Monday, August 29, 2016

Food trip Bicol!

If you read my previous post about Bicol cuisine, you know that I've visited that region thrice, thus, had the chance to embark on some gastronomic adventures along with family and co-workers on separate occasions. On my first time in Legazpi City, 
however, I didn't have any chance to eat out. I had all my meals 
in my host's home the entire short period I was there 
on an official trip circa 2006. 
In 2012, my Legazpi trip was made with family and purely for pleasure so I had all three days spent munching and seeing sights. Last July 2016, I was again on official trip to the same Bicol city but it was a more relaxed and extended stay than the first, and eating out to the max was a fulfilled plan. Needless to say, I and my companions on all those eat-outs were able to try different restaurants and eateries, not just in Legazpi but also in some areas of Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur where we 
passed by going to Albay. 
In those foodie adventures, we were able to enjoy Bicolano dishes 
to the hilt plus other non-traditional or non-regional food. 
Here's a rundown of those foodie places I've visited 
with family and co-workers:

Adamme's Pahingawan Diner
A bowl of 'Kinalas' at a Naga City 'carinderia'

Travelers by land from Legazpi to Manila wouldn't usually pass by Naga City but we intentionally did, thanks to my kind boss who agreed to search for a good bowl of "kinalas" - Bicol's own version of the noodle dish "mami". My Google search as we traveled yielded some nice-sounding foodie places that our driver gamely brought us to, but woe to our group of four, parking was a big problem so we had to contend with a small roadside "carinderia" for a lunch of kinalas. The soup, though a bit too salty, was delicious and hot, providing comfort to our hungry tummies. 
At Adamme's, kinalas is only around P40 each bowl.  

Bigg's Diner
These were our orders for breakfast at Bigg's Diner when my family went on a short vacation in Legazpi City in 2012. Notable is the mashed potato (top, right) as it looks like 'puto'. This was tasty but everything else was, too! 
Bigg's Diner in Legazpi City circa 2012. Notice the nostalgic and very 
'60s-inspired interiors that I loved. 

Memorabilia items on display at the old Bigg's Diner-Old Albay St., Legazpi

Going back to Bigg's Diner-Legazpi in July this year with some co-workers, 
these were our orders:

Clockwise from top, left: fresh salad; carbonara and pizza bread combo; clubhouse sandwich with fries; spaghetti, chicken and pizza 
bread combo; goto and tokwa

The cappuccino cheesecake (top, right) and brewed coffee were la-la-love! The carrot cake was also quite good but it was too sweet for me.

Notice that the interiors have changed this year. The place is now more colorful, 
modern and clean-looking. I miss the feeling of nostalgia, though.

Bigg's Diner is the largest chain of restaurants in Bicol with at least a dozen branches throughout the region. It has even expanded to Calabarzon, with a branch now open in Batangas. I loved the diversity in Bigg's menu, having both Pinoy and Western dishes in it. Their Old Albay (Legazpi City) branch where I've dined twice - four years apart - has nice, colorful interior design with both modern and nostalgic elements. It's the food, however, that's the focal point at Bigg's Diner. Everything is good, though on different levels. My top favorite was their pizza bread. It was surprisingly delicious and worth coming back for. They have pretty good brewed coffee, too, which is served with a piece of my childhood favorite Chocnut. Prices at Bigg's Diner are very reasonable, making this restaurant hugely popular in Bicol. I won't be surprised if I find a branch in Metro Manila someday -- and I hope that would be soon!

Balay Cena Una
Our orders consisting of mostly Filipino dishes including Pinangat 
and Bicol Express at Balay Cena Una
Balay Cena Una on F. Lotivio St., Barangay Bagumbayan, Daraga, Albay
It was in 2012 when my family and I went to have lunch at Balay Cena Una in Daraga, Albay, after visiting Cagsawa Ruins. How my sisters and I loved this place! It's an ancestral home-turned-restaurant and evoked much old-world class and elegance. Traditional Bicolano dishes such as Pinangat and Bicol Express were among our orders, but some Asian entrees such as Tom Yam (which my sister also had then) are also available. Prices are a bit steep but still very reasonable considering the excellent ambiance. This place is a must-visit when in Albay.

