one of the places in my bucket list happened spontaneously. Destination : Jordan.

My random online surfing during ungodly hours of the morning in mid-May of 2014 made me aware about His Holiness Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy Land.  With only knowledge of its proximity to my current work place in Dubai -despite the lack of preparation, research and concrete game plan, I found myself with complete requirements to travel to Amman in less than a week. In retrospect, it was like the stars, the moon, and the entire universe conspired, so to speak. I believe it was utterly destined. Budget but decent hotels booked online, a travel-guide-driver to tour me around was recommended, a “No-Objection-Certificate” or NOC  was issued by my sponsor and my employer, visa stamped on my passport, return tickets via Fly Dubai purchased, a few Jordanian dinar bills secured, a courage to travel alone on a limited budget and yes, probably fate brought my feet to Jordan. I was weak to elude such once-in-a-lifetime-chance!

After immensely devouring Fly Dubai’s Chicken-Ala-Kiev and eagerly starting to read one of Khaled Hosseini’s bestsellers, “A Thousand Splendid Suns” that I still have yet to finish, and that almost-3-hour-flight, I arrived at Queen Alia International Airport at around half hour past 9PM, May 22, 2014, Thursday. Following quick airport proceedings, I finally met Hasan or Abu Malek, my friendly Jordanian travel-guide-par-excellence; I easily spotted him at the Arrival area, holding a white sheet of paper with my nickname on it, so classic just like in the movies! I loved it! :D

Hasan (whose contact details are listed below for your reference), drove me from the airport to my hotel in Amman. His casual but warm welcome greetings was followed by a string of suggestions about our itineraries to maximize my very first visit in his home country. I surrendered everything to him. My epic Jordanian road trip began the following morning.

MADABA

About less-than-hour-drive from Amman, we reached Madaba, the small and quaint city famous for its 6th century Mosaic-Map of Jerusalem and parts of the Holy Land.  A Greek Orthodox religious service was being held inside St. George’s Church when we arrived so tourists were asked to wait after 9:15AM for admission. Tickets were sold at the parish office for one (1) JOD or Jordanian dinar  (US $ 1.41). 

As faithfuls began to exit the church, I saw a few people inside unrolling the carpets. And lo and behold, the mosaic maps that were brilliantly laid on the floor were exposed!  Amazing how colorful stones from Madaba and neighboring cities were used to create stunning mosaic in the church’s floor and in framed masterpieces. The appreciation of such ancient art and historical artifacts transcends religion!

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To appreciate more of Madaba’s stone mosaic art, Hasan took me to Nebo’s Pearl, an impressive souvenir shop where such art pieces are being made by hand, not by merely ordinary craftsmen but physically challenged yet skillful and artistic individuals.

Buying from such shop would not only aid the artisans, but fractions of the purchase of some items go to church as well.

I bought a medium-sized-wooden-jewelry-box with a colorful stone mosaic of  Madaba’s Tree of Life inlaid on its top. Some small souvenir items like fridge magnets, rosaries, Holy Water from place of Christ’s Baptism and small purses for a few relatives and friends were also irresistible to pass up.

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LUNCH

Traveling is futile without sampling local dishes. I’m grateful that Hasan brought me to the best and most affordable food places in Jordan during our road trip. Even more thankful that I didn’t have to pay for his meals as he eats for free in all of those restaurants we went to!

I was never fond of eating lamb dishes unless it’s cooked well without leaving an after-taste. Luckily, my taste buds were treated to a few delicious lamb dishes I’ve ever sampled! I never found a single fault on everything we’ve feasted! Jordanian-Arabic food was that good!

I loved the Shish Kebab, the Oozie rice dish that was nicely seasoned,  the hummus dip, the local salads and everything that I paired with a small bottle of that smooth-tasting local red wine, appropriately called Mount Nebo.
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MOUNT NEBO

Time was never wasted with a local travel guide, like Hasan who knows how to maximize the day and perfected the art of tour-guiding in his own country for more than 20 years!  After my last sip of Mount Nebo red wine, I had the small bottle with half of its contents takeaway, and went our way to our next stop. Where else but Mount Nebo!

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Mount Nebo, or according to Hasan, Mount Siyagha, was mentioned in the bible and history books, as the site where Prophet Moses died.  I’m far from being religious but there were no words to describe the feeling of being in the same mountain where Moses had his last breath, to be inside the humble museum where relics from old churches are kept and displayed, and to see the church that’s being built in Moses’ memorial site.
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The Church currently under construction in memorial site of Moses.

Inside the museum…

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I shall be forever grateful for the chance to be at the sacred place where the late Pope JPII stood.
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DEAD SEA

Forty-five minutes after discovering Mount Nebo, I was in the passenger’s seat again of  Hasan’s car.  He drove me next to one of the densest bodies of the water in the world. The  Dead Sea.

“Right across Dead Sea, you can see that mountain range -that’s Jerusalem already.”  he said.

While there are five star-hotels to that popular beach, Hasan took me to a nicer and cheaper access where I paid 20 JOD.

Did I try to take a dip and float like everyone else at Dead Sea?

No.

Forgive me as I came not prepared  for Dead Sea. Without beach towels and slippers, I had to buy flip-flops at whopping 5 JOD just to bear the scorching temperature of sand under my feet.

But of course, for posterity’s sake, I didn’t leave Dead Sea without sampling that famous mud pack. So I paid 1 JOD and a local man selling that black mud applied it generously on my face (3 JOD for entire body).

 

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So while everybody’s floating at Dead Sea, I was cam-whoring with my ear-to-ear-smile with that mud all over my face! It was itchy and a stinging sensation was really irritating, I had to rush to the shower area and removed it immediately. Ugh! The things you do for facebook, instagram, twitter and this blog! :P
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According to Hasan, since rain in Jordan is scarce, Dead Sea has been reduced to a meter every year and sadly, they predicted that in the next hundred years or God-forbid even sooner, Dead Sea may become extinct.

FROM DEAD SEA  EN ROUTE  TO  KERAK CASTLE

Moving on with our road trip, the next simple things and fascinating places that stimulated me were groups of sheep and goat, a spectacular coastline of salt, potash and whatnot, breathtaking mountainous view, and stone statues atop a mountain that according to Hasan, were naturally formed that depict the spot of what has been believed to be Sodom and Gomorrah.

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Sodom and Gomorrah stone statues.

A quick glance at Wiki, I read about  Sodom and Gomorrah as“The plain, which corresponds to the area just north of the modern-day Dead Sea, was compared to the garden of Eden[Gen.13:10] as being a land well-watered and green, suitable for grazing livestock.”

BELOW SEA LEVEL,

AT SEA LEVEL,

ABOVE SEA LEVEL

“The world’s lowest roads, Highway 90, run along the Israeli and West Bank shores of the Dead Sea, along with Highway 65 on the Jordanian side, at 393 m (1,289 ft) below sea level.” – Wiki

With this day-long road trip from almost North of Jordan, to its Southern part in Petra, we passed along the areas below sea level, at sea level and above sea level where indubitably, temperature and humidity vary.

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At Sea Level.  I had to ask Hasan for a quick photo-op!

As we reached sea level, we then drove to ascend to Kerak Castle, situated 960 meters above sea level.

KERAK,  JORDAN

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KERAK  CASTLE

Strategically built at 960 meters above sea level, Kerak Castle consists of numerous chambers, mosques, bedrooms, dining rooms that served military crusaders well during the ancient times. What remains now appears to be a fusion of West European, Byzantine, and Arabian architectures standing at its magnificence over looking the valleys.

The 1 JOD-entrance fee included a quick guided-tour inside Kerak Castle. It was dark inside, with only small flashlight from the local guide, and there’s almost nothing but caves and chambers, reminiscent of its historic past. In contrast, the view outside atop the mountain was breathtaking!

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SHOBAK  CASTLE

From one castle to another, Hasan drove me over the desert and mountainous roads of Kerak to Shobak Castle. A deserted crusader castle perched at 1300 meters above sea level.

And just as accurately as he calculated, we reached Shobak Castle few minutes before 6PM when sundown was seen at its full glory!  My photo could not do justice to the beauty of the mountains in Shobak Castle at that hour. I was told that during winter season, everything’s covered with snow and tranquility.

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PETRA

The last stop where we retired for the day was no less but in Petra, Jordan. I checked in at my reserved hotel while Hasan stayed with his friends’ place in Petra. Prior to that, he took me to another must-try local-eatery where Bukhara rice is offered. We ordered it, plus shish kebab (not on photo), hummus, salad and Arabic bread.

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The following  morning was spent remarkably in one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, probably the other reason why I went to Jordan. My blog post about my incredible experience in Petra here : http://docgelo.com/2014/05/29/petra-jordan-remarkable-steps-and-unforgettable-memories/

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Widest smile of astonishment that he set foot in Petra, Jordan! I big tick off from my bucket list!

With Hasan’s helpful advice to leave Petra at 11AM for us to reach Amman before the 4PM-6PM Holy Mass by Pope Francis at Amman International Stadium (set last 24th May 2014), we were on the roads for that almost 4-hour-drive early as scheduled. We made an almost 1-hour-stop at one of his favorites where he made me eat Jordan’s traditional dish called, Mansaf!

MANSAF, JORDANIAN TRADITIONAL DISH

It may sound overly ridiculous but I couldn’t imagine myself leaving Jordan without sampling its very own National dish. It was like watching Maleficent without knowing it stars Angelina Jolie!

A lamb dish cooked in sauce of fermented dried yoghurt served with rice and yoghurt sauce; Mansaf’s delicious! The lamb shank was very fork-tender with no unpleasant after-taste, the yoghurt sauce was not tangy and was just right. The rice was perfectly flavored; quite different from Biryani or other rice dishes I’ve had.

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Mansaf. Jordan’s National dish.
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With Hasan or Abu Malek. My newly found friend in Jordan! Shukran, Hasan! :D

After our hearty Mansaf-lunch, at the very same handsome restaurant, I managed to freshen up and changed into crisp clothes and got ready for High Mass at Amman International Stadium.

As we exited the highway and reached the capital city of Jordan, I was not in myself, probably out of severe excitement and incredible disbelief, when I asked Hasan what country does those flags displayed across Jordan’s, posted at poles along the roads represent.

“Vatican’s.”

“Oh yeah! The Pope’s here! I went here for that event, hahaha! Those yellow and white flags are of Vatican, of course! Silly me!” –Major face-palm moment! Toinks!

Hasan had to drop me off a few meters away from the stadium as roads were closed to traffic because of absolute security for the Pope.  We even saw together the helicopter descending from the sky; must be the Pope, we thought and numerous tourist buses and policemen scattered on the streets. He left me and I agreed to be pick up at 5:30PM, just timely for our dinner together and to catch my 11:45PM flight back to Dubai.

After walking several meters to the gates of Amman International Stadium, I asked the presumably Head of security or one of those in authorities.

“Hi Sir, Is this the gate to Pope Francis’ Holy Mass?”

“Yes, but you are 5 minutes late. The gates are closed.”

“How come? The Mass is scheduled at 4PM-6PM as posted on the website.”

“Yes, it closed at 3:10PM. It’s already 3:15PM. You were 5 minute-late.”

“Sir, I came a long way from Dubai for this.”

“Doesn’t matter. The gates are closed.”

End of story.
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There are more places in Jordan I’ve not seen, there are many other things to experience, I left that same night with unfinished business. Some other time, Jordan! See you again, soon!

I may not have seen the Pope up close in Amman, but I came back to Dubai enriched with new experiences I learned from my brief but memorable trip to Jordan. I may not have attended His Holiness’ High Mass in Jordan, but I’ve seen more of God’s creations and for that I’ll be thankful forever!

 

 >><<

*You may contact my ever friendly and trustworthy travel-guide-driver who became my friend-somewhat-like-a-family in Jordan through his facebook page : Hasan Bani Naser or Abu Malek. Please tell him, the Filipino Travel-Food Blogger, Gelo or whom he called, Abu Gabby referred you to him. Many thanks! https://www.facebook.com/hasan.mharebbaninaser?fref=ts

>><<

29
May
14

PETRA, JORDAN | REMARKABLE STEPS AND UNFORGETTABLE MEMORIES

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Petra, Jordan. One of the Seven Wonders of the World. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.  In this age when everything is measured in gigabyte memories and digital apps, I cherish experiencing places such as Petra that  left me in awe and gifted me with vivid moments to remember for as long as I live.

THE GAME PLAN

Sometimes, the spontaneous trips without itineraries are the most memorable ones. In my list of a few travels to date, my recent trip to Jordan was the most unplanned, however worthwhile. This short but sweet weekend-getaway from Dubai where I am currently based, resulted from the random impulse to attend the mass of His Holiness Pope Francis in Amman International Stadium scheduled last 24th May 2014, Saturday, 4PM-6PM (the date coincided with my days off at work) that I read from Jordan Embassy website. To be honest, I submitted an accomplished Media Accreditation form last 14th May 2014, a day before the deadline set by The Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan  to cover the momentous event, but even after the said date, I got no response. Perhaps, I thought, they would release the details near the date of the event for security purposes, or they really preferred mainstream media men and not just someone less famous from his virtual home in social media. Nonetheless, something within me made my decision firm to  travel again and discover Jordan this time hence, I did the needful.

Visa Requirements to travel to Jordan for Philippine-passport-holders and UAE Residents like me :

  • Original and copy of passport with at least 6 months validity
  • UAE Residence valid for more than 6 months.
  • Passport ID photo
  • NOC or No Objection Certificate from Sponsor and/or Employer
  • Hotel Reservation (plane tickets are not even a requirement as of this posting).
  • Visa fee (kindly check the embassy or consulate’s website).
  • 30 minutes to apply and wait for the visa to be issued at the consulate in Bur Dubai.

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THE  ARRIVAL

With only roundtrip tickets, boarding passes, 2 overnight-hotel-reservations, duffel and laptop bags on hand, I arrived safely in Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan right after attending to my 8 hour-work in Dubai, via a 2 hour and forty-five-minute-flight with FlyDubai Airlines at 9:35PM (Jordan time) last 22nd May 2014.

It was the first time that I didn’t google and prepare for itineraries because I surrendered everything to the local travel-guide-par-excellence, Hasan, who was recommended by my former student and her husband, Jill and Arence, who recently savored traveling to Jordan.  After conversing with Hasan on facebook and via few phone calls, I simply told him I just want to go to Petra and Dead Sea, and trusted him with the rest (where to go, where to eat, what to enjoy-after all, the best person to tour you around is a local like Hasan with 20 years of unparalleled tour guiding). He picked me up from the airport and drove me to my chosen budget hotel in Amman City Centre – the Canyon Boutique Hotel (affordable, huge and clean room with toilet and shower, fast and free wifi).

Fast forward to the late afternoon the day after I arrived in Jordan, I and my travel-guide-driver, Hasan ended our long but fun road trip (after going to Madaba, Mount Nebo, Dead Sea, Kerak, Showbak that certainly deserve a separate blog posts) in Petra, Jordan. I intently stayed overnight in Petra after spending a night in Amman just to be early at the gates of Petra the following day.

Hasan stayed with his friends after he drove me to Al Anbat Hotel in Petra (affordable, huge and clean room with toilet and shower but NO WIFI in the room -Do you know how it feels to be like lifeless even for overnight?).

The next morning, 24th May 2014, Saturday, Hasan picked me up from my hotel, left and dropped me off at the gates of Petra with pieces of his advice on my pocket :

  • Thou shall not tell the ticket counter that you came with a travel-guide for you will be charged with two tickets.
  • A pass for one day in Petra costs 50 JOD (Jordanian Dinar) or around 70.60 USD per pax.
  • One can avail of Passes for 2 days to a cheaper rate.
  • Access to Petra at night, when candles lord the desert floor in front of the tombs comes in different rate.
  • Tickets are inclusive of horse ride from a few meters after the gate to the Siq until the Treasury. Return rides via horse and carriages are available at another cost.
  • Avoid and just be polite with insistent vendors within Petra.

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“Horses are included in your tickets, Sir! Just give little tip to the guides.” 

“Thank you, but I want to walk and take photos.”

THE  SIQ

After 10 to 15 minute walk from the ticket counter, I found myself at the ancient main entrance to Petra. The Al-Siq or The Siq.

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Hemmed in by cliffs soaring up to 80 meters, the Siq is the stunning 1200 meter long, deep and narrow gorge. Motor vehicles are prohibited to go through the Siq, thus the options left for tourists are to ride horses, donkeys, horse-drawn-carriages or on foot. As mentioned, I went on foot not only because I would take photos but I absolutely wanted to absorb and feel every second of every minute of my walk through it. And there I was. Stunned and awed by God’s creations!

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I caught myself dropping my jaw and silently uttering, “Oh My God!  Oh My God!” upon the sight of the Siq. There’s nothing like it! The multitude of colors of sandstone from cream to rose-red to orange, burnt pink to rust and brown dazzled my eyes. The fact that I was walking the main passage way to Petra where the ancient city of Nabataeans was, that served as the gate to travelers and traders in caravans who came with Indian spices and silks, African ivory and animal hides, Arabian frankincense and myrrh, en route to Egypt and Europe, it’s beyond words. Unbelievable!

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About 45 minutes later, or probably, an hour of my slow-paced walk along the Siq, an incredible beam of golden sun rays at half hour past 8 in the morning, squeezed through those  rose-red sandstone and greeted me.  My heart raced a thousand beats!

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AL-KAZNEH or THE TREASURY

Ahhhh…Finally, the Treasury!

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No amount of words or volume of photos could ever do justice to Petra, particularly the Treasury. Nothing could ever prepare you for it. One must experience it to believe and understand its magnificence, brilliance and beauty.

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Before I click my camera a countless times, I stood still in front of the Al Kazneh or The Treasury. The clock’s hands seemed to cease from ticking. It was those travel moments that I wanted to relive and relive and relive endlessly. It was surreal.

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Al Kazneh or The Treasury is the pride and joy of Petra. The Nabataean’s creativity and artistic touch were apparent in the Hellenistic and Alexandrian architectural style of that 30 meter-wide and 43-meter high incredibly gorgeous facade. Carved in rose-red sandstone in the 1st century BC as a tomb, some scholars stated that it was later used as a temple. Although the exteriors was exquisitely carved, the interiors was empty with dark chamber.

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Didn’t I tell you I walked through the Siq and arrived at the Treasury in Petra on an empty stomach? With only frequent sips of water to beat the high morning Jordanian sun, I felt and heard borborygmi from my then hyperactive stomach. Good thing, I found the coolest unbranded coffee and snack shop in Jordan right in front of the Treasury.

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Too bad my photo of that bitter-sweet and authentic Arabic coffee that I paired with chicken wrap prepared and served to my table, was found to be blurry, and unfit of posting. Nevertheless, it was one of my most extraordinary breakfasts ever!

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After being fed, the tourist in me kicked in. I scouted some local young boys to take my cam and shoot my photos-worthy of instagram, facebook, twitter and blog posts. Tee-hee! :D

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The obligatory shot with the camels and donkey was followed with a once-in-a-lifetime photo-op with 2 good men geared in ancient Nabataean guard attires. While I was trying my best to smile and immortalize the moment, two adorable young tourists stole the show like random professional photo-bombers. Good job, kids! Good job! You made me think about the greatness of starting to travel, live and explore the world early. And you mean, EARLY! My goodness! :D

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I also saw more infectious and innocent smiles from another pair of kids who were too damn lucky to set foot in Petra and learned to appreciate the world we live in at such young age. Their parents were doing it so right!

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Hasan never forget to remind me that it would take me another hour to walk through the Siq again in my return to the gates. We agreed at 11AM pick up at the area after the ticket counter where he left me before 7 that morning. So immediately after soaking myself with the beauty of Al-Kazneh, I glanced at my wrist watch and it was already 9:45AM. I only had less than an hour to walk through the rest of Petra.

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These are the areas near the High Place of Sacrifice where religious ceremonies honoring Nabataean gods and funeral rites were held.

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THE MAIN THEATER

Other than the small tombs and chambers a few steps after Al Kazneh, the next must-see-ruin in Petra is the Main Theater.

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The theater has Graeco-Roman design but was actually built by ancient Arabs, the Nabataeans. The Main Theater could seat 3000 initially and was later extended to hold about 7000 people; it was that majestic!

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Written guides about Petra state that one needs 4 to 5 days to explore the entire Rose-Red City completely. There are more tombs and chambers on cliffs, the impressive Ad-Deir or the Monastery that could only be accessed after ascending a flight of 800 stairs cut into the rocky mountain.

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Obviously, I left an unfinished business in Petra. I opted not to wander further after the Main Theater and strolled my way back to the Treasury, then to the Siq.

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En route to the Siq and to the gates, I saw two young local kids playing.
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One of them saw me taking their photos on a whim. She approached me and offered me a bill just to take her portrait and let her see it. Meet Deema, one of the postcard vendors inside Petra.
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When I saw the money that Deema was offering, it was a ten (10) US dollar bill. She thought of disposing it casually as she only give importance to dinar. I told her not to do so as it amounts to seven (7 ) JOD (Jordanian dinar). I didn’t take the bill despite she was insistent but took 2 sets of postcards instead and gave her 2 dinars for them. She smiled after she saw her photo.

That brief encounter with innocence led to seeing flock of matured tourists hours before high noon.

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I had mixed emotions and thoughts with these tourists. I so appreciate the fact that in spite of their osteorarthritic and rheumatoid arthritic ages, they keep an inspiring enthusiasm to travel. On the other hand, I pity them for being exposed under the scorching sun at noon-time! Thus, keep in mind that the best timings to visit Petra is either early to mid-morning or mid-afternoon to avoid being sun kissed. Wear protective SPF lotion (which I didn’t;  so worthy to unfollow!), sun visors, hats, caps, umbrellas, sunnies or ghuttra to feel and look like local. :)
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I shall never forget that weekend morning in Petra.
Shukran, Petra, Jordan!

Thank you for that amazing experience!

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“May you find the courage to walk to your own path.

May you dare to venture into the uncharted domain of your own heart.

Fear will show you the way, walk steadily toward it, for otherwise you will always be running.

Have trust and faith to guide you like a torch piercing darkness.

Do not believed and do not deny, but find out for yourself,

for there is no truth but the one you have earned in your own experience.”

- Yossi Ghinsberg -

 

*This Jordan Blog Series is not sponsored. It will be followed by blog posts about Madaba, Mount Nebo, Dead Sea, Kerak, and Shobak and the gastronomic feasts I had with my new found-Jordanian friend, Hasan, so please stay tuned. His photo and contact details will be shared on the coming posts. Thank you!

>><<

 

21
May
14

ORIGINAL WINGS & RINGS | DUBAI’S NEWEST TASTEFUL BITES

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THE STORY

It doesn’t happen on a weekly basis that I get to spend Monday afternoon with engaging stories, crunchiest onion rings, loud laughs, delightful burgers, thirst-quenching cocktails, interesting gyros, sublime desserts and best buffalo wings ever!

THE CAST

(from left to right) – Maria, Cleo, Xaviera, Ron and Jessica.

They’re a bunch of young, restless, intelligent and fun-loving colleagues that I have in Dubai.

And yes, aren’t they good looking too? (ayos ba, mga Kabayan?)

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THE VENUE

ORIGINAL WINGS & RINGS, DUBAI,

Liberty House, DFIC, Dubai.

(It’s conveniently located a stone’s throw away from Financial Centre Metro Station).

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THE AMBIANCE

Relaxed. Hip and Edgy. Playful. Non-intimidating. Family-friendly.

The most spacious American-Sports-themed bar and restaurants I’ve been to!

The celadon green, pomegranate pink and fresh orange hues made it more inviting.

Favorite games on the monitors while you sip your cocktails, beer, fruit juices or mocktails.

House music’s not bad too!

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THE MENU

Delicious Burgers that are good enough to be shared.

Nachos and Onion Rings that won’t stop you nibbling.

Quesadilla and Gyros.

Salads and more.

And of course, dare I say the BEST BUFFALO WINGS that won the vote of my taste buds.

Level of spiciness and flavors may depend on your preference too.

We tried BONELESS Original, Crazy and Parmesan and Garlic on Mild level of hotness.

Lip-smackingly good!!!

Flavors on the menu are insanely voluminous too.

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THE BEVERAGE DEPARTMENT

We washed everything down with cocktails, mocktails and fruit juices!

Does Sex On The Beach interest you? I mean the cocktail called SOTB.

Mojito, perhaps?

Fresh fruit juices, shakes, vodka, and a lot more.

Ahhhhh…Refreshing! Thirst-quenching! :D

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THE SWEETEST ENDING

I support dessert-lovers association (if there’s such!).

I believe a great meal is always made greater with sweets.

And on that department, Original Wings & Rings doesn’t disappoint.

Toothsome, textured and ultimately delightful cheesecakes and chocolate slices

served as a tempting end to our fun-filled late afternoon.

Although with limited choices, the trio that we sampled could effortlessly trigger a healthy competition even with the popular coffee shops around.

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THE FUN PART

Foosball. That Original Wings & Rings’ Foosball table brought out the kids in all of us.

Arcade-like-race car (or something like that!).

And who knows, OW&R Dubai next time would have some darts, basketball rings and table tennis too.

Just kidding.

Seriously, we had playful time.

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The gorgeous skyscrapers along Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai as our backdrop! How great the location of OW&R is!
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THE SERVICE

Friendly. Efficient. Quick. Service with smiles.

Rebecca, the wait staff who attended to us deserved a 100% mark on product-knowledge category!

She knows the menu by heart and smartly recommends what needs to be recommended.

Bravo!

 

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WHEN IN DUBAI,

Drop by one of the few I recommend.

I am betting my last dirham that you’ll love ORIGINAL WINGS & RINGS too just like we did.

TWO THUMBS UP!

A SURE HOME RUN!

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*Special thanks to Ms. Alena for the invitation, and for allowing me to share the fun, the onion rings, buffalo wings of OW&R Dubai to my fellows! 

*Although the meals and beverages were sponsored, the words, opinion and insights on this blog post weren’t influenced, and 100% blogger’s own.

ORIGINAL WINGS AND RINGS | website : http://www.buffalowingsandrings.com/ | facebook : https://www.facebook.com/OriginalWingsAndRings | instagram : @buffaloemirates | twitter : @buffalowingsae

>><<

 

12
May
14

BOARDWALK, DUBAI CREEK MARINA | UNFORGETTABLE DINING EXPERIENCE

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Dining without prejudice. That’s what I had in mind when I brought my appetite and my relatives from Deira to Boardwalk Dubai to sample their menu for lunch last weekend. I never entertained the unjust concept that such place is only for people who live in huge villas or tourists with plenty of pocket money to burn. Some people develop an aversion to what they casually perceived as “intimidating places” even without being there yet. Wrong. Unfair. Imperfect impression. Just because Boardwalk Dubai is beautifully tucked within the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club and offers a Mediterranean menu doesn’t mean it’s not affordable. It’s one of the must-try fantastic restaurants when you’re in Dubai!

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Interiors of immaculate white and  powder blue that’s apparently inspired by the waters, renders a fresh and welcoming atmosphere. The indoor restaurant’s spacious, fit for large groups of friends and families, even for business meetings. For people who prefer outdoor dining and those who are worshipers of sunset and sea  breeze,  Boardwalk’s famous terrace provides a spectacular view of Dubai Creek and skyline that’s even more breathtaking at sundown.

I and my relatives enjoyed our lunch inside Boardwalk’s air-conditioned dining area, and promised ourselves to come back  to sip refreshments while savoring the red and yellow sunset hues at the terrace soon.
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Reminiscent of Mediterranean market, Boardwalk has a minimalist yet striking seafood display where diners have the liberty of selecting the fish and/or seafood of wide variety from king fish, sherry, sweet lip, red snapper, seabream, hammour, salmon, seabass, tuna, cod, clams, prawns, cuttlefish, welks, scallops, lobster, to how they want the dishes to be seasoned, cooked, served with side dishes and sauces.
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I could not think of any people but them to share my dining experience at Boardwalk and the lovely weekend afternoon. Meet my relatives family in Deira, Dubai. My cousins, Ate Arlene and Kuya Orvil, and 2 of their kids, Ian and Mark.
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I always consider brief encounters and conversations with people who prepare my food a special opportunity to understand every flavor, every seasoning, every effort they put on my plate. And for that, I am grateful!  We had the pleasure of meeting Boardwalk’s Chef De Cuisine, Chef Stefano Andreoni. He spontaneously explained what Boardwalk and his dishes are all about.

I appreciate the fact that the Mediterranean theme of Boardwalk is infused with his Italian expertise. The moment he mentioned the use of olive oil in his cooking, I knew we’re in for some great dining.

At Boardwalk, diners have option to select their own seasoning. When having Greek cuisine, lemon, fennel, and thyme may be used. If Sicilian, there’s oregano, chilli and garlic. Levant dishes calls for zaatar, coriander and sumac, while Italian dishes commonly have tomato and olive, and for Piqant, mostly with chilli and five peppers. The freshest pick from Boardwalk’s seafood display may also be cooked upon diners’ request, either oven baked, fried, grilled or steamed. Side dishes also vary from fried, roasted, or olive mashed potato; for vegetable side dishes – one may opt to have ratatouille, steamed, roasted medley, root veggies or mixed green leaves, and for rice, diner may choose to have it with saffron, lemon, or star anise. Meals are already delicious sans sauces but to add more flavors and complete the dining experience, Chef Stefano offers lemon butter, salmoriglio and salsa verde.
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Thank You to Boardwalk’s Chef De Cuisine, Chef Stefano, our fellow Kabayan Outlet Supervisor, Ms. Juliana Tuazon, and Restaurant Manager, Ms. Ines Fourquet (not in photo)

Apart from its priceless location, lovely ambiance, quick, efficient and friendly service, the main reason why people must try Boardwalk is of course, the food.  We surrendered our options and allowed Chef Stefano to surprise us with his dishes, from starters to entrees.

From appetizers, mezzeh and antipasti, we’re almost satiated; it’s a sensory feast! The starters weren’t that overwhelming but just the right flavors and textures to stimulate our senses as a prelude to a wonderful dining experience.

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King Fish Carpaccio.

We had butter and high fiber bread, King Fish Carpaccio. That plate of thin slices of king fish topped with insalata siciliana and orange vinaigrette is such a textured goodness!
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Mezzeh and Antipasti to share.

The flavored Hummus with black olives, basil and pesto are perfect dips for the Arabic bread served in tiny but piping hot portions. We also loved the Tzatziki, prepared with cool yoghurt and cucumbers fused with tangy Greek recipe, and we’re all hands down to the Eggplant Caponata – an antipasti of diced eggplant cooked with onion, garlic, tomatoes, pine nuts, olives, capers and parsely. Ahhhhhh Heavenly!!!
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Forgive me as the name of this prawn dish slipped my memory. It’s that delicious that numbed my cerebrum, hahaha! What I recall from what Chef Stefano had shared, it’s a dish inspired by sailors docking on shores, enjoying freshest catch from the sea.

Moving on, the classic Calamari landed on our table. I’ve tasted a lot of versions of this fried squid dish from a few countries I’ve been to but Boardwalk’s isn’t oily, lightly battered, and the freshly tasting Calamari ever! Highly recommended!

