Kuya J’s 100th Store Opens in Palawan

I WASN’T HERE WHEN Kuya J opened its 100th store at the SM City Puerto Princesa on October 7, and that’s truly sad because I was one of those really looking ahead to being there.

Ang mas nakaka-sad pa, I just placed myself today on a strict Herbalife diet so, that means no spending money freely on best-loved restos and cafes… on Kuya J, hahaha… even if its Crispy Pata’s soooooo lovely and sexy like that in the photo below.

Crispy Pata

Kuya J’s sexy Crispy Pata boasts of crispy pork skin with tender juicy pata meat. Regular order costs Php509.00 while an order for the whole fambam is Php695.00

Wow, Kuya J naman… I could cry. O, sige na nga, I’ll have Sunday as my cheat day because I’m really easy to bring around naman. Gaaaahhh.

Jericho serenades fans

Actor Jericho Rosales, endorse or Kuya J, sings to the crowd during the opening on October 7 at SM City Puerto Princesa.

Thank you, SM Shopping Center Management Corporation for the invitation. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend that day as I needed to be in Tagaytay for a convention with the Junior Chamber International.

Wait a minute, do you have a store in Tagaytay?

Drinks

Chorizo Dinamitas

Chorizo Dinamitas, yay! For this goodness, you only need to shell out Php170.00

What’s in the Menu?

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I am not sure if the prices in the menu slide remain the same. It was borrowed by this blog from www.zomato.com To make sure, visit the store and order 🙂

Kuya J Restaurant

Kuya J used to be a modest and an inconspicuous restaurant in Cebu called “Ang Kan-anan ni Kuya J” before it got to be one of the fastest growing casual dining places in the Philippines. In fact, no restaurant that originated as a hole-in-the-wall has achieved the feat of opening 100 stores in just two years.

The restaurant celebrated its huge milestone #CheersTo100 at the Event Center of SM City Puerto Princesa with none other than its blockbuster bida, Jericho Rosales.

Some of my media colleagues were there to welcome him, and one of the food that they’re raving about is the Chorizo Dinamitas, which is deep fried pastry-wrapped jalapeños with Cebu’s famed chorizo and cheddar cheese.

“We wanted the 100th store to be significant. We chose Puerto Princesa City to house our 100th store because it plays a vital role in tourism and community development,” said Winglip Chang, president and chief executive officer of iKitchen, said in a statement that was sent to this blog.

iKitchen is the company behind the now famous food store.

Grilled Scallops

Kuya J’s all-time favorite Grilled Scallops oozing with garlic, butter, and other toppings at Php245.00 per order.

Kuya J lovers

Actor Jericho Rosales with the crowd that attended Kuya J’s opening.

“Our 100th store is not only a result of the hardwork and passion of the entire Kuya J family. It’s actually more of the overwhelming love and support of Filipino families all over the country,” shared Danny Pumarega, chief operating officer of Kuya J.

Is Kuya J the Blockbuster Bida Jericho Rosales?

I had asked myself this over and over when I started seeing its commercials on television because, hey, Jericho Rosales equals Kuya J, why not? But Kuya J isn’t him and him in a way.

Chang said “the name refers to no particular person.” It’s a brand that symbolizes the Filipino family, where there are a lot of names starting with the letter “J” like Jose, John, Joseph, and Jericho.

I must say that’s a witty history to a restaurant name. Ke-cute!

Halo-halo

Kuya J’s Halo-Halo Espesyal topped with milky-smooth ice, homemade leche flan, crunchy cornflakes sprinkles, and ube ice cream at Php109.00

Kare-kare

Kare-kare with original peanut sauce at Php419.00

Roast Chicken

Kuya J’s surefire roast chicken with smoky barbecue flavor at Php215.00 half and Php430.00 whole.

The award-winning drama actor, who was asked if he owns it, said “in a way, yes.” This is because he is proud that the brand Kuya J “truly embodies the Filipino culture that is family-oriented.”

“Echo is actually the perfect endorser for Kuya J. He is one of the award-winning drama actors in the country and the best Kuya to his family. Kuya J finds him very inspiring with his trait of always putting his heart into everything that he does, especially when touching people’s lives,” said the statement.

Kuya J Favorites

After trying the food at Kuya J Restaurant, one could not be surprised how much people love their interpretations of Filipino favorites, which are very reasonably priced. Some of the local favorites so far are the following:

  • Grilled Scallops Php230.00 — a fresh reminder of Cebu because every restaurant there has some version of this dish. Each scallop shell is covered in a generous amount of cheese and garlic that enhances the umami flavor of the seafood.
  • Chorizo Dinamitas (P170) might be thought to be super spicy, but an initial bite could lead anyone to eating more. Chopped Cebu chorizo and cheddar cheese make it a salty-sweet appetizer with a nice crunch and mild spiciness.

My Favorites

If you decide to visit Kuya J at the SM City here, don’t disregard the appetizers in the menu because some of them are perfect ulam too, like the Sinuglaw, Lumpia Frito, and the Calamari with garlic mayo dip.

When it comes to dining, I am one of those who has a favorite dish everywhere and orders the same thing every time. Same Thai Chicken, or Roasted Chicken at Neva’s Place and Dang Maria’s, same Sisig at Kinabuch, same Chicken in a Basket at McCoys… I always go for the same kind and I don’t know why’s that, but… it’s all good!

My favorites there are Lumpia Presko for the sauteed crab meat and bamboo shoots with sweet garlic sauce; slow-cooked Bulalo; the Stuffed Grilled Squid with BBQ sauce; and the Bicol Express which is really good with rice.

