Embracing Change

Bella Expatria turned a year old this month. Although I wish I could have written more or I could have shared more, time will always be my adversary in terms of priorities and my long list of to-dos. That’s a given life truth for me.

I wish I had the luxury of even half a day’s worth of just being in a quiet, relaxing corner, armed with a cup of piping hot brew, while in the zone typing away my ideas and everything that I want to say. Truth is, I have to steal these moments.

This Bella made it to a year of writing and blogging. I have to be okay in celebrating this minuscule milestone, because finding the time to do it is already a feat in itself, let alone sustaining it for a year!

Celebrating this anniversary also made me look back and reflect on what has happened. It seemed like a lot has changed, but at the same time, it also somehow feels that nothing did. Quite the paradox, isn’t it?

For the past year, I’ve experienced a whirlwind of changes in my career, my life and my friendships that spun me in a frenzy. I forced myself to keep track and keep up, sometimes at the expense of my health and my sanity.

After everything has been said and done, it was as if I’ve traveled so far and I’ve accomplished so much only to go back to where I started a year ago.

In my head, I’m actually asking this question: “Universe, are you fuckin’ kidding me?

So is there are lesson to take from a year’s worth of journey?

I’ve been an expat for an accumulated total of 4 years now and I’ve been in Jakarta this time around for almost 2 years, yet I feel like I’m still in the beginning of things.  I’ve experienced highs and lows and once again, highs of expat living. Just like any other chosen lifestyle, it has formed its own cycle that just needs riding through.

If there are lessons to be had for me in embracing change, or wading through it for the most part, I can summarize them in 5 learnings that I wanted to share. You don’t even need to be an expat to have these realizations. Personally, they were just more weighted for me because these reminders anchored me in moments of doubt:

1. Let passion and purpose become your truth north. I will change roles, I will change companies and I will most likely change countries in a few years’ time but my passion and purpose as to why I do the things I do are very clear to me.

Perhaps this also comes with age and maturity. Being an aimless wanderer sounded cool in your twenties, but too careless and directionless in your thirties. At some point in time, everyone has to do some adulting.

My family and my career are the two main reasons why I’m an expat. Arshad and I pretty much carved our lives the way we did because we want to pursue our careers without compromising our marriage and our time together.

This is also the reason why we both chose to be in Southeast Asia. We want to be near Manila and KL, so we can pretty much fly in and out to see our family. The choice was driven by our priority: family.

2. People and relationships should be on top of the chain in terms of priorities. Sometimes, we get side-tracked by long hours at work or we’ve got one project too many that we take our relationships and friendships for granted.

I’ve been guilty of the same thing. There were those long days that made me skip my phone calls to Manila or made me take a rain check when I’m just too exhausted to see friends.I assess myself every now and then when I’m becoming a repeat offender. I make it a point to keep in touch with friends and when I’m back in Manila or in KL, no matter how tired I feel, I go out of my way to see the people who matter.

The family and friends in your life will keep you sane when a tide of change hits you.  In all the relocations I’ve made in my life, keeping a consistent and reliable circle of friends kept me grounded and made me feel rock-steady. Here’s the thing though: if you want to have reliable friends who will tide you over the changes in your life, you have to be a reliable friend yourself.

Even if you are far away, make sure you are present in your family and friends’ lives. Remember birthdays and special occasions. Pick the phone up and just make that damn phone call! IDD rates have severely gone down. Hell, we barely need IDD since we’ve got all the OTT platforms to make that video call.

3. Prioritize. Which takes me to my next lesson learned: prioritize the people and things that matter. An expat’s life often requires a lot of traveling and being away from family and friends. This distance also means limited time, and limited time will require you to carefully select and schedule the circle of friends you get to meet every time you come home and visit.

This situation also makes you take a closer look on your relationships and compels you to shortlist the people who really matter. Although it may sound limiting at first, it becomes a filter on who really are your valued relationships.

At the same time, it matters to spend time with people who you become friends with in your host country, because you never know when things will change again – either for them or for you. Likely, you also keep an expat circle who have similar circumstances like yours. Most of the expat stints are within a 2-year range that comes with a renewable contract.

I’ve seen friends come and go, move from our host country to the next one. I’ve attended their send-off parties or at some point in time, they threw mine. The friends we’ve made will come and go – literally. If keeping friendships and valued relationships is a priority for you, make time while they’re still there.

4. Have a grateful heart.  A life of gratitude is a life well-lived, for gratitude’s prerequisite is a positive life perspective. Being in a high-pressure industry and job, I feel a lot of stress and I certainly get a lot of frustrations. What helps me get through long days is counting the accomplishments and blessings that I have – big or small.

I will never have everything. No one’s supposed to. It shouldn’t stop you from being grateful. Admittedly, I forget this because I’m always too eager to accomplish things. I get frustrated when things don’t turn out the way I expected it to because I worked hard for them.

Arshad is better in doing this and he is my constant reminder that hey, you cannot imagine how many other people think how awesome your life is and here you are, sulking because you experienced a setback.

Every time I feel that I’m wallowing too much on my frustrations, I begin counting my blessings. I have yet to perfect this, but I’m learning.