Lumpiang sariwa and spaghetti plus iced coffee and juices
for afternoon snacks at Graceland 

Graceland in Daet, Camarines Sur
Apart from Bigg's Diner, Bicolanos must also be proud to be the home of the multi-awarded fast food chain Graceland. Started in Naga City in 1976, this restaurant is pioneering in some fronts and ever-evolving to become an ice cream parlor, a hamburger restaurant, pizza place, and specialty bakeshop over the years. This, from just being a "turo-turo" offering pancit, chopsuey, fried chicken and other viands typically served in carinderias. Graceland now has over 10 branches in Bicol provinces, including in the regional capital of Legazpi City. It was at the Hypermarket in Daet, Camarines Norte where we stopped for a light afternoon merienda at Graceland. Their Lumpiang Sariwa was really good, and so was their iced coffee. Aside from the usual fast food fare of spaghetti, hamburger and fries, they have rice meals, too, and regional dishes such as the proverbial Pinangat. 
La Mia Tazza Coffee
La Mia Tazza Coffee on Old Albay St., Legazpi City 
In  my latest trip to Legazpi City, I was fortunate to have as one of my companions a co-worker/friend who shares my "deep" love for coffee. One morning, we "escaped" the boss for coffee and cake and made our way to La Mia Tazza Coffee. It's a no-frills coffee shop that specializes in caffeine products with pili, which is another pride product of Bicol. This place offers, aside from coffee and other specialty drinks, 
sandwiches and cakes. 

Macagang Diner 
Whatever you're craving for, chances are, it's available here at Macagang Diner. And the pizza tastes as good as it looks - take note of the whole lot of toppings! This roadside restaurant is a winner for weary (and hungry!) travelers. 

It was in 2012 when my family and I stopped by Macagang Diner along the national highway in Nabua, Camarines Sur on our way home to San Francisco, Quezon from Legazpi. This place with simple interiors has an interesting and quite extensive menu consisting of popular merienda fare such as pizza, burger and fries, and clubhouse sandwich, as well as rice and pasta combo meals. 
Food is reasonable priced.  

Small Talk Cafe 
Our orders (clockwise from top left): pinangat; tilmok; ginataang manok; drinks; complimentary soup; combo meal of kandingga and 
pork binagoongan; pork binagoongan. 
Inside Small Talk Cafe on Doña Aurora St., Legazpi City

It was on a rainy night last month (July) when I was here at Small Talk Cafe with three of my co-workers, our boss included. It's a charming place - a residence turned into a restaurant. On the menu are traditional Bicolano dishes plus many others. I guess it's one of the popular restaurants in Legazpi as there was a lot of customers that night - some of them foreigners. The food here is good and reasonably priced. We paid just over P600 for our orders that satisfied our group of four. The dish that I liked best among our orders was the pork binagoongan - very flavorful! It was salty, spicy and a little sweet all at the same time. It made me eat more rice than I usually did. Service is fast and efficient, too! Small Talk Cafe is also must-try in Legazpi City.

Our welcome dinner  - mixed seafood, fried Bicol express, fish sinigang, 
grilled tanigue  and fried chicken
Sagitsit along Legazpi Boulevard, Legazpi City

In my latest trip to Albay, I was very happy to see the new Legazpi Boulevard that was still under construction the last time I was there in 2012. The baywalk offers a magnificent view of Mt. Mayon by the sea, and the experience of seeing this majestic volcano can be made complete by a satisfying meal at any of the restaurants on the side of the boulevard. One of them is Sagitsit, which, at dark, becomes more of a bar than a restaurant. Filipino food is on the menu, including, of course, Bicol Express and other dishes that are distinctly Bicolano. Seafood is available, too, as you could see in our orders. Our dinner was a filling, satisfying feast. 
Meanwhile, service is fast. The interiors are Pinoy-inspired. I don't have an idea with regard the prices, however, because our gracious hosts -- local newsmen in behalf of the city mayor, we were told -- were the ones who placed the orders and paid for everything. 
Such hospitality!

1st Colonial Grill Express
Clockwise from top left: Sili ice cream; Pili ice cream;
Kalamansi ice cream; Tinutong ice cream
Sili ice cream, Level 2 
Sili, pili and malunggay ice cream 
1st Colonial Grill Express on Rizal St., Daraga, Albay

I've been here at 1st Colonial Grill Express also twice - in 2012 and 2016. For the Instagram-worthy sili ice cream, this place is definitely a must-visit when in Albay. Those who are not very fond of spicy food, nothing to worry. The spiciness of the ice cream comes in Levels 1, 2 and 3 so one could 
choose what he/she can tolerate. 
If you don't like sili at all, there are other unique ice cream flavors that are available and worthy of trying. There's malunggay, pili, tinutong (toasted rice), and kalamansi. Of these four, pili is the best for me for its just mildly sweet nutty taste. But if you're hungry and want a full meal before having ice cream, there's a lot of other items on the menu. There are even rice combo meals available, as well as desserts aside from the uniquely flavored-ice cream. The servers are attentive and friendly and menu 
prices are also reasonable.

There you go, my short list of been-there foodie places in Bicol Region that you could also try and enjoy as much as I did. Enjoy this gastronomic paradise of a region 
that's a feast for the eyes as well. 
Happy eating!

