Friday, November 14, 2014

Of a Jesuit church, Frescoes, A Miraculous Well and an Earthquake Survivor -- the Our Lady of Assumption Church in Dauis, Bohol

The massive earthquake that happened in Bohol last October 2013 damaged so many beautiful churches -- most of them are beyond repair.  When I saw these magnificent structures reduced to rubble,  it broke my heart.  I regretted that I had not been to Bohol earlier -- so that I could have seen these centuries old churches while they were still intact.

Some of the churches, those farther away from the epicentre and those built perhaps on more solid ground or of sturdier construction avoided complete destruction.  
One of these churches is the Assumption of Our Lady Shrine in Dauis in Panglao Island.  Originally established by the Jesuits in the 1700s, it was passed on to the Augustinians when the Jesuits were expelled from the country.
On this last trip to Bohol for work, I purposely stopped off to see the church on my way to the airport.

The portico that used to be a significant feature of the church facade had been completely felled by the earthquake and portions of the tall bell tower rising high above the church had also been destroyed.  Despite these, I felt that the Dauis church still fared much better than the church in Loboc where it seems that repair and reconstruction are more daunting, near impossible

You can see that reconstruction has started on the gothic inspired bell tower. Cream coloured limestone bricks will replace those that were damaged, keeping the overall look of the structure.

The church interior is graceful and quietly elegant.  It seemed to me that it suffered  less damage than the exterior.  Sunlight streamed in from the windows and the tall white columns and posts add to the spacious and uncluttered feel.
The statues have been removed for protection as the church undergoes repair.
Masses are not held inside the church but outdoors, as precaution from whatever danger could arise from the weakened structure.

This is a view of the interior taken from the altar.  The massive posts you see in front, flanking the entrance are there to hold up and support the portico, now completely destroyed.
A gaping hole in the ceiling shows where the top of the portico would have been.

The ceiling all along the central nave and aisles shows not frescoes but woodwork.  
Each square frames ornamental non liturgical symbols, in gold and a vivid turquoise blue.  

The religious scenes such as this one showing Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, are painted along the sides of the ceiling.  These marvellous frescoes were done in the early 1920s by Ray Francia, a famous Boholano painter.  

The work of this outstanding artist continues throughout the ceiling of the church.  Right under the dome is this fresco showing the Assumption of Our Lady.  

On top of the altar are more frescoes depicting various scenes like the Last Supper and the Agony in the Garden.  These are all beautifully painted and would not look out of place in the grandest of churches anywhere in the world.

Aside from its striking and impressive appearance, Dauis church is more popular because of the presence of miraculous waters right inside the church, coming from a deep well located just in front of the main altar.
According to local lore, centuries ago, the town was attacked by pirates.  To keep themselves safe, the townspeople locked themselves inside the church as the pirates ransacked the town.  After a while they ran out of food and water.  A well miraculously appeared inside the church and they were able to sustain themselves until it was safe to come out.
To this day, fresh water continues to spring from the well and is available to anyone -- just bring your plastic containers and fill them up.  People have faith that the waters have healing powers.

The back of the church has also sustained damage and reconstruction is ongoing.  A squat hexagonal watch tower, dating back to 1774  sits on one side.  In Spanish times, this was used to watch out for Moorish invaders who came by sea.

This is a panoramic shot of the back of the church.  On the left side is the very impressive and large convento -- also made of bricks and limestone.  It is built along the lines of the tradition Philippine bahay na bato.

This is the view that looks out over the sea.  Right now, it is tranquil and calm but I can imagine that centuries ago, when Moors and pirates were a constant threat, being on the edge of open water such as this must have been a constant concern for Dauis and its inhabitants.

The convento is massive and imposing.  Because it is so wide and squat, it seems to have been spared from the destruction wrought by the earthquake.   I had spent quite a bit of time walking in and around the complex and I felt that I should be on my way to the airport.  But something made me step inside the convento.

The ground floor houses a small coffee shop and a gift shop selling church and Boholano souvenirs and crafts.  Part of the space is now occupied by these statues, rescued from the church.  Some have lost fingers and limbs and will have to be restored.

