Stockholm When It Sizzles

…continued from Sweden: Almost Asgard.

Sporty Swedes go racing and riding around the fields surrounding the Kaknas tower

First stop was Kungsträdgården (Swedish for “King’s Garden”). Filled with lightly dressed promenaders making the most of their walking and tanning time, this sprawling central park has something for every season, an ice rink in the winter, cherry blossoms in the spring, concerts and events in the summer. The outdoor cafes were all open, offering refreshing drinks and snacks, and unappreciated shade to park-goers while the going was good. With the gentle sunlight and fresh cool breezes of early June, you feel like you can walk the whole city for hours with just an occasional break for meatballs.

Sporty Swedes go racing and riding around the fields surrounding the Kaknas tower

I had yet to partake of a proper meal by then so I besought my guide to bring on the balls! We crossed the bridge to Gamla Stan, the city’s olden heart, where I was determined to make my hunger hold out until I could stuff my belly with the Swedes’ roundish meaty specialty (and I don’t mean babies this time). Unfortunately, we’d missed the lunch hour and so the kitchens of the more illustrious eateries had gone cold. But just down the main tourist drag, tucked in between shops selling postcards and horned Viking helmets, lay a charming little café that beckoned invitingly. In we went and their staff beamed with the pleasure of serving us. It was just the place for my first real meal in Sweden. The leather-bound menu was filled with Swedish-sounding dishes and the woodhewn interiors accented with Swedish-looking décor. Only one minor thing seemed slightly off. Based on their tight camaraderie and strong family resemblance, all the cooks and waiters seemed to hail from the same town, which by my best guess would be somewhere closer to Shanghai than Stockholm. As I enjoyed the yummy spheres of animal matter, I couldn’t help but wonder if they would do just as well wrapped in dumplings and dished out as dimsum. But dining there, deep in the ancient core of the Swedish capital, I was sure that when served with some gravy, lingonberry and the ever-present potatoes, these were balls that not even tennis legend Bjorn Borg would toss away. Reinvigorated by the meal, I had the energy to cross more bridges and climb a hill up to Bastugatan on Sodermalm, where I was treated to more lovely views from on high of charming Swedish architecture and sunbathing Swedes in various states of undress.

A film crew on a break from shooting a period scene at one of Skansen’s preserved traditional houses

Swedish meatballs

shrimp sandwich

With the weather getting hotter the next day, we tried to cool down by taking the ferry to Skansen. This extensive park is designed like an open-air version of “It’s a Small Sweden After All”, with transplanted historic houses and buildings from all over the country artfully arranged around typical Swedish flora, fauna and even craftspeople in traditional dress doing traditional things. I was impressed by the hugeness of the reindeer and the cuteness of the brown bear cubs, and couldn’t help but pay my respects to a majestic Siamese cat named (of course!) Bjorn Borg. But a lucky treat was stumbling onto a period film being shot right in the park. A heavy educational undercurrent runs through Skansen. Full of honest healthy fun it may be, but it’s also just not possible to walk through this outdoor museum without having learned something either scientific or historic. Most excursionists bring a picnic lunch or grab snacks from fast food stands but there’s a smartly appointed restaurant right in the middle, where you can gorge on smorgasbord or fussier cuisine, which is exactly what we ended up doing. Sipping cool sparkling water as the sun sweltered past the shade of the awnings, I made a quip about how much warmer it was than I’d wished, prompting my Swedish host to shush me in alarm. Apparently, such comments are heard as taunts by the Nordic Gods, and we would soon be in for it.

A potter at his wheel at Skansen

continued in next entry, Upp & About

text & photos by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Expat Travel & Lifestyle magazine, 2009

Northern Disclosure: Ilocos Norte

a spot of zen — in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte.

Some of the best trips are borne from a minimum of preparation and a maximum of indiscretion. Planning an almost last-minute trip up to Ilocos Norte during the busiest time of the year is not the least stressful mission one can undertake, especially with foreigners in tow. It seemed rather foolhardy already, exploring longganiza land, famed for its pork sausages and dishes, while dragging along a Jewish friend. Defying the Holy Week rush, braving bumpy bus and tricycle rides, shrugging off dodgy weather, and coping with the peculiarities of Ilocano cuisine and culture, we persevered, arrived in one piece, and by Jove and Jehovah, resolved to have fun!

the foam can be deceiving — in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte.

Laoag, the provincial capital, is a sleepy, simple city, a cozy, convenient pit stop from which one can plot out a game plan for the region. We spent a night at the comfy, friendly Palazzo De Laoag to recover from the tiring trip, get our bearings, and run some errands. For our first proper meal in Ilocos, we trooped to local culinary legend La Preciosa to try out some authentic Ilocano cooking. The funnily-named Poki-poki, a dish of eggplant sautéed with eggs, onions and tomatoes, was a hit among our quasi-kosher little party.

the ilocos sky and surf change with the winds — in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte.

The next day in our adventure, we continued north to the crown jewel of Ilocos Norte – the beach town of Pagudpud. My previous tour of Ilocandia had only taken me as far up as Laoag, so this stretch was just as fresh to me as my foreign charges. As each town whizzed past our windows, we’d catch such show-stopping sights as waves crashing dramatically into cliffs, wide green swathes of rice and tobacco fields, the majestic lighthouse at Cape Bojeador and the windmills at Bangui. As we crossed over what seemed like a low hill, descending into a lush valley, the very air and light seemed to change. This was not the dry, dusty Ilocos Norte that textbooks teach, but a tropical coastal ecosystem all its own, an island within an island.

holy hole.

Reaching Pagudpud proper, we crammed ourselves into a tricycle and vroomed in the general direction of the beach. Whizzing down a narrow but solid road, picturesque hills, farms and flowers on either side, we had to dodge the odd water buffalo or farmer laying out rice stalks to dry, the grains forming golden sidewalks by the wayside. The resorts soon started mushrooming along our path. We caught glimpses of the coastline and the tops of palm trees, but the surf remained just a sound. So we dodged souvenir stands and scaled sand dunes, finally skidding down onto the seafront. And there she was…

Saud beach, immortalized incognito by Filipino cinema through many a melodramatic romance or cheesy musical extravaganza. But my movie memories paled in comparison to actually standing on this sunny spot, the smell of the South China Sea filling my lungs. Although never quite achieving the level of popularity and development as other Philippine beaches, there’s still something special about Saud. Even during peak season, with hordes of infant young building sandcastles and shrieking on banana boats in front of the main drag of resorts, it’s only a short stroll from its center to secluded coves and isolated stretches of beach, where you’d be lucky to stumble upon a lone fisherman or hermit crab. Wherever you choose to chill out along Saud, the windmills of Bangui spin lazily across the horizon, mesmerizing one into a quixotic daze. It was around that point, hypnotized by the whirl, when we decided to stay an extra day.

paying their respects to the religious figure

Maybe we could have just bummed on the beach indefinitely, but the rest of Pagudpud had a few more postcard-ready sights worthy of mention. So back into the trusty tricycle we go, the tight squeeze and twisty turns tempered by the bracing coastal breeze and wide blue sky overhead.

Kabigan falls

First stop on our hop was Kabigan Falls, a must-do if the tourism brochures were to be believed. There’s a mandatory paid guide for the hike up, and we got a particularly Nazi-like escort who kept up a no-nonsense pace as if she were leading us to a concentration camp. But as a young sage/popstar recently sang: “Ain’t about how fast I get there. Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side. It’s the climb!” I guess “Fraulein Falls Guide” was no Miley fan, so dutifully trudge up we did, clear streams and cows rambling calmly beside us, cloud-capped hills looming in our faces, with enough vividly-colored vegetation in every direction to get green burned into your vision. The 1.2 kilometers of exhilarating scenery along the way made the falls themselves seem almost like an anticlimax.