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Then a black cookware with mussels was brought to our table. Mussels Al Podomorro. A very tasteful rendition of the common mussels however, cooked extraordinarily in tomato sauce, black pepper, parsley, and white wine. Thumbs up!
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Since summer officially kicked in, we opted to cool and wash down everything with fibrous fresh fruit juices.
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Obviously, Boardwalk’s appetizers served its function of prepping our palates so well. But like what Chef Stefano did on the antipasti, we’re all surprised and amazed of his choices for our entrees. Thank you so much, Chef! 

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From the Sweet Lip fish dish served with roasted vegetables, olive mashed and fried potatoes, to the Grilled Prawns that tasted extra-delicious sans sauces, as the prawns according to Chef were imported from our country, The Philippines, to the sweetest and freshest tasting clams that ever laid on my taste buds, to the Risotto Porcini – made of Carnaroli rice with porcini mushrooms and parmesan cheese (that made it sooooo good!),  trust and believe me, these plates tasted more gorgeous than they look on photos!  Amazing! Everything’s sublime.
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Chef Stefano choosing the freshest ingredients personally. Good job, Chef! Well done!

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Glad my relatives enjoyed it!

Chef’s culinary masterpiece at Boardwalk gloriously ended with caffeine dose and divine desserts.  Ate Arlene had the Waffle served with raspberries and chocolate trimmings, Ian chose Banana Split, his brother Mark had Chocolate Mushroom, dramatically topped with chocolate meringue, hazelnut and chocolate sauce, Kuya Orvil opted for Coffee Liegeois; it’s a coffee ice cream served with warm sauce topped with chantilly cream and coffee beans, and I enjoyed Peach Melba, poached peaches served with vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce.
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Cappuccino, anyone?

After that wonderful weekend lunch at Boardwalk, we were graciously ushered to the other levels of the building by Boardwalk’s staff, Juliana upon our request. The view’s fantastic!  We also strolled a bit at the marina, and marveled at the expensive yachts. What a relaxing  and pretty weekend it was!

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With my family in Dubai, cousins -Ate Arlene and her husband, Kuya Orvil. Thank you so much!

We certainly enjoyed our weekend indulgence at Boardwalk. I was telling my relatives that I was trying my best to find fault at the food, service and everything in Boardwalk but I failed. Needless to say, I highly recommend this gastronomic institution in Deira, Dubai to everyone who seek special dining experiences. Every minute and every dirham’s worth it!

BOARDWALK | Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, Deira, Dubai | website : http://www.dubaigolf.com

Boardwalk’s conveniently located just across Deira City Centre.

“Boardwalk is open for Lunch and Dinner every day and for breakfast on weekends and is ideal for families, couples, groups of friends or even a business lunch.

Opening Times
12 noon to midnight from Sunday to Thursday
8am to midnight from Friday and Saturday”

For reservations please contact Boardwalk on +971 4 295 6000 or email creekdining@dubaigolf.com.  -Sourced from its website.

*Special THANKS goes out to Boardwalk Dubai, Chef Stefano Andreoni, Ms. Ines Fouruet, Ms. Juliana Tuazon, all the wait staff of Boardwalk and Mr. Tom Watterson for the invitation!

*Some of the photos published on this post were taken by my relatives, Ate Arlene, Ian and Mark. Thank you for allowing me to use them!

*Although the meals on this blog post were sponsored, the words, opinion, and insights of the blogger were never influenced and remain 100% his own.

>><<

04
May
14

CLAW BBQ | DUBAI’S FAVORITE AMERICAN BARBECUE AND SEAFOOD RESTAURANT

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In my utterly perplexing starting-over-again-phase-of-new-life in Dubai, I devote my weekdays to work and anticipate to celebrate weekends or at least my days off the best way possible. At times, I go to the mall, the shores, or other places where my camera, my taste buds and my feet could accompany me. I take efforts not to feel homesick and be drowned in inevitable stress, worries and whatnot.

Last weekend was extraordinary. I received an invitation via email to dine for brunch and review Claw BBQ, an American Grill and Seafood Bar and Restaurant located at Souk Al Bahar; just across Dubai Mall, near the foot of the iconic, Burj Khalifa. What made it more special was the fact that I got to share the fun and experience with 2 of my new friends at work. Happiness, as they say, is doubled when shared!

Hip. Fun. Edgy. Informal. Relaxed. Casual. Friendly. Welcoming. The mood and atmosphere inside Claw BBQ were so appropriate for the young and weary.  Too perfect for people who savor Dubai’s unspoken concept of Work-Life Balance!

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Raw photos never lie. Happy people troop to Claw BBQ for food, drinks, songs and good time!

And for those with surge of adrenaline who are seeking heart-pumping entertainment, riding Claw BBQ’s mechanical bull could simply unleash their cowboy or cowgirl fantasies! Yeehaa!
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Did I get to try it? Luckily for me, it was the bull’s day off too! :D

I was happy enough to be invited at Claw BBQ, even happier to went there with 2 of my new workmates.

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Meet Cleo and Ariane, 2 of my new found beautiful friends and colleagues in Dubai.

Let’s get down to business, shall we?  Here’s the shameless rundown of what we enjoyed, savored and indulged over our happiest and memorable hours at Claw BBQ…

Light starters landed on our table. Juiciest and fresh-tasting shrimps, nachos and dips!
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Peel and Eat Shrimps!

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Chips and Salsa

Although these starters are common in most American-themed restaurants, Claw’s version doesn’t disappoint.

We met Philip, the wait staff who was tasked to attend to our table. Friendly, smart and knows everything on the menu. Right there and then, I surrendered to his recommendations. We trusted his suggestions of what to drink. Then, I left Cleo and Ariane for a while and did a random quick check of the entire food place. Impressive bar, quick and efficient staff, inviting menu. Great songs played live on a mini-stage. What more can you ask for?

Alas! I discovered early what Philip and the bar tender were preparing for us. I, myself spoilt their surprise! Huge glasses of Margarita, individually infused with passion fruit, raspberry and cherry, finely blended ice, topped with Dos Equis beer.
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Passion Fruit, Raspberry and Cherry.

Philip (not in photo) mentioned that we could order beverages from Claw BBQ’s promo package :

  • Freshman – 195AED for soft drinks and light drinks.
  • Varsity – 295AED for soft drinks and selected house beverages
  • Pro – 345AED for the above plus premium house beverages

We opted to go Pro. The amateurs went Pro!!! Let the drinking begin! :D
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A bunch of happy kids at Claw BBQ! :)

Apart from the shrimps and nacho chips served earlier, we also had 3 different starters to sample. From Claw BBQ’s Brunch menu, Ariane picked Buffalo Hot Wings, Cleo’s choice was Nacho Libre, while I had Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail.

We had the luxury of tasting all dishes on our table. The three of us were unanimous in stating that everything’s good except for the Buffalo Hot Wings. From its name, we’d appreciate more some kick and spice but it tasted a bit sour and tangy.
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Buffalo Hot Wings. Fried Chicken Wings tossed in Hot Sauce, served with celery and blue cheese dip.

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Nacho Libre. Mountain of Tortilla Chips topped with chili, cheese, jalapeno, tomatoes, scalions, guacamole, black olives, and sour cream. Once you munch, you can’t stop!
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Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail. Icy Cold Jumbo Shrimps, with traditional cocktail sauce. So good!
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Ariane’s apparently thrilled to sample the starters! Let’s dig in! …Attack! :D

The drinks at Claw BBQ are at its best! Those humongous glasses were surprisingly light and refreshingly good!

Our second round of beverages were not photographed. Blame our engaging talks and euphoric mood at Claw!

Ariane obviously liked the Southern American flavors and chose still went for Sizzling Chargrilled Fajitas as her main dish that she split into chicken and shrimps. Clever!

Cleo had the best tasting plate. She opted for Half Rack of Smoked BBQ Ribs. I honestly wanted to order it too, however, for us to try other dishes from the menu, I silently let Cleo have it. Anyway, I knew she’d generously share it to Ariane and me and of course, she did, even without asking her to.

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I had Blue Cheese Bacon Burger instead. I loved it the first time I dunked my fork at it and toyed a piece of classic hamburger crusted with blue cheese and bacon in my mouth.  But I got so engaged in talks with Cleo and Ariane as if we’ll not be meeting in the office again! In order words, I regret the fact of not finishing my burger until its last bite. Oh well!

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The most fork-tender, fall-off-the-bones, well-marinated ribs I’ve ever tasted. Good choice, Cleo!

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The girls are ready to wolf-down their plates! My appetite was challenged. Let’s go!

Philip and the other wait staff cleared our table and served its second and third sets of beverages under the PRO-list.  I swear, these girls were not tipsy yet! On Neuro exam, they’re still conscious, coherent, oriented, with intact sensory and motor reflexes. LOL! :P
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Second and third round of drinks. Tipsy and satiated now? Naaah! Brunch’s not over yet. :)

Forgive me for not jotting all the names of those cocktails; I’m sure from quick recall that Long Island Iced Tea was at the middle of those enticing jars.

Like many beautiful and sumptuous meals, it had to end with mouth-watering desserts. We tried all 3 listed on the Brunch menu.

  • Classic American Brownie
  • Key Lime Pie Baby
  • Mama’s Apple Pie

The two ladies voted for the Classic American Brownie as their top favorite among the three, and I could not agree more. I ranked those sweet slices in similar order as mentioned. Claw BBQ’s Classic American Brownie was indeed divine.
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What’s an epic meal without sweet endings?

I highly recommend Claw BBQ to those in Dubai, particularly when you’re craving for tasteful American Grill and Seafood!

Coming to Claw BBQ without expectations and ending the day with cheerful memories over an unforgettable brunch and drinks were signs of more positive things to come!
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So is it odd to feel happy at the expense of my homesickness? I don’t think so as my new found friends, new work and newly discovered fun places like Claw got me covered. ;)

>><<

CLAW BBQ | Souk Al Bahar (across Dubai Mall and near the foot of Burj Khalifa) Dubai, United Arab Emirates | Tel # +971 04432  2300 | website : http://www.clawbbq.com

*The meal and drinks seen on this blog post were complimentary, but the words and opinion of the blogger remain unbiased and 100% his own.  Special thanks goes out to CLAW BBQ, their staff and to Mr. Tom Watterson for the invites.

Incidentally, this blog, BEYOND TOXICITY @ http://www.docgelo.com  is celebrating its 7th Anniversary on 8th May 2014 and will be ushering on its 8th year of blogging. Thank you very much to all readers, fellow bloggers, and to all generous sponsors in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, The Philippines and in UAE who have been sending invites for blog features and offering priceless and awesome experiences!

Terima Kasih! Xie Xie! Maraming Salamat po! Shukran! Thank you very much!

>><<

26
Apr
14

A WEEKEND AFTERNOON AT SOUK MADINAT JUMEIRAH, DUBAI

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Traditional Arabian souk, countless wind towers, lantern lit wooden ceiling, enticing waterways, restaurants, bars and coffee shops. These are the impressive images left on my memory on my first visit to Souk Madinat Jumeirah one weekend in April 2014.

I never had idea of where to go and what to visit before and after I arrived in Dubai on the last week of February. Plans were not scribed. Weekend solitary celebrations were often spontaneous. Until one of my former students, Julie who works as a nurse in Saudi German Hospital, casually suggested for me to visit Souk Madinat Jumeirah. I set no expectations and simply went without clue.

Watching the waterways with several abra or local wooden boats propelling around the world-class hotel and resort kept me preoccupied initially. Then my eyes and my lens became busy as I enjoy and delight myself to this gem in Dubai.
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Selecting where to dine was a happy problem.  There were too many inviting restaurants and coffee shops that offer a relaxing view, overlooking the waterways below, and the iconic Burj Al Arab amidst the blue Emirati sky above.
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Even the options of where to sit seemed endless. Bean bags, local arabesque sofa, stairs of the amphitheatre or charming wooden chairs -the choice is yours! I decided to sip my coffee and grab some bites while thinking of nothing but enjoying the afternoon at an Arabic al fresco restaurant.
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And over flavored teas, espresso, American coffee, ginger with milk, Moroccan tea, cafe latte, cappuccino and hot chocolate, I favored Turkish coffee.
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“Sir, would you like your Turkish coffee, sweet?

“Yes, please.”

“Medium sweet, or very sweet?

“Just sweet.”

And since I haven’t tasted Turkish coffee yet, I was clueless that it’s strong and black.

It had me on my first sip. I swear, I’ll go to Turkey soon!

Then odd as it may seem, I paired it with a club sandwich.
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With all the unthinkable challenges I have been encountering in trying my best to start my life in Dubai, this trip to Souk Madinat Jumeirah, that simple and affordable snack and coffee, that overwhelming and gorgeous view, made my afternoon memorable.

After spending a couple of hours without in mind but the moment and the sight in front of me, I continued to stroll and wander inside the souk. Built accordingly to traditional public markets, the carvings on the ceiling that boast of skillful craftmanship were enough to leave me in awe.
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And among the many jewelries, sheesha, antiques, textiles and clothing, one shop further my wish to visit one country on my bucket list soon .
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Turkish Delights. These sweets based on gel of  starch and sugar, infused with chopped dates, nuts and other fruits, were beyond fascinating! My taste buds got to sample a small piece for free as the shop attendant was generous and friendly.

I sipped Turkish coffee then I tasted Turkish delight all in one day. It must be a sign, don’t you think?
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The same shop has a variety of nuts and dried fruits to offer.
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Then, as I stepped again outside, I made a quick last look at everything around me; marveled at the sight of a helicopter docking at its pad atop Burj Al Arab. Ahhhh…the life of the rich, famous and fabulous!  And then there’s the life of a struggling foreign worker from Manila who continues to exert efforts to be happy in Dubai.
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“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”

- Elizabeth Gilbert -

How To Go To Souk Madinat Jumeirah? Take the Dubai Metro to Mall of Emirates and hail a metered taxi cab to Souk Madinat Jumeirah. The trip will take around 5 minutes and shall cost you 10-15 AED depending on the traffic.

15
Apr
14

DESERT SAFARI : DEFINITELY DUBAI!

A visit to Dubai is never complete without experiencing desert adventures. Dune bashing, sand skiing, dune buggy, barbecue dinners, camel rides, and for the more financially equipped, hot air ballooning during sunrise. These activities may be so touristy but heck, they’re almost synonymous with this future-forward city. Desert Safari’s one of the must-do when you’re in this part of UAE!

It was a blessing that my former students and I met for a dinner where I was treated to a Korean-Japanese gastronomic feast, and a spontaneous and no-brainer decision on my part to join them in Desert Safari was done in a blink. They arranged the tour and next thing I knew, I was with Karen and Joel seated comfortably inside Toyota Land Cruiser one Friday afternoon; what a perfect way to spend my day off at work! The same badass vehicle brought us to the sand dunes of Dubai within a couple of hour-trip.

After a quick mandatory stop over at a souvenir shop where necessary bladder breaks, removal of air from the wheels to make it more sand-appropriate, and ghutra-panic-buying on my part, we found ourselves ready and thrilled for the dune bashing!

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Mr. Azeem Rafaqat, our careful yet daredevil driver who picked us up in front of a hotel in Al Ghurair in Deira, Dubai, did very well on his job! It was an incredible and one-of-a-kind experience! There’s nothing like a sensation of  falling down from a steep mound of sand, followed by zigzag driving that made me feel we’re about to roll, scream and breathe my last! It was intense yet so fun!

About forty minutes after, we arrived at the camp. I was told by Karen who experienced Desert Safari 4 times already, that there are various camp sites where different tours operate. Upon the sight of ours, my Sympathetic Nervous System automatically slowed down as I savored an almost sunset-all-desert-view! Ahhhh, this is Dubai! :D

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I took photos of the friendly Emiratis at the camp site.
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Meet my Dubai Desert Safari travel-adventure buddies, lovebirds -Joel and Karen (both wearing sunnies).
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Did I give justice to that ghutra?  Say,YES! Hahahaha!
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And because dune buggy driving costs 100 dirhams for 15 minutes only, we were content with just photo-ops!
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Although I skipped the 30-dirham-camel riding, I felt like the happiest kid on the planet with a falcon on my head!  Here, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, is my most recent brag-worthy portrait to date! *kidding*
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Barbecue dinner buffet, unlimited distilled water and soda, belly dancing watching, henna tattooing, wearing of  traditional Arabic attires, were all inclusive of the 100-dirham-package per pax we availed.
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Open-VIP rooms that are surprisingly installed with air-conditioning units and come with priority food service (you don’t need to queue on the buffet spread as food is served to your table), alcoholic beverages are all available on extra charges.

Moving on, do I look like an Arab here?
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Joel had his arm tattooed with a scorpion henna. The beautiful henna artist drew it in few strokes in less than 20 sec! Amazing!
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As the sun over Emirati desert finally sets to make way to the moon, the fun continued within the camp.

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Appetizer was nothing less than Chicken Shawarma, that has been my favorite!
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One of the highlights of Dubai Desert Safari is watching belly dancing! My eyes and camera were glued to two dancers who did fantastic shows!

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A faux sword on her belly. Belly Dancing, literally!

Audience participation made it more engaging!
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Then buffet dinner spread was served! Despite the queues were long as there were approximately more than a hundred guests that weekend, everything was kept systematic and in order. I got my food quickly on my plate and made sure I had everything I want to sample. Arabic food’s delicious!

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Grilled Chicken was well-marinated! It was simple yet so tasteful! Kebab was OK too, the same with Biryani, Potato and Veggie Salads. The Spaghetti was infused with real stewed tomatoes that appealed to my palates as somewhat authentic (as I’ve been to Italy! Hehehe!) as compared to my Filipino-Spaghetti-preference (that’s often sweet and rich). Over all, I liked everything on my plate! There’s no reason to complain.

While everyone was still feasting, a man in a traditional attire (of unknown Arabic origin) came out and went on stage. Karen was telling us, that this is the man she calls, the human BEYBLADE!

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And why not Beyblade? That man did nothing but turned and rotated and twisted non-stop!  I repeat, non-stop turning for more than 4 minutes! Not to forget he had props on his hands while dancing, err, turning, and his multi-layered skirt lit up like, uhm…beyblade!

I was worried he’d have nystagmus (oh, you know, the involuntary movement of the eyes after spinning like a ballerina, or worse, loss of equilibrium or ataxia) but No. He maintained his great stance and stood like he didn’t dance like a beyblade! Bravo!!!

 

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From 3PM-9PM that Friday (11/04/2014), I forgot all my worries, stress and problems.  Amazing what a few hours in Dubai Desert Safari could do to my being! I went home to our flat with satisfied wanderlust!

*This is NOT a sponsored post.

Azeem Rafaqat of Arabian Eagle Tourism | 055 2711018 | azeemrafaqat63@yahoo.com

>><<

05
Apr
14

BASTAKIYA, AL FAHIDI | MY FAVORITE PLACE IN DUBAI TO DATE

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In my first few weeks in Dubai, I was fortunate to discover what I reckon as my favorite place to date.  A totally different space from the sight of stunning skyscrapers along the Sheikh Zayed Road.  An incredibly pleasant respite from the busy, cosmopolitan and future-forward city. A very quaint heritage site that made me more interested in the region where I am now.

Al Bastakiya in Al Fahidi Street, Bur Dubai.

The Old Dubai district.

It took me only less than half an hour to reach Dubai Metro Al Fahidi Station from my current flat in Muraqqabat, in Deira. After alighting the train that runs along the Dubai Metro Green Line, I asked the Information Officer of the specific exit point that took me to the Al Musalla Road down to the Al Fahidi roundabout, and I engaged myself  in approximately 700 meters of leisurely stroll.

 

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The roundabout at the junction of Al Fahidi Street and Al Musalla Road.

Akin to a step back in time, this charming and enigmatic quarter in Bur Dubai fronting Dubai Creek, features classic Arabian architecture of traditional houses, with amazingly vast courtyards, narrow alleys  and tall wind catchers. Typical in arabesque abodes, wind catchers or more commonly called, wind towers, had been greatly used to make ventilation cooler and climate more bearable particularly during the early years of Dubai prior to the invention of air-conditioning units. At present, even the most modern dining places and notable souks have kept wind catchers as part of the structure of their establishments, giving their patrons an atmosphere of Dubai’s historic past.

 

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Bastakiya neighborhood is named after the place where migrants from Iranian region, Bastak, resided. Glad it was preserved, restored and maintained for every tourist, foreigner or otherwise.

Bastakiya is conveniently located just across the roundabout at the junction of Al Fahidi Street and Al Musalla Road in Bur Dubai. It’s a stone’s throw away from Dubai Museum, another must-visit-attraction in this side of UAE.

Before my first Do-It-Yourself-Dubai art and heritage appreciation, I was effortlessly seduced by Arabian Tea House Cafe. I never thought I’d fall in love with the place in an instant.
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The entrance is so modest yet very welcoming.
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Beautiful, isn’t it?

Tucked within a traditional Arabian house, an expansive courtyard was transformed into a relaxing and attractive tea house and restaurant that was previously called, Basta Art Cafe. Arabian Tea House Cafe offered me not only a taste of having Arabic afternoon tea but an entirely priceless sensory feast!

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This is where I sat with my old reliable black backpack and spent more than a couple of hours savoring time and absorbing everything in. All negativity that’s clouding my head evaporated in a blink. I must go here frequently.  

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And why not. Al Fahidi (despite I’d walk a couple of yards to Arabian Tea House from Dubai Metro Station), is only a station away from Oud Metha, where St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the place where I find peace, blessings, forgiveness, solace is. It has been a month and a week in Dubai and never a Wednesday evening that I missed going to church. I’m not that religious but if you don’t have anyone else, or at least you only have only a few people to depend on, in a place so foreign to you, it’s only faith, plus good food and great place that assure me. 

I was happy to see that most staff in Arabian Tea House Cafe are Kabayan. The friendliest and the most efficient workers in the Gulf and perhaps all over the globe are of course, Filipinos, bar none (I know, it’s a different topic! I digress). So when Kabayan staff, Vanessa handed me the menu with a smile, I asked of their house specialty drinks. She mentioned Mint and Lime and as for the tea, it’s 1001 Nights from Sri Lanka.

1001 Arabian Nights tea served with dates for only 18 dirhams per pot. I’m sold! Bring it on! :)
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One Thousand and One Nights Tea served with dates. Fruity, tasteful, an instant favorite!

They have Green Tea and Jasmine, White Tea Jasmine and Marigold, English Breakfast, Early Grey, Fairytale, Turkish Delight, Ceylon Sencha, Exotic Paradise, Milk Oolong, Raspberry and Mint, Mysterious Passion and a whole lot more teas!

Then from the menu, I opted to have freshest salad without knowing their servings are huge! I chose Exotic Chicken Salad.  Mixed lettuce, mango, avocado, tomato, cucumber and chicken marinated in lemon and BBQ dressing. YUMMY!

 

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Exotic Chicken Salad. Hallelujah!
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Served with complimentary Arabic bread, the salad is the most delicious and freshest I’ve had! The fusion of textures and flavors of ripe mango and avocado, cucumber and lettuce was simply sublime! The BBQ-flavored chicken also doesn’t disappoint. I can have this simple all-in-one-meal plus that 1001 Nights tea as my last meal when I die. I kid you not.
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Apparently, my worries and stress were melted by the entire dining experience!
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Arabian House Tea Cafe, I’ll see you more frequently, I promise!

Following my 2-hour-afternoon-tea-time, I stepped outside its walls and went to Bastakiya proper. Al Bastakiya houses Sikka, the annual art fair conducted by Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, supporting Emirati and Dubai-based artists. Who would not be drawn and enticed to stroll around Sikka at Bastakiya for FREE?
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Arabic Calligraphy House.

Art Galleries…

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Art galleries, Coin Museum, Arabic Calligraphy House, a mosque, and a lot more are all within Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood or Bastakiya where they highlight Sikka. The most lovely quarters in Dubai are parted by narrowest lanes and alleys.
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Describing it as narrow is no longer necessary.
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Handsome arabesque architecture.
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Camel ride, anyone?

On the other side of Bastakiya is Dubai Creek where abra, or traditional wooden water taxis that transport people for 2 dirhams each and big dhow cruise vessels lord the waters. The multiple Dhow Cruise vessels operate at night, providing local entertainment and sumptuous dinner buffets while cruising Dubai Creek, and are remarkably adorned with colorful lights.
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Abra or traditional wooden water taxi.

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Dubai Dhow Cruise.
Back within Bastakiya, another fascinating attraction are the local shops. Textures, colors, aroma, variety and everything magnetic to the senses pulled me to stay a little longer.
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As I write this, I only went to Bastakiya twice and I’m already thrilled to find a chance in between my new work to revisit Arabian Tea House and the entire Bastakiya. I cannot wait to sip another dose of 1001 Nights!

>><<

*This is NOT a sponsored post.

Arabian Tea House Restaurant & Cafe | Al Fahidi Street, Bur Dubai, Dubai, UAE | Tel # +971 43535071+971 43535071 | website : www.arabianteahouse.co

31
Mar
14

JUMEIRAH BEACH, DUBAI | CAMELS AND SANDCASTLES

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30 March 2014, Sunday, Dubai, UAE.  Upon knowing that the sandcastles are still installed in Jumeirah Beach, a public beach right in front of the upscale shopping and dining center, The Walk-at-JBR, and right across the Jumeirah Beach Residences, I decided to go for my second visit (I missed them when I went there a month ago). Excitement ran through my spine like a boy who first receives his first toy. I hurriedly left our flat in Deira at around 8:30AM, hopped on the Dubai Metro to Dubai Marina Station. The train ride took almost an hour along the stretch of Sheikh Zayed Road. And because I was eager to capture what I’d fancy, I walked my way instead of taking a 5-minute-10-dirham-taxi-cab-ride from the train station to the beach. I didn’t regret it.

As I reached the Jumeirah Beach, I made sure to stroll its almost 2 kilometer stretch (or is it longer?) just to make sure that I wouldn’t missed those sandcastles this time. Before I laid my eyes on them, I had my fortune of having my camera flirted with two camels! I took a few shots on a whim.
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Infectious smile, isn’t it?

Although I’m not a beach boy myself, we Filipinos who come from 7,107 islands have absolute high standards when it comes to beaches. The world knows the Philippine archipelago has tremendous beautiful beaches and pristine coastlines but Jumeirah Beach doesn’t disappoint. Fine and powdery sand, crystal clear waters; it reminds me of Boracay island less the towering skyline at this side of Dubai.
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I came prepared this time with my slippers in my bag; I changed my footwear into flip-flops at the beach itself.  After I soaked my feet in the water and walked barefooted at the shores, I came back to the two men in charge of the camels and asked of the rates. With no intention to ride it yet (I reserve camel riding when I try Dubai Safari in coming months), I was told it’s 50 dirhams per pax per camel ride and 25 dirhams per pax per photo with the camel. Ouch! Too steep for me! I simply enjoyed taking snapshots with permission. The best things in life are still free! :D
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Walking with the two camels brought me to this part of Jumeirah Beach. A water park for kiddos!
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Safety comes first. The water park for kids is properly built with enclosure. Very good!

A few more steps, I saw something the older ones would be interested in.

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Crazy ramps for anything with wheels? Hehehe! :)

Alas! The most architecturally impressive shower rooms I’ve ever seen…
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Then I continued following the camels…

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They led me to the reason of my visit to Jumeirah Beach.

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Incredibly stunning sandcastles! Like a kid, I was in awe! Nevermind the scorching heat of the noon-time sun.
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Correct me if I’m wrong, but I heard these sandcastles were installed at Jumeirah Beach as early as February this year. I came to Dubai last February 23rd and visited Jumeirah Beach on my first week. However, I didn’t wander as far as I did on my second visit; I didn’t go to the areas in between Hilton and Sofitel Jumeirah Hotels before, where these whimsical work of arts are!
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And to celebrate the Dubai’s triumph of winning the bid for Expo 2020, they created a sand sculpture that represents the iconic skyscrapers of Dubai, with the tallest man-made structure in the world, the Burj Khalifa at the center, including the most efficient railway system I’ve ever experienced, the Dubai Metro. Ahhhhmazing! Fantastic!!!
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These sandcastles are a work of genius! Brilliant works of art!
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I only wished I went there with my son, Gabby who’s in the Philippines. Gabby, this post is for you, anak! I love you!

>><<

 

30
Mar
14

GOZO GARDEN RESTAURANT AT MILLENIUM AIRPORT HOTEL, DUBAI

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When you’re in Dubai either for a brief stopover or a longer stay, you may want to drop by at one of the interesting and delicious hotel food and beverage outlets around – the Gozo Garden located at Millenium Airport Hotel.  I was lucky enough to be invited to experience their BBQ Themed Dinner Buffet followed by a Phil Collins Tribute Show that made one of my first few weekend nights in UAE less ordinary.

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Lobby of Millenium Airport Hotel, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Upon the thoughtful recommendation of a fellow Filipino UAE-based blogger, Carla of  My Yellow Bells @ www.myyellowbells.blogspot.ae, whose blog I follow long before I came to Dubai, and with the generous invitation of Mr. Ben Hipolito, the hotel’s  Food and Beverage Administrator,  Gozo Garden  Restaurant and Millenium Airport Hotel, I’m grateful to be there that Thursday night, savored the food and music, and finally got a chance to meet Carla and another Filipino blogger based in Dubai, Rosell of  Kero’s Celebration @ www.mrspinkihan.com. It was nothing but fun evening that ushered our weekend in UAE!

For someone like me who’s so new to Dubai, finding the location of  Millenium Airport Hotel and getting there were not an issue.  I left my flat in Deira at around half an hour past 6 in the evening ; walked my way to take the ever reliable, Dubai Metro from Abu Bakar Al Siddique Station. After swiftly transferring to Red Line at Union Station, I alighted at GGICO Station and strolled to the venue. It only took me less than 20 minutes to reach the Millenium Airport Hotel from Deira via the Dubai Metro. Of course, getting there through private cars, taxi cabs and buses are also an option. It’s that accessible.

Thankfully, the sky and the stars were cooperative that evening; the seemingly odd downpour in Dubai for two consecutive days prior to that night halted on our favor.
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The view from where we sat.

The simple outdoor set up for that Thursday evening highlighted the impressive space of the hotel. The buffet spread was truly enticing!
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The delicious Gozo Garden BBQ themed dinner buffet outdoor.

Assorted slices of cheese, cold cuts and biscuits, a variety of salads, sushi, seafood, baked goodies and soups, plus a few more hors d’ oeuvres, main entrees that include Salmon wrapped in Banana Leaves, Stir Fried Seafoods, Pan Roasted Vegetables in Pesto, Roasted Rack of Lamb with Moroccan Spices, Grilled Hamour with Citrus Sauce and Basil, Roasted Beef and a lot more!  Desserts spread wasn’t overwhelming but a satisfying selection of sweets and fresh fruit slices.  A choice of beverages from wines and beers to fruit juices, coffee and tea were available too to complement everything that evening.

Let my few captures give you a glimpse of how modest but tasteful the spread was.
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Desserts…

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My plates…

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There were a couple of cover artists who were playing good music during the dinner. Their songs from late 80s to early 90s while we’re indulging were so apt to introduce the main show that night.  A Phil Collins Tribute by Andrew James.

His voice did justice to Phil Collins’ hits and I must state, I caught myself clapping frequently. However, it could’ve been better if his repertoire included the classics,  “Against All Odds” and “Separate Lives.” You know how Filipinos can get so sentimental at any given place and time! ;)
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Upcoming shows at Gozo Garden include, Tom Jones Tribute Show on May 1st, and another Tribute Show featuring hits of Lionel Richie on May 29th. You better mark those dates and troop to Gozo Garden if you’re in Dubai!

