Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Escape to Palanas

Quiet, private, tall trees, mountain views, a swimming pool or a beach, fresh breeze, food, and comfortable accommodation -- my elements of a perfect escape. Once in a while the urge to separate from urbanity becomes a necessity for a working person. Overworking can be stressful and science concludes legitimate translation of stress to physical exhaustion and fatigue. If not dealt with, it can potentially lead to more chronic issues such as ulcers and other physical diseases.

I have an unspoken bias and liking for the eastern part of southern Cebu for many reasons. Firstly, it is my regular route back to Dumaguete (my hometown) on land. Secondly, travel spots are everywhere in the south. You have places like, Carcar (famous for lechon, chicharon,  and old Spanish houses), Argao (famous for Torta), Alcoy (stretch of white sand beaches), Dalaguete (more beach resorts and Osmena Peak), Boljoon (home of the old Spanish church and Ilihan Rock), and Oslob (swimming with the whalesharks). And just as I thought I have been to this part of Cebu enough, there are always new finds that trigger your travelling feet.

One time, I passed by a sign that took my attention. It read "Palanas: Farm and Mountain Resort". I looked it up in the internet and the pictures were enticing. I knew I had to be there so when the opportunity came, I took it without hesitation. My friends were enumerating options about where to go for a summer getaway south of Cebu. I injected Palanas and I was secretly happy they voted for it, too.

Ready with my 1.5 kg Carcar lechon and a knapsack of personal travel necessities, I traveled ahead to Boljoon. While waiting for my friends to arrive, I took snapshots of the old church then sat on a chair under the tree shade watching tourists come and go. As soon as my friends arrived, we looked for an eatery where they feasted on the lechon I brought from Carcar. Right before riding the motorcycle to the farm, we bought a kilo of fish, squid, and some spices from Boljoon Market.

The ride up to Palanas was priced by the locals at P100 per motorcycle but my friend decided to pay P120 and took 2 for all three of us. It was about 20 to 25 minutes ride up the mountain passing through a provincial rode that was sometimes really close to cliff edges that had no railings and should the motorcycle collide with another, it could literally send you hanging by the edge. Some sporadic pine trees were great consolations along the road and as much as the view beyond the cliff were awesome, I dared not stare too long because my imagination goes all over the place in the absence of protective railings.

Finally, we arrived. A tall steel gate was the entrance to the resort. It was already 4PM and everything inside were teeming with greens. Hanging vines, exotic plants, white-petaled gumamelas, tall labeled trees, subtitled with a common name or a scientific name. It felt like going into an educational tour back in the days.

We were escorted to our accommodation. After leaving personal belongings, we toured the roof deck. Right where the stairs end at the top showcase the mini bar / kitchen. You don't have any idea what kitchens do to me. I went nuts and my happy cells bounced excitedly while wearing a regular expression. My friends stood at the open roof scanning the surrounding mountain backdrops with "wows" and "oohhhs". I blurted my share too but it was first upon hearing Kris (the receptionist) say "THE KITCHEN IS ALL FOR YOURSELF because you are our only guests sleeping in this building for the evening". "Whooa" beat that! Looking at our spice inventory, I said, "I may need some salt, some pepper, and lemon grass. Do you have these items for sale?" She paused, then said, "I think I can get those to you for free." "How about cooking utensils, frying pan, laddle, a stove, gas, plates, forks and spoons?", I went on asking. She said, "I can get you those too. And do you need a rice cooker?" Nah.. my jaw dropped to the ground. She was willing to provide all items I needed.
=== !!! may i pause for a somersault !!! ===  She lent me their rice cooker!! Other than the kitchen, she explained that we will be charged an hourly rate of P100 for every hour we consume using the karaoke device. My, my, my.... did you just give me two of my favorite pastimes? Any last hint of sanguine tendencies in me went alive.

That night I cooked for us Fish tinola, lumayagan (squid sauteed in onion and garlic), and fried fish. There was nothing better than dining on a roof deck, just you and companions, eating sumptuous dish, under shining stars and bright moonlight. The mountains hid behind pitch-dark backdrops and silence was gently broken by turkey gobbles and insect buzzes. I grew fond of one strange bug that didn't budge even when I went too near to take my sharpest photo.