5. Emotional resilience. There are certain things that are just beyond my control, no matter how hard I try.  What sucks is sometimes, although you’ve done everything you can, there’s still a lot of external forces beyond you and things just don’t work out the way you want it to.

An expat’s life will always be a sea of change – career, relationships, location. There will always be a curve ball. Grit and emotional resilience help me stay the course even in the toughest days. And emotional resilience doesn’t just mean being tough. It means managing the way you feel about frustrations, failures, unexpected changes and how you cope with them. Emotional resilience is about having that ability to keep your feelings in check so you can adjust swiftly, or even change your plans again.

Expat living is not easy, but at the same time, I can say it’s one of the best decisions that I’ve made: to leave my country and forge my career path somewhere else. Life, whether you are an expat or not, will always be a trail mix of the good and the bad. I choose to see what’s beautiful, to focus on the potentials and the opportunities, instead of revel in minuscule defeat and setbacks.

In a way, my learnings about embracing change in the context of expat living is to keep an open mind and to always be positive. As cliché as it may sound, the only thing that’s constant in an expat’s life is the one thing that most of us are either averse to or uncomfortable with: change.

 

Makassar in photographs

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of spending it in Makassar, the fifth largest city in Indonesia. Makassar is the provincial capital of South Sulawesi, Indonesia, which is already near the sea and the equator, thus explaining the city’s hot weather.

My driver for the weekend quipped that if Surabaya had 2 suns, Makassar had 4! That explained why the 6:30am sun seemed to be in its peak like it was already 10 in the morning.

I didn’t get to stay long enough to explore the city and I was there for work, but if there is one word to describe Makassar: seafood. Okay, make it two: sumptuous seafood. 

I wouldn’t mind flying back in of only to taste the fresh seafood once again.

 

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A drone shot of Makassar: aerial view courtesy of Arshad’s brand spanking new drone

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Fresh crab with salted egg yolk from Rumah Makan Seafood Apong

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Fish parape 2 ways: with spicy sambal sauce and sweet caramelized onions

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My favorite appetizer: seafood otak-otak with the spicy sauce on the side

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My Sex and the City cocktail being prepared at Aston’s On 20 Bar and Dining Sky Lounge

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Cocktails at Aston’s On 20 Bar and Dining Sky Lounge of Aston Hotel

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Cocktails at Melia Hotel’s The Society

Container Turf: There’s a New Kid in Town!

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La Familia in Container Turf on a Friday afternoon

There’s a reason why us Southerners no longer bother to go to Makati or BGC to hang out. Aguirre Street in BF Homes, Parañaque, in particular, will always have something new. I get surprised every time I go back to Manila that there’s a new restaurant or bar opening in my ‘hood.

Last week, I went back to Manila for my annual executive check-up. Since this requires fasting, I was famished by 4pm. The family decided to head out to get some quick snacks so I can quell my rumbling hunger.

It was a perfect opportunity to hit the latest food park in our street: Container Turf. We’ve been meaning to go every time I’m in town but the place was always packed! Not a surprise since there were loads of options to choose from in Container Turf. It was teeming with a lot of interesting concessionnaires, so much so that we had to go around twice because we can’t make up our minds what and where to eat!

For drinks, there is a bar at the center where cocktails can be had for P150-P250. I was happy to get a chilled glass of white wine for P150!

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Bella in front of Swig and Guzzle

I happily paired my white wine with Fromagerie’s cheese fondue, which is around P450,

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Cheese fondue from Fromagerie

serving 4 persons. Fromagerie also offers grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, which are nice vegetarian options that I’ll definitely try when I come back.

Arshad, on the other hand, tried the raclette cheese with potatoes and chicken on the side, which was interesting, but preference-wise, raclette is better paired with steak. Who am I to say that, though? I quit meat for a year now. LOL!

The family also tried the nachos from El Chapo’s, the meatless pizza from Ayan’s and Red Buffalo Wings Express’ spicy buffalo wings.

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Container Turf boasts of a 3-storey space where families and groups of friends can hang out to try different kinds of cuisines in one location.

During weekends, the place can be backed. I noticed that people started to pour in as early as 4pm. By 5pm, it was already tough to get seats!

Food prices are quite reasonable, from P150 – P450, which is definitely not bad in terms of price points. It also has Happy Hour, Buy 1 Take 1 promos for off-peak hours or during sunset. With the price this reasonable, no wonder most of the customers are millennials and teenagers!

As for Mi La Familia, let the photo below tell you of how they find the food park. My Mom wished that it had healthier options, though, since a lot of the choices were also deep-fried. I’m glad that there are vegetarian options, but I also wish that they had more. It’s a consolation that some concessionnaires were willing to take the meat out for me and replace it with more cheese or something else.

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La Familia enjoying our grub at the Container Turf

Here are some of the other interesting stalls at the food park. They have Indian, Korean and Indonesian cuisines, too!

The verdict: for reasonably priced food and booze in the area, it’s definitely highly recommended, although the market is skewed towards the younger gen and the (feeling) millennials. My friends and I are already planning a visit as soon as I’m back in town!

