Shabu Shabu Shogun

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I love how the Makati Cinema Square area is home to many culinary spots that are packaged as “best-kept secrets”, but are really not-so-secret anymore. There you have Little Tokyo, an institution for Japanese fare, the sacred place where I popped my sashimi-cherry and have learned to eat (and sincerely enjoy) raw fish through Kikufuji’s Spicy Tuna Sashimi. Seryna, a few steps away, serves some of the best maguro in town, while Sunvar Plaza houses the hidden Wagyu Japanese Beef – not so Japanese in name, but the quality of perfectly-marbled meat they serve is undeniably Japanese.

Along Amorsolo Street, where Sango used to be, stands the newest “best-kept secret” yet. Among the throng of restaurants that are all vying to serve the freshest and best sushi, a modest eatery that’s decked out with pale yellow walls is getting loads of attention. And you’ll be relieved to know that it’s not because of sushi.

Shabu Shabu Shogun, still in their soft opening stages, takes pride in their Japanese-style shabu-shabu, which literally means “swish-swish” in English. I believe one of the strongest points in Japanese cuisine is how simplicity goes a long way. A lot has to do with the quality of ingredients – the freshness of the meats, vegetables, down to each grain of rice – that hardly need any secondary flavors.

We start off with shelled Hokkaido crab, still sitting in its cold, sweet juices. It is light and unbelievably succulent. With crab this good, you couldn’t even think of pairing it with anything else, except of course, with some ice-cold sake. So we take shots and sips of Sake Jun, stopping as we feel the slow burn reach our ears.

Unlike the Chinese hot pot, Japanese shabu-shabu is often served sukiyaki-style. Thin slices of beef (usually ribeye, sirloin, or wagyu – but these are sirloin) are laid out along with some fresh vegetables and a few dipping sauces. Shabu Shabu Shogun’s sauce selection includes a peanut-based sauce, a soy-based “secret” sauce that I feel was ponzu, and some chili sauce that oddly tasted like gochujang with scallions on the side.

In Shabu-Shabu Shogun, you can choose to cook in a hot pot filled with some kombu dashi (a stock made from boiling water and kelp) or through a hot plate with sukiyaki sauce. We were asked whether we wanted udon or rice with our meal. (I chose udon but ended up eating rice, too, because I love my carbs.)

I like eating my meat without any seasoning at first – some people think it’s weird – but I do it to experience the full-on beef flavor on its own, before altering its taste with sauces and seasonings. I was called out on this once, and I was told that it’s silly of me to do this because the meat would be bland to the palate, but you’ll be surprised at how tasty the beef can be on its own if the quality’s good. Shabu Shabu Shogun’s beef was actually great even when just cooked in the kombu dashi. Hardly any seasoning was required, maybe a teeny pinch of salt at the most. But wait until you try the hot plate.

This was obviously how I enjoyed eating my beef that evening! While the salty-sweet sukiyaki sauce was slowly bubbling away like thick, gooey caramel, I quickly cooked my beef and dunked it in raw egg. I can almost hear your minds screaming salmonella (!!!). Which would be what my mother would do. So be cool about it. The remaining heat from the beef that came straight from the pan will kill whatever unidentified bacteria you fear. If you need anymore proof, well, I think I finished almost half a raw egg, and it’s been almost a week since we ate here, and I am fine and alive. It’s just proof that the eggs they serve are super-fresh, otherwise, I might’ve been a walking amoeba by now. Thus being unable to write this post.

Of course, great food is best enjoyed with great company! It was awesome catching up with my good friends Stacy and Danah from The Plump Pinay, and Jill aka The Food Scout! I’ll definitely be back for more beef, crab, and sake!

Shabu Shabu Shogun
Amorsolo Street corner Rufino Street,
Legazpi Village, Makati
+632 801 1770

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Thanks again to Stacy and Danah for the invite, and Shabu Shabu Shogun’s owner, Luke Britanico, for having me over! The food was really good, and eating with you guys was tons fun.