As for the gastronomic feasts nightly, Gozo Garden offers Latino Samba on Sundays, Mediterranean on Mondays, Oriental on Tuesdays, Out of Africa-themed night on Wednesdays, BBQ every Thursdays, Seafood Galore on Fridays and Arabian Night on Saturdays.  At AED 195 per person with selected house beverages, and AED 250 every Thursday with Tribute Shows, you’re definitely in for something fun and a delightful night!

It was a pleasure finally meeting my fellow bloggers at UAE, Carla and Rosell! Here’s hoping for more meet ups soon! Until next time!

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Happy to meet fellow Filipino UAE-based bloggers, Carla (middle) and Rosell (seated).

Many thanks to Gozo Garden Restaurant and Millenium Airport Hotel for inviting us!

Gozo Garden | Millenium Airport Road Dubai, Airport Road, Casablanca Street, Al Garhoud, PO Box 13018
Dubai, 13018, United Arab Emirates | Telephone : +971 4 702 8888+971 4 702 8888 Fax : +971 4 282 0627 |
website : www.millenniumhotels.ae/millenniumdubai/dining/gozo-garden

>><<

24
Mar
14

AL RAS, DUBAI | SPICE, HERB & GOLD SOUKS, & HERITAGE HOUSE

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Going to public markets is one of the best ways to know and learn about a place. It’s always an engaging experience to look and stroll around, see what shopkeepers offer in their stalls that more often than not, reflects their culture, lifestyle, history apart from daily necessities. The experience usually gets better when travelers and tourists begin to interact with locals tending to their goods.

12 March 2014, Wednesday. Around mid-morning, I left my current flat in Deira with no aim but to wander and learn more about Dubai through its souks. Under the sunshiny weather with its oddly cool breeze in March according to some, I walked my way towards the Dubai Metro Station and took the Green Line from Abu Baker Al Siddique Station in Deira. After brief stops at  Salah Aldin, Union, Baniyas Square, and Palm Deira, I alighted at Al Ras Metro Station.

Without googling the web prior to my day in Al Ras, I only asked about the sites of Gold Souk, Spice and Herb Souk from the Information Counter  Officer at the train station. The passenger-friendly staff of RTA-Dubai told me to hop off the train when it arrives in Al Ras station. From there, I relied on asking local people for direction and trusted my sense of adventure, haha! :D

It was only after I went there that I learned the alternative routes. One could also take RTA-Dubai bus or ride an abra (a water taxi at 2 dirhams per pax.) when crossing Dubai Creek to Herb and Spice Souks.

After exiting the Dubai Metro Al Ras Station, I crossed the street and walked towards left, passed by an alley and inquired the location of Gold Souk. I was told I must continue heading left and turn right at the street’s end.; et voila! I saw people swarming around the facade of one of Dubai’s must-visit-places, the Gold Souk!

GOLD SOUK

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Tourists flocking and taking turns in taking photos of the biggest gold ring I’ve ever laid my eyes on!

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The Najmat Taiba (Star of Taiba), created by Taiba for Gold and Jewelry Co. Ltd. of Saudi Arabia is Guiness Book of World Records certified as the world’s heaviest gold ring! The certificate states, “The ring is mounted with 5.17 kg of precious  stones from Signity Middle East and set on 58.686 kg in 21 carat gold ring, supported by the World Gold Council, UAE6, with total weight of 63. 856 kg.”

Following my turn in taking a shot at that humongous golden ring, I continued walking and exploring Gold Souk.
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Cue Beyonce Knowles’ “All The Single Ladies” :)

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Bejeweled!

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Gold neck pieces, anyone?
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How about some arm candies?

With all the gold around me, I didn’t wait long to ask a local shop attendant about the rate of gold per gram.  In an instant, I was referred with a pointing index finger to those several ATM-like-machines that show the present selling rate of gold per gram and per carat.
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You may do the Math. One Emirati Dirham is equivalent to 0.27 US Dollars.

My eyes popped out at the sight of gold, gold and gold! :D

Then there were other stalls, particularly at the narrow laterals that sell assorted commodities from souvenir shirts, shawls, shoes and a lot more. Some would even approach you with bottled water and drinks that they’re selling.
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Alibaba shoes.  Carrie Bradshaw & Madame Imelda Marcos will be pleased.   :)

My stomach’s borborygmi (growling sounds) physiologically called for lunch meal! I walked my way out and exited Gold Souk at its other end and spotted a Shawarma eatery right at the sidewalk.
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Shawarma for 5 dirhams per wrap, plus canned soda at 2 dirhams by the sidewalk stall, FTW!

After a hearty Shawarma lunch and people watching, I went back inside Gold Souk and exited near the shop with the biggest gold ring. I asked another local about the location of Spice and Herb Souks, and was directed towards left.

HERB  &  SPICE SOUKS

It’s not that difficult to find Herb Souk that’s so adjacent with Spice Souk. The distinctively aromatic scents and colorful sights of herbs and spices guided my nose and eyes going there.

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The abundant sight of herbs and spices, tea leaves, frankincense, myrrh and dried whatever was overwhelming! The colors, the scents, the textures. The only sense that I wasn’t able to use was gustatory, other than that, everything’s a sensory feast!

Here are my photos of frankincense used in incense and perfumes, lavander and rose hips for tea.
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“Chinese or Malaysian?” asked by one of the shop attendants.

“Filipino, from Manila the Philippines!” I replied quickly.

I wonder why few people consider me as Chinese with my dark skin.

Then in a blink, he followed, “Pare, Kamusta ka? Tuloy ka dito. Ano hanap mo?” trying his best to speak in Tagalog.

“Impressive! Where did you learn your Tagalog?” I asked; as if I didn’t know Filipinos occupy the largest part of the expat-pie graph in Dubai.

I took the opportunity to ask the names of his goods.

“Most of our herbs and spices come from Sri Lanka, India, China and many more. That one is sunflower, then ginger, garlic, chilies, frankincense, myrrh, lavander, rose hips, cinnamon, lemon or lemonito, tea leaves…”

It was fun talking to him, informative too.

Guided tourists trooped into the shops too. I started walking away. The Spice Souk is located behind the Herb Souk, almost the same trading goods, and just across the Creek where one can take an abra or water taxi to Bur Dubai, the Old Dubai district (another must-visit place!).

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Alum (white), Sulfur (yellow) and Blue balls used to dye denims.

On my way back to Al Ras Metro Station, I opted to check out the Al-Ahmadiya School and Heritage House.

Al-Ahmadiya School and Heritage House

“Sir, Is the Heritage House, Free? Without admission rates?” I asked the security guard at the reception.

“Yes, it’s free. Come inside!”
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Built in 1890, the Heritage House would give any guests an atmosphere and ambiance of how a traditional Emirati house looks like. With Al-Majlis or where guests, particularly travelers are received, that is still considered the most essential room in an Arabic house as Islam encourages generosity and hospitality, and a large courtyard or locally called, Al-Haush, that also features wind tower or wind catcher that used to catch colder breeze above the ground and direct it to the inner parts of the house of cooler ventilation, as wet textiles hanging on the the criss-cross wooden bars aid in the cooling effect. These windcatchers were very traditional in Persian houses and architectural structures in the Gulf region.
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With permission from the local staff, I took her photo as she was spinning the thread wheel at the courtyard.  I went inside accessible rooms, saw one with mannequins depicting traditional games at one of the Upper Rooms, a “Zariba” or a cattle pen at the lower ground within the vast courtyard; there’s also a room showing Arabic kitchen wares and whatnot.

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I was overwhelmed within a couple of hours of strolling around Al Ras district in Dubai. I wouldn’t mind going back.

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18
Mar
14

ABU DHABI | THE MAJESTIC, EMIRATES PALACE

With its magnificent dome furnished in gold, set at a height higher than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, expansive and immensely stunning marble floor of various colors from sunrise yellow to sunset red, the Grand Atrium alone of Emirates Palace in United Arab Emirates’ capital city, Abu Dhabi is a sight to behold!

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The gold and gorgeous dome ceiling of Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi.

“Welcome to the lifestyle of the rich and famous, Kuya!”  casually uttered by my youngest brother, JC, who’s been based in Abu Dhabi for some years now, while he’s driving and entering the impressive Emirates Palace. He drove me & Marky around the most remarkably beautiful and truly unforgettable places in Abu Dhabi. Before we trooped to the awe-inspiring, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque at sunset, the two accompanied me and shared at least the lobby of the distinctively known, second seven-star hotel in the world, next to Burj Al Arab in Dubai!

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Beneath that  golden arabesque dome is an expansive marble floor.

Together with my cousins and her family who are also living and working in Abu Dhabi, Marky treated my brother on his birthday last year in one of the Emirates Palace suites and was upgraded for FREE with cake and butlers to the high-level-suites at whopping rate fit for Emirati royalty and dignitaries.

As JC  was parking his car, my eyes were delighted at the sight of Ferrari, Rolls Royce, Benz, Audi and other vehicles that spell luxury at the hotel’s car park.

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Definitely not our ride, hahaha!

The facade of Emirates Palace and its entire exteriors highlight the majestic Arabic architecture that perfectly blends with its manicured garden and fantastic fountain. Elegant interiors features interesting traditional decors from colossal chandeliers, gold domes and lavish fixtures.

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The reception.

Run out of gold? Don’t worry! Seriously, one of the most fascinating corners of the incredibly luxurious, Emirates Palace is its Gold-To-Go-Gold-ATM machine that dispenses gold for cash.

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Gold ATM, anyone?

We went down to its basement to take a peek at the breathtaking view of the marina.
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When visiting the Emirates Palace, forget about wearing Bermuda shorts and flip-flops, reserve that ensemble for the beach.  A once-in-a-lifetime visit dictates proper attire, not necessarily formal, but casual and something appropriate to the place.

Even the washrooms (toilets in other countries or in the country where I came from, CR! Hehehe!)  in Emirates Palace were not overlooked. Sophistication and luxury at its best!

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Right across Emirates Palace, one can appreciate the wonderfully-built, Etihad Towers.

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The slick and gorgeous, Etihad Towers.

I never thought I’d set foot in UAE, much more in Emirates Palace; I’m very grateful to my relatives who invited me to Abu Dhabi. Despite the fact that at present, I’m so financially limited to afford such luxurious accomodation and probably would not consider checking in as it’s not included in my priority list (not unless Emirates Palace invites me! *wishful thinking*), witnessing the glory and grandeur of this 7-star-hotel in Abu Dhabi is certainly one of the memories I’ll cherish for as long as I live.

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Doc Gelo in the palace! :)

*This is NOT a sponsored post.

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15
Mar
14

DUBAI MIRACLE GARDEN

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Twenty-eight degrees. 9th of March 2014. Sunny Sunday. While most people in UAE began their new work week (Yes, work days here starts Sunday-Thursday and UAE weekends are celebrated every Fridays & Saturdays), I made an effort to be in the middle of the desert where they grow and maintain millions of flowers in vibrant colors, before summer officially kicks in.

From my current flat in Deira, Dubai, I took the Green Line of Dubai Metro train at Abu Baker Al Siddique station. Alighted at Union to transfer to Red Line and hopped off at Mall of Emirates (MOE) station. At around 9AM, I took a roughly 10-minute-taxi ride from MOE to Dubai Miracle Garden that costs me around 23 dirhams (US $6.26).

To be in a very picturesque place with more than 45 million blooming flowers, in an amazing landscaped and manicured gardens, with longest flower wall recorded in Guiness Book of Records, amidsts the desert was something refreshing! It’s a great breather from seeing skyscrapers and impressive shopping complex and so apt to silently celebrate my fourteenth day in Dubai.
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At 30 dirhams (US $ 8.16) entrance rates per adult, inclusive of admission to Phase 1 & the newly opened, Phase 2 gardens, one can enjoy Dubai’s newest tourist attraction.

Although there were not much variety of flowers, the stunning arrangements of millions of pots of Petunias were enough for my Sunday’s visual feast!

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One of my favorites at Dubai Miracle Garden are the 3-giant-floral-peacock installations. They’re located just near one of the gates of DMG.
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It’s a very appropriate venue for prenuptial photoshoots as the place is absolutely romantic.

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Stargazers steal the show from millions of colorful Petunias.
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While most countries during winter have thick snow in flowerless and almost lifeless gardens, Petunias are grown in abundance during winter in UAE! Cultivated in pots, hanging and sprawling on the ground, Petunias of various colors proved that it can resists extreme conditions. Not only seen basically in Dubai Miracle Garden but most major roads and streets in Dubai and Abu Dhabi (two of the emirates that I have toured to date) are made colorful with Petunias. They must have installed effective and efficient water system to maintain them. It’s gorgeous to see vivid nature at the foot of the vibrant Emirati skylines.

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Apart from the umbrella-roofed pathway and peacock areas, I liked the part in DMG where they artistically installed junk BMW, Benz, Ferrari and other luxurious cars with decors in full blooms, just before a floral Valentine mansion.
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Never fret when hungry and thirsty, there are multiple food and beverage shops within DMG. Imagine savoring ice cream, or sandwiches, or nachos with soda or your favorite blend of coffee under a floral roof. It doesn’t happen on a daily basis unless you have a million-Petunia-garden too at home!
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This is where I nibbled and munched some Nachos, dunked them in cheese and salsa, washed down with orange-flavored canned soda while I enjoyed killing time.
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It’s near the 18-meter-floral replica of Burj Khalifa, world’s current tallest man-made structure.
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First time to eat under such impressive roof.
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Instead of troubled water running under the wooden bridge, they had it flowers of course!
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And like most gardens around, DMG also has a huge floral clock.
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The vast Phase 1 of Dubai Miracle Garden has so much more features and the photos above were just my favorite spots. (Click here to know more : http://www.dubaimiraclegarden.com/phase-i/)

Phase 2 that;’s located a few meters away from Phase 1 looks even bigger area to highlight winter blooms. It has souvenir shops, aromatic and edible plant gardens, and a soon-to-open-Butterfly Garden.

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The entrance to the Flower Valleys is incredibly gorgeous!
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The Flower Valley. Vast. Impressive. Beautiful!

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It’s indeed a miracle to grow such oasis in the middle of the desert!

Have you been to Dubai Miracle Garden? If not, make sure to include it on your itinerary when visiting Dubai and the rest of UAE!

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My mom would’ve love this blog post, I’m sure as she loves flowers so much! Mamy, this one’s for you! :)

*This is NOT a sponsored post.

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05
Mar
14

DUBAI | TRAVELING INSIDE IBN BATTUTA MALL

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Coolest Starbucks Coffee Ever! At Persia Court, Ibn Battuta Mall, Dubai, UAE.

March 3, 2014, Monday. On my 8th day in UAE, I was invited by my fellow Pinoy Travel Blogger, Edcel of www.soloflighted.com who’s been working in Dubai for a year now and currently enjoying his month-long break, to a casual and friendly meet up. He came with the love of his life, Jana whom I found very stunning, smart and fascinating.  From the time I met them at Burjuman Metro Station at 4PM until we parted ways at almost midnight, I felt I found two long lost best friends! They’re fun, sincere and sensible to be with. Where did we go?  Ed texted me two options – Dubai Mall (World’s biggest mall, which I’ve been to for a couple of hours a week ago) and Ibn Battuta Mall. I chose the latter.

Inspired by the most salient places among the extensive travels of the famous 14th century Arabian explorer, Ibn Battuta, the uniquely designed mall that’s located adjacent to Sheikh Zayed Road with its very own Dubai Metro train Station is by far, the most gorgeous mall I’ve ever been to! It screams, “Go outside and travel the world!”   in a very grand and sublime ways. Ibn Battuta Mall has 6 themed courts depicting Persia, Egypt, Tunisia, Andalusia, India  and China.

PERSIA  COURT

History states that Ibn Battuta arrived in Persia in 1326 from Mecca after he joined a caravan of pilgrims. He visited the places of al-Najaf, Basra, Isfahan, Barsian, Shiraz, Baghdad and Tabriz.

After several minutes that Ed, Jana and I were walking around just to find Starbucks Coffee in Persia Court that I personally suggested for us to sit and chat, my eyes and my camera were literally fixed on the incredibly breathtaking dome that reflects arabesque design of Persian carpets and domes of mosques. My worries and stress ruling my mind evaporated at the very sight of that colossal brass chandelier that perfectly blends with the glazed geometric patterns creating a spectacular visual stimuli. That dome in Persia Court perhaps can beat any anti-depressants! It’s a visual feast that made me discreetly euphoric! Inside, my inner child was stimulated as I was silently jumping for bliss!

Arched wooden windows, brass lanterns, mosaic tiles in turquoise and other shades of blue and gold mesmerized me before I sip my White Mocha Chip Frappuccino and dunk my fork at the very decadent, Strawberry Cheesecake.
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EGYPT  COURT

Before savoring caffeine dose and sugar load, we passed by Egypt Court initially. That portion of the mall is reminiscent of Ibn Battuta’s travel to Nile Delta and Cairo before he went to Mecca.

Huge and handsome brass lanterns light up the Egypt Court hanging from intricately designed metalworks. Ceiling’s made of wood while Hieroglyphics adorns the sandstone walls reflective of ancient Egyptian ruins.

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The Observational Armillary Sphere, Egypt Court.

An eye-catching tableaux serves as a majestic centerpiece that shows astronomers setting an Observational Armillary Sphere, plotting coordinates of celestial bodies and documenting their observations.

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TUNISIA  COURT

Walking under Tunisia Court’s ceiling that’s artistically painted to appear as blue skies with white fluffy clouds reminded me of Venetian and Paris Hotels in Las Vegas. However, this part of the mall is an architectural expression of Ibn Battuta’s visit to North-African cities of Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, Alexandria before heading to Mecca from his hometown in Morocco. Picturesque narrow and cobblestone streets and souks represented by modern shops, magically lighted by Moroccan brass lamps are featured in Tunisia Court.

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ANDALUSIA  COURT

“More than a thousand years ago, on a hill in Cordoba, Abbas bin Firnas boldly set out to do what no man had done before. He was ready to test the first flying machine in recorded history.”

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Construction of the Flying Machine.

Apart from the “Flying Machine” on the hills of Cordoba, Andalusia Court‘s impressive Lion Fountain, inspired by Fountain of Lions in Alhambra draws interest from mall shoppers as well.

Ibn Battuta traveled to the cities of Malaga, Alhama and Granada.

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INDIA  COURT

Ibn Battuta traveled to Delhi too where he was employed as a judge by the then Sultan Muhammad Tughluq. 

India Court showcases a ginormous dome, inspired by the one in Taj Mahal Mosque, supported by seamless columns.

Another focus of interest in India Court is the Al-Jazari Elephant Clock. Named after one of the greatest Muslim inventors, Al-Jazari, the amusing and giant mechanical clock on a mighty elephant contains wooden carved figures, dragons and phoenixes that come alive and move together in synchronized fashion every hour, recreated from the drawings of Al-Jazari in his book 800 years after!

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CHINA COURT

After working in India, Ibn Battuta was designated to become ambassador to China. He encountered difficulties traveling to China as he was attacked by Hindu rebels and nearly died.

Inspired by temples and palaces in China, the China Court at Ibn Battuta Mall is vividly decorated with red and gold trimmings, patterns of flowers, dragons and phoenixes.

And because Ibn Battuta sailed to China, a large Chinese Junk is featured inside China Court.

China Court houses basically the IMAX theatre and 21 other cinemas. It’s also home for casual dining where I was treated to a Pizza dinner by Ed & Jana!

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Meet Edcel & Jana. Two new friends who seem like my long-time best buddies. It’s great meeting them personally unlike communicating only with Ed through his travel blog and via facebook; and best, they made me feel that I am not alone in Dubai.
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Edcel of http://www.soloflighted.com and the lovely, Jana.

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Maraming salamat sa lahat, Ed & Jana! See you around UAE  soon! :)

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Thanks for snapping this, Edcel!

An extraordinary mall that obviously inspires everyone to experience the world.

Two new friends whom I share the same passion with.

One big modern city.

UAE,  You are amazing!

I’m ready for infinite blessings and  possibilities!

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Ibn Battuta Mall | Adjacent to Sheikh Zayed Road, between Interchanges 5 & 6, Dubai, UAE.

*All relevant and historic facts mentioned on this blog post were all sourced from Ibn Battuta’s website : www.ibnbattutamall.com

HOW TO GET THERE?  Take Dubai Metro Train and hop off Ibn Battuta Station.

*This is NOT a sponsored post.

Read and follow my UAE Adventure Blog Series :

>><<

02
Mar
14

ABU DHABI | SHEIKH ZAYED GRAND MOSQUE

Eighty two domes. World’s largest chandelier in a mosque weighing 12 tons. World’s largest hand-knotted carpet at 5,700 square meters. A majestic architectural treasure of United Arab Emirates. “An expression of a visionary leader who conceived that the most gracious achievements start from the heart.”

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Few minutes past 8AM last 27 February, 2014, Thursday, I left my flat in Deira, Dubai, where I am currently staying on a 90-day-Visit-Visa;  hopped on the RTA bus C19 at one of the bus stops in Al Muraqqabat to Al Ghubaiba bus station. The trip went conveniently for about 45 minutes and a few dirhams deducted from my Nol RTA bus card. Prior heading to Abu Dhabi, I ate breakfast at a Pakistani-Arab-Indian eatery at the bus station. After 25 dirhams deducted again from my Nol bus card, a quick cat nap and exactly 2 hour bus ride, I arrived in Abu Dhabi bus Terminal in front of Al Wahda Mall just before lunch time.

Met up with my former student, France who’s working as a Pediatric Nurse and was treated to a sumptuous lunch. After long but memorable catching up and cups of latte and a pastry, I was fetched by my youngest brother, JC after his office hours. Finally, I was reunited with my brother, cousin and her family in their flat in Abu Dhabi! I spent my very first memorable weekend in Abu Dhabi! Happy times!

The following day, JC drove me and Marky around to a few of the grandest places in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates’ capital city. And one of those awe-inspiring must-visit-places that I thankfully set foot on was the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

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Almost an hour before twilight, with tail end of the winter in the emirates, I laid eyes on what I read as the pearl of the Arabian sea.

Red smoke, followed by somewhat greenish were infused generously into open air as we walked towards the entrance of the mosque. Marky said it might be the colors of the UAE flag, probably but we didn’t confirm.

I never counted the times I uttered, “Wow!” upon the sight of this magnificent place of worship. I’m not even a Muslim to be biased with such, but I was literally in awe from the time we got off the parking lot until the time we had to leave. Perhaps, my spontaneous child-like appreciation was not purely based on its grandiosity but the mere fact that I was there at that moment. I was breathing air at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Unbelievable!

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I lived and worked in Malaysia for 3 years where Islamic mosques are also predominant structures but apparently, I’ve yet to see mosque with 82 domes! Purest white marble, onion shaped crowns and crescent shaped finials with gold-glass mosaic made everything stunningly beautiful!

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I was mesmerized the whole time we were there but was halted by the fact that I’ve seen some foreign visitors and tourists at the mosque grounds who were posing for souvenir photos with both hands happily stretched and thrown widely in the air. Inappropriate acts much more, intimate behaviors like holding hands and kissing are unacceptable in any mosque for that matter. Remember that the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is not just a place of Tourism but primarily of worship and must be considered sacred at all times. Dress codes must be observed. Long, loose fitting, ankle length trousers or skirts for women and men. Women must wear a headscarf. Footwear must be removed prior entering the main prayer hall. Shoe racks are installed few steps before the facade of the mosque.
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No corner inside the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was overlooked. Pure white huge pieces of marble with multicolored floral patterns clad the walls and the floor of the facade to just before the main prayer hall.

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The largest of the seven (7) chandeliers weighing (inhale, ready?) 12 tons is majestically installed in the main prayer hall. Two similar but smaller version at 8 tons each are hanging inside the same hall. While the foyer entrances have small blue chandelier weighing maximum of 2 tons.

Grand in weight and mighty in structure, these chandeliers are made spectacularly wonderful with gilded stainless steel and brass, glass panels studded with Swarovski crystals.

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Stunning, isn’t it?

Pulpit or Menbar is where the imam sits and addresses the volume of faithfuls. SZGM’s pulpit is located in front of the main prayer hall made of delicately carved cedar wood, featuring shell and floral design with inlaid mother of pearl, glass mosaic and  white gold. While virtues and principles that guide Islam are inscribed in Arabic words on the wall of the main prayer hall.

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Had I known earlier that the world’s largest carpet inside Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque costs a whopping, AED 30 Million, I would’ve requested JC & Marky for us to stay longer in order for me to plant my soles on that hand-knotted carpet that stretches 5,700 square meters made of 70% wool & 30% cotton, designed by third generation carpet maker and artists, Dr. Ali Khaliqui, and hand-crafted by more than a thousands artisans.
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On usual circumstances, I rarely take a second look at chandeliers until I saw those in SZGM. They’re beyond beautiful!

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As respect, visitors aren’t allowed to touch Islam’s Holy Book, the Quran.
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“The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque represents great sentimental and moral value for the people of the UAE, and their leadership. It also constitutes one of the most prominent and beautiful architectural monuments in the world. Perhaps what is reflected in the Mosque, in terms of the unique beauty of its architecture, is an embodiment of such sentimental value. The Mosque also represents a fertile spiritual space, enriched throughout the ages by the shining inheritance of Islam. It seeks to truly reflect the open spirit of renaissance which has long inspired humanity with its great purity.”  ~H.H. Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs (Sourced HERE).

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Thank you, JC & Marky!
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My youngest brother, JC & me. Thanks for driving me there, dude! Until next time!

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The Grand Mosque was named after its Founding Father, the first President of UAE and the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan who died in 02 November 2004; his mausoleum is situated at the north side of the mosque.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque isn’t only an incredibly iconic architectural masterpiece in UAE but a very symbolic and inspiring religious place that’s open for everyone to appreciate.

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Admission Fee : None except for special exhibitions and events.
General visiting hours are from Sat – Thurs 9am and 10pm and you may walk through on your own. Last entry is 9.30pm. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is closed for tourism activities (and open for worship) on Friday morning and opens again after 5pm.
Complimentary Guided Tours of 60 minutes duration available from Saturday to Thursday at 10 AM and 11 AM in the morning and 4.30 pm in the evening.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is accessible by buses, cars and taxi. Ample parking spaces are provided to visitors.
For more details on HOW TO GET THERE and other pertinent info, visit its website : http://www.szgmc.ae/en/getting-to-the-mosque
*All significant facts mentioned on this blog post were sourced from http://www.szgmc.ae/en/
*This is NOT a sponsored post.
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26
Feb
14

FINALISTS IN TUNE HOTELS x NIKON PHOTO CONTEST

MALAYSIAN INNOCENCE by DR. ANGELO NINO M. SANTOS
Finalist, Portrait Category. VOTE HERE!

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Peek-A-Boo, Tropical Spice Garden, Penang
Finalist, Nature Category, VOTE HERE!

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Finalist, Architecture Category. VOTE HERE!

Dear everyone,

Mabuhay from Dubai, UAE! Currently blogging from Dubai, I’d like to campaign to you my 3 humble amateur photos taken from my years in Penang, Malaysia. These 3 photos were all shortlisted as finalists in the Tune Hotels  x Nikon Photo Contest. Part of the judging criteria will be coming from public VOTES -40% and from an esteemed PANEL of JUDGES, -60%.

With YOUR DAILY VOTES until 28th FEBRUARY 2014, YOU could make my photos win any of these fantastic prizes :

4x CATEGORY PRIZE WINNER: Contestant with the best image in each Category will be selected as Category Prize Winner. Winners will each receive the following items:
– 1 x Nikon D3200 with 18-55 kit lens
– 1 x 3 Days/2 Nights Return Trip for 2 to Bali

1X GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Contestant with the most number of shortlisted images across the 4 Categories will win the Grand Prize of the following items:
– 1 x Nikon D5200 with 18-105 kit lens
– 1 x 4 Days/3 Nights Return Trip for 2 to Melbourne

All winning photographs will be featured in Digital Camera Magazine, Digital SLR Photography Magazine, Dunia Kamera Magazine & Aperture Magazine (Sourced : Tune Hotels x Nikon Photo Contest).

So if you believe my entries are deserving, kindly CAST YOUR VOTES DAILY until 28th February 2014 by clicking the link below the photo-finalists above. The link will bring you to the voting page and you need to log on via facebook, and click the YELLOW STAR-VOTE below my photos. Maraming salamat po! Thank you very much for your unconditional support!

-Gelo.

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15
Feb
14

MONTALBAN, RIZAL | SUNNY AFTERNOON IN WAWA DAM

While a medley of boy band songs from Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees and ‘NSync were blasting my ears from the public utility jeepney’s high-decibel stereo system, I remained half conscious by listening with eyes both shut under my sunnies. I held tightly on the steel bar to secure myself on my seat just in case the driver presses down his accelerator forcefully.  My destination? Wawa Dam located in Montalban, Rizal.

Although it’s my first time to visit Wawa, I had a word from my dad and brother who used to go there on mountain bikes with my cousins, that the jeepney trip from Sta. Lucia Mall and Robinson’s Metro East to Montalban, Rizal via the towns of Marikina City takes 2 hours roughly with current fare of 26 Philippine pesos. Thankfully, I was on the road before lunch time and arrived safely in one piece.

“Looking back on the things I’ve done, I was trying to be someone
Played my part, kept you in the dark
Now let me show you the shape of my heart.”

I was still stomping my right foot with that lyrics from one of the famous Backstreet Boys’ songs when the jeepney halted to park as it reached its terminal in Montalban (now called, Rodriguez, Rizal) at around 1:30PM. I alighted quickly and this  road greeted me.

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I waited for another ride opposite that parked jeepney on the photo above. There’s two options actually – either to take a tricycle or another jeepney ride to Wawa. I chose the latter and paid 8 pesos.  Few minutes after, I finally had a glimpse of those legendary Sierra Madre mountains. Where the jeepney ride ends, the hiking begins.

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According to Philippine mythology, Montalban gorge was created by the giant, Bernardo Carpio, when he tried to separate 2 great rocks in the mountains where he was trapped. The folklore with various versions also associated Bernardo Carpio to the cause of earthquakes.

With a quick glance at Wiki, I learned that the Wawa Dam was built during the American colonial era in 1909 to provide source of water to Metro Manila. It was only abandoned when Angat Dam became operational.

I intently went to Wawa Dam to commune and make love with Mother Nature on a Valentine’s day. How fitting, right? Armed with my Malaysian android phone inside my cropped pants’ pocket, my DSLR camera and a bottle of mineral water in my backpack, I hiked my way to the gorge.
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A few sari-sari stores selling assorted items from fresh produce to snacks, soda and even beers line the path to Wawa Dam. My slow-paced hike was frequently interrupted as I look, admire and immortalize with my camera the sights that I don’t usually wake up to.

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This place is definitely picturesque at all angles!

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The vicinity of  Wawa Dam is not only home for a few local residents but was already transformed into a bamboo rafting, swimming, hiking and picnic areas that’s not too commercialized compared to other resorts and recreational spots. What do I mean?  There’s no admission rates at the moment so people could freely come and go. However, if you plan to use the bamboo cottages for picnic and resting purposes, a PhP 150 per cottage fee will be collected.