There is a charming painting showing the walkway from the church to the boat shed at the end of the small pier.  I can imagine the people of Bohol, coming to church via banca, tying up their boats at water's edge and attending church services.

Behind the convento is the open air area where pews have been set up and masses and church services are now held.  It overlooks the sea and is ringed with large old trees -- acacia and narra perhaps.  I can imagine that it is conducive to prayer and meditation.

The lady at the gift shop asked me if I wanted to pay a visit to Our Lady of the Assumption. She pointed me to the back of the convento and told me to enter where an angel stood guard at the door.

The room had been transformed into a small makeshift chapel.  Our Lady of the Assumption, also proclaimed as miraculous by the people of Bohol who have worshipped her for centuries, stood serenely on an improvised altar covered with blue cloth.
It is far cry from her majestic, gold crowned perch on the main altar.
As I stood before her,  I could feel her strong, loving and protective spirit, lessened not one bit by the simple and humble surroundings she is in.
Now I understood why I was drawn into the convento -- it was Our Lady calling me to visit and
spend some moments with her.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Ramen, Filipinized ....

We had been eating so much ramen lately that I thought I'd see what would happen if I added a Pinoy twist to this Japanese staple.  And you know what they say about idle minds ...

 My first experiment with Filipinizing ramen was with a pot of bulalo, remnants of meat and marrow from a rainy Sunday lunch.  The idea of recycling it into bulalo ramen for dinner was my lazy way of coping with left overs.

I always keeps packs of fresh egg noodles in the vegetable bin.  These are pre cooked noodles so no need to cook but I do blanch them twice in boiling water just to remove any alkaline smell and taste.

I placed a serving of noodles and dipped them in the simmering bulalo broth so that they could absorb more of the beef flavour.

The shin bones, I served on the side.  Marrow on hot soup and noodles may not seem like ramen at all but it was still a delicious one dish dinner!

My next experiment involved lechon kawali which I thought would be the Filipino version of chashu. Instead of using recycled broth, this time I made my "ramen" broth from scratch -- using pork bones, dried kelp and niboshi -- ingredients commonly used in the basic ramen base.  

Instead of the usual chunks, I cut up the lechon kawali lengthwise.  

Just two  thick slices of lechon kawali were enough to top each individual bowl.

 Since I had quickly dipped the lechon kawali in the broth,  the skin retained some of its crisp and crunch.   The broth was flavourful and yet light,  and the lechon kawali definitely transformed my ramen experiment into a Pinoy eating experience.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Dimsum Breakfast at President Tea House in Binondo

One Saturday morning, I woke up with an intense longing for a good old fashioned dim sum breakfast.  Since I was not in Hong Kong, the best way to satisfy the urge was to head all the way to Binondo to enjoy all my favourites at President Tea House.

Because of the horrendous Saturday traffic, it was nearer brunch time when we  got to our destination.  But no matter, we were still given the condensed early morning menu which includes congee, noodles, rice toppings and of course, dim sum.

It had been a while since I had been to the Binondo branch and was pleased to see that President Tea House had renovated their interiors -- it's brighter, more modern looking and the predominantly cream coloured booths make for a cleaner look.

One of the reasons why I love dim sum is that it is encouraged that you  have many small bites on the table.  That way, you enjoy tantalising little tastes of many things -- all of them delicious.
I couldn't decide if I wanted noodles or congee this morning.  So I ordered both. We had the house special -- beef brisket and wonton noodles plus a bowl of pork bola bola congee.  They came in deep bowls, perfect for sharing.

Congee is best eaten with bicho bicho or crullers -- the crunchy "sticks" add texture and chewiness to an otherwise soft, simple bowl of boiled rice.

We craved for something oily -- so I ordered radish cake which came delightfully deep fried and instead of one big slice, was artfully cut up in small cubes, the better to apportion and enjoy.

I cannot pass up steamed spare ribs with tausi or black bean.  It's a simple dish but very easy to get all wrong -- sometimes, the pork can be tough, sometimes it's too fatty, or too salty.  President Tea House gets it done just right.  The small bite size morsels are tender and the black beans do not overpower the dish.

President Tea House's asado siopao comes two to an order.  We also ordered a jumbo bola bola pao but that wasn't as good as the asado so be warned!