You can find more information on Container Turf below:

Address: 238 and 240 BF Aguirre Avenue, Parañaque
Instagram: @containerturf
For other reviews about Container Turf, check these out:

The Indulgence of Slowing Down

Bogor1_wmEarlier last week, I found myself getting slower and slower, albeit not deliberately. After 3 weeks of taking on more to-dos, spending more late nights in the office and way too many business dinner meetings, I noticed that I was no longer performing at my optimal speed. Hard as I try to be “in the zone,” it was becoming a challenge for me to focus. What took an hour’s worth of preparation for presentation slides became two. My already-short attention span became nil. I became restless and unproductive.

It was time to take a break. Slow down. For real.

Here’s the thing: I just got used to doing things on hyperspeed that I feel uncomfortable slowing down.  Worse, I feel guilty slowing down. 

On the first point: whenever I try to take a day off, telling myself that I need to learn “the art of doing nothing,” I end up getting fidgety, restless…and depressed. My hands get clammy and shaky because they’re itching to tap the keyboards of my Macbook to answer emails.

Arshad can attest to this. When I was left at home for a day, barely after lunch, he already got a message from me: “I’m feeling depressed.”

I was hard-wired to have a disciplined routine. I wake up early, I work out everyday and I always have a checklist of my things to do, sub-categorized into projects, both personal and for work. 

When I need to take a break, I feel guilty leaving my to-do list and projects behind. It was as if it was a mortal sin for me to.

I’m aware it’s not healthy to not slow down, to not learn HOW to. I knew I was running myself to the ground and I needed to stop.

Or at least take a pause. And so I did.

With last week’s holiday because of Indonesia’s 72nd Independence Day, I decided to file a day off and take advantage of a longer weekend. I needed to space out and unload my brain as I was draining out.

So off I went to Bogor (which I will blog about soon) to just do some of my favorite things that always get interrupted because of a long to-do list.

Work out. Run. Read. Write. Get a massage. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. 

For 3 days, I did all of those. I didn’t even dare go out of the resort.

I made a dent in my book. I slept a complete 7 hours for 2 consecutive nights. I still wokeBogor2_wm up early to see the sun rise and complete my day’s run. I still peeped at some of my emails (just a peep, promise).

But I deliberately slowed my pace down.

I enjoyed my coffee and my fruit plate for breakfast. I savored the pages of my book. I made time to breathe properly. I sat in a corner and stared at the horizon to just really notice the things around me.

At the end of the second day, I felt completely recharged. My shoulders were not as tight (thanks to the messages as well), I had a clearer perspective and there was lightness in every step that I took.

After 2 days, I had more vivid dreams, a better memory recall and a happier, lighter disposition. Heck, I think I even solved a strategy dilemma that I’m currently grappling with at work while I was on the massage table. If that is not clarity enough, then I don’t know what else to call it.

I literally felt so much better. Lighter. Even happier.

After I went back to Jakarta, I realized that I should give myself more credit and more leeway to take small breaks because it makes me so much more productive.

Bogor4_wmIt’s a healthy pause to save my sanity, my health, my wellness of being.

I also realized that I have a lot of women friends and colleagues like me who just won’t stop, no matter the awareness that it’s counter-intuitive to just trudge ahead.

 

I wrote this because I want it to be a reminder to myself when I’m doing it again- slowly killing my joie’ de vivre for not stopping- that the pause is very much needed and well-deserved. 

At the same time, I want others like me to read this and to know that it’s okay. We deserve the pause. There should be neither guilt nor shame in it.

And after the pause, am I ready to begin again?

You bet.

 

Other articles on on productivity and slowing down to be more productive that I found helpful:

Sometimes, not working is work, too

Five Ways Working More Slowly Can Boost Your Productivity

 

Fujin Teppanyaki and Japanese Whisky in Senopati: number 1 on my list of restos in Jakarta

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The Arshads at Fujin : I love sitting at the bar while eating, drinking and watching bartenders concoct my favorite whisky-based cocktails

One of my most favorite things to do in Jakartown is to hunt for good restaurants in the city. Luckily, there is no shortage of them.

Most of my friends would rather meet me in Bali because, well, it’s the most popular place in Indonesia. I always ask them to come and visit Jakarta and I will be more than glad to host them. However, Bali always wins.

Jakarta seems to be an acquired taste, what with the traffic and its inevitable comparison to Bali, at least for foreigners. For those who discover the city, they’d soon happily find out that apart from art and culture, Jakarta boasts of a plenitude of restaurants specializing in different kinds of cuisine.

One time, when Arshad and I were chatting over lunch, we were debating about our ranking of our favorite restaurants here in Jakarta. We came to a similar conclusion when it comes to our number one: Fujin Teppanyaki and Japanese Whisky in Senopati.

Why Fujin? For everything that I want in a restaurant-bar, Fujin checks out:

  1.  Great alcohol – Japanese whisky! 
  2.  Good food
  3. Awesome customer service 
  4. Bar area where I can comfortably eat and drink 
  5. Cozy ambience

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Ume crush (left) and Black Nikka (right) with edamame with black truffle oil

We’ve been to Fujin so many times that we’ve also managed to try a lot of the food on the menu.