I was surprised and impressed to see the place as relatively clean and well maintained. I’d like to believe that visitors, tourists and local folks still keep responsibility and discipline within.
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Lush green, ginormous boulders, almost clean flowing water. It’s not difficult to appreciate such place definitely. I’m like a kid who’s so happy to see a natural and man-made waterfalls! The last time I saw waterfalls was at Yosemite National Park in California back in April of 2000; that was ages ago, I know! While the sight of flowing water from a dam was a reminiscent of my family’s trips to Villa Escudero in Quezon where a similar man-made falls from a gravity dam is also enjoyed by tourists.
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It was love at first sight. Serenity and peace defined.
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Clouds on water.  You don’t see this gorgeous day on a daily basis, do you?

Mother Nature at her best. How could you not be grateful?

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I salute those few couples who opted to spend Valentine’s day with nature . The abandoned viewing deck in Wawa Dam seems imperfect and modest but indubitably, it offers a venue for extraordinary moments.

As I continued the hike, I was even more impressed with the gorgeous views!

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Paradise! I only wish I arrived earlier and stayed longer.  Sigh.

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If you’re anywhere in the Philippines, a videoke machine is always available! Pass the mic, please!

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A pop of color and a slice of local life at Wawa dam. Wonderful, just wonderful!

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Beautiful, isn’t it?

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Young students who cross the bridge and the gorge to and from their schools are an inspiring sight!

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That single thin bamboo pole guides your step from one stone to the other. Watch your steps!

As I went down amidst those boulders, I became more insightful. Seeing big things reminded me of how small I am. Indeed, humility and not pride, makes us more human.

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Descending requires careful steps from one boulder to the next, and crossing a few bamboo pole bridges to reach the picnic cottages and the waterfalls need precise body mechanics.

I sat in one vacant cottage to catch my breath.  Few cycles of deep inhalations and exhalations after, I smiled widely as I directed my gaze at the natural and man-made-waterfalls.

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Prior going down to the river, I encountered a boy selling local rice cakes. I refused to buy initially. Then I saw him again stepping from stone to stone, on his way towards the few tourists soaking themselves under the falls. I called him and asked his name.

I met Jordan, a 12 year-old vendor at Wawa Dam. He goes to school in the morning and sells local rice cakes for a living in the afternoon. His simple story struck me and reminded me to be more grateful. Amazing how ordinary people can be so inspiring and motivating  despite indirectly.
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Native afternoon delights.
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A few of Filipino favorites : Palitaw, Carioca and Bico. Simple indulgence all for PhP 35 only. Solb!

I also bought ice buco  (coconut flavored ice cream on stick) for PhP 13 from an older vendor. Enjoyed it like a kid, rested and stayed in the cottage until a man was charging me PhP 150 for the usage. I told him, I didn’t swim and only stayed for few minutes. I paid him PhP 20 after telling me to pay him any amount.

I left Wawa Dam at around 3:30PM and arrived home past 5.  Funny that I came to Wawa Dam without major expectations, but went home with relevant life’s lessons beyond love and nature’s appreciation.

Have you been to Wawa Dam in Montalban, Rizal? How’s your experience?

If you haven’t and if you’re planning to go, I suggest make your trip on a week day if possible, for obvious reason of having less tourists at Wawa (remember, it’s one of mountaineers and bikers’ favorites because of its proximity to Metro Manila) and you can have the place all to yourself. You may try exploring the historic caves too but may necessitate an official tourist guide from the local office.

HOW TO GET THERE?  If you’re commuting from Cubao, take jeepney bound to Montalban along Aurora Boulevard or you may take MRT line 2 in Araneta-Cubao Station and alight at its terminal in Santolan, then take a jeep outside the station to Montalban. Alternatively, you can ride FX vans from their terminals in Farmers Cubao to Montalban, Rizal. Then as mentioned on this blog post, you need to take another jeepney (or tricycle) ride from Montalban to Wawa Dam.

If you’re from PHILCOA in Quezon City, take jeepney bound for Maly, San Mateo, Rizal, then take another jeep to Montalban, and another ride to Wawa Dam.

*This blog’s first post about Wawa Dam on May 2010 here : http://docgelo.com/2010/05/26/wawa/

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15
Feb
14

MAKATI CITY | CHIHUAHUA MEXICAN GRILL & MARGARITA BAR

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In a city like Makati in Metro Manila where restaurants spring like mushrooms, deciding where to eat is always a happy problem. Most diners obviously go to their favorites, while some usually eat where cravings are satisfied. Others based their choices with the people behind the food.  It goes without saying that if a restaurant offers staples and favorites, food that diners crave, and dishes prepared and cooked by people who know best, it’s definitely a winner!

When I heard from Elian Habayeb, one of the founders of Chihuahua Mexican Grill and Margarita Bar, that Chihuahua isn’t exclusively traditional Mexican but Tex-Mex joint existing since 2011, I became more interested to try the fusion of authentic Mexican flavors with American Southwestern. As he continued his casual introduction, he became more compelling by briefly narrating that he based their menu from dishes he grew up eating in his hometown, Houston, Texas.  Chihuahua’s authentic; I’m sold!

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Aguas Frescas : Pear & Watermelon. Light and refreshingly good

Elian shares ownership of Chihuahua with Ines Cabarrus who equallyappears so warm and friendly. I was impressed when Ines did a quick rundown of their dishes and their ingredients, plus a few new addition to their menu. They know their food so well!

Chihuahua’s friendly and quick service, unpretentious but festive ambiance, and authentic flavors. Definitely a winning combination!
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We sampled the excellent Nachos Grande, Chihuahua’s nachos on bowl served generously with various dips. From rich cheesy dip with a kick of a bit spice, to dips with beans and tomatoes, everything goes perfectly well.  Big serving and appetizingly good!

I with a bunch of fellow foodies were lucky to be the first few people to try their Strawberry Margarita. Chihuahua made a classic cocktail even more refreshingly great! Other than strawberry, they also have Red Berry and Passion Fruit Margaritas!

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Strawberry Margarita.  Subtle kick and gentle love at every sip!

Have you ever heard of Hot Sauce Library? There’s one in Chihuahua!
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Chihuahua’s Hot Sauce Library takes Tex-Mex dining in Makati to a spicier level! Dare to make their nachos and burritos spicier with any of those rare and imported hot sauces. Try Dave’s Temporary Insanity, Crazy Mother Pucker’s, the Bayou Butt Burner, Katrina Storm, Global Warming, El Yucateco, and the Death Sauce if you dare!

Our appetites and taste buds were more challenged with their Steak Nachos! Chihuahua’s Beef Steak Nachos and Chicken Steak Nachos are served on handsome bowls with tender and chargrilled meat strips. Delicioso!
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The star of Chihuahua’s menu are their famous Burrito! Refried beans, guacamole, Mexican rice, black beans, queso, pico de gallo, salsa, sour cream, lettuce and your choice of meat or veggies wrapped in a large soft flour tortilla. They came up with a Mini-Me version of the same tasteful Chihuahua Burrito on a smaller fraction. Chihuahua’s burrito’s love at first bite!

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Next that was sent in to our table was Chihuahua’s constant bestseller, the Quesadilla! Made of two toasted flour tortillas held together by three kinds of cheese with a ton of varieties to choose from; you must be in Quesadailla Heaven!

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Chihuahua’s Quesadilla are all served with pico de gallo, chipotle salsa, sour cream and guacamole. They’ve got Quesadilla for everyone! Chicken Spinach Quesadilla prepared with grilled marinated chicken breast and butter-sauteed spinach with garlic, onion and cilantro. Mushroom Quesadilla, Steak Quesadilla made of grilled USDA beef, onions and peppers, Carnitas Quesadilla with slow-cooked pork, red onions and cilantro, the Picadillo Quesadilla made of spicy ground beef and red onions, the Veggie Quesadilla with grilled peppers, onions, zucchini and corn. Haven’t I told you, Chihuahua’s Quesadilla Heaven?

While Texan and Mexican dishes boast of strong and pretty flavors that burst into mouth beautifully, everything is balanced easily with a decadent dessert.

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Banana Nutella Quesadilla made with fresh bananas, Nutella, Jiffy’s Peanut Butter and then topped with vanilla ice cream, cinnamon, shaved almonds, and cajeta (a Mexican caramel similar to dulce de leche). Sounds great combination, right? I so regret I failed to grab a bite. Oh well! :(

As for fun and entertainment, Chihuahua’s a champion too! They’ve got Saturday Salsa Nights, Limon Fridays (Reggae), Accoustic Wednesdays (the one we attended),  and few more exciting surprises at Chihuahua.
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Fellow bloggers and food writers that evening with the founders of Chihuahua Mexican Grill.

Chihuahua Mexican Grill & Margarita Bar. A Tex-Mex foodie destination in Manila. A winner at every bite!

*Special thanks to Chihuahua Mexican Grill & Margarita Bar for the invitation via Aldous (leftmost of photo) of www.aldousatetheworld.blogspot.com and fellow Pinoy Travel Blogger, Jherson (second guy from left of the photo with spectacles) of www.lonelytravelogue.com.
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With Ines, one of the founders of Chihuahua Mexican Grill & Margarita Bar. Thank you! Ariba!

*Chihuahua Mexican Grill & Margarita Bar | 7838 Makati Avenue (across A-Venue Mall, between Kalayaan & JP Rizal) | phone # (63-2) 890-3192. | Opening hours : 11AM-3PM weekdays, 11AM-5AM Fridays & Saturday, 11AM-12AM Sundays.

*Chihuahua Mexican Grill & Margarita Bar | G/F Greenbelt 2, Esperanza Street, side across from The Residences, Makati | phone # (63-2) 625-0106 | Opening hours : 11AM-11PM daily.

Delivery Hotline : (63-2) 212-1212 | Facebook page : https://www.facebook.com/chihuahuamexicangrill

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10
Feb
14

MANILA | NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE PHILIPPINES REVISITED

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I don’t know when did the National Museum of the Philippines start offering FREE ADMISSION EVERY SUNDAY that seduced me effortlessly to revisit. What’s definite is the fact that Philippine art, history, culture and heritage are now made more accessible to everyone regardless of economic status. Apparently, Filipinos, particularly those living within the vicinity of the museum in Manila, have no more excuse or logical reason not to pay the National Museum a visit, at least on a Sunday when entrance fees are waived. During weekdays, current rates are PhP 150 for adults, PhP 120 for senior citizens and even discounted price for students. Goodness, if you can avail of a venti cup of Frappuccino from Starbucks with a steeper cost, why not spend it to appreciate timeless paintings and handsome sculptures? Unless you don’t value what needs to be treasured.

Pardon me, but it’s such a shame for Filipinos who have seen the Modern Monument exhibit in Museum of Modern Art in New York City, or perhaps, those Pinoys who have been to Paris to visit La Jaconde or the Mona Lisa in Louvre Museum but have never set foot in National Museum to appreciate Una Bulaqueña by Juan Luna or his larger than life, Spoliarium.

Last Sunday, 09 February 2014 was my third visit to the National Museum. Frankly, I don’t have vivid recall of how our educational field trip during my Elementary school years went at that place, but I documented my second time in Pambansang Museo ng Pilipinas on this same blog in 2009 (blog post : http://docgelo.com/2009/05/18/manila-explored-part-2/). Although I cringed a bit after going through that blog entry once more, as blurred photos uploaded were taken only using my Nokia phone with 2 megapixels back then, I’m proud now that I visited the museum again and surprisingly, the staff at the counter instructed me to bring all my gadgets, wallet and other valuables, plus camera with me and leave only my backpack to claim prior exit.

With refurbished galleries and new acquisitions, I was impressed with all the positive changes. Unlike my past visits, taking photos is allowed now except for commercial purposes, but the use of flash photography is still prohibited (no problem with me).  Looking back, I could say that through the years, my blogging and my amateur photography have improved incidentally, in parallel with the National Museum.

The Old House of Representatives Session Hall, also known as, “The Hall of Masters” at the ground floor immediately after the counter where visitors must sign (and pay during weekdays) upon entry, a new art installation-in-progress greets everyone. It’s a lovely masterpiece called, Angel, from the Philippine National Artist for Sculpture, Guillermo Tolentino.

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Details of  “Angel” (reinforced concrete, 2.9 meters in height) by Guillermo Tolentino.

Inside the hall are two most significant works of Filipino artists in our history – Spoliarium of Juan Luna and El Asesinator Del Gobernador Bustamante by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo.

If there’s one reason to visit the National Museum, it’s to see and admire Juan Luna’s Spoliarium. This incredible Filipino treasure won the first gold medal (out of three) in the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1884 in Madrid.
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Details of  “Spoliarium” by Juan Luna, Oil on poplar, 400 cm × 700 cm (160 in × 280 in), 1884.

Spoliarium is more than a painting of dying gladiators being dragged off the arena; it’s the symbol of Filipino social, moral and political life according to no less than Dr. Jose P. Rizal, Philippines’ National Hero.

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Details of  “El Asesinator Del Gobernador Bustamante” by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo (1853-1913).

“…the fact remains that when Luna and Felix Resurrection Hidalgo won the top awards in the Madrid Exposition of 1884, they proved to the world that indios could, despite their supposed barbarian race, paint better than the Spaniards who colonized them.”  ~Ambeth R. Ocampo, “Rizal Without the Overcoat” 2000″

Almost all galleries’ doors have noteworthy knobs…

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Little details matter. I liked those door knobs. NM of course stands for National Museum.

As I arrived after 3:30PM and upon learning that the museum closes at 5, I regret the fact that I didn’t have much time to go through and absorb everything. Bear in mind that I only visited the National Art Gallery of the National Museum and passed up going to the other building (yes, your admission includes the entry to the other building) that houses Museum of the Filipino People (San Diego exhibit, Five Centuries of Maritime Trade Before the Arrival of the West, The Origin, Archaeological Treasures, and The Filipinos and Their Rich Cultural Heritage).  I became selective with the art galleries and only photographed what I fancy.

“Gallery I : Luis I. Ablaza Hall. Colonial Philippine religious art of the 17th to the 19th centuries, prominent among which is a retablo from the Church of San Nicolas de Tolentino in Dimiao, Bohol – a National Cultural Treasure – together with a selection of carved religious images (santos), reliefs and paintings.”

Don’t you just love the retro-feel of those black and white tiles against those red-orange walls? I do! They make the wooden displays stand out.

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Saint Francis and Santo Domingo by unknown artists, on wood, undated.

“Gallery III : Philippine art of the academic and romantic period, specifically of the last three decades of the 19th century, featuring specially Juan Luna and other key contemporaries….”

I call the Gallery III that houses Luna’s masterpieces, the green room.

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Next to Spoliarium, here are a few of Juan Luna’s works that I adore.
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Details of “Portrait of a Lady” by Juan Luna, Oil on wood, undated.

“Una Bulaqueña” of Juan Luna was the inspiration behind one of the Filipino musical plays that I’ve watched, “Alikabok” staged in mid-90s at Music Museum, where local singer-actress, Rachel Alejandro dubbed the role of Bising.

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Details of “Una Bulaqueña, by Juan Luna, Oil on canvass, 1895.

I see brilliant minds with every stroke per painting. Filipino blood lines are geniuses!

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“Normandie” by Juan Luna, Oil on canvass, undated.

“Gallery IV : Fundacion Santiago Hall. The works of 19th century Filipino sculptors, notably, Isabelo Tampico y Lacandola, Guillermo Tolentino and others…”

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“Gallery V : Works by the National Hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal, including four original sculptures and one fine drawing, View of Gendarmenmarkt, from his 1886 sojourn in Berlin….”

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“Rizal the Reformist” by Martino A. Abellana, Oil on painting, 1960.
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“El Idillio de un Azotea” by Roman Faustino, Oil on canvass, 1945.

“Gallery VI : The late contemporaries and artistic successors of the generation of Luna and Hidalgo who were active in the late Spanish colonial period and on into the American occupation and before the Second World War, including Fabian  de la Rosa, Jorge Pineda, Irineo Miranda, Fernando Amorsolo, Pablo Amorsolo and numerous artists…..”

Despite its being incomplete, this Amorsolo painting won my heart…

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“Portrait of a Lady (Unfinished)” by Fernando Amorsolo, Oil on canvass, undated.

Other masterpieces that I loved inside Gallery VI…

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“Tausug Princess” by Ireneo Miranda, Oil on canvass, 1951.

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“Portrait of a Lady” by Ireneo Miranda, Oil on canvass, 1952.

Philippine History drawn on canvasses are featured in Gallery IX…

“Gallery IX : The works of the great Philippine modernists and later masters featuring important works by Victorio Edades, Diosdado Lorenzo, Vicente Manansala, Carlos V. Francisco, Hernando R. Ocampo, Cesar Legaspi, Ang Kiukok, Nena Saguil, Jose Joya, Adbulmari Imao, Ben Cabrera and various artists who were instrumental in setting bold directions for Philippine art from the 1930s into the later decades of the twentieth century.”

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Planting of the First Cross by Vicente S. Manansala, Oil on canvass, 1965.

And suddenly, college days spent attending our Philippine History class resurfaced.
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First Mass at Limasawa by Carlos V. Francisco, Oil on canvass, 1965.

The next textured painting spoke to me.  I fell in love at first sight.

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Naiad by Jose Joya, Oil on wood, 1964.

“Gallery XII SPPC Hall : New acquisitions and new loans are displayed here.”

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Portrait of Cheng Ban Lee and Madame So Boan Ty by Frederico Aguilar Alcuaz, Oil on canvass, 1959.

“Gallery XII Security Bank Hall : Guillermo Tolentino, National Artist for Sculpture, whose prolific career spanned the 1920s to the 1970s, dominated the Filipino sculpture during his lifetime and in the decades  beyond, particularly in the field of portraiture and human forms. His work here is presented in collaboration with the Tolentino family and various private patrons and institutional partners of the National Museum.”

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The Sculptor (Portrait of Guillermo E. Tolentino) by Crispin V. Lopez, Oil on canvass, 1948.

Those were just a few that I really liked inside National Art Gallery in National Museum of the Philippines. If you’re in Manila, particularly those Filipinos who have not been to National Museum yet, pay it a visit and I guarantee you, you’ll be extra-grateful that you’re born Filipino and you’ll absolutely grow more appreciation within.
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*this is NOT a sponsored post.

National Museum of the Philippines | Padre Burgos Drive, City of Manila, the Philippines | website & contact details : www.nationalmuseum.gov.ph

31
Jan
14

INTRAMUROS, MANILA | SAN AGUSTIN MUSEUM

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I’ve been going to San Agustin Church within the historic and cobblestone streets of Intramuros, Manila since my wonder years. My parents used to take me and my siblings to 30 churches every Holy Week back then, and their list included San Agustin Church. But it took more than 30 years before I set foot in its museum.

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One sunny afternoon, I had an urge to revisit  Quiapo and headed to Intramuros with the intent to experience San Agustin Museum. It was my first time to see the church with its old peach paint removed. I wasted no time and asked one of the bystanders of the museum’s location, and to my surprise, the entrance was just a few steps from the right side of the main church door. I know no reason why my parents didn’t bring us inside San Agustin Museum; I haven’t inquired but it’s no longer important for the time already came for me to discover and explore the museum myself.

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With only PhP 100 current admission rate for adult (PhP 80 for senior citizens, and almost half the cost for students with IDs),  every centavo was worth it!

I don’t know about you but I know some people don’t entertain the idea of going to museum. Perhaps, they’re not fascinated with history, heritage, arts and things of the past, or totally not interested with some places without life. Unlike them, I am easily drawn to anything significant; or anything of my interest. Probably, it’s really to each his own.

Immediately after the admission counter and the turnstile, a huge lifeless bell greeted me. It was simply labeled with a laminated paper that states, “A 3,400 kilogram bell, taken down in 1927 from the belfry of the San Agustin Church damaged by the earthquake of 1863.”

I was warned that photography without flash is only permitted at the hallways and not inside exhibit rooms. Good enough! I obliged of course.

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Every step I took seemed a stroll back in time. Isn’t that amazing? (surprising? exciting? hehehe!)

Most of the items in the hallway at the ground floor are for sale; from paintings to wooden sculptures, most have tags with fixed prices for those collectors and patrons of the arts.
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The concrete staircase and its ceiling, en route to the second level almost took my breath away! I literally uttered, “Wow!” several times and left me in awe for few minutes. It was like setting foot inside a century-old dungeon or a castle, or felt like I was ascending the steps of Hogwarts with Professor Dumbledore, Hagrid and Snape about to greet me with magical spells! Very theatrical and cinematic!
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Surreal!

Then I found the displays and stained glass windows at the second level even more amazing!
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From the scale model of San Agustin Church, to small brass replica of galleon ships, paintings, priest vestments and whatnot, to the restricted noise of young students who were having an educational field trip with their teacher, I took everything in as a visual feast! Every corner appeared picturesque to me!
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But the highlight of my visit to San Agustin Museum was admiring the choir chamber and the church’s ceiling to my heart’s delight! I found logical reason for my one hundred Philippine pesos entrance fee for I have not seen the ceiling’s painting this up close! Wow! Wow! Wow!

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The intricate carvings on the solid choir seats was beyond wonderful! Imagine, these were done creatively decades ago!

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Behold. The ceiling of San Agustin Church done in trompe l’oeil.

A quick glance at Wiki, trompe l’oeil (French for deceive the eye) defined as “an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that depicted objects exist in three dimensions.”
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Beautiful, isn’t it?

I just hope and pray that proper restoration shall be done to those dilapidated areas.

Other than my appreciation for the ceiling, the pipe organ also a caught my eyes and my lens.

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From the choir loft, I completely understand why San Agustin Church remains to be a favorite venue of Sacrament of Matrimony.

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Of all the paintings inside the exhibit halls and corridors, I figured out my favorite. It’s called, The Family of the Virgin Mary, 234.3 cm x 173.3cm (92″ x 68″), Oil on Canvass, tagged as 19th century, Araneta collection.
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More must-see-display on the ground floor…

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There’s a door from the museum that leads to the church itself besides the church’s main facade.
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My two hours inside the San Agustin Museum may not be as entertaining as watching a blockbuster comedy, love story, action or fantasy films, but my appreciation of my heritage, religion, timeless treasures of my country was heightened tremendously.

“In 1993, San Agustin Church was one of four Philippine churches constructed during the Spanish colonial period to be designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, under the collective title Baroque Churches of the Philippines. It was named a National Historical Landmark by the Philippine government in 1976.” ~wiki.

San Agustin Church & San Agustin Museum | General Luna Street, Intramuros, Manila | website : http://www.sanagustinchurch.org/

>><<

31
Jan
14

SAN JUAN CITY | PUNLAAN SCHOOL’S FUNDRAISING DINNER

I considered it as a special blessing to be invited to a humble place filled with inspiring and encouraging people. Few days before 25th January 2014, I received the invitation via phone call and email, and despite the short notice, I’m glad I never hesitated and gave it an instant green light. The event was called, Heart For A Cause, A Fundraising Dinner for Punlaan School in San Juan, Metro Manila and its young scholars. The Five-Thousand-Pesos-per-plate invitation to the fine dining dinner spearheaded by Chef Babes Austria, a former Executive chef of Malacanan Palace and Taal Vista Hotel, for the Punlaan School was already enticing, and the fact that my only contribution to the event was not financial but rather small deed by capturing the moments on my amateur photos; the event itself was surprisingly meaningful as it moved me, as well as the rest of the esteemed guests to tears.

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Herb Garden of Punlaan School.

The area of Punlaan School, M. Paterno Street in San Juan, isn’t new to me. I passed that street a countless times but I am not aware that there’s a productive school until I attended their Fundraising Dinner. Established in 1975, Punlaan School is offering a Two-Year-Dual Training Scholarship Program in Food and Beverage Services, that provides valuable training exclusively for young women who come from lower-income-sector. It’s very uplifting to note that a former school for helpers has evolved into a vocational-technical institution and tourism training center accredited by Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and the Department of Tourism (DOT).  While it’s not difficult to appreciate that Punlaan School grows not only their very own herb garden that produces important ingredients to every meal they prepare, it is more significant to know that they breed students whose poor lives are transformed gradually as they undergo life-changing studies.

What made the event extraordinary, the scholars of Punlaan School prepared everything from cocktails, main entrees and desserts. The students were all involved from ushering of guests, to serving of meals respectively. And from every inch, they looked and moved professionally!

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Tempura Scallop Mesclun on Sweet Spicy Fresh Mango Sauce.

I was warmly welcomed to the cocktails by Ms. Anne Marie Jacinto, Punlaan School’s Director.

Hors de’oevre with Beringer (yes, my favorite California wines distributed by Happy Living was there to support too!) Sparkling White Zinfandel were served at the cocktails held at the school’s Multi-Purpose Hall. Everything was tasteful.

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Crisp Pawpaw Smoked Fish Cheesy Triangle with Pineapple Moringa Honey Sauce.

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Oven Roasted California Herb Mixed Nuts and Fresh Root Crop Chips with Punlaan Homemade Dip.
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Beringer Sparkling White Zifandel and my plate of bite-sized goodies.

As everyone were ushered in to the dining area at the second floor of the school, I got a chance to sneak inside the school’s chapel to utter some prayers.

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The lobby and the narrow wooden staircase gave me a Malacanan Palace-like vibe enough to heighten my curiosity and fascination with the school, its cause and of course, the dinner itself. The mood was casual, yet I had some hints that there’s a deeper purpose for my attendance.
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Here’s the hallway en route to the classrooms that were transformed to the evening’s dining area.
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Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, here are the faces of students who need your support and unconditional assistance, for them to pursue their studies in Punlaan School and fulfill their dreams of helping their own families eventually.

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One of the highlights of my experience was getting a chance to witness how our feast is prepared. I was ushered into the kitchen, et voila! It was so nice to see everyone was working in the chef’s Operating Room efficiently.

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Here’s Chef Babes Austria in her best element! I bet it’s a privilege and so motivating to be under her tutelage.
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It’s beautiful to see young chef-in-the-making, painstakingly setting our salad plates…
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Everyone seemed enjoying their work, and there was no trace of fatigue in spite of the fact that their call time to be in school for the event was 12 hours earlier.
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The dinner started officially as they opened the accordion divider to intentionally expose & introduce the kitchen and the people behind it.

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Introductory speeches from the school authorities were delivered and love songs were rendered by Ms. Roxy Abueg from UP Conservatory of Music. Her voice and renditions of popular and classic hits brought everyone in a more positive mood.

Dinner was served by the scholars themselves. My palates and taste buds sensed nothing but delicious!

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Flowers and Greens on a Bed of Home-made Curved Slivered Atlantic Wild Salmon-Gravlax lightly drizzled with Limoncello Vinaigrette.
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Asian Symphony of Flavors. Clear Broth served with puff twisted bread stick.
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Not on the menu but Soft Shell Crab was served too!  Yummy!

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Poached Baked Fresh Bacalao in spiced milk served with asparagus and foamy Dayap French Vanilla white wine sauce.

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Slow-cooked Roast US Pork Belly stuffed with California Walnuts, with Guava Java Mint Sauce.

I guess everyone, including myself, was not prepared to shed tears on a lovely dinner like this. One by one, while all of us were savoring the meal plate by plate, three remarkable alumni of Punlaan School took the podium and microphone and spoke from their hearts. Michelle Pacheco, who’s  a pioneer and still working with Resorts World Manila, Hazel Berbano, who’s working with Intercontinental Hotel Makati, and Rossel Dequito, who’s working with UCC Coffee, proudly shared their heartwarming and humble beginnings with Punlaan School. All their testimonials proved that despite they all came from poorest of the poor families in Metro Manila, their commitment to rise from their marginalized state by going through their studies successfully, to their hardworking efforts employed at their current work now, are all worth-sharing.

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From left to right : Punlaan School’s Alumni – Michelle Pacheco, Hazel Berbano, and Rossel Dequito.

Rossel, the last of the three speaker-alumni from Punlaan School moved everyone to tears. Her words about how she and her family survived and thrived on their house built on stilts by the sea, swaying with the waves and breeze, made us all realize our blessings – big and small.  She and the other girls from Punlaan School are truly inspiring!

Moving on with the dinner… A uniquely tasting sorbet called, California Raisin Lime (not in photo) was served as palate cleanser in between two courses.

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Grilled US Angus Steak.

Second course was a handsome fillet of prime beef with duet of sauce, au jus and quenelle pistachio cream pomerry mustard, served with baked potato, glazed baby carrot and French beans. The incredibly tasteful slab was paired with Beringer Founders’ Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. Tasted like a match truly made in Heaven! :)
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The steak was so gorgeous and delicious, I’m glad I immortalized it on this shot… hehehe! 
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Finally but not the least, decadent dessert!
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Sweet Punlaan Harmony Banana-Carrot Pudding with warm Ganache, Lavander infused Creme Anglaise and fresh fruit.

From cocktails, to entrees and dessert, to the morally-uplifting words of the almuni, I came home not only satiated but was reminded to be more grateful for everything and to everyone, to always count my blessings and to share whatever I can to those in need.
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“Heart for a Cause was sponsored by Beringer Wines courtesy of Happy Living, and Schott Zwiesel Stemware courtesy of Garden Barn,Down To Earth, Villa Ignacio Farms Inc., Mida Food Distributor Inc., Dane International Commodities Inc. and PTC.

Punlaan School is funded by voluntary government donations as well as private institutions and individuals. You can help by donating, accommodating women for training, or recruiting school graduates. For more information, log on to www.punlaan.com or call (63-2) 727-0581/82.”

*Special thanks goes out to Ms. Nana Nadal for the invitation.

>><<

27
Jan
14

KETTLE AT SHANGRI-LA PLAZA EAST WING : INSPIRING COMFORT FOOD

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My recent (food) trip to East Wing of Shangri-la Plaza proved that it has become one of the best dining districts not only in Mandaluyong City, but in entire Metro Manila. It’s fertile with upscale and creative restaurants that mostly offer gastronomic treats and joy particularly to those with discriminating taste. I’m glad that I finally got the chance to understand the reason behind why Kettle, a fresh comfort food place, located at its 5th level, continues to draw attention from foodies and casual diners.

While it is easy to appreciate Kettle’s friendly ambiance, relaxed interiors and attentive and efficient service, for they are a perfect combination and an attractive stimuli to the eyes and the palates, it is Chef Chiloy’s culinary expertise that turned Kettle in one corner of East Wing into a sensational restaurant. Every muted ingredient from the plates that we sampled was apparently transformed into an impressive dish!
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Water, Lemon Iced Tea, Green Iced Tea, Peach Iced Tea. Thirst-quenchers!

In a tropical and at times humid Manila atmosphere, Kettle’s beverage menu is absolutely refreshing! My vote goes with Green Iced Tea and Peach Iced Tea (PhP 149+/carafe). Young and kiddie diners, as well as the health conscious ones, will surely be biased with Kettle’s Fresh Fruit Shake; while those with matured preference will certainly be interested with the restaurant’s wine and beer list.

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Pork and Potato Strips.

Pork and Potato Strips (PhP 339+) from the appetizer choices won me in a heart beat. I lost for superlatives to describe those bite-sized and  crunchy pork belly tossed with fresh potato strips, fried without grease miraculously and flavored with fried herbs and red pepper aioli, but it’s actually addictive! It kept us nibbling almost incessantly. I repeat, ADDICTIVE! Go figure.

Here’s a macroscopic shot of that genius potato fries. Believe me, it tastes far better than it looks!

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Another appetizer we had was Baked Brie (PhP 389+).

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Baked Brie.

Served with side salad and balsamic syrup, this puff pastry with forest berries jam appeared really light and interesting but not at par with Pork and Potato Strips as being Kettle’s best appetizer on my book.