Chiang Mai, the Second Time Around

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My first brush with Chiang Mai was almost a year ago, when my friend Kaye and I spontaneously (and a bit carelessly) booked a trip to Thailand in time for Loi Krathong. I say carelessly because we didn’t know that the most efficient way to get to Chiang Mai from Bangkok was via airplane, and we were crossing our fingers for smooth bus or train rides, which we were strongly advised against.

If you’re looking for a good airline for your connecting flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (or vice versa), I highly recommend you book via Bangkok Airways. Awarded as one of Asia’s best boutique airlines, the aircraft is clean and comfortable, plus the flights are on time. Another great thing about flying with Bangkok Airways is that you don’t have to go all the way to Don Mueang airport from Suvarnabhumi, which will save you a lot of time since both Philippine Airlines/Cebu Pacific and Bangkok Airways are fly in and out the same airport. When we went last year, we took Air Asia going to Chiang Mai, so we had to rush to Don Mueang with only an allowance of 2 and a half hours from Suvarnabhumi. We barely made it on time, but we did at the nick of it.

Last year, we backpacked, but this year, I took a different route and traveled via tour, thanks to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). I don’t remember the last time I traveled in this format, but I do have to say that it was very convenient and it was exciting since I didn’t have any idea what to expect. Partly because I was so mesmerized by the fleeting houses, buildings, faces, all smudging into speedy blurs. The great thing about this experience, I think, was that despite the planned trips, we were able to stumble upon some pretty cool discoveries along the way.

We arrived at Dhara Dhevi at almost dinner-time, so after freshening up quick, we went to the Riverside Bar and Restaurant to feast on some local Thai fare such as an assortment of Chiang Mai Hors d’oeuvres: coils of meat chopped up and served with a spicy papaya salad, a midly-spiced Green Chicken Curry, Ribs with Som Tam, the popular Chicken Pandan, among others. The highlight of this meal was some deep-fried freshly-caught fish served with Miang Kham, a set of Thai condiments that you wrap in Bai Cha Plu (wild pepper leaves), and dip in a combination of fish sauce, sugar, soy, and fried onions. The meat was clean-tasting with stray hints of the sea. I wonder how the stronger-flavored condiments tasted secondary without as much as overlapping the taste of the fish.

After dinner, we took a stroll at one of Chiang Mai’s many night markets – this in particular was along Chang Khlan road. It was great to be with a bunch of food-loving folks as well, so we all stopped for some Banana Rotee. Thanks again for this treat, Miss Marbee!

Rotee is a common snack in most night markets in Chiang Mai. Prepared similarly as you would a crepe, a deft hand folds in bananas with butter into a thin sheet of pastry, heated to a slight crisp, and drizzled with either condensed milk or Nutella (which I had on mine!).

The street was lined up with a lot of vendors selling a lot of clothes and I had to stop myself from buying more harem pants, but I did end up getting a handful of bracelets and bangles. Our tour guide told us to take it easy on the shopping since he was going to take us to an even better night bazaar the following day, so I resisted the urge to splurge and save it for the next evening.

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The next day, we went to Shangri-La Chiang Mai for a quick program hosted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and during our break, my friend Angelo and I snuck out and went to this secondhand bookstore right across! Check out what we found.

Lunch was at 137 Pillars House, and off we went to a new side of Chiang Mai for me – Doi Suthep Temple, located high on a mountain with a breathtaking view of Chiang Mai.

They say you ring the bells so that Buddha could hear you.

Here’s the view of Chiang Mai from the top!

Angelo was approached by a monk who tied this white string around his wrist and prayed over him. They say that you make a wish on the white string and it’ll come true once it falls off.

We were pretty worn out after the day’s agenda, so we took some time off to rest in the hotel. Dinner shortly followed at Le Grand Lanna, where I had the best best best Khao Soi I’ve ever tasted. (This is obviously the part where I’ll be chatty since it’s about food, haha!)

