Tag Archives: food trip

Except Surfing: A Retreat to La Union

We boarded the 11-pm bus, rain heavily sprinkling on one side of the bus while the other side was dry and shielded by the wide roof overhang of the bus station. I wasn’t worried about the rain or about not being able to surf on the waves of La Union. All I had in mind was finding a nice local café and great local grub.

Silly. People go to La Union to surf!

Big waves tryin to pull you in 🌊 #beach #launion #philippines #rainydays #travel

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To be at the beach, away from the metro, the central source of all that’s mundane and stressful, was the primary goal. Even if it was raining, I couldn’t say the weather was bad. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t go into the water and stand on a board with a shark fin underneath, but it wasn’t that bad. It was just different.

You face the rage of the ocean, stand right at its jaws. It taunts you to enter the water, and you taunt it back, your feet right where it can snatch you away. You think it can’t, but it can. The next wave pushes on your feet and pulls back harder, and you stagger and struggle to stay up on your feet. You know you can’t go into the water because then it’s never going to give you back to the land that once owned you.

It’s not a scary thought. Just exhilarating.

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There’s something about simply being by the beach, even when you’re not soaked and swimming in it—I didn’t have to. It was just the perfect environment that I needed. It was enough that I could dip my toes in the subsiding ripples of water and bury my feet in the soft and squishy black sand in every step, while listening to the sound of the waves and feeling the breeze that came with them. It was titillating.

We stayed at Puerto de San Juan on our first night. It was a little far from the surfing area, but that was okay. The beach at Puerto de San Juan was more secluded, so it let us have a long peaceful stretch of walk. The hotel is age-old and has maintained its retro interiors. It felt like we were in an old mansion. The facilities provided enough comfort for the duration of our stay.

That night, the hotel held an acoustic night at their restaurant, which redeemed me from the displeasure of the day’s indecision and bad choice of restaurant for lunch. Our dinner was great.

We had a mouth-watering serving of sinigang with kimchi in a big palayok (clay pot). It was the first time I encountered this concoction, and it was perfect. The kimchi contributed to the sourness of this sour Filipino delicacy and added a very mild spicy taste. I also enjoyed the grilled tuna, beautifully presented on a wooden plate, with vegetables and, of course, kimchi on the side.

I just sat there, on a table nearest to the swimming pool, watching rain pepper the pool. It was dark out there, in the ocean, but I could hear the waves from where I was seated. The waves were so strong  that, even if I couldn’t see them that night, it felt like they were thrashing on my chest.

The light of day let me find the waves.

In the morning, I left our room and went back to the restaurant for some brewed coffee and pancakes. Again, I took a seat near the pool. Beyond the pool, even if I couldn’t see the shoreline, I could hear and see the tall waves. I held my pen and wrote and doodled on my journal. It was a great time to be alone.

With the persistent and fitful downpour, we left Puerto de San Juan to get closer to the main surfing spot, Urbiztondo beach. We knew we couldn’t surf. We just wanted to be there.

We found and got settled in Sebay Surf Central hotel. The beach was just a few steps away from our room. But then again, I could only get as far as the shore, content with staring far into the horizon while breathing in the ocean breeze.

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Cafes and restaurants were also just a stone’s throw away from Sebay. The best part of the (second) day was finding The Coffee Library just across the road. It’s a two-storey Vietnamese restaurant and café with Asian-inspired rustic interiors. I was, once again, deeply satisfied with a spot in one corner of the café. I stationed myself at a small wooden table, unconsciously listening to crowd murmurs that served as background music to the local café scene while I reviewed my journal.

diz Pho Ga is purrrrfect for the bed weather‼️

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The pho ga of The Coffee Library served as a great complement to the chilly downpour outside. I was happy to be sheltered in a cozy restaurant enjoying a mildly flavored Vietnamese noodle soup.

I also enjoyed their pan grilled porkchop! It was, as far as I remember, the first time that I could actually do away with gravy and just enjoy the chops. Every bite was tender and flavorful.