BTW, all photos in this blog post are not mine. Thank you, SM Shopping Center Management Corporation, for allowing me their use.

Cheers! 🙂

 

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That “Into the Movieverse” Experience

TWO UPSCALE DIRECTOR’S CLUB exclusive screening theaters were opened recently by the SM Cinema at SM City Puerto Princesa, and luckily, I was one of those handed the chance to watch the biographical comedy crime film American Made in one on September 14.

All thanks to mall PR man Russell Fernandez, who’s a very kind host that day; and pretty Steph dela Peña of SM Cinema.

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Hans Sy (3rd from left) of SM Prime led the soft opening on September 14 of the SM Cinema with Puerto Princesa Mayor Lucilo Bayron (4th from left), Palawan Vice Governor Dennis Sorcrates (5th from left), City Tourism Officer Aileen Cynthia Amurao, and other officials. The SM Cinema here is the 60th branch nationwide.


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Comfortable couch sets are safe spaces that you’ll find upon entrance to the Director’s Club. They’re where you can wait until the first batch finishes, and your turn comes next.

SM Cinema also opened three digital cinemas (check photos below) for the general public. Each can house up to 165 viewers at a time, creating an undisturbed and relaxed space for movie adventures with friends, relatives, and family.

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Can you count the chairs?

The Director’s Club cinema experience is not like the average you get when you watch in some big-box theaters, where the floors feel viscid and gluey under your shoes because someone sloshed soda (or smoothie), or where the individual sitting next to you is giving that popcorn the best shot by chowing down hard like it’s chicharon.

No, these upmarket cinemas are offering movie enthusiasts (even those who aren’t) that kind of experience that’s beyond that and people stepping on your toes or foot just to get to their seats.

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SM Cinema’s Director’s Club recommends a movie date like no other in a setting that will give you the feeling of comfort, warmth, and relaxation you deserve. I mean, seriously, this kind of high-end cinema gives you the personal space you need in watching your favorite film genre.

Each screening theater is well-spaced (with wide aisles) and boasts superior recliner chairs (like La-Z-boys) to add style and ease, agreeable screen size, top-notch sound system, and meals served to you at the push of a button by  your own personal butler.

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Ticket prize, I think, is about Php400.00 for unlimited popcorn (cheese-flavored) and drinks (supposedly). We were given Minute Maid when we watched; I’m not sure if it’s going to be the same offer when you watch.

In the two Director’s Club where I sometimes watch in Manila, if you order extra cola or drink, hindi na kasama sa unlimited offer. You have to pay differently.

It was so comfy, I almost slept in the middle of watching American Made. Mabuti na lang, Tom Cruise remains a serious movie actor for me to watch, and his latest film’s funny. Otherwise, that restful feeling… eh, nakatulog na sana ako.

So, if you don’t want to fight in line like I do, sometimes, to see a movie, or if you don’t want to spend money on online services that deliver access to movies the minute they’re publicly made available, then this high-end trend of a cinema is truly for you to give you that INTO THE MOVIEVERSE experience.

It’s also happy to note that a new generation theater like this has popped up in Palawan to completely recoup the cinematic experience we’ve lost since Melba, Republic, Maresca, Cove, and Star Vision cinemas closed operations years ago, di ba?

I said “completely” because, let’s admit it, naibalik naman when Robinsons Palawan opened with its own chain theater ahead of SM City Puerto Princesa. Kinumpleto lang by the swanky Director’s Club movie theaters.

Sorry this blog’s late. Cheers!

 

 

The Paella That Wasn’t Easy to Love

SOME OF THE BEST AND TASTY paella variants I’ve ever tried were at Las Paellas Cafe at the Festival Mall in Alabang, Casa Armas Tapas Bar Y Restaurante in Malate, Barcino in the The Fort, and here in Puerto Princesa, at Tom Tom’s Club along Manalo Street.

Even to this day, I can’t forget the subtle flavor and aroma of the cafe’s Paella Marinera, and the gastronomically bewitching Paella Negra, a scene-stealer and high drama rice dish that is dyed black with squid ink, and mottled with calamari, a rich blob of garlic aoili mayonnaise, red bell pepper strips, and some other toppings.

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“Matiz Paella” by Matiz Restaurant & Tapaz Bar at Hue Hotel.

Any chef who can rustle up a good paella will say right away that this famous Spanish dish is really “all about the rice” and the socarrat, without abandoning the adequate quantity (and quality) of other ingredients that needs to be there over the base.

Socarrat is the rice that gets pleasantly crisp and forms a tough outer part at the base of the paellera, a special skillet from which the paella is cooked. It is to the dish what the smoke ring is to a brisket.

In Filipino, it is “tutong,” or the burnt rice that we find at the bottom of our pot when we don’t pay enough attention and cooks it for too long. The difference is that we shed out the burnt rice, whereas the Spaniards and paella lovers save the socarrat (sometimes for last) as it is essential to the total goodness of the paella.

Tom Tom’s Club is the only dining place I know here that serves really good paella. So, when I learned that Matiz Restaurant & Tapas Bar at Hue Hotel is offering Spanish-inspired cuisines, I really campaigned to have our regular Women of Wednesday (WOW) there to try the dish.

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Sinugba, the two-cooking method dish of grilled pork belly and fish ceviche (kinilaw).

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WOMEN OF WEDNESDAY (WOW) sisters on September 13 at Matiz Restaurant and Tapas Bar, Hue Hotels, National Highway, Puerto Princesa City.  