Patapat viaduct, scene of many a dramatic shoot — in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte.

it may be blue but it sure ain’t calm. Maira-ira beach

Heading back down, the pressure of finding our way up gone, we hiked down at our own pace, breathing in great lungfuls of the fresh, moist air., practically smelling the oxygen. Next tricycle stop was the Patapat viaduct, yet another spot that lends itself well to cinematic purposes (a popular Korean TV series filmed its big romantic climax here). This elevated stretch of highway hovers 31 meters above Pasaleng Bay, snaking along the Cordillera Mountain Range for 1.3 kilometers. The view of tempestuous sea against towering stone, dramatic clouds brushing the peaks of forested hills, is truly Wuthering Heights-worthy. From there we motored on through a series of striking rock formations, eventually arriving at the vaunted blue lagoon at Maira-ira beach. Smaller and more secluded than Saud, Maira-ira’s attraction used to be its undeveloped isolation. But for good or ill, commercialism has crept into this once serene and secret spot. Several many-roomed resorts have sprung up just over the past couple of years and are seeing brisk business. Whereas before you could lie on the sand and hear nothing but the surf, now the lagoon resounds with laughing vacationers, howling in glee as the strong currents carry them back and forth like a carnival ride. Throughout the coast, we saw waves of all shapes and sizes, some powerful enough to challenge even top surfers.

the waves come in

But it’s body-boarding that seems to really have caught on, with bronzed mermen tirelessly throwing themselves into the water again and again, trying to catch that perfect patch of surf. As sunset falls, the restaurants and bars turn on their night lights, parents tuck in their tired kids, and the adults sit out under the stars for dinner and drinks. Nowhere near as bustling as Boracay or Puerto Galera, evenings at Pagudpud are more wholesome than fulsome. Depending on your outlook, you may either be pleasantly or disappointedly surprised at the dearth of foreign backpackers or big tour groups. We did stumble upon some raucous shows and impressive live music during our stay, but this was more the exception than the norm. For those bewitched by this northern siren, the beach, the breeze, and a beer are all that are necessary to bliss out.

– text and photos by Jude Defensor. first published in What’s On & Expat Newspaper, 2009

Fine Food High. Dining Up in Baguio’s Manor

Baguio City

Baguio City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like a phoenix, the former American rest and recreation facility of Camp John Hay in the chilly hilltop city of Baguio in northern Luzon has risen out of the ashes of a devastating earthquake in 1990 and the withdrawal of the United States Air Force in 1991. It has now metamorphosed into a top destination for vacationers with its 5001 yard par 69 golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, picnic grounds, eco-trails, and other leisure and tourist facilities. But the brightest jewel in the Camp’s cap is undoubtedly the Manor. The four-storey structure, designed to stand in harmony amidst its setting of towering pine trees and views of the majestic Cordillera mountain range, offers five-star service and world-class amenities. Its rich interiors of warm wood evoke the feel of Baguio at its most welcoming best. Above everything, what the Manor offers that really gets people to brave a trek up the zigzags road to get to Camp John Hay are the gastronomic delights at its premier dining outlet Le Chef. The “baby” of talented and charismatic superchef Billy King, Le Chef at the Manor has arisen as a de rigeur gourmand’s destination. The force and flair behind Manila fine dining institution Le Souffle, Chef Billy started cooking as a young boy in Ireland and proceeded to hone his craft in various top-drawer kitchens around the world. He then came to the Philippine where his heart found its home. “I think I’m more Pinoy than most Pinoys,” Billy reflects. “It’s fantastic being in the Philippines. This country has been so good to me. It has given me everything I have. And that’s happiness.” He unabashedly gushes about the friendships and opportunities he has found here and to his fellow expats he counsels: “Get to know as many Pinoys as possible. They’re fun. They love to party, sing and dance. And most importantly they love to eat. “

Chef Billy relates how his friends, Manor bigwigs Tito Avenceña and Heiner Muelbecker, approached him to take over as their head food and beverage man. He loved the idea, since it gave him the opportunity to get away from the exhausting hustle and bustle and intense competition in Manila.

The way Chef Billy operates is he relies on several key people who he trusts. He prefers to hire people who need a break, either jobless or novices. He runs his kitchen like a school. There is always 20 percent more staff than necessary, all undergoing constant training. To keep things fresh and innovative, Chef Billy believes in always mixing things up, never sticking to a regular dish or menu, or any fixed specialties. And despite his deep foundation in classical French cooking and huge respect for his profession, Mr. King still displays quite the rebellious streak. “I can’t follow rules. I break every rule in the book,” he admits.

But there’s one thing that Chef Billy never screws around with, and that’s the importance of good food. “Food is what I love. You can call it an obsession in a way,” he states passionately. “I hate to see food wasted and people that don’t care about food. When I get a complaint it breaks my heart and stays with me for days. It really hurts. I can only apologize and hope I’m given a second chance. But most have given me a second chance.”

With the orgasmically delicious dishes Mr. King seems to consistently dream up with ease, one can’t help but keep coming back to his cooking, not just twice, but multiple times. Who can resist the chance to check out his latest yummy concoction? “We’re always upgrading and changing, adapting our menu according to the seasons,” he explains. Being in Baguio allows him to be even more adventurous and ambitious. “There’s plenty of everything in the market. We create specialties from what we have here. I challenge my staff to do something different, come up with ideas and put something together. It’s good for them and for me. I can’t stand doing the same thing everyday.”

English: The replica of the Statue of Liberty ...

English: The replica of the Statue of Liberty in Camp John Hay in Baguio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chef Billy and Manor General Manager Heiner Muelbecker’s next venture is the soon-to-open Manor Suites, a lavishly appointed structure rising beside the current Manor. Like a boy with a new toy, Billy enthusiastically talks about their plans for their re-imagining of the legendary 19th Tee diner which all aficionados of the old pre-quake Baguio remember with fondness and profoundly miss with an intense nostalgia. The Manor team has been hard at work on a 19th Tee for the new breed of Baguio-lovers. The kitchen is being built and menu being developed according to Chef Billy’s exacting and inventive specifications. “The menu will be very versatile,” he reveals. “I’m a great believer that not only adults, but also children should be given the option to eat healthy food. I’ve been working on a way to do affordable, healthy, quality fast food for a long time.” He does reassure us though that innovations aside, the diner will still feature the good old original American-era favorites nostalgia-hounds are sure to crave, like hamburgers, chilli dogs, and ice cream. And soda fountain buffs are sure to appreciate one detail where the new Tee will definitely improve on the old, Chef Billy reveals that they’ll be churning up their very own homemade ice cream. Cool Baguio weather and homemade ice cream, what more of an excuse does one need to move up to the Manor?

-text by Jude Defensor. first published in What’s On & Expat Newspaper, 2007

Post-modern Pilgrim

…continued from Border Break

the shrine at the Sanctuary

I went to Lourdes for the water. But when I got there it was falling from the sky. Like a blessing from heaven, the rains had come to Lourdes, washing most (except for the staunch faithful) of the tourists away. With grand plans set for the 150th anniversary of the apparitions this year, I was glad to have visited in the dead of winter. The hush and haze that shrouded the town set a contemplative, pious mood. Walking in the crisp air through the quiet streets made me realize how Lourdes was really just a small, simple town, but one that had been completely transformed by a momentous event. At peak pilgrimage time in warmer weather, millions of tourists saturate the hamlet, a veritable frenzy of the faithful. Whatever form your faith may take, there is no escaping the Madonna’s presence.

the grotto at night

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes covers 51 hectares, this includes the grotto where the apparitions occurred, the taps and baths of Lourdes water, and 22 places of worship of differing designs and dimensions ranging from neo-gothic to 20th century modern. Catching a few minutes of the mass at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, again I was reminded of the ever-shrinking scale of the world). It’s like Benneton meets Bernadette. Here I was, a Philippine pilgrim, at a church in the Pyrenees, at a mass celebrated by an African priest. Both my French companions were suffering from a bad case of the sniffles though, prompting me to ask, since they lived around Lourdes with easy access to the healing water, shouldn’t they be fortified from the flu? They could only shrug and smile. I guess even with miracles, one’s mileage may vary.

foie gras plate at Le Magret

views of Lourdes town from the castle

But there’s more to Lourdes than religion. Its fortress has borne witness to a millennium of conquest and control by the Moors, the Bigorre counts, and the British, and now houses a museum dedicated to the region’s fascinating history and culture. And surrounding the town like an inescapable embrace is the spectacular beauty of the Pyrenees mountains. Pretty little villages speckle the landscape, with mountain and winter sports among the many activities attracting tourists. The warmly welcoming and obliging Lourdes tourism board had put me up at the cozy Beausejour hotel, supposedly the best hotel in Lourdes operating in the off-peak winter season. I was also treated to a superb dinner of delicious French Pyreneean cuisine complemented by a fine Bordeaux at Le Magret, one of Lourdes’ top restaurants.

skating rink at Pau, before a statue of Henri IV

Pau’s 100-year-old funicular railway climbs up to the Boulevard des Pyrenees

the Pyrenees between Spain and France

Moving westwards to the Atlantic stands Pau, a charming city that boasts of the Château de Pau, birthplace of King Henry IV of France and Navarre, and a favorite summer home of both Napoleon and Marie Antoinette. The century old Funiculaire de Pau is free to ride and links the Chateau and the famous Boulevard des Pyrenées to the Pau railway station in the valley below. Pau’s Belle Époque streets sparkle with smartly dressed students and shoppers ducking in and out of fashionable boutiques and restaurants. A relaxed evening at the chic Brasserie Des Pyrénées just by the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) was the perfect endpoint to my jaunt through the region.

continued in Far From the Madding Crowd

text & photos by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Expat Travel & Lifestyle magazine, 2008

Border Break

…continued from previous entry, Gad About Gaul

Bordeaux from the Pont de Pierre

Driving down the Autoroute to Bayonne one gets to see everything else that France is about beyond Paris – farmlands alternate with high-tech campuses and industrial complexes, forest plantations, vineyards and the occasional quaint town or fair city. Then the further southwest we go and the sea slowly starts to reveal herself. We make a pit stop at the picturesque and progressive city of Bordeaux, where it’s de rigueur to sip a glass of their eponymous wine while looking over the stunning waterfront.

the tramway de Bordeaux

With some of its streets enslaved to a spiffy new cable-less train system, motorists are compelled to get down from their cars and wander on foot. No big bother considering the lovely weather and architecture on view, although the byzantine street plan makes it rather easy to get disoriented here.

