November 27, 2008

Christmas à la française

When it comes to food I am undeniably multicultural. Back home, we were probably the only family in our neighborhood with a rice cooker, we had soy sauce as a staple condiment on our dinner table, we loved cold cuts and potato salad and yet no meal was complete without bread. But when it comes to Christmas, our dinner feast has always been unmistakably “Français”. I talked to my dad over the phone yesterday and he happily announced how he already bought champagne bottles to kick of the evening and goose foie gras (torchon style, not pan-fried or seared like found here!) that we'll simply eat with toast and a glass of Muscat or Sauterne. My mom will cook a delicious meal, maybe a turkey with chestnuts or a roast beef with red wine sauce and baby potatoes. On my side, I have already found a recipe for a hopefully scrumptious “bûche de Noel”, literally a Yule log. It’s a layered Génoise spongecake in shape of a wood log with plenty of creamy chocolate ganache and frosting. 

On Christmas Eve, it’s usually just the four of us; my parents, my sister and me. We would traditionally go to hear mass early, then feast on all things decadent over dinner and finally move on to opening up our gifts while dancing, laughing and taking the obligatory pictures of each other. In the past 3 years, we didn’t manage to spend the holiday season together. So this year is like a reunion. I planned the dessert, but also thought of ordering authentic French walnut bread from James the Baker (and croissants for the next morning perhaps…), French wine from le Sommelier and made a song compilation of French classics. 

Away from home, I feel the need to expose my cultural roots more. By not doing so, I’d be concerned to forget about them, to lose them. For example, I have never listened to as much French music, as since I have moved to Manila. And I now understand that this is also the reason why I had such apprehensions leaving AF. Working within French culture brought me closer to my roots, roots that I am scared of losing. But I also know I need to move on. And luckily, one doesn’t exclude the other. I just need to find a balance between past and future while happily living in the present. And meanwhile, I look forward to our family Christmas dinner, without rice and soy sauce this time.

November 26, 2008

Persian in Manila

Now Behrouz isn’t the prettiest restaurant I have been to. It isn’t the cleanest either. I wouldn’t even go on and say it has the best food. And yet, it is on my must-go restos in Manila. There are simply those days when you crave certain things. For D and me it’s Persian. I’m not sure if my occasional craving for Behrouz is due to some sort of emotional link. After all, we ate in Behrouz quite often during the time we first met and went out partying until the wee hours of the morning. Back then, I assumed that Behrouz was simply so good coz it tasted best when you were still feeling a bit woozy from the loud music and the delicious cocktails and it had the undeniable advantage of being one of the few places you could grab something to eat at 4AM. 

But nowadays, maybe every other month or so, we still crave for it, totally sober and at a reasonable dinner hour. So I’m not quite sure what it is, but it’s good. We don’t need to take a look at the menu’ our order is always the same. Beef Kobideh, which has two beef kebabs, buttered rice and grilled tomatoes. Add chopped grilled onion, top everything with a garlic sauce that will kill any romantic smooching session and you’re good to go! I still find it to be too pricey considering the eatery type interior and the screeching bird in the kitchen, but everyone has those hole-in-the-wall places they love to go to, despite the bad reviews and the critical looks of others. Behrouz to me is comfort food. Behrouz is good memories.

November 25, 2008

Christmas the German way

Aside from the apparent religious significance of Christmas, maybe Filipinos go overboard with it to compensate the lack of “natural” Christmas feel. In Germany, we’d know when to get into the merry mood, simply by stepping out of the door, feeling the chilly wind and smelling the snow. These past couple of days I've been down with the flu today, but outside it's 32º degrees and I don’t know how many percentage of humidity; I find it hard to actually keep in mind what season I am in if it wasn’t for all the visual hints! But then again, that’s probably just the European girl in me. 

Suddenly “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas” has a whole new meaning for me. A song that was just one of the many carols heard on the radio, suddenly makes perfect sense. I miss snow. I barely know how to ski, I’m horribly cold all the time (even in the most tropical countries), and I consider winter wear extremely unsexy. But I miss snow. Back in Germany, a hot cocoa in your hand, sitting on the window board on top of the heater, looking out of the window, Christmas has a whole difference feel than here in Manila. The thick snowflakes floating around until they softly hit the ground, the whole town thrown under a white coat and the Christmas lights shining bright against it… It’s a very peaceful and calm scene. 

In Manila, life doesn’t slow down around Christmas; on the contrary I tend to think it speeds up. More colors, more lights, more sounds. While I can’t have snow, I at least started setting up the décor in my place the way we used back home. A German tradition that we have adopted is the “Adventskranz”: it is basically a decorated wreath with 4 candles, one for each Sunday a month before Christmas. I went to SM earlier and after quite some running around, I found enough materials to craft my own "Adventskranz". That way every Sunday, around the usual coffee and Christmas cookies afternoon snack, I'll light a candle reminding me how many weeks are left before the big celebration. 

Another tradition of anticipation is the “Adventskalender”; for those impatient children who think every Sunday is too long a wait. The calendar has 24 doors, behind each of which is hidden a surprise, usually a chocolate. Although it is considered to be for children, my sister and I still go on with this tradition and I hope I can continue it with my children one day. So despite the lack of meteorological conditions, I try my best to maintain rituals like those, to remember where I come from and the good memories I link to my multicultural upbringing!

November 15, 2008

Do they know it's Christmas?

Growing up in three different cultures also meant growing up with three different sets of traditions. I have been often asked which culture our family follows. There is no simple answer to it. Being influenced by both my parents as well as the environment I grew up in, I have been shaped in this melting pot of languages, traditions and values. It’s confusing at times and one of the many reasons why I struggle with my multicultural identity. 

On the other hand I admit that is quite enriching. Aside from naturally speaking three languages as if they were native tongue, my life is filled with not only one culture and all it entails but three. I probably celebrate more holidays and rituals than a uniracial person. I use this to my advantage and choose the best of each of my cultural identities. Our household is far from common. The anticipation for Christmas is mostly celebrated in German style. Anything food related is strongly influenced by my father’s French heritage while the spiritual side and the strong family ties associated with Christmas are without a doubt a product of Filipino values.

In Manila, Christmas starts in September. I live in the country with the longest holiday season (all months ending in “ber”)! The insanity in the logic of the so-called “ber” months is a phenomenon I have yet to accustom myself with. A few weeks back, I passed by Rockwell where the lights have been mounted, then I strolled around High Street while workers were installing Santa Claus and his reindeers. I catch myself being contaminated with the happiness that comes from bright decors, melodious (though repetitive) carols and the occasional delight of chocolate crinkles and food for the gods. 

Christmas has taken over the country; 2 months ago to be exact. On roadsides vendors sell handmade parols (lanterns), houses compete for whoever can display the most lights. In malls, trees (fake of course!) are being set up and embellished with colorful poinsettias, Jingle Bells is blurting out of the speakers and people frantically start with the strenuous gift shopping. I know of people who are almost done with it! 

But aside from the commercial importance it’s mostly all about family, friends and traditions. Companies throw parties for their employees and families bond over their faith during sibang gabi, a nine-day pre-dawn mass service before Christmas Eve. My parents and sister are coming over this year. This will be our first Christmas together in 4 years! Although I found a surrogate family in D and his relatives, I feel that this particular holiday season is going to be complete again; just the way it should be. 

We will eat a scrumptious meal on Christmas Eve, attend mass, open our gifts and take silly pictures. We will join the annual family clan xmas party together the next day and eat plenty more, while complaining about how tiring these extended family events are. On New Year’s Eve