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Buttermilk Fried Chicken.

Kettle’s brilliant expression of the usual comfort food, fried chicken left all of us in awe and wonder. From its crispy and lightly battered skin (Sinful. Spells HYPERLIPIDEMIA, I know!), the tender chicken fillets in huge fractions were gloriously seasoned to perfection! They’re beautiful and ultimately delicious sans condiments! However, for complete Kettle experience, you need to dip a chunk of that happiness to its country gravy and drizzle it with cajun honey, toy it in your mouth, swallow smoothly then dunk your fork to those equally tasteful honey glazed cornbread muffins. Bliss! :) For that moment, Kettle’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken (PhP 519+)  melted my worries and stress away and made me forget all the fried chicken versions (including my favorites!) that I’ve tasted from other restaurants and fast food joints here and abroad. It was that sublime!

Hallelujah!

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If Buttermilk Fried Chicken victoriously convinced my heart and soul that there’s logic behind its being famous from Kettle’s menu, Miso Glazed Salmon (PhP 559+) from the menu of entrees placed second on my list.

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Miso Glazed Salmon.

This warm and cold dish of Pan fried Norwegian salmon, marinated cold soba noodles, mango cilantro salsa reminded me silently of my weeks in Tokyo; it must be because of the soba and my undying love for salmon.

I love how Kettle incorporates sandwiches on their menu. Although I understand that it’s neither an economic nor a social priority, it gives the Filipino taste buds that live and thrive on rice meals, a chance to sample Western favorites like Reuben, Angus Beef Burger and more. Indirectly, eating such foreign sandwiches once in a while, may inspire and stimulate the wanderlust in us to dream and travel more and explore the other parts of the globe!

Talking about sandwiches, if you’re into grilled cheese, this one’s for you…

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Kettle Grilled Four Cheese.

It may not look much but this Grilled Four Cheese (PhP 329+) sandwich made of English loaf, Gruyere, Fontina, Cheddar, Parmesan, Sweet Totato Jam, Basil Crunch may seem delightful for those who favor grilled cheese. Best part of it, they served it with Sweet Potato Fries that’s not oily too.

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Shrimp Po’Boy.

It was my first time to take a bite at a Louisiana classic, Shrimp Po’Boy (PhP 419+). This sandwich made of soft Ciabatta roll, Cajun breaded shrimps with remoulade, served with simple but heavenly sweet potato fries was satisfyingly good if you like your food textured with a kick of spice and a subtle play of flavors.

If Miso Glazed Soba from Kettle magically reminded me of my 2 weeks in Tokyo, and Shrimp Po’Boy made me want to explore the ports and restaurants in New Orleans someday, Corned Beef Hash (PhP 519+) is a reminiscence of our days in Las Vegas where we indulged in fantastic breakfast buffets.

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Corned Beef Hash.

What made Kettle’s version of Corned Beef Hash different from those I had in USA ages ago was the fact that it’s loaded with chunky and house-made corned beef and not merely the usual shredded beef strips. One may find it a bit salty, but to people like me who prefer saltiness on food (oops!), this meal served with fried potatoes, fried egg and gravy, with a choice of rice or toasted bread, is another comfort-food-hit!

On the sweets department, Kettle offers a short but effective dessert menu, just enough to satisfy some toothsome craving and end a unforgettable dining experience.

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Banana Cream Pie (PhP 149+).

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Pineapple Upside Down Cake (PhP 189+).

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Caramel Cake (PhP 189+).

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Checkered Cake (PhP 209+).

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Peach Trifle (PhP 269+).

Of the five desserts that we tasted, Checkered Cake and Peach Trifle stood out for me. I found that clever marriage of Red Velvet and Chocolate united in one cake in a checkered fashion a sure winner! It’s very light and far from being irritatingly sweet. Excellent! And I am partial too with Peach Trifle simply because of my preference with peaches. It is noteworthy that Chef Chiloy’s beloved mom, Ms. Vilma Santos (not the famous local actress), employs her very own creative culinary prowess on each dessert-masterpieces at Kettle. Inspiring, isn’t it?

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More than an indulgent meal, I enjoyed common comfort foods made extra-remarkable from Kettle (read : Buttermilk Fried Chicken!); dishes reminiscent of my few travels and those favorites that appeal sensibly to the palates as well as the heart.

When you have a chance, go pamper your taste buds at Kettle!

Have you tried dining at Kettle? How’s your experience? What are your favorites from Kettle?

*Special thanks goes to Chef Chiloy Santos of Kettle and Richard of Tales From The Tummy  for the invitation.

Kettle | 5th Level, Shangri-la Plaza Mall -East Wing | Monday to Sunday, 11:30AM to 9:30PM | Phone No. : (+632) 6547077 | website : http://kettleph.com/

>><<

17
Jan
14

QUIAPO, MANILA | POSTCARDS FROM PLAZA MIRANDA

Most people equate Quiapo as the heart of Manila, and that includes me. Although I am not a Manileño,  my love affair with Quiapo in the Philippines’ big city dates back long before I started studying my Pre-Med course in one of the oldest institutions, Far Eastern University in 1993, that’s located a stone’s throw away from Quiapo.  I have been familiar with Quiapo and the streets of Manila, some of its alleys and main roads since my early childhood years when my parents began bringing me and my siblings to 30 churches every Holy Week.  No, I’m not telling you that I grew up religious, but I am implying that I have been keeping an itchy feet to go to Manila every now and then.  And if I will narrow down my favorite places there, it surely includes Intramuros, Chinatown and Divisoria, and of course, Quiapo!

In my humble attempt to share with you my fascination with Quiapo, I tried my best to capture its colors on my amateur-photos. Let me know if you think any of these are, ehem *clears throat*,  postcard-worthy.

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Wishing Candles.

Red for love and offering for family. White for purity. Blue for peace of mind. Green for money. Violet for material wealth. Yellow for good spirit. Pink for love and health. Orange for brightness. Brown for good fortune. Peach for studies. Black for conscience. Rainbow-colored candles (except black), or one of each colors per bundle are sold for PhP 20 and it comes with a prayer written in Tagalog, with instruction to utter your wish 3x. Again, these are Wishing Candles. And apparently, prayers are different from wishes; but aren’t they eye-candy?

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Tarot Cards, Fortune Telling and Pyschic Powers.

Located in front of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, famously known as Quiapo Church is the town square called, Plaza Miranda. Thriving within Plaza Miranda are various peddlers, vendors and stall owners that sell variety of things from religious articles and images, flowers, vegetables and fruits. One of the most interesting groups of people who occupy  prominent corners in Plaza Miranda are the Psychics and Fortune Tellers. Even more noteworthy to me are those devotees and faithfuls who, after praying and hearing Holy Masses, go and sit under the huge and colorful umbrellas of these fortune tellers, to listen to their so called prophecies, predictions and warnings, *no pun intended*.  At a current rate of PhP 100 per tarot card reading for about 20-30 minutes, clients could hear fortune teller’s readings about their luck, money, love life, work and whatnot.

I think most of them who studied tarot card reading and interpretation would mention possibilities that may or may not happen in the client’s life. I certainly don’t believe in fortune telling. Do you? Whether you believe it or not, truth remains that business is good for those fortune tellers. And did I have my fun share of listening to tarot card reading in Quiapo? Go ahead and guess. Read my mind!
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Rosaries.

I bought a rosary, the wooden brown one at the far left of the photo above at PhP 20.
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Amulets, Talismans, Charms?

According to Powerfortunes.com, “the word talisman comes from the Arabic word, tilsam which itself comes from the Greek word telos which means to consecrate or to initiate into the mysteries.  A talisman is defined as an object that has apparently magical or miraculous effects and that can avert misfortune and bring good fortune when acquired. An amulet, originated from the Latin word, amuletum, is essentially another term for talisman. Amulets are lucky charms that have magical inscriptions and which has been consecrated through incantation.”

When I asked the male vendor of the stall where I took the photo of those pendant-looking amulets, of its use and function and where they source it, I received a candid yet seemingly truthful response. “Ang suppliers po namin ay taga-Batangas at Cavite. Ang gamit po nyan ay naayon at alam ng bumibili” (“Our suppliers come from the provinces of Batangas and Cavite. People who buy those things certainly know how to use them”).

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Roasted Peanuts. Yum!

There’s always something to munch at Plaza Miranda. I bought a small pack of roasted and garlicky peanuts for PhP 10.

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Ginger and Chilies.

I told you, Plaza Miranda in Quiapo is so colorful, isn’t it?
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Smoked Fish, or locally called Tinapa.

My mom asked me to buy Tinapa or smoked fish. I bought two piles of smoked fish! Delicious!
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Bouquets.

I think flowers are appropriate within the vicinity of a church.
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Dried Shrimps or locally called, Hibe.  Dried and Salted Fish or locally called, Tuyo.  Yum!

From Plaza Miranda all the way to Quinta Market, the side streets are loaded with stalls of fruits, vegetables, fish, meats, dried, fresh, cured, marinated. Name it.

I also bought a PhP 50-pack of  Tuyo, or salted dried fish and a kilogram of tomatoes.
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A stall of vegetables and fruits.

My love and fascination for Quiapo Church, Plaza Miranda and all their colors will remain the same, perhaps even after my legs and knees become weak to drag my feet to go to Manila.
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Wishing candles. Again. You love the colors, don’t you? I do!

>><<

12
Jan
14

ANGONO | HIGANTES FESTIVAL & BALAW BALAW RESTAURANT

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It only took me 20 minutes and twenty-two Philippine pesos on a single public-utility-jeepney ride from our place in Pasig City to reach Angono, Rizal.  Although it sounded quite near and convenient, I did not have any idea where to alight! I only remembered from what I googled, that the Higantes Festival parade would start at 7AM, Sunday, 17 November 2013,  in front of Angono Elementary School. Good thing, luck was on my side because a young family with grandparents were also on their way to the same town fiesta, sat beside me. I got off the jeepney when they did.

Just before 7AM, I found myself standing in front of World War II monument at the junction in Angono. The driver dropped off almost half of his passengers there, as the road going to Angono Elementary School was closed for the event. After few meters of walking, I smiled when I finally saw numerous Higantes, or giant paper mache on queue for the parade. It certainly brought back simple and happy memories of celebrating fiestas during my childhood years.

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Towering at ten to twelve feet, with diameter of about four to five feet, Higantes are made of paper mache for their heads, and bamboos and colorful textiles for their trunks. They usually add fun to almost all fiestas around the Philippines, but it is in Angono where the tradition started. History states that these Higantes originated as a creative means of protest of Filipino farmers and land tillers against their Spanish landlords during the colonial era. That explains why these Higantes have hands placed high up on their waists, they used to be the effigies of arrogant hacienderos before.

An awesome surprise treat for me was to see and photograph little pretty kids that were dressed in costumes of mermaids, fishermen and parehadoras (group of young girls holding paddles and wearing bakya or traditional wooden slippers); they were all in the parade at Higantes Festival as reminders that Angono was once a fishing village and that its town people were blessed with abundance of Laguna Lake.

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And so my Sunday morning was made with infectious kiddie smiles and a lot variations of Higantes from computer-game-inspired, Plants versus Zombies…

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Philippines’ National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal…

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More animated characters…

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Local town’s cosplayers…

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Even the famous Filipino comedian-host, Vice Ganda was made into a Higantes!

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Like almost all fiestas in the country, the parade started with a lively marching bands…

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Fiestas are commonly celebrated in honor of Catholic saints, and in Angono, it’s the feast day of Saint Pope Clement I or locally known as San Clemente. Higantes Festival is held a week before the feast day of San Clemente, that’s usually celebrated every November 22-23.

After I stationed myself to a spot where I watched the parade pass by, I walked my way down to the town’s municipal building.

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The relief-structures of “Si Malakas at Si Maganda” fronting the municipal building of Angono, Rizal.

Since I am not familiar with the place, I asked bystanders and a few policemen of the directions to the San Clemente Church. It’s easy as I was told to stroll down where the parade was going.
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The narrow street en route to the San Clemente Church was lined by concrete walls in parallel, with sculptures and murals depicting local lives and other artistic creations of homegrown artists of Angono. This urban municipality would never been dubbed as Arts Capital of the Philippines for nothing. Angono is home to two National Artists, namely Lucio San Pedro for music and Carlos “Botong” Francisco for the arts. It is also in this humble town where Angono Petroglyphs, the oldest art work identified in the Philippines, can be found (not in photo).
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Finally, I uttered prayers of thanksgiving, asked for forgiveness and blessings inside San Clemente Church.
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Outside, under the heat of the mid-morning sun, the Higantes Festival parade was still on-going. I caught myself with mouth-wide-open, at the sight of local men and women in their geriatric years, taking photos of the parade using modern tablets and smart phones.

I was in awe at the efforts employed by all participants, specially the boys and men who were carrying those Higantes, and of course, all the children and the old ones who were wearing traditional attires and costumes for the parade. Hats off to them who continue to pass this traditional celebration to the next generations.
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Most people who visit Angono, Rizal also drop by the famous Balaw-Balaw Specialty Restaurant and Art Gallery.  Of course, I did not let the chance to pass without sampling something from their menu. It only took me 5-minute-tricycle ride to get there.

Apparently, 3 Higantes from the parade were from the restaurant owners. I saw them how they disassemble the Higantes before keeping them inside the gallery. Amazing!

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The facade’s inviting with lush greens…
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Inside, I found the restaurant quaint and fascinating…
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The view where I sat…
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Paper Mache : Local women with children, cooking local rice cakes, bibingka and puto-bumbong.

Balaw-Balaw Restaurant is known for local and exotic dishes from Angono. I forgot to bring my daredevil and adventurous attitude when it comes to food (as if I have one!), thus I only settled to personal favorites – Halo-halo to beat the heat, Balaw-balaw Seafood fried rice -that appealed to me as a meal-in-one, and a fresh mango juice to wash everything down.
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By its huge serving, I had more than half of the Balaw-Balaw Seafood fried rice as my take-away, and shared it immediately for lunch at home. Everything’s OK but certainly not the best compared to what I’ve tasted. To be fair, there’s a lot of Filipino dishes on the menu to choose from and perhaps, a single visit to this restaurant with minimal orders would not be enough to have a fair food review.

The restaurant houses an art gallery too.

Behold.

The craftmanship of Angono…
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A visit to their toilet with a 45 degree turn to the right will give you this view…

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More beautiful sculptures and art works installed at the other room of the art gallery…

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Half day wasn’t enough to understand, enjoy and savor an entire town’s culture, tradition, food and celebration. But I reckon that I had fun nonetheless.

Have you been to Angono, Rizal? How was your experience attending Higantes Festival? Have you tried dining at Balaw-Balaw Restaurant?

>><<

San Clement Church | Baranggay Poblacion Ibaba, Angono, Rizal.

Angono Elementary School | M.L. Quezon Avenue, Barangay San Isidro, Angono, Rizal.

Balaw Balaw Specialty Restaurant and Art Gallery| #16 Doña Justa St., Doña Subd., PH1, Angono, Rizal. (this is not a sponsored post).

>><<

22
Dec
13

WHERE MY FEET BROUGHT ME IN 2013

It takes a formidable spirit to endure 2013.  From the devastating effects of Typhoon Haiyan, earthquake and armed conflict in our country, The Philippines, to my personal adversities, we could either dwell on tragedy and misery or choose to rise, become better, and move on. The results will always depend on our decisions.

Yet in so many ways, I consider 2013 as one of my most blessed years. There are so much reasons to celebrate and be grateful for! I was privileged to set foot in few countries that brought me priceless memories and worthwhile experiences. I was fortunate to be invited to some of the luxurious hotels and restaurants in Malaysia, Singapore and Manila. The year was also kind in providing this blog, recognition, online features and citations.

With this photo-essay, allow me to relive and share once more, where my feet took me in 2013. Everything in 2013 reminded me that every moment counts, every step matters. I’m counting blessings.

JANUARY 2013 : CHIANG MAI,  THAILAND

Ringed Beauty, published on July/August 2012 Lonely Planet Magazine Asia
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kids in chiang mai
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FEBRUARY 2013 : LANGKAWI, KEDAH  &  PENANG, MALAYSIA 

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LANGKAWI, KEDAH, MALAYSIA : Our Days in Cenang & Tengah Beaches, Langkawi

Also in February 2013, I was able to blog a Mini-Travel-Guide to George Town, Penang…

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FEBRUARY 2013 : Mini Guide to George Town, Penang : A UNESCO World Heritage Site

MARCH  2013 : KUALA LUMPUR  &  PENANG, MALAYSIA

gabby donating his clothes and toys
MARCH 2013 : Charity Work with Gabby & Malaysian Bloggers in 3 Orphanages in Penang

BEST EXPAT BLOG AWARD MITBCA 2013
MARCH 2013 : 2013 Ministry of Tourism Malaysia’s Best Expat Blog Award Winner

APRIL 2013  :  MALACCA, MALAYSIA  &  SINGAPORE

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APRIL 2013 : Random Memories, Happy Thoughts from Melaka

MAY 2013 : SINGAPORE  &  PENANG, MALAYSIA

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MAY 2013 : Singapore River Safari

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MAY 2013 : River Safari, Night Safari & Singapore Flyer :  Courtesy of iVenture Card, Singapore
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MAY 2013 :  Chowrasta Road & Market

JUNE 2013 : MALACCA, MALAYSIA  &  SINGAPORE

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JUNE 2013 :  Mods Cafe Melaka
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JUNE 2013 : Singapore Night Safari

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JUNE 2013 : Singapore Flyer & More

AUGUST 2013 :  KATHMANDU,  BHAKTAPUR,  PATAN, NAGARKOT,  NEPAL

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*Nepal Blog Series includes :

SEPTEMBER 2013 :  MANILA,  PHILIPPINES

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SEPTEMBER 2013  : Back in Manila

OCTOBER 2013 :  PENANG, MALAYSIA

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george town, penang, malaysia
may 9 2013 743pm thursday
OCTOBER 2013 : How Do You Say Goodbye To Malaysia

NOVEMBER 2013 : SINGAPORE

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NOVEMBER 2013 :  Gardens By The Bay Revisited Singapore

DECEMBER 2013 : MANILA, THE PHILIPPINES

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DECEMBER : 2013 Grand Marian Procession, Intramuros, Manila

SPONSORED STAYCATIONS  2013 : PENANG, SINGAPORE, MALACCA, KUALA LUMPUR

I am also thankful to all people who invited me and my family to complimentary hotel accomodation in Malaysia and Singapore this year. I cannot  be grateful enough! Many thanks to :

  • Eastin Hotel Penang, Malaysia
  • Ibis Hotel on Bencoolen, Singapore
  • Eastern & Oriental Hotel Penang, Malaysia
  • Quayside Hotel & Halia Inc. Restaurant, Malacca, Malaysia
  • The Elizabeth Hotel, Singapore
  • Orchard Parade Hotel, Singapore
  • Somerset Serviced Residences, Ampang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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MARCH 2013 : Eastin Hotel Penang
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MAY 2013 : Singapore : Ibis Hotel on Bencoolen
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MAY 2013 : Heritage Wing of E&O Hotel Penang

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eastern & oriental hotel penang at docgelo.com
MAY 2013 : Corner Suite, Victory Annexe Wing, E&O Hotel Penang

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JUNE 2013 : Quayside Hotel & Halia Restaurant Coffee Bar, Malacca

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OCTOBER 2013 : Elizabeth Hotel, Singapore

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OCTOBER 2013 : Orchard Parade Hotel Singapore
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OCTOBER 2013 : Somerset Serviced Residence, Ampang, Kuala Lumpur

COMPLIMENTARY FOOD INDULGENCE : PENANG, SINGAPORE, MANILA

I’m also grateful to the people who sent invitations from restaurants and a few good friends in Penang, Singapore and Manila. Thank you very much to :

  • Macalister Mansion, Penang
  • Sarkies, Eastern & Oriental Hotel Penang
  • 1885, Eastern & Oriental Hotel Penang
  • Dinner Treat by Dennis in Hakumai & Omakase, Antoinette, Singapore.
  • Swez Brasserie, Eastin Hotel Penang
  • Beringer Wines and Cirkulo Restaurant, Makati City
  • Silk Thai Road, BGC, Taguig City
  • Burger Company, Quezon City
  • Dinner Treats from my Malaysian families in Penang – Mr. Michael & Jasmine, and Mr. Loh & family
  • Lunch & Dinner Treat by great friends, Rob & LG
  • Harina Artisan Bakery & Cafe, Quezon City
  • Sentro 1771, Serendra, BGC, Taguig City

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Torchon of Foie Gras, Crumble, Gastrique Pearls
MARCH 2013 : Macalister Mansion : Tobreck Vertical Wine Dinner
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MARCH 2013 : Sarkies’ Seafood Buffet Dinner Extravaganza, E&O Hotel Penang
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MAY 2013 : 1885 : Eastern & Oriental Hotel Penang’s Fine Dining Restaurant

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MAY 2013 :  Singapore : Hakumai Sushi & Omakase | Antoinette French Desserts

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JULY 2013 : Wine & Dine Buffet Dinner at Sarkies, E&O Hotel, Penang
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JULY 2013 : Ramadan Buffet at Eastin Hotel Penang

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OCTOBER 2013 : Farewell Dinner at Sarkies,E&O Hotel Penang
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NOVEMBER 2013 : Two Dinners Hosted by My Malaysian Families

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NOVEMBER 2013 : Lunch & Dinner Treats from Great Friends of 20 Years & Counting
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NOVEMBER 2013 : Beringer Wines at Cirkulo Restaurant, Makati City

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NOVEMBER 2013 : Finest Thai Food at Silk Road, BGC
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NOVEMBER 2013 : Burger Company, Quezon City

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DECEMBER 2013 : Harina Artisan Bakery Cafe, Quezon City

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DECEMBER 2013 : Sentro 1771 Serendra, BGC

  • Special thanks goes out to Malaysia Airlines for sponsoring our family’s PEN-KUL-KTM roundtrip tickets!

Apart from the Best Expat Blog Award from Ministry of Tourism Malaysia for two consecutive years, 2013 also brought me a few more citations and priceless things that boost my self-esteem. Again, many thanks to those few people who believe in this blog.

PINOY TRAVEL BLOGGERS
And fortunately, for the second time, one of the photos I took in Chiang Mai, Thailand was published in 4 pages of the esteemed travel magazine, Lonely Planet Asia last  July 2013.

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JULY 2013 : My Travel Photo Published on 4 Pages of Lonely Planet Asia Magazine

Looking back, no superlatives will be appropriate to describe the places I’ve been to and the people I’ve met. No volume of photos will ever be enough to express the good and bad memories of the journeys I took. Everything and everyone provided me life lessons generously.

docgelo kathmandu nepal

Twenty thirteen has been like no other, yet through it all, one thing remains the same. I opt not to dwell in negative things and be more hopeful for tomorrow. It’s incredibly ecstatic to wonder where my feet will take me in the coming years.

  May we all have a Blessed Christmas and a Prosperous New Year!

>><<

PTB Blog Carnival

*This is my entry to Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ Blog Carnival

for the month of December 2013 entitled,

“The Pinoy Travel Bloggers Closing the Curtains on 2013: Love, Learn and Living”

hosted by Brenna Bustamante of

The Philippine Travelogue.

>><<

18
Dec
13

SENTRO 1771 | SERENDRA, BGC

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For a Balikbayan (Filipino who returns home from abroad), or an Overseas Filipino Worker like me, who certainly missed dining in restaurants that take pride in serving Filipino cuisine with a modern twist and play on classic and well-loved flavors, Sentro 1771 is such a welcome treat! I’m thankful that I was invited to join a small group of bloggers to sample some dishes in its branch in Serendra, Bonifacio Global City at 3PM, last 15th December 2013, Sunday. The timing was quite late for lunch, yet so heavy for merienda or an afternoon snack.

I didn’t set any expectation as it was my first time to dine there. I was impressed at almost everything about Sentro 1771 and the dishes that I tasted except for one. Ambiance of the restaurant’s relaxed and elegant, perfect for families and friends with discriminating taste.  Service is highly commendable too! Not only quick and efficient, but most unique to what I’ve been to. I extremely liked the way waiters bring over the Sinigang or sour broth in a tea cup for tasting before they serve it. They can adjust its sourness and spiciness depending on the diners’ preference. Best of all, they refill the soup generously!

First of two appetizers that was served to us was Macau Chorizo and Cheese Tidbits.

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Macau Chorizo and Cheese Tidbits, PhP 240++. Mini Spring Rolls filled with Macau chorizo, shallots, quezo de bola.

If you like something crispy, textured and a bit salty, this one’s for you. I found the flavors of chorizo and quezo de bola in these fried spring rolls too perfect for words! They’re delicious sans the dip; but the more interesting tug-of-war of saltiness and sourness begins when you dunk each roll onto the vinegar dip.

Next appetizer:  Duck Pancakes.
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Duck Pancakes. PhP 170++. Peking pancakes filled with strips of native duck slow-cooked in beer, rhum vinegar, soy sauce, and muscovado sugar.

I admired how those Duck Pancakes were served and the way the staff explained how it was supposed to be eaten. Of course, the filling must be tucked inside the light and crunchy pancakes to your palates’ delight. Yummy!
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Let the food tasting begin! :)

Sentro 1771‘s Specialty of the House as noted on the first page of their menu, is their version of Sinigang na Corned Beef.  But did it live up to its name and reviews from other diners?

Unlike my fellow bloggers who have already dined in Sentro 1771 Greenbelt branch, my standards for Corned Beef in Sour Broth was from other upscale Filipino restaurant. And unfortunately, this one from Sentro 1771 in Serendra simply fell flat on my taste buds.  Although the sourness and spiciness were adjusted to our taste as mentioned earlier, the corned beef chunks failed to do its part. Too bad as it’s labeled as Specialty of the House but there was nothing to rave about other than its ordinary Sinigang taste. I was telling my table mates who were comparing it to what they’ve loved in Greenbelt branch that probably, the one in Serendra had a different supplier of corned beef meat making the quality and taste varied; then again I was only speculating.

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Restaurant staff, Gelo refilling the tamarind broth in our Sinigang na Corned Beef bowl.
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Sinigang na Corned Beef. PhP 595++. Corned beef short plate and boneless beef shanks in tamarind broth with native vegetables.

If the Sinigang na Corned Beef failed to satisfy me, the Stuffed & Grilled Fish of the Day tied in Pandan was otherwise.
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Fish of the day Pandan, grilled.  PhP 220 per gram. Whole fish stuffed with sauteed onions, tomatoes, miso and malunggay, tied with pandan leaves.

Unless it’s buttered or eaten raw as sashimi or sushi, I don’t usually fancy fish dishes in restaurants until I sampled this F.O.D Pandan. It appeared so simple but surprisingly, it pleased my appetite that afternoon! It tasted fresh and was even made more flavorful with its filling and the soy-plus-lemon-sauce. Highly Recommended!

The next entree served to us was the Chicken Adobo sa Gata.

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Chicken Adobo sa Gata, PhP 250++. Still retains the vinegar-garlic-peppercorn balance but thickened with coconut milk.

Most Filipinos, if not all, love Adobo (seasoned meat cooked in soy sauce and vinegar). With or without coconut milk, one can never go wrong with any Adobo dish. I liked it but coming home from Malaysia where most of my days were spent eating chicken dishes, I had my little reservation.

More fascinating than the Adobo in coconut milk was the next plate on our table : Camote Cups!

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Camote Cups. PhP 240++ Carved sweet potato filled with stir-fried cabbage, Baguio beans and carrots.

I like stir-fried-vegetable dishes like the very Pinoy, Lumpia (wrapped or not); this one’s a modern version served on sweet potato cups. Definitely a must-try for those who favor fibers! Delicious and healthy!

Another dish that earned my two-thumbs-up was the Lamb Caldereta.

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Lamb Caldererta. PhP 480++ Boneless lamb shoulder stewed with carrots, bell peppers, tomato sauce, and spices. It can be mild or spicy.

If you’re following this blog, my palates were exposed to 2 glorious lamb dishes from 2 great restaurants since I went home last October 20th, and luckily, I liked them both. This Lamb Caldereta was not an exception. I liked its tender meat and tasteful sauce.

Sentro 1771 also served us cups of plain rice to complement everything, however, I passed up and opted to try the Seafood Bagoong Rice which to me, is already a whole-meal-in-one!

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Seafood Bagoong Rice. PhP 530++.Topped with grilled squid, garlic shrimps and hito flakes.
Brown or red rice – add PhP 45.

Given a chance to choose only one dish from everything we sampled, I’ll have that Seafood Bagoong Rice, bar none.

What’s a Filipino meal without sweet endings? For desserts, we had enjoyed common favorites, a few served with a twist.

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Fried Suman and Mangoes. PhP 180++ Rolled-out suman fried to a light crisp and topped with ripe mangoes, served with coco jam.

Eating Fried Suman (Glutinous rice cake) and Mangoes with Coco Jam is never new to me;  even Thai people can relate so much to this favorite. I loved it but its small servings made me crave for more!

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Banana Tart. PhP 150++ Puff pastry with a light custard, topped with caramelized saba banana slices.

As I toy a tentative mouthful of Banana Tart in my mouth, it brought back memories of eating Banana Cue as afternoon snack.

The last dessert they served to us deceived me actually. I initially thought it as Creme Caramel (Caramel Flan) or more locally known as Leche Flan but it’s cheesecake served with slices of salted egg and quezo de bola. It’s called Keso Flan!

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Keso Flan. PhP 220++Baked but light, no crust cheesecake served with quezo de bola and salted egg. Tastes like bibingka!

I almost forgot to mention, we washed down everything with Dalandan juice. Refreshing and thirst-quenching!

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Dalandan Juice.

With beautiful and contemporary take on Filipino cuisine, huge and tasty servings of dishes, casual and relaxed atmosphere, minimalist and classy interiors, attentive and friendly staff, Sentro 1771 is definitely one of the excellent choices when one wants to satisfy a Filipino craving!

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SENTRO 1771 | Ground Floor, Serendra Piazza, Taguig City | website : http://sentro1771.net/

*Special thanks to Sentro 1771 and Anton of http://www.pusangkalye.net for the invite.

>><<

08
Dec
13

GASTRONOMIC WEEKEND WITH FRIENDS OF 20 YEARS & COUNTING

paella, corazon restaurant, east wing, shangri la plaza
Paella Moriscos, Corazon Filipino-Hispano Cuisine.

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Kangkong dish with Lechon Kawali toppings (requested to be a side dish), Corazon.

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Corazon Iced Tea & Sago’t Gulaman.

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Corazon’s patio with artificial plants : nothing beats freshness! (read my review of the dishes below).
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Artistic display inside East Wing, Shangri-La Plaza, November 2013.
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Strawberry Shortcake and a shot of Macchiato, Wicked, East Wing, Shangri-La Plaza.

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White Russian Fondue, Brownie, Macchiato, Wicked by Cravings.

green mango sorbet with bagoong, sebastian
Pistachio on Butter Pecan and Green Mango Sorbet with Bagoong (shrimp paste), Sebastian’s.

garlic bread, balsamic vinegar & olive oil
Garlic Bread, Virgin Oil and Balsamic Vinegar Dip, Chelsea Market & Cafe.

seafood pizza, chelsea
Seafood Pasta, Chelsea Market & Cafe.

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Pasta Vongole, Chelsea Market & Cafe.

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Best friends since 1993, LG & Rob, at Chelsea Market & Cafe, The Podium, 09 November 2013.