After dinner, loud karaoke started. A clan in reunion were also doing their runs and rifts at a nearby function hall a few meters away from our building. You are kilometers above sea level! What do you expect? So we sang as loud as we could not minding the neighbors a hill away. I hope no animals or fouls died after we have disturbed them on their sleeping hours. When we could no longer sound a note due to exhaustion, we lounged on a swinging canopy bench directly staring at the moon glowing at the wide black expanse until my companions dozed off to sleep. I was drawn to the glorious moon and so I took snapshots of it. Sadly, none registered sharply.

After a while, we settled onto our respective beds. A white butterfly I saw fluttering on the hallway followed me to bed.

The next day, I woke up early to fix us breakfast: bulad (dry salted fish), egg omelet with lots of tomatoes, fried rice and what was left of our food the night before. We ate until we were satisfied and ready for a walk in a park.. uhmmm .. i mean "ZOO". Palanas has a mini zoo. A steel gate facing our steel gate exit was Palanas mini zoo. It's time we met with the gobbling turkeys, grunting ostriches, wild colorful fowls, cat-fox, tortoise, bleating sheeps and lambs, cows, python, and monkeys. The low hanging trees also had us climbing and of course a picture with the lone aircraft inside the forest. How in the world did it get there?

Lest we start liking the zoo life too much, we headed outside and then back inside the main farm to stroll along their fish ponds. And if the ponds were too murky to spot a fish, there are the glass aquariums. The swimming tilapia just had to be fried butterfly tilapia for lunch. While waiting for the food to be served at the roof deck, we settled for a dip in the pool which later became swimming, and then water sliding. I had the most fun since I was late to get off the pool. Surprisingly, in a very remote location, these pools were well maintained. The water was very clean despite the growing trees around it.

Finally, lunch. We were very quiet. Although unspoken, but it was sad leaving Palanas too soon. If there was only a way of storing fresh air, I would have already hoarded a lot so I could share it while sitting in a jeepney along Escario and Capitol Streets.

There was not too many spots in the vicinity that had access to Sun network but we were lucky to catch one enough to call the motorcycle driver in Boljoon market to fetch us from the resort. We bid goodbye to the crew and said we will return someday.

On the way back, Ilihan Rock and the surrounding coasts in Boljoon were pronounced and clear at certain curbs on the way back to lowland. Our driver suggested we stop to take photos just like the foreign tourists usually do. And we did. We also stopped to take a look at the old and ruined watch tower across the highway before going to Boljoon church, eat tempura and drank a plastic of orange juice. Now that was the conclusion I needed. Not the bus ride that followed..

Tip: When you are coming from the south and you need to head out to Cebu City late in the afternoon, do not be too picky and proud. Catch the first bus that stops... be it regular or air-conditioned as long as it has vacant seats. Believe me, standing the whole trip through even on an air-conditioned bus over an approximately 3-hour period is not at all pleasant.

Wallet Watch: approximately P1,500 (common expenses shared by 3 pax)

Trip Stops:

Cebu South Bus Terminal - Boljoon Market (via Bus)
Boljoon Market - Palanas Farm and Resort (via motorcycle / habal-habal)
Palanas Farm and Resort - Boljoon Church Bus Stop (via motorcycle / habal-habal)
Boljoon Church - Cebu South Bus Terminal (via Bus)

Palanas Farm and Mountain Resort
Pondohan, Upper Becerril,
6024 Boljoon, Cebu, Philippines
Mobile   : 0922-8178598
Tel. No. : (63-32) 231-2727, (63-32) 514-2517, (63-32) 520-5641

Friday, April 24, 2015

High-Fiving Mr. Kimbob!

We were just passing by SM's sidewalk when a familiar picture glared at me and I glared back. Could it be? Did he finally?