Thailand’s neighboring countries, Laos and Myanmar, have huge influence on this ubiquitous dish. I’ve had a similar version when I went to Yangon, but I prefer the Thai Khao Soi. It involves a straightforward preparation of cooked egg noodles tossed in a spicy curry coconut sauce, topped with meat, and deep-fried egg noodles. Sometimes, it comes with some curdled blood, and it is usually served with pickled onions and lime. The first time I tried Khao Soi was in Bourdain-approved Huen Phen located near Wat Chedi Luang, and it was an unforgettable experience.

I’m not much of a fan of spicy food, but for Thai cuisine, I’ll always make an exception. Digging into the hot, spicy soup infused with chilies that burn my taste buds is enough to drive me home, but the creamy, sweet coconut eases the palate after. I always get my Khao Soi in beef because I just love how the gamey flavors contrast well with the soup. Eating it with a generous serving of pickled onions and liberal spritzes of tangy lime soothes the searing-hot pain, making it more tolerable, but with heat that cause droplets of sweat to form on my forehead. It’s a savory cocktail of sweet, sour, spicy, salty flavors and a spectrum of texture that ranges from smooth to crisp. Khao Soi is absolutely one of my favorite Thai dishes that I will keep looking for.

To cap off our second (and last) day at Chiang Mai, we headed to the Saturday Night Market at Wua Lai road for some last minute shopping. I got to buy some clothes here, trinkets, and leather items that were priced affordably. Angelo and I wanted to try this boxed-shape Ancient Ice Cream, but there was a queue and we had to leave soon.

One of the things I love most about Chiang Mai is its strong and unrelenting art culture that’s so alive, it seems as if everyone is in a frenzy. Here you have a city that’s concentrated on great art, great food, and where artists are not afraid to show what they’re made of. You have musicians and folk dancers planting their feet right smack in the middle of the street, showing you what they’ve got—and they’ve got it good—very good.

Even after this trip, there are still many other parts of Chiang Mai that I’d like to explore. Especially with its food culture and numerous holes in wall that pack some of the most distinguishing flavors of Northern Thailand such as ground pig’s brains folded in with kaffir lime and curry paste – then steamed in banana leaves. I even heard that they have a raw blood soup, which might be a bit too extreme for me. But let’s see. It wouldn’t hurt a third time. As they say, third time’s the charm.

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Many thanks to the ever-efficient Bangkok Airways and the Tourism Authority of Thailand for organizing this trip! Stay tuned for more posts on #AmazingThailand soon.

Things I Love: Sunday Paper

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I think my fascination for notebooks sprung about because of my love for books. Despite technology condensing bulky things into compact, handheld gadgets (hello, Kindle!), I still find myself hoarding books and smelling its pages like a weirdo. The same goes with notebooks! I love feeling the paper, sometimes, even rubbing the page on my cheek for good measure. After divulging all this odd and bizarre information, you might think I’m a crazy person, but jsyk, I am not alone in this paper fetish of mine! I got so excited when AJ from Sunday Paper got in touch for a collaboration with their latest project called #UnlinedAndBeyond, a fun initiative that showcases how different creatives use a simple, unlined notebook however they see fit. (I got mine in black, but they also have it in kraft.) I couldn’t ask for better timing since I was slated to fly to Thailand in a few days, so I turned it into a mini-scrapbook collating some memorable food experiences, tickets, boarding passes, and random thoughts and quotes that crossed my mind during my travels. I like how it makes preserving memories more tangible in form. Sunday Paper’s sleek and minimalist design makes it stylish on its own. No-frills and easily fitting to whatever writing mood you’re in. I personally like its 6×8 size because it gives me enough space to write what I want to write, while adding extra décor and doodles on the side. The paper’s quality is also pretty great! Creamy and pristine, its texture is enough to hold the ink from my thicker pens. So it doesn’t matter if I’m using a 0.9 sign pen since I know the ink won’t blot and leak through. I’m also the kind of person who doesn’t finish notebooks, stops halfway, and rips open a new one, hahaha. But I still find myself immensely loving my Sunday Paper notebook even after my Thailand trip (which I will be writing about soon! :) ). I use it for my work at Pepper.ph – in the form of to-do lists, brainstorming, taking down notes on travel-and-food-related things I chance upon the Internet, doodling, trip planning, book quotes, and many other things. It’s my go-to notebook when I need to jot something down. And I guess, what adds to it is also the experience of having a great notebook to write on. It’s a really great notebook. If you’ve been searching for “that one notebook”, this might be the it. :)