WOW is a group of lady past presidents of the JCI Puerto Princesa Peacock, Inc., and Wednesday is usually the day in the week when we all meet to just let our hair loose — allow ourselves to behave much more freely from our daily routines and just laugh at everything and enjoy.

On September 13, all 11 of us were at this restaurante to finally try some of cuisines it’s offering. The specialty of the house the waitress offered was Matiz Paella, which I ordered for four since those who arrived ahead of me had already ordered.

Paella always gets me excited because it is a Spanish food that’s easy to love, easy to adore. Anything that’s easy to love and adore keeps you calm, right?

After waiting for nearly half an hour, the so-called Matiz Paella that got to our table (with a portable stove) was nothing short of regret.

Sorry about that.

Flavors certainly did not blend and burst together, the rice mixture was (sadly) soaked through, and toppings to add to the distinctive taste were measly — it’s head-shaking.

I agree, the chef should not overwhelm the rice with toppings as it will affect the whole taste of the paella, but really that meager? Four pieces of boiled quail eggs (I get it, because I ordered for four), seven pieces of sliced squid rings, two pieces of shrimps, and four slices of chorizo that were charred and tasted bitter, and green peas.

There was really nothing else for me to be excited about in the dish that was regarded as the specialty of the house. Where’s the sudden rush of beautiful flavors in every spoonful and layer of toppings spread over the base? What happened to the socarrat?

The price of Php995 for four for the paella that to me, failed to happen, was really sore to pay though we all split the tab at Php500 for everything we ate. Di naman sa… pero, why pay good money for something that’s not belly satisfying?

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Bagnet, crunchy and truly good!

Though disappointed with its paella, I’m not saying you don’t go and try the Spanish-themed restaurante because your fondness might be different from mine. Unless the chef improves the paella, I honestly think it’s safe to go for the Sinugba and the Bagnet on its menu list.

These two Pinoy dishes are really good at Matiz Restaurant and Tapas Bar. They might be a little pricey where your dining-out-to-treat-yourself fund is concerned, but, hey… no regrets if the food is good.

Sinugba, which employs two methods of cooking — grilling pork belly and soaking fish in lime juice or coconut vinegar to become ceviche — needs really little introduction to Filipinos as it is a beloved dish, especially in the Visayas.

Many Sinugba lovers just salt the pork belly and grill it. The others choose to do it with their own created barbecue sauces, and after grilling, mix it with the fish ceviche.

At Matiz Restaurant & Tapaz Bar, the Sinugba, thankfully, didn’t taste sea-level salinity (over-salted food isn’t good for the kidney). It was light and bright, used the freshest fish possible, and wasn’t overly marinated.

The deep-fried pork belly Bagnet that originated in Ilocos was everyone’s rave in the restaurant that night. There was no bagoong monamon (fermented anchovies) that was served with it, but the chef’s success in making it crispy on the outside and tender and savory on the inside got me.

I would certainly go back for the Bagnet because the resto got it right, and it brings me back sweet memories of my father. If he’s alive today, he’d surely be happy to be taken there for a special dinner of the Ilocano favorite simple recipe… with, of course, bagoong monamon.

I just know he would look for that; not the vinegar as dipping sauce.

Nice Ambiance

The inside of the restaurant used wooden wine rack modules clawed on the wall on one side for efficient and elegant bottle storage that are typical to tapas bars. Individual plank tables hang on the ceiling on another side to complete its stylish whole tapas bar look.

Imagine having your tapas on swing tables. The playful design makes dining fun and interesting. I’m actually imagining what if it has hanging chairs to sway me too.

Its interior design concept is nothing I’ve ever seen in this city. It has high upper interior surface that adds space, and speaks relaxation and comfort to people who shun having their meals in a place that retards them from trouble-free gestures and physical movement.

Sometimes, when we go to restaurants, it is more than just the food. The ambiance and the all-embracing experience can often mean a lot more. This is the reason why many really take time and effort to create and develop their own themes, or assimilate elements of a culture — all with the objective of entertaining your senses, not just your taste buds.

The Staff

Except for one waiter who doesn’t know how to describe to us the food we wanted to have, I was glad everyone was attentive enough to check what else we needed that night.  The waitress who served our food was always smiling, and checking on us.

Poor customer service can cause restaurant businesses to die. In fact, I think it is one of the chief reasons why many lose the interest to become returning customers. Attentive waiters/waitresses is part of the whole deal of superlative customer service.

I’m not the only one who’s going to say this: If a restaurant is able to deliver remarkable atmosphere, delicious food, reasonable prices, ample serving, and quality customer service, then there’s no reason why I would not return.

Cheers!

 

 

1st SM Mall in MIMAROPA to open in Palawan on September 15

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A LOT OF EXCITING things are taking place in Puerto Princesa City, and my only worry right now is the traffic. It’s a battlefield (bigat ‘no?) out there everyday, and all street corners midriff of the town seem to be spots of congestion.

I understand that traffic congestion is an unavoidable problem in developing cities, and the integral result of the way modern societies operate. However, just because I understand does not mean I am not upset.

Like many, I am frustrated by our local policymakers’ inability to come up with a possible immediate solution to the problem, which, by the way, presents a grave public policy challenge.

I can think of one, and that is removing tricycles in national and principal roads. Apologies to neighbors, relatives, and friends who operate tricycles to convey passengers, but right now, that’s the most immediate there is to accomplish.

Otherwise, nobody certainly wants to be caught in the nub of a larger traffic problem, which I can see happening the moment the SM City Puerto Princesa opens on September 15.

Just my two cents.

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Aerial view of the new SM City Puerto Princesa.