Those were all consumed in just half day dining! We were overwhelmed too of what we ate that Saturday! It was the weekend when LG and I met again our best friend, Rob of SensoryReplays.com as he came home for his break from his medical work abroad. It’s somewhat customary for Rob to treat his friends over sumptuous meals and coffee during his days off.  The universe and the stars were once again, in favor of good times as Rob treated us for lunch, desserts and coffee, LG paid the dinner for us while I was the lucky man who spent nothing on food for the nth time! Hallelujah! Hehehe!  Seriously, these two people are just more than being supportive and understanding of my situation; they know my story and my family more than anyone else. And they sure know to please my palates with delightful goodies! My only role that day was to suggest the food places.

I was literally laughing at our meeting place in Shangri-La Plaza mall, after Rob handed me a brown bag. Inside was the biggest cup of Big Chill fruit shake and a straw. It was like I arrived at a resort with a welcome drink! :D

So how did I find the food? Lunch at Corazon Filipino-Hispanic Cuisine was less satisfying. Perhaps, I need another chance to dine there for my taste buds to sense the dishes better. I wished their Seafood Paella (one of my favorites!) or Paella Moriscos had more seafoods, more than just its toppings. My friends  noted that the beans on the paella appeared like frozen (wrinkled) before it was used, and not as fresh as it should be. They also found Torres, the Fried Tilapia dish topped with ripe Mango Salsa (not in photo) less fresh-tasting; the same with the Kangkong dish topped with Lechon Kawali. What saved the day, in my opinion, were the Seafood Tinola (not in photo) and the thirst-quenching beverages we ordered.

After much needed bladder break from indulging on bottomless Corazon Iced Tea that tasted a bit like fruit punch, we moved to another restaurant, still at the East Wing of Shangri-La Plaza, to have desserts and coffee. I suggested for us to try, Wicked by Cravings. Personally, I liked the desserts we sampled but I fell short with just a shot of Macchiato.

Around 3 or 4PM, we walked our way to The Podium. Rob and I had ice cream from Sebastian’s while LG passed up. Knowing he’s eclectic and adventurous, I wasn’t surprised when Rob opted for Green Mango Sorbet with Bagoong (shrimp paste) while I was content with my safe choice of Sebastian’s Pistachio on Butter Pecan. Delicious! I didn’t miss to taste Rob’s chosen flavor and it really tasted like very Pinoy! Something nice, creative and new for a sorbet but I honestly, would not make it a favorite.

Our dinner treat from LG was at Chelsea Market & Cafe, also at The Podium. Since Rob is a religious pescetarian, we remained in favor of seafood dishes; we enjoyed Pasta Vongole, Seafood Pizza, garlic breads and washed everything down with iced tea. Everything was tasteful; such a perfect ending to a day of friendship and good times.

I am grateful.

*This is NOT a sponsored post. 

*Corazon Filipino-Hispanic Cuisine | 4F, East Wing, Shangri-La Plaza, Shaw Blvd, cor EDSA, Mandaluyong
*Wicked by Cravings | 5F, East Wing, Shangri-La Plaza, Shaw Blvd, cor EDSA, Mandaluyong
*Sebastian’s | The Podium, Mandaluyong
*Chelsea Market & Cafe | GF The Podium, Mandaluyong.

>><<

05
Dec
13

INTRAMUROS, MANILA | 2013 GRAND MARIAN PROCESSION

“I love you when you bow in your mosque,

kneel in your temple,

pray in your church.

For you and I are sons of religion,

and it is the spirit.”

~ Khalil Gibran

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Around 3PM, I rode the MRT train from Santolan Station all the way to its last stop in Recto, Manila. Strolled my way to Quiapo, then took a jeepney ride to Pier and alighted near the Department of Immigration building. The road was completely blocked to private and public vehicles and only people were allowed to walk through the historic walled city. Few steps further, I found myself standing in front of the restored Ayuntamiento, among the thick volume of crowd, waiting for the 100 carrozas to float by.  Although I spent countless evenings of Holy Wednesdays, Good Fridays and dawns of Easter Sundays watching Catholic saint-processions with my family in Marikina City and considering I used to be a part of an all-boys-choir in Marikina Catholic School, who used to sing in First Friday Masses, Living Rosary and other religious activities in school during my growing up years,  attending the longest procession devoted to the Blessed Virgin entirely, was something new to me.  It was my first time to attend and witness the Grand Marian Procession in Intramuros, Manila that, correct me if I’m wrong, is an annual event held every first Sunday of December.

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Ayuntamiento

01 December 2013, Sunday, Intramuros, Manila. It was drizzling when I arrived within the vicinity of Manila Cathedral but the mild downpour miraculously stopped around 5PM, so timely for the start of the Grand Marian Procession for this year. Armed with my long black umbrella, I took a few shots of the first few carrozas on queue. Most of them came from nearby parishes in Metro Manila, to as far as Northern, Central and Southern Luzon, with few that came from provinces in the South.
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La Familia De La Virgen Maria.

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The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin, Elizabeth.

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Angel Gabriel on the Annunciation tableu.

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Annunciation

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Nuestra Senora De La O from Our Lady’s Nativity Parish, Pangil, Laguna.

I saw groups of people with gadgets that could take photos swarming around one of the carrozas that was literally filled with colorful and attractive flowers; mostly Ecuadorean roses in various hues. Not long after, I joined the bystanders and faithfuls who were in awe at San Jose and his float. It was the grandest I’ve seen!
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Roses in various colors & other blooms, mirrors, faux trees & crystals adorned San Jose’s carroza.

Within 4 hours of watching the procession, at times I whispered prayers to the Lord and to His Blessed Mother, whose many images passed me by, I was totally amazed and proud of the Filipino faith. Each Marian icon was accompanied and ushered by parish priest/s, sacristans, some with nuns, marching bands, a few came with Boy scouts, folk dancers and young and old ones who were dressed in their Sunday’s best and traditional Filipino attires, volume of parishioners and Marian devotees from the town or city the image came from.

Every expression of Filipino devotion to the Virgin Mary was unique. Some paraded in solemnity, complete with recitation of the Holy Rosary; some were barefooted, others attended in uniform shirts; while some devotees were amazingly cheerful, vocal and loud in professing their love to the Virgin Mary, with singing, waving of handkerchiefs, dancing, particularly the people from Pakil, Laguna who ushered Nuestra Senora de los Dolores de Turumba, people from Candaba, Pampanga who brought Nuestra Senora de la Merced and the people from San Mateo, Rizal who accompanied Nuestra Senora de Aranzazu.

Of all the Marian images I saw, I was moved and grounded as a Filipino when the carroza of Ina Poon Bato from Zambales passed by and I saw it was accompanied by Aetas, our indigenous brothers and sisters.

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San Roque.

Image of St. Andrew or locally known as San Andres was brought in from Catanduanes, Bicol.

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St. Andrew.

Then that incredibly beautiful carroza of St. Joseph or San Jose passed by.
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St. Joseph.

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La Familia De La Virgen Maria.

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Annunciation.

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Mary and Joseph.

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Nuestra Senora De Navidad.

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From Cainta, Rizal, Mahal Na Ina Ng Kaliwanagan or the Our Lady of Light.

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Other than flowers, the parishioners from Cainta used suman, or rice cakes in the carroza.Wow!

People from all ages and walks of life participated. We were all prayerful under one sky.
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Mary, Help of Christians.

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Our Lady of Penafrancia, Naga, Bicol.

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La Angustia De Maria La Santisima Nazarena.

Something new to me was the image of Mother Mary as Our Lady of Providence/Our Lady of China for the Chinese Catholic community. It was my first time to see such gracious image.

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Our Lady of Providence/Our Lady of China.
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Nuestra Senora La Desatadora De Nundos. Our Lady Untier of Knots.

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Roses and annato/achiote or locally called in the Philippines as atsuete adorned the carroza.

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Rosa Mistica. One of the few images that was carried via wooden poles on shoulders.

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Women who ushered their image in traditional Filipino attire.

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La Pieta…

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La Pieta.

As mentioned, one of the images of the Blessed Mother that paraded with numerous devotees and parishioners was the Nuestra Senora De Aranzazu from San Mateo, Rizal. The energy of the people clapping, singing, waving their flags and hankerchiefs, cheering for the Blessed Mother was beyond inspiring!

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Nuestra Senora De Aranzazu from San Mateo, Rizal.

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Nuestra Senora De La Santisima Trinidad.

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Nuestra Senora de los Dolores de Turumba from Saint Peter of Alcantara Parish, Pakil, Laguna.

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Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

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Our Lady of Montserrat.
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Our Lady of Czestochowa, The Black Madonna.
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Mary, The Lady of All Nations.
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Our Lady of Banneux.

Hail to Ina Poon Bato from Zambales! Accompanied by our indigenous brothers and sisters, the Aetas.
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Ina Poon Bato from Zambales. 

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Mary, Mirror of Justice from Comembo, Makati City.
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Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.

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Birhen ng Lujan.

*There were 100 carrozas in this Grand Marian Procession and please forgive me if this blog post only features less than half of them, a few without names of Our Lady.  I’m so sorry as I tried my best to capture the signages from each carroza, however, I only did as much for 4 hours (5PM-9PM) of standing and taking amateur photos for me to share on this site.  I’ll appreciate if readers could identify those Marian images on this post without labels.  Also, some of the photos turned out to be blurred that I chose not to post. The other Marian images were :

  • Our Lady of Caysasay, Taal, Batangas,
  • Nuestra Senora de la Merced, Candaba, Pampanga,
  • Our Lady of Fatima, Valenzuela City,
  • Nuestra Senora de Barangay,
  • Nuestra Senora del Santisimo Rosario de Malabon,
  • Our Lady of Piat,
  • La Naval de Manila,
  • Our Lady of Orani,
  • Nuestra Senora de la Soledad de Nueva Ecija,
  • Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de Cebu,
  • and many more that I failed to list down and capture. Again, my apologies.

For four hours, my focus from challenges of daily living was deviated to something more meaningful; something peaceful. This religious activity truly defined what Filipino Marian devotion is to me.

On December 8, Happy Feast Day of the Our Lady of Immaculate Conception!

Please pray for us.

>><<

01
Dec
13

HARINA ARTISAN BAKERY CAFE : NEW DELICIOUS ON THE BLOCK

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Admittedly, I’m an adult who still feeds myself like a child. Sigh. :)  I like sampling a volume of foods in considerable minute amounts to satisfy my taste buds and my always-hungry-appetite.  I never lose that wonder and usually smile my widest when delightful dishes pass my palates. Anything delicious makes my tummy happier, calms my mind and eventually, melts my worries away!

Last Saturday, 30 November 2013, I consider myself lucky blessed to be invited to Harina Artisan Bakery Cafe to sample and review their offerings while they are still on their soft opening. Initially, I thought, this new food establishment simply bakes and sells breads and pastries that’s no different with other commercial bakeries and coffee shops around. I believe I underestimated them! My apologies. :) It’s amazing to learn that people behind it still opt to make their breads hand rolled, bake everything the traditional way, and avoid the use of any chemical additives! That’s absolutely good reason for the many homeowners living within White Plains and nearby areas, and people who usually pass by Katipunan Avenue Extension in Quezon City, to be happier!  That’s a reason to drop by Harisan Artisan Bakery Cafe!

Like a child who craves for something cheesy and chocolatey, I loved how Harina Artisan Bakery Cafe enticed all of us with its first appetizer. Bread sticks with cheese and chocolate dips!
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Bread Sticks with Cream Cheese and Chocolate Dips.

Their bread sticks aren’t perfectly molded and shaped like those commonly bought from the groceries because it’s not machine-made but as mentioned, hand rolled. They’re available in Parmesan (PhP 120), Onion & Sour Cream (PhP 100), Plain Cheese (PhP 100) and Milk & Butter (PhP 100) flavors. Take your pick. Believe me, these bread sticks are to-die-for! They’re fine sans dips actually; but even made fancy with cream cheese and yes, chocolate dips! Yummy!

If the bread sticks tickled my taste buds, the second appetizer was more impressive!  It’s called Bloomin’ Bread and it appears like a flowery humongous cheesy loaf! The incredible size cetainly fits the appetite of an entire family of 5 or a group of friends! Definitely to share!

Bloomin’ Bread. Crusty pull-apart Italian loaf filled with basil puree and an assortment of melted cheese. Served with a dip of balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil.

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Bloomin’ Bread.

To wash everything down, they served Signature Iced Tea (and coffee after meal).  Thirst-quencher! I think I had 3 refills! Harina Artisan Bakery Cafe also has on their menu, Red Iced Tea, Frozen Hot Chocolate (hmmm!) and Apple Pie Smoothie.
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Signature Iced Tea.

Then, the brunch became heavier gradually.  Here we go!

Chicken Caesar Sandwich. Grilled Cajun chicken & lettuce in Caesar dressing topped with poached egg, bacon and parmesan cheese on baguette.

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Chicken Caesar Sandwich.

Before anyone could make any query or imagine crazy things, I’d like to make a disclaimer that all plates that appear on photos on this blog post were shared and mostly, bread dishes were sliced for sharing. You don’t think I consumed everything, do you? Remember, I emphasized, I’m a grown up with a childish appetite! :)

And what do I think of  that Chicken Caesar Sandwich? Excellent! The bread is crusty but soft inside, chicken for me, was well-seasoned, balanced with lettuce with Caesar’s dressing, poached egg was nice, bacon was crispy and salty – the way I like it -oops! And it’s served with greens and fries. A whole meal in one!

Moving on, one of the most sinful french toasts landed on our table! Oh-em-gee! :P

Strawberry-Cheesecake Stuffed French Toast. Cheesecake-filled brioche topped with whipped cream and strawberry preserves.

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Strawberry-Cheesecake Stuffed French Toast.

Thankfully, before reaching the age of 37, I learned to make French toasts during my years abroad with my family, but I only dipped them in milk, sugar and eggs before frying. This Strawberry-Cheesecake Stuffed French Toast from Harina’s definitely a must-try! I enjoyed a fraction of it. If you’re a kid or a kid-at-heart who loves strawberry and cheesecake and french toasts, this sweet creation is for you!

Honestly, at this point, I was discreetly struggling with my satiety center in my hypothalamus that was trying to tell me that I’m already full.  So I tried my very best to convince my neurons in my brain that I needed to taste and eat some more. However, it must have been begging me to stop eating. *insert virtual laughs here*  For whatever it’s worth, I savored more! And I liked it! :D

Yet another bacon-bread was brought to our table. I repeat, BACON (Read my lips : Praise Him!) !!!  People from Harina called it Breakfast Tart.

Breakfast Tart. Puff pastry shell with cream cheese, spinach, baked tomatoes, bacon and eggs.


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Breakfast Tart.

I loved everything on that Breakfast Tart. Sue me! Guilty as charged! :D

Then one variety of french toast wasn’t enough. So ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, *drum roll, please*, presenting…

Peanut Butter, Banana and Chocolate Stuffed French Toast. Wheat honey walnut French toast stuffed with creamy peanut butter, sliced banana and chocolate spread.

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Peanut Butter, Banana & Chocolate Stuffed French Toast.

I didn’t dunk my fork into that Peanut Butter, Banana & Chocolate Stuffed French Toast, not because I don’t like its flavor; Heaven knows I love peanut butter, banana and chocolates and French toasts, hehehe! but I needed to rest for a while, took some photos, walked around a bit, went for a bladder break (not bowel break, you naughty you!), did little things to aid my digestion. Surely, I can bet my last cent on it, that French toast is also decadent!

An apple-salad-sandwich was served next.


Waldorf Sandwich.  Flaky pastry with filling of chicken, red and green apples, celery and chopped walnuts in mayonnaise.

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Waldorf Sandwich.

While my 4 table mates were sharing a piece of that Waldorf Sandwich, I refused with a smile. Again, not because I didn’t think it would satisfy me but I’m already satiated. Hashtag : Grateful! :)

Like other meals that call for sweet ending, dessert plates were served. Miraculously, I gained my appetite. Ding, ding, ding!

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Strawberry Cream Brownies.

My verdict about Strawberry Cream Brownies? Mouthwatering. Luscious. Heavenly!

Just when I thought the menu for the day was all served, and while I was sipping my cup of coffee, the friendly and attentive staffs of Harina Artisan Bakery Cafe came out like Santa’s elves, bearing plates with that overhyped offspring of croissants and doughnuts. Cronuts! They call it Laminated Donuts in slightly smaller pieces compared to its actual retail size. I asked one of the crew if it’s baked or fried (as I just tasted baked cronut recently from another famous store), the staff replied to me in a blink that their cronuts are fried! Hooray! Not as healthy as baked, but in my own opinion, more flaky and divine!

Guess what flavor I dunked my fork into?
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Cronuts! Chocolate, Peanut Butter and Blueberry Cheesecake Laminated Donuts!

I only tried the Peanut Butter Cronuts and I fell in love! Need I say more?

Other than those that were served to us to sample, Harina Cafe has All-Day-Breakfast menu that includes classic favorites like :

  • Eggs Benedict, Biscuit and Gravy, Vegetable and Cheese Omelet, Pork ADOBO & Kesong Puti Omelet (Love to try that!),
  • Adobo Pulled Pork, Pancakes, Muesli with Fruits, Biscuits, Muffin Sampler (3 flavors),
  • Sides of eggs, bacon, breakfast sausages, Canadian ham, plain rice, garlic rice, French fries.
  • Big Breakfast (PhP 290) – Vegetable and Cheese Omelet, A choice of Canadian ham, BACON (I love ‘em!), or Breakfast sausage and roasted pineapple, served with toast.
  • They also serve STEAK and EGGS reasonably priced at PhP 450.
  • Hot beverages like Cafe Americano, Cafe Latte, Cafe Mocha, Cappuccino, Hot Chocolate and Hot Tea.
  • Cold beverages mentioned above,
  • Rice Meals like Homemade Corned Beef (I love Corned Beef too!), Lukban LONGANISA (FTW!!!), Bangus Belly,
  • And an assortment of breads (from Pandesal, Spanish breads, muffins and more) and cakes!

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Cinnamon Rolls.

The child in me would like to thank God for making my Saturday, the last day of November this year, a very pleasant one. Amen!

And to Harina Artisan Bakery Cafe, Maraming salamat po!

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Harina Artisan Bakery Cafe | 118 Katipunan Avenue Extension, White Plains, Quezon City 1110 | Store Hours : Monday to Sunday, 6AM to 9PM | Phone No. (+63-2) 3526721 | facebook : https://www.facebook.com/harinacafe | Follow them on Instagram : @harinacafe

Thank you, Harina Artisan Bakery Cafe! Special thanks goes out to Ms. Nana for the invite! :)

>><<

27
Nov
13

FINEST THAI FOOD AT SILK ROAD THAI BISTRO

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I always appreciate it when familiar dishes are transformed into something extraordinary; taking the entire dining experience to a higher notch.

When I brought my feet inside Silk Road Thai Bistro at BGC, Taguig City last Tuesday, 26 November, 2013 for dinner, upon the invitation of Chef Cecille Chang, via my fellow blogger, Sumi of www.thepurpledoll.net, my palates were discreetly excited to sample their  versions of Thai dishes and compare it with authentic ones I’ve tasted from a few trips to Thailand.

For a few seconds, my memories of personal and family travels to Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Hat Yai flashed in a blink. Devouring Pad Thai and Pork Satay at a hawker stall in Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok, savoring sticky rice and ripe mango and more Pad Thai in the middle of a night bazaar in Chiang Mai, indulging Thai salad and more in Klonghae Floating Market in Hat Yai, Southern Thailand, and the list goes on.

It took no time for my senses to recognize that Silk Road makes Thai dining experience more interesting and extra-special. From its minimalist yet elegant interiors, simple but impressive bar, a wide variety of dishes on the menu, to its casual to romantic ambiance, I set my expectations a little higher.

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When the restaurant manager, Ruben handed me the beverage menu, I asked him of his recommendation. I trusted his suggestion and settled with a rum-based cocktail called, Noni Kiss.

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Noni Kiss. 

I understood why Noni Kiss is one of the favorites from Silk Road’s menu.  Rich and creamy with hints of almond flavor and subtle sweetness on top, then a light rum’s kick at the finish!

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Noni Kiss. White Rum, Amaretto, Half Cream, Noni Syrup, garnished with Red Candy Shavings.

Sumi tried Silk Road’s Thai Milk Tea. What’s a Thai meal without it?

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Thai Milk Tea.

It was a privilege to dine with Silk Road’s owner, Chef Cecille Chang who made my fellow bloggers, Sumi, Jonel and Marjorie  and I satiated with her food, and more so, with her fascinating travel and dining stories. I personally learned a lot from our casual conversation as she started introducing her dishes plate by plate. Never I expected we’d talk about her days in Penang, while she’s learning authentic Peranakan cooking from no less than the authority in the island whom I personally met, Ms. Pearly Kee, to Chef’s Cecille’s frequent trips to Thailand to further study and master Thai cuisine, to random issues involving relationships! Her creative, passionate, adventurous and lovely personality, not to forget – she’s one of the most gorgeous chefs I’ve met to date, are a reflective of every dishes and drinks they offer at Silk Road!

We started lightly with a traditional Thai appetizer, Mieng Kham.

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Mieng Kham.

I may have gone to Bangkok thrice, Hat Yai thrice and Chiang Mai once, but those few trips weren’t enough for me to try all traditional Thai snacks and meals. Funny that my first time to eat this food wrapped in chaphlu leaves was in Silk Road!  And did my taste buds like it?  Yes, but thankfully, they served glass of ice-cold water as the flavors of shallots, shrimps, garlic, and chilies exploded intensely! What a way to start an engaging feast!

Next on our table was Silk Road’s Soft Shell Crab Roll.

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Soft Shell Crab Roll with mustard leaf, rice noodles and herbs in thin rice paper.

I may be biased in saying that I loved this appetizer because soft shell crab is a favorite. But apparently, it’s textured, delicious and well plated!

Third to land on our table was another personal favorite, Pad Thai. To be fair with it, I tasted their version before adding sugar, crushed peanuts, soy sauce, vinegar and chilies. I was vocal to Chef Cecille that her Pad Thai was not oily unlike the usual ones we tried in Thailand before, and it’s tasteful enough even sans condiments.

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Pad Thai. Rice noodles, pork, shrimps, egg and bean sprouts.

Another entree we tried was Siam Chicken Wrap.  We were told that this dish is a hit to many Thai and Chinese patrons of Silk Road. It’s a bit spicy but becomes balanced as its eaten wrapped with lettuce.

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Siam Chicken Wrap. Crispy noodles, lettuce, and chili.

Chef Cecille was also sincere and generous in sharing her personal favorite among the many Thai dishes on her menu. According to her, she can have Chicken Basil from a simple store, any time by the beach in Thailand to anywhere as this dish is not difficult to love.  Her version’s just right; there’s no overwhelming taste.

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Chicken Basil.

Tables were turned figuratively when the gorgeous chef asked us of our favorite entree. My fellow bloggers voted for Lamb Shank Massaman while I favored it as the next best thing to Silk Road’s Siamese Pork Belly.
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Lamb Shank Massaman. Served with crispy noodles, sweet potatoes and shallots.

Slowly cooked to perfection for 8 hours, this has to be one of the best lamb dishes I’ve tasted! Very tender as it actually falls off the bone; no-aftertaste! Highly Recommended!

As I liked Lamb Shank Massaman from Silk Road, I found their Siamese Pork Belly more sublime! Think of the usual Filipino favorite Grilled Liempo but this one’s deliciously different! Served piping hot (try to slightly contract your eye muscles and look at the next photo, you might appreciate its smoke) on a somewhat-pedestal filled with charcoal, adorned with banana leaves, abaca rope and an orchid. Visually dramatic, enticingly good!
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Siamese Pork Belly.

This Siamese Pork Belly’s a champion for me! And why? It’s a serving of the most tender pork ribs and belly strips, marinated with Mekhong Whiskey, cinnamon and caramel then grilled. I repeat, grilled with cinnamon and caramel! That heavenly!

Our intimate Tuesday Thai dinner perfectly ended with coffee (some had tea) and toothsome desserts.
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Chocolate Pudding with Mango Ice Cream and Mango Sauce.
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Takhoo Thai. Tapioca pearl pudding topped with coconut custard.

So next time you find yourself around Bonifacio Global City, craving for some fantastic Thai dishes  for lunch or dinner, that will not cost you an arm and leg, or perhaps when you’re in the mood for some drinks, head on to Silk Road Thai Bistro and let me know of what you think. ;)
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Silk Road Thai Bistro | Net Quad Corporate Center, Shop H, 4th Avenue corner 31st Street, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City | Operating hours : 11AM-3PM (lunch); 6PM-2AM (dinner) | facebook : https://www.facebook.com/silkroadthaibistro

*Special thanks to Chef Cecille Chang for the invitation and of course, to my fellow bloggers, Sumi, Jonel and Marjorie.

>><<

23
Nov
13

SENSORY FEAST x BERINGER WINES

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Meeting a Winemaster Emeritus doesn’t happen on a daily basis. More so, to sit beside him and to know a thing or two, over a sumptuous meal, where everything was almost paired with elegant, balanced and rich wines.

Last Friday, 22 November 2013, my lunch was an extraordinary one at Cirkulo Restaurant in Makati. I was fortunate to catch things up with two women that I’ve known for few years. I was even more blessed to have an opportunity to dine with them again, and meet few people, together with Beringer Winemaster Emeritus, Mr. Ed Sbragia from California, who was brought to Manila by Happy Living Philippines, the exclusive importer and distributor of Beringer wines. So glad to rekindle my limited wine-and-food-pairing-appreciation skills!

The engaging meal started with a very subtle Beringer Chardonnay 2012, bread and herbed butter. Our casual talk with Ed Sbragia became more interesting as he spoke a bit of how Beringer’s vineyard in Napa Valley was put up 137 years ago, and how he worked his way, mastering every factor that could contribute to the making of a great wine, to his inspiring tales of being the Beringer’s winemaker who fulfilled his lifelong dream of establishing his very own small winery. He shared a lot of fascinating stories on how grapes are put into bottles.

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Beringer Chardonnay 2012 Napa Valley.

“Beringer Chardonnay 2012 Napa Valley. Refreshing, crisp citrus notes accentuates this lively Chardonnay. A medium, rounded mouthfeel is highlighted with flavors of lemon, meringue and a pleasing acidity.”

Then everyone in our intimate group became even more privileged when the chef behind the delightful dishes at Cirkulo (also of Azuthai, MilkyWay Cafe and Tsukiji restaurants) found time to briefly introduce his masterpieces. Apparently, Chef J. Gamboa‘s culinary expertise worked seamlessly with all Beringer wines. The wines we sampled didn’t overpower his dishes, making an enticing and harmonious gustatory experience!

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Left to Right : Beringer Winemaster Emeritus, Ed Sbragia, Chef J Gamboa and media person, Paula.

Chef J. Gamboa explained his first offering – 65 Degree Egg with Cabeza de Cerdo. It’s a clever presentation of the local favorite pulutan, Sisig, basically from pig’s head. However, its taste and serving would make anyone crave for more!

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65 Degree Egg with Cabeza de Cerdo. Paired with Beringer Founders’ Estate Pinot Noir 2011.

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Beringer Founders’ Estate Pinot Noir 2011.

Beringer Founders’ Estate Pinot Noir 2011. Bright ruby in color and displays ripe currant flavors rounded out by aromas of cedar and spice. This wine has immediate fruit-forward flavors that balances well with the toasty smokiness of the oak.”

That flavorful Beringer Founders’ Estate Pinot Noir 2011 was also paired with Chef J. Gamboa’s platter of Jamon Iberico, Salchichon, Chorizo Iberico, Quezo Manchego. Wine and cheese and meat platter tasted like match made in heaven! :)

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Jamon Iberico, Salchichon, Chorizo Iberico, Queso Manchego.

Next up was something fibrous!

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Insalata Gorgonzola with Apples, Walnuts, Pickled Carrots, Gorgonzola Cheese.

Right after the salad, we were served with Patatas Riojanas or Braised Potatoes with Chorizo Sausages, paired with Ed’s very own vineyard’s pride – the Sbragia La Promessa Zinfandel 2010.
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Sbragia La Promessa Zinfandel 2010.

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Sbragia Family Vineyards La Promessa Zinfandel 2010 Dry Creek Valley. With aromas of wild blackberry, raspberry and pomegranate that carry through the flavors, accompanied by notes of brown sugar, molasses, vanilla bean and cocoa. This is a rich, juicy wine  with mouth-filling, forward fruit, a streak of acid that keeps the wine structured, and moderate tannins that make for a nice smooth finish.”

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Patatas Riojanas. Braised Potatoes with Chorizo Sausages.

The main entree was the most glorious of  ‘em all! For the record, it’s the most delicious lamb dish that landed on my taste buds. It’s so tender and flavorful yet, no after-taste unlike the usual of its kind.

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Cordero Lechal Al Horno. Roast Suckling Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary and Chimichurri Sauce.

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Paella Montana. Rice with Portabella Mushrooms, Asparagus, Garlic and Truffle Oil.

I was honestly controlling my appetite to eat more of that Cordero Lechal Al Horno. It’s satiatingly good particularly when served with Cirkulo’s Paella Montana, plus paired with Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009!

Hallelujah! :)

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Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009.

Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Napa Valley. This presents aromas of ripe blackberry, sweet pastry and espresso, accented by hints of lavender, cedar and graphite. The palate is concentrated and dense with flavors of dark fruit and spice notes. A rich texture and mouth-coating tannins linger in the elegant finish.”

Desserts were served hot and divine!

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Warm Chocolate Truffle Cake with Liquid Center.

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Warm White Chocolate Bread Pudding.

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Baked Brie with Dried Fruits, Nuts and Caramel.

I took the effort to discreetly find any fault at what was served to us but I failed. Every dish paired with wine was great! Every minute spent was intelligent and delicious! It was indeed a sensory feast!

The few guests from the media including yours truly, were given a bottle of Beringer Founders’ Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2011 each, that came with a free corkscrew. We didn’t miss the chance of having THE Beringer Wine God, Ed Sbragia sign our wines!

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Beringer Winemaster Emeritus Wine God, Ed Sbragia signing my bottle!

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My loot was autographed! I was a fan after the lunch!

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Thanks, Mr. Ed Sbragia! It’s a pleasure meeting you! Thanks to Ms. Nana Nadal for taking this photo.

Beringer Wines are served in major hotels and restaurants here in the Philippines. Among the retail outlets that carry the brand are Cav Wine Bar, Gourdo’s, S&R Membership Shopping, Unimart, RustansSupermart, SM Supermarket, Landmark Supermarket, Metro Gaisano Supermarket, The Tinder Box in Cebu, Culinary Connection/La Vetta Restaurant in Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo Supermarket and Altura’s in Bohol. Email info@happylivingwines.com or log on to http://happylivingwines.biz/  for more information.

*Special thanks goes out to Ms. Kathy Yao-Santos, the Marketing Director and COO of Happy Living Philippines and Ms. Nana Nadal for the invitation.

Cirkulo Restaurant | 900 Arnaiz Avenue (Pasay Road) corner Paseo de Roxas, Makati City 1200 Philippines| website : http://www.elcirkulo.com/

>><<

20
Nov
13

HOME IS WHERE THE MOST DELICIOUS FOOD IS!

max's dessert sampler
Dessert Sampler.  Believe me, it’s more toothsome than it looks!