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If you’re interested in getting your hands on some Sunday Paper notebooks (which I will be doing again very soon!), you can order via their website, and also check out Sunday Paper’s Facebook and Instagram pages, too, for more info.

Currently: Tunes on Loop with my Ye!! Speaker

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Since the availability of Spotify in the Phiippines, my ears have been glued to my headphones. I really, really love music, and I noticed that I’m even more attached to it now than ever before. That’s why my friends get annoyed at me (haha I love you guys) most of the time when I ask them to play certain songs, or switch radio stations, or ask them if I could play music from my phone.

My Ye!! (that’s Yell) Bluetooth Speaker is currently my new favorite music gadget. It makes it so easy to play my music out loud in wider spaces at home such as my room, the kitchen, the bathroom (yes), the study, etc. Now I don’t have to be chained to my phone or laptop while working. It comes in handy especially when I work out (aka crazy dance like a maniac alone in my room). I’m really digging Spotify’s Dance Workout Playlist, jsyk. I am in love with Shake It Off and play it on loop 3 times without fail.

What I also love about my Ye!! Bluetooth Speaker is that it’s nifty and portable, making it easier to control what I’m listening to via my phone—especially in the car. It’s perfect for looooong road trips (or even short ones!). You can control the music all the way from the backseat. :p

I also like listening to music on the beach. Like during a sunset or if I want to create a relaxed mood and atmosphere when I write or read. Unlike my previous portable speaker, the sound coming from the Ye!! Speaker is crisp and clear—not at all muffled.

When it comes to the battery life, it lasts pretty long, too! Charge it for an hour or two, and it can last up to 6 hours when connected wirelessly and up to 10 hours when connected through Line-in. But I really prefer using Bluetooth. Because I am lazy it just makes things more convenient.

I also like asking for people’s playlists, haha. And most of the songs in this set are part of my photographer-friend Pam’s tunes. She’s got great taste in music. If you know her, don’t tell her I said that. ;)

1. Phantoms – Khushi
2. Grizzly Bear – Angus & Julia Stone (I am so in ♡♡♡♡♡ with this song!)
3. Sway – Anna Of The North (le #feels)
4. Japan Window – The Holidays
5. Wandering Star – Poliça

What have you been listening to lately? :)

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You can get your very own Ye!! speaker at any Beyond the Box, Digital Walker, and Digital Hub outlets. They also come in red, yellow, black, and white. For more information about Ye!!, you can check out their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It’s one of the better portable speakers I’ve ever owned – promise!

Weekend Loot: Cuenca Bazaar and BGC Art Mart 2014

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I’ve always loved bazaars. In fact, apart from my essentials, I think most of the stuff I own came from a bazaar or a garage sale! I like not knowing what to expect and being surprised at the kooky, eccentric things lying around. I guess most girls (and some guys) can relate to the thrill of rummaging through stacks of trinkets and items, finally finding something that you feel was meant for you. Also, I like seeing different things all packed in one venue – it’s a delight to my eyes, but not so much to my wallet. Hahaha. :p

Hello from me and Abbey!