While waiting for our main course, I normally like to start with edamame with black truffle oil and some crunchy fried garlic on top. I pair it with Ume Crush, my go-to high ball cocktail: whisky based with choya classic, ume fruit, toppped with ginger ale. I eat the ume fruit after downing the glass! 😀

Arshad, on the other hand, favors the Horse Neck more: whisky with fresh lemon juice topped with ginger ale. Honestly, I don’t mind having both. They’re refreshing and light.

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Horse Neck and Ume Crush: our favorite high ball from Fujin

Apparently, high ball was created after the end of World War II during the economic recovery of Japan. Whisky based with soda water is bang for the buck if you want to save money and if you want your whisky to go a long way. Eventually, high ball became an art from to the Japanese. It’s a refreshing drink best paired with appetizers as the subtle alcohol and light flavor open up the palate before the main course.

The average high ball in Fujin is priced around Rp90k, with Rp130k as the most expensive. Not bad, if you ask me.

When we are with friends or we are up for some celebration, the lineup of Japanese whisky in Fujin is something to look forward to! Ever since I got introduced to whiskey, I did favor the Japanese ones and Fujin allowed me to sample several of them. I normally default to Yamazaki and Hibiki, but thanks to Fujin, I got to sample more variety and got introduced to Suntory whisky, Black Nikka and Nikka Coffee Grain, which are also now ensconced comfortably in our whisky library at home.

 

Okay, now I have to talk about the food. Although the creature of habit in me defaults to my usual favorites, I managed to try a lot in the menu, considering our frequency of visit.

For salad and appetizers, I recommend the Japanese mushroom salad (Rp65k) with grilled enoki, shimeji and shiitake mushrooms served on mixed salad and vegetable dressing paired with salmon carpaccio (Rp90k), which are fresh salmon slices with onions and garlic soy dressing. Salmon carpaccio is part of the Japanese tapas menu and there’s a long list of them that I admittedly have not tried. More reasons to visit again!

In another one of our high ball sessions, we also ordered the mentaiko potato cheese pizza (Rp75k for small, Rp150k for large), again part of the tapas menu. It’s a bed of savory crepes topped with shrimp, mentaiko, potato and melted mozzarella cheese. It was okay but I wasn’t a big fan of the potatoes – they were too big and chunky for my liking – but this is a matter of preference.

The age tofu mentaiko salad (Rp65k) is also a good choice, which I alternate with the Japanese mushroom salad. With fried tofu and seaweed, it has the same base of mixed salad with mentaiko dressing.

My comfort food in Fujin is the seafood okonomiyaki : Japanese savory pancake with seafood, topped with a drizzle of mayonnaise and bonito flakes. At Rp95k, this one alone with my edamame appetizer fills me up already.

Arshad has also come up with his favorite lunch-dinner combination: medium rare Meltique Saikoro steak (Rp260k) which are beef cube steak with assorted vegetables and mushrooms on top flavored with Fujin’s signature sauce and Teppanyaki garlic rice (Rp35k for small, Rp60k for large), which is a simple Teppan-fried rice with garlic chips and butter sho-yu.

Although I don’t eat a lot of rice, the Teppan-fried rice is so garlicky and flavorful that I actually steal some of it from Arshad, paired with my mushrooms and vegetables.

The salmon teriyaki with mushrooms (Rp140k) and creamy mentaiko angel hair pasta with foie gras (Rp195k) are also to-die-for, although I’ve stopped eating poultry a long time ago so I content myself with the angel hair pasta.

A few months ago, we got an invitation from Fujin to a Sunday brunch event, wherein they partnered with Common Ground coffee to offer a one-time brunch menu. Apart from the reliable goodness of Common Ground coffee, Fujin concocted several brunch cokctails and created a special brunch menu for the occasion.

Arshad ordered the fried chicken with waffles and I ordered breakfast toast with salmon and salad, both of which were absolutely amazing!

I definitely hope Fujin will host another one of its Sunday brunches as I do want to try more the food (and drinks!) on their brunch menu.

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As pathetic as it may sound, despite the long list of food that we tasted in Fujin, we’ve only managed to try one dessert: matcha creme brulee (Rp55k). Solid glazed sugar on top meets creamy green tea creme brulee inside when you crack it. So yes, definitely coming back for more.

Aside from the food and alcohol, what sets Fujin apart is the customer service. All the waiters and bartenders are friendly and accommodating. It’s been a habit of mine to sit on bar stools and eat at the bar because I love watching bartenders mix and prepare the drinks. The bartenders engage us with the usual banter (in Bahasa!) but at the same time, they’re very attentive with what the customers need: additional napkins, hand towels, chili powder, what have you.

Arshad and I actually concurred that it’s one of the main reasons why we keep on coming back: good, personalized customer service.

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The bartender at Fujin preparing my brunch cocktail. Check out our personalized reservation card on the right side!

Considering that Fujin is our number one restaurant, it definitely deserves a 5-star rating. It’s one of the places that we highly recommend to friends and visitors in Jakarta. At the same time, it’s where we bring our guests whenever they visit us in the city.