Discovering Palawan, Discovering SM City Puerto Princesa

SM Supermalls, which is owned by SM Prime Holdings (SMPH), is ready to open its 64th mall in Puerto Princesa this week.

Russell Fernandez, the SM City Puerto Princesa’s public relations officer, was kind enough to grant an interview with me a couple of days ago at Itoy’s Coffee Haus to let me know how it’s going to be different from the other malls that SM Prime Holdings owns.

Some major parts of the interview I will hold in reserve for my news story that will be submitted to the Philippine News Agency. The rest, will be part of this blog.

The three-level, 54,000 square meter resort-style complex mall is located on a 47,000-square meter site along Malvar corner Lacao streets that used to be a squatter settlement and a location where indigenous materials were traded.

And SM is short for “Shoemart,” run by the retail giant SM Group of Companies, where SMPH belongs. Its owner is Chinese-Filipino Henry Sy Sr., known in the Philippines as the “Retail King.”

As a premier mall, Russell said SM City Puerto Princesa envisions to reflect Palawan’s tropical feel while assimilating SM’s innovative design approach. I thought this is true because among all SM City malls I had been to, this one’s got the feel and look of a modish seaside resort hotel from outside.

Did you notice that the entrances to the mall are painted in green? I’ve been asked that a bunch of times. Why not navy blue like what its branding is known for?

I forgot to ask Russell about this particular information, and I know I shouldn’t have. But my guess is that aside from the fact that SM is now innovating on the look of its future retail malls, the shade really symbolizes Palawan’s devotion to protecting its verdant surroundings.

The green color represents, too, love of life, of balance and harmony, of reincarnation, of peace and relaxation. And because it is these things, then I’d assume that SM City Puerto Princesa wants to be at least one of the refuges that you and I are looking for away from the stresses of life’s daily routine.

And lest you forget, green is also the color of money.

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“It’s incomparable because it doesn’t look like just a block of commercial complex. At first glance, you will think it’s a resort hotel,” he said.

The mall’s interiors are distinctly crisp and modern with textures and relaxing colors that give one the sense of being on a tropical holiday. At each opening to the level above, walls clad in a unique plaster give a quality of continuous and soft waves.

The mall’s ceiling will display hundreds of delicate handcrafted wooden lanterns not only for ample natural lighting, but also to add to the Palawan feel.

Russell was excited to talk about SM City Puerto Princesa’s commitment to sustainability, telling me that it was projected to achieve a sustainable future.

“If you will notice, the design is with glass walls that speak of modern architecture, and doesn’t isolate us from the natural surroundings. It allows us to see outward, and it lets in sunlight to make a bright environment for shoppers,” he stressed.

It will have a sewage treatment plant (STP) to take care of restaurant and toilet wastes with a treated water recycling tank system for toilet flushing, plant irrigation, cleaning and maintenance, and other non-potable purposes that will help in the conservation of fresh water.

Great Shopping + Leisure + Entertainment

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For great shopping, leisure, and entertainment, the SM City Puerto Princesa will have the following:

  • SM Store
  • SM Supermarket
  • SM Appliance Center
  • ACE Hardward
  • Watsons
  • Surplus Shop
  • Miniso
  • Sports Central

Miniso is “a Chinese-low cost retailer and variety store chain that specializes in household and consumer goods including cosmetics, stationery, toys, and kitchenware.” Its marketing strategy is the same as Muji, Daiso, and Uniqlo.

What I’m most excited about, on the other hand, is its three state-of-the-art cinemas and two Director’s Club theaters.

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The Director’s Club theater can sit around 30-50 people for a luxe cinema experience. (Photo borrowed from SMCinema.com)

In Manila, when I want to watch a movie with extraordinary comfort (and when I have money to spare), I go to the Director’s Club at the SM Mall of Asia that has leather seats, butler service, and a menu that’s entirely for its clients.

First in Palawan Brands

Lifestyle in this bustling city will definitely get a boost with these first-in-Palawan-brands that are soon to open their doors in SM City Puerto Princesa to clients.

  • Mesa Restaurant – a dining place that is popular for combining the best of Filipino cuisines with healthy class and blend.
  • Kuya J – this restaurant has model/actor Jericho Rosales as its endorser. You have to try its Sinuglaw because I can attest to its goodness na best sa kanin even if its really appetizer; and also its grilled rack of ribs.
  • Cabalen (Eat All You Can, Eat All You Want!) – a favorite Pinoy restaurant not only for traditional dishes but also the exotic as well. They said dining here “makes you feel the authentic traditional home-cooked food the Kapampangan way that you have not experienced for a long time in a very reasonable priced buffet.”
  • Rib ShackYes, baby back ribs!
  • Turk’s Shawarma – this one I would surely love for shawarma is a favorite. It specializes in Turkish cuisines that are suitable to the taste of Pinoys.
  • Breadtalk – by the Breadtalk Group of Companies, a Singapore-based multinational food and beverage corporation that sells wonderful breads and pastries. If you’ve gone to Vivocity in Singapore, and has had your meal in Food Republic, well, they operate that.
  • The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf – I’m really this one than Starbucks 😉 because its blends are light and subtle. Not too sweet! I also heard Seattle’s Best is setting up a store in the premiere mall so, let’s see.
  • Powermac – if you’re one of Apple’s 588 million users, then you’ll love this store for your Apple devices.
  • Rulls Cellphone and Accessories – another popular cellphone accessory store.
  • Dermcare – the new luxury in wellness and beauty is going to be here in Puerto Princesa with a full store.
  • Belle La Peau and Dent XP in the health and wellness area
  • Hush Puppies, Macbeth, Memo, Regatta, and Tobys

Home-grown Brands

Shoppers and diners will also enjoy the best of Palawan’s home-ground brands like McCoy’s brick-oven pizza, Isla Casuy de Palawan, Vogere by Bong Villanueva, Divine Sweets, Puerto Electronico, Banh Pho Chao Long, Heavenly Dessert, Miss Tea, and the ANCIENT DYNASTY KITCHEN.

