Archive for the Manila Category

Quezon City – Metro Manila

Posted in Manila, Philippines, Quezon City with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2013 by gannet39

20120906_141536Like Makati, Quezon City is a municipality in its own right but is still part of the sprawl of modern Metro Manila. In fact it’s the most populous city in the country and was the capital from just after the war until the late 70s.

I came here to catch the night bus to Legaspi as all the flights were full. I arrived seven hours early to make sure I got a ticket so had plenty of time to kill. I spent the first two hours drinking coconuts and wandering around lost until I worked out that the LP map needed to be the other way around!  Eventually I found a taxi driver who pointed me in the right direction.

20120906_13502420120910_12091020120906_13541920120906_14072820120906_15050020120906_140910It wasn’t time wasted though. The west side of Cubao station seems to be where all the local Jeepneys park up. Originally made from the jeeps left behind by the US military after WW2, they have become a popular form of public transport and have evolved into a colourful symbol of Philippine culture.

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There must have been about a hundred of them on them parked on the streets round the station.

20120910_10480720120906_115438I had a great time walking around taking photos of the best ones with their over top hood ornaments. Don’t worry about asking the drivers, they love it when you show interest in their rides and will happily pose behind the wheel. Remember you can just click on these thumbs to get a bigger picture.

20120906_14451520120906_14454920120906_144334The east side of Cubao station is much more developed and is full of malls. There’s a big covered market in front of you as soon as you come down the steps of the walkway from the station. One side of the market has about a hundred seafood stalls, with the same number of meat stands on the other side of the central passageway.

20120906_14494720120906_14470620120906_14505620120906_14521620120906_145150Fruit and veg are on the upper level. There is no refrigeration so it’s not a place for the faint hearted. The stall holders here were also happy to let me take photos when I asked them.

After this there is block upon block of malls and department stores. I was headed for  Cubao Expo which sounds huge but is actually a really small arcade of cool little second hand shops selling various bric-a-brac, including vintage clothes, household items and old vinyl, hunting for the latter being a particularly favourite hobby of mine. There are a few bars and small restaurants too.

I was headed for the LP recommended Mogwai but it had either closed down or had moved elsewhere so instead I opted for Alan’s Grill (B-) which is a very chilled restobar. Fortunately I made it just in time before the heavens opened and the rain came pouring down. I ended up staying a couple of hours and made use of the time by writing this post.

20120906_155318My ‘appetiser’ (although everything arrived at the same time) was Crispy Pritong Pusit (deep fried squid in batter) which is the Filipino equivalent of Spanish calamari although improved in my opinion by a bowl of soya and garlic dipping sauce (B+).

20120906_160208This being a grill house, I thought it would be good to try the Lechon (suckling pig) but wasn’t as impressed as I was hoping to be (B-). The flavour was improved by a bowl of sweet Lechon sauce  from a bottle. Apparently the ingredients include pig liver, vinegar, garlic and brown sugar among various other things.

20120906_173046To finish Turon, a famous local dessert which involves banana wrapped in a crepe and deep-fried, but perhaps not enough in my case as the fruit was still a bit hard (B-). The name comes from the Spanish for nougat but bears no resemblance to the Iberian sweet.

20120906_160045With a few bottles of San Miguel Pale Pilsen to keep me company, Alan’s was a nice place to while away a few hours while the showers came and went, although the Beegees on loop got a bit much after a while. Eventually it was time to catch my bus so I braved the rain and walked back to the bus station to catch my night bus. Next stop Legaspi, on the east coast of Luzon.

Manila – the last of the old town in Intramuros

Posted in Intramuros, Manila, Philippines with tags , , , , , , on February 16, 2013 by gannet39


Very little remains of old Manila as the city was pretty much destroyed towards the end of WW2 in the Battle of Manila between American and Japanese forces.

It was one of the most devastating battles of the entire war and over 100,000 civilians lost their lives in just one month, as a result of massacres by the Japanese and the heavy bombardment by the Americans.

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20120910_155449You can still get a flavour of the history by visiting Intramuros, a downtown district that contains Fort Santiago, a walled enclave originally built by the Spanish in the 16th century.

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The walls were renovated in the 80’s and you can walk along the ramparts for 4km.

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Anda St is a nice street to walk along as it has the most old buildings, including the unusual Palacio del Sana (yellow and red building in the pictures).