Last weekend, Isa and I went to the Cuenca Bazaar in Ayala Alabang to support Space Garden (I love their terrariums!) and then yesterday, I went to this year’s BGC Art Mart to help Abbey set up her booth.

Of course, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the million quirky things here and there. They’re like magnets with a pull so strong! As expected, I ended up with a bunch of items that I don’t necessarily need but love (so much)!

1. Baby Cologne in Lullaby from Sparrow and Nautical Bracelet from Mia Casa

I like clean, fresh, powder-smelling fragrances, which is why I think I have an obsession/addiction for baby cologne (and smelling babies’ cheeks! Hahaha). When we were in a supermarket in Bali, I hoarded bottles of Zwitsal, and I have around several different brands lying around. I was so happy that I stumbled upon Swallow in the Cuenca Bazaar last Saturday because I think I’ve found my new favorite baby cologne brand. Do you know how clean toddlers smell like even though it’s already 4 in the afternoon? This is what Swallow’s Lullaby baby cologne smells like. Its sweet notes remind me of baby bath and fresh linen sheets. I wish I could buy vats of this!

I also chanced upon this super cute nautical-themed bracelet from Mia Casa! It’s only PHP 150, and it was the last piece. So, duh! I bought it right away. My favorite charms are the lifesaver and the seashell!

2. Notebook by Lorra Elena Angbue-Te and Coffee Pun Print by Abbey Sy

Snagged this breakfast couple at the BGC Art Mart! I have too many notebooks, which I don’t even use. But not only did this notebook by Lorra have waffles (my favorite favoritest favorite~) but it also had BACON! This is my kind of notebook. Paper’s 100gsm, too. Plus it’s creamy and has the right thickness for my ink-heavy pens. I realized after I bought it that it’s bad for me because it’ll just make me hungry, but whatever. I also told Abbey that I don’t know what to do with her coffee print, but it was too cute, so I got it anyway. What is wrong with me.

3. Food Stickers from KWAN

Oh, won’t you look at that – more food! But of course. I mean, where can you find isaw, betamax, and balut stickers?! I’m so happy with this sticker sheet. The balut!!!

4. Card Holders and Pouch from Ella Lama x Krafty Pirate

I first saw their stuff from Meya, who had a Dr. Seuss coin purse, which she got in Quezon Ave. When I saw their booth, I had to come back three times because I was unsure whether I needed a new card case (no) or a new pouch (also, no). So why did I end up buying them? Well because uhm… Anyways. You can’t ever have enough cute things, right? And the pouch is made from a Berenstain Bears book page! Isn’t that awesome? That’s my childhood staring back at you, yo.

5. Notebook by Abbey Sy

This notebook has a purpose! Okay, so I’m gearing up for something this coming 2015, and I’m honestly FRIGHTENED to start because I am a wuss when it comes to Big Things most of the time. But having something as compelling as this written on the notebook’s cover is enough to push me to take baby steps. I love how it’s a reminder to do the things that scare you, no matter how ridiculous they may seem. (Plus, paper’s 100gsm and has great texture!) Yay, thanks for making this, Abbey! #Pursue2015! ;)

(It’s actually a plot on how to get Dylan O’Brien to come to the Philippines. HAHA JK. But aint he a cutie? He’s the only reason why I watch Teen Wolf okay.)

Hope you all had a great weekend! :)

Rape is Not a Joke

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It was a fairly good Monday—I was able to cross out most of my to-dos and dinner was spent celebrating my grandma’s 75th birthday.

It was also a great day for feminism as Emma Watson broke it down and gave a solid speech on the #HeForShe campaign by the United Nations. If you haven’t seen the video, here it is.

Emma Watson was right when she said that a lot of people misconstrue the word Feminism. It’s usually perceived by the wide majority as a man-hating label—but it’s not. It’s actually defined as the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. This is one of the things we have been advocating and campaigning for in The Better Story Project and in #DesignHerStory, but a lot of people assume that just because we call ourselves feminists we are anti-male, when in fact, most of what we are asking for is respect.

Respect for the way our bodies are seen. Respect for how we are treated socially and professionally. Respect for simply being a woman. Respect because we are human beings who deserve it.

Imagine my horror when my friend linked me to a revolting t-shirt said to be designed by Boys Night Out (a popular all-boy radio DJ group) that was said to be distributed by SM Department Store.

Photo via Karen Kunawicz

“It’s not rape. It’s a snuggle with a struggle.”

Are you seriously kidding me?

I have a number of friends—one of which I am really, really close to—that have been victims of rape and sex trafficking. You call this funny? Is this some idea of a sick joke? Is this what the youth should be wearing proudly on their chests? That RAPE is a SNUGGLE with a STRUGGLE? Well, whoever designed that shirt—shame on you.

I think it’s pretty timely how Emma Watson’s speech coincided on the date this nauseating shirt was exposed on social media. When you have the privilege of influencing people with your speech and actions—don’t use it as a destructive tool. The people you reach—especially the youth—look up to you, so be responsible. It’s distressing how this shirt’s design was even approved in the first place. Am I missing something here? Is rape the newest comedy trend? I am extremely upset and disturbed at how my country’s idea of humor has been reduced to rape jokes and poking fun at one of the most horrendous acts man can do to a fellow human being. Where is the integrity and dignity our heroes have been fighting for? I hope it’s not entirely lost.

Rape is not an uncommon feat especially in Metro Manila. People are just silent and afraid to speak up because of the shame and consequences it brings. I know people who have lost their purity—the one thing they’ve been treasuring for their spouses—because of rape. Their bodies were violated by force, leaving them helpless and frightened.

This just doesn’t go out to the ladies, it also goes out to the men. I am baffled at how rape in this context is being promoted as something cool. How can something that messes you up physically, emotionally, and psychologically be cool??

I’m writing this because I am a firm believer of gender equality—I am a feminist. And I don’t really know how many people will get to read this entry, but to take Emma Watson’s words and put them into action, “If not me, who? If not now, when?” Everyone needs to take a stand on feminism and to take action. Both genders, male and female should be involved in the conversation. Men, you can start by making a stand via HeForShe.org. I’m sure there will be more opportunities for you to take action soon, but it won’t hurt to take the first step.

Rape is not a joke, so please don’t throw the word around like it’s the cool “in” thing. Because it is not, and it will never be.

Sam YG

PS: “Thanks! Mwahugzzz <3″ Doesn’t really cut it, especially with this one. Make a stand, at least.

Book Loot: 35th Manila International Book Fair

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Today’s the last day of the 35th Manila International Book Fair at the SMX Convention Center! If you love to read (or if you simply are a book hoarder/tsundoku like I am), I swear this place will make your day. I try my best to drop by the book fair every year because of the many great finds, and this year, we spent 3 hours going around without even noticing the time! Oops.

Books are mostly sold at 20% off and there are so, so many good titles lying around. We spotted Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing by Don George (!!!)—which I wanted to buy so bad, but the exhibitors didn’t seem to adhere to the 20% off discount (huhu)—and my friend scored the Condé Nast Traveler Book of Unforgettable Journeys, which I begged for her to give me. She didn’t.

At any rate, I’m pretty happy with my book fair finds! My picks were an odd bunch, but most were about food and travel. Didn’t buy any Young Adult because I rely on eBooks for that. I was tempted, though, to get Lang Leav’s poetry books and Rainbow Rowell’s Landline. But I had a budget to stick to. Here’s my loot!

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1. Ivan Ramen by Ivan Orkin

Ivan Orkin is an American chef who opened a ramen store in Tokyo. It’s a pretty bizarre setup for most. Just like Australian chef David Thompson and his restaurant Nahm in Thailand, Orkin’s restaurant was given a lot of speculation because why the f would an American dabble with one of Japan’s most identifying dishes, right?

