Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Getting my RDA of Cholesterol at Bubbles Crispy Pata in Lucena

Two years ago,  a report published in the US stated that cholesterol was no longer a major cause for concern and was being removed from the list of nutrients that one should steer clear of.  This of course got much publicity and was received gleefully by carnivores worldwide.

Keeping this in mind, I have since been indulging my "savoury" tooth.  Hey, if other people have a sweet tooth and a propensity for desserts, I have a predilection for salty, savoury, umami rich food -- usually these are also cholesterol-lific.
On a recent visit to Lucena City, I decided that my cholesterol levels were at an alarmingly low level so to get a fresh infusion, dinner at Bubbles Crispy Pata  was just what my bloodstream needed.

Set in an authentic antique heritage house,  Bubbles Crispy Pata (appropriately named as it gives me visions of tiny bubbles of cholesterol merrily effervescing through my veins ) is a favourite dining place for locals.
Thankfully, the house's original interiors have been left pretty much unchanged.  The dining area is 
in what was probably the house's massive living room.  
Simple wooden chairs and tables are just right for that homey atmosphere.  The open windows bring in a cooling breeze and also sadly, some of the fumes from the jeeps that ply the busy street.

We start off our cholesterol (re)charge with Bubbles' sizzling sisig.  The chunks of pork cheeks, ears and snout are slightly bigger than most and have that chewy cartilaginous texture ... left a little bit longer on the hot plate, the bits and pieces on the bottom take on an appetising crunchy char.  
A raw golden yellow yolk tops this popular Pinoy pulutan (food or snacks taken with alcohol).  
Spicy chili has been thoughtfully served on the side, should you wish your sisig to pack on more heat.
I could have done without much of the mayonnaise squeezed on top as it added a slightly sweet tinge.

We had barely made a dent on the sisig before Bubbles' piece de resistance was brought out to the table.  
The pork leg is fried so well yet does not leave a greasy or oily mouthfeel.  I am guessing it is
pre-boiled then flash fried for maximum crispness as each order comes in.  
The skin has a crackling crunch, it's almost like eating chicharon (pork rinds).   The meat of the 
pork leg can be tough and quite chewy but this crispy pata is tender, succulent and flavourful.  
The meat almost slides off the bone so that you literally have just a small pile of clean bones at the end of the meal.
This is, hooves down, the best crispy pata I have ever had. And from someone who has a blog called porkintheroad, you can rightfully assume that I have had quite a few.

Bubbles is right across the Provincial Capitol and Perez Park so it's hard to miss.  
We came in for an early dinner and left just as the evening crowd was starting to come in.  
The restaurant gets full at peak dining hours most specially on week-ends and holidays so it would 
be better to make a reservation. 
Thank you Bubbles for my RDA (required daily allowance) of cholesterol.  
We will definitely be back for a replenishment soon!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

If it's Monday, it must be Conti's at Blue Ridge

Early Monday morning is when I make the long trek from my home in Paranaque to the Ateneo de Manila in Katipunan, almost 20 kilometres away.  The once a week class that I teach does not start till 9 a.m but I leave very early so as to beat the rush hour traffic.  
I leave the house without taking breakfast and am always on the lookout for a place along the way that's open and that serves good coffee.
Starbucks used to be my usual stopover until I discovered Conti's in Blue Ridge.
Open at 7 a.m., it serves a variety of breakfast choices ... and coffee comes with free refills.
You can't get a better deal than that.
Since I've made it my weekly "almusalan" I have tried almost all their breakfast items .... and then some.

I can never pass up longganisa and Conti's Mom's Garlic Longganisa served with fried rice and egg  are bite sized but hearty morsels of deliciousness.  If you have aswang  (vampire) blood, don't be put off by the name -- the garlic is not so overpowering but balances well with the other spices.   The ubud atsara served on the side is an ideal counterpoint.

I come from Malabon where the best tinapang bangus comes from.  Conti's serves a very good version (I am sure it's from my hometown!), an entire tinapa, deboned and perfectly fried. The accompanying tomato and egg salad is a delicious alternative to the usual fried egg. 

If you do not like smoked fish, you can opt for the boneless daing na bangus.  It's a sizeable piece so you won't miss the fact that you are not eating the entire fish.

Before I ordered the beef tapa, I asked the waiter if it was sweet and he assured me that it was not.  The beef is shredded and fried till almost crisp.   I like the soy-vinegar-pepper mix that it must have been marinated in. 

One Monday, I tried the American breakfast -- bacon, two eggs, homemade mango jam and slices of their toasted brioche bread.  I regret not telling the kitchen that I like my bacon soft but if you like your bacon well done then you should order this.