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I just have to post my friend Siobe Yu’s invitation for me to see the opening of Ancient Dynasty Kitchen, which will soon serve traditional home-cooked Chinese dishes in an authentic Chinese family environment.

Who doesn’t love Chinese food?

Since Palawan is a tourist haven, Russell added that SM City Puerto Princesa made sure that there will be a traveler’s lounge available for foreign and domestic tourists, where they could rest, bathe, book flights, and seek assistance on other businesses.

Parking won’t be a problem as it has a two-level parking area that has 398 car slots. Thank goodness for this, because I always worry leaving my ride under the heat of the sun.

The parking areas are with block paving that can be later lifted up and replaced, and to allow rainwater penetration in the grounds to replenish underground water table. Kind of neat since the use of pavers do not leave lasting marks on the space where they are placed over.

Think how far this city has gone from the two department stores that I first knew: Triple O Mart along J. Rizal Avenue, just a stone’s throw away from the Immaculate Conception Parish; and that Indian-family owned store near the Puerto Princesa Pilot Elementary School — sobrang layo na.

Yesterday, a lot of us were just dreaming about having a SM City that’s got it all for us. Well guess what, now it’s a reality.

Truly, they’ve got it all for you!

Memories of Penang

IT’S A LAZY SATURDAY, and waiting for “something to develop positively” has bored me; I sense it’s time to mind my blog, which I had left for a while (because of other important concerns).

In July 2016, I made a trip to Penang, Malaysia to finally count for myself what’s in the place that I had discovered and read so much about in online travel magazines.

To be specific, two things attracted me to Penang: street food and street art.

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OLD LADY SELLING SUSU SOYA ASLI AND SEGAR: Capturing the feel of Penang’s daily life by buying susu soya (soy milk) from this charming perempuan tua (old lady) hawker in Gat Lebuh Chulia, between Victoria Street and Pengkalan Weld.

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CHILDREN PLAYING BASKETBALL: How to play basketball in George Town, Penang, by simply standing and waiting for the game to happen. This art piece is in front of the Grand Swiss Hotel on Chulia Street.

Not so long ago, Penang was a doddering cultural and culinary backwater in the federal constitutional monarchy Malaysia. No one ever conceived that the listing of George Town as a UNESCO World Heritage Site would set its heartbeat fast on development.

It has come out (if it hasn’t already) as an important island territory that is known the world over not only as a bona fide gastronomic hot spot, but a multi-cultural trading region with all the global tourism industry’s bright prospects.

It’s the cradle of true Malaysian street food, they say, because sold everywhere are Char Kway Teow, the famed stir-fried rice cake strips, a national favorite that has been passed through generations; Assam Laksa, a proud signature fish-based recipe that is rich and spicy; the iced sweet dessert Cendol with red adzuki beans; Roti Canai, the classic flaky breakfast (and its other variations); slow-cooked dry curry Beef Rendang, etcetera.

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CENDOL TO COOL: This Cendol had me at hello. It’s like the Philippines’ all season halo-halo (mixed fruit dessert with a heaving spoonful of ube) favorite.

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CHAR KWAY TEOW, the poor man’s dish, tops the list of the most-loved Malaysian foods. Stir-fried over very high heat, its main ingredients (aside from the flat noodles) are dark soy sauce, bean sprouts, shrimps, Chinese chives, and eggs. Mix your serving with chili, and you’re good to go.

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FOR THE LOVE OF ASSAM LAKSA: This dish is really the headliner of my palate journey in Penang. I had it for breakfast inside an offbeat roadside food shack in Batu Ferringhi northwest of George Town.

If you’re a history or architecture junkie, George Town is the place that will surely keep you entertained during your holiday as it is where you will find British colonial buildings that have been kept up due to their cultural heritage value.

Any place that embraces modernity while retaining its colonial traditions — for the island state, 171 years of British rule — is worth traveling to.

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OLD TOWN FEELS: Don’t you just feel like you’re inside a pre-colonial movie set? George Town, Penang made me feel just that — being in an elaborate civilization in the past… and it’s quite romantic.

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I, on the other hand, looked forward to managing the “Walking Trail” of Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic‘s murals, and sitting to be served Malaysian dishes in Lorong Baru.

Okay, so here it goes. And, please, pardon memory fails and slips (just in case I mix up street names, spellings, and all) because this trip was done last year; I may have a hard time remembering.

HOW TO GET TO PENANG FROM KUALA LUMPUR

Penang is really an easy tourist destination in Malaysia, and every sort of transport is available. If you’re not traveling on a budget, you can buy a plane ticket for a 55-minute flight to the island state from Kuala Lumpur. Or hire a cab to get you there within 5-6 hours.

Bus schedules to help you figure out your travel are the following I’ve managed to get:

  • 12:40 p.m.-8:38 p.m. from Pudu Sentral (Puduraya)
  • 12:40 p.m.-10:05 p.m. from Bus Terminal Perkililing
  • 5:25 p.m.-12:53 a.m. from Pudu Sentral (Puduraya)

Bus fares range from MYR 38.00 to MYR 42.00 (USD 9.05560 to USD 10.0088/PHP 461.185 to PHP 509.731) for standard VIP, which means just an air-conditioned seat; and coaches at MYR 74.00 (USD 17.6346/PHP 898.098) to MYR 103.00 (USD 24.5454/PHP 1,250.06) with personal TV, meals, and wi-fi.