That enticing sampler platter came with sweet portions of :

  • Ube Creme Decadence (smooth, light and creamy eggless custard filled with purple yam or ube jam and topped by ube cake crumbs),
  • Buco Pandan (Coconut and pandan strips, green jelly cubes or gulaman and tapioca).
  • Leche Flan (Creme caramel),
  • Cream Brownie Ala Mode topped with vanilla ice cream.

max's chopsuey
Chopsuey.

max's chicken sisig
Chicken Sisig.

max's kare kare
Kare-kare (Beef or Ox tail Stew in Peanut Sauce).

max's fried chicken
Spring Fried Chicken.

max's adobo fried rice
Adobo Fried Rice.

my family
Daddy, my brother, Mac, Mommy and me.

When the Overseas Filipino Worker in me came home last month, the happiest parts of my body were my tongue and my stomach! Although we cooked and ate Filipino dishes at our apartment in Penang, nothing beats eating everything you want in the Philippines!

As you may know, Filipino restaurants almost don’t exist in Penang, so you cannot blame me if I had so much craving for authentic Pinoy favorites.  That craving was satisfied a few days after I got home from Malaysia when I had weekend lunch with my parents, and one of my brothers in a Filipino restaurant that’s not only considered a family favorite but also default choice on rare occasions that we go out.

We simply indulged over Chopsuey, Sizzling Chicken Sisig, Kare-kare which is on top of my list of favorites, a signature Spring Fried Chicken, and my brother, Mac suggested we have to sample Adobo Fried Rice (fried rice with soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, tomatoes and salted egg slices) that I found delicious too, although I thought it’s a bit heavy when paired with those viands, thus we also ordered cups of plain rice. Carbo-loading, I know! It was a hearty lunch just before we glue our eyes watching the movie, Thor, The Dark World.

If you’re from the Philippines too, I bet you’re so familiar with my family’s default choice of food place! Can you name it? Do we have the same favorite? What are your favorite Pinoy dishes?

>><<

18
Nov
13

BURGER COMPANY GOODNESS!

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Although I was privileged to live and work for 3 years in the so-called, gastronomic state of Malaysia that’s the island paradise of Penang, where dishes from multi-cultural races of Malays, Chinese and Indians directly exposed my palates and satisfied my curiosity for flavors that were previously so foreign to me, I honestly have been craving for some good Western staples! It isn’t because the usual fast food joints, restaurants and local eateries there don’t serve quality burgers but after 2010, I can count the times I had a bite on really tasteful beefy burgers.

So when a fellow Filipino blogger, Richard of http://www.talesfromthetummy.com invited me to sample Burger Company in Quezon City, along with other foodie blogger friends, I had no hesitation to go. I noted the date of the invite as early as a couple of weeks before I came home to Manila.

16 November 2013, Saturday. I arrived the earliest at Burger Company at 11:30AM, that gave me extra time to appreciate the newest burger food place in Quezon City. I captured a few shots of their little corner with colored post-its left by diners who already enjoyed what’s-on-their-menu. I liked the place in an instant as it’s very casual, modest and non-intimidating. Staff was also courteous and customer-friendly.

Then not long after, Richard arrived and the gang came, one after another, in full force and I’m guessing, with huge appetites for burgers. It was such a relaxing afternoon-meet over delicious burgers and some starters. :)

We checked out the menu and surprisingly to me, Burger Company doesn’t only serve Angus Beef Burgers and Chicken Burgers but also Rib Eye Steak for a very affordable cost. However, my brain’s satiety center didn’t entertain the steak but my craving for beef burgers!

Here’s what we sampled.

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Parmesan Fries. American Fries tossed in parmesan cheese.

Don’t be fooled by my photo above. That serving of Parmesan Fries was already almost half as we ate it first prior taking a shot, hehehe!  It’s that good!

Then second to land on our table was one of a personal favorites. Nachos! Burger Company’s version made it even more enticing! Corn nachos were served in a big basket for sharing, and apparently, it’s not the usual yellow but red and dark brown! Topped with cheese sauce, ground beef and sour cream, served with tomato salsa; I simply couldn’t get off my fingers off it. I liked it a lot!
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Nachos Overload. Yummy!

If it’s a toss between Fries and Onion Rings, I’ll always choose the latter. Call me weird or something but I frequently dip it in mayonnaise (Do you do that too?). What made Burger Company’s 8oz Onion Rings different from what I usually eat, it’s crispier and nice sans my favorite mayo-dip.

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80z Crispy Onion Rings.

I thought I had enough of spicy and hot dishes in Penang that made me develop an aversion to chili-flavored foods. Wrong! I was weak to resist and tried at least one of those bacon-wrapped jalapeno fritters, served with tomato salsa. It has cheese filling too!

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Bacon-Jalapeno Fritters.

Those may be artery-clogging, or in our vocabulary – atherosclerosis and hyperlipidemia-inducing, but only when ingested religiously. It won’t harm if you just sample it for craving’s sake! Tee-hee!

Served next was obviously, the king of fries at Burger Company.

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Fries Overload. American Fries topped with cheese sauce, ground beef and bacon.

The happy problem at Burger Company was choosing what to order from their impressive menu. I passed up on the Chicken Burger and tried one of the Angus Beef Burger varieties. I’m happy to sample, Double Striker’s Burger! It tasted as great as it looks on photo!

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The Striker’s Burger (double). 

With lettuce, tomato, double Angus beef patties, cheese, double bacon, crisscut fries, champignon mushroom and cheese sauce, the Burger Company’s Double Striker’s Burger made a home run victory on my taste buds! Sarap!

Now, here’s a shameless rundown of what my foodie blogger friends enjoyed. Just a WARNING though – Get yourself a cold glass of water before scrolling down further; and you might want to control salivating too. Indulge on the photos! :)

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Hawaii Five-O. Lettuce, tomato, Angus patty, grilled and seasoned pineapple, cheese, chipotle aioli, red onions.

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Mexican Chipotle. Lettuce, tomato, Angus patty, cheese, braised chipotle, sour cream.

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Cajun Chicken & Blues. Lettuce, tomato, cajun chicken fillet, cheese, bacon, gorgonzola dressing.

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Green Chile and Sour Cream. Lettuce, tomato, Angus patty, cheese, pickled green chile, sour cream.

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Cheese Classic. Lettuce, tomato, Angus patty, cheese.

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Bacon & Cheese. Lettuce, tomato, Angus patty, cheese, bacon.

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The Volcano. Lettuce, tomato, Angus patty, cheese, bacon, chipotle aioli, battered onion rings.

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PB&J. Lettuce, tomato, Angus patty, cheese, homemade peanut butter, bacon jam, bacon, Louisiana BBQ sauce.

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Gorgonzola & Mushroom. Lettuce, tomato, Angus patty, cheese, sauteed oyster mushroom, gorgonzola.

And there’s more variety to choose from on the menu! What looks delicious to you?

Just when you still have appetite and stomach-room for more, as mentioned, Burger Company also offers Buffalo Wings. They served 3 flavors to us but I only tasted the mildest one. Not bad actually!

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NY Classic Buffalo Wings.

I usually notice and like little and nice details even on a restaurant’s menu. The Burger Company may have a simple menu, but the names and flavors of their dishes, sauces and whatnot are all well-thought-of.

Quirky Names on the Menu. The 6-piece-Buffalo Wings is named Bantam Weight (PhP 135), 10-piece is called Medium Weigh (PhP 195), 14-piece tagged as Heavy Weight (PhP 260).

Burn, baby, burn! The choices of flavors for the Buffalo Wings that will surely challenge your spice tolerance include :

  • Classic Series (New York Classic, Firefighter’s Pride, El Nino, Global Warming),
  • Signature Series (Carribean Surf, Chili & Lime, Smoked Chili, Cocoa & Chili, Asian Samurai, Salt & Vinegar),
  • BBQ Series (Louisiana, A&W, Mexican).

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Strawberry Milkshake.

To help you wash down those burgers and chicken wings, beverage menu includes local sodas, Imported sodas (A&W, Dr. Pepper, Cherry Coke), Sola Iced Tea, Home-brewed Iced Tea, Lime-Aid (lemon soda with fresh lime juice & syrup), Soda Float, Milkshake. Drinks cost from PhP 35 – 125.

Desserts include Fire & Ice Cake (Chocolate decadent cake with a hint of chili at the end), Chocolate Chocnut Mousse, NY Cheesecake, Apple pie at affordable prices of PhP 100 – PhP 130 per serving.

On Going Promo :

JR. Burger Boss – Just add PhP 80 to your favorite burger, and choose from a solo order of American, Crisscut or Parmesan Fries, or Buffalo Trax- their spicy crisscut fries, and a glass of Home-brewed Iced Tea (upgrade to bottomless for PhP 40, Soda Float for PhP 80, or Milkshake for PhP 80).

Burger Boss – Just add PhP 165 to your favorite burger, and choose from a solo order of Fries (American, Crisscut, or Parmesan or Buffalo Trax- their spicy crisscut fries), 4 pieces of NY Buffalo Wings with your choice of signature dips, and a glass of Home-brewed Iced Tea (upgrade to bottomless for PhP 40, Soda Float for PhP 80, or Milkshake for PhP 80).

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Spot where I left this blog’s mark. :)

So next time you find yourself somewhere at the heart of Quezon City, craving for delightful and affordable burger goodness, bring your taste buds to Burger Company!

Burger Company | 72B Scout Reyes corner Mother Ignacia Avenue, Brgy. Paligsahan, Quezon City, Metro Manila | Operating hours 11AM to 11PM | follow them on facebook : /BurgerCompanyPh | on twitter @BurgerCompanyPh | on Instagram @burgercompanyph | Visit them, indulge and please do let them know that you read about Burger Company here on docgelo.com :)

GOOGLE MAPS BURGER COMPANY
via Google map.

Special thanks to our fellow blogger, Richard of http://www.talesfromthetummy.com for the invitation, Alvin Ong of Burger Company for accomodating us, and of course to the foodie gang that I met, thank you very much for such satisfying and fun afternoon!

>><<

17
Nov
13

PENANG | THANK YOU TO MY MALAYSIAN FAMILIES!

Sometimes, random moments happen that you wish you could freeze and savor them longer, before they become a beautiful memory. :)

On my last hours in Penang (prior heading to Kuala Lumpur for 3 days, then finally off to Manila after living and working in Malaysia as a Medical Lecturer for 3 years), I am very grateful to be with not one, but two Malaysian families, who unbelievably did so much for us. Call me sentimental fool or anything, but I was literally moved to tears with their gestures until the very last minute I spent in Butterworth.

Despite I humbly denied and simply thanked them for their offer to help us haul more than 100 kilos of luggages and whatnot, they even personally volunteered to drive us (my mom, maternal aunt and I) to the bus station that night.

My apartment-owner, Mr. Loh with his wife and mother-in-law arrived after 9PM of October 16th. He came not only to collect the keys to his apartment that served as my second home for 2 years (I lived in another on my first year in Malaysia), but he generously helped me carry loads to the other block, where one of the few of my closest friends and Filipino colleague, Dr. Jane stays.

I requested Dr. Jane to kindly facilitate the pick-up of some of our things, as we underestimated what needs to be sent home via LBC courier (Weeks before that, we already sent 2 biggest LBC boxes home, and the 32″ LCD TV, but we needed to unload further, hence, we left our things for another LBC box to my colleague that night for pick up from Penang, and we had to pay and send another huge LBC box to Manila via LBC-Kuala Lumpur branch).

Mr. Loh was there to help.

He left his family at his apartment and helped us carry our loads to the two taxi cabs we rented.

As the lift went down from 10th floor to the ground, it dramatically opened to the sight of Ms. Jasmine and Sir Michael who were already standing there, waiting to go up to meet us.

Ms. Jasmine and Sir Michael were Gabby’s former school Principal and teachers in Butterworth. Words could not express my personal gratitude to them, as they did so much beyond anyone’s expectations. They were there with me all throughout my difficulties in Penang.

I told Mr. Loh that although we really appreciate his offer for him to drive us to the bus station (which Ms. Jasmine and Mr. Michael also offered), we found it better to take 2 taxi cabs instead, so they can go home early. I bid him goodbye and thanked him well. Vividly, I recall his last words were about welcoming me again in his home, if and when chance allows me to revisit Penang.

While Ms. Jasmine and Sir Michael followed our taxi cabs to the Penang Sentral bus station and stayed with us until past 12 midnight.

Yes, they stayed with us until few minutes past midnight.

When it started to rain, we told them they may want to go home, as our bus was already late to our 12:15AM Penang-KL-trip.

They brought us Coke, and even asked if we wanted some sandwiches to bring to our night trip.

More than what they provided me and my family, the couple also gave me ang pao, chocolates and tea bags to take home.

These were the things  that happened as we departed Penang. But for 2 years that I’ve known them, Ms. Jasmine and Sir Michael extended support and concern, at most of the time without me asking, despite and in spite of everything. God bless them more so they can continue to be a blessing to others! 

I shall never forget these people for as long as I live. They were neither hypocrites nor judgmental people. They’re my family in Malaysia.

Picture this – When our bus arrived at the station before 1AM, the rain became more intense.

I carried our bags and luggages one by one and arranged them inside the compartment. It was raining hard. In spite of the fact that my aunt held an umbrella and tried her best to assist me, I became fully soaked. I quickly found my seat inside the airconditioned bus, with my entire self dripping. Chilling.

I waited for two hours until the bus reached its stopover for passengers’ bladder break in Ipoh. It took me two hours before I get to change to dry and clean clothes. It was the longest two hours of my life.

Two days before that unforgettable night, Mr. Loh and his family fetched us from our apartment, brought us to a a local Chinese restaurant and treated us to a very modest and heartwarming dinner.

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The very first frog dish I ate! Not bad. Actually, tasteful!

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Delicious tofu dish, Crispy lemon chicken, Grouper fish dish, and a fish soup. Everything satisfying!
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Mr. Loh (in black shirt), his daughter (in pink shirt), Mrs. Loh and her parents. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

A week before the dinner treat from Mr. Loh and his family, my other Malaysian family, Ms. Jasmine and Sir Michael brought us to a similar feast in one of their favorite local Chinese eatery. It was overwhelming!

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Ms. Jasmine, Sir Michael and me.

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From left to right:  My maternal aunt, my one & only mom, and Ms. Jasmine.

There are more stories between me and my Malaysian families in Penang, that made me a better person now.

So if there’s one special reason to go back to Penang in the near future, it’s to see them again and thank them once more.

>><<

15
Nov
13

A WEEK AFTER THE STORM

After being home for 3 weeks from Penang, one of my former Malaysian students sent me a private message on facebook, and asked of our condition in the Philippines. He mentioned, they learned from CNN that our country was ravaged by the recent typhoon. Another Malaysian student expressed her concern about me and our family regarding the same matter. I felt blessed and thankful.

A week after Typhoon Haiyan (locally known in The Philippines as Typhoon Yolanda) struck our country and left most Filipinos in devastated state, I felt the urge to bring my feet back to the heart of Manila. I found myself with knees bent, inside the Catholic church dedicated to the patron saint of the hopeless and despaired.

Novena was uttered by the faithfuls; gospel was read and a brief homily was delivered by the priest. It almost moved me to tears, as I am grateful that my family and I, despite having difficulties, are still alive, safe, and healthy. I fervently asked for forgiveness, blessings and mercy, neither for my own sake, nor for my family alone, but more so, for those Filipinos who have been suffering from losses, physical and emotional traumas caused by the terrifying storm.

I lit 3 candles, said my prayers again and strolled my way out of the Malacanang vicinity. Barely an hour with surprisingly less traffic, I reached Malate Church via 2 jeepney rides. I went inside and talked to my Creator once more. Imagine a prodigal sinner coming home to His father.  Seriously, like a battery-with-full-bars, I felt extremely recharged! So with my spirit up and hopes high, I went out of the church. And everything became lighter.

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Manila Bay, Philippines. 11/14/2013, Thursday, 5:29PM.

While I am one with the many who so appreciate the incredible financial contributions and generous humanitarian assistance being rendered by other nations to the Filipino people, I’m also grateful for the efforts exerted and donations given by our own countrymen.

Positive things must not end.  There must be no room for negative words at this time and beyond, as it would not offer any solution but add further insult to the injuries.

Life’s challenges taught me so well to be more faithful rather than lose hope. Better to put two palms together in prayer rather than to point fingers and blame others.

“The Lord is a refuge of the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” – Psalm 9:9

>><<

06
Nov
13

SINGAPORE | GARDENS BY THE BAY, REVISITED

It matters not to me to visit the same place again because obviously, memories and experiences will be different.  On my 5th trip to Singapore last October 12-14, 2013, I visited Gardens by the Bay again and thankfully, I was privileged to play tour guide to my mom and aunt.  Despite our limited travel budget, and the fact that the three of us endured a 9-hour-bus-trip over night from Penang to Johor Bahru and a more-or-less-an-hour-Immigration-proceedings and bus transfers at the borders of Malaysia and Singapore the following day, plus another 45 minutes MRT and taxi rides to our hotel, we’re grateful as we’re blessed with a fine weather that afternoon and we’re able to bring our feet to appreciate those man-made Supertrees and Mother Nature’s flower power!

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Flower power!

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The Supertrees of Gardens by the bay, Singapore. They looked lovelier the second time around!

During my first visit to Gardens by the bay last year, I was toured by Gina, a Filipino good friend who’s more like the sister-I-never-had,  based in Singapore. She’s generous to voluntarily treat me to Flower Dome & Cloud Forest; then we had late lunch at Marina Bay Sands after. So when I got the chance, I didn’t hesitate to pay it forward to my relatives.  After all, they’re the ones who were there in Penang who helped me for a month with their own hands, to pack 3 years of my life. Touring them to one of Lion City’s must-visit places was nothing compared to the love, concern and understanding they showed, in spite and despite of.

It’s nice to visit a place the second time around, you’ll be able to see improvements and changes. Immediately after crossing the pedestrian bridge from Marina Bay Sands, we rode the shuttle for Sg$2 (US$ 1.60) per pax, roundtrip (although we only rode it once as service was only until 5PM and we stayed longer), to save the feet of my geriatric guests from walking. The shuttle ride took us to the ticketing booth of Gardens by the bay.

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Women in the mirror: My mom wearing purple and her only sibling, my aunt on floral.

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Tickets for foreigners for both Flower Dome & Cloud Forest still cost the same as last year’s;  Sg$ 28 (US$22.50) per pax. I first brought them to Flower Dome.

In 2012, I mentioned in my blog post on this site and in my review at Tripadvisor that it’s practical and sufficient enough to pay entrance fee to just one of the airconditioned domes and it’s better to choose Flower Dome over Cloud Forest.  I’m taking that all back.  Having seen Gardens by the bay for the second time proved to me that they have themes every season, or perhaps every month that could instantly make a returning tourist marvel once more. It’s all worth it, I think.

FLOWER DOME

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On our recent visit, the theme was all about Indian’s Festival of Light,  Deepavali or Diwali.

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And my travel companions enjoyed posing all the way! They indulged actually! :)
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The Flower Dome was filled with Malaysian mums, pompoms and other blooms appropriate for Diwali.

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I cannot express into words how my family wonder in awe, particularly my mom who’s always in love with flowers of any size and color.  They found every corner, every petal, every spot a photo-opportunity! Really, the display was amazing!

Aside from the Deepavali-inspired flowers, there were the staples, like the roses and among them, this variegated species of white & red rose really caught my eye!

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Flowers, flowers, and more flowers…

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Amidst all those manicured flora inside Flower Dome, I fall in love with these vividly colored foliage.
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These leaves do look unusually gorgeous, don’t they?

Smiles and more smiles…
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After enjoying our time from 3PM-5PM at Flower Dome, we felt the need to load our tummies. So prior going to the next-door-dome, the Cloud Forest, we went out to look for something to eat. We found comfort at Texas Chicken fast food inside the Supertree Grove Restaurants.
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CLOUD FOREST

Grabbing bites from huge servings of crispy fried chicken from Texas Chicken brought back memories from my lunch breaks of my college years. I wondered whatever happened to Texas Chicken (and A&W) that they had to terminate business in Manila; good thing that neighboring Southeast Asian countries still keep them.  I digress.  Anyway, after we became satiated with delicious fastfood meals, we went back and admired the other garden dome that I usually describe as Avatar-ish, Cloud Forest.

Stepping inside the cool-moist-conservatory, visitors will be delighted to the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, misty atmosphere and lush biodiversity that showcase pitcher plants, orchids, begonias, bromeliads, ferns, even crystals and many more. There are lifts to take tourists to various levels of that man-made-mountain forest.

The child in me instantly noticed the addition of a wonderful forest village with railway stations and mobile choo choo train! I only wished my son, Gabby had enjoyed it with me. Perhaps, in the near future visits, who knows.

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Of all people, I was a fool to deny the fact that my mom and aunt have lesser stamina and horsepower to tolerate miles of walking that afternoon. I indirectly and unintentionally tortured their calf muscles and feet and deliberately tested their temper in walking several miles back to Marina Bay Sands via its basement walkway. My goal : for all of us to eat dinner at Rasapura Food court that’s located at the terminal end of MBS’ ground floor and walk back to MRT to our hotel in Orchard Road. Fatigue, muscle aches, haywire moods and a perception that ‘Singapore is all about walking’ dawned upon them.  Everything was charged to their first-time-experience in the Lion City. I bet they enjoyed nonetheless!

RASAPURA FOODCOURT, MARINA BAY SANDS

We traveled far via bus from Penang and we’re about to go home to Manila in a couple of weeks, and considering I had an option to let them sample Hainanese Chicken Rice and Singapore Laksa, we all gave in to our Filipino stomachs’ cravings. Kare-kare, Pork Barbecue, Pakbet, Pancit Bihon, Sour Broth Soup from Gerry’s Grill and ice cold Coke were definitely satisfying!

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Filipino all-time-favorite dishes!

From the Rasapura Food court of Marina Bays Sands, we dragged our very tired feet to the MRT and alighted at what I perceived as outer space, hahaha!
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Ion Orchard Mall, Orchard Road.

The entire afternoon of seeing the Lord’s most colorful creations, inside the world’s most beautiful man-made garden domes with my mom and aunt was truly an experience of a lifetime for the three of us!  I never imagined that I could bring them to Singapore, but opportunity presented itself and we could only be grateful for everything!

I already experienced traveling and touring alone and admittedly, it offered self-discoveries and a lot other opportunities. However, bringing other feet to other places, particularly new to them;  knowing that you could share the good times and bad times with them as well, is a must do for everyone whenever possible.
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Their smiles say it all!

*This NOT a sponsored blog post.

My visit to Gardens by the bay in 2012 blogged here : http://docgelo.com/2012/08/08/infinite-dose-of-spring-gardens-by-the-bay/

Gardens by the bay | 18 Marina Gardens Drive, Singapore 018953 | website : www.gardensbythebay.com.sg

How to get to Gardens by the bay (sourced from their website).

MRT & Bus

Via the Circle Line:

  • Alight at Bayfront MRT Station (CE1)
  • Take Exit B and follow the underground linkway
  • Exit and cross the Dragonfly Bridge or Meadow Bridge into Gardens by the Bay

Via the North South / Circle Line:

  • Alight at Marina Bay MRT Station (NS27/CE2)
  • Take Exit A and hop onto bus service 400
  • Alight 4 stops later at the bus stop along Marina Gardens Drive

>><<

30
Oct
13

PENANG | FAREWELL DINNER AT SARKIES, E&O HOTEL

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The elegant yet welcoming lobby of Victory Annexe Wing, Eastern & Oriental Hotel, Penang, Malaysia

16 October 2013. Wednesday.  Sarkies at Eastern & Oriental Hotel Penang. My second to the last day in Penang after living and working there for more that 3 years was made extraordinarily memorable!  Why?  Simply because the BEST and the most luxurious heritage hotel in Penang, and dare I say the entire Malaysia perhaps, invited me to a farewell dinner with people who helped me with everything in Penang.  Admittedly, I was overwhelmed!  The feeling was surreal!

If you’re following this blog, you must have read that my family and I were fortunately invited by E&O Hotel Penang several times this year and surprisingly, I felt so valued and so at home not only with their suite, restaurants but more so with their warmest and friendliest staff.  I really appreciate everything!

I remember, it’s March of this year when we first experienced Sarkies’ Seafood Buffet Dinner Extravaganza that’s offered every Wednesday at E&O.  It remains one of our most remarkable and delicious indulgent moments to date!  And from then on, we spent more fondest memories at E&O.  Consequently, I cannot put into words how grateful I am for being invited again to savor a delightful feast at Sarkies!

Having dined at some of the premier hotel buffets in the island, I can justly say that Sarkies at E&O provides its diners the freshest and the most flavorful seafood dishes at a very affordable rates that can absolutely challenge any 5-star-hotel-buffets in Manila!

Doors open at 7PM for buffet dinner but we managed to be there a bit earlier so I got photos of the spread before they were refilled.  Enjoy the photos and control yourself not to drool! Hehehe! :D

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It’s always nice to go back and find improvements to appreciate!

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Why, hello there, roast duckies! :)

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Ice sculptures at the freshest seafood station were an absolute visual delight!

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Something NEW at Sarkies Seafood Extravaganza Buffet : Chinese!

And then there were more choices to grill. Care for some salmon on the teppan or some sausages on the grill?

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Chicken Satay is a must-eat when in Malaysia! Dip in in peanut sauce & you’ll be in cloud-9 !

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Oysters Rockefeller. Yummy!

What makes Sarkies at E&O Penang Eat-All-You-Want-Dinner so worth it?
The freshest imported and local SEAFOODS of course!

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Alaskan Crab Legs : Always a feast!

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I had the privilege of meeting Chef Petr and Ms. Eileen of Eastern & Oriental again, and they proudly showed me another impressive addition to the Sarkies spread. Try to look at its claws and go figure!

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SPANNER CRAB, imported from Australia no less!

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Hey, Duo of Gravlax, we meet again! Call me a bit weird but I liked its saltiness!

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That’s a huge fish, isn’t it? My mom tried it and said it’s tasteful!

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I’m not a fan of crayfish but salmon? I love salmon served in any way!

I’d like to thank E&O Hotel for allowing me to enjoy the savory eat-all-you-want dinner at Sarkies once more with my family and the people I considered my family in Penang. They know me more than you can imagine and had expressed priceless concern and unconditional generosity to me and my family until our last minutes in Penang.  They’re my Malaysian family! I cannot be thankful enough!

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From left-to-right : My maternal aunt, my one & only mom, & Ms. Jasmine (Gabby’s school principal in Penang).

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My Malaysian family (from Right to Left) : Sir Michael, Ms. Jasmine, their son, Ethan & relative, Jacinta.

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Glad to bring my mom to Sarkies at Eastern & Oriental Hotel! Thank you so much, E&O!

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With Ethan (Gabby’s friend and former schoolmate), my aunt & mom.

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We’re all happy diners at Sarkies!

Other than seafood dishes, there were a lot more to sample from local and continental options that I failed to capture.

Now, let’s continue the indulgence.  Desserts, anyone?

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So many cakes, so little time! Hehehe! These bite-sized carrot-pistachio cakes were really good!

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Everything’s delicious!  They’re more toothsome than they look on my photos!

I intentionally skipped lunch and afternoon snack (or what they call in Malaysia, High Tea) to empty my stomach for this feast. *Kidding!* Seriously, here’s a shameless display of what I ate.

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First went to the Noodle Station, chose my ingredients & asked the chef to whip everything up.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, meet my first plate that sumptuous evening…

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My version of Penang’s Hokkien Mee with seafood galore! I loved it!

And then there were more plates to savor!  Thank you, Lord! :)

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Salmon Sashimi and Duo of Gravlax. Does this reveal I’m a salmon-monster? Hahaha!

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And my love affair with Japanese lives on…

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Twinings’ Jasmine Tea made everything so perfect! Can’t deny it aids in digestion too!

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Spanner crab from Australia, Alaskan crab legs, and everything nice!

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Jacinta and Ethan! Happy to share the dining table with them!

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Roasted Beef with Mushroom Sauce. Beautiful! I missed Gabby as this is one of his favorites at Sarkies!

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When in Penang, must eat Oyster Omelet. I paired it with Roasted Duck & its sauce. I’m lost for superlatives!

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Char Koay Teow. It’s my ultimate favorite Malaysian dish and I tasted Sarkies’ version a few times but this one’s a letdown that evening. The rice noodle didn’t taste fresh; we reported it to the staff and the head waiter immediately apologized. Customer-service at its best!

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Chef Petr of Sarkies’ Seafood Extravaganza Buffet. Always a pleasure to meet him! Thanks, Chef!

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Another group pic! :)

From the dessert spread, I chose these tiny bites…

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Heavenly! Thank you, Lord!

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Fiber loading! I always love fresh fruits on buffet! It’s a must for digestion obviously!

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I think this was Ms. Jasmine’s ice cream platter. I can’t imagine a world without ice cream, can you? :)

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My mom and aunt. All smiles at the lobby! Happy to see them happy!

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Thank you, E&O Hotel Penang for that memorable indulgence!

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Had a relaxing stroll at the E&O promenade. It’s the only hotel in Penang by the Malacca Strait!

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A child’s happiness is always a blessing! Nice pose you got there, Ethan! We miss you! :)

So when you find yourself in George Town, Penang, do drop by at E&O Hotel and treat yourself with a dose of history and the finest Malaysian hospitality. You might consider dining at Sarkies too or at other E&O’s food & beverage outlets!  Of course, hotel accomodation packages are currently inclusive of breakfast buffet at Sarkies. Have fun in Penang and enjoy E&O!

This blog’s other special features about Eastern & Oriental Hotel Penang include :

EASTERN & ORIENTAL HOTEL, PENANG | George Town, Penang, Malaysia | for more details and hotel reservation, kindly visit their website :  http://e-o-hotel.com/  

SARKIES at E&O | for more details and dining reservations, kindly visit their website : http://e-o-hotel.com/sarkies/

Thank you so much, E&O Hotel! Thank you so much, Sarkies!  Special thanks goes out to Ms. Eileen of E&O! Thank you and see you again in the near future!

>><<

26
Oct
13

KUALA LUMPUR | OUR 3D2N SOMERSET AMPANG KL EXPERIENCE

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Glorious morning view of Malaysia’s capital from the kiddie’s wading pool at 22nd floor of Somerset.

“Uncle, can you take us to Somerset, Ampang KL?”  I asked the Chinese-Malaysian taxi cab driver from where I stand in front of Pudu Sentral Bus Station. When I received a nod, I immediately hailed another taxi cab for my mom and my aunt and for our luggages in tow. And before I think of any possibilities, we’re on our way to our very first-serviced-residence-experience!

Located along the prestigious Embassy row and just 5-minute-walk-away from Ampang Park LRT station, Somerset Ampang Kuala Lumpur is conveniently accessible.

We hopped on the taxi cabs under the brightest Malaysian sun, then out of nowhere, came a heavy downpour just before we alighted to the lobby of Somerset Ampang KL.  Weather’s Bipolar but I couldn’t be grateful enough!

Staff at the facade were ready with helping hands to carry our luggages to the reception area; it’s not uncommon but I always consider it as a sign of an early impressive hospitality.  Checked in was done in a breeze and remarkably, we were welcomed warmly by Ms. Siti Artha, the Guest Service Assistant Manager.  We appreciated the gestures, it made us feel at home right away!
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Fraction of the laid back lobby.

