Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Amigos' Lucena and Lucban Pre-Pahiyas Excursion -- with a verdant lunch at Isabelito's Garden

Pahiyas in Lucban, Quezon is a colourful celebration of a bountiful harvest and is one of the most famous and oldest festivals in the Philippines.  In honour of San Isidro Labrador it is held every 
year, without fail,  on May 15.
Because of its popularity, the traffic and thick crowds have made it so difficult to attend Pahiyas
When the Amigos were planning a quick, day trip to Quezon, we decided that a week before
May 15 would be the perfect time to go and enjoy the town amidst relative peace and quiet.

We left Manila very early to make it just in time for breakfast at Jay's family's home in Lucena, 
two towns before Lucban.

It's convenient to have one of Lucena's best restaurants located right across the house.
We had pre-ordered breakfast from Luisa and Daughter and it was a quite a spread -- garlic fried rice 
and eggs plus longganisang Lucban (Lucban sausages), tender beef tapa (marinated beef) daing 
na bangus (seasoned milkfish)  and the restaurant's  very own homemade bangus (milkfish) sardines.   

I tried hard not to indulge, as lunch in Lucban was scheduled for just a couple of hours later.  However, it was a losing battle. Thank you to my sister- in -law Vivian for her warm hospitality and for arranging this delicious  meal!

After tarrying over breakfast and conversation, there was a bit of time left for some photos 
around the house. 
Our Jesuit Amigo  posed before this bas relief of the mountains of Monserrat.  This was sculpted by my very creative and artistic father-in-law more than 50 years ago.  He made six of these all along
the concrete wall depicting places in Spain that he and my mother-in-law visited as part of their travels.

One last photo of the Amigos before we got back on the road to Lucban.  The tile mosaic behind us depicts Nuestra Señora de Esperanza, Patroness of Seville. 

It was almost noon when we got to Lucban and the first stop was the beautiful stone church of 
San Luis Obispo, in my mind  one of the country's best preserved old Spanish churches. 
First established at the turn of the 16th century, the church has been destroyed and rebuilt a few times.  

This beautiful weathered structure dates back to the 18th century, its most recent reconstruction.  
The beautifully weathered Amigos in front of it are of a more recent edition, dating back to the
20th century. 

From the church, we headed to our lunch destination -- just a hundred or so meters 
away.   I stumbled upon this place on my last solo foray to Lucban and was just so taken with it
that I knew I had to come back -- preferably with friends that I could share this delightful place
with.   It's easy to find ...  take the road that leads out from the church and walk a few blocks till
you see the sign for Deveza Farm

Inside this farm right in the centre of town is a lovely little place called Isabelito's Garden.
A small house in middle of a bromeliad nursery has been converted into a rustic restaurant.

The first time I walked through the flowers and the lush greenery, I was captivated. 
I  remember that I found this place on a hot summer day but the temperature seemed 
to drop a few degrees because I was surrounded by so much foliage.

In the evenings this wooden bench must be a lovely place to sit and enjoy an ice cold beer.  But for now, the sun is too hot so we all headed for the cool indoors.

Isabelito's is completely alluring  -- it is impossible not to be taken in by its unpretentious charms.

I had made reservations a week ahead so we were seated in the main dining area.  Isabelito's is not
a very big restaurant but an annex off on one side, closer to the bromeliad nursery can easily handle more guests or even a private party.

Since we had eaten breakfast barely two hours ago, we resolved that we would eat "light".
Not too much, just enough to sample some of the specialties that Isabelito's offers.
This Thai inspired mango salad was tart but had a surprising kick, particularly if you happened to bite into a small piece of bird's eye chili, cleverly hidden amidst the green mango strips.

Isabelito's Garden is not strong on fish or seafood but quite heavy on pork and beef entrees.
One of the few "healthy" dishes on offer is this sinigang na bangus sa miso (milkfish sinigang with miso) which was refreshingly sour.
Did you know that sinigang is one of the best dishes to have on a hot day?
The spicy-sour soup makes you perspire, thus helping bring your body temperature down.