Fujin location and contact details:

Address: No., Jl. Gunawarman No.21, RT.4/RW.3, Selong, Kby. Baru, DKI Jakarta, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 12110

 

Spending one chill day in Singapore

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Bella in Sentosa, Singapore

Singapore is an hour and a half away from Jakarta. For a quick weekend trip, Singapore is one of the top-of-mind choices for Jakartans, considering the distance and the plethora of things to do. In my case, Arshad needs to regularly fly off to his Singapore office and I usually follow by Friday night to spend the weekend there. I am definitely not complaining!

There’s a lot of things to do in Singapore. It’s small in size but jam-packed in terms of places to visit and things to do.

In my last trip, I just wanted a chill day. No rush. No pressure. I wanted to enjoy a relaxing day just doing “chill stuff.” At the same time, my friends always ask me if I ever go anywhere WITHOUT shopping for clothes, bags and shoes. As unbelievable as it may sound, I actually do.

Here’s a list of my recommended things to do and places to visit, if you have limited time in the Lion City, sans the shopping. Yes, it can be done!

1. Have lunch in a food court offering a lot of choices. What better way to experience Singapore than to sample its array of sumptuous food. In my case, I normally crave for curry laksa or young tau foo. This time around,  we found a shop in Vivo City’s Food Republic that served young tau foo in spicy curry sauce! It was a cross between my favorite curry laksa soup and my young tau foo obsession. Needless to say, I had it twice in one weekend! I highly recommend this if you like the curry soup of the laksa noodle dish, without the carbs from the noodles.

Arshad was happy to sample the stir-fried frog legs in sze chuan sauce, which according to him, was surprisingly good with just the right hint of spice.

The Food Republic offers a lot of food choices and fresh drinks: the usual Singaporean go-to dishes,  Chinese food, street food and snacks. They also have vegetarian options, courtesy of the Indian food stalls. They also had Indonesian food serving nasi uduk, Javanese and Padang dishes.

 

The Food Republic details
Located in: VivoCity
Address: 1 HarbourFront Walk, VivoCity #3, Singapore 098585
Hours: 10AM–10PM

 

2.  Spend hours and hours on end at Kinokuya Bookstore. I live and breathe books, from fiction to self-help. After stuffing myself silly with young tau foo, we headed to the Takashimaya Center in Orchard Road to check out what’s on the Bestseller shelf. I was also hunting down a good hardbound copy of Neil Gaiman’s The American Gods so Kinokuniya was in my to-do list.

I said no shopping, but books are excluded from that list! I also ended up just browsing around since American Gods in hard bound cover was out of stock. I ended up buying my Kindle a cute cover casing.

 

I can spend half a day inside Kinokuniya just browsing through books. The bookstore also sells a lot of cute novelty items and beautiful notebooks — to beautiful that you sometimes don’t want to write on them!

Kinokuya details
Located in: Ngee Ann City
Address: 391 Orchard Road, Takashimaya Shopping Centre Ngee Ann City, #04-20/20B/20C/20E, Singapore 238872

Hours: 10AM–9:30PM

3. High tea in TWG, Ion Orchard. Although both Jakarta and Manila have TWG, it is still cheaper to buy the teas from Singapore. Quick tip if you love TWG: hoard from Singapore, it’s a lot cheaper. I always buy boxes of vanilla bourbon tea. It doesn’t have caffeine and the whiff of vanilla whenever you brew a cup is divine!

 

Since I was still full from my young tau foo lunch, we opted to have some tea, macarons and dessert. We tried the sakura vacherin – vanilla bourbon tea ice cream and sakura tea sorbet encased in frozen meringue topped with fresh berries, raspberry coulis and get this: slivers of edible gold flakes.

 

4.  Indian food dinner at Kinara.  For dinner, we headed off to Boat Quay to try Kinara which was serving North Indian cuisine. I love Indian food and my default favorites are the paneer dishes. I will not bat an eyelash and satisfy my sweet cravings for kulfi (traditional Indian ice cream), too!

 

Kinara Contemporary Indian Cuisine details
Address: 164 Upper East Coast Rd, Singapore 455265

Singapore_MI_wm5.  Drink bespoke cocktails at Maison Ikkoku. Finally, drinks! This is my favorite part of the day. Generally, I’m not a cocktails person. I don’t like my poison too sweet and sugary. For my alcohol, I stick to my wine and whiskey.

But I make an exemption whenever I visit Singapore because of Maison Ikkoku, as this restaurant-bar specializes in bespoke, craft cocktails. For bespoke cocktails, the bartender will just ask you how you like your drink: sweet, spicy (you read that right: spicy), sour, fruity, strong,  creamy, herb-y – and he will do the rest. He will also ask you for your preferred base: whiskey, vodka, tequila, rum, champagne, etc.  I normally go for a whiskey or champagne base. So far, I have not been disappointed with any of the cocktails mixed for me.

Their presentation of the cocktails are also quite spectacular, which makes the cocktails preparation an entertainment in itself.

