Saturday, September 01, 2012

Sorry, readers, I'm taking a brief break from updating.  In the meantime, I'll still be posting my eats on my Facebook and Twitter pages.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pickling at Home

Pickled vegetables are an ideal food partner of meat dishes, especially fatty meat dishes.  The acidity of the vinegar cuts right through all that fat and indulgence.  It makes you feel less guilty, and even a little healthy for adding more vegetables to the the meal - healthy, despite that addition of a little salt.

Our last few batches of pickled vegetables have been using David Chang's recipe from his Momofuku cookbook.  He uses a delicate addition of salt and sugar, along with vinegar and water, that does not overpower the taste of the vegetable at all.  It really lets the actual vegetable shine.

When pickling, bittermelon is a staple for our fridge.  It's also fun to experiment with different vegetable and even fruits, like green mangos and green papayas.  Pickling is a great way to preserve vegetables and it lasts for a couple weeks in your fridge, so you'll always have a side dish ready to serve.

If you can't see the slide show here, check out my Flickr album: Pickling at Home

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Cooking at Home

Between trips, I tend to become a homebody and really enjoying staying in and eating at home.  That allows me to occasionally try out recipes and flavor combinations that spontaneously pop in my head.  I don't really cook line by line with recipes.  I read cooking books, food articles, and blogs for ideas.  And then, I use them as a base and inspiration for my own recipe.  I get this idea in my head and flavors on the tip of my palate, and I use whatever we have in the fridge, freezer, and pantry to execute the vision.  It's like I've made myself my own cooking challenge/game.

Here are some dishes that my family and I have whipped up in the past few weeks.  Breakfast, lunch, and dinners; and mostly Asian-inspired.
Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slide show here, check out my Flickr album: At Home

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Home Cooked Chinese Food

Spending the afternoon at my best friend's new place in Tung Chung naturally led to dinner at his place.  After years of friendship, it was time for him to whip up a home cooked Chinese dinner.

After walking across town between 2 grocery stores and 1 Chinese medicinal shop (for red dates) for ingredients, dinner prep was underway.  Four dishes for 3.  We all chopped, cooked, and cleaned for the meal.  It was like a family dinner.

The meal started with pork bone soup with apples and carrots which naturally sweetened the broth.  After our stomachs were warmed, we dug into the main event.  Steamed chicken with red dates, mushrooms, ginger, and so on.  Steamed ground pork with tofu and salted egg.  And seasonal greens sauteed in garlic and olive oil.  I love that the main dishes steamed.  I never knew Chinese food could be this healthy.  It's a great feeling at the end of a meal when you're full, satisfied, and guilt-free from all that you ate.  

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slide show, check out my Flickr album: HK Home Cooking

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dim Sum in Tung Chung

Before heading home from our one week family vacation in Japan, it was time for a brief couple of nights in Hong Kong.  We frequent Hong Kong for two reasons: 1) We usually patronize Cathay Pacific, so it's a mandatory stop.  On flights back home Manila, it's always an option if we want to stopover or stay longer in Hong Kong.  2) I love Hong Kong and I can never get enough of this city.

Two nights in Hong Kong allowed for a full day to catch up with my best friend in his new place in Tung Chung.  Tung Chung is located relatively close to the Hong Kong International Airport.  For those of you who enjoy bargain shopping, there is a nice outlet mall with imported brand names located right at the MTR stop.

Before checking out his new pad, we walked around the outlet mall for something to eat.  After a week of Japanese food, I was ready for some dim sum.  So Federal Palace was the perfect place.  Even though we were only 2 people, I still wanted to enjoy some classic Cantonese bites while in Hong Kong.  I left the ordering to the local, and I just requested ordering plates I don't always get.  My love for constantly trying new things.

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slide show, check out my Flickr album: Tung Chung Dim Sum

Friday, July 20, 2012

Street Eating around Kobe

The last of my Japan updates, and I'm ending it with an afternoon full of street eats in Kobe.  I went into Kobe only knowing about the beef and the sweets.  The few hours spent in the streets of the downtown were a pleasant surprise.  I learned more about Japan's past walking through the Memorial Park and their dedication and passion to rebuild their country.  They have that love of country, and it's reflective in Kobe - how the city has maintained its pristine order, it's so clean!

Their love of country is reflective in their standard for food.  You can find the highest quality of food in the most ordinary places - groceries, department stores, shopping arcades, and street vendors.  Some of my favorite snacks were the street eats in Kobe.  The savories and the sweets, one after the next.  Grilled mochi, kakuni burger (aka, pork belly buns), crab croquettes, gaufres, waffles, cake rolls, parfaits.  I haven't had that much sugar in one day in a long time.  It was all so worth it to taste those treats made just in Kobe.

My favorite part about traveling is discovering the local specialties, the pride of the city or town.  In Kobe, there are so many specialties to show off.  What a city!  It's definitely worth checking out if you enjoy food, and make sure your stomach is empty so you can fully enjoy every bite the city has to offer.

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slide show here, check out my Flickr album: Kobe Street Eats

And that concludes my Japan trip! Hope you enjoyed my perspective of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kobe. Until the next trip!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

History & Remembrance at the Port of Kobe

After an early afternoon full of street snacks, lunch, and an overdose of sweets, I was in need of a brief food break (which lasted 30 minutes).

A quick stroll through the Port of Kobe is a perfect break and a leisurely stroll to get to know more about the city.  The waterfront is a destination where you'll find the Memorial Park and various other tourist attractions, like a ferris wheel.

The Memorial Park is a remembrance dedicated to the city of Kobe and the surrounding areas affected by the 1995 earthquake that devastated Japan.  It destroyed nearly 250,000 homes and buildings and took the lives of over 40,000.  It was a tragic loss for Japan and for Kobe.

This port park shows the evidence of the devastation, with remnants of the rubble.  There is also a display of photos of the restoration process.  Japan has suffered from a number of life-altering earthquakes.  Yet, with every occurrence they have poured their hearts out into restoring their cities and their lives.  It is so evident in Kobe how hard work and dedication renewed the city.  Seventeen years later it is still so orderly and pristine.  Japan amazes me in so many ways..