I completely forgot about taking photos before people dug in so please excuse the messy shot of this Pancit Lucban -- an enhanced version of the local habhab.  
Using the same miki noodles that the humble habhab is made with, Isabelito's version has been piled high with pork slices, bits of longganisa, string beans and chicken liver.  
In addition to this, we also ordered the Crunchy Bicol Express, which was very tasty and made with  crackling pork slices cooked in coconut cream -- so malinamnam (tasty)  but oh so unhealthy. 
Forgetting that we had vowed not to eat too much, we also ordered Isabelito's Kare Kare, that came with thinly sliced crisp fried liempo (pork belly) instead of the usual ox tail and tripe. 
Both dishes did not survive long enough for me to take any photos -- mea culpa.

After that LDL-laden lunch,  we tried to cram ourselves into this hanging wooden "frame" -- perhaps we had gained a kilo or two from all the fatty goodness since we could barely squeeze ourselves in.

We needed to walk off some calories so I took the Amigos on a short detour to my favourite panaderia.   I can never go to Lucban without stopping at Pavino's Bakery.  Their thin, melt-in-your-mouth apas cookies are second to none.

We were lucky that the owner,  Ms. Josie Pascua was minding the store.  She very graciously let us in behind the sales counter for a souvenir photo.
Do you see the multi-colored leaf-shaped kiping or rice crackers hanging on top of us -- these are what houses in Lucban will be festooned with on Pahiyas.
But don't think of it as just decor, kiping is very much edible --  when grilled and dusted with sugar, it makes a sweet, crunchy snack.

Lucban is well known for its native hats -- in all colours, designs and shapes, they are the best way to fend off the scorching rays of summer.  Just a week before Pahiyas,  vendors had set up their attractive wares in the streets -- how could we not stop and buy?

Where did the time go?  Before we knew it, it was almost mid afternoon and the Amigos had other places to go and people to see ...
I would have wanted to take them on a more extensive tour of Lucban -- to walk through the small streets,  see the heritage houses, drop in on an indie coffee shop or two but we had to go back to Manila.
Short but sweet, I think the pre-Pahiyas excursion gave the Amigos a glimpse of the small town pleasures of Lucban, ahead of the fiesta chaos and crowds.

Parini ulit sa Lucban, Amigos!

Thanks to Jay for some of the photos used in this post and of course for welcoming us all into their Lucena home. 


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Ajisoo Japanese / Korean restaurant -- a valuable find at the Cartimar Market

When I was growing up, Cartimar Market in Pasay City was synonymous with expensive imported goods.  Today, it is more known for its many pet stores,  bicycle shops and a high quality wet market.  These past years, it is also where Japanese and Korean restaurants source their authentic, hard to find ingredients and supplies. 

A number of these groceries and mini-marts can be found all in a row on one side of the market.  Right beside them are a few restaurants serving a mix of both Japanese and Korean dishes.  
One such place is Ajisoo -- located right alongside the row of food stores.  After shopping, you can drop by for a casual, appetising meal.

Ajisoo is a simple, no-frills place -- it's clean and the tables are set comfortably apart from each other. 
On this hot day, I was glad their air conditioner was operating at full blast.

Ajisoo is both a Japanese and a Korean restaurant.  Kim bob or korean sushi is offered right beside California maki.  The prices were surprisingly affordable -- which made me want to order just about everything on the menu.

The bento boxes were particularly attractive -- complete with soup and sides, you could have one for as low as P145.

While there are offerings from both cuisines, I noticed a slight skew towards Korean food.  There were also noodle dishes -- I can't imagine how they could sell udon for just one hundred pesos.  
What a great deal!

We finally settled on our orders.  The California maki came on a large platter and had twelve generous slices -- I couldn't help myself and had two before I remembered to take the photo.  
The chef was liberal with the tobiko (fish roe) and the kani slices were fat and firm.   
The mango was sun ripened sweet  and the smudge of  mayonnaise,  Kewpie-smooth and creamy.