 

Maison Ikkoku details

Address: 20 Kandahar St, Singapore 198885
Despite my frequent visit to Singapore, I don’t think I will ever grow tired of it. There’s always something new and there’s a lot of things to do, new restaurants and bars to check out and tried-and-tested places which are always pleasant to come back to. At the same time, the Lion City is always a safe haven so for solo travels, I will always highly recommend it. Until my next weekend visit!

Incredible things to do in Bali in 6 days

A good account on things to do in Bali from Life in Trips.

Life in Trips

Things to do in Bali for your first trip

A perfect sunrise, best beaches, mountains, heritage, temples, adventure, beautiful sunsets, shopping destinations, culture, pubs, cafes, resorts, hotels, spas. One place but so much to do, anything you think of, Bali has it.

Who are you?

A silent admirer of scenic beauty, a party animal, crazy explorer, dreamer, beach addict or enthusiast. Whether it’s the beauty or serenity, silence or music, Bali is the perfect destination.

You might be thinking if it is so beautiful, it will way out of my budget. The answer is “No”, anyone can plan a Bali trip fitting to their pocket.

My bucket list

First timers, I would suggest, spend at least a week in Bali. We had a 6 day trip, one of the most memorable trip ever.

I am going to share my bucket list with you, if you like it, pick up spots…

View original post 1,496 more words

The quest for vegan food in Manila

The introduction to this blog entry may well be the explanation on how I became a pesco-vegetarian who favors vegan food 80% of the time.

In September 2016, I decided to cut all meat from my diet: chicken, beef, pork and yes, even fish and seafood. My initial reason was very simple: I wanted to pass my medical executive check-up with flying colors. I’ve always been a healthy eater, with steak as a once a year luxury because raising cattle takes a toll in our environment. That, and I’ve always favored fish and seafood. I’ve never tried being a vegetarian for more than a week, so I said to myself, “Why the hell not?”

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Can you believe that everything on this table is vegan? Vegan lumpia, longganisa and adobo from The Good Choices, herbed cream cheese from The Real Happy Cow, pan de sal, brown rice, salad and local Filipino fruits. It’s a happy vegan’s lunch feast!

After the check-up (yes, I did get awesome results!), I ordered chicken wings and steak and eggs with my husband for our usual Sunday brunch to reward myself. Lo and behold, eating meat did not sit well with me anymore! The melt-in-your-mouth medium rare steak that I used to savor became repulsive, akin to eating a rotting carcass. The buffalo chicken wings, which was an all-time favorite, left a weird after-taste on my tongue.

Since then, I decided to become a pesco-vegetarian. Yes, I still eat fish and seafood because try as I might to battle my chronic monthly migraine with other medications, the only thing that works for me right now to relieve it are the combination of fish oil and lecithin. Some call my kind a “transitioning vegan,” but I honestly don’t know if and when I can fully transition as one, given my migraine situation.

Yes, I’ve tried everything else out there so to the vegans reading this, if you have recommendations on vegan-friendly migraine relief that I have yet to try, hit me up!

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My Mom’s version of vegan tinola, especially made for me

On most days, my preference is to eat clean. By eating clean, I mean eating vegan – no dairy, fish or seafood or any animal by-product – if I can help it.

Being an expat in Indonesia made it easier for me to prefer vegan food, as there are several restaurants and food delivery both in Jakarta and Bali. My challenge always happens when I come home to Manila.

Last December, when I came home for Christmas, that’s when I felt severely marginalized. Almost all the restaurants and fastfood chains did not offer vegan alternatives. Everything had meat or dairy in it.

For the Lebaran break, since I know that I will be staying in Manila for more than a week, I came prepared. I did my research and got in touch with vegan food suppliers that I discovered through Manila Vegans, a community of vegans and vegan-curious in the Philippines.

I’ve been posting photos on my Instagram about it and friends have been asking me where I found my sumptuous vegan dishes. Here’s a list of my favorites from two of the best vegan suppliers in Manila:

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Vegan tapa and longganisa with fried rice from The Good Choices Ph

1. Mock meat versions of Filipino meat delicacies, including longganisa, tocino, tapa and embutido from The Good Choices by The Veg Mom Ph.

The time has come when mock meat already tastes so close to the real thing, thanks to The Good Choices.

I ordered several packs of mock meat from them: longganisa, tapa, tocino, embutido and even chicken nuggets. There was also lumpiang Shanghai on the list so I ordered it out of curiosity as well.

The verdict: Everything I ordered from The Good Choices was tasty and delish! I do have Vegan_The Good Choices_tocino_wmpreferences though and the tocino is on top of my list. Even before becoming vegetarian, I stopped eating processed meat a long, looooong time ago and eating tocino without the guilt and the nasty preservatives is a welcome delight for me. It tasted so good with fried brown rice and heaps of garlic. It tasted like the real thing, my carnivore Dad couldn’t believe it’s vegan!

My Mom, on the other hand, prefers the longganisa. Like me, she is also a pesco-vego and has long given up eating processed meat. The longganisa was a treat for her, dipped in white vinegar with garlic and chili. The embutido was also very tasty and can fool a carnivore that it’s the real thing.