The inexpensive transport mode is, well, taking the bus, or the ferry boat. If you don’t have a problem with road trips, then the best and most fun way is to hire a car (if you don’t have one) for you to also enjoy the scenic attractions along the way.

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Culled from Google Maps

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Our group of six traveled to Penang by using my friend Lolit Whorlow’s car. If my memory is still serving me correctly, we popped out our journey via the Lebuhraya Utara-Selatan/E1, the fastest route under usual traffic from the Kuala Lumpur federal territory.

Under this course, normal travel is more than three hours. However, if you make stops like we did, then your arrival time would increase by over an hour and a half to maybe around 5 or 6. The stops we made were for sightseeing, comfort room breaks, and snacks.

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PENANG BRIDGE at night (courtesy of Google)

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PURPLE SUNSET: Caught the starting time (at around 7:00 p.m.) of purple sunset over the UNESCO World Heritage Site George Town, Penang. Just look at the color — very charming and hard to forget because you don’t see purple sunsets everyday. Check slide show below this.

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The road travel was highlighted for me by the Penang Bridge, which is a symbol of pride and the source of deep pleasure for the Malaysians. In the 50’s, when Penang’s traffic condition started to congest because of its booming economy, the idea of the bridge came up along with suggestions to build an underwater tunnel road and extending the ferry service (the only transport that connects the island to the mainland).

Among the three, it’s the mega-scale bridge that stood out only to be laughed at for failing to happen. But in 1981, former Malaysia prime minister Mahathir Mohamad pushed for the project despite negative criticisms and other obstacles. By 1982, he sank the first pile of cement in the land between Seberang Perai and Penang Island.

I genuinely wanted to take a long-exposure photography of the Penang Bridge with its huge flashes of light glowing brightly at night; sadly, TIME IS THE ENEMY. It was also difficult to look for an area where to set up our gears, and it was constantly raining.

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NEW LANE HAWKER CENTER: The New Lane Hawker Center located in Lorong Baru, George Town, is where we had our first meal in Penang.

FOOD PATH

What unsettles me when it comes to traveling is TIME IS THE ENEMY. I’ve been writing the line all caps to emphasize that no matter how much you want to stay and do all things possible, you simply couldn’t because time is a limited source.

Indeed, it is our most important and most limited source.

There are at least 5 listed BEST EAT CENTERS in the island state that I found and wanted to try, and they’re not all necessarily in malls or hotels. They’re largely found in hawker stalls and in open air venues.

These are New Lane Hawker Center, Gurney Drive Hawker Center, Presgrave Street Hawker Center, Long Beach Food Court, and Just Food, which is inside a shopping mall.

We arrived in Penang at about 3:00 p.m., just in time for the daily opening of the hawker center in Lorong Baru. We headed there soon after depositing our bags in Sri Sayang Resort Service Apartment in Batu Ferringhi.

Batu Ferringhi is the next most visited destination after George Town for water sports and seafood eateries. It’s where I experienced my first-ever Assam Laksa (see picture above), served by a smiling restaurant owner on a rainy morning.

You know you’ve reached New Lane Hawker Center in Lorong Baru, George Town the moment the comforting aroma of garlic and onions frying together hits your snoot, and you don’t want to do anything except look for the nearest wok where it is straying from.

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Koay Teow Th’ng

What I had in this food center was not Char Kway Teow despite hearing about it over and over from my friends. They ordered that, and since the serving was large enough for all six of us, we decided to share and moved on to order other Malay dishes.

What I got was a steaming bowl of Koay Teow Th’ng cooked by a grinning peddler, who was too happy to hold his first customer of the day.

The flat rice noodle dish was served in clear soup broth, topped with fish balls, slices of boiled pork intestine, chicken, golden brown garlic bits and chopped scallions. A condiment of red chili sauce accompanied it.

You will be disappointed if you expect the fish balls in your soup to be stiff and bouncy. In Penang, they are made fresh to be softer in texture and to feed the travelers the soothing comfort they need after a long journey.

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POPIAH is another Malaysian street food favorite that’s like spring roll or lumpia. It’s made of grated turnip, jicama, French beans, bean sprouts, and bean curd in a sweet bean sauce wrapped in a paper-thin crepe made from wheat flour.

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WHO DOESN’T LOVE CHICKEN WINGS? Roasted chicken wings in honeyed marinade.

There’s always a spot in my heart (especially my tummy) for fragrant-smelling roasted wings coated in honeyed marinade to give it a glazed sweet touch. The burst of flavors in your mouth — smoky, tangy, sugared — leads you to nothing but absolute delight.

A plate of Char Kway Teow would cost around MYR 6.50 or USD 1.54886 or PHP 78.8809, which is really cheap as they’re served in large portions. Koay Teow Th’ng made me pay MYR 5.00 or USD 1.19143, which is around PHP 60.00 in Philippine money.

STREET ART TRAIL

Zacharevic’s walking trail starts at Penang Road with the The Awaiting Trishaw Paddler that we didn’t see because we got down our walk on a different trail. In fact, we didn’t follow any footpath, we merely walked around looking for any artwork because George Town is really full of them.

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LITTLE CHILDREN ON A BICYCLE by Ernest Zacharevic in Armenian Street, George Town. It’s a mural on the wall of a shop house of two children riding their bicycle joy clearly evident on their faces. It was easy to spot, actually. We saw it just in front of a small Cendol store in Armenian.