If you can't see the slide show here, check out my Flickr album: Port of Kobe

Monday, July 16, 2012

An Afternoon in Downtown Kobe

We're food tripping around Japan.  We've already re-visited Tokyo, and spent an afternoon and evening around downtown Osaka.  So what's next?

A 20-minute train ride to.. Kobe!  The land of beef, breads, baked goods, and sweets.

From the Kobe train station, we crossed a couple streets and headed to Kobe's shopping arcade full of local shops, restaurants, and cafes.  We didn't go here to shop for clothes, we came here to shop to fill our stomachs.  I definitely had a sugar rush all day from all the sweets I tasted.  What a great sugar rush, too.  There are so many sweets unique to Kobe.

Just parellel to the arcade street is the Chinatown.  I typically don't check out all the Chinatowns in the cities I visit, but this one is worth walking through.  It is the CLEANEST.  For me, that made it even more fun to frequently stop at the stalls and constantly nibble on all the local treats.  I wish every Chinatown was like this.

 More on the street eats at the end of the week..

Here are pictures of the journey to Kobe, the sights of the arcade, and Chinatown.
If you can't see the slide show, check out my Flickr album: Kobe Day Trip - Arcade

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Matsusaka Beef Experience in Osaka

After reading the NY Times 36 Hours in Osaka article, we were convinced to spend a couple nights in Osaka.  The paragraph that reeled us in to Osaka wrote, "Kobe is not the only place in Japan pampering its cattle. In fact, an arguably more delectable steak comes from the massaged, beer-sipping, black-haired variety in Matsusaka, about two hours east of Osaka." It went on to talk about a yakiniku restaurant serving the beef where you can grill yourself at your table.

Matsusakagyu Yakiniku was one of the most memorable meals, ever.  We tasted 7 of the 12 cuts of beef.  Every cut of beef would melt so gently and so beautifully on my tongue.  This is seriously one of the best tasting cuts of beef I've ever tasted.  It was an epic night to savor.

If I were a cow, I'd love to be a Japanese cow.. A Matsusaka cow.  A life of massages and beer!  That is the life.

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slide show here, check out my Flickr album: Matsusakagyu Osaka

Friday, July 13, 2012

Dinner with Bread at Kobeya Kitchen in Osaka

An early evening of walking around Osaka Station's department stores left me hungry for a filling dinner.  Like all Japanese department stores, there are a number of restaurants on the upper floors.  So after walking around the restaurant floors and getting even hungrier, we decided on a Japanese steak restaurant.  Unfortunately, after a few dishes the service just got worse and worse.  So we ended that meal early in search of a different restaurant.

With only 10 minutes before restaurant closing, we were welcomed into Kobeya Kitchen.  The menu's pictures of hamburg steak were too tempting not to try.  Kobeya Kitchen is a bakery with several outlets of bread shops and restaurants serving their breads.  Kobe is a port city which was heavily influenced by Europe in the past, as a result the locals eat more bread than rice.

The menu is full of choices that can all be eaten with bread.  It's a filling dinner when you order a bread basket, which allows you to get unlimited bread for a limited time.  The selections you choose are served piping hot as each roll and slice is warmed in the oven.

The hamburg steak was the perfect order to fill my hungry stomach.  And after 5 rolls and slices of bread to sop up the sauce, and a glass of cold draft beer, I was completely satisfied.  The next time I'm in Japan and come across another Kobeya Kitchen, I'm definitely stopping to eat.

If you can't see the slide show here, check out my Flickr album: Kobeya Kitchen Osaka

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Department Store Snacking in Osaka

Just like in Tokyo, one of our main attractions in Osaka was the department store food halls.  It's easy to think that the same branding of department stores will pretty much have the same kind of food halls.  Not at all!

In Osaka, the Daimaru and Mitsukoshi Isetan department stores seemed even bigger and better than some of the ones we just saw in Tokyo.  They have sweets and savories from Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto - a lot of goodies that we didn't see and taste in Tokyo.

In reading about Osaka, the city likes to be the "anti-Tokyo."  For example, in Tokyo you stand on the left side of the escalator, and over take on the right.  In Osaka, it's the complete opposite.  So it's easy to spot a visitor from Tokyo if you're in Osaka.  (And if you stand in the middle and block the way, it's obvious you're a tourist.)

With that spirit of rivalry and competition, Osaka's department store food halls really make an effort to compete on the same level as the best in Tokyo.

A little side story: After taking one of the pictures (of the Belgian beer) I was told that I was not allowed to take pictures because I tried to frame the picture of the beer with a little background.  In the department stores, the Japanese are seriously strict about the no picture policy.  I guess you have to go for yourselves to see all the amazingness I'm talking about..

Here are some pictures of the snacks I had at the food halls and some that I took home to enjoy.
If you can't see the slide show here, check out my Flickr album: Osaka Department Store Eats

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Shinsaibashi & Dotonbori Sights in Osaka

In our Japan itinerary, we set aside an afternoon and night to explore downtown Osaka.  The main attractions for us were Shinsaibashi and Dotonbori streets.  If it's your first time in Osaka, this must be in your itinerary, too.

Shinsaibashi-Suji Shopping Street is the famous shopping area in Osaka.  It's a roofed arcade that runs about a third of a mile (600 meters) long.  The covered arcade is a great way to familiarize yourself with Osaka's shopping and eating culture.  There are so many restaurants, cafes, and snack stops with Japanese, imported, and local-Osaka treats.

Further down the street is Dotonbori street - famous for local eats including okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancakes) and takoyaki (octopus-battered balls).  The street is filled with so many signs and lights.  It's best to go at night to enjoy it all.  Plus, there are so many side streets to pop into and get lost. It was fun to discover hidden gems of restaurants and bars filling these streets.