Other restaurants that we tried that afternoon (what else could we do but to go on a food crawl!) were Surf Shack and Olas Banditos. In the rainy afternoon that we came, Surf Shack was a sleepy little food corner with a few diners, but this place is known as a chill and musically charged hangout for foodies and surfers alike. Olas Banditos meanwhile is an airy Mexican diner with colorful graffiti walls that serves mouth-filling burritos.

The rest of the night (our last night) was pretty much uneventful. I just went on strolling around nearby establishments before grabbing some beer from the hotel bar to serve as a finale to my mellow out-of-the-metro vacation. I spent a few more moments contemplating while looking out to the once again dark sea. All I could hear was the roar of the waves. They were fierce and relentless, but nothing could be more comforting.

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Elbi: Food, Coffee and Nostalgic Walks

Seeing men swinging small boards that said “Private Pool” on the side of the road made me feel restless because I knew we were close. A couple more minutes and we would arrive at the place I had been yearning for. The place that served as a true home during the days I was struggling with college and independence.

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The green road to my beloved Elbi (pardon the reflection of the tissue!)

IRRI-sistible!

We arrived in IRRI at 10 AM and grabbed breakfast at the cafeteria – a place I often came to as a student for cheap good food, with a view of the rice fields and the mountainous horizon. I ate a big serving of saucy roast chicken with rice, plus brewed coffee and a slice of cassava cake for dessert for only Php105.

The weather was a bit gloomy at noon and it rained a little, but it didn’t stop me from touring my friends and us from taking crazy photos. Actually, the bit of rain helped refresh the surroundings from the summer heat and the air became a bit cooler for a while.

I visited the pond at the back of the IRRI’s coffee shop, Bean Hub, which was closed at the time, and searched for the lone resident turtle to say hi. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it. Prolly it was sleeping in a corner covered by plants. I hope so.

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Man waiting for an Uber in IRRI?

Dairy-cious…

We left IRRI a little after lunchtime and drove to Animal Science, UPLB (University of the Philippines, Los Baños). We went to PCC’s (Philippine Carabao Center) Dairy Corner, where I used to buy fresh dairy products for a sweet treat after my PE or An Sci classes. My favorite has always been Milk-O-Jel (Php15, then and now❤️) – a small cup of soft carabao milk pudding with sweet syrup on top, sort of like leche flan. At this time, I also got Carakafe – coffee❤️ with carabao milk for only Php35. My other favorite items from Dairy Corner are their yogurts of different flavors and chocomilk. Obviously, all of their dairy products are made from carabao’s milk. They also have meat products. All so natural, so fresh, so delish.

After IRRI, we drove around the campus before heading out. I got off the car and bid goodbye to my friends who were returning to Manila. I, on the other hand, was staying for the rest of the day.

***

I checked in at One Providence, a dormitory near the campus that also rents out transient rooms. I walked along F.O. Santos street going to One Providence and discovered a few changes. Some old establishments I used to go to have been replaced by new ones. Most notably, Sizzlers, a restaurant located on the third floor/rooftop of a building, has been replaced by “Siblings.” I used to love going to Sizzlers for dinner because of the view from the balcony dining setup. It was quite a romantic setting. I bet Siblings retained that setup, although I’m not sure yet if they measure up to Sizzlers’ sizzling dishes (my personal favorite was sisig with egg).

Old street snacks

After resting for a bit in my dormitory room, I went out again for a walk, carrying my backpack with my notebook, pens and laptop. At 4 PM, my first stop was the small kwek-kwek (fried orange quail eggs) cart in front of Vega Arcade, right outside the UPLB gate. I bought a stick of four pieces (Php15) and resumed walking while dipping my kwek-kwek in my cup o’ spicy vinegar.

Along the way, I also stopped by Micha’s, a pastry and cake shop near Demarses Subdivision where I used to live. Whenever I was stressed out with acads (academic stuff), I would stop by and take out either blueberry cheesecake (I remember it’s less than Php100), cream puffs (Php12 for caramel-glazed, Php15 for vanilla-glazed) or chocolate chip cookies. Cream puffs were my favorite, so I decided to buy them this time. Prices didn’t change! I ate my caramel and vanilla cream puffs as I wandered on.