Donostia – San Sebastian

Past the wine country lies the land of the Basques, a fiercely proud people with a rich, ancient culture whose territory extends from the western Pyrenees mountains down to the coast of the Bay of Biscay, spanning the border between France and Spain.

Bay of La Concha

I had been invited by a Basque friend to attend the Fair of St. Thomas so we sped down to Donostia-San Sebastian, the Basque city famous for its bay, Tamborrada procession, and International Film Festival. From there it was a quick jaunt through verdant country dotted with sheep-strewn hills and duck-filled streams to the town of Azpeitia, birthplace of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The Fair of St. Tomas, regarded as the harbinger of the Christmas season, is when the best products of the season are exhibited. According to tradition, every year on the 21st of December the farmers of Azpeitia would venture to Donostia-San Sebastian to pay the rent of their hamlets to their landlords. As a present, they would offer a pair of capons, and in exchange, the landlords would invite them to lunch.

txistorra wrapped in talo

To celebrate the fair, people from all over the region, some garbed in customary Basque attire, descend upon the town to watch traditional Basque rural sports such as aizkolaritza (wood cutting), drink sidra (cider) and eat txistorra, the Basque version of chorizo, which is served wrapped in talo, a thick pancake of maize. The txistorra was the freshest, yummiest chorizo I’ve ever eaten, made from pigs that had been slaughtered that very morning, and the puffy, hearty talo was the perfect foil to its greasy goodness

Basque kids in costume for the Fair of St. Tomas

Another remarkable note to the revelries however, was that the town plaza were adorned not just by festive decorations, but also with banners and posters espousing Basque solidarity. Amidst all the merrymaking was a conspicuous police presence and a certain tension. It’s a real conundrum how in this era of the European Union, separatist groups like ETA continue to cast a shadow over the Basque country, undeservedly tainting its reputation as a hotbed for unrest.

But then this fertile and scenic land almost seems fated to be fought over for ever, the enduring conflict further strengthening its people and spawning more legends.

stream through Azpeitia

continued in Post-modern Pilgrim

text & photos by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Expat Travel & Lifestyle magazine, 2008

Nostalgia in Negros Occidental

Sandwiched between larger and older Iloilo City across the Guimaras strait, and younger and more scholarly Dumaguete across the Kanlaon Mountain range, the city of Bacolod somehow manages to distinguish itself from its sister cities through sheer attitude. The more devoted denizens of Bacolod proudly maintain that their beloved hometown is more antebellum than Atlanta and more genteel than Geneva. And they’re not really all that far off. At its peak, the province of Negros Occidental, of which Bacolod is the capital, lay claim to a glittering social scene revolving around the incredible wealth generated by the vast plantations or haciendas that blanket the boot-shaped island. From this milieu materialized a rarefied bubble in which float sugar barons, debutante balls, and opera nights, which neither history nor entropy have completely burst.

Respect and Remembrance

As a community, the Negrenses hold their heritage in high esteem, maybe more so than most Filipinos. This is most evident in the attention and care given to the museums dedicated to the province. Located in the old agriculture building close to the capitol building, the Negros Museum is an unusual historical and humanities museum in the sense that, instead of displaying antiques and artifacts, it showcases the ongoing saga of the people of Negros Occidental. The tale begins with the main and permanent display of a reconstructed batil, a wooden sailing vessel used for passengers and cargo at the turn of the century. The batil contains artifacts and reproductions of the type of goods that were exchanged between Negros, nearby islands and foreign lands.

The story flows onward by highlighting the province’s role as the “sugarbowl” of the Philippines, with displays depicting sugar production, the role of the ordinary plantation worker, and even the lifestyle of the legendary Negrense haciendero or plantation owner. There are also exhibits focusing on such themes as the Chinese in Negros, the Catholic Church, and the folksongs and folktales of the island. Smaller galleries flank the main hall: the Cinco de Noviembre exhibit highlights the Spanish colonial era, the Sports Hall of Fame, and a gallery for changing exhibits. In the museum’s north wing is the Jose Garcia Montelibano Toy and Folk Arts Museum, the only one of its kind in the Philippines. Containing about 2,000 toys and folk crafts collected by Mrs. Montelibano all over the world, many of the toys are in mint state. The display is arranged anthropologically with each section telling a story, from simple, basic toys to the most complex mechanized creations.

Nostalgia buffs can get their fill of family heirlooms and religious relics at the Museo Negrense de La Salle. Maintained by the prestigious private Catholic school, the museum preserves vital documents, photographs, and cultural artifacts related to the history and culture of Negros that have been donated by its most prominent families. During our visit, the museum was featuring the legacy of the illustrious Vargas family, particularly the mementos of their late matriarch, Lourdes “Nena” Vargas-Ledesma. From there, we were then warmly welcomed to the estate of her son Eduardo Vargas Ledesma Jr., which prides itself on maintaining one of the world’s largest breeding farms for fighting cocks, and also an interesting display of centuries-old urnas, colorful religious figures collected from all around the Visayas.

Sweet Sojourn

As the sun began to set, we proceeded to the picturesque town of Silay, home to no less than 31 heritage houses of varying degrees of grandeur and antiquity. The dwindling twilight lent a rather spooky air to the storied town. It was easy to imagine the ghosts of Silay roaming the stone streets and ancient structures, haunting the vestiges of the sugar boom’s belle époque, biding their time till the next spectral ball. Thankfully, the Romanesque domes of Silay’s San Diego Pro-Cathedral were ablaze with light and life, as the devout townsfolk giddily prepared for a religious procession, much like their ancestors must have done for generations.

As we sped back to the city for the evening, sweeping tracts of sugarcane spread out on both sides of the highway, inescapably reminding us of the backbone on which the island’s society rests. Although the pace may be slow and the pleasures simple, things still seem to be carried out with a certain sense of style. Even the local dialect of Hiligaynon, unquestionably the Philippines’ gentlest-sounding language, has a sweetly romantic lilt to its cadence.

The sugar baron’s swagger that profoundly permeates the city’s lifestyle is never more obvious than after nightfall. Like exotic nocturnal creatures, the Bacoleños break free from their daytime responsibilities (or lack thereof) and flit into the lively clubs, cafes, and casinos that all cater to the appetites of a town that has learned how to live well and live high and never forgot its lessons. Where else but in Sugarland can you expect a smorgasbord of the most scrumptiously elegant pastries and desserts? And the Ledesma’s fighting cock farm notwithstanding, the Negrenses do love their chicken, grilled to perfection preferably in the traditional Bacolod inasal (literal translation: “cooked over the fire”) recipe which entails a lot of garlic, calamansi juice, and annatto. Once stuffed with sweets, brewed coffee, grilled meats, and liquor (not necessarily in that order) Bacoleños customarily take a leisurely stroll round the rectangular reflecting lagoon in front of the capitol building, or down the main thoroughfare ofLacson St.

Bacolod is a city that likes to keep its mysteries shrouded, and the decadent goings-on at the private parties thrown by some of Negros society’s finest are the stuff of international legend, and interested visitors should dearly hope to be invited for a glimpse into this privileged circus. Or wait till October, when in an ironic display of public passion, the city hosts the yearly Masskara Festival, like a rowdier version of the Venice Masquerade with a Filipino twist – all the masks come with a big smile. But knowing the Negrenses, the faces concealed behind the masks are sure to be smiling even wider, safely smug with their sweet secrets.

Getting There:

Bacolod is located 45 minutes South of Manila by plane. Commercial flights are available daily. If flying in to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila you will have to change planes for the 45 minute hop to Bacolod. A new airport of international standards opened in Silay in 2007.