Sunday, August 21, 2016


I'm thanking and praising God for 48 years of life! Inspite of the many ups and downs, I'm alive, standing and thriving. Praise the Lord! I wouldn't know how many more years will God add to me, but I am certainly looking forward 
to what He has in store - more blessings 
and more ways to serve Him. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The flavors of Bicolandia

The Bicol region boasts of many things to enjoy -- from its picturesque tourist attractions and delicious "eats". It comprises six provinces - Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay, Sorsogon, Catanduanes and Masbate, all of which offer a number of lovely and interesting places to see. Of them, arguably the most popular and most visited by tourists is Mount Mayon in Legazpi City, which is the center of economic activities not just of Albay, but also of Bicol region as a whole. Mt. Mayon, which is an active volcano with a near-perfect cone, is very often described as "majestic" for one reason: it is majestic indeed! Its postcard-perfect beauty is captivating, mesmerizing.  
The Philippines is indeed fortunate to be blessed with this land mass that draws hordes of tourists all year round whether it's in a peaceful or eruptive state. Interestingly, an "angry" Mayon, spewing lava that glows in the dark of night, is as huge an attraction as when it's calm, specially for foreign tourists. I could say that I - a Manileña all my life although a regular vacationer in my father's hometown in Quezon - am blessed to be able to see Mt. Mayon thrice in my lifetime, and both in its 
calm and furious state at that!
But as I mentioned, the Bicol region is famous not just for the beautiful places to see but also for its delicious trademark dishes and very distinct flavors - the tanginess of coconut milk, the zing of "siling labuyo", the delightful sweetness of desserts 
concocted with pili, etcetera, etcetera. 
Yes, Bicol region is very much known as the land of "siling labuyo" or wild chili, which its people put, not just in (most likely) all of their viands - that could make one eat a lot of rice - but also in their dessert! Indeed, sili ice cream is one of the most peculiar 
and interesting food I've ever had! 

Sili ice cream at 1st Colonial Grill Express, Legazpi City

But aside from chili, Bicolano cuisine is also notable for the use of "gata" or coconut milk as main ingredient. Most of the popular dishes originating from Bicol are indeed "ginataan" or cooked in coconut milk. 
These are some of them:

Bicol Express 
Bicol Express at Cena Una in Legazpi City

The dish that Bicol may be considered to be most popular for is aptly called the Bicol Express. Interestingly, this viand is not named after anything related to food, but transportation! Bicol Express was the passenger train service from Manila to Bicol Region that started during the Spanish period and was unfortunately stopped in the 1990s due to various problems ranging from decaying railroad tracks and cabins and proliferation of informal settlers along the railways. The dish, however, that uses pork meat chunks, coconut milk and chilies, is still very much alive to this day, regularly cooked and consumed not only in Bicol Region but even in Manila and 
other parts of the country.

A huge wok of pinangat at Lets Special Pinangat in Camalig, Albay

Probably next in popularity is the Pinangat, which is more widely known in Manila as Laing. Its home is Camalig town in Albay, where it is sold frozen as "pasalubong" in roadside eateries and stores at P45 per order. Pinangat is a vegetable dish having taro leaves and coconut milk as main ingredients but there are some variations to its recipe

Tilmok at Sweet Talk Cafe, Legazpi City

One variation that I know of is the Tilmok, which is crab meat wrapped in taro leaves and cooked in coconut milk. It tastes much like pinangat, only it has 
added crustacean flavor.

Kinunot na Pagi 
Home-cooked kinunot na pagi

Also, there is the Kinunot na Pagi, which is flaked stingray cooked in coconut milk and added with lots of chili. This dish is a popular "ulam" or viand to have with rice, but is likewise a favorite "pulutan" or bar chow by those 
having a round of drinks.

Aside from food cooked in "gata", Bicol is also known for other dishes 
considered as "merienda" fare. 
These are:

"Kinalas" of Naga City 
A bowl of Kinalas at Adamme's Pahingawan Diner, Naga City

Naga City is in the province of Camarines Sur and is the home of some unique gastronomic delights. One of such is "kinalas", which is the city's own version of the Philippine noodle soup dish "mami". The word "kalas" means to remove or fall off, and is most likely used to name the dish because in making the broth, pig or cow's head is boiled in water for hours until the meat falls off. The meat and some of the brain go into this soup dish, then added with a special orange-colored kinalas sauce plus the mami noodles, boiled egg, chicharon (crispy pork rind) and topped with fried garlic, 
chopped scallions and of course, chili.
In my latest trip to Bicol with some co-workers, we found out that kinalas is indeed popular in Naga, and could be had in many roadside eateries and restaurants. But while a steaming bowl of kinalas is easy to find in Naga, a decent place to go to and eat it could be a challenge looking for - we failed to find a parking space in all of the restaurants we went to so we had to contend with eating in a small roadside eatery. Thankfully, the kinalas, although on the salty side, was delicious, the hot soup bringing comfort to our already growling stomach. As added comfort, a bowl of kinalas 
was really cheap - not even P50.