If you remember, a couple of years back, I and some friends flew to Angeles, Pampanga to head out to Tarlac for Mt. Pinatubo. When we were too spent to even think about what to eat, we settled to take a quick dinner in SM - Angeles. It was not a familiar place so we thought the food court must offer several ready fast food options. We went where the people were going and fell in line. It was there that we met Mr. Kimbob. I am not going to detail any further about the first time but if you are curious, read Where to Eat in Angeles.

I couldn't believe my eyes so I made sure I blinked to validate my find. "Ho. Ho. Ho!" I must've shouted at my friend and excitedly said "It's finally here!". We were out for another itinerary so we agreed to visit it at a later time.

A week or so passed and I grew restless and knew we had to meet Mr. Kimbob in Cebu. One SMS took my friend off her seat fast and we found ourselves on our way to SM - Cebu.

The moment we neared the food court, we couldn't stop scanning until we found the corner where Mr. Kimbob sat. We could have ran if there were no obstacles along the way but we were certainly ecstatic to "high five" a long time acquaintance. Age does bring about changes. Mr. Kimbob changed quite a bit. Our Cebu branch is smaller and the enormous Bibimbob signboard (see here) was no where to be found.  I find it difficult to outgrow old things and was looking for that sense of familiarity.

Nonetheless, I wasn't up for a let down. I realized that they have a promo going so we ordered their Combo Meal (Bibimbob + Jap chae + Dumpling + 16 oz soda for P176). BIBIMBOB at last! Rice at the center, topped with sunny side up egg, and surrounded with a variety of fresh vegetables ( kimchi, chayote, cabbage, carrots, cucumber). Jap chae is sweet potato starch noodles also named Korean Glass Noodles because it is translucent when cooked. Don't forget gochujang (Korean spicy sauce) in your festivity.

Go and try Bibimbob yourself! Tell me about your favorite in their menu.

Wallet Watch: P176

Mr. Kimbob - Cebu
SM Foodcourt, Cebu

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I "Heart" Lettuce Wraps

Some memories stick like glue in the mind. If it was a good one, you'd certainly want to repeat the same at least one time more. That first lettuce wrap dining experience definitely got me hooked such that even after several months have passed, I still drool over the thought of literally drooling at each mouthful of meat and spice filled lettuce. Not to mention wetting hands while folding the leaves to keep the fillings intact.

That first time was in Pearl (Korean Meatshop and Restaurant) right across Jo's Chicken Inato in Osmena Blvd., a few blocks away from Cebu Capitol. This time, Laagholic Bee, famous for her controversial blog (pun intended) More than Just Love in Loveland, succumbed to a sporadic and random invite to Gaisano Country Mall for lunch. Initially, we thought of the Japanese restaurant but somehow the road brought us to Korea (figuratively).

"PEARL" stood out clearly on an overhead banner and the smaller inscriptions below it read "Korean Meatshop and Restaurant". Both of us were surprised at how fast it has branched out across Cebu in maybe a period of less than 5 years. The other two locations they stand along A.S. Fortuna St. and another near Cebu Capitol Site. 

Picture placards of lettuce, chop sticks, table-top grill, and kimchi flashed in mind. My stomach has gone giddy already and I couldn't wait to sit and start digging on their side dishes. I personally find their chopped cabbages (mixed with chili flakes, taste of sesame oil, salt and vinegar) my favorite rice substitute. As long as it is free and refilled limitlessly, I care less for rice. At P200, you are served a plate of samgyeopsal, and unlimited garlic, onion, chili paste, soy bean paste, soup, cabbage and lettuce leaves -- all served fresh,


Dining is so much fun when you are doing the grilling and the mixing of your food by yourself let alone the enjoyment of working the chop sticks, filling, and folding the lettuce leaves using bare hands. Every mouthful is delightful while the sauce drips down your lips. Instinctively, you reach your tongue out to catch it before it drops on your office shirt.

Tip: If you plan to eat inside a walled restaurant that has an open grilling station (e.g. CARNIVORE), you may want to consider putting on your extra shirt. That is so you can change back to your office top before going back to work. Otherwise, you will be conscious of how you smell like smoked meat around your colleagues.