-text and photos by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in What’s On & Expat newspaper, 2007.

Related articles

Stranded By the Lake (embroidery & artisanal cheese in Lumban, Laguna)

South Luzon Expressway Southbound lane from Su...

South Luzon Expressway Southbound lane from Susana Heights to San Pedro. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many Metro Manila residents may no longer consider Laguna to be a travel destination. As an immediately adjacent bedroom community to the metro, a lot of workers and commuters in the city actually call the province home. It’s easy to take for granted how close the countryside and its charms can be. Driving down the South Luzon Expressway on a Friday morning, going against the flow of traffic bound north to Manila, one starts to sense the urban sprawl slowly melting away. The highway gets greener and greener, the plant life literally having a field day thanks to the recent schizophrenic weather pattern of sunny days and evening showers. Before you know it, the landscape starts going all rural on you, and the crazy city gets lost in the recesses of your memory.

The town of Lumban, Laguna lies 104 kilometers southeast of Manila. It is the fourth largest town in the province, with a population of 25,936 people within an area of 96.8 square kilometers. Named after the lumbang tree, of which only two specimens are left standing across from the church, it is also one of Laguna’s oldest towns. The province’s capital, Santa Cruz, as well as Cavinti and Pagsanjan, were all once part of Lumban.

For a time, Lumban was the center of all missionary activities in Laguna. Lumban Church, completed in 1600, was the first stone church built in the province. It was also in this church where the Holy Sacrament was first celebrated by the Franciscans outside Manila. The church and convent complex also served as a resthouse for Franciscan monks from 1606 to 1618.

Lumban, Laguna

Lumban, Laguna (Photo credit: ~MVI~ (bonn-ed))

The Franciscans are said to have brought the craft of embroidery to Lumban. It is the only town in Laguna where embroidery has thrived as a major industry. The streets of the town are lined with shops displaying barong tagalogs, ternos, and other embroidered works of art. Connoisseurs of fashion and handicrafts all troop to Lumban to get their fix of fine needlework. Lumban’s embroidery earns its distinction from its extraordinary refinement and intricacy. The town’s main objective is to maintain its claim as the embroidery capital of the country, despite the presence of other challengers.

Wilfredo Paraiso, the amiable Mayor of Lumban, explained to us how Lumban first started celebrating a Barong Tagalog festival during the town fiesta in 1998. This got expanded to a full-on Burda (embroidery) festival in 2001, and has continued as such for the past 5 years. The Lumban Municipal Hall shoulders all expenses of festival. They also coordinate with the DTI (Dept. of Trade and Industry) for help in organizing the town’s participation in trade fairs around the country.

One barong passes through at least four hands before it is finished. First the pintor or design painter outlines the design on the fabric, then it goes on to the burdadora who sews the actual embroidery, then some more ornate pieces pass through the caladera who pulls out threads from the cloth to produce the delicate open-weave effect known as calado, then the embroidered panels are finally sewn into a complete piece. Beyond the Philippine clothing market, finished outfits are also exported to Hong Kong, the USA, Japan, and Spain

Barong Tagalog

Barong Tagalog (Photo credit: Mommysaurus75)

I got to speak with Marivic Gordovez, president of the Lumban Embroidery Association (LEA), and a veteran of the embroidery business who has been running her shop La Burda de Filipina, Tatak Lumban for the past 14 years. She counts famous Filipiniana designer Patis Tesoro among her clients. LEA was just established last July 27, 2005, and is an endeavor initiated more by the newer generation of burdadoras. The association is 42 members strong, representing 80% of the embroidery houses in Lumban. Its objective is to unite embroiders and producers, and to enforce consistent standards in price and quality to ensure the industry’s continued sustainability. Each burdadora has her own forte in terms of a particular embroidery technique, be it emboss, shadow or ethnic styles. A barong may be crafted from Chinese linen, the cheapest and lightest fabric for barongs, traditional jusi, or piña , the most premium material which originates from Aklan. There is piña cocoon, a slightly coarser type of piña, and piña orig, the most delicate kind. A first-class barong sewn from the finest pina fiber can cost from around Php3,500 to 12,000 depending on size, cut, and the complexity of the embroidery. A project that the LEA has proudly notched in its belt is the Saludo sa Lumban fashion show, showcasing the best of Lumban fashions. A future goal is to eventually put up House of LEA, a cooperative fashion house that will serve as an umbrella trademark for all LEA members. Other clients and supporters of LEA members include former President Corazon Aquino and top designers Renee Salud, Rajo Laurel and Eddie Baddeo.

The passing on of the embroidery tradition and skills has been ensured by including their teaching in the home economics subject of the local schools. Professional training programs are also being developed with the assistance of Canadian Executive Services and the DTI. The University of the Philippines has also been coordinating with the town regarding a plan to put together and publish a coffee table book on Lumban and its embroidery industry.

The charms of Lumban are not completely based on clothing, but also on cooking. The dish most identified with the town is Guinataang Hipon (Shrimp in Coconut Mik). It is a mildly spicy shrimp dish, made creamy with coconut milk, that goes well with warm Lumban puto or steamed rice.

List of Philippine dishes

List of Philippine dishes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although not the town’s major industry, it is widely acknowledged that Lumban produces the finest Laguna white cheese in the country. Lumban cheese is creamier and much fresher tasting than the white cheese you can buy on the street or stores, reminiscent of smooth cottage cheese. Testimony to this is the fact that the De Ramos family supplies their fine cheese to such renowned Manila restaurants as Ilustrado, Cravings, Makati Skyline and Lush Life. The De Ramoses have been making cheese for four generations, more than 100 years. Only carabao’s milk, said to be much creamier and less sour than cow’s milk, is used for the cheese. One pail of fresh carabao milk a day is delivered from carabaos pastured in Barangay Wawa, also in Lumban. Every 100 gram portion of cheese is still individually wrapped in a circle of banana leaf as a nod to tradition. The cheese goes perfectly with pandesal, but Lumbeños are also known to enjoy it with their rice.

Lake Caliraya

Lake Caliraya (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once you’ve had your fill of the town’s dresses and dairy, then it’s time for some deep water. The province of Laguna curves around Laguna de Bay like the reverse mirror image of the letter “c”. As befitting a province named after a lake, each town is closely identified with a body of water: Los Baños has its springs, Pagsanjan its (in)famous river, Lumban has Lake Caliraya. The Lake was created in 1937 by US Army engineers by flooding the Cavinti valley of the Sierra Madre mountain range to supply water and generate hydroelectric power for Manila. Situated at an altitude of 400 meters, and 50 meters at its deepest point, the lake is well-known as the bass fishing capital of the Philippines and as a windsurfing, jet skiing, water skiing, boating, golf, and camping haven. For most captives of Caliraya’s charisma, the lake’s most picturesque point rises at the site of the old spillway. A small circular structure, the spillway is commonly mistaken as a lighthouse, chapel, or bell tower. Its exact actual function may be too technical to explain, but over the decades it has also served as backdrop, inspiration, sanctum, and shrine for artists and romantics from all places and of all persuasions. Looking back down on the city from the edges of Caliraya, the streets, grids, and blocks form a delicate pattern of humanity, boldly embroidered onto the terrain like the grandest terno you could ever imagine.

How to Get There

Take the South Luzon Expressway up to Calamba City, then the National Highway towards Los Banos and Victoria. Lumban is just past Pagsanjan town. In light traffic, the drive will take less than 2 hours. An alternative route, longer but more scenic, is east via Ortigas Extension to Antipolo then around Laguna de Bay, Lumban is just downhill from Paete.

Resorts in Lumban

Lake Caliraya Country Club: Bgy. Lewin, Lumban, Laguna. Facing Kalayaan town to the north

Caliraya Re-Creation Center: Bgy. Lewin, Lumban, Laguna. Facing Kalayaan town to the north

Caliraya Hilltop: Bgy. Caliraya, Lumban, Laguna. Facing Cavinti town to the south

Official seal of Municipality of Lumban

Official seal of Municipality of Lumban (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What’s On & Expat would like to extend our gratitude to the Department of Tourism, the municipal government and the people of Lumban.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in What’s On & Expat newspaper, 2006

Fast-Food Fitness: Your food court favorites reviewed and rated

You know it’s bad for you but you do it anyway. You go back, again and again. It’s a reward, a comfort, a guilty pleasure. Fast, filling, and fattening, we’re sure not talking about fine dining. Between convenience and nutrition, the handy and cheap quickie usually wins. But you can make the best of a bad thing. Just for you, Men’s Health spreads out and super sizes, surveying Philippine fast food’s 10 most wanted. Like a punch to the gut, we’ll serve them to you straight.

