MIDNIGHT MARKET TRIPS

IMG_8792It has happened before while having a sumptuous dinner with my business woman friend. Her cell phone would go off and she’d accept the call while munching on something and minutes later she’d look at me apologetically and using her sweet, Chinese girly voice, she’d ask me if I could accompany her to the biggest wet market in the city and buy fruit and vegetables. She recently won the bid for the city government’s solicitation for catering to the thousands of Muslims who are soon ending the month-long Ramadan. Without a doubt, this would take a couple of hours going through the maze-like market manned by zombie-like vendors. It is after all almost 12 midnight and we had no choice but to do the last IMG_8795minute procurement for the last-minute add-ons. Of course, as one of her best friends, I helped her out and did my share of selecting the freshest produce of spring onions, lemon grass, potatoes, carrots, bananas, ginger, and green beans

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In some countries, walking around the wet market and possibly being exposed to “entities of the dark side” (i.e. robbers, bag-snatchers, and drugged-out beggars) is something you’d rather avoid. But this city, heralded for ranking 9th Safest City in the World according to the crowd-sourced rating site numbeo.com, makes marketing at midnight like a walk outside the White House in Washington DC.  Just don’t expect a well-maintained, highly sterile public toilet as that is something this city had to work on.

IMG_8799So there I was buying 5 kilograms of carrots and chatting it up with the farmers from a nearby province. Majority of the vendors are farmers themselves who would rather man the stalls and sell their own harvest produce  than rely on another person – unless he or she is family member. I used to work in agribusiness development before so it was easy for me to relate to their lifestyle and it was kind of nice to reminisce those good old times when I used to visit several farms in a month to do marketing flow studies and assessments; organize training activities from pre-production to post-harvest.

IMG_8801Needless to say, those years spent in the mountains, farms, and markets – micro ones, stalls, and as big as this city market, were the highlight of my career. My field trips and exposure has made me less sensitive of the smell, the dirt, and everything that represents the backbone industry of this island.

Now, let’s put this gym-contoured muscles to use and lift this 40lbs sack of bananas. But wait, I may have to teach the lady vendor first how to arrange the bananas in such a way that it doesn’t end up smashed or bruised. Clearly, these bananas were left on consignment basis.

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RISE OF CON “FUSION” CAFES

IMG_20150620_193759There has been a proliferation of coffee shops owned and operated by Koreans in the city. It is interesting to note, however, that a handful of these establishments claim to be “cafes” but are not in every aspect. They do not specialize on certain blends of roasted coffee beans and I’m half-guessing that they serve “imported” but supermarket-quality brand and passed it off as gourmet coffee drowned in either artsy foam or whipped creams.

 

IMG_20150621_135241Last month, I visited two of these ubiquitous Korean “cafes” and was surprised that I was handed a menu board where the list of Korean and *gasp* Filipino dishes  are  more extensive than the beverages they serve. How odd to find Kare-Kare and Pinakbet next to the Bulgogi and Chapchae! I also noticed a common denominator on both: Chic yet hospital cafeteria-like, sterile ambiance!  Clean, bright, spacious and airy that at some point one could almost hear an overhead intercom paging Dr. Willis to the ER. STAT.

I do approve of the earthly colors used on the floor and wall. It does look quite pleasing and charming particularly with the strategically placed red and blue accents on mismatched chairs. My friend says it’s a marketing strategy – if they can’t please your palate they might as wellIMG_20150621_133947 go for the visuals. And I believed him when I saw that he was holding the overpriced “best-seller” iced tea. It’s just an ordinary iced tea topped with a cloud of pink cotton candy. Cute. More of a crowd-pleaser than a palate cleanser. I looked around and majority of the mass validation-seeking crowd also have it on their tables and were busy taking their selfies with it.

Well I guess now I know better.  The whimsical “cafe” set-up is to redirect my non-professional yet discriminating palate for the real McCoys. Don’t get me wrong though, IMG_20150621_134654these resto-cafés  serve good Bulgogi, Chapchae, and Kimchis (Yes, I am aware that there is more to Korea than Kimchi but I can’t recall nor pronounce any of those acclaimed dishes). The Bulgogi I had for instance was quite good but pricey for a plate of sautéed beef strips sprinkled with sesame IMG_20150621_133340seeds. As for the Filipino dishes on the menu – it is best to ignore it. Korea was never known to grow coffee unlike Africa and Colombia, nor is it a mecca for Filipino cuisine. Unless they have a seasoned Filipino chef back in the kitchen, do what Koreans do and order Korean food in a Korean restaurant. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t dare risk the identity of my restaurant and serve mediocre food just to satisfy everyone’s gustatory desire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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KISSABLE STEAMED PORK BUNS

Minbaker (6)Opportunity came via premeditated  trip to a nearby government office. Since the well known bakery is just a few meters away, I decided to drop by and have my mid-morning snack there which ended up into a munch fest two hours shy from what could have been lunch. It is after all steamed pork buns which, according to my raving officemates, “the best in the city” since it opened in the 70s. Really?

So there I was with a cup of hot, black coffee and a piece of steamed IMG_20150609_143808bun in front of me. For the price I paid, it really came in hefty in size. What struck me however isn’t so much that it came formed like a rose as typical steamed buns are round and smooth in shape. It was the traditional red dot on the top that bothered me because it reminds me of the Gremlin Bride’s lips. 3058934295_gremlins_2_the_new_batch_woman_gremlin_female_answer_19_xlarge

So was the steamed bun really that good?  My non-discriminating, unsophisticated palate tells me that yes it is good but there is nothing spectacular about its flavor. A good bang for the buck, though, considering the pork meat wasn’t ground to unrecognizable consistency. Meat strand there is and a good mixture of flavorful pork fat to keep it moist too….like those lips.

 

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IS THERE SOMETHING ARTSY IN BODILY FUNCTION?

I would like to say that I appreciate Art in every form and medium until Cinematheque Davao featured The Unifiedfield Video Performance Series 1 & 2 and Guggenheim for a charitable cause last month. Curious?

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My ignorant mind tells me that this could be interesting but nothing has ever prepared me for what I encountered on screen. Now some parts of the series  are seemingly innocent enough like the girl revolving inside a wet tub for 8 minutes or the two women in wedding gowns braving the vicious waves on monsoon season. Even the human waterspouts and the fat lady who blocked off the screen by blowing cigarette smoke are interesting.  Until this part by Japanese filmmakers presented a woman being force-fed with chocolates only to defecate in bed minutes later. I couldn’t believe my eyes and in my shocked state I sputtered “WTF” under my breath and my companion hissed back “S*it happened.”

I would have never  understood it if not for the leaflet which I got to read afterwards. Yes, “Afterwards”. A simple act that had me slapping on my forehead and wished I’ve read it first. But I was not able to, so you can imagine how baffled I was and how awkward it was to exchange pleasantries with one of the film makers… the girl on the bath tub herself.

Weeks later, my friend who teaches fine art in China explained that Performance Art is a non-conventional form of conveying the artist’s work. I scoffed.

There is something about that experience that has remained unfathomable – since when did pooping became an art? Did I miss something? Am I so prude or narrow-minded for not being able to accept what I just saw? Should I be offended or should I commend these film makers for daring to film such an intimate, personal act? Well then, if Sex was too intimate and personal to film centuries ago… does this mean I should brace myself for the next generation of poop-porn?

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THE SIMPLE YET FLAVORFUL CHICKEN INASAL

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Long before Mang Inasal became ubiquitous in the Philippines, the City of Bacolod already has a mecca for chicken barbecue lovers called “Manukan Country”. This popular barbecue joint is famous for its “Inasal” method of grilling chicken, which is basically grilling the chicken over hot charcoal and far from direct heat and flame. The preparation deviates from using the usual dark, thick, sweet syrupy mixture that often comes with barbecued meats, rather, Inasal-style chicken comes off unassuming with just a good amount of Annatto oil glistening on its roasted glory.

Note that when grilling Inasal-style, the recipe demands for native, free range chicken which many claims to be tastier than its poultry-raised cousins, the Broilers. If you like biting on chunks of meat then the native chicken is not an option for you because its fleshy part is minimal. So sparse that sometimes, when you look at it, there only seems to be a pinch of moist meat clinging to the bone.IMG_8288 The size of it can be dissatisfying and it often prompt other diners to dip the chicken in spicy vinegar called “Sinamak” to expand or prolong gustatory mileage.

Personally, I find this unnecessary and a disservice to what is flavorful by itself. Rather than drown the chicken’s essence in dipping sauces, I’d double on the garlic rice and pickled papaya as a side dish.

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UNDERRATED MORNINGS AT RAMON MAGSAYSAY PARK

The Ramon Magsaysay Park along Aurora Boulevard in Davao City has seen better days. It’s been revamped, renovated and abandoned several times, for so many decades, until it was left sort-of unattended. It is not the best place to be at night and it certainly is not the best place for an afternoon stroll, less you want to get swarmed by mendicants or face the onslaught of low-tide fragrance, if you know what I mean. What a shame, really, had I not decided to go there early one morning, I would not have discovered this two hours of joy that can be had at the Park. Surprisingly, it has one of the best views of sunrise I have ever captured in camera.

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Here’s an image of a fisherman on his boat headed home with the night’s catch. With the sun rising above the horizon behind him, this gives new meaning to the phrase “let’s call it a day”.

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By sheer luck, I didn’t smell anything “off” while waiting for the sun to cast its rays by the seawall. Perhaps because of the high tide.

I could have sat there and let the sun warm my skin for a little bit but apparently, some joggers like to use the seawall as a personal “jogger’s lane”.

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As sunlight touches the ground, so does the feet of many fitness enthusiasts.

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Pets need exercise too.

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 I should really sweat it out but I’d rather take photos, but hey, I can do yoga while at it. This is my “Flamingo Stance”.

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This Noodle Soup Made Me Shed Tears of Joy

Note to self: Don’t eat here when hungry. The Japanese proprietor of Kamo, who also happens to be the chef, does the cooking and he cooks from scratch…which is a good thing really, but not for my poor tummy. Nu-uh. Also, don’t attempt to decongest your nasal passages with a bowl of piping hot soup in public. It is utterly embarrassing to leave your unattended meal on the table while you go out and blow your nose every 10 minutes.

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For a moment there I was tempted to explain myself to the chef and say “Yorokobi no namida (Tears of Joy)!” and wishing now that I did. The Ebi (Shrimp) Tempura on hot Soba (Buckwheat) noodles was really that good.

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