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20120910_154933Manila cathedral is here, though it’s not much to look at.

Nearby is St Augstin, considered by many to be the oldest church in the Philippines, built in 1571 in a Trompe-l’Oeil style (French for “deceive the eye”).

You can get the full effect by going up to the organ loft where the ceiling stretches off into the distance just above your head. There’s a huge bible here on a pedestal and you can imagine what a magical effect there hidden voices had on the congregation below.

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The church has a museum attached which has some quirky old pieces, I liked the model galleons most.

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You’re not supposed to take pictures here but I snuck a few in.

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20120910_16173420120910_162146There are some pretty  gardens out back surrounded by cloisters.

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20120910_16340420120910_162633Just over the road is Casa Manila, a replica of an old Spanish colonial house that was built at the behest of Imelda Marcos in the 80s. It’s not a true reproduction though as the ex-dictator’s wife was very tall and had the dimensions of the building increased to suit her.

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Only the courtyards could be accessed when I went but apparently the rooms contain interesting collections of period furniture and home items. There is a posh looking restaurant called Rebecca’s here too but I don’t know whether the food is any good or not.

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To the south of the fort is Rizal Park, named after the nationalist hero Dr Jose Rizal, a pacifist polyglot who spoke twenty languages and who was executed in 1896  by the Spanish for inciting revolution.

I do like a bit of Art Deco so couldn’t resist going to see  the Metropolitan Theatre, which is quite near the fort.

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After being repaired by the Americans after heavy damage in the war and further renovations in the 60s and as recently as 2010 it has now sadly fallen into disuse again and primarily seems to function as a public urinal.


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I’m a sucker for this architectural style though and decided to brave the less than salubrious surroundings to go and have a peek. There are still some nice features to be seen on the outside like the tiles and sculptures by the Italian artist Francesco Monti.

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According to LP, there are several good restaurants south of the park in Ermita, including the original Casa Armas at 5345 General Luna Street 1209 (but see Makati post) and Sea Food Market 1190 J Bocobo St , but I decided to head north over the Pasig River to Chinatown (see Binondo post).

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Manila – Binondo – Noodle Off in Chinatown

Posted in Binondo, Manila, Philippines with tags , , , , on February 4, 2013 by gannet39

Most Filipinos are of Malay, Indian or Chinese descent and needless to say the Chinese community have made a huge contribution to the development of the nation, despite centuries of oppression under Spanish rule.

Welcome to noodleville
Chinatown is a gloriously hectic sprawl of shops and restaurants, with Ongin St running through the middle of it all.

Shop auspiciously

 

Although I was on holiday after four weeks of working in China and eating only Chinese food, I still felt a need for a noodle fix so I headed to Ongpin St.

Chasing the dragon
My hunger got the better of me on the way though and I couldn’t pass the Salazar Bakery (779-785 Ongpin St, near the corner of S. Padilla St) without popping in for a preliminary Char Siu Bun, called an Asado Roll here. Pork buns tate best when they are  hot. This one was good but it could have been better if it were fresh out of the oven (B).

Asado roll
So where does the best noodle soup in Chinatown? I decided to compare two famous old school places mentioned by Lonely Planet. There are other places to be sure but I reckoned on these being the best. Please let me know if I’m wrong.


Ling Nam Wonton Parlour & Noodle Factory
(Intermediate C+), 616 T.Alonzo St

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Not really a factory production line, just one guy making noodles in the front and another packing them ready for sale once they’re dried.

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There’s a separate kitchen for preparing the soups. All the staff were friendly and happy to let me take photos.

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Other than noodles and wontons, there doesn’t seem to be much else on the menu, which doesn’t mention that you can also get dumplings from the big bamboo steamers in the window. The Shumai looked good but I was here for one thing only.

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There are two kinds of soup broth on offer, beef or chicken. I went for the beef hoping for a stronger flavour, but sadly this was lacking and I found the soup as a whole to be quite bland. The addition of their unusual chilli sauce helped but not much. The actual chunks of beef were ok and the noodles where fine, of medium thickness, quite similar to ramen.

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So, unfortunately I couldn’t score them highly (C+). That’s not to say their other dishes aren’t better though, I was judging them on just one thing. I’ll get the wontons next time I go. My opinion wasn’t helped by the fact you can’t buy beer here. Soft drinks or hot tea do not go well with noodle soup as far as I’m concerned.