A selection of value-menu hamburgers from Amer...

A selection of value-menu hamburgers from American fast food chains. Clockwise from left to right: McDonald’s McDouble, Burger King Buck Double, Sonic Drive-In Jr. Deluxe Burger, Wendy’s Double Stack. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The usual and ubiquitous suspects of burgers, chicken and fries still won’t be mistaken for wholesome diet fare anytime soon. By and large, fast food meals are high in calories, fat, and sodium, and generally deficient in important vitamins and minerals. But with the rise in awareness regarding fitness and proper nutrition, many chains have started adding healthier menu options, trying to cash in on the boom spurred on by Men’s Health readers like you.

We have a long way to go on lean menus, though. In December 2005 President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo proclaimed 2005-2015 as “the decade of healthy lifestyle.” The result? A coalition of government and non-government agencies, professional and medical organizations, and affiliated academic groups with the Department of Health (DOH) known as the Philippine Coalition for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases (PCPCNCD). The PCPCNCD has conducted meetings and dialogues with major fast food chains to encourage the inclusion of healthy alternatives to its traditional menu. Of its long list of partners, only Wenphil Corporation (Wendy’s) has agreed to sign a memorandum of agreement according to a report by Philippine Star online in April 25, 2005.

But there’s tangible headway. Six months after sealing that agreement, Wendy’s has added sugar-free iced tea and low-fat mayonnaise in their dishes. This year they are zeroing in on the promotion of salad menus as main dishes, and more significantly, the provision of nutrition information to you, the average consumer.

DOH research notes that five out of 10 Filipinos who eat out go to a fast food outlet. But in our experience, finding out the nutrition facts from these outlets is still not a straightforward process for Juan dela Cruz. Of the ten fast food restaurants surveyed, none had nutritional information available on site. Neither the counter crew nor the branch managers were informed about or willing to share nutrition facts about their food. Calling local corporate headquarters provoked similar guarded responses. In one case, I was shuffled from one department to another, only to be told in the end that the information could not be made readily available. In another, the nutrition data was said to be confidential. We had better luck going online. For example, McDonald’s Philippines actually has a link for nutritional information on their website ( However, this link sends you to a page on their McDonald’s USA website with nutritional info for their American menu. We were also able to find nutritional facts for all the other US-based chains over the internet through their official sites or unaffiliated sites that systematically compile nutrition data provided by these American chains. However, depending on quality control and enforcement of standards, there may likely be some differences with regards to available menu items, portion sizes, and the type and quality of ingredients used from what is served locally and what you can find abroad, and also from branch to branch or from day to day. Thus, the nutrition values here should be interpreted as a rough guide to the estimated nutritional values for a particular food item and not be strictly relied upon as an ideal source of accurate nutritional data.

The Fast Food Nutrition Fact Explorer database ( ) tracks the nutritional data of the world’s most popular fast food restaurant chains. The information in the Fast Food Nutrition Fact Explorer database has been compiled from the data presented on the official website of each restaurant. We used the database to fill in the nutritional info for McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, and Wendy’s

Dietfacts ( started as a pet project by Kelly Stuart, the daughter of a diabetic who was frustrated with trying to locate foods that fit into his newly prescribed diet and not knowing the nutritional content of his favorite restaurant foods. She gathered data from food labels and nutrition guides and in April 2002, decided to turn this project into a website so that her dad and other diabetics could utilize the information she had collected. Dietfacts obtains information directly from product labels and nutritional guides provided by the companies of the respective products and USDA data. We used Dietfacts to fill in the nutritional info for Shakey’s and Kenny Rogers.

For Jollibee, Chowking, and Greenwich, we asked nutritionist Ma. Paz L. Sales R.N-D to do an approximated nutritional analyses of their featured menu items. The items were bought from their respective stores and their ingredients were carefully removed and separated then individually weighed. The amounts were not as accurate as they would have been if each ingredient had been weighed before the actual preparation and cooking. But given this limitation, the values were computed and rounded off to obtain for us consumers an approximate nutrient value of the products. The analysis focused more on calories and % fat calories and no elaboration was made on the other nutrients.

Ted Fajardo, PhD of the Bureau of Food and Drug (BFAD), a fanatical fitness buff with a busy schedule himself, admits to finding himself facing a fast food counter more often than he would like. “They’re an unavoidable choice to eat at because they’re quick and affordable,” he adds. “Besides, some of the food is actually very tasty and the quality is consistent.” But more importantly from a food hygiene standpoint, according to Dr. Fajardo, “you can be sure that they’re following certain standards of cleanliness and preparation as compared to a carinderia, turo-turo, or mobile vendor.”

He has come up with a shrewd trick to supplement his meals. He routinely brings a home-cooked viand to work or class, usually something high protein and low fat, like chicken adobo with no oil and salt. Whenever he has to have lunch or dinner with friends or colleagues at a fast food place, he orders a dish, such as rice or vegetables, to complement his ulam, and politely asks the crew to have the kitchen heat up his baon for him.

So what else is a working guy to do? It’s not impossible to eat well while in a rush and on a budget. Just stick to a few simple rules, and you can work out a battle plan to trim the worst out of those trips to the corner fast food counter, whatever poison they may be peddling.

Stay Small, Split and Share

Say it with us, portion control counts. Shun any serving described with the words large, extra, super, or double. Small and regular, or even kiddie sizes are what you want. A plain, regular burger contains around two servings of grains and 85 grams of protein, just the right amount for a meal. Resist adding on fries or onion rings, but if you got to have them, sacrifice with the smallest serving or better yet, be the generous big-shot and split it with a friend. Do this often enough and ideally, the only thing that’ll need upsizing is your wallet.

Skip the Sauce

Although the main meal item can be unhealthy enough, the condiments or side dishes that they come with often help tip the scales. Hold the mayo and any other high-fat and high-calorie sauces and dressings. Or at least ask to have them on the side and use sparingly, or ask for a low-fat alternative. The less cheese, sour cream, gravy, croutons, or bacon bits you can live with, the better.

Beware of Beverages

Softdrinks, juices, shakes, and iced tea prepared from processed mixes are saturated with sugar, chemicals, and not much else. Avoid sipping on empty calories by opting for diet softdrinks or fresh fruit juice when available. Otherwise, you’re better off with just water or picking up a tetrapak of skim or low fat milk from the nearest convenience store.

Free Yourself From the Frier

Believe us, you really don’t want fries with that. Everything that goes in and comes out of the deep frier is something you should avoid stuffing into your mouth. Chicken or fish may seem healthier than the beef in a burger, but when breaded and dunked in hot oil they end up soaking up more fat. The same thing happens to potatoes, onions, shrimp, chicken nuggets, and those crispy chicken balls they mix into some salads. Always go grilled when you can get it.

Green is Good

It used to be that French fries and the lettuce leaf and tomato slice in your burger were the only plant matter served at most fast food chains. But nowadays almost every fast food restaurant serves some kind of salad, excepting a few holdouts. Here’s where you can go crazy: The bigger the salad, the better. As long as you reduce or pick out the fattening ingredients, like creamy dressings or fried toppings, of course. Salads with dark green leafy vegetables are rich in antioxidants and vitamins, trumping pale limp lettuce that’s mostly just water and fiber. These will all help fill your stomach, making that small-sized sandwich seem all the more satisfying. Boldly go and ask for extra veggies when you order; it won’t hurt to work those charm muscles while you’re at the counter.


Chain of Food

With the invaluable guidance of our nutrition advisor Veritas Luna, PhD, we follow in Supersize Me filmmaker Morgan Spurlock’s footsteps, and try to eat our way through the best and worst of the fast food court. Nutritional information was consulted when available, and well-balanced meals costing around P125 were put together. “Of course, a balanced and healthy diet is relative to the other foods eaten outside these meals,” Dr. Luna explains. “Healthy eating should be taken within the context of the usual total food intake within a day in relation to body needs (including physical activity and basal metabolic rate).” When in doubt, check the fat calories (some nutritional info may be obtained from and

In the meantime, scan the meal suggestions by Dr. Luna within the P125 budget. If you have more cash in your pocket, treat yourself to what’s on Men’s Health’s menu from these familiar fast food places.

Battle of the Burgers



Wendy’s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A pioneer in serving salads to the masses, this is one place that has got its greens down. Dressings are served separately. Wendy’s also draws kudos for its satisfyingly beefy burger and coming up with a sugar-free version of their popular and refreshing Iced Tea.