In terms of customer service, the response time of The Good Choices by Veg Mom was quite fast. They responded to inquiries on Facebook within a few hours and they gave timely feedback on the status of delivery. They are from the northern part of Manila, though, so delivery to the south cost me P350, with a P50 discount because I ordered more than 5 packs. To maximize the delivery cost, it will be better to order more items.

The Real Happy Cow_vegchon1_wm2. Vegchon from The Real Happy CowHow can this be even real? Crispy lechon kawali without the guilt and it looks and tastes like lechon kawali, even with the fat in between the meat.

This vegchon is very impressive. When I posted the photo on my Facebook and IG, my friends refused to believe it’s not pork.

To cook the vegchon, from the freezer, it needs some time to thaw. Cook the vegchon under medium fire around 4 minutes. 6 minutes cooking time will give you a very crispy version. For air frying, it can be air fried between 6-8 minutes.

For a truly vegan experience, The Real Happy Cow suggested that I used Andok’s lechon sauce bottled and sold in the supermarkets since this brand does not use pork liver in making their sauce. The caveat here is that you need to eat it within 30 minutes, otherwise it won’t be crunchy anymore.

The vegchon sells for P150 per pack and can be cut delicately into 8 pieces.

Check the vegchon out up close, mainly made from soy and tapioca starch. Doesn’t it look like the real lechon kawali?

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The Real Happy Cow’s veg pata roll

3. Vegan crispy pata. If you think vegan lechon kawali is a stretch, wait ’til you taste The Real Happy Cow’s crispy pata roll. Selling for P200 per roll, this can be eaten as crispy pata with soy sauce and chili as sauce on the side, or as the meat in kare-kare.

The crispy skin is made from shitake mushrooms.

The vegan crispy pata roll is thicker than the vegchon, thus requiring a longer time to cook (6-8 minutes). A cooking hack would be to slit through some of the sides of the roll so that the middle portion can cook faster.

My Mom and daughter ate it as it is, without added salt and with spicy soy sauce. I prefer my veg pata in kare-kare. I loved it so much that I requested for it to be prepared for me twice when I was in Manila!

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My Mom’s version of kare-kare with the veg crispy pata roll

The Real Happy Cow’s delivery fee was P200. They’re also from the south like me so the fee was cheaper. In terms of response time, they’re lightning fast. They’re super friendly, too, and generous when it comes to cooking tips and tricks.

Overall, these 2 food suppliers allowed me to be vegan during my 1-week trip in Manila. Their food line-up is also proof that vegan food has already matured through the years and that we can have delicious, tasty meals without harming animals. Eating clean has never been this convenient.

By the end of the month, I will be coming home again to Manila for a weekend trip and I’m definitely going back for more of their vegan food. Can’t wait!

I ate my way through Lisbon

A month ago, Arshad and I made our way to Lisbon, Portugal to meet his parents and spend a few days together with them before we continued our journey to Spain.

Both retired, the preoccupation of both my Mum and Dad-in-law are the two favorite things that I share with my husband: travel and food. Yes, we intend to follow their footsteps when we are older, but for now, we will remain to be green with envy when they call to invite us for a week in Brazil or a month’s visit to my sis-in-law in Melbourne (Dad, limited vacation leaves!).

Lisbon with the Arshads & the Rahmans

Bella with Arshad and her in-laws in Cascais, Portugal

Lisbon was a pleasant surprise, to say the least. I didn’t expect much from the city, since I was really looking forward to Madrid and Barcelona, more than anything else. When I got to Lisbon, though, and as we made our way to the suburbs of Sintra and Cascais, I didn’t realize that I was in for the food trip of my life!

There were so many things to gush and rave about Lisbon, but the most memorable for me was the FOOD, thus the 2kg. weight gain after the trip. All worth-it calories, if I may say.

Both Mum and Dad were game to try the food, desserts and wine, and most of our photos captured us eating our way through the city of Lisbon and its equally charming suburban areas.

Here are some of the memorable local food and restaurants that we tried, savored and yes, in some instances, repeated, which completed the journey.

When in Lisbon, include these gustatory delights in your checklist of must-try food:

1.  Sardines, sardines and more sardines.  There is no escaping sardines in Lisbon. I wanted to remain pescatarian even when traveling, and Lisbon being a sardines country was something that I embraced and celebrated the moment that we touched down.

Sardines is everywhere. You’ll see sardines grilled, served as tapas, canned or part of a pasta dish or risotto.  Traditionally, sardines is served grilled, with rustic bread or boiled potatoes and fresh greens on the side. My personal favorite is just straightforward grilled, copiously drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil. Heavenly!

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Grilled sardines with boiled potatoes and fresh greens on the side

Another take on it would be to just put it on top of grilled rustic bread with grilled tomatoes and herbs with fresh salad.

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Time Out Market’s take on sardines drizzled with extra virgin olive oil on grilled rustic bread

Sardines is also great for souvenirs and giveaways to friends. Both Jakarta and Manila, where we come from, are very big on souvenir gifts for friends and family (do not dare go home without anything!) and canned sardines is a good idea for “pasalubong” or “oleh-oleh.” We bought canned sardines and pate’ for friends and family.