How about Conti's version of Eggs Benedict?  These are two poached eggs on top of creamed spinach on a buttered and toasted brioche slice.  A creamy cheesy sauce completes the dish.  
This is more of a brunch item, I guess. I found it a bit too rich for an early morning meal.

When you visit Conti's at 7 a.m, you can only order the breakfast and sandwich items on the menu.  I did have their very filling Clubhouse sandwich where the bread was lightly buttered, dipped in egg then fried.  I couldn't finish this and had the rest of it for lunch making it a very economical choice -- two meals for the price of one!  
By the way, the shoestring potatoes were crisp,  hand cut and freshly fried -- better than any canned variety!

Since I was showing up every Monday like clockwork, the early morning crew knew me well enough.  The waitstaff would always have welcoming smiles when I walked through the door.  
One morning, the waiter asked me to try their new sandwich offering ... barbecued chicken with bacon on brioche bread.  
Conti's sandwiches are better for bigger appetites, I could only finish half.

It's back to rice meals for me!  The pork tocino is thankfully not a bright red or pink.  The pork slices were fork tender and the sweetish glaze reminded me of  teriyaki sauce.

Yes dear reader, this post is an (almost) complete list  of Conti's breakfast menu.  The only dish I have not  ordered is their Bangus Belly Adobo simply because I do not eat bangus belly.
The photo above shows Conti's Batangas pork adobo -- chunks of meltingly good pork belly cooked with atsuete, garlic and vinegar. My father used to make this but he called it adobong pula.  
Conti's version is almost as good as his. 

For a sweet ending to breakfast, you can order any of Conti's signature cakes.  My particular favourite is the mango torte -- light, not too sweet and fragrant with the scent of ripe golden mangoes. 
It puts a smile on my face and I'm ready to face Monday and the week ahead!

A solo saunter through Shosei-en Garden, Kyoto

A warm sunny day may not be the best time to visit a traditional Japanese garden -- it's certainly not going to be a shady walk through the woods.  On this trip,  I found myself in the Kyoto station area with about an hour to spare before lunch so I decided to visit the Shosei-en Garden.

The garden is about a fifteen minute walk from the station.  With Kyoto Tower looming behind me, 
I turned off into one of the side streets that would take me to Shosei-en.

The entrance to  Shosei-en is through the Nishi-mon or the western gate.  The garden is open from 
9 in the morning till 4 in the afternoon.  While entrance is free, you are subtly invited to make a "donation"  -- 500 yen will give you a  glossy full colour magazine with photos and articles about Shosei-en.  It is definitely worth more than 500 yen!

Shosei-en was built in the 17th century for  the Abbot of Higashi Hongan-ji, a major Buddhist temple.  Designed by Ishikawa Jozan, it was intended not just as a residence but as a stroll garden as well.  It isn't a very big garden, as shown by the map above but it has many of the elements of the traditional Japanese garden.

Since I had barely an hour to spare, I thought I would breeze in and out of the garden.  
Take a few photos and leave.   But as I was walking in I was stopped dead in my tracks by this small green turtle crossing my path.  If I hadn't looked down at the right moment,  he would have been crushed underfoot.
I took it as a sign and decided that perhaps he was sent to tell me to relax,  slow down and enjoy 
the beauty of Shosei-en.

My first glimpse inside the garden was this serene pond, filled with koi and bordered by two wooden viewing pavilions called Rinchi-tei and Tekisui-ken.   The still shallow waters are a vivid green, reflecting all the shrubbery and trees around the pond. 
Can you see the stone lantern partially covered by the trees? There is a waterfall beside it that just completes this lovely scene.  I can imagine just how peaceful it must have been to sit on these decks and contemplate all this beauty.

A short walk away is this unusual two story building.  There are two wooden staircases on each side, leading up to the second floor.   This is the Boka-kaku which was built as a ceremonial gate.  
Cherry trees surround it making it a popular sakura viewing spot during spring.
Boka-kaku and the other buildings in Shosei-en were painstakingly reconstructed in the late 19th century as the original structures were destroyed by fire and wars.  

The biggest and perhaps the major feature of the garden is this large pond. 
Called Ingetsu-chi,  it covers more than 20% of the grounds.  The booklet given at the entrance states that this is an ideal spot to view the full moon, which on a clear cloudless night is reflected perfectly on the water.  
Unfortunately, a couple of tall buildings, electric wires and even a tall crane mar the daytime view.  

Because it is summer, lotus pads have proliferated on the pond's surface.  At the very end is Sochinkyo,  where tea ceremonies were held during the Abbot's day.  

As I lingered by the pond's edge, I saw this exquisite lotus flower.  Kobo Daishi's teaching 
came quickly to mind -- even in the mud, beauty can bloom. 

Taking the cue from my friend, the turtle, I walked quietly and slowly through Shosei-en, seeking out shaded cool paths that offered some relief from the bright noonday sun. I crossed  a  small stone bridge that connects two areas of the garden -- the west and north side.

In this lush sylvan setting, I forget that I am in the middle of Kyoto.  There was no one else around, no busloads of tourists -- I have Shosei-en all to myself on this splendid summer day.

On the north side of the garden is Kaitoro, a covered wooden bridge that spans part of Ingetsu-chi pond. 

I trod gingerly and carefully on the bridge's wooden boards.  At the very end are stone steps leading to Shukuen-tei, another small tea ceremony house.  I sat for quite some time here in Kaitoro, thinking of nothing but just being completely present in this moment. 

The sun was high above the sky as I headed back to the exit -- back to the bustle and crowds of Kyoto.  I felt almost reluctant to take the next steps that would lead me out of the garden.

I looked for my friend the turtle and found him cooling off in the shade.   I just knew he would be waiting for me.  I whispered a quick thank you for his priceless gift of a tranquil solitary hour,
all by myself in Shosei-en

N.B Details about Shosei-en were taken from the booklet that you are given when you make a 500 yen donation.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Summer afternoon at Kyoto's Kitano Tenmangu Flea Market

The flea market at the Kitano Tenmangu shrine in Kyoto is held every 25th of the month, spring thru winter, rain or shine.  It's one of my favourite places to shop and I usually try to schedule my trips to include a visit to the market. 

On this trip, we opted to go after lunch avoiding the normally thick morning crowd.  
While the early shoppers would have snagged good buys, there are so many vendors and a variety 
of merchandise that you will not run out of unique and interesting finds.  And of course, as it gets nearer to closing time, most of the vendors are willing to give bigger discounts.

The huge stone lanterns lining the path are almost obscured by the many stalls.  At the very end, you can see the second torii that stands just before the impressive romon, the wooden two storey gate built in the 16th century.

You will never go hungry at the flea market.  There are numerous stalls selling all kinds of food and snacks.  Like these giant sweet potato fries that look so crisp and inviting.

The tantalising smells of this yakisoba stall waft through the market practically seizing you by the nose and inviting you to dig in. 

Want to eat as you walk?  While munching while walking is not really done in Japan, you could probably be forgiven if you could not resist this roasted sweet corn on the cob.  

These farmers were selling their homegrown yuzu and were even giving passers by free sips of fresh squeezed juice.  

I made a beeline for my favourite stall at the market. Since I can't read Japanese, I like to call him Bacon Man.   This guy sells rice wrapped in bacon, roasted with a teriyaki style sauce then slathered with your choice of topping.  It's chock full of umami deliciousness not to mention, fat and some cholesterol too. 

There are an assortment of stuff -- one man's junk could be your treasure.  Those hand sewn bags made of old obi are good buys.  Or how about some english style tea cups?  

I much prefer the Japanese style ceramics.  There are many sellers that have both brand new and previously used wares.  I find that the vintage used bowls and cups are more to my liking.

I am always happy to see these pre-loved obi and coats.   Some can be had for as low as 500 yen.  The more elaborate and luxurious ones can sell for so much more.  But Jay reminds me that I have bins full of these at home so I have to regretfully walk away.

This is the intricately carved, beautiful wooden gate, the romon.  The Kitano Tenmangu is popular with students who visit to pray for success in their exams and studies so it's not surprising to see young people in their school uniforms at the shrine. 

The flea market is so big, with hundreds of vendors, that the stalls spill out on the side streets surrounding the shrine.  Don't forget to explore and walk around or you might miss that one thing you were meant to buy.

I thought these wooden black boxes were so interesting, particularly the lacquer one in the foreground.  

There are more pre-loved yukatas or casual kimonos which are perfect for summer wear.  
Can you believe that these sell for just 500 yen each?

If you thought that 500 yen was a good deal, this stall offers everything you can pack in a big plastic bag for 3,000 yen (or in a small bag for 1,500 yen).  And yes, shoppers were stuffing their bags to overflowing.  It was an amazing bargain but Jay was making strangling noises behind me so I had to tear myself away.  

How about some antique cameras?  I am sure they don't work but would make nice souvenirs for a photography buff. 

Every time I go to a flea market, there is always an item or two that I like to call "the one/s that got away".  This time it was these old wooden lamps, on the top right of this photo.    
They were so unique and obviously handmade but so big and quite heavy.  They would never have fit in my suitcase or in my carry-on.

It was late afternoon and  most of the vendors had started to put their wares  away -- to be kept and stored until the next month.  
If you're planning a trip to Kyoto ....  try to be here on the 25th so you can delight in the many pleasures and treasures of the Kitano Tenmangu flea market. 



Jay and I didn't walk out empty handed.  Our favourite purchases were these light woven hats ... just perfect for walking around sunny, summery Kyoto!