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There’s nothing like Micha’s cream puffs.

New food places

After a couple of minutes of walking along Lopez Avenue (Grove), I was kicking around whether I was going to eat at an old favorite or try a new restaurant. I decided to do…both! At 5 PM, I went to Bibap Korean Restaurant, which was a new find for me. I gave my order at the counter and went up to the second floor to find a low dining table setup. I sat on my floor cushion as I ate my jajangmyeon with delicious side dishes (Php135), while watching some Korean music videos on their TV. At this time on a Saturday, there are not many people at Bibap—in fact, I was the only one enjoying the solitude of the restaurant. On the other hand, perhaps it was too early for a heavy meal…

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Picture-perfect vanilla ice cream coffee at Productivity Cafe

Meanwhile, Productivity Cafe just on the other side of the street had a lot of occupied tables. Since my old favorite, Coffee Blends, was for some reason closed on that day, I decided to try a new coffee shop. Productivity Cafe was a small coffee place on the second floor of a new commercial building along Lopez Ave. that offered a special space for students to concentrate on their acads and for alumni like me to just blend in. When I entered the cafe, I almost thought I walked into a class. On one side, there were four long tables occupied by two young people each, who were perfectly lined up with their laptops set on the table. I occupied a small square table in another corner overlooking the road and set my laptop, notebook and pens on the little surface, with a smaller space for my vanilla ice cream coffee (Php99). Productivity Cafe encourages silence as respect for students who’re trying to work and plays soothing music that makes you feel more like you’re in a spa. It’s a good thing they had bright lighting, else I would have dozed off on my table.❤️

Eatsumo, always

I stayed at Productivity Café until around 8:30 PM. I crossed the street again to transfer to Eatsumo, an old favorite Japanese restaurant, for a second fill. I admit it’s not authentic Japanese, but I still love their donburi and california maki. Their meals were tasty and cheap—served justice to my scanty college budget. Whenever I craved for some Japanese meals, this was where I ran to. This time, I ordered the usual—”toridon,” chicken and egg donburi (Php70), which I found weird at first because I knew it was “oyakodon.” Anyway, tori meant bird or chicken in Japanese, so technically it’s not wrong to call it toridon!

I sat alone on a table while watching other students enjoying their meals and chatting with each other. I used to be like them—dining with a friend and ranting lightheartedly on after a stressful day of boring classes and demanding professors. Although, sometimes, I would just enjoy a meal alone and just be thankful for having the time to run away from papers, go out and chill.

Old nightly habits, nostalgia

After my dinner, at around 9:30, I walked around a little more. I passed by CDC (College of Development Communication) and remembered the nights I used to walk by this place filled with students chattering among themselves or practicing a class presentation or just waiting for friends they were meeting up with. I remembered the nights I used to walk by this place to meet my Dev Com friends. Strangely, as a Com Arts student, I used to have more close friends from CDC and other colleges. If I could be honest, I’d say I didn’t really match the wavelengths of my Com Arts batchmates. I saw them as loud, dynamic and high-maintenance. Their sassiness was a bit intimidating for me. I found it easier to get along with peeps from CDC and Engineering, who were more easygoing and scruffy (in a cute way!). But later on, I also got to meet good friends in my own college who made me comfortable and happy.

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My beloved college, CAS

Past CDC, I walked by the old CAS (College of Arts and Sciences) building with so much nostalgia. At the start of every semester, this was where I fell in line for several minutes to claim the most coveted Form 5 (Certificate if Registration). (And then, I would fall in line again for hours at the Admin office for payment of matriculation and at the University Registrar for stamping of Form 5 and class cards.) This was also where I endured classes with wall fans blowing warm air on our faces in summertime.

It was certainly not easy in college, but it will always be something I’d be willing to relive over and over because every end of the day was rewarding after you finished all of the day’s tasks. At the end of the day, there would always be friends, good food and fine coffee that would ease all the stress. I love you, UPLB.