This lettuce wrap dining experience is surely one I would like to to do again and again. Probably because I enjoy cooking food myself. Plus, it has the laid back and fiesta feel of the Filipinos' version -- the Boodle Fight.

I was thinking of my family back home whom I wanted to share this experience with. Finding help from shelves of Imported Goods in our local mall, I managed to purchase a bottled soy bean paste, lettuce and cabbage cloves, chili paste, and pork strips. I put together a replica of my PEARL experience. I was happy to serve my parents a healthy Korean-like dish and engage them in a fun lettuce wrapping food bonanza.

My attempt to a Korean lettuce wrap dish.

How about you? What's your favorite Korean restaurant in Cebu? Drop me a comment below.

Wallet Watch: approx P400 each because we also ordered a plate of sushi.

PEARL: Korean Meatshop and Restaurant
The Strip, Cebu Provincial Capitol Site (Address 1)
A.S. Fortuna Street, Mandaue, Cebu (Address 2)
Banilad, G/F Gaisano Country Mall (Address 3)

Friday, April 10, 2015

Indian Curry House, Finally!

Old Store in Mabolo, Cebu

This was in my bucket list for 2 - 3 years since I first saw the shop at its old location (P. Almendras St, Mabolo, 6000 Cebu) and ever since my colleague raved about it multiple times. I visited the place myself quite a number of times too but it was never open until I found out online that it had stopped operating. It closed before I even had the chance to understand my confrere's excitement about the place. There was not much news about it so I figured, it must have gone bankrupt or the owner just called it quits.*


It was not until a year ago that I learned about its transfer to a new location near SM Cebu City. Thanks to the same raving friend who tipped me about it. His persistent persuasion really got me excited all over again.

Finally, the day has come. Along with another hunter, we hit on it. The location, although a little pushed from the highway and discreetly tucked behind Angel Locsin and Mang Inasal, is still not lacking of foot traffic. It was already 8PM when I arrived and there were still a lot of people inside APM Mall across SM Cebu.

The store is not brightly lit, except for a few hanging handcrafted chandeliers. It worked for me as I wanted to get in unnoticed. Grand welcomes (also entrances) scare me so I felt comforted that the owner was preoccupied with paying customers. I casually looked up to their menu on a billboard and mentally recited my orders.

When Anjali, the gabby owner, asked for my order, I said it like I knew how they are pronounced:

     Fish Masala - 220
     Chicken Dal - 170
     Roti - 80 (20 per piece)
     Mutton Biryani - 220
     Mango Lassi - 70
     Sweet Lassi - 60

Among the orders, I gush for their Chicken Dal, Roti and Mutton Biryani. Roti was a personal recommendation by the owner over Naan as she says the former brings in more health benefits than the latter. It is made of whole wheat cooked on a tava or griddle. On the other hand, naan's primary ingredient is white flour brushed with butter and cooked in a tandoori oven.

Chicken Dal (upper left), Fish Masala, Roti (bottom)

Mutton Biryani

Tear roti by hand, brush it on (or on it) the chicken dal that is made of curried lentils, and taste the inexplicable diffused spicy flavor exploding in your mouth and exiting through your nostrils. Do it again, and do it fast because the chicken dal tastes a lot better when hot. Like a hungry earthling, take a spoonful of the biryani, then reach out for the fish masala, then the roti and chicken dal again. "Whooaaa" .. that was superb! The after effect of the spice will linger so make sure to wash it off with lassi.

Original and Mango Lassi

The other dishes I would certainly sample on a second visit would be:

     Idli Sambar
     Mutton Curry

How about you? Leave me a comment about your favorite Indian food. :)

Wallet Watch - P820
Anjali was nice enough to cut the P20 off the bill so we ended up paying only P800.

Famous Indian Curry House
APM Mall
10 AM - 10 PM
Contact: Anjali @ 0923 9827790 / 512-2740

*The change of venue, according, to owner was because of holdup and robbery incidents in the past.
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