Total Calories Fat Calories %calories from fat Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Protein (g) Fiber (g) Carbs (g)
Spicy Chicken Fillet Sandwich 510 170 33 49 4 55 1,480 29 2 57
Hamburger 320 110 34 13 6 40 810 17 1 34
Big Garden mix salad  180 100 56 11 6 30 220 11 5 11
Ranch lite dressing 100 70 70 8 2 15 550 1 1 6
Chili 220 60 27 6 3 35 780 17 5 23
Side Salad  35 0 0 0 0 0 20 2 3 7

Meal Suggestions

1. Side Salad P23, Chili Rice P29, Iced Tea P30, French Fries P29: Total P111

2. Hamburger P27, Spaghetti P33, Side Salad P23, Iced Tea P30: Total P113

3. Big Garden Salad P75, Hamburger P27, Coffee P16: Total P118

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Big Garden Mix Salad

Baked Potato with Chili (no cheese)

Pass This Plate Up

Double Bacon Cheeseburger

A Hamburger, fries, and a coke from a fast-foo...

A Hamburger, fries, and a coke from a fast-food restaurant. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Burger King

Famed for their burger’s flame-grilled flavor, Burger King’s local strategy appears to rely on slapping on several different combinations of sauces and toppings on their basic burger then selling the product at a temptingly cheap price. Hopefully, they start bringing in some of the healthier choices they have on their menus abroad.

Total Calories Fat Calories %calories from fat Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Protein (g) Fiber (g) Carbs (g)
BK BIG FISH® Sandwich 630 270 43 30 6 60 1,380 24 4 67
Whopper Junior  370 190 51 21 6 50 570 15 2 31
Chicken tenders 6 pieces  250 130 52 15 4 40 720 14 0 16

Meal Suggestions

Whopper Jr. P55 + Regular size diet softdrink P20 = P75

Blazing Cheeseburger Supreme meal (with drink, skip fries) = P85

BK Beef Steak with drink = P80

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Blazing Burger

Pass This Plate Up

Chicken Tenders



McDonald's fast food restaurant at Kulim, Keda...

McDonald’s fast food restaurant at Kulim, Kedah, Malaysia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The international Goliath of fast food lags behind in the local market in terms of offering healthier fare. From time to time, a salad or other less meat-and-oil-centric dish gets added to their classic menu, but for the most part, they’re sticking to the fattening favorites.

Total Calories Fat Calories %calories from fat Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Protein (g) Fiber (g) Carbs (g)
Big Mac® 560 270 48 30 10 80 1,010 25 3 46
McChicken® Sandwich 420 200 48 22 5 45 760 15 1 41
Chicken McNuggets® (6 piece) 250 130 52 15 3 35 670 15 0 15
Hamburger 260 80 31 9 4 30 530 13 1 33

Meal Suggestions

1 piece Chicken McDo (skin peeled off) with McSpaghetti, diet softdrink = P88

Hamburger P25 + McSpaghetti P36 + mineral water P20 = P81

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Plain Rice

Pass This Plate Up





Jollibee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This beloved homegrown favorite features an ever-expanding ever-changing menu. It’s a good thing, in terms of variety and taste. You aren’t stuck choosing between just burgers and fried chicken anymore. In fact their salads fall into the better-tasting side of the fast food spectrum. We just wish they’d get around to providing nutritional facts about their fare.

Meal Suggestions

Regular Yum Meal P52

Spaghetti with Regular Yum Meal P76

Burger Steak Meal P45

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Fresh Garden Salad

Chicken Sotanghon

Pass This Plate Up

‘Zert Pies

Clash of the Chickens


Kenny Rogers Roasters

Kenny Rogers Roasters original logo. A similar...

Kenny Rogers Roasters original logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Roast chicken is a great source of lean protein. Kenny Rogers complements this with a wide selection of side dishes, including salads. They do push their sugary muffins a bit too aggressively and some of their sidings are heavy with starch and fat.

Total Calories Fat Calories %calories from fat Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Protein (g) Fiber (g) Carbs (g)
Corn muffin 164 54 33.5 6 1 0 244 2.2 0.5 25
¼ Chicken without skin 144 18 12.5 2 n/a n/a n/a 32 0 0
 Steamed Vegetables 48 0 0 0 0 0 n/a 3 n/a 8

Meal Suggestions

Any of the following set choices:

1. Solo A (no drink included) P120 -1/4 chicken, 1, side dish (preferably vegetable), 1 rice and 1 corn, muffin
2. Roast Chicken Sandwich P72, Coleslaw P36, 1 corn, muffin P10, (no drink): Total P118
3. Combo 1 (1 pc Chicken, rice and drink) P71 and Vegetable Side Dish P36: Total 107
4. Combo 5 (chicken tenders, spaghetti & drink) P77 and Vegetable Side Dish P36: Total P113

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Classic Roast Chicken

Steamed Vegetables

Fruit & Vegetable Salad, Italian Dressing

Pass This Plate Up

Macaroni and Cheese



KFC Bandung Supermall

KFC Bandung Supermall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fried chicken may be finger-licking good, but it’s bad to the bone. Aside from their recipe’s secret blend of herbs and spices, one more thing KFC may want to keep from you is that their chicken is fried in a whole lot of fat, and that crisp coating doesn’t help keep things light either. You can peel off the skin from a chicken breast and it’s just about passable.

Total Calories Fat Calories %calories from fat Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Protein (g) Fiber (g) Carbs (g)
Chicken Twister 670 340 51 38 7 60 1,650 27 3 55
Original Recipe Chicken – Thigh 360 230 64 25 7 165 1,060 22 0 12
Crispy Chicken Salad without Dressings & Croutons 370 170 46 19 7 65 1,110 29 3 20
Cole Slaw 190 100 53 11 2 5 300 1 3 22
Original Recipe Chicken – Breast without skin or breading 140 25 18 3 1 95 410 29 0 0
Mashed Potatoes with gravy 120 40 33 5 1 0 380 2 1 18

Meal Suggestions

Rice Bowl P60 + bottled water P19 = P79

Salad D’Lite P68 + bottled water P19 = P87

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Mashed Potatoes


Garden Salad (without dressing)

Pass This Plate Up

Fried Chicken

The Pizza Pit

Shakey's logo

Shakey’s logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Their salads are just fine, although availability of ingredients can be rather inconsistent across branches and time periods. A slice or two of pizza is always good for a hearty dose of complex carbs, protein and lycopene. But stay away from the grease-and-starch heavy Mojo potatoes if you value your waistline.

Total Calories Fat Calories %calories from fat Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Protein (g) Fiber (g) Carbs (g)
Super Hot Hero Sandwich 810 396 33.1 44 n/a n/a 2688 36 n/a 67
Mojo Potatoes 950 324 34.1 36 n/a 165 3,703 17 n/a 120
Spaghetti with Meat Sauce & Garlic Bread 940 297 32 33 n/a 60 1,904 26 n/a 134
Thin Crust Pizza with Onion, Green Pepper, Olive and Mushroom
12 inch
125 45 36 5 n/a 11 313 7 n/a 14

Meal Suggestions

(Sharing between two people but budget is still P125 per person)

1. Shakey’s Salad P76, Single Serving Meatball, Spaghetti P87, Hawaiian Delight Pepperoni Pizza (solo). P83; Total P246 / 2 = P123 per person
2. Shakey’s or Ceasar’s Salad P76 & Hawaiian Delight, Pepperoni Pizza (regular) P168; Total P244 / 2 = P122 per person
3. Hero and Salad P94 and Raisin Oatmeal Cookie P31: Total P125

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Greek Salad

Vegetarian pizza


Pass This Plate Up

Mojo Potatoes

Chick ‘n Chips



Greenwich Pizza

Greenwich Pizza (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Good value if all you want is something filling and warm. Most of their dishes suffer from a starchy, paste-like consistency though. Good place for carbo-loading, not so much for the Atkins crowd.

Meal Suggestions

Baked Macaroni P74 + bottled water P23 = P97

Beef & Mushroom P67 + bottled water P23 = P90

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Greenwich Special Pizza

Garden Fresh Pizza

Pass This Plate Up

Macaroni Salad Plus

Pizza Hut

Their dishes are priced at a premium, but don’t really come out all that much ahead of the competition in terms of taste so you end up paying more for ambiance. At least they have some available nutritional information online. Beware the stuffed crusts.

Pizza Hut located at Schildergasse 83, Cologne...

