Monday, December 4, 2017

What's New: From Kko Kko to Coco

Food at The Yard Street Food Cinema
The newest concept in food parks: The Yard Street Food Cinema

I started this week by doing something that scares me: meet strangers. I've been getting invitations from a guy named Aldous, who turns out to be some ringleader of bloggers that gets people together for events. As a freelancer, my schedules are fluid and I had been unable to join his group until this Monday. It was a chance to check out the latest in the food park industry: dining with an open cinema. 

Food at The Yard Street Food Cinema
Movies were projected one after the other on the large screen

I immediately liked the place because parking was easy, and the space can accommodate about 12 cars. It has an industrial design that somehow feels homey; it looked and felt like going to a friend's house party. Upon entering, my eyes were immediately drawn to the big screen in the middle, as it was flashing a chaotic chase scene from an action film. Looking around the three-storey warehouse, I noticed that some of the merchants had movie-related names: Godpasta is a play on the Godfather, and they claim they'll "make you a pasta you can't refuse," while the Lord of the Ribs is pretty self-explanatory. Upon closer inspection, one restaurant used puns of celebrities' names on their menu, with offerings like an Egg Sheeran pizza.

Food at The Yard Street Food Cinema
Buffalo Wings and Mac 'n Cheese

I met with three bloggers at Mac 'n Chicks, and started off with small talk as we waited for the food. Despite my awkwardness, I enjoyed talking about our common interests -- mostly food -- and, with this other girl, Tin -- hiking.

Food at The Yard Street Food Cinema
Half a dozen wings per variant: clockwise from top are garlic parmesan, honey sriracha, soy garlic
Food at The Yard Street Food Cinema
Honey Sriracha Wings: I like my heat, but if you can't take it, this sweet blend is for you
Food at The Yard Street Food Cinema
Garlic Parmesan Wings
Food at The Yard Street Food Cinema
I liked the Soy Garlic Wings
Food at The Yard Street Food Cinema
Mac 'n Cheese Balls
Food at The Yard Street Food Cinema
Melty cheese in each ball
Food at The Yard Street Food Cinema

When the food arrived, the conversations dwindled as we scarfed down three orders of wings with potato wedges, a plate of lasagna, and some bite-sized mac and cheese. The chicken was tender, and the mac and cheese balls were cheesy, easy pickings. With prices ranging from P120-180 per dish, this joint can get you stuffed with a couple hundred bucks.

Food at The Yard Street Food Cinema
Game of Thrones-themed House of Griddle

Among the restaurants that were influenced by on-screen titles is House of Griddle, with its playfully accurate Game of Thrones-theme. I didn't read the books nor do I follow the TV series, but talking to the chef and owner made it clear how big of a fan he is of the franchise. He takes pride in every detail, from the logo to the banners fronting his establishment, and every reference he makes to the epic saga. 

Even more impressive was his dedication to the food. Having worked at a top restaurant before starting his own business, he got a taste of other cuisines that broadened his culinary horizon. Aside from giving these dishes his own spin, his interpretations have made them more affordable, and thus accessible, to even the Piso-pinching Filipinos. The price is comparable to other fast food chains, but you get a meal made from scratch. All orders come with their signature fried rice with meat trimmings, string beans, and corn bits. It's a good way to sneak in those veggies into your diet!

Food at The Yard Street Food Cinema
Clockwise from top: Bunless Burger, Shrimp Gambas, Herbed Pork, Beef Bulgogi
Food at The Yard Street Food Cinema
Instead of Spanish, this is a French take on Gambas

Food at The Yard Street Food Cinema
Bunless Burger with hickory barbecue sauce and melted cheese
Food at The Yard Street Food Cinema
Bulgogi Beef Sirloin
Food at The Yard Street Food Cinema
Herbed Pork with mushrooms and gravy on the side
Food at The Yard Street Food Cinema
This well-seasoned pork belly was my favorite that night

There were heaps more places to try, and I'm especially curious about the fried pizza place, a stall that offers a sushi donut, and two dessert bars that both have a variant of fried bread. This is telling -- yes, I have a thing for fried bread.

Food at The Yard Street Food Cinema
Water and Info

The Yard Street Food Cinema is a good place for the barkada who have a hard time agreeing on where to eat, fun for people who love to eat while watching a movie (or love to watch a movie while eating, which I do a lot at home,) or whatever -- if you just want to go on a food trip.

Timog Avenue, Quezon City
Follow them on Twitter and their Xavierville branch on Instagram

After work last Tuesday, I had late lunch at Kko Kko in Kapitolyo, which has only been open for a month. The newest of five other branches (Sapphire Bloc, Market! Market!, Paseo Center, and UP Town Center), I got a table through Booky, which promised P500 off a P1000 bill. I'd been wanting to try the Chicken Cheese Fondue since I saw it on a friend's feed, and my mind was set for beautiful cheese pulls.

I ordered it as soon as I had settled in my cute booth by the wall, because the menu warns it could take 20 minutes to prepare. The fondue comes in a bread bowl, with chicken, onion rings, and fries as dippers. There were choices to be made as regards the cheese, fries, and chicken because they had several ways of seasoning them. I got my mozzarella in garlic-mustard, my fries with chili powder, and my chicken in Oh My Garlic.

To while me through the wait, I wanted to get some Mandoo, but it wasn't available. Such is my life eating out, unfortunately. I settled for their complimentary appetizer platter, of which I could only eat the kimchi; their delicious home made raspberry tea helped with the anticipation.
Kko Kko Home of Seoul Chicken
Kko Kko Home, Kapitolyo
Kko Kko Home of Seoul Chicken
Digital menu on an iPad
Kko Kko Home of Seoul Chicken
Home made raspberry tea
Kko Kko Home of Seoul Chicken
Chicken Cheese Fondue, half order (P658)
Kko Kko Home of Seoul Chicken
Oh My Garlic chicken with garlic-mustard mozarella

I got my cheese pulls and so much more. The chicken was perfectly done, juicy on the inside with a crispy exterior, despite being drenched in a flavorful, sticky sauce. Calling this a dipper is an injustice, because it can rightfully stand on its own; and yet somehow it goes remarkably well with the cheese. The fries and onion rings were carb stuffers to enjoy the cheese with, but the bread bowl beat them both, tasting like a sourdough (was it?) I guess it's clear I loved it, and I'll be back to try different combinations next time.

Grabbed from FSM Media, the poster I like best from all those released

After Kko Kko, there was its homophone, Coco. For the sake of all those who haven't seen it and happen to stumble on this entry, I'll keep it spoiler-free. All I'll say is WOW: visually arresting, the colors as vibrant as the culture and heritage of its characters. I consider it timely, when it's becoming easier to get more and more disconnected from the songs in our hearts and those we should hold dear. 

We had time for one more movie, so we bought tickets to Murder on the Orient Express on its first day out in the theatres. We had just enough time for a quick coffee break at Toby's Estate before heading back to the cinema. With an all-star cast, many of whom I am gaga for, I didn't expect anything less than stellar performances... and I wasn't disappointed. It was thrilling, thought-provoking, and despite having read the book decades ago (and remembering absolutely nothing), still left me baffled. I can't put my finger on it though, but I wasn't blown away.

So it was a good mix of new things, but as the title suggests, my Wins of the Week were Kko Kko and Coco. Thoughts? Let's discuss!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Rail Skating: Only in the Philippines?

Back after an extremely long hiatus ✌šŸ½ I have so many stories pending that are waiting to be told, but let's start with something light and unexpected.

After having just returned from London, we went to a small city in Bicol for work. Camarines Sur is famous for its untouched natural beauty like white sand beaches, and lush mountains and volcanoes with hundreds of hot and cold springs and waterfalls. We didn't have time for any of those, but wanted to try something different. One of the guys assigned to take us around suggested the "riles," and without fully knowing what he meant, we all just said, "yeah!" and hopped in the van. When it stopped in the outskirts of town, we realized he meant it literally: he took us to the train tracks. 

It was a strange activity to try, but I was excited anyway. I've seen this done in Manila as well, where inactive tracks are repurposed as routes for makeshift carts as a form of transportation (it has even inspired an old TV show). I don't find myself in those areas, so Iriga was the perfect place and opportunity to experience it.

Ever heard of the phrase, "Only in the Philippines?" This might just be another perfect example. With the Filipinos' ingenuity and resourcefulness, a knack for unique hacks, and a natural inclination for upcycling, it's no surprise that we came up with something like this. Makes me wonder if other countries have something similar.

Would you try it? Know of any other nations that have had the same idea? 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Fly, Work, Fly, Work

I am terrible at this. I missed all of May (my birth month!) when I wanted to share about the trips leading to my birthday. I went to Camiguin and Ilocos Norte in a span of two weeks, and I was exhausted but so, so content.

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It's June now, and I'm flying to the US in a few hours: primarily for work, but it's easy to enjoy anywhere. If anyone is interested in watching our concert tour of the west coast, go to Music Arts Events for the details.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Old Manila, New Eyes

On palm Sunday, I was a tourist in my country's own capital upon the invitation of one of my best girls, Clarissa. She wanted to show her Romanian friend around, who was in town for the weekend; so through a simple Google search, she found Old Manila Walks and easily booked and paid online. I didn't know which tour outfit she picked, but when I arrived at the meeting place, I was told to look for a certain Ivan. When I saw the man holding the telltale blue umbrella, I recognized him from a few years ago, when I did the Big Binondo Food Wok that his group also offers. 

The Walls of This Content! was a walking tour around Intramuros that took us through some of the more important landmarks of this "walled city." I'd been to Intramuros several times before, but nothing beats having someone narrating your journey with stories from 400 years of history. We started at Plaza Roma, and worked our way through the Manila Cathedral, the Intramuros Walls, and the San Agustin Church and monastery. Each stop highlighted different periods and events, which added value to all the physical structures we were surrounded with. 

Gates to the Walled City
Filipiniana Mother Mary
At the Manila Cathedral, captioned Our Lady of the Philippines
Death of Christ
Replica of Michelangelo's Pieta made from the same mold

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Stone Structures
The streets to ourselves

It was a hot and humid day, and by the time we reached San Agustin, we welcomed the roof over our heads and the air-conditioning in the museum. The place was lavish, with wide halls and high-ceilinged rooms filled with expensive artifacts that all betrayed the corruption of the Spanish friars. 

Handless saints - the ivory appendages are stored elsewhere for safekeeping
At San Agustin's courtyard
2-year old Alessi, enjoying the cold marble in San Agustin's museum

Brick facade
Bike Tours
A baby Bambike (bamboo bike) from the thoughtful owner

The tour ended with a visit to Casa Manila, one of the reconstructed colonial dwellings in Barrio San Luis. As we entered the complex, we bumped into the Bambike Intramuros Experience; and while the tourists were returning their wheels, the owner lent our little girl a tiny version! After allowing her to play for a few minutes, we proceeded inside the casa.

This was my favorite part of the tour for two reasons: 1) it was my first time there, unlike the other places we visited, and 2) there were so many unique items in the house that let me imagine what it was like to live in the start of the century, like betel nut spit bowls, a literal ice-box for refrigeration, and a manually-operated ceiling fan (see in video below).

Turn of the century kitchen with molds, irons, oven
Vintage baking molds
Biscuit molds with religious themes
Love toilet?? Apparently for gossiping in the bathroom!
It was an afternoon well-spent, educational for our foreign guests and a reintroduction for me. Our package cost P7,920 for a maximum of 6 people (and P1,320 for every additional person) and it was worth it.

Candle Dance
Twirling in this exuberant candle dance

Candle Dance
In traditional Filipino fiesta garb

We capped the day at Barbara's, an iconic restaurant on the cobbled road of Plaza San Luis. The dinner buffet was P699, which already included a cultural show. We arrived at the perfect time, with dinner service starting at 6:30, and the show at 7:15. The menu included squash soup, buttered fresh beans and corn, steamed fish with mushroom, callos madrileƱos, chicken with peanut sauce, roast beef, baked mashed potato, fried heart of palm lumpia, pasta, paella, and dessert of sesame banana, sweet potato fritters, and fresh tropical fruits. My favorites were the soup, fish, callos, chicken, lumpia, and all the dessert. I came in very hungry, so I managed to eat a lot. I wasn't expecting much, as with many buffets, but I give it many happy thumbs up! 

On top of that, the performers at the show were young but well-trained. It started with an excellent rondalla ensemble that played Filipino folk songs and Spanish-inspired pieces (like the Prelude to Act I of Carmen), and later the same musicians traded in their strings for gongs and other native instruments. They accompanied the dancers in numbers like the Pandanggo sa Ilaw, Maglalatik, Singkil, and the most popular TiniklingI was entertained from start to finish, even for someone familiar with the craft. I'm adding the place to my go-to balikbayan and foreign visitor musts the next time I need to play tourism ambassador.

What places do you usually bring your guests to? I'd love to have more suggestions.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Masungi Georeserve: Benchmark of Conservation

The iconic giant spiderweb made of steel wires

Since Masungi opened its gates to the public in December of 2015, I've been intrigued by the photos on my social media feeds. Visits are by reservation only, so after two foiled plans of going, I was invited by fellow Mabuhaykers with only two days notice and finally went. Lately, spontaneous has always worked out the best for me, despite my propensity for thorough research and detailed itineraries. 

Located in Baras, Rizal, it was just a surprising hour and a half away from my part of the city, even on a Wednesday morning. We left at roughly 6:30 am, and arrived at San Andres, Tanay by 8:30 am -- we had apparently gone past it on the highway for several kilometers at that point. With time to kill until our 12:40 pm tour, we decided to look for Kinabuan Falls, which was said to be nearby. 

Entering through the same arch as I did a month ago en route to Mt. Batolusong, we asked around for Kinabuan on Mt. Ibid, but received mixed information. To cut this part of the story short, it turned out it was at least 10 km away from the highway on very rough roads, and the hike a good 14 hours to and from the falls, so we knew it was an adventure for another day. Even the alternative Mt. Maynuba and Mt. Cayabu with its "8 Wonder Falls" would've had us pressed for time, even if it was much closer to where we were.

Idyllic landscapes and cool, crisp air
 Crispy Talong & Calamari at Cafe Katerina: delicious food, beautiful view, and golden retrievers

We killed time at Cafe Katerina, a restaurant by the highway further down, and apparently frequented by cross-country bikers. Our al fresco table had a killer view of the mountain ranges, the winding road below, Laguna de Bay in the horizon, and even the windmills of Pililla to the far right. It was cool enough for my companions to sport their jackets and leg warmers. 

We were greeted by a friendly Golden Retriever, and as it led me in, I saw that they were a pack of about 6 dogs! Anyone who knows me can guess what happened after that... I played with all of them, except a black retriever, who was chained up, looking moody. The staff warned that he was known to snap at people on "off days." Oh yeah, we were talking about the restaurant, count on me to get sidetracked by dogs. 

Ate Isay ordered longganisa with garlic rice and a side of crispy eggplant, Kuya Robert got some sort of beef stew, and I got the calamari and crispy talong pictured above. All the food were well seasoned and prepared, with hefty servings good for sharing, and prices ranged between ~P90-200 only. Certain value for money, and I'd definitely eat there again next time.

Photo grabbed from

I was introduced to the rest of the group when they caught up with us there for lunch, and then we convoyed to Masungi. The entrance to the place is easy to miss with its classy minimalist sign bearing its logo and the words "KM47 Baras, Rizal." From the highway, only a small parking lot is in view; and it's not until you take a short walk down a path past a tower with buzzing power lines that you will see the receiving area. They had tables to gather people for the welcome orientation, shelves for bags and helmets, and clay pots to refill bottles with mineral water. The paths were lined with colorful flowers and marked with sketched wooden signs.

Wild tomatoes by the path that a caretaker gave me to plant

We were assigned a tour guide who took us around the trails and gave a little information about each highlighted area. From the top of my head, she took us through 3 hanging bridges, the famous spiderweb, 3 prominent peaks nicknamed Tatay, Nanay, and Ditse, a small cave with great natural light (yes, good for pictures), and numerous hammocks of different sizes, styles, and shapes. She coordinated with the other guides to ensure well-timed stops at each location.

Labeled as Suotan, loosely translated as pathway or somewhere you can squeeze into
One of several hanging bridges
Could this be the biggest hammock in the world?
Swings inside a hut: unusual but fun
Mosaics that feature some of the endemic animals found in those mountains: this one is the mouse deer
After descending a rope section, it extends to the other side of the forest
I took this from the highest point of Tatay, my companions on the way up
Sunset of a really good day
LOVE the entire project, from its beginnings of stepping up against illegal loggers and miners, to their dedication to the conservation of the environment. Their values really reflect in the guide's opening spiel about respecting everyone and everything in the mountains, which you can hear a snippet of in the short video below. I'd love our hiking guides to say a similar spiel in all the destinations in communities around the country. I wish all people could hear it and live it. LOVE the bathroom facilities, built into the natural rock of the mountains, with amenities like sunscreen, lotion, and mosquito repellant. LOVE the many hammocks, but being a timed visit, we couldn't really stay and lounge in them for very long. LOVE the cleanliness and maintenance of the trails, it's a really good way to ease new hikers into going outdoors. LOVE the included snacks at the end of the hike, so thoughtfully packed under a net; it was like opening a gift to reveal a loaf of bread, lettuce, tuna salad, bananas, and calamansi juice.

LUKEWARM about the cave scented with ylang-ylang, although it did mask the smell of guano that I despise. LUKEWARM about our guide who came late and who, in the end, seemed very irritable toward us (though she told a story about visitors that appreciate the surprise appearances of wild animals that I liked). 
Overall, it's a safe and wonderful place to re/introduce nature to city-dwellers, and I highly recommend it to anyone with a couple of free hours -- because really, that's all it takes. A short drive to Rizal and 3-4 hours of walking = breathing fresh air, appreciating birdsong and silence, and burning a few calories in the process.

1. Go to the Masungi Georeserve Website and request a visit. Again, they're by appointment only, so walk-ins are not accommodated.
2. We paid P1,500/person for a group of 7. Accepted group sizes are 7 and 14, no more and no less.
3. Check the weather to dress accordingly. I was in shorts and a tank top, and it was fine; but I can imagine it getting nippier in the rainy season or in our cooler months. Wear comfortable walking shoes or sandals, though I discourage slippers (I don't know if they have official regulations against it). No need to worry about scratches, as the trails have been well-manicured, though for those who want extra protection from stray branches or itchy tree trunks, you may want to wear pants and gloves. They provide helmets, and because the trails weave through the many rock formations, you will really need it. They sanitize them, and in fact, we saw them out drying under the sun after a wash. 
4. Must be fit enough to walk up to 4 hours, though there are many resting areas along the way; and rope sections need some sort of upper body strength and good grip.
5. Always be aware of your surroundings, look at where you are going and stepping.
6. Listen to your guides and adhere to their rules. Some photos are not worth stepping (or jumping!) into danger for.

I'd love to hear what you think, and hope to see you out there soon. That's a lot of things done, just in One Day,