Here are pictures of sights along the walkway of Shinsaibashi and through Dotonbori and its side streets.
If you can't see the slide show here, check out my Flickr album: Osaka Arcade and Doutonburi Eats

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

St. Regis Hotel in Osaka

Like all of my trips with my parents, one of the highlights of a destination is the hotel.  Clean, comfortable, and almost always conveniently located.  The St. Regis Hotel in Osaka was just that.  It opened in 2010, so it still had a relatively new feel.  The location is ideal, too, as it's situated right where the local shopping arcade starts.  So it's a leisurely walk into the heart of downtown Osaka.

The hotel has its luxury perks, like a butler per floor who is one telephone call away.  And, a pillow menu with 11 kinds of pillows to choose.  However, compared to other 5-star hotels, I was surprised there was no turn-down service.  It's a nice convenience to come back to a room with fresh towels and a fluffed-up bed at the end of the day.  I noticed details like that made a difference between this hotel and other 5-star hotels, especially around Asia.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed my 2 nights here in Osaka, and I definitely see myself going back in the future - both to this city and to this hotel.

If you can't see the slide show here, check out my Flickr album: St Regis Osaka

Monday, July 09, 2012

Train Tripping around Japan

My past trips to Japan were focused in Tokyo.  There's so much to do in the city and with just a few days it's hard to go anywhere else.  But, in the past couple of years, we've been doing more research (thanks to great travel articles online in the NY Times and our favorite food magazines, like Saveur and Food & Wine), and have tailored more of our trips to include at least 2 cities.

After days of research, we found a great 36 Hours article in the Times on Osaka.  It talked about specialty beef as good as Kobe beef and a relatively new luxury hotel.  Beef and a new hotel?  Our itinerary was made - 2 nights in Osaka, including a day trip to Kobe.  All by train, the easiest way to get around Japan.

The train and subway systems in Japan are the most convenient way to get around the cities and the country.  Prior to arriving in Japan, we ordered a Japan Rail (JR) Pass which allows tourists unlimited rides on all trains.  It's something you can get at your local authorized offices.

Depending on the train schedule, you can get to Osaka from Tokyo between 2-3 hours.  Be sure to pick up bento boxes at the station.  It's a great meal to enjoy during the ride.  The boxes I chose were so quality - way better than a lot of mid-level restaurants in the states, and for the same price.

I was so impressed when I arrived in Osaka.  I didn't set any expectations and I didn't do too much research (it's sometimes nice to be surprised when you arrive in a new city).  All I knew was that Osaka was a city filled with great eats.  It's so true.

In this coming week, I'll have posts about the hotel, the local eats, the department store munchies, and a couple of memorable restaurant meals.

For now, here are some pictures from the train rides to and from Tokyo and Osaka.
If you can't see the slide show here, check out my Flickr album: Osaka Train Ride

Friday, July 06, 2012

Non-stop eating at Mitsukoshi Ginza

Our main destination in Japan was exploring the food halls of the department stores, namely Mitsukoshi, Daimaru, and Takashimaya.  Mitsukoshi and Daimaru are a couple of the better quality ones, and it really shows in the brands and products they house.

For most of our early mornings and afternoons, we nibbled on sweets and savories around the food halls (which don't have tables or counters to eat.  You have to discreetly step aside like a tourist to eat it right then and there, go up to the designated tables and benches (at Mitsukoshi Ginza it's on the 9th floor), or take it back to your hotel to enjoy later).  All that nibbling really just made us hungry for a real meal.  The top floors of these department stores all have sit down restaurants with a large variety of cuisines.  Japanese, European, Chinese, Thai, Korean, etc.

Mitsukoshi Ginza was one of our highlights for food halls and their upper floor restaurants.  On the 2nd floor, we were repeat customers at Laduree for macarons.  I could eat boxes and boxes of their pistachio and caramel macarons.  So chewy and packed with intense flavor.

On the 9th floor, you can bring up food from the food halls and enjoy them on their tables inside and out on the garden patio.  Or, you can also take a break at the Minori Cafe.  Towards the end of the trip, my feet and legs needed a rest, so a Kirin and coffee break was perfectly refreshing out on the garden patio.

For sit-down restaurants, the upper floors have a fun variety.  There are so many options that you want to go back to try almost all of them out.  For one lunch, I squeezed in 2 meals.  The first was at Hakone Akatsuki for fresh handmade soba.  On display behind a glass window, an old soba master constantly rolls and cuts the noodles with such passion and precision.  Immediately following this first course, I went for some Japanese style pizza at Maestro Ks.  Japanese style uses their own flour for more chewiness and with their unique toppings.  This is the best pizza I've encountered around the world, but unfortunately (a huge unfortunately), the service was so rude the second time around (telling the empty restaurant was fully committed at 5pm when all we wanted was a couple pizza pies).  Why give money to a place that doesn't want to serve you?

For our final dinner, we feasted on more tonkatsu at Tonkatsu Japanese Apricot, a mid-to-higher end katsu chain.  These breaded cutlets were some of the fluffiest, flakiest, and crispiest we've tasted.  The "toro" tonkatsu is a bit too excessive with fat, but the special cut and regular cut were far above average.

If I had more time, or even just more room in my stomach, I wanted to try out a couple more places on the 11th floor - okonomiyaki and hamburg steak.  Next time!

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slide show here, check out my Flickr album: Mitsukoshi Ginza Eats

Thursday, July 05, 2012

9 years later, back at Katsukura

There are some foods that are just exceptionally better in their home country.  Burgers in the U.S., tapas in Spain, Mexican food in California (while not the "home country", Hispanics are becoming a real majority - and thereby influencing the state with their cuisine), lechon in the Philippines, xiao long bao in Taiwan and China, and tonkatsu in Japan.  Tonkatsu!  I've been dreaming about this meal since my last trip to Tokyo in 2003.  That's the last time I've had great, or even good, katsu in a restaurant.

Tonkatsu is panko breaded and deep fried pork cutlet.  So many people try to emulate this Japanese dish, but I've only had memorable katsu in Japan, never in the states or here in Manila (although, I gotta admit my dad does a pretty great job of it at home).  In 2003, my family found a tonkatsu restaurant at Takashimaya Times Square in Shibuya area in Tokyo.  This restaurant had a nature-themed atmosphere  with greenery and almost a teahouse feel.  The whole katsu experience was unlike any I've had before that.  It was the first time I grinded roasted sesame seeds for my katsu sauce, and we had unlimited cabbage and rice, too.  The katsu had flaky and crusty bread crumbs that perfectly crunched and melted with the bites of pork.  Despite our limited number of days, I wanted to eat here for both lunch and dinner.  I couldn't get enough.  It's the marker I've placed all these years as my standard of how good tonkatsu should taste.

Nine years forward, and we're back at Takashimaya Times Square.  Back at Katsukura.  Would it be just as good, just as great?  After a long day of flying and a subway commute with more walking than I cared for on a hungry stomach, I was seated in Katsukura.  The restaurant itself has changed - it's more minimalist with all that natural decor gone.  Just dark wood tables, benches, and seats.  It sort of lost some of it's charm.  This chain has expanded over the years and has opted to become a mid-level katsu restaurant.  We went there twice in 2 nights and realized this place has lost its consistency.  The first night was just as delectable as I remember.  I ordered the special cut of pork which was flaky, crunchy around that buttery pork.  Plus, I had another favorite - crab croquette.  So creamy with real crab meat inside a crunchy batter.  The second night, I ordered the regular cut of pork, as did others at my table.  Some were great, but some had gristle and excess fat.  The quality in choosing pork cutlets lacked.  Although, the crab croquette was just as excellent.  Consistency is so important, especially to keep repeat customers.  After this night, we realized that while the katsu was still better than those we've had in Manila or in the states, we needed to go around Tokyo to find more katsu places instead.

The downside of this realization: the place I fondly remembered to have to best katsu doesn't really have the best katsu anymore.  The upside of all this - we got to go around Tokyo eating more katsu!

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slide show here, check out my Flickr album: Katsukura

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Main Event in Tokyo - Department Store Food Halls!

The main destination for all our trips to Japan - department stores.  I'm talking about the higher end department stores like Isetan, Mitsukoshi, Daimaru, and even Takashimaya, and so on.  And we don't go here to shop, not for clothes or accessories anyways.

We go for the food halls.  B1, B2, and lower.  They are our museums.  We didn't even go to any museums this trip.  It was all just about the food.  Japanese department store food halls are some of the best, if not the best, in the world.  There are sweets, savories, snacks, meals, a grocery.. it's all Japanese and Japanese-influenced/perfected European foods.

I was so fascinated with how the Japanese take a European product that's already tasty, and they make it tastier and perfect.  Take the macaron, for instance; I fell in love with Laduree and Pierre Herme macarons in Paris, and it's somehow even tastier in Japan - the same product and the same branding.  The same goes for all the other pastries like croissants, and even the breads.  I love Japanese-Italian pastas and pizzas, too, that are so distinctly Japanese influenced with a little sweetness in the pastas and a little tastier chewiness in the pizzas.

The only negative is that you can't take pictures.. for paranoia of copycats.  Gah!  My brother tried a few times and always got caught.  But, it's ok to take pictures of the food you purchase, just so long as the department store isn't in the background (as I got caught doing in Osaka).

Aside from food halls in department stores, the main train stations, like the Tokyo Station, also have an impressive spread of food sections with a high quality variety.  It's a great place to grab a bento box before taking a train trip, or for a lunch stop or snack.

These food halls clearly show that the Japanese love good quality food, they expect a high quality and have high standards, and they really know how to eat so well.

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slide show here, check out my Flickr album: Tokyo Dept Store and Train Station Eats

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Restful Nights at the Peninsula Tokyo

When my family reminisces about our past trips, we always talk about the food and the hotel - the convenient location, the service, and the clean luxury.  I love it when hotels make you feel like you're home with extra pampered service.

After days of research and scrolling through numerous Trip Advisor pictures, we chose a reputable hotel near Ginza, Peninsula Tokyo.  We've stayed at Peninsula Bangkok and Peninsula Shanghai in the past and are repeat customers because of their top notch service - their top notch Asian service and attention to detail.  Peninsula Tokyo is no exception.

If you frequent the newer Peninsula hotels around Asia, you'll notice that the floor plans are all replicated, with the local wood finishes as their unique factor.  While I love traveling and discovering new sights and tastes, it's also really nice to rest with a little bit of familiarity.

If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: Peninsula Tokyo

Monday, July 02, 2012

Back in Tokyo after 9 years

My first memory of traveling in Asia goes back about 20 years when my family toured Tokyo in the early 90s.  I'm passionate about travelling and food because of my family's influence.  It's what we do best as a family - travel together and eat well together.  Every trip and every vacation has always been food centric.  Japan has some of my earliest and my favorite food and travel memories.  The last time I was in Tokyo was in 2003, 9 years ago.  (Fun little fact - at that time we stayed at the new Park Hyatt in Shibuya and saw Sofia Coppola walking through the lobby.  Turned out she was doing pre-production research for "Lost in Translation."..Yeah, it's been that long since we've been to Japan..)

This trip was a highly anticipated reunion with one of my favorite food cities.  Tokyo is just as I remember, and even more tasty now that I was pairing cold beer with every meal.  I'm in love with Japanese beer.  Sapporo, Asahi, and Kirin are the first beers I remember drinking.  They are all so much better on tap in Japan!  It's the freshness, the chill, AND the creamy frothy head.  Every glass of beer was perfect.

Aside from Tokyo, we also toured through Osaka and Kobe.  There are so many food destinations in Japan.  Every area has their own specialty.  This trip was like our re-starting point into discovering more of the country.  

This week I'm featuring Tokyo, next week will be Osaka, and the following week will show are day trip to Kobe.  To start it off, here are some tourist shots of the infrastructure, night lights, and scenes around Tokyo.
If you can't see the slideshow here, check out my Flickr album: Around Tokyo

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hi Readers!

Please excuse my absence from updates this week.  I just came back from an amazing trip around Japan, and I'm preparing those posts which will start next week.

Until then, happy eating!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Bo Lan - Sustainable & Seasonal Thai Cuisine

Our last dinner in Thailand.  There's no better way to end the weekend's food tour than with a tasting menu full of Bangkok's seasonal treats.  Bo.lan is a Thai restaurant that boasts of its sustainable and seasonal Thai cooking.  "Sustainable" and "seasonal" - two words that instantly attract me when it comes to local cooking and eating.  Using the freshest and the best of what's available - that's the heart of local cuisine.

Bo.lan offers traditional Thai cuisine presented classically and with modern variations.  You have a choice of the A la Carte menu and the Bo.lan Balance menu (the tasting menu).  If you make the effort to come here, go with the tasting menu.  It's just over $50 USD, soo reasonable compared to tasting menus in the states.

The menu starts the night off properly...with alcohol!.  These guys know how to treat their guests to a good night.  The drink is followed with a generous amuse bouche plate - sort of an introduction to the range of flavors that Thai cuisine offers.  And then the main event is in true Asian fashion, family style.

The tasting menu changes every quarter, and the restaurant even offers Saturday cooking classes for a hands-on demonstration on how to make a range of Thai dishes.  Two incentives to go back!

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slide show here, check out my Flickr album: Bo Lan

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Traditional Thai Dinner at Jim Thompson's House

While our Bangkok food trip was mostly filled with street eats and markets, we started the weekend with a traditional Thai dinner at Jim Thompson's house by the river, a notable tourist destination.  I briefly stopped by last year to see what the place is about.  Here are some pictures from that visit.

Because of the heavy rains, the restaurant was ours for the night.  Talk about exclusive dining for our first meal in Bangkok!  There is even a Thai dancer who pops in occasionally during the night to perform a traditional dance.  In between the dances, the room is filled with tunes ranging from yodels to Christmas jingles.  Something for everyone.

The meal itself was a great introduction to the different plates of Thai cuisine.  We didn't get the obvious dishes, and I really enjoyed that.  We had a range of appetizing bites to awaken our stomachs.  Thai appetizers are filled with citrus, herbs, and spice that make you want to eat for the whole night.  While I can't get enough of the classic dishes, I love tasting new bites to discover more and more of all that Thai cuisine has to offer.  And there is so much in their cuisine that you'll always be trying something new.

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slide show, check out my Flickr album: Jim Thompson Dinner

Friday, June 15, 2012

Local eats around the streets of Bangkok

Touring Bangkok this time around on this food tour was a fun and tasty adventure all around the city.  We ate well at local hidden gems, filling up on some of Bangkok's classic street foods:

~ Thai boat noodle shop is a staple on boat vendors and at food stalls and soup shops.  It's like the Thai's version of Vietnamese pho.

~ Pad Thai, probably one of the best known Thai dishes around the world.  Everyone has their own version and presentation.  From a street vendor, ours was beautifully wrapped in a thin omelet pouch which held together a generous serving of noodles, served with fresh vegetables.  Street food with fresh vegetables - I love it.

~ Crab Omelet at Jay Fai was one of my favorite dishes of the trip.  This seemed so simple, yet so packed with flavor.  Fresh crab meat and some crab fat rolled in batter and fried, paired with a Thai sriracha dipping sauce for a little spicy kick.  I could eat that over rice for days.  Jay Fai was a great dinner place for local seafood dishes.  Each one had its unique flavor of spice or herbs or a classic gravy sauce.  Local street food done so well.

During our tour, we also had a couple moments to unwind with cocktails and mocktails.  In the midst of Bangkok's summer heat, a cold cocktail is a true relief.  Arun Residences by the River is a restaurant and bar by the Chao Phraya River with some fun concoctions to sip on while taking a break from the bustle of the city.  There's always a good reason to relax with a drink.

If you can't see the slide show, check out my Flickr album: Local Eats

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Food Tripping in Bangkok

Back in Bangkok!  One of my favorite food cities in the world.  And this time, I'm on a food tour!

Pinoy Eats World has been expanding their global tours, and I was lucky enough to be around to catch this one.  In comparison to my past trips to Thailand, this was mostly casual and filled with markets and local joints.  I love that you can go back to this city multiple times and it can always be a different kind of trip - luxurious and pampered, casual, historical, architectural, Hangover Part II.. take your pick.

In these next two weeks and in these next four updates, I'll be showing you the markets, the local eats, and a couple of the nicer restaurants we were taken to over the course of a weekend trip.


First up, markets and street eats!

When I was younger, touring cities included museums, churches, department stores, and restaurants.  These days when I travel, I tend to bypass the churches, temples, and pagodas.  If I really need a filler for time, then I'll look into museums.  If I'm in a shopping mood (which doesn't happen frequently), then I'll check out the department stores.

Instead, I love focusing my trips on the local foods and drinks.  Markets, food halls, cooking classes, and local restaurants and bars.  These are my museums and my cultural tours.

On this trip, we were taken to 4 markets, including 2 food markets and a night market.

Jatujak (or Chatuchak) Market.  If you're into outdoor markets full of everything from A-Z, this is your place.  Get ready to bargain!... But for me, I just came from the states where I filled my luggage with clothes from and (shameless plug promoting a couple of my favorite online shopping sites.), so shopping wasn't on my mind for the weekend.

Or Tor Kor Market, one of the cities nicest food markets, right next to Jatujak.  I first went here a couple years ago prior to a cooking class.  I'm so impressed with how this is such a clean dry & wet market.  If I lived in Bangkok, I'd buy a lot of my fruits and produce here for my weekly meals.  You can also stop for a bite, which I highly recommend.  These vendors are using the freshest ingredients straight from this market.

Amphawa Floating Market.  Located near the Gulf of Thailand, it's a bit of a drive from the city.  We enjoyed an afternoon leisurely strolling by each of the vendors, nibbling on local treats, and taking in the sights of locals and tourists.  I love seeing the food boats - that's way cooler than the food trucks in the states!  Each little wooden boat had their own specialty - papaya salad, grilled seafood, fried rice, noodles, etc.  If you have an extra afternoon or night, and you want to visit this afternoon floating market, it stays open through the early morning on weekends as well.  You can also grab a boat at night to enjoy the river and the fireflies whizzing around.

Soi 38 Night Market.  In Thai culture, you have frequent mini meals throughout the day.  That means you have a dinner part 1 followed by a dinner part 2 later in the evening.  So when in Bangkok, eat all the time.  After a big meal, we were taken to Soi 38 for more savory bites and some memorable sticky rice and coconut milk with mango.  I love watching the vendors cook up your orders in high heat, so quickly, and with such passion.

Thais love their food, and it's always such a pleasure to dine with them in their country.

If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: Market/Street Eats

Friday, June 01, 2012

Let's Play Ball!... But first, drink & eat!

The best time to visit San Francisco is from April through September, maybe even October on a great year.  Why?  Giants baseball season!

Every single trip back, I'm either at AT&T park or at a bar with friends enjoying a game.  When I do get a chance to watch at the park, eating and drinking always accompany the afternoon and evening.

The SOMA district is filled with bars and restaurants with pre-game fun.  Beer and appetizers are the best way to go.  One of the best spots is right at the park at Public House.  It's a fun restaurant and bar swarming with Giants fans.  You can even access the bar during the game.

After a couple of beers and snacks at Public House, my brother and I walked around to The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen.  Grilled cheese has been making a scene lately throughout the states.  I love it - it's one of my favorite childhood foods.

A few blocks away from the park are also a handful of taverns and bars, like Pete's Tavern, Pedro's Cantina, 21st Amendment, etc.  There's something for your every mood and craving.

Once you've filled up on snacks and tasty beverages, you're all set and even more excited for game time.  Go Giants!

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: Pre Game Grub

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A sunny day in Half Moon Bay

Sunny days on weekends in the Bay Area.  You need to get out of the house and enjoy the day.

Instead of the usual drive up to the city or down to Santa Cruz, we mixed it up a bit and drove out to Half Moon Bay.  It was one of those lucky days where the skies and the water so clear and blue.  The perfect weather for fish and chips.

Barbara's Fish Trip has been my family's go-to fish and chips spot for as long as I could remember.  Potential traffic along the 92 never stopped us.  We were too drawn to the fresh quality of white fish and that light, fluffy, flaky batter.

It's a relief to know that it hasn't changed.  The fried fish is still as light, airy, and crunchy as ever.  Plus, I love indulging on a plateful of fried artichoke hearts, too.   Prepping and cooking artichokes can be tedious at home, so I usually order it if it's on the menu.

When I came of age (21, that is) I would choose to cross the street to the Half Moon Bay Brewery instead.  Sitting by an outdoor firepit, munching on fried artichoke hearts and sipping on an IPA or an Amber Ale..well, it was usually both by the end of the meal.  If you want some tasty brews, HMB Brewery is the place to go.  If you just want some quality fried seafood, Barbara's Fish Trap is always the good choice.

If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: Barbara's Fish Trap

Monday, May 28, 2012

Tasting our way around Napa Valley

Before leaving for the states, my parents gave me a list of things to buy.  When they said, "Wine," I didn't understand that as going to BevMo to buy a few bottles.  Of course not!  That clearly meant that I had to take a day trip up to the Napa Valley.

On a sunny Sunday, my friends and I made our way up Highway 29.  Our first stop was Yountville (or as I like to call it, "Michelin row" where four restaurants on one road have Michelin stars) for a necessary macaron start at Bouchon Bakery.  Thomas Keller makes some of the best macarons in the Bay Area.  If you're in area, you have to stop by.

With sweets coating our stomachs, we made our wine tasting stops.  We took our time through three wineries in the course of the afternoon.  Robert Mondavi Winery, St. Supery, and, my favorite winery, Peju.  I love that every pourer is friendly and informative.  Some more so than others, which is definitely the case at Peju.

By the time we got to our third winery, we had alcohol-hunger.  We found Rutherford Grill thanks to Yelp (4.5 out of 5 stars from 800+ reviews had to guarantee a great place).  Local Californian cuisine with a friendly neighborhood/tourist restaurant and bar vibe.  I definitely recommend this if you want a food stop before, during, or after your wine tasting day.

I never tire of trips up to Napa.  With great company, it's always a relaxing and memorable adventure full of great sips of several wines.

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: Napa

Friday, May 25, 2012

Tasting Menu treats at 25Lusk

My Bay Area list always includes the following: ramen, pizza, burgers, Mexican, Giants game(s) at the park or at a bar, day trips, happy hours, and a nice dinner somewhere new.

In my past few trips, I've had memorable dinners at Salt House, Wayfare Tavern, and Benu.  This time around I let my friends choose the restaurant.  They chose their go-to spot in the city for a celebration meal.  25Lusk, a neighborhood city restaurant and lounge that has a weekly tasting menu with a rustic, urban vibe.  That sounded perfect for a dinner with friends.

I love the interior of the lounge and the restaurant.  The lounge on the first floor is a great place for friends and for couples for get pre- or post-dinner drinks.  The cocktail menu has a lot of original concoctions that are worth tasting.  The restaurant is spacious, yet still has a cozy neighborhood feel with the darker lighting, brick walls, and wood finishes.

The meal itself was just as enjoyable as the surroundings.  While a couple of the dishes stood out more than others, the whole tasting menu was well-thought out.  I like that the chef changes the menu every week to encourage repeat customers to try more dishes.  There's also an a la carte menu if you don't want to eat or spend as much.  Compared to other tasting menus in the city, though, $78 for 5 courses (starter, fish course, meat course, cheese plate, and dessert) is not too bad at all.

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: 25Lusk

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Always back for more

When I'm back in the Bay Area, I try to visit as many new restaurants as possible.  New ones pop up every season.  My list keeps growing.

And despite that, I make room in my stomach to visit my favorites.  Every single trip back, I'm always grabbing pizzas at Howie's Artisan Pizza in Palo Alto.  There's something about eating in the Peninsula and at a place like Howie's that makes me feel like I never left.  It's such a family friendly, neighborhood kind of place.  Plus, there's an excellent selection of beers and wines to pair the pizza with - that's always a selling point for me.

I have yet to get some great artisan pizza in Manila.  There are some standout thin crust pizzas, but there's nothing with that chewy-fluffy-baked-crispy pie crust.  It's a true art.  At Howie's the toppings and the crust are so well-researched for quality and execution.  Now I'm counting down the days until my next trip for more of these pizza pies.

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slide show, check out my Flickr album: Howies

Monday, May 21, 2012

Crepes in Menlo Park

On any perfect Bay Area day, it's a requirement to get outside and enjoy the weather.  So for a late lunch, my family and I went Crepes Cafe for some al fresco dining.

I went here years ago when it first opened.  This place is always packed on weekends for lunch.  Locals here love weekend brunches and lunches.  Fortunately, mid-week and mid-day the place was practically empty, so we had our choice of outdoor tables.

These dishes are definitely good for sharing because of the sizes and to get a variety of tastes.  I was happy to come here because I was craving for smoked salmon for a couple days now.  Smoked salmon crepes?  Heck yeah!

Overall, it was a great place to go to enjoy the day.  The food was satisfying enough for a mid-day meal.  I did find the crepes to be on the heavy side, though.  I tend to go to Cafe Borrone when I'm looking for an outdoor meal in Menlo Park, but I'm glad my brother had a certificate to mix things up a little.  Another plus about this place, they have a nice little beer and wine selection.  You can't enjoy the day without some tasty beverages.

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: Crepes Cafe

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Completely satisfying my Mexican craving

"What are you going to miss the most when you're back home?"  My last meal in the the Bay Area hours before my flight back home to Manila.  And that is the perfect question.

My response, "American or Mexican."  Both are found all over Manila and all over Asia. But there's something about eating American in the states and Mexican in California that just tastes so much better.  Even my friends living in New York say they miss the Mexican food from the Bay Area.

So on the drive from the South Bay to SFO, my friends and I stopped by Mountain View for some Mexican food.  La Fiesta is a real local spot a few blocks from downtown Mountain View.  This was my first time here, and it's not going to be my last.

The meal starts with the usual chips and salsa while waiting for our food and drinks to arrive.  I love that there are 3 kinds of salsa.  The drinks soon followed.  Our Coronas came with beer mugs with salted rims.  Salt with beer?  Did they think we were having margaritas?  Just recently, though, I actually read that a pinch of salt can do wonders for beer.  I've heard this about hot chocolate and coffee.  I've tried it with both: love it in hot chocolate, and one time was enough to try it in my coffee.

How was it with beer?  "Interesting" and "different" were the 2 words we kept saying.  It was definitely a learning experience.  Will I try it at home?  Definitely not if I'm by myself wanting to enjoy a good beer.  But, if I'm entertaining friends and the conversation comes up, then sure I might give it another try.

As for the food, this meal completely satisfied my Mexican cravings.  The enchiladas were doused with a special sauce that hit the spot.  I've been home for a week and I'm already looking forward to eating here the next time I'm back in town.

(While this was my last meal in the Bay Area, there are still several posts to come from my trip.  Next week features crepes, pizza, and a tasting menu!)

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: La Fiesta

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Happy Hour Sangria & Tapas in San Mateo

Family dinner in the Bay Area.  Since there's a baby in the family, our dinner gatherings are earlier.  I love how baby-dinner-time corresponds perfectly with happy hour.  It's fun for the whole family.

We all met halfway in the Peninsula in San Mateo.  With several options for kid-friendly dining, we chose Cha Cha Cha Cuba.  I've eaten at the Haight St. restaurant up in San Francisco a couple of times.  It's always crowded with patrons eager for sangria and tapas.  This new branch is more family friendly, and at 5pm on a weekday it's the perfect place for my nephew and for happy hour.

Sangria is half off.  We ordered a big pitcher for the table, and it was more than enough.  The price was even better, $12.50!  That's a pretty great deal for all that you get.

A good selection of the tapas menu is $5.00.  They are pretty generous portions for tapas.  The food was satisfying and fun - I love eating with a variety of small plates to choose from.   

The overall experience was pleasant and the service was pretty good.  I can see myself going back here with a group of friends, and definitely during happy hour.

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: Cha Cha Cha

Friday, May 11, 2012

Trying out Afghani Cuisine

I love adventuring with new foods.  After seeing some great reviews on Yelp, my family and I ventured to an Afghan/Mediterranean restaurant in the East Bay for dips and kabobs.

Pamir has all the traditional fare that you'd expect and that we were looking for.  Afghani dips are a favorite of mine because of how they are so healthy (and gluten free).  The kabobs were fresh from the grill with a bold spices and that charred taste.

Overall, it was an enjoyable meal with friendly service.  I don't think I'll find myself that far in the East Bay anytime soon, but I'm happy to have had an Afghan/Mediterranean meal experience.

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: Pamir

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Banh Mi Craving Satisfied

One of my favorite sandwiches ever is the Vietnamese banh mi sandwich.  Crunchy, light, airy Vietnamese style French baguette sandwiching meats, pickled vegetables, and herbs.  It's filling and fresh with a great blend of flavors in every bite.

If I'm near the East Bay at lunch, Milpitas has some great banh mi choices.  Dakao 2 (because there are other Dakaos in San Jose) has some excellent banh mi and other classic Vietnamese choices.  My banh mi craving was completely satisfied after one sandwich.  The bread was light and crunchy, and the filling was just right in quantity and balance of tastes.

Along with the sandwich, we also ordered the traditional fresh and fried rolls.  Both excellent and freshly made for the day.  The atmosphere is rugged and casual, while the service is excellent and friendly.  I'm definitely coming back here the next time I'm in town.

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: Dakao

Monday, May 07, 2012

Sake Tasting and Sushi in San Francisco

Being back in San Francisco automatically brought me back to my old weekday routine.  Roaming happy hours to socialize usually followed by finding a dinner spot nearby.

On a Monday afternoon, I met up with my friend at the bar of Palomino for their all day happy hour.  After a couple drinks and an appetizer, we headed out for a change of scenery.  The bar was too quiet (and a bit too white-haired).  So we walked around a few blocks to look for a livelier scene.