The pork and shrimp siomai was juicy and scrumptious.  Dim sum literally means "touch the heart" and yes, these little dumplings did just that.

The hakaw or shrimp siomai was equally good -- the shrimp were whole and fresh and the transparent rice wrapper was not too thick.  This is how hakaw should be.

Our hands down favourite was the quail's egg siomai.  Just three pieces to an order, each small whole quail's egg is placed on top of a smidgen of ground pork and then bundled up in a wonton wrapper and steamed.  It was a little pocket of delight.

Next time you have a craving for authentic old fashioned dim sum -- make your way to President Tea House, the main store in Salazar Street in Binondo is the best place to fulfil your dim sum desires.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Espesyal na Longganisang Lucban from Eker & Ely

Longganisa is  sausage in Tagalog  and various towns throughout the country have their own homegrown recipes, some more popular and sought after than  the others.  
Longganisang Lucban is one of the more popular varieties and you just cannot go to Lucban without buying some to take back home. 
This sausage has a distinctive garlicky and slightly sour flavour.   Atsuete or annatto seeds give it a reddish tinge and oregano and other herbs like local basil, tanglad or lemongrass give it its unique taste.  
While you can buy it just about anywhere and everywhere in Lucban,  it still helps to have your very own "suki" (favourite vendor) --  that produces the best quality, authentic tasting longganisa.

 On this last trip to Lucban, everyone I asked had different opinions as to who sold the best longganisa.  I finally decided to go with my sister-in-law's recommendation.  She told me to look for
Eker & Ely --  their store is easy to find, it's right on the street right behind San Luis Obispo church.

 The store had other Lucban pasalubong specialties for sale but I zeroed in on this scene behind the counter -- dozens of strings of  longganisa, hanging from two bamboo sticks were being wrapped in paper, ready for the many customers who were lined up to buy.
Lucban longganisa is sold by the dozen -- P75 for twelve pieces. The jumbo variety, slightly bigger, sells for double that amount.

 Back in Manila, Sunday morning was the perfect time to open up a pack and enjoy this treat for an unhurried breakfast.
Uncooked, the regular sized longganisa is just about 4 inches long.  Cooked, it shrinks to half that size.
Because longganisang lucban has quite a bit of pork fat, it's best to simmer it first in a little water.
As the water evaporates and the fat slowly seeps out, prick the longganisa to release more of the fat  but move away from the stove unless you want your shirt splattered with the red atsuete juice that will squirt out from the casing.
Don't add any cooking oil but let the longganisa cook in its own fat.

 Once the longganisa starts to fry, cut each in half to allow the meat, and yes the pieces of pork fat, to cook more thoroughly.  As to the degree of doneness -- my family likes their longganisang lucban  well cooked till it's very crunchy.
Doesn't this remind you of  chorizo?  I find that the garlicky, slightly tart flavour has similarities to its spanish cousin.

After removing  the longganisa from the pan, I quickly stir in a few beaten eggs to cook in the  drippings. The scrambled eggs pick up the reddish tinge plus the last little bits and pieces of crunchy sausage.  It's longsilog for Sunday breakfast, Lucban-style!
Kain na!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Pavino's Bakery -- Lucban's Best

Pavino's Bakery, a local, long standing panaderia in Lucban makes the best local cookies and breads this side of Mount Banahaw.  I have been ordering Pavino's specialties for many years and made sure I dropped by on my last visit to Lucban.

The bakery is just behind the plaza fronting the munisipio.  You can't miss it -- it's also across that other popular Lucban brand, Buddy's Pancit Habhab.

While broas (ladyfingers) is the specialty of the house, I much prefer Pavino's other cookies most specially their very thin and crisp apas -- golden brown, sugary and utterly addictive.  
The camachile cookies, shaped like the camachile fruit, are also very good  and have a slight buttery taste.  Pavino's sells these  cookies -- the broas, apas and camachile in both plastic packs and tin cans.

All the baking is done on-site, right behind the storefront.  There are trays of fresh baked bread and cookies  that give off a maddeningly delicious aroma.