But Orkin has proved himself to be a worthy contender of Japan’s ramen scene as his shop was hailed to serve some of the best ramen in Tokyo today. This book is about his story, and how grit helped him prevail even the toughest of storms. He recently opened his third ramen store in Manhattan called Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop. Another great thing about this book is that it also couples as a recipe book with a step-by-step guide on how to replicate Ivan Orkin’s ramen from the fat to the eggs.

(I have a lot to say about this book because I devoured it as soon as I opened it.)

2. My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales by Various Authors

My fasciation for the Brothers Grimm fairy tales and gore led me to buying this book, I think!

3. A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain

I have the e-Book of this, but I felt like I needed the paperback because I am anticipating lengthy, bright yellow highlights and notes scribbled on the side. And you can’t do that on a kindle! Nothing beats the touch (and smell!) of paper.

4. My Life in France by Julia Child

Another book that combines food+travel, especially by one of the culinary legends who elevated and revolutionized French cooking in America—Julia Child! I love books like this since they give you a glimpse on the cook’s intimate experiences with the environment they’re in. And most importantly, the food!

5. Savor the Word by Doreen Gamboa Fernandez

I’m so excited to read this book on Filipino cuisine. (I think I’ll read this next!) It’s a compilation of essays on the Filipino food culture, tackling various local dishes, their origins, and the writers’ experiences with them.

Have you been to this year’s Manila International Book Fair? Which titles did you take home with you? :)

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Be sure to drop by the 35th Manila International Book Fair today if you still haven’t! It’s open today from 10am-8pm at the SMX Convention Center, Mall of Asia, Pasay City.

Coast Perspectives: A Water Journal

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I always find myself leaving my heart in the ocean.
Perhaps, the ocean must indeed be the last truly quiet place on earth.
So much is the stillness, so much is the beauty.

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That there’ll be days like this – “There’ll be days like this my momma said” – when you open your hands to catch, and wind up with only blisters and bruises. When you step out of the phone booth and try to fly, and the very people you want to save are the ones standing on your cape. When your boots will fill with rain and you’ll be up to your knees in disappointment – and those are the very days you have all the more reason to say “thank you.” Because there is nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline no matter how many times it’s sent away.

- Sarah Kay, If I Should Have a Daughter

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Photos taken at Liw-Liwa, Zambales

Backpacking in Liwa, Zambales

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If I were to be honest, I was inches away from taking back my Yes. It was an excruciating week, and at the end of a busy Friday, all I wanted to do was to curl into my bed and sleep undisturbed. I always try my best to be up for an adventure, but when the fatigue kicks in, retracting becomes too tempting.

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Sunshine leaked into our vehicle’s windows at 5am—a pack of seven strangers en route to Liwa, Zambales, a beach I’ve never stepped foot on before. Swell-wise, the odds were against our favor, but I needed to empty out, and what better place to drain your thoughts in than by the sea?

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A few steps from Liwa Beach is Circle Hostel, a backpacker’s haven especially when traveling on a shoestring. I’ve stayed at Circle La Union before, bundled up in a hammock beside my friend Bea because we took the bus on a whim without much cash on hand.

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There’s no air-conditioning here, so you’re forced to enjoy the evening breeze. If you’ve stayed in a hostel before, you’ll pretty much get the vibe, but in a more outdoor setting that’s conducive to meeting fellow backpackers and weekend warriors who just needed to get away and spend a few days near the ocean.

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I think what also makes Circle pretty unique are the artworks on the walls that catch you off guard and reel you in during moments you least expect.

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This^.

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Liwa was spotless. Quite bizarre for a long weekend. Fine sand and clear waters surrounded us as we explored the coastline. Nothing but quiet and the sound of the waves rolling towards us like footsteps rushing home.