Paksiw Naga 
Paksiw Naga at Pan de Cielo in Manila 

Naga is likewise home of a rather interesting dish - Paksiw Naga. 
To us who are from Manila, Paksiw is either pata, lechon, bangus (milkfish), or other fish, but in Naga, Paksiw is beef meat with some innards and does not come with just a little sauce but is actually soupy - the broth coming from continuously boiling beef. Truthfully, I was a little culture- shocked when my order of Paksiw Naga in another restaurant on another occasion was put down on our table. It was nothing of what I expected! Nonetheless, it was good - sour, of course, as vinegar is 
its main flavoring, and was a nice accompaniment 
to a plate of garlicky fried rice.

Pancit Bato
Pancit Bato at Pan de Cielo in Manila

Some parts of the Philippines have their own version of the popular Filipino noodle dish pancit and Bicol is not lagging behind. The town of Bato in Camarines Sur has Pancit Bato, which is much like the popular canton. The ingredients - meat and vegetables are the same ones used in pancit canton and even pancit bihon. The difference lies in the noodles used, which is made from wheat and lye and sun-dried. The noodles are either flat like fettuccine or thin and tubular like canton. It is best for merienda, specially when paired with toasted siopao, which is another Bicol original. 
Siopao is originally steamed pork buns but the toasted variety is baked. It originated from Libmanan town in Camarines Sur, where the 3N Bakery that has now invaded Metro Manila, started selling it and eventually 
made the toasted siopao a popular merienda item. 

A "bilao" of pili at Cagsawa Pasalubong Center in Daraga, Albay 

Meanwhile, the Bicol Region is also popular for the pili nut which is processed into various types of dessert such as tarts, cake and mazapan, or the kernels simply candied by being cooked in oil and sugar. Pili nut products are very popular "pasalubong" items by visitors to Bicol, who bring them back home 
to their family and friends. 

A trip to Bicol is indeed one enriching experience that could makes one's eyes and stomach full. I urge everyone to embark on it even once in a lifetime. In one of my next posts, I'll be sharing more of the restaurants 
I've visited and the various food I've tried in different places in Bicol.
Happy eating!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Alqueria at SM Mega Fashion Hall

My Saturday this past weekend was a bit off the ordinary as our family celebrated three happy occasions - my brother-in-law's birthday, nephew's birthday, and another nephew's graduation from college. My kuya (elder brother) decided to treat everyone at Alqueria, a restaurant serving Spanish  cuisine at the SM Mega Fashion Hall
I'm not very fond of this type of cuisine but it was a welcome change 
from what we usually eat when we go out as a family. 
What we had: 

Chorizo croquettes 
Soft tofu
Paella Valenciana
Cochinillo sisig

What I loved about Alqueria? The food is fresh and well-executed. Every dish is beautifully plated and served, too, giving each one its own "personality". In other restaurants, dishes come in uniform plates but here at Alqueria, the serving plates come in different shapes, colors and patterns. For some people, those are well, just plates. But to me, they show creativity and add a little more excitement to eating which, together with the ambiance of the place, 
put the over-all dining experience a notch higher. 
But going back to the food, it was remarkable that all the dishes have a clean taste - they are delicious without going overboard on the flavors. My favorite though was the Lengua because of the gravy-like sauce, sliced button mushrooms and baby potatoes. I also loved the Cochinillo sisig which had a crunch to it and a bit of zing. I loved, too, the paella, which might as well be the "queen" of Spanish cuisine, plus the black-as-night calamares - each piece bathed in its own ink - what else? The churros, is of of course, a signature Spanish dessert-snack that provided 
a nice ending to our equally nice lunch.
But wait, there's more! 
We had another dessert - a chiffon cake topped with lots of fruits which my brother's wife ordered from Cakes by Miriam. It's called the Merry Berry cake and is topped by fresh strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and kiwi and grapes. I loved it as it's not too sweet and because there's a lot of fruits, it's healthier than most other cakes. 

Inside Alqueria 

Wines on display

Alqueria at the 3rd Level of SM Mega Fashion Hall in Mandaluyong City

Try Alqueria, folks, and up the ante of your dining out pleasure. Best to go with family or friends because the order sizes are meant for sharing. Prices may be a little steep but remember whom Spanish food is for - the Ilustrados! Haha! Just kidding. 
For food so good, Alqueria is worth the price. 
Happy eating!