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LITTLE GIRL IN BLUE by Ernest Zacharevic Muntri Street, George Town, Penang. 

From Penang Road, there is a turn one has to make to Muntri Street, George Town, to see the giant wall painting of the Little Girl in Blue balancing herself on two windows. Standing in front of it closely made me think it was rather chilling. But then it was really the shadow of the hair cutting through her eyes.

I was recounted that in the original photo of the little girl, she was smiling so, it beats me why the artist would render her that way on the wall.

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THE BASKET GIRL AND I: Just near Lorong Baru, George Town, while parking our car before getting something to eat, we met this little girl on the window with her basket hanging down and her father looking up. 

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REACHING UP: This little boy with his right arm reaching up for something on the small window can be found at Cannon Street.

On Cannon Street, if you’re curious enough to look at the walls, you’ll see the mural of a little boy standing on a chair with his right arm reaching the low window. It’s hard to spot it at night so, be really eager to check out each and every wall in the street area.

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LANG HOOSE, on the corner of Beach Street and Lorong Toh Aka, George Town, is a little Penangite girl wearing a blue cheongsam.

LANG HOOSE may not be a well-known mural in George Town, but it’s one of my favorites because its full of energy, exhilaration, and sunshine. I don’t know, the healthy flush in her cheeks, no matter the stain in the artwork, gives her an atmosphere of innocence that is infectious.

Below are other interesting art pieces and murals I found in Penang, which made the walking trail a blast for me. Please check slideshow below.

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I SEE YOU.

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BUNS TRANSPORT: Transferring giant buns. Found this artwork on the wall of a building with bakery and jewelry shops.

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Standing outside the door of colonial past.

The cultural scene in Penang really evokes interest in a powerfully irresistible way, and I wish that one day soon, Puerto Princesa would also be as colorful and creative if not equally.

We have a lot of local creative people, and they can certainly make their murals build a sense of community respect and camaraderie.

TRAVEL HINTS AND TIPS

Before the tips, did you know that Jimmy Choo, who is noted for co-founding Jimmy Choo Ltd (where your expensive handmade pairs of shoes are from), was born in Penang, Malaysia, into a family of shoemakers?

I didn’t know this trivia until I went there. That Choo guy is based in London now, but he regularly visits Penang to see his family members.

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Waiting for my roti canai to cook in a street food place in Batu Ferringhi, Penang, Malaysia.

Here is a list of 10 useful tips if you’re considering Penang as your next travel destination:

  1. Your Penang trip will never be complete without trying the ubiquitous Assam Laksa.
  2. Read before exploring the heritage sites, and follow rules by not throwing your trash anywhere you fancy.
  3. It was a mistake to walk looking for Zacharevic’s murals. The best thing to do is hire bicycles or ride the trishaw.
  4. Ditch staying at Sri Sayang Resort Service Apartment because thought it’s cheaply-priced, it’s really bad accommodation.
  5. Don’t miss Penang’s flat round bread cooked on a griddle. It’s called roti (chapati is its other name), and it has a lot of delightful variations.
  6. Don’t forget the sunsets and sunrises.
  7. July is a rainy month in Penang so, bring umbrella to help you still explore.
  8. Valuables should never be on show because snatching is also common there like in other big cities.
  9. Your travel documents should always be with you because you never know when you’ll need it.
  10. No public display of affection, please, if you’re traveling as a couple — that would be heavily frowned upon.

Just because Penang is a popular tourist destination does not mean you’re free to wear your beach attire while touring. Beachwear is for the beach area, not the commercial districts.

Majority of the settlers of Penang are said to be Chinese, and they’re over 50% of the population. Two of the well-known Penangites are Choo and former Malaysia deputy prime minister and opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim.

Staying in the place for 2 nights/3 days weren’t enough for us to get to know any resident, but I could say that they’re helpful and friendly.

Don’t be offended if you hear some of them addressing you “auntie” and “uncle,” as that is one way of making you feel their hospitality.

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Selfie shot taken in front the George Town heritage site building office with Venice, one of my travel buddies.

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FROM LEFT: Venice, myself, ate Lolit, Ed, Eewoj, and ate Maria.

To date, I’ve already visited two heritage cities in Malaysia — Penang and Malacca (Melaka).

Cheers lah 🙂

 

Old Habit & Singapore (Part II)

THERE IS A PHOTOGRAPHER in Singapore, whose LE photography works are really outstanding. His name is Thomas Leong.

Check his Flickr account, and you too, will be amazed by how much passion, how much love he gave to his creative photos. https://www.flickr.com/photos/soulfly7/

It’s actually embarrassing to bring his link here, knowing that you can all note the dissimilarities between our LE works. Nonetheless, it’s saying to get better in what we want to do, we have to feed our curiosity; we have to look for someone who can influence us, inspire us to do something about our own creativity.

That’s Mr. Leong to me. Who knows, I might meet him next time?

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LIGHT SHOW from the Sky Park at the Marina Bay Sands.

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In one photo. The SINGAPORE FLYER, the Lotus-shaped ARTSCIENCE MUSEUM, and the MARINA BAY SANDS from across the bay.

There are a few basic tips that I take with me every time I journey into the photography genre.

  • A sturdy tripod is very, very important, especially if you’re on a really slow shutter speed and it is windy around you. Make sure it is standing on an even and solid ground. A tiny shake of the apparatus can make a whole lot of difference in your desired result.
  • Wide angle lens with the smallest aperture need.
  • You may also opt to use a cable release or remote
  • Use INFINITY focus.
  • Bulb or Manual on the mode dial.
  • 5-30 seconds shutter speed.