Pizza Hut located at Schildergasse 83, Cologne, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Total Calories Fat Calories %calories from fat Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg) Sodium (mg) Protein (g) Fiber (g) Carbs (g)
Super Supreme Stuffed Crust Pizza (14in) 440 180 41 20 9 50 1,270 21 3 45
Veggie Lover’s® Pan Pizza (12in) 250 100 40 11 4 15 440 9 2 28

Meal Suggestions

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce P69 + bottled water P29 = P98

(sharing between 2 people) Chicken Pork Adobo Lover’s Pizza P179 + 2 bottled water P58 = P237 or P118.50 per person

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Roast Chicken


House Salad

Veggie Lovers Supreme

Pass This Plate Up

Stuffed Crust Pizzas

Cooking Chinese, Hidden Dangers



Chinese-style cooking techniques such as stir-frying and steaming keep the grease levels down. All that soy sauce, bagoong, and MSG up the sodium though. But at what other chain can you get tofu and kangkong 24 hours a day? It’s the desperate vegetarian’s last resort.

Pancit lomi from Chowking.

Pancit lomi from Chowking. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meal Suggestions

Any of the following set choices:
1. Kangkong with Bagoong or Stir Fry Kangkong P34, Chowking Ice Tea in Cup P19, Sweet and Sour Pork Rice Topping (M) P52: Total P105
2. Chopsuey Rice P99, Mongo Pao P17: Total P116
3. Spareribs Rice Topping P62, Kangkong with Bagoong P34, Chowking Mango in cup P19: Total 115
4. Kangkong with bagoong P34, Additional 2 pcs dumplings P25, Pork with Chinese bagoong Chao Fan P47, Drink in cup P19; Total P125

On Men’s Health’s Menu

Chicken Mami

Stir Fry Kangkong

King’s Congee

Fish in Tausi Sauce

Fried Tofu

Pass This Plate Up


-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Men’s Health Philippines magazine, 2006

Dirty Dining (all about Philippine street food, safety & nutrition)

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Street food is convenient, fast, easy, uncomplicated, and cheap. So are street hookers. Caveat emptor. Buyer beware! Unless you want to gamble with your well-being you shouldn’t play in the street. You don’t stick your tongues or dicks just anywhere, so if you don’t know where it’s been, should you stuff it in your mouth?

Pinoy streetfood is a huge part of our culinary culture, a showcase of how we Filipinos can squeeze fun and flavor from the unlikeliest and least palatable ingredients. Street food is both pop art and comfort food in one portable package, pushed around on wheels or carried on backs. Street foods are consumed by an estimated two and a half billion people world-wide. The street food business is a billion peso industry and a major driver of the underground economy. Thousands rely on it for their livelihood. Properly regulated, it has enormous potential. Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam have all managed to promote their street food to tourists as tasty and healthy gastronomic adventures. Why can’t we seem to reach their standards?

The Hand that Roasts the Chicken

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many street food handlers may use ingredients that are of dubious quality. They may observe faulty food preparation and handling practices, and work in facilities that lack the minimum sanitation standards. They may use recycled cooking oil. They may not use hair nets nor do they wash their hands prior to food handling/preparation. The food, containers and utensils may be improperly stored or freely exposed to dirt, smoke, flies. These practices can promote bacterial overgrowth and contamination, increasing the hazards for the consumer.

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Moreover, some vendors have indiscriminately adapted “modern” techniques to counteract some of the shortcomings in their food hygiene. They use nitrites and nitrates, unauthorized dyes and cooking oils, and insecticides. Beware of food products free of flies in areas where flies are plentiful.  Such items may be sprayed with insecticides.

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“In the context of the impoverished economic situation of our street food handlers and vendors, I observed that the negative attitudes of pagtitipid, bahala na, mediocrity and procrastination remain to be the culprits of the ever growing foodborne illness outbreaks (many of which remain unreported) in the city,” says Ma. Veritas F. Luna, PhD, Associate Professor and Chairperson, Department of Food Science and Nutrition, College of Home Economics, University of the Philippines.

Dra. Luna expounds that food vendors will not practice safe food handling procedures unless there are clear policies and strong demand. Implementing food safety procedures are perceived to result in unwanted expenditures that increase their cost of production. And even if they realize that they can be penalized for endangering the public, they will persist in economizing their resources.

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Warnings for violators of standards on food sanitation are ignored and they say, bahala na! For as long as no one files a complaint, they claim na pwede na ‘yan, wala namang nagrereklamo!,” (that’ll do, nobody complains) she gripes.

But it appears that poor sanitation is not a problem limited to the Philippine setting alone. Street food has been the source of many recent disease outbreaks, notably cholera: in India, from sugarcane mixed with ice; in Malaysia, from noodles with rice; and in Hong Kong, from a green vegetable dish.  Cases of cholera from street food have been documented in Peru, and also in Singapore where sanitary standards are generally good. And who hasn’t heard of that urban legend about rats jumping in and out of the pails of water insideNew York’s famous hotdog carts. In Bangkok, Thailand, studies consistently found unacceptably high levels of bacteria and other toxins in street food. With support from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, a Code of Practice for Street Foods, including 10 steps to make street foods healthier, was taught to food inspectors and a public awareness campaign was developed to teach consumers about the importance of improved hygiene.

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Street food by its very nature always presents a degree of risk to the consumer. But the hazards can be minimized. A balance must be struck between standards of quality and sanitation and keeping product costs low.

The Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the College of Home Economics at the University of the Philippines offers assistance to organized groups of street food vendors by conducting training and workshops, paving the way for safer food offered within the premises of the university. For inquiries you may call 981-8500 local 3407. The many patrons of Diliman’s famous barbecued isaw can only hope that the stall handlers attended a workshop or two!

Gut Feel

Waiting for diarrhea to strike is not the best way to find out whether what we’re eating is unsafe. Most food safety hazards are not visible to the naked eye. The hazards (in the form of toxins, microorganisms, chemicals, physical contaminants) are also odorless and tasteless. Most victims do not suspect or care whether the food they’re eating is fit for consumption in the first place. You’re doomed by the first steaming, deliciously dirty mouthful.

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dr. Antonio Comia, Gastroenterologist and Associate Professor at the U.P.Collegeof Medicine, and consultant at the Philippine General Hospital and Asian Hospital lists acute food poisoning, amoebiasis, typhoid fever, and Hepatitis A as the more common illnesses linked to ingestion of contaminated street food. More unlucky patrons may also find themselves harboring parasites such as tapeworms or ascaris. Gastrointestinal infections usually present with symptoms of abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, vomiting. Hepatitis may initially present as jaundice or yellowing of the skin. “The specific treatment varies depending on the diagnosis, but we have to make sure that patients are well hydrated when there is diarrhea,” states Dr. Comia.

Go and Glow

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When prepared fresh and with natural ingredients, some street food can be quite nutritious. Like all guilty pleasures though, you’re not supposed to live on this stuff. It’s better to regard street food as an irregular treat, or as an emergency energy source in the absence of healthier alternatives.

Animal-based products like fried or barbecued chicken or pork, and organ meats like isaw, rambo, helmet, kwekwek, adidas, and eggs such as quail, balut, or penoy, and others are high in protein. In a pinch, you can nibble on these to keep your nitrogen levels up, but keep in mind that they’re likely to raise your sodium and cholesterol as well. Barbecued and smoked meats are also laced with nitrates and free radicals, the consumption of which has been linked to an increased risk for some gastrointestinal cancers.

Fried food will be drenched in oil, which depending on the type, yields about 9 calories per gram. A serving of fried food easily provides about five grams of fat. Animal fat such as chicken skin, chicharon, and pork rinds, is sure to be swimming in cholesterol. Breading or other flour-based coatings are packed with calorific carbohydrates, the same goes with rice cakes or other native kakanins, and other flour-based products such as fish and squid balls. These starchy snacks stuff about 4 calories into each gram.

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since this is a tropical country, the popularity of roadside refreshment stands needs no further explanation. Aside from helping stave off dehydration, these sweet concoctions give a quick energy boost from all the sugar mixed in. Sago and tapioca pearls contain some carbohydrates, while gulaman which is made from agar-agar (seaweed) can provide some fiber. These drinks may also be spiked with artificial food colors and flavors. Try going for beverages made from fresh fruits, they present an array of vitamins including A and C, and other beneficial phytochemicals. Taho is another wholesome street food option – a good source of plant-based protein and energy.

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The much-beloved “dirty ice cream” our moms would scold us over (but secretly indulge in themselves) consists mostly coconut cream, skim milk, and cassava starch. Basically, ice cream consists of 15 percent sweetener and flavoring, 11 percent skim milk for body and texture, 10 percent fat source for creaminess, and .4 percent emulsifier-stabilizer to distribute the fat evenly and minimize the formation of ice crystals. These comprise 36.4 percent of the volume, the rest taken up by water. A cup easily provides the following nutrients: 200 calories, 3.9 grams of protein, .31 grams of calcium, .204 grams of phosphorus, .14 mg of iron, 548 IU of vitamin A, .038 mg of thiamine, and .236 mg of riboflavin.