After a quick bathroom break at the nearby Hyatt, and a few tips from the concierge, we headed to Ozumo -  Japanese sake lounge/restaurant.  Sake lounge - that sounded perfect.

While it wasn't exactly the "poppin'" scene we were looking for, it was the scene we settled into.  A dark, modern, sake bar that had sake tasting flights and unique sushi rolls.  That all sounded delicious.  My stomach took over my need to socialize.

I had eaten here years ago with my family in the restaurant side.  It's a hip Japanese spot with American influences.  If you're familiar with Blowfish, it's a lot like that.

The sake tasting was fun and satisfying.  Little sips to discover the flavors while comparing it to the written descriptions.  Learning at a bar - I love it.  The sushi was refreshing and paired perfectly with the sake.  Our quest to socialize ended up being a casual night of learning new sakes.  That's still a win in my book, and in my stomach.

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: Ozumo

Friday, May 04, 2012

Revisiting an old favorite for more Tonkotsu Ramen

After proclaiming that Orenchi Ramen is my new favorite tonkotsu ramen in the Bay Area, I had to go back to my old favorite tonkotsu ramen just to compare.

For the years I lived in the Bay Area and become acquainted with the ramen scene in the Peninsula and South Bay, I had 2 go-to places for ramen.  Ryowa Ramen House for miso ramen and Santa Ramen for tonkotsu ramen.  These days, I've been favoring tonkotsu ramen.  It's a true art to produce a good bowl of this pork bone broth and chewy noodles.  The broth alone takes a whole day to simmer up that milky, pork liquid.

Santa Ramen is just as consistent and tasty as I remember with a standout pork bone broth.  Milky, creamy, and filled with pork flavors.  The noodles have a pretty good amount of chew that softens a little as you get down to finishing the bowl.

So who has the better tonkotsu ramen in the Bay Area?

By a hair...well, in this case, by a noodle...Orenchi Ramen has the slightest edge because of the consistent chewy bite of noodles down to the last slurp.  But, I still would go back to both.  It really just depends if I'm in the South Bay or the Peninsula.

If you can't see the slideshow, check out my Flickr album: Santa Ramen

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

My New Favorite Ramen in the Bay Area

My favorite ramen restaurants are all in the Bay Area. When I have ramen, I look for either miso or tonkotsu broths. Given one choice, I'd readily choose tonkotsu. There's something about that milky pork bone broth that is so attractive and addicting.

Since I moved, my Ryowa and Santa Ramen friends have been raving about a new place in the South Bay, Orenchi Ramen.

And that's where I went for my first meal back in town.

After a sip of the broth and a bite of the noodles...this is my new favorite ramen place. The broth has that right amount of milky, pork tastiness. The noodles have that al dente chew that I love. And that Japanese style hard/soft boiled egg is a great addition to the bowl.

I also ordered the karaage. It's really good, but it's not as delicious as Ryowa's karaage. I think if Orenchi had gyoza on its menu, this could be the perfect ramen restaurant.

Right now I literally looked at the time to see if Orenchi is open yet (they have limited lunch and dinner hours - and get there early because there's always a line). I only have a few days left here, so every meal counts.

If you can't see the slideshow check out my Flickr album: Orenchi

Monday, April 30, 2012

Ukkokei Ramen Ron in Makati

There are few foods that I constantly crave.  Artisan pizza, quality burgers, sushi/sashimi, Mexican, and ramen.  In Manila, I can easily get the quality sushi and sashimi - both imported from Japan and some great local catches.  As for the other foods, I've still been searching.

And the constant search has paid off!  I finally tried out the hyped Ukkokei Ramen Ron in Makati.  This is the tastiest bowl of ramen I've had in Manila.  I've already went for seconds, and I'm sure I'll be back there again when I come home (I'm currently eating my way around San Francisco.  SF updates start on Thursday.)

You have your menu choices and there are also the usual Japanese specialties written on the walls.  I have yet to try any of the ramens in the menu because I want to work my way through the wall specialties first.

The Hokkaido Miso Ramen is a rich, thick miso broth that has a great salty miso blend.  Anything "Hokkaido" attracts my attention.  The noodles have a good amount of chewy.  Overall, I was satisfied with this bowl.

My next ramen was the Tonkokei.  This might end up being my usual order.  It's a blend of tonkotsu, miso, and shio (salt) ramen broths.  It's lighter than the Hokkaido Miso Ramen, less salty, and still as flavorful.

The ideal ramen joint has the great gyoza and karaage as well.  The menu here offers both as well as many more choices.  The gyoza was small and pretty good, although I wasn't completely satisfied with the taste.  The filling could have been filled with tastier pork and seasonings.  The karaage was decent, too, with its coating and the taste of the chicken.  The winner at this place is definitely the ramen.

If you can't see the slide show, check out my Flickr album: Ukkokei

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Revisiting Shang Palace

There was a time in my family's eating life when Chinese food was a weekly staple.  It was our usual Sunday family/friends gathering.

Then there was a time when I took a loong break from Chinese food.  All those weekly meals made me need that separation from the routine.

These days, I really only have Chinese food when I'm in Hong Kong, China, or Taipei - it's where it's best.

But, occasionally, you just can't fight the craving.  So one Sunday night, my family went to Shang Palace.  Since we were four people, we were given a selection of set menus (the a la carte menu is also always available).  One in particular stood out because of the variety of dishes, even a Hainanese chicken course thanks to the new Singaporean chef.

From the night's meal, I was really impressed with the new chef.  He has brightened up the dishes with some delicious classics and tasty additions.  The Hainanese plate was a standout - the best I've had in Manila so far.

(Unfortunately, I went back a couple weeks later, but the poor service made us want to stand up and leave.  The manager appeased us and promised to make up for it next time.  It's unfortunate that the new chef is bringing back deliciousness, but the service does not match.)

Place your cursor above "Notes" below to read the captions for each photo.
If you can't see the slideshow here, check out my Flickr album: Shang Palace