MXT Tea House (Intermediate B+), 965 Ongpin St

In the line of duty I walked a few more doors down on Onegin St to this equally venerable and run down shop. They are more of a restaurant than the previous place with an extensive menu offering all kinds of delicacies.

To create a level playing field I ordered the beef noodle soup again (I can eat a lot of this stuff) but here they give you a choice of two kinds of noodles. I had the vermicelli style noodles which are much thinner than ramen.

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The broth here was the winner for me though. It has a much deeper flavour and the chunks of actual beef were tastier too. You also get a bowl of roasted garlic flakes and they have the traditional chilli oil which, when you add both, takes it up yet another level. No doubt about it, Hap Chan is the winner (B+).

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The fact they had an offer on for three beers for the price of two also helped it for me. This is the best place for lovers of noodle soup in my opinion though I’m happy to be told I’m wrong.

I really enjoyed walking around Chinatown. There is plenty more to see and taste besides these noodle shops. Take a lead from the nuns and check out the buns.

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Manila – not much in Makati

Posted in Makati, Manila, Philippines with tags , , , , , on January 30, 2013 by gannet39

20120905_214908When I’ve finished working in China, I sometimes like to finish my tour with a short holiday in a neighbouring country. Last year it was Viet Nam, but this year I quite fancied the Philippines which were only two hours on the plane from Chengdu. I only had a few days though so these posts can hardly do this huge archipelago of seven thousand islands any justice. I saw a lot in a few days though.

I chose a hostel in Makati which is the safe, sanitised part of Manila, and the financial capital of the country. Two of its main streets, Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas, were once the runways of Manila’s airport in the 1930s. Other than a small red light district, there’s no atmosphere of any kind, just miles of shopping malls.

20120906_182919I chose to stay here because of its proximity to Ninoy Aquino international airport. The plan was to dump my work bag and head off somewhere totally different while not worrying about getting back to the airport in the rush hour which is deadly in Manila. After a couple of nights in the area though, I couldn’t wait to leave.

20120905_235038Most of the restaurants I went to while in the Philippines were gleaned from the Lonely Planet 2012 guide which seems to be aimed at sports fanatics rather than foodies and the Makati section in particular appears to have been written by a jock. I presume they sent him here because that’s the kind of customer the bars seem to cater for, as well as seedy old blokes of all nationalities who are here for the hookers and girly bars on P. Burgos Street. Or perhaps they come for the midget boxing and lady boy wrestling…

I disagreed with the LP writer’s reviews on several occasions although that might be a bit unfair as I suppose he had to find something good to say about a place. The people at the hostel (see bottom of page) were great but otherwise, the reviews are about the best of a bad lot:

20120904_213532Grilla Bar & Grill (Intermediate B), corner of Kalayaan Ave and Rockwell Drive. Open till 1 a.m.

After 4 weeks of Chinese food I felt a serious need for a large chunk of meat, so I went straight for the Filippino classic; Crispy Pata. It’s a knuckle of pork that is first simmered then dried and deep-fried. It pressed all the buttons for me with tender flesh flaking off the bone and plenty of crackling, although this was a bit softer than I like (A-). It came with a garlic and soya sauce dressing but I thought it tasted better without.

20120905_210926The most frequent ‘local’ beer in the Philippines you will see is San Miguel (they have eight varieties!) which I usually avoid at home but the just about any cold lager tastes good when the weather is hot (B). The Pale Pilsen, in small stubby brown bottles. is the best in my opinion (B+).

To finish, a large plate of Leche Flan, which a was much larger portion than anything of the same name that you’d get in Spain, but tasted pretty much the same (B).

20120904_221749This was my first night here and my first experience of Filippino waiters. To call them inattentive would be a complement! They can disappear for ages and never make eye contact till you wave at them with both your hands above your head. However, in general the people are very polite here and call you ‘sir’ all the time, in the American fashion.

20120905_140642Corner Cafe (Intermediate B+), 150 Jupiter Street (not in Fort Boniface as stated in LP).

After the meat fest of the previous night I came to this vegetarian cafe to balance things out (I’m lying, I got the address wrong and thought it would be a burger bar but I was starving so I stayed). It’s a nice relaxed place and very popular with heaps of awards for its food.