For healthier snacking from the street, stick to fruits, vegetables, fish and other low cholesterol food. Try to steer clear of all the deep-fried fare, and seek out snacks that are steamed, grilled, or boiled. Boiled or grilled corn, boiled peanuts, steamed dumplings, and especially fresh fuits and veggies such as turnips, pineapples, watermelons, melons, and green mangoes (But watch the bagoong! It’s really high in sodium) make for smart street eating.

Street food in Manila, Philippines

Street food in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our experts, Dra. Luna, Dr. Comia, and Mr. Ted Fajardo of the Bureau of Food and Drugs, enumerated certain procedures that must be followed by food handlers to ensure safety.

  • Make sure ingredients are fresh and are of good quality. Food should be processed with clean raw materials and in clean conditions.
  • Wash hands frequently before, during and after handling food.
  • Cook food thoroughly and adequately to kill all possible pathogens.
  • Store food properly and monitor for spoilage. Place food in the right container and at the right temperature within the minimum length of storage time, which will depend on these conditions and the type of food
  • Avoid contact between raw and cooked foods.
  • Serve food properly using clean utensils and condiments
  • Eat food immediately after cooking
  • Re-heat leftover food thoroughly

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Men’s Health Philippines magazine, 2006

Tech and Taste (coffee and wi-fi at Segafredo)

As wireless infrastructure crawls toward critical mass, m-ph plays critic to the front lines of this revolutionary rollout – the café with hotspot. Dodging biscotti and cappuccino froth may be a thankless assignment, but that’s what we’re prepared to risk to find a patch of wi-fi bliss.

Connectivity is the new caffeine. Having a direct link to a world’s worth of borderline useful information, fairly amusing artwork, and semi-coherent ramblings sounds like the perfect perker-upper partner to the venerable bean brew for us plugged-in pod people. Eyes on the LCD and thumbs on the touchpad has begun to supplant idle chatter and huddled brainstorming as the café pose of the new era. But until that blessed day when those artificially intelligent robots evolve to the point where they finally realize the vast benefits to be reaped from hooking us all up permanently to IV drips and VR feeds, we’ve still got to deal with deciding for ourselves where to go and what to order. Bummer, isn’t it? Nevertheless, even the most reclusive hermit with the brawniest rig and the zippiest connection can be smoked out by waving a wi-fi voucher under his nose, yummy cooking aromas optional.

Background on the Brew


@Segafredo (Photo credit: jetalone)

Segafredo Zanetti coffee, one of the world’s top espresso brands, was introduced to the Philippines by Liberty Ventures, Inc., a subsidiary of the company behind supermarket staples Gold Medal flour, Maya hotcake and cake mixes, and imported Betty Crocker mixes

Segafredo brings with it the history of an entire family, the Zanettis. Think the Godfather with beans instead of bullets. The Zanetti patriarch and his son got things rolling by first trading in green coffee in Italy, followed by the grandson who started his first coffee roasting company 35 years ago. The Zanettis have now gone on to putting up cafés all over the world.

Segafredo Zanetti is the only coffee company in the world with fully integrated operations. They have plantations in Brazil, roasting plants in Austria, the Netherlands, Germany and France, and a state-of-the-art coffeemaker factory in Italy. This allows them to take total control of every element, from the bean to the coffeemaker to the ultimate product – that perfect cup of coffee. In some circles, Segafredo is to espresso as iPods are to digital music players. Segafredo cafes have become an integral part of the nightlife of such hip and diverse hotspots as Miami and Cairo, and command central for coffee-holics looking for that distinct European cafe society flavor.

In a market used to the American way of coffee-making and almost saturated by America-based coffee chains, Segafredo intends to educate the Filipino in Europe’s espresso tradition. The café also serves a variety of authentic Italian and fusion cuisine, from panini, sandwiches, fresh salads, appetizers, soups, pastas, and entrees to desserts. Most of their hot coffee can also be served as iced drinks, which can be either flavored with the syrup of your choice or doubled with two shots of espresso. They’re open Sundays to Thursdays from 11:00 am to 1:30 am, and 11:00 am to 2:30 am on Fridays and Saturdays.

Broadband and the Beast

We at m-ph were taken on the Espresso express by Segafredo Greenbelt’s very personable manager, Signor Joven Paulo Rodriguez. The interiors of grey and Ferrari red, designed by the firm of Lor Calma, could seem a little imposing for just a simple coffee-with-connection break, but you just gotta brush that microchip of your shoulder, slouch down, boot up, and soak in some dolce vita. The wireless broadband may allow you to go ahead and indulge your inner geek, but for Spock’s sake, dress up and disguise your outer slob! Even if you couldn’t care less about the scene, this is indubitably one of Greenbelt’s prime people-watching spots, so mind your mouth breathing. It may not exactly be the place for parking oneself and downloading the latest hot file on bit torrent, but they do get a lot of morning sip-and-surf-ers. In any case, downloading large files is probably not the best thing to do in this setting. The wi-fi connection was easy and quick to set up, and data flowed in and out a decent clip, yet there did seem to be a disturbance every few minutes or so when pages wouldn’t pop up or streams would stutter. Smooth surfing it is not, but it’ll do fine for casual browsing and e-mailing.

Anyway, whatever you’re wearing or waiting for, it helps to hang out with a hot machine at your fingertips. And for the purposes of our test run, the shiny blue Toshiba Satellite M50-P341 was smoking. For a multimedia monster, it’s lighter than it looks. Even its power brick is of a manageable heft. Fire it up and try to stop drooling over its marvelous Clear SuperView 14” wide screen, with its bright, rich colors, and deep contrast. The glossy, glassy surface is a glare and smudge magnet though. Building on the sexy tactile experience, your fingers glide with just the right smidgen of friction over the nicely textured touchpad. Performance-wise this Tosh was snappy and responsive. However, the location of its wi-fi switch may not be too obvious unless you read the manual. We’re admitting that had us stumped for a minute. The paradox of the local wi-fi scene is that there seems to be no middle ground for pricing the service. You go straight from free to expensive, and that there’s the story of the Globe Wiz service in a nutshell. I hope whoever decides on these pricing schemes soon realizes that 100 pesos for an hour of patchy connectivity just doesn’t seem like a good deal anymore.

So far, the Segafredo staff seemed prepared to accommodate our wi-fi hunger. They’re perfectly amenable to refunding your wi-fi voucher following any complaints about sucky or dropped connections. And they have a line to Globe Wiz and aren’t afraid to use it. My previous experience with Globe Wiz was kind of bumpy and this outing was definitely an improvement.

Breakdown of the Basics

For a place that focuses on coffee, they definitely didn’t neglect the food side of the menu. Most of the items have been concocted and tested by the much-admired Maya kitchens (another institution affiliated with Liberty), although they did consult a Japanese chef to help create their fusion dishes. I only wish that they could have been somewhat more adventurous and liberal with their dessert choices. There’s only so much tiramisu and chocolate cake one can take, if you know what I mean. Although their versions certainly don’t disappoint, with a bit more of a kick than most knock-offs. All in all the cuisine was of excellent quality, still fresh and appetizing despite having cooled down a bit after the photo shoot. We started with a salad of mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes. The kitchen showed no scrimping on either the cheese or the pesto. This simple appetizer could actually have been a meal in itself. For pasta we tried their Arrabiatta Penne which was appropriately zesty, rich and filling. Our main course was their Shrimp Dorja, a succulent shrimp dish topping flavorful rice, with just the right sprinkling of spices to keep the tongue interested. Their mushroom pizza stayed crusty and tasty, successfully having fought the brave fight against sogginess while sitting under our photographer’s lights.

The much vaunted Segafredo coffee lived up to their hype and our expectations, richer, with subtler notes, and less bitter than those ubiquitous brews from Washington State. To my palate, the simplest pseudoscientific proof is in the fact that you need only one packet of sugar to sufficiently sweeten a cup. Segafredo’s radical coffee machines rely more on pressure than heat to extract all that potent goodness from the brown bean, thus preserving more flavor. As for price, Segafredo appears closer to the affordable side of Greenbelt’s spectrum.

If the Italians were to design an OS, they’d probably use one of their cafés as a metaphor for the GUI. As long as things run as sleekly and swiftly as one of their sports cars, I could live with that for sure. I hope our future robot masters pick up some pointers from Segafredo. Come to think of it, that high-tech coffeemaker gurgling on their counter would probably make for a pretty benevolent overlord.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in m|ph magazine, 2006

%d bloggers like this: