It’s always hard to leave you, Manila

“Ang hirap mong iwanan, Manila.”

When I’m in Manila, I always have a ritual a few hours before I leave for the airport: I lock myself in the masters bedroom to have a moment with myself to push the melancholy that I feel deep down into the recesses of my emotional pit.

An ultra emotional statement – but that is what I feel when I need to leave again.

Pack and go. Pack and go. Repeat. I do this all the time.

But it never gets easier.

The thing is, wherever I go, my roots will always be in Manila. The meaningful relationships and friendships that I’ve nurtured through the years are mostly in Manila.

Sure, I’ve made a lot of friends in cities I’ve lived in. Being naturally gifted for making friends and socializing easily, it’s not difficult for me to build social cliques from ground up.

It’s just that the friendships that I’ve cultivated through the years are mostly in my home city.

I hate Manila’s traffic. I hate it that it takes me an hour and a half, or worse, two, to get from the south to BGC. Traffic has become so much worse. I absolutely abhor the political divide that’s been happening in my country. I hate fake news and all the political leeches taking advantage of the current political milieu. I hate taxi drivers who always try to rip passengers off.

But here I am, sat in my favorite Terminal 3 cafe, listening to Christmas carols, feeling nostalgic that once again, I have to fly out and leave.

There’s just something about you that sticks, Manila. My friendships. People who always smile and who are ever resilient despite whatever shit they go through. Your Christmas feels in the beginning of September. Your food. Your way of making people feel they belong.

Manila. You are nowhere near perfect and you will always be rough on the edges. But you are my city and I will always come back to you.

See you in a couple of weeks for Christmas, Manila.

Let’s do this Christmas together.

 

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 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 keep coming back to Manila

A portion of my humble home in Manila

Four months. This is by far the longest time that I spent not going back home to Manila, which I dare not repeat. Four months seemed like forever to me and at some point, I felt increasingly depressed already, not seeing my family, not being in the comforts of my home.

I normally come back home to Manila every 2 months,  alternating with KL, but the early part of this year found me with a role expansion that quadrupled my team and responsibilities. Not that I’m complaining. It is a role that I have been looking forward to, which also needed more time and focus. Thus, the delays in my usual Manila trip.

our Dachschund Dinozzo and Himalayan ASH Manuel

Yesterday morning, as I opened the door of my home, it greeted me with the familiar smell of vanilla and honey candles, my daughter running to kiss me and hug me tightly, the noise of my dachshund barking and excitedly wagging his tail that his human is back, the nonchalant stare of my stoic Himalayan-Ash cat and most of all, the smell of my mother and yaya’s freshly prepared Pinoy breakfast, perfectly paired with warm pan de sal and a pot of aromatic brewed coffee.

Yas! I am home. The sensory assault makes the red eye flight all worth it. The hugs and kisses of my family, the warm embrace and the familiar faces of my long-time friends. It’s just great to be home.

with my daughter Abby enjoying gelato amidst the heat of Metro Manila

I love my job, I love being an expat and travel has always been second nature to me and my husband. I have long come to terms with my paradox that although I am a traveler and wanderlust runs through my veins, I always find myself amidst Manila’s discord. As crazy as that may sound.

With barely 36 hours in Manila, for now, let me enjoy my Mom’s sopas, tinapang bangus and ginisang monggo. Ahh. Definitely home.