I ordered the bibimbap which came sizzling on a stone plate.  The egg was perfectly fried, the beef was tender and the vegetables were crisp and well seasoned.  The kimchi was definitely home made and one of the best I had ever tasted.  I mixed everything with a large dollop of the piquant gochujang
the ubiquitous Korean chili paste. 

We also ordered a sashimi bento that came with six firm and fresh slices of tuna and salmon, plus 
a small salad of julienned cabbage with a drizzle of more Kewpie mayonnaise.  There were two pieces of a garlicky gyoza, a spoonful of potato salad and some vegetables steamed with sesame oil .  
This bento set cost just P195  -- how can you say no to that?

While there are no desserts offered, a small freezer by the cashier is well stocked with Korean ice cream bars.  You are more than welcome to browse and reach in for your choice.

This chocolate ice cream sandwich was light and the cake was spongy and not too sweet.  
Best of all, it was just P45!  
From appetiser to entree to dessert, this place is truly well worth a visit.  
After a shopping spree at Cartimar Market,  you'll have more than enough left over for an honest-to- goodness Japanese / Korean meal at Ajisoo.
Anyeong haseyo! Irrashai mase!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Happy Meal at Happy Delicious Kitchen in Binondo

In Binondo on a weekday shopping errand, I decided to look for a restaurant that I had not been to before.  Luckily, I stumbled on to a real find.

At the corner of Salazar and Benavidez streets is  Happy Delicious Kitchen,  with a name like that, how could I resist? 

It was lunchtime when I walked in.  While it would not win any awards for decor or ambience,  
it was clean and only mouthwatering food smells wafted through the air-conditioned interiors.
Most of the business must be from take out orders as there were no tables, only counter seating around the restaurant.

While I had yet to taste the food, the prices were more than enough to make me happy -- for three viands on your plate plus rice, you pay only P180.  For bigger eaters (present company included),  four items on the plate plus rice is just P210.  

It's turo-turo / cafeteria style at the Kitchen.  There are more than 20 metal pans with all kinds of hot dishes -- meat, seafood and even a few which are vegetarian friendly.  Everything looks freshly cooked and made with high quality ingredients -- certainly not your ordinary turo-turo place. 

If you're still unable to make up your mind, at the end of the counter is a table with some more choices -- machang, siomai  or how about some cuapao?  The fresh lumpia is assembled right behind the counter.

On the other end is this "carving" station where cured meats like pork asado, ham hocks and sausages beckon enticingly.  While it is mostly for take out orders, they will cut you a few slices if you want to eat it there.

If you are thinking that I ordered a kilo of pork asado to wolf down by myself -- well let me disabuse you of that thought.  My choices were quite  healthy.  Clockwise from the top of the plate ...  
stewed tofu, seaweed salad (tart and really good!), fish cakes and yuba skin sautéed with tausi
It all tasted of home cooked goodness. 
Happy Delicious Kitchen definitely lived up to its name and promise!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The many colours of our National Museum

When traveling abroad, a museum is always high on my list of must-see places.  Aside from being  the repository of a country's treasures -- I believe that the museum is a mirror of its culture and its soul.   I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I have only just revisited our very own National Museum ... perhaps after more than 40 years.

The National Museum of the Filipino People, as it is properly titled, is located in the old Legislative and Senate Building which was built in the 1920s.  The building was almost completely destroyed when the Americans bombed Manila.  Thankfully, it was restored and renovated and and now
retains much of its original grandeur.

These gorgeous marble rounded columns are just some of the minor changes from the post war renovations.  The Museum, specifically the National Gallery of Art,  moved to this location in 2003 and the building, an architectural work of art in itself, is certainly the best place to hold our nation's masterpieces. 

After you go through the columns, you enter what used to be the old Session Hall of the House of Representatives.  

There are only two paintings in this cavernous space but they are by two of the greatest Filipino painters  -- on the left  is "The Assassination of Governor Bustamante" by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, a painting that was based on an actual local historic event.

Across it is the "Spoliarium" by Juan Luna, often called the most important Filipino painter of all time.
Unfortunately it does not depict a local event, as Hidalgo's does, but instead shows all the blood
and gore of the spoliarium or the basement of the Colosseum of Rome.  
I must have been in college when I  first saw this painting, set in a much darker room.
I had an almost physical reaction to it.   I could smell the blood, the sawdust, the sweat that seemed to ooze from the painting.  I remember that I wanted to throw up and leave the room.
But on this occasion, in this well lit and spacious hall, the painting while still magnificent, seemed to have lost some of its gut wrenching effect on me.  

My reveries in front of  Luna's obra maestra were soon interrupted  by dozens of elementary school children who were on a field trip.  It is heartening to see how they are exposed to art at an early age. 

There's one more masterpiece in the hall - a statue of the Winged Victory done by National Artist Guillermo Tolentino.  It's a lady I know only too well -- the original stands at the top of the obelisk
of Bonifacio in Monumento, a place that I passed nearly everyday when I was growing up.

The two massive paintings do not need any other kind of setting than the wide beige expanse
of the Session Hall.
But as I walked through the rest of the rooms and galleries, I noticed that each was painted in a distinctive hue -- one that perfectly complemented the artworks displayed inside.
The first thing I noticed when I entered the vermillion room housing the Fine Arts Collection of the Museum was this wooden statue of my amigo, Santiago -- here in his full Matamoro fierceness.

Aside from his statue,  a marvellous retablo or side altar from Bohol is also on display. The machuca tiles in checkerboard pattern are reminiscent of old spanish churches. 

From vermillion hues, the next room was painted a bright, blazing red.  This room is called the Gallery of the Via Crucis with 14 paintings on wood of the Stations of the Cross.
Done by an unknown Boholano painter, the paintings look so European,  it's hard to think that a Filipino painted them.  The walls match the red colours of Christ's garments in the paintings.
These are part of the collection of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas   (Philippine Central Bank).

More paintings belonging to the collection are displayed in the next room -- now painted a deep emerald green.  All of the paintings show religious themes --  scenes from the Bible,  various saints and martyrs, several lovely renditions of Our Lady and a smattering of bishops and friars.

My eagle eye spots Amigo Santiago here called Santiago de Galicia, which of course brings back memories of the Camino de Santiago.

The museum's corridors,  painted a cool salmon  are lined with various sculptures. 

It was on this first visit (I would return a few weeks later) that I discovered the genius of a little known (well, at least to me) artist named Isabelo Tampinco.  A contemporary of the more well known painters like Luna, et al he was a remarkably prolific and versatile sculptor  -- making not just statues but even furniture and decorative pieces and of course, ecclesiastical art.
You can find examples of Tampinco's work in the Manila Cathedral and on the molave door of the Sto. Domingo Church.

I fell in love with his many sculptures displayed in the Museum's collection.  They were exquisite pieces that would not have looked out of place in any museum or church abroad.

I was impressed by Tampinco's classically themed pieces but it was his sculptures of Filipino women that completely captivated me and made me a forever fan.

An entire gallery is dedicated to our National Hero, Dr.  Jose Rizal.  With off white walls and wide windows that look out onto the busy street,  the room contains statues, busts, paintings and other memorabilia on display.

I had never seen Jose Rizal in profile -- this portrait is by Fernando Amorsolo, one of our most
noted Philippine painters.

It was poignant to see this small prayer book  that Rizal had left as his final gift to Josephine Bracken.  It is inscribed to his "dearest and unhappy wife"

The second floor of the Museum is devoted to all the Masters.  A gallery celebrates the work of
Juan Luna, perhaps the most famous son of Badoc, Ilocos Norte -- if you discount his brother, the general of course.
The walls of the Luna Room  are painted a  bright pink -- I think Luna would have approved. 