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Lunch was at Mommy Phoebe’s where I had some of the best bulalo ever. Seafood was fresh, and I gulped the Chocolate Banana Shake (almost without breathing) despite the piercing brain freeze. Does this pain really demand to be felt alongside such ecstasy?

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I spent the afternoon hanging out by the beach with a new friend, recounting the lessons life has been teaching us lately, and just basking under the sun, watching fishermen catch tonight’s dinner. We headed back to the Circle with fresh avocado shakes in hand, and sang along to 90s music strummed on ukes and acoustic guitars.

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Reconvening late in the afternoon without a clue what to do birthed the idea of lighting a bonfire and watching the sunset. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my Saturday.

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I think it’s pretty amazing how life brings people together in the most random of gatherings, and makes you realize that you aren’t alone with the things it throws your way. It wasn’t the best week for me—it was draining and exhausting, but the weekend saved me—I found solace and regained strength by the sea. There have been countless studies about the human connection with water, but I’m just glad I was able to experience another connection—one with other human beings walking on the same road, traveling the same journey, and reveling at the beauty of the same sky and sea.

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*

Many thanks to The Circle Hostel! For more information about The Circle, you can check out their Facebook and Instagram. They currently have up-and-running hostels in Zambales and La Union, and from what I know (and am pretty excited about), they’re opening one in Baler soon.

I’d Be Lying If I Said, “I Partied Hard in Boracay Last May”

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No, really! I tried. But failed. Is this a coming of age post? Well, maybe.

This is about eating the worst paella ever, getting stung (on the chest!) by bloody jellyfish, waiting for a DJ who never came (this is my fault, actually, because I decided to French that freaking exit and head back early because of crowd-induced stress), and sleeping in a dingy motel because of a 6-hour delayed flight home.

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But this is also a story about friendship. About necessary endings, hopeful beginnings, and—redemption to that worst paella—some of the best pancakes I’ve ever had.

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Labor Day Boracay is a heated event, anticipated by extroverted, party-loving folk like toddlers and Christmas Day. It’s the drop of the DJ and the gift from Santa that make the age difference irrelevant. And then there’s us, why were we even here in the first place? To try something new. To make new memories. It was a pretty hilarious decision, really.

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We arrived 4 hours late, a consequence for booking a budget flight during peak season. Famished and exhausted, we skirted our way to D-mall and had the worst paella negra. But who were we to complain. Andok’s had a queue and we couldn’t wait.

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I also got stung by jellyfish the next day—my chest was covered with wisplike marks. Some naughty stingers found their way into my bikini, apparently. We also fell in line and payed too much to get into a party that sucked, we experienced blackouts while taking a shower, etc etc etc.

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It gets better, though.

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We went parasailing, snorkeling at Crocodile Island, and exploring the many different untapped islands surrounding Boracay.

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We saw sunset, after sunset, after sunset. Each day, bringing a different one, and with it the promise of a new day, a new start. These afternoons were spent enjoying happy hour at Nigi Nigi 2 with glasses of brightly-colored drinks that casted magical glows as the sunlight passed through.

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There was also awesome breakfast and those perfect pancakes I still dream about from Sunny Side Café, which we visited three out of four days.

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And Lemoni Café’s Vanilla French Toast.

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I’d like to think we enjoyed Boracay with a different sparkle, lightyears away from the party-til-you-drop stigma it carries. But we still tried to party anyway.

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I guess, people look for different things at different stages of their lives. It wasn’t my first time in Boracay, but things just seemed better this time around—things seemed right. And it’s funny how this realization snapped into my psyche while walking home, trudging through the cigarette-butt spangled sand with lovers making out near the beach. Party music from different corners diffused into an audible mess, and I bumped into other visitors who may have had a drink too many.

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But after crossing that station, I found myself in a more subdued area where the stars shone bright and the sound of the waves crashing dominated. In that little space between two loud extremes, I found a quiet corner of peace where I knew all was well, and the reason why some things have to end came loud and clear. It was time for a new beginning.

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Things get better.

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