I am wracked with indecision as I view the variety of breads and pastries lined up on the counter -- ensaimada, cheese rolls, butter cake slices, brownies, native rice cakes like espasol, puto ... I want to buy everything I see!

 In the end, I stock up on packs of pinagong, a Quezon specialty.  This bread is so called because its shape mimics a turtle's shell. Pinagong is a dense, compact type of egg bread that's rather heavy but utterly divine.  Heated in the toaster oven and slathered with butter, it makes for a filling breakfast treat.

Pavino's and I go a long way back.  For more than fifteen years, they have been the source of Christmas gifts that I give to just about everyone ...  friends, family, officemates, clients, suppliers, neighbours, etc.
I always order their apas -- those thin, crisp, sugar dusted cookies.  They come in gallon tin cans which Pavino's wraps in colourful Christmas wrappers.
Maligayang aPasko ... salamat sa Pavino's!

An Afternoon Stroll through Lucban and Merienda at Casa San Luis

My husband hails from Quezon and one Saturday afternoon, he had to go all the way to Lucban for a family meeting.  It had been decades since I last visited so I joined him -- not to attend the meeting but to reacquaint myself with this place.

As in old towns in the Philippines, the catholic church occupies prime position right at the centre.  The patron saint of Lucban is San Luis Obispo, a bishop from Toulouse, France.  How he landed this gig in Lucban is a great mystery to me.    
The church is made of weathered stone and has quite an ornate facade.  
There are arched windows in the front and the curves are continued throughout the top and the sides of the facade.  The bellower stands  beside the main structure, lending an air of strength and solidity.
This church of San Luis Obispo was first built in 1595 but was destroyed in 1620.  
The second church was constructed shortly after but was again destroyed by fire in the 1700s.  
The current church was completed in 1738 but has since had some repairs after being damaged in World War II.

Lucban's church is big and the interiors are bright and quite spare --  a contrast from the rather elaborate exterior.  It's also very well maintained -- from top to bottom, it was neat, gleaming and spic and span.

This is how the church looks like from the side -- you can appreciate how massive and impressive it is.  The view is  marred by this incongruous fountain where an angel watches over a mermaid eternally splashing in the water.  What would San Luis Obispo have to say about that?

From the church, I take a stroll through the town.  Lucban is situated at the foothills of Mt. Banahaw so the climate is always cooler than the other towns of Quezon.   Very clean and cold water runs through the town's streets, coming straight from Mt. Banahaw.

It was a cloudy, dry and cool afternoon - perfect for strolling through Lucban's narrow and quiet streets.  It was good to see that quite a number of old houses were still standing and had not given way to newer structures.

I do wish though that the munisipio or town hall had been less of a generic modern building,  so that it could have enhanced the old-time feel of Lucban.  But perhaps, this is a symbol of  progress ...

Right across the munisipio was this small plaza, of course with the requisite statue of the national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal.  Unfortunately he stands watch over this garish orange eyesore,  the town's main hotel.  He does have his arm extended -- as if to ward off its unsightly presence.

This old house has been painted a bright yellow and a coffee shop occupies the ground floor.  Because it has retained the  traditional architecture, it has a certain quirky charm.

This well preserved bahay na bato (traditional Filipino house combining wood and stone) has yielded it's backyard to commercialism and progress.  Nestled underneath the towering  mango tree is a popular and recommended eatery -- Cafe San Luis.

There are a couple of large white tents that have been put up amidst the greenery of this old house's back yard.  It's a charming, breezy place and perfect for a solo snack on this lovely afternoon.

It may have been the middle of the afternoon but a cold bottle of beer seemed like the perfect thing to have.  I firmly believe that when it comes to having beer, there is no better time than now.

It was quite a surprise to see that most of the items of the menu revolved around pasta and sandwiches.  I had been looking forward to sampling the local delicacies -- perhaps native rice cakes or sweets?  
I ended up ordering the only Lucbanin specialty on the menu -- longganisang Lucban, served as the main ingredient in simple pasta dish.

After my merienda, it was time to shop!  Lucban is famous for its handicrafts such as woven hats, bags and baskets -- I had quite an armload of great pasalubong (presents) to take home.
All in all, it was a well spent afternoon in Lucban -- and now, I can't wait to go back.