Next to the Spoliarium, this is probably Luna's second most famous work  -- the portrait of his wife, Paz Pardo de Tavera.  The rosary she clasps in her hands makes this look like a funerary portrait but of course she is not dead -- at least not yet.  

There is wit and humour in Luna's studies of Parisian life.  

Thankfully there were cameras at the turn of the century.  In the Luna room is this huge photo of the master in his studio.

Sharing the same gallery is Luna's contemporary and in my mind, the painter that is most often mentioned in the same breath.  Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo was two years older than Luna 
and they were both in Paris to study and paint at the same time.

Hidalgo's paintings in the museum show scenes from his life in France. 

These scenes of Brittany are beautiful and I must say I cannot understand why people have to argue about who is the better artist between the two -- why compare at all?

Warm, golden yellow walls in the next room hold portraits of presidents, government officials and society ladies.  My very favourite one is a painting by Ramon Peralta of a Filipina in an elegant violet terno.  There is something about her that reminds me of my maternal grandmother, who I never met, but who has a photo showing her in a similar pose and attire. 

Apart from his bucolic scenes of life in the barrio, Fernando Amorsolo painted many presidential portraits.  This is  Manuel Roxas, the fifth president of the Philippines.

It must have been de rigueur to sit for an Amorsolo portrait if you belonged to a certain level of Philippine society.  

I can almost imagine that Amorsolo had just stepped out for a bit -- perhaps to smoke, perhaps to stretch his legs --- as I stood looking at this recreation of his studio, with furniture and brushes that
he actually used.  I waited for a while but he didn't come back.

The galleries on the third floor showcase modernist works.  The corridors are painted in a neutral, cool oatmeal shade, the better to balance off the colours of the various paintings on display.
I love how the wide wooden planks have a warm patina -- and I  wonder who walked these halls before -- surely a number of senators and perhaps even some presidents?

One of my favourite "modern"  painters is the National Artist Vicente Manansala.  His cubist
avant garde style is something I can relate to and understand even if my personal preferences lean  towards the realists and impressionists. 

Manansala's brushes are preserved and displayed in the room along with his paintings.

A separate gallery is solely for his murals which are on loan from Philamlife.
I remember how I would always enjoy viewing these whenever I visited the old Philamlife building in Manila to watch a concert or a performance.  The building has since been closed down and sold.
I'm happy the murals  are on loan to the National Museum so they can be appreciated by a new and younger generation. 

I was lucky to catch the retrospective of the paintings of the realist, Agustin Goy spanning sixty 
years of his career.  A Chinoy from Binondo, Mr. Goy counted Vicente Manansala as his mentor.

The showstopper for me was this utterly serene and majestic ox obviously taking a break from hauling around his covered cart.  I loved the detail and the light that practically infused the animal's skin with a soft glow.  

This water-colour of Marikina  is another of my favourites from the retrospective.  The moss green hues of the walls complemented the verdant hues of the landscape. 

Another favourite was the teal blue room containing the works of E.Aguilar Cruz, also known as Abe, -- artist,  journalist,  diplomat, gourmet, and bon vivant.  Mr. Cruz's sketches and paintings, his letters, books and other memorabilia have been donated by his family to the Museum. 

Stationed in Paris as a diplomat, Abe's watercolors and sketches of his life in my favourite city bring back many happy memories.  My special favourite shows the bouquinistes -- the booksellers that line the sidewalks along the Seine.  The Notre Dame cathedral is a shadowy but recognisable figure in the background.

This pen and ink sketch of a couple of elderly Parisians poring over -- books? pastries? fruits?  -- is just  delightful and perfectly captures a scene that is so familiar in the streets of Paris

My visit to The National Museum was a vivid experience -- with  different shades of reds, pink,
greens, blues and yellows exploding in my mind -- and I'm just talking about the colours of the walls!
Come and visit and be dazzled by the varied hues of the genius and spirit of the Filipino as an artist.