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Composition is the most important thing in any genre of photography. Don’t just shoot your camera, look for a new concept of the same view in front of you. You’ve got to do it. Otherwise, what sets your photo apart from the others, who have stood in front of that view with their cameras?

At the end of the day, what will always matter is if you’re able to provide your viewer with a different perspective. Did your photo give them a new POV? Did it invite interest or curiosity?

That’s what matters.

The deadliest deadline I gave myself to learn long-exposure photography was three years ago. I’m starting all over again, I hate long breaks. But when this is all done, what I will do is to look back and think once in a while about how long it took me to really learn.

That way, I’d have a habit loop.

 

Pho 88 Vietnamese Restaurant

DID YOU KNOW that in Vietnam, you can’t eat your food and then leave your chopsticks lying vertically over your bowl (or plate) of rice or noodles when you’re done?

Did you know, too, that doing the same in China would contract-in-displeasure the eyebrows of the residents as it is how they position their incense sticks whenever present in ceremonies honoring the dead, or burying them?

Or something like that. I’m not too sure.

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A small bowl of PHO BO at Pho 88. It’s a Vietnamese rice noodle soup with fragrant herb leaves served separately with calamansi, and beef meat. 

Did you know further that if you don’t want to get in trouble with any of your Vietnamese friends (perhaps I should try one day just to make sure), then you must call to mind not to tap your chopsticks on your bowl for it will bring misfortune, and it means you’re convoking the dead?

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I HAVE TO GET ME ONE OF THESE. Tuong Ot Sriracha, or rooster sauce in Vietnam, actually originated from Thailand.  It’s made of “chili, sugar, salt, garlic, distilled vinegar,potassium sorbate, sodium bisulfite and xanthan gum.

It is really our own eating beliefs and traditions that matter. But of course, it wouldn’t hurt to observe and do as they do, right? When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Vietnam, do as the Vietnamese people do.

The reason I had to remember what I learned about the eating culture of the people of Vietnam was because I was with some friends in this new restaurant called Pho 88 along J. Rizal Avenue the other day.

Sometimes I have that habit of tapping my chopsticks lightly on the bowl when I’m talking about something passionately. But not always.

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Ha Chi Lhan, the pretty owner of Pho 88. The place does not seek attention where it is located so, one has to be really on the alert.

Pho 88 is Pho 88, according to owner Ha Chi Lhan, because 1988 was the year she started to work in a bank in the coastal city of Nha Trang in Khánh Hòa, on the South Central Coast of Vietnam.

It was her Filipino husband, who brought her to open Pho 88 after residing for a while in Silang, Cavite. The husband was not there to meet with us, but whoever he is, it’s good decision to bring Ha Chi Lhan to move to this city.

Another restaurant that serves real Vietnamese food is good news to me although in Puerto Princesa, there are about two I really love to visit once in a while. One is located in Barangay Sta. Lourdes, the other is in Barangay San Jose — quite far from where I live.

I wanted to order Pho Ga (Chicken Noodle Soup) since its photo on the resto’s simple menu looked steamy and pretty with the chicken meat all lined up on one side, herbs on top of them, and a slice of chili.

But it wasn’t available; the kitchen staff apparently forgot to buy chicken from the market that day.

I don’t know. Tsk!

An old Vietnamese friend, who came to Palawan a few years ago as one of the boat people, told me that you can gauge the goodness of a Pho by the intensity of the flavor that’s rustled up in the stock while maintaining its clarity.

I wanted to prove. Unfortunately…

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This popular Vietnamese dish is not heavy in the belly so, go for it when you’re in Puerto Princesa.

Every time I go to a new Vietnamese place, I like comparing how each cook their Pho. This is the reason why I wanted the Pho Ga. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed the Bun Thit Nuong cold noodles upon learning from Ha Chi Lhan that the noodles they used were imported.

Except for the meat and some spices that can easily be bought from the public market, all their ingredients are imported from Vietnam.

The food junkie in me couldn’t help but also order Banh Mi Thit Heo, bread with pork and veggies inside. Bahn Mi is all kinds of bread to the Vietnamese; bahn is bread and mi is wheat. Popular to them is the baguette or French bread.

So, if you’re in an authentic Vietnamese dining place, and you ask to be given Bahn Mi, and the food attendant asks you next what kind you would like to have, then you’ll know they can give it to you with different fillings. Pulled pork, fried or grilled chicken, barbecued pork, beef, and yes, even crazy tuna spread.

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VIETNAMESE ICE COFFEE: On Pho 88’s menu, they come in two blends — Cafe Sua and Cafe Sai Gon.

After our good and light meal, we couldn’t leave as there were still good stories to tell and laugh about. So, one of us decided to try Pho 88’s two ice coffee blends — Cafe Sua that uses the traditional French coffee drip, and Cafe Sai Gon.

Both blends use coarsely ground dark roast coffee, and they’re so good!

So, what sets apart Vietnamese cuisine from the rest of the others in Asia? For me, I think its really the amalgamation of spices, colors, love and passion of cooking, fresh ingredients, and the minimal employment of oil.

Isn’t it that Vietnamese food is considered one of the healthiest in the planet?

We went to Pho 88 at past 12 noon, and left around 3 p.m. because Wednesday is WOW date for all of us. WOW meaning Women of Wednesday.

I’m going back there for my Sriracha sauce.

Pho 88 is okay with reservation. Call them at 09271521706 and 09279378729.