Sardines can be had everywhere in Lisbon, but I particularly liked the one that I tried in Sintra’s Restaurante Cafe’ Paris at the Praca Republica.  The sardines was HUGE, fresh and not too salty. The availability of tables al fresco was a plus for me, given the great spring weather during our trip. It was just nice to eat sardines with chardonnay while watching people go by!

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Bella enjoying her sardines al fresco at Sintra’s Restaurante Cafe’ Paris

 

Here’s how to find Sintra’s Restaurante Cafe’ Paris:
Address: Praça República 32, 2710-542 Sintra, Portugal
Hours: 9AM–10PM

 

2. Seafood. Of all kinds! Lisbon was teeming with fresh fish and other seafood. I just can’t have enough of Lisbon’s fresh seafood. Since they are always fresh, they are prepared simply: grilled or pan-fried and drizzled with a lot of olive oil.

Lisbon is Europe’s only capital city along the Atlantic Coast, lying in the western Iberian Peninsula on the Atlantic ocean. Being a coastal city, it boasts of fresh fish and seafood and most restaurants will have a “fresh catch of the day” in the menu.

I tried the bacalhau, cod, prawns and grilled octopus tentacles. Personally, I favored grilled octopus, as it is my quintessential favorite and the big prawns on risotto.

For fresh seafood in Lisbon, I highly recommend Nune’s – Real Marisqueria. Everything we ordered was fresh and the fish was right off the tank. They had warm, rustic bread on the side with luscious butter and several good wines that can be paired with the fish and seafood. You can find Nune’s in Rua de Bartolomeu Dias in Lisbon and for reservations, it’s very easy because it can be done online through The Fork.

Here are the details of Nune’s – Real Marisqueria:

Address: R. Bartolomeu Dias 112, 1400-031 Lisboa, Portugal
Hours: Open everyday · 12PM–12AM
Reservations: thefork.pt

 

3 .  Pastel de Nata or Portuguese egg tart from Pasteis de Belem. You can get pastel

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Pastel de Nata from Pasteis de Belem: photo from TasteIt.pt

de nata or Portuguese egg tart pretty much anywhere in Lisbon, but I highly recommend that you buy it only in Pasteis de Belem. Once you have tasted the egg tarts from Case de Pasteis de Belem, all the other egg tarts will pale in comparison.

Just a quick trip down historical lane: the pastel de nata is believed to have been made by the Catholic nuns in the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, which stands just across the road from the Case de Pasteis de Belem. These sumptuous pastries were the means to raise funds for the monastery’s upkeep and maintenance.

Pastel de nata is a custard tart sprinkled with cinnamon or sugar. Mind you, there is a LONG LINE that traverses outside the cafe’ so it takes a lot of patience for these to be had. Arshad and I had to line up for it, but believe you me, the line and the wait are worth it.

Pasteis de Belem has been selling pastel de nata for more than 150 years and this is something that you cannot miss if you find yourself in the area of the Belem district.

The cafe’ is open everyday. Check out their details below:

ADDRESS:
Rua de Belém nº 84 a 92
1300 – 085 Lisboa
Portugal

E-MAIL:
pasteisdebelem@pasteisdebelem.pt
apoioaocliente@pasteisdebelem.pt

4. Salad with goat cheese and ice cream. Yes, you read that right. It was my Dad-in-law who discovered this at Lisbon’s Time Out Market, where the greens are topped with fresh blueberries, very light and creamy goat cheese and a dollop of ice cream. I tried it and immediately fell in love so we had to go back to Time Out Market so I could have it for myself. Salad never tasted this good and decadent!

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Since I’ve mentioned Time Out Market several times already, here’s how to find it:

Address: Av. 24 de Julho 49, 1200-109 Lisboa, Portugal

Hours: Open everyday · 10AM–12AM

 

5. Vegetarian dishes. Despite being a sardines and seafood country, there are restaurants that will serve delectable vegetarian dishes. I’ve tried mushroom and truffle risotto but I was biased towards the vegetarian lasagna that I had at Lisbon’s Carmo Restaurant and Bar. Several restaurants will also accommodate requests for some of the dishes to be “vegetarianized,” and will be willing to replace the meat with mushrooms and vegetables.

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Cheesy and creamy vegetarian lasagna from Lisbon’s Carmo Bar and Restaurant

Aside from the vegetarian dishes, one notable vegetarian-vegan-friendly condiment is their chili oil. I’ve been to several restaurants with this heavenly bottle of spicy oil, filled with red chili and garlic. The bite is superb and I drizzled it on anything: my lasagna, risotto, sardines, etc.

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Chili oil with a bite: just a few drops and you already get the spice in your mouth

I found both of these in Lisbon’s Carmo Restaurant and Bar:

Address: Largo do Carmo 10, 1200-049 Lisboa, Portugal

Hours: Open everyday · 8AM–12AM

Reservations: thefork.pt
Overall, Lisbon is teeming with must-visit beautiful places. But for me, I’d always remember this beautiful yet underrated city because of the delectable food it has to offer.

 

Will I ever consider a second serving of Lisbon? Definitely! And next time, I’ll make sure I have enough time for the other interesting places in Portugal. =)