There are veggie dishes from all over the world but I kept to the Pinoy (Filippino) dishes starting with Lumpias; two deep fried spring rolls. They were great (A), but I preferred them without the soya sauce, vinegar and garlic dip they came with.

20120905_141700After this Kare Kareng Gulay, a veggie stew with lots of greens in peanut sauce which was fine as veg dishes go (B). With it came with a dish of Bagoong sauce, usually made with fermented shrimp but made here possibly with Tausi beans (which we know as Chinese black beans). The sauce tasted pretty disgusting by itself but worked well when mixed with the stew.

The banana/mango/pineapple smoothie and the unsweetened lemonade with a pot of honey on the side were good too (B). Total cost 445 pesos and a farty bum all afternoon.

Ziggurat (Intermediate C-) on a tiny side street connecting the bottom of P.Burgos with Makati Avenue.

Found out today that I had a job interview for a six month contract in New Delhi and spent much of the afternoon on the internet checking out the Delhi food blogging and restaurant scene, so needless to say was craving a curry by the end of it.

I wouldn’t agree with LP’s description of this place as ‘a culinary gem’ but they are right in that it would be a nice place to sit outside and enjoy an after dinner hookah, although they couldn’t provide one on the day I went.

The huge menu (far too big to be good in my opinion, although it has lots of historical facts on the back) covers classic dishes from the whole of the Middle East and parts of Africa and Northern Indian cuisine, that is, wherever the ancient Islamic empires spread to.

I went with what I knew and although the yogurt marinated Chicken Tandoori had certainly been inside a tandoor, it had a strange after taste that spoilt it for me (C+). I couldn’t eat the Mixed Veg curry it came with as it was laced with far too much coconut (D) and possibly coconut oil which is hard for me to like, so I took it away to give to someone who needed it.

I got a Chicken Tikka to replace it and that wasn’t much different (C). The Basmati Rice and Yogurt (they make their own) Raita were good but they are hard to get wrong (B). At least I was full when I left. The best things were the San Miguel Super Drys (first time I’d had them, much better than the usual) which hit the spot as they came with a frosted glass (B+).

20120910_211112Casa Armas (Advanced C), 132 Jupiter St

Having a bit of cash left over on the last night of my stay and hardly having eaten any European food for five weeks, I thought I’d treat myself to this Spanish restaurant for a final blowout but was very disappointed. This was the local Makati branch, their main one in Malate is probably better as it gets rave reviews elsewhere.

I ordered two Jamon Croquettas while I was choosing other things from the menu and they were great (B+), but unfortunately things went downhill from here.

20120910_211930The Gambas a la Plancha (C) were well prepared but in my humble opinion, prawns from warm waters just do not compare to cold water ones and these were no exception being tough and tasteless.

20120910_212741This of course is not the restaurants fault but the next dishes were. The Patatas la Cason came with a piquant but rather oily sauce which was tolerable but the nearly raw potatoes were not and I had to leave most of them (C/D).

20120910_212750I also had two canapés, the Montadito d’Lomo was fine(B) but the Champigon ala Plancha turned out to be another montadito with a single Prawn, Mushroom and Olive stapled to a thin slice of loaf with a cocktail stick. It barely covered a third of the bread it was served on and tasted pretty rubbish (C). Most un-Spanish.

To finish I had the Churros which were crispy but didn’t have the slightly doughy centre you would get in Spain (B). The chocolate sauce they came with was barely adequate to dip half the portion in which was a bit of a letdown (C).

20120910_214128Casa Armas markets itself as a top notch place so I have judged it that way. If it had been less pretentious and the food more reasonably priced, it might have got a better score. The roast pork sounds really good but you will need someone to share it with as it has to be ordered in advance.

I checked out most of the bars in the area that were listed in LP (non of which are on P. Burgos to their credit) and out of all of them Howzat at 8471 Kalayaan Avenue had the best atmosphere in my opinion. It’s a sports bar like all the others but people seem to come here to meet friends rather than hookers and the staff are friendly with no ulterior motives.

I stayed at Our Melting Pot which has moved from the address given in LP. It’s now on the 4th floor of the Mavenue Building at #7844 Makati Avenue but the door is around the corner on Guerrero Street. A taxi from the airport should be around 400 pesos. The rooms are clean but quite small and the breakfast is ok but nothing special. However the young staff are very friendly and hospitable and you can use their office phone to make free local calls. A good base for going elsewhere.

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