Sunday morning

In the morning, before heading back to Manila, I decided to grab breakfast and coffee and chill a little more at Cafe Ella, probably the only cafe in Elbi that’s open at 8 AM on Sunday. Cafe Ella is also a nice place to hang around, with its cozy interior and free Wi-Fi. I tried for the first time their classic meaty red sauced pasta (Php175) and brewed coffee (Php65). When I was in college, I usually ordered fish and chips and caramel macchiato. I only went here when I was feeling lavish (when I had extra after paying rent!) because Cafe Ella was a little too expensive for me.

Sundays and holidays will make you realize that the students are the life of Elbi. When there are no classes, there are not many establishments to go to. Most restaurants and cafes are either closed or open late, and it’s hard to find a nice place to hang out especially in the morning. Without the young people, Elbi is like a ghost town.

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I’ll keep coming back to you, Elbi! Love you.

 

Discovering and Loving Hong Kong

[DAY 1]

Finally. After 5 years, I finally obtained a second stamp on my Philippine passport.

Last February 16, I boarded a plane bound to the original and a big contender of Singapore in being the Asia’s World City. Incidentally, the first country I ever went to was Singapore. But I won’t be going on comparing SG and HK, as both are, although similar in a lot of ways, boasting specially unique experiences.

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Touchdown Hong Kong!

Awe-inspiring discoveries

The eager tourists that we are, I and my friend excitedly hopped on the A22 bus going to our destination, Kwun Tong, and went straight for the front seat on the upper deck. It was a smooth and chill ride. The bus wasn’t going too fast.

The first thing that I noticed and that filled me with awe is the realization that Hong Kong is actually surrounded by mountains. Honestly, I didn’t know that! Did you? So, you can imagine how excited I was turning my head left and right, up and down, mouth agape the whole time, admiring the scenery unfolding before me. To add more to this childish newcomer excitement, we passed over at least three bridges that offered a wonderful view of the city, the water, and the mountains.

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Helpful mr. driver checking directions for us!
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Mountains unfolding (click for more pictures)

Avenue of Stars (almost)

We got off at Kwun Tong Town Centre. We got a business meeting over and done with before we dove for our hotel beds at Newton Place Hotel. We didn’t waste much time relaxing. After a few hours of refreshing, we set off for Tsim Sha Tsui to find the iconic Avenue of Stars and some good food. From Kwun Tong, we took the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui.

We reached an esplanade and excitedly assumed it was the Avenue of Stars – hurray! Only later to find out that we were taking photos and selfies at Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade. It wasn’t bad. The view of the cityline was great, especially as the sun set and city lights gleamed.

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Beautiful Hong Kong cityline view (click for more pictures)

Discoveries on foot: shopping and good food

We walked to find Ashley Road and had a filling dinner at Delicious Kitchen. I was impressed with the crew’s quick and helpful service. Only a few minutes after we gave our orders, a big serving of sliced pork with garlic pepper cabbage (72 HKD) was served for me and a big plate of yang chow (45 HKD) for sharing. Ah, I got my stomach so full!

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Ashley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui (click for more pictures)

Still, I had space for a post-dinner snack of yummy egg puffs. We stopped at a snack shop on the side of the street, and there I found my favorite HK street snack. Egg puffs are like empty round cookies with a creamy surprise inside.

We rode the MTR from Tsim Sha Tsui Station to Mong Kok, and after that we were full force on foot! To burn some of the calories we consumed, we walked the long stretch of Ladies Market, filled with bargain items from clothing to accessories and lots of HK souvenirs! I thought “I ❤️ HK” shirts were cliche so I got “I ❤️ HK” bags (55 HKD for 2) instead!

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Walking at Ladies Market (click for more pictures)

An interesting thing I learned about Ladies Market is that the sellers are very! persistent. They drive a really hard bargain! At the first stall I stopped to look at chopsticks, the lady offered me a set of ten for 120 HKD and I thought, nah, it’s over my budget. As I began to walk away, the lady held on to me and offered it for 110 HKD, 100 HKD, until I finally gave in to 80 HKD thinking, wow, that’s a great deal from the original price! Only later for me to find out that there was another stall that offered the same set of chopsticks on sale for 20 HKD. Ugh! I’m not mad, though. The lady was good, and it was a funny learning experience. As you go farther, you’ll definitely meet a lot of the persistent lady. If you’re weak-hearted and poor at saying no, then you’re gonna have a hard a time. I knew I’m a bit softhearted, so it was really a struggle to look around. I just looked at items from a distance instead of entering the stalls just so I could avoid the sellers’ arm-twisting.

Late night coffee and sleepy kitties

After we got out of Ladies Market, we just walked around and along the streets of Mong Kok until we found a building that had a tiny poster that said “Cafe de Kitten ➡️” The building looked more like an old residential building than a commercial center. But the words kitten and cats rang in my ears, which compelled me to check it out. I and my friend took the elevator to the 7th floor where the cafe is located. What we found was a tiny piece of heaven for me and a loving little haven for cats.

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Entrance to Cafe de Kitten, Mong Kok (click for more pictures)

Cafe de Kitten is a small hole-in-the-wall that can accommodate no more than 20 people at once. When you enter the cafe, you will be greeted by sleepy and indifferent Garfields that will only stand up and approach you if you have cat food to offer. Their cuteness offsets their indifference. There were many cats in the cafe that I couldn’t count. All of them are healthy and well taken care of. The two owners are undeniably cat lovers and are also hospitable to their visitors. They even offered us a free taste of some of their cakes!

Cafe de Kitten lets coffee and cat lovers enjoy the place for a minimum order of 78 HKD per person. We came in at around 10 PM, and we were worried that it was closing, but thank feline gods they’re open late – until 1 AM. I sipped on my minty iced coffee while trying to lure the cats to walk to me.

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The only time it opened its eyes. Funny!
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This cat was like this for at least 3 minutes LOL

Getting home

At 11 PM, we bid goodbye to the cute kitties and the sweet owners of Cafe de Kitten and went out to the street with no idea how to return to our hotel. We walked around checking information at bus stops because we assumed MTR would be closed at that time. After asking a few helpful locals, we headed to Yau Ma Tei MTR station after being told that we can still catch the train.

We got back at Newton Place Hotel around midnight. We slept with an old Chinese series on the TV, which we enjoyed watching despite not understanding a word they said.

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View from our hotel room

 

BICOL Summer Spree: DAY 4 – Last day of country leisure

Don’t miss DAY 3.

On DAY 4, we were back to Naga City. For our last day, we just eased up, wandered around town and ate, ate, ate before we set out to Manila in the evening.

The night before, we chilled out at PBar on Magsaysay Avenue. We had our dinner here and shared a pitcher of cocktail. The bar was full of life and music on a Wednesday night. It’s enlivened by conversations and cheers by groups composed of still-sober fellows tolerating their drunken wiggly friends. I wondered if they had work the following day. As for us, conveniently we didn’t.

On our last day, we checked out establishments along Magsaysay Ave–lots of eating places! It’s a road where you can easily jump from one store to another if you’re really in for a food trip. We spent a rainy afternoon in Starbucks, sipped our Frappuccinos and wrote letters to each other extemporaneously.

I guess the main mode of transportation around Naga City is tricycle as opposed to most towns in the Philippines wherein jeepneys rule. We could go anywhere around the town by tricycle for only 8Php each. (Don’t get fooled! Once, a driver charged us 30Php instead of just 16Php for the two of us. A trick is just don’t ask how much anymore.)

We went to the marketplace where there are many carinderias (local eateries) that serve cheap home-cooked foods. Near the mall, SM City Naga, there are also chains of carinderias so instead of eating at common restaurants, we went here. It’s not at all hard to explore Bicol cuisine.

In the evening, we finally boarded a bus back to Manila. Another long ride filled with snorts and cuddles.

Journey

Read from the start: BICOL Summer Spree: Starting Point