We were led to 16th floor et voila!  My worries and uncertainties about things that matter to me instantly melted away! The sight was that welcoming! Despite I feel so fatigued from our overnight-bus-trip from Penang to Kuala Lumpur, not to mention our packing of 3 weeks in Penang prior my homecoming, it was somewhat rejuvenating to see such beautiful black inlaid marble floors, handsome wooden doors and a hallway that will make you wish you could stay longer.

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Rich wooden doors, luxurious marble floors. Minimalist. Classic!

Welcome to Room 1612, our 90sqm-Two-Bedroom-Premier that served as our home for few days.

Tuloy po kayo!
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Our home for three days and two nights. Knock, knock!

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Always loved fresh fruits! Welcome note’s an icing on the cake!

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It’s my pleasure, Mr. Gary Loke! Thank you very much, Somerset Ampang KL by Ascott!

Inside our 2-bedroom-Premier unit, I realized the huge difference of a hotel accomodation from that of a serviced residence.  Somerset Ampang, KL Serviced Residence provides the comfort and convenience of a home and the quality service of a hotel. This attractively furnished unit offered a very relaxed ambiance perfect for families, friends, more so for business and leisure travelers and tourists.

Our home for few days has separate living and dining areas, master’s bedroom with en-suite toilet and bath, a twin-bedroom with en-suite toilet and shower, well-equipped kitchen and a laundry tub with dryer that are certainly absent in any hotel suite, home entertainment system, telephone, and most important to me, a fast and free wireless internet access.
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Might appear ordinary wooden dining table but my mom kept on praising its quality.

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Where my mom and aunt slept for two nights.

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The twin-bedroom’s en-suite toilet and shower. Spacious and spotless!

And this makes the difference…

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Well equipped kitchen, laundry & dryer tub. Admittedly, hotels don’t have these!

A cooker hub & hood, coffee and tea making facilities, an electric oven, electric kettle, glassware including wine glasses, crockery, utensils, microwave oven, a fridge, toaster, a laundry and dryer tub in one.  Amazing, isn’t it? Almost complete!  It’s really home away from home!  But if it’s not too much to ask and if there’s one thing that I’d wish they would add to complete everything in the kitchen : a fruit blender.

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My photo doesn’t do it justice. The simplicity & elegance fused in the interiors are just wonderful!

At the spacious and gorgeous living room with high ceiling, the home entertainment system includes CD/DVD player with iPod docking, LCD TV at the living room and master’s bedroom complete with satellite and cable channels.
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Homey and relaxed atmosphere is echoed at the living room.

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Happy to see my mom happy with her teddy bear! hehehe!  :)

Another guest-friendly feature of our unit in Somerset is the central air-conditioning with individually controlled thermostats.  For a family like us who came with relatives in their senior years, who prefer a warmer temperature unlike me, setting the AC to our selected temperature was never a problem. Furthermore, the living room has a ceiling fan that absolutely cost-saving for Somerset and gives its guest an Earth-friendly option.

My mom and my aunt were generous enough to allow me to enjoy the master’s bedroom.

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Where I had uninterrupted sleeps for 2 nights. Loved this bed to bits!

The room has high ceiling which I really liked, not too small, nor too big; just enough space for me to roam around. It has the best view by the window, and by the bath tub at its en-suite bathroom.

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Wardrobe complete with essentials, nice!

Just what my weary mind needs : a tub with a view! Thank you so much, Somerset Ampang KL! I had one of my most relaxing soak in years!  Fantastic!

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The tub with a view!

At 4PM, I had the pleasure of meeting Somerset Ampang Kuala Lumpur’s Assistant Residence Manager, Mr. Gary Loke.  The introduction was set by Ms. Jacqueline Shu who happens to be the Marketing Executive, but was unable to join us that afternoon due to another function at other Ascott property.

I met Gary at the lobby, and the moment he mentioned he was assigned to Ascott Makati in my country, The Philippines for 6 months, some years back, we had a more engaging and casual conversations.  People of Somerset were really amazing!

Gary first brought me to the 22nd level of Somerset Ampang KL where the Residents’ Lounge, rooftop infinity pool & jacuzzi, fully-equipped gymnasium, and a children’s wading pool.  Apparently, everyone has something to look forward to whenever they come home to their residence at Somerset after a long day at work, school, shopping or traveling around the metropolis!  That said, it spells work-life balance to me!

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Relaxing mood at the infinity pool with a great vista of Petronas Twin Towers & the rest of KL skyline.
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Crunches and stationary walk and jog overlooking the pool and beautiful view of KL skyline.

For families with kids, young adults, yuppies and even the senior ones, the Residents’ Lounge’s too perfect to spend a lazy weekend morning or a late afternoon bonding, or just a quality time with oneself and a good paperback.

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Gary and I went down to the lobby and strolled our way to the next-door’s restaurant, Souled Out. He casually explained that breakfast buffet from 6:30AM to 10AM is served there daily for residents of Somerset.  We continued our interesting talk about Malaysia, The Philippines, particularly his previous stint in Makati and the things he learned from my country, as well as his recommendations within Kuala Lumpur, things about Ascott, Somerset and Citadines, over glasses of freshly blended Dragon Fruit Juice and a plate of crunchy Calamares at Souled Out.

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Dragon Fruit Juice and Calamares (not in photo) : Surprisingly, winner combo! :)

Gary’s so nice to even walk me to the adjacent lobby of HSC Medical Centre (a medical institution that caters to heart surgeries, stroke and cancer with few Alternative Medicine too). I told him, I consider it another plus factor for choosing Somerset Ampang KL particularly when staying longer, as the proximity of such medical services could make one feel so secured and safe.

Service and friendliness of staff indeed tops everything in hospitality industry.

With only two nights of stay and still recovering from our muscle aches and fatigue of packing my life literally of 3 years in Penang, I decided to just buy a takeway dinner and lunch for the three of us from Ampang Shopping Center which is about a 10-minute-walk away from Somerset.

Here’s what I bought as one of our take-away-meals that we enjoyed in Somerset.  Take note of the modest yet quality plates and utensils.  My mom was even happier that there’s a sponge and a liquid soap provided for washing dishes.  We really enjoyed the comforts of home while in Somerset!
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Veggies galore! My takeaway dinner from the nearby Ampang Shopping Center.

The next morning, we claimed our breakfast coupons from the front desk and walked our way to Souled Out.  Bear in mind that Souled Out is an outsourced restaurant so the quality of service with Somerset is a bit different.

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Fresh juices, milk, tea & coffee. Take your pick!

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Of salads, fruits, yoghurt and cold cuts.

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Breads and spreads.

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The view from where we dined. I liked the alfresco theme with those lush green at the backdrop.

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Chicken sausages, spicy sardines, egg omelet, baked beans, and nasi goreng (fried rice).

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Tropical fruits, green apple salad, yoghurt, orange juice & coffee to cap the meal.

Honestly, there was nothing to rave about the outsourced restaurant, Souled Out’s breakfast buffet; it was nothing extraordinary. Surprisingly, there was minimal volume of tropical fruits and dishes from the spread. I hope they could enhance their offering in the near future.  I need to visit back to compare this!  *paging Mr. Garly Loke! Kidding!*

Because my mom and aunt opted to sleep and rest and watch TV at our room the whole day (they really got tired from hauling and packing my stuffs in Penang and for that I’ll be forever thankful to them), I was alone in going to KLCC-Shopping Center.

Somerset Ampang KL provides free shuttle van service on various schedule for those residents who would like to go to selected shopping areas within the city and a separate schedule for those residents going to their respective offices at work.  I reserved a 10:30AM slot to go to KLCC-Suria Shopping Complex.

At exactly on the dot, I hopped on this free shuttle van with another resident and a family.  They dropped me after a 5 minute-straight-drive to KLCC.  It’s so convenient!

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Shuttle van service to the prime shopping centers in Kuala Lumpur.

I needed to see Malaysia’s magnificence again prior going home to my country.  All memories flashed back, good and bad ones. Saying farewell to the country that served as my second home for 3 years was not that easy than I thought. It felt a part of me was surgically removed. I wrote in my facebook that phantom limb pain remains in a few days, weeks, perhaps months until I find another refuge. That moment’s indeed dramatic and nostalgic. Cest la vie!

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At the foot of those iconic Petronas Twin Towers.

Imagine, I managed to bring my mom and aunt to a wonderful and memorable stay at a 2-bedroom-Premier unit in Somerset Ampang Kuala Lumpur after a month-long stay in Penang and a weekend in Singapore, God is really soooo good despite and in spite of everything.  I’ll constantly remind myself to count blessings rather than give importance to the challenges and negative elements.

I believe in what Ascott properties stand for, that “LIFE is all about living.”  I salute them for being guided with “LIFE” :

  • L -Local touch and local culture
  • I – Individuality, varied lifestyles
  • F -Feeling at home, those little touches in the room makes us feel homey
  • E -Exceeding expectations. I personally experienced it!  :)

Somerset Ampang Kuala Lumpur exceeded my great expectations! We had a incredibly wonderful stay!

>><<

SOMERSET AMPANG KUALA LUMPUR | 187 Jalan Ampang, 50450 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | For more details and reservations, kindly visit their website at : http://www.somerset.com/en/malaysia/kuala_lumpur/somerset_ampang.html

To the people of Somerset Ampang Kuala Lumpur, Mr. Gary Loke, Ms. Jacqueline Shu, Ms. Siti Artha and the staff, thank you so much! Special thanks goes out to Ms. Min of Ascott Singapore for the invitation! We had an amazing time! I could only wish the stay could be longer but who knows? There might be a next time somewhere. Again, many thanks!

23
Oct
13

SINGAPORE | OUR STAY AT ORCHARD PARADE HOTEL

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Relaxed ambiance at Orchard Parade Hotel

I considered myself blessed for having a chance to visit the Lion City for the 5th time.  And how was it different from my earlier trips to Singapore?  Staying in two premier hotels on two consecutive nights made it uniquely special this time.  I was fortunate to be invited to do such.  Simply thinking about it may already be tiring for others, but for someone who has an itchy feet and a passion for exploring new things during traveling, it’s something to be excited about!

After our impressive but short overnight stay at The Elizabeth Hotel, my mom, my aunt and I checked in at Orchard Parade Hotel.

Located where Sinagpore’s most famous shopping district begins, Orchard Road, Orchard Parade Hotel is approximately 10-minute walk to ION Orchard Mall, Wisma Atria, Tang Plaza, Lucky Plaza (where most Filipinos and Filipino shops are!), Paragon Mall, Ngee Ann City and Takashimaya Shopping Center. The location is just prime and so accessible to everything – food, shopping, MRT stations!

Because we arrived early morning of Sunday without prior request for an early-check in, our game plan was to leave our luggages at the concierge and then hear Catholic Mass and proceed to our touristy destination after.

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As soon as we alighted from our taxi cab, helpful & courteous staff at the facade greeted us with friendly smiles and carried our luggages to the lobby;  it’s not extraordinary, I know, but these little things made us feel so welcomed upon arrival.
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The Lobby & Reception areas.

A fellow Filipino, by the name of Chona was one of the reception staff that day.  She asked me to fill out the check in card and advised me to return around 2:30PM.  She gave out luggage card and our things were kept safely at the back of the concierge.  Everything was done smoothly. Thumbs up for that!  :)

We returned on the dot and checked in at 2:30PM. Here’s how our Deluxe Room at Orchard Parade looks like…

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Our Deluxe Room

Honestly, I found the room very basic.  It looked a bit old compared to other hotels in Singapore that I experienced the past years.  However, the strong points of the Deluxe Room we stayed in include fast and free wifi connection, and ultimately, cleanliness!

I appreciated the presence of a 2-seater-couch but wished the coffee table was wider. Nevertheless, it was functional as we used it when we eat our takeaway-dinner.

If you’ve been to Singapore, then you know that most hotels there could cost you an arm and leg.  Surprisingly, even those classified as budget hotels can be expensive than you think, despite their rooms have no windows that could make anyone claustrophobic in an instant. The Deluxe Room of Orchard Parade Hotel on the other hand, has the best view you that can stimulate and perk you up!  Lush green, inviting swimming pool, the works! Imagine you’ll wake up to a morning view such as this. Nice, isn’t it?

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The view’s fantastic! Lush green, inviting swimming pool, a visual treat!

The wardrobe keeps all the essentials – a safe, a flat iron & ironing board, a few hangers and bathrobes, 2 pairs of hotel slippers,  a shoe cleaning materials, and a hair dryer, I think. I just forgot to check if they keep a long umbrella there too.

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Wardrobe and Accomodation Essentials

I also found the toilet and shower simple and small.  But more importantly, like the room, it appeared almost sterile.

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Toilet and Shower Room

Just few steps outside the lobby, there are fine choices of restaurants, coffee shops, and a wine store that can entice someone with discriminating taste. Then again, there’s something for the budget-conscious too. From convenience store that’s open for 24 hours, coffee and pastry shops and a lot more affordable restaurants and food stalls that are located a stone’s-throw-away.

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We rested all night and our first priority the next day was : BREAKFAST BUFFET!

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We had breakfast buffet at Tunglok Signatures located at the second level of Orchard Parade Hotel.  Elegant, spacious, Oriental-themed yet laid back ambiance.  Just wonderful!

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And the food?  The buffet spread was modest in volume but nonetheless could fill your tummy.  I liked the free flowing coffee, tea and fresh juices. But it would be better if they could offer more kinds of dim sums and add a few more dishes next time.

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Here are my plates, some are my relatives’.

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Bacon and my morning is complete!  Tuna salad’s a delight! 

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Salad Pasta, Chicken Sausages, Potato Pops, Banana & Chocolate Cake Slices.

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Must Go Local!  Dim Sums and Nasi Lemak…

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Tropical Fruit Slices smothered with Mango-flavored Yoghurt. Yummy!

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Happy diners! My mom and aunt after that breakfast buffet. All smiles! :)

One last look prior checking out…

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Overall, I can personally recommend Orchard Parade Hotel for its prime location, decent and clean Deluxe Room and toilet despite small and a little old, fast and free wifi connection, satisfying eat-all-you-want-breakfast and more importantly, good service from hotel staff.

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Orchard Parade Hotel |  #1 Tanglin Road S247905 Singapore |  For more details and reservation, kindly visit their website of the Orchard Parade Hotel by Far East Hospitality here : http://www.stayfareast.com/en/hotels/orchard-parade-hotel.aspx

Check out this blog’s features and reviews on other hotels by Far East Hospitality :

Thank you to Far East Hospitality & particularly to Orchard Parade Hotel and The Elizabeth Hotel for sponsoring our 3D2N stay at respective hotels this October 2013. We really appreciate it! Special thanks goes out to Ms. Ericia Li, Ms. Christina Tan  & Mr. Mike Cheong for generously responding to my emails and request.

>><<

19
Oct
13

SINGAPORE | THE ELIZABETH HOTEL EXPERIENCE

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Allow me to begin this post by commending the Reception staff of The Elizabeth Hotel in Singapore by the name of Bernard.  That guy needs an applause, a promotion, a salary raise or perhaps, even an award for Best Hotel Service or whatever appropriate title, in my own opinion.

Why?

Picture this – We had more than 9 hours of travel via bus from Penang to Johor Bahru to Singapore, crossing borders and Immigration proceedings on foot, barely slept comfortably, took the 45 minute-MRT-ride from Kranji Station to Newton and finally, a short taxi cab ride from Newton to Mount Elizabeth Road where The Elizabeth Hotel is secluded.  And did I already mention that we brought a heavy luggage and several bags with loads whose weights were illogical for a 3D2N trip? To make the scenario more dramatic and worse, it rained heavily just right after we boarded the taxi cab en route to the facade of The Elizabeth Hotel.

And then we got the warmest and friendliest reception service from Bernard.  Because my request of early-check in was granted, everything else seemed icing on a cake.  Bernard attended to us professionally with smile and concern with our luggages; he immediately offered to keep them safely behind the concierge as he informed us that our room’s still being prepared. Bernard upgraded our Family Room to a Suite free of charge, which we found the sweetest! And until after we checked out the next morning, he carried our luggage to the taxi cab despite there were other staff that could do that for us.  In case he gets to read this, thank you for everything, Bernard! You made our stay memorable!

Over and beyond the elegant and well-thought-of-interiors, accessibility and outstanding and quality service are what I like the most about hotels of Far East Hospitality.

Just so you know, it was not my first time to check in at one of their hotels in Singapore. Together with my family a few years back, we spent a lovely accomodation in Quincy Hotel (blog post HERE!) and when I came back to Singapore exactly a year after, I enjoyed a 3D2N stay in Oasia Hotel (blog post HERE!).

And so on my 5th visit to the Lion City,

you cannot blame me if I set my expectations high with

The Elizabeth Hotel.

Now, meet my travel buddies.  They’re first-time-tourists in Singapore and it was their very first time to travel abroad together. They’re sisters to each other, with no other siblings in between.
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My travel companions for this Singapore trip : my maternal aunty and my one and only mom. :)

After waiting comfortably for about half an hour in the lobby (while the staff were preparing the room), we were finally led to our suite.

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The name of the suite says it all!  I cannot be grateful enough!

The size of the suite was just fine, never intimidating.
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Its white and a blush of pastel color-interiors was very soothing to vision.

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The complimentary Mini Bar

I immediately checked out the wifi connection with my mobile, then laptop and found out that it’s fast & free!

The Master’s bedroom was simply inviting.
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Handsome lines, classy & minimalist interiors. Wonderful, isn’t it?

The only little thing I didn’t like was the airconditioning that was pre-set to a colder temperature than expected and we couldn’t modify it ourselves.  You know my relatives are in their senior years, so almost everything must be regulated and in moderation.

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The gorgeous bed where restful sleeps and dreams were made!

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Details that deserve a second look. 

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Almost all you need are in the wardrobe!

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A peek at the Living Room and Mini Bar from the Master’s Bedroom…

I’m very particular with hotel toiletries. They must be hypoallergenic and olfactory nerve-friendly.

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Similar to Oasia Hotel Singapore, The Elizabeth Hotel also provides one of my favorite lines of bathroom essentials with citrus-masculine scent, Thann made in Thailand!

The toilet, shower and bath were all built in fine marble, almost spotless with only little hints of age.

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Too bad, I failed to sample the tub! :(

Our accomodation was inclusive of breakfast buffet at Modesto’s, the Italian Restaurant at the lobby of The Elizabeth Hotel.

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Where first meal of the day is served; an all-day-Italian restaurant too!

This is where we had breakfast.

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The view from where we sat. There’s a flowing water on the glass windows by the greens.

I honestly like those large framed paintings; something unusual from buffet spreads, or at least, it lives up to being Italian themed restaurant. However, breakfast menu also includes a few local dishes, some continental ones and staples.

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Can you spot where we dined?

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Like an Art Gallery! A visual & gastronomic treats. Nice!

Here are what my mom and aunty had on their morning plates…

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And mine…

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And man created BACON! I was a happy boy with bacon! Oops, with healthy salad too! hehehe!

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My plate : Fried Noodles, Roti Prata and some Blueberry & Chocolate MUFFINS to die for! Believe me, those bite-sized ones are a big reason for you to dine at Modesto’s!

We didn’t pass the chance to visit the swimming pool area just a few steps from Modesto’s.  For a tropical country such as Singapore, a dip in the pool is always a pleasure.
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But we only settled for photo-ops by the pool side.
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Thank you, The Elizabeth Hotel Singapore! My aunty, my mom and I were all delighted with our stay!

With its walking-distance-location to Orchard Road and its proximity to Mouth Elizabeth Medical Center and Paragon Mall (and other upscale shopping complexes along Orchard Road), excellent hotel service, accomodating and friendly staff, minimalist yet classic interiors and homey ambiance, do you think The Elizabeth Hotel met my great expectations?

It even exceeded.  :)

>><<

Check out this blog’s features and reviews on other hotels by Far East Hospitality :

The Elizabeth Hotel | 24 Mount Elizabeth, S228518 Singapore | For more details and reservation, kindly visit the website of The Elizabeth Hotel by Far East Hospitality : http://www.stayfareast.com.sg/en/hotels/the-elizabeth-hotel.aspx

Thank you to Far East Hospitality & particularly to The Elizabeth Hotel for sponsoring our overnight stay at the suite. We really appreciate it! Special thanks goes out to Ms. Ericia Li, Ms. Christina Tan  & Mr. Mike Cheong for generously responding to my emails and request. 

06
Oct
13

HOW DO YOU SAY GOODBYE TO MALAYSIA?

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Prayer Pavilion, Khoo kongsi, George Town, Penang

After three years, two months and a few more weeks,  how do you say goodbye to the most unforgettable days of your life? How do you say goodbye to the country who welcomed you with open arms, despite you’re initially clueless about her, except for the image of the iconic Petronas Twin Towers? How do you say goodbye to the state who embraced you and gave you so much opportunities to work, travel, eat, learn and experience her culture? How do you say goodbye to the few people who expressed selfless and priceless concern, love and generosity particularly in your lowest moments and trying times?

I don’t know.

As my son’s already in the Philippines now, continuing his studies with his mom, I try my best not to dwell in sadness, while I bid farewell to a lot of things that matter to me, including the three years of my life in Malaysia.  In spite and despite of my family problems that I opted not to disclose publicly (Don’t ask unless you’re one of those pathetic gossipers and hypocrites I know, who thrive in divulging private issues of others, that made them to me, much like receptacles of feces. Rectum personified. Are you?), I chose to celebrate my last days in Penang, the humble state that I considered my second home, by touring my mom (she’s back in Penang!) and her only sister, my aunty who’s currently enjoying her very first vacation abroad.  After all, it’s so much better to be positive and happy on my last weeks in Malaysia, rather than to just abandon everything and everyone who made our stay in Butterworth worthwhile.

After I officially tendered my resignation from work, I’m savoring my last days in Penang at work with my current students during weekdays and revisiting the places I loved with my mom and aunt every weekends.

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Kek Lok Si Temple in Air Itam

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Burmese Buddhist Temple that enshrines The Standing Buddha in Pulau Tikus

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Kek Lok Si Temple in Air Itam

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Thai Buddhist Temple that enshrines The Reclining Buddha in Pulau Tikus

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Kek Lok Si Temple in Air Itam

My Mom and Aunt in Malaysia

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur via LCCT.  And if you’ve been following this blog, you probably remember that my mom has been to Malaysia last year, but as for her one and only sister, who happens to be my godparent as well, we needed to introduce to her the country that has been so good to us by only the best ways we know how.  So first priority after arrival at the terminal : EAT MALAYSIAN FOOD!

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Noodles from Old Town Restaurant in Low Cost Carrier Terminal. Delicious! Sedap! Sarap!

Then came the unexpected travel-blooper of my aunt’s luggage that she only borrowed from one of her daughters. Just before we boarded our KUL-PEN flight, my mom noticed that its stitching collapsed that pushed me to buy packing tape from the airport’s bookstore.  The next photo exhibits the result of our effort to bind her luggage back! Hehehe!

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Boarding time! Picture muna!
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We arrived in Penang on a Saturday late afternoon, almost dead tired of the whole day flight-and-waiting-at-the-airports, so having dinner at the cafe in front of our apartment was really called for! We’re tired but never fatigued to smile! :)
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Sunday morning, my aunt went with me to the pasar (public market) via hopping in the Rapid Penang Bus few minutes after 6AM. If you must know, I am one of those rare breed of family-men who take efforts to go to public market to shop for the week’s food supplies, wash dishes, (I also know how to cook!), do laundry, iron clothes, carry gallons of water from the water dispenser from the mini-mart to the apartment on top of working for a living.  All that I experience in being an Overseas Filipino Worker that gave me deeper meaning to the song’s lyrics, “I did my best, but my best wasn’t good enough!”

From the public market, we bought a few Malay breakfast goodies : some local delicacies and Nasi lemak!
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We wasted no time after breakfast and rode the bus and ferry and trooped to George Town…

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Ferry Ride from Butterworth to George Town

We had lunch at one of my favorites, Restoran Kapitan, Pitt Street, Little India, Lebuh Chulia…

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La Coppera : Chicken Briyani

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Buttered Chicken Masala, Garlic and Cheese Naan, Dahl, Chicken Tikka, and Mango Lassi! Yummy!

Must remember Penang forever with her absolutely amazing street arts!
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Must have photo-ops with Penang’s remarkable symbols and touristy spots. From trishaws, clan houses, temples and mosques, I believed my mom and aunt were happy strolling and touring the heritage trail of George Town.
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Inside Prangin Mall near Komtar Building, we had Ais Kacang!
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Ais Kacang! One of Malaysia’s refreshing desserts!

The next weekend, I brought them to Kek Lok Si Temple.

KEK LOK SI TEMPLE in Air Itam

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We ended the day by having dinner at one of the most affordable eat-all-you-want restaurants in the globe! At only RM 52 (more or less PhP 700) for the total charge for the 3 of us (the two got discounts as senior citizens!), we enjoyed food, food and more food complete with bottomless ice cream and other desserts!


DINNER AT TOWN STEAMBOAT BUFFET RESTAURANT in Macalister Road

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The next day, Sunday – my aunt & mom prepared and cooked lunch. We stayed home the whole Sunday eating & relaxing!

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The following weekend, I brought them to the Burmese & Thai Buddhist Temples in Pulau Tikus, then to Gurney Paragon Mall, G Hotel and Plaza Gurney Mall. Photos need not to be captioned. Their smiles say it all!

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God is so good! When life gives you trials, the Lord makes His presence felt by sending people who care so much about you and in my case, these people aren’t only my immediate relatives but a few Malaysians who really made me experience Divine Intervention in truest sense of the word.

There are no words to sufficiently express my gratitude to those Malaysians who have been so nice to me.  That includes my students! I shall never forget my days conducting lectures, tutorials and laboratory classes in Anatomy and Physiology, Basic Pathology, General Medical Microbiology, Applied Medical Microbiology, Immunology, Basic Molecular and Cellular Biology, Group Project-Case Study, Medical Parasitology, to future doctors of Malaysia!

Special thanks goes out to my students in FMS April 2013 Intake Group D who gave me a ceramic fountain as a gift (not in photo) and to my students in DMS April 2011 Intake who gave me Baju Melayu, the traditional attire of Malaysian men, complete with a very nice hand-woven songket that they bought in Perak as their gift to me.  Thank you very much! With or without gifts, I really appreciate everything!
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Baju Melayu, given as farewell surprise gift from my students of DMS April 2011 Intake. Terima Kasih!

To all Malaysian colleagues, friends, fellow bloggers, students, sponsors,

Thank you very much!

In Shakespeare’s words, “Parting is such a sweet sorrow!” 

There will be no goodbyes, but see you again in the future!

Terima Kasih, Malaysia!

Thank you for both GOOD and BAD TIMES!

I LOVE PENANG!

I LOVE MALAYSIA!

>><<

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

~ Melody Beattie

PS : The remaining weeks prior exiting Malaysia, I still have to attend to generous invites to sponsored accomodation from two premier hotels in Singapore and a luxury 2 bedroom serviced apartment in Kuala Lumpur!  It’s so nice that the good Lord gave me an opportunity to tour my mom and aunt not only in Penang and KL but it will be their first time too in the Lion City soon!  God is so good!
 
05
Oct
13

HAPPY 9TH BIRTHDAY, SON!

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To my ever dearest son,

Today is YOUR DAY!

Happy 9th Birthday, Gabby!

Always remember that Daddy here LOVES you so much!

I miss you so.

You are my life!

My greatest blessing!

——-

This photo serves as my entry to WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge : Good Morning

18
Sep
13

MANILA | MY 37TH BIRTHDAY

tokwa, kape, lugaw
puto, dinuguan, chicharon
pancit malabon at pichi-pichi

My parents prepared a simple feast to celebrate my youngest brother’s 28th birthday (who’s presently based in UAE) last September 17th, and my 37th birthday today, September 18th.  I thank the good and forgiving Lord for blessing me with a loving and understanding immediate family.  God knows we’ve been through a lot but at the end of the day, I remain their eldest son and brother, and that relationship rules over our individual flaws.  That alone, is more than enough reason to celebrate life.

PS : I love you, Gabby! Always remember that I love you so much, son!

>><<

17
Sep
13

MANILA | SEPTEMBER 2013

“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.”
~ George A. Moore

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A fruit stand in Jenny’s Rosario, Pasig City.

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Street scenes I saw when I secured Overseas Employment Certificate/Exit Clearance from POEA in EDSA.

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Chowking, Robinson’s Metroeast. I shared the table with my parents prior watching the movie, OTJ.

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Shots from LRT in Recto, Manila.

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My mom and aunt walking with their long umbrellas. They accompanied me to Quiapo & Divisoria.

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Despite its busy surrounding, Quiapo Church never fails to remind me that God is merciful and forgiving.
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At Php 16 per piece, this lumpia from Globe Lumpia House in Raon, Quiapo, Manila is one of the best I’ve tasted!
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My mom, together with my maternal aunt bought me half a kilo of Excelente ham. Perfect with pandesal!
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Then they brought me to Kim Chong Tin Hopia Factory, the oldest in Manila. Hopia munggo is to die for!

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Escolta, Manila.

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The fountain in front of Sta Cruz Church, Manila.

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At Lucky Chinatown Mall. Also new to me were 999 Mall, Puregold and a few others. Divisoria, we meet again!

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Lunch at 168 Mall foodcourt.

In my darkest moments, I found my way home.

I thank the merciful Lord for few people who have been helping me to move on, despite and in spite of.

I shall return to my present work in Penang, Malaysia soon.

>><<

06
Sep
13

OUR LAST MOMENTS IN NEPAL

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“Journeys are made by the people you travel with.” ~ Malaysia Airlines. Terima Kasih!

August 10, 2013. Saturday. Our fifth and last day in Nepal. My eyes were shut for almost 6 hours of restful sleep, it felt a luxury.  Then, I woke up and I saw my family – Tina & Gabby who were still asleep.  I tried to hyperextend my lower extremities and forced my senses to rise from the bed.  Like a child who wishes to see the sunrise beaming from snow-capped mountains, I gradually moved my feet off the bed  and  walked towards the window. Negative. I never had a glimpse of sunshine but all mist and blue.  

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Namaste. Good morning, from Nagarkot, Nepal!

It was only 5:10AM, no sight of stupendous Nepalese sunrise. No regrets, I told myself.  It’s monsoon season and the Himalayas were thickly covered with fluffy clouds. After I clicked a photo, I went back to bed and tucked myself under the sheets again. That was sweet! I savored that moment for it doesn’t happen on a daily basis particularly on a work week. I didn’t bother to stimulate Tina and Gabby to wake up, but rather I rejoined them in Dreamland.

About two hours after, the three of  us went down for breakfast at Cafe du Mont, the restaurant of Peaceful Cottage in Nagarkot.  After we appreciated our first sip of Nepalese coffee for the day, we decided to transfer our plates and cups to the dining area at the expansive and overwhelming balcony.  We were lured by the last-moment-experience in Nepal.
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Our last breakfast in Nepal was savored at 7000 feet above sea level. :)

It was zero-visibility by the balcony.  We didn’t see even the shadow of the mountains or the sight of lush green fields in Kathmandu Valley.  It was a very cold morning in Nagarkot. The last time I felt fresh cold air that entered my nasal cavities down to my lungs was in Tokyo during the tail end of Winter 2010 and in Auckland, New Zealand in 2005 with Tina and our 4-month-old-Gabby then.  Breathing and feeling cool and fresh mountain air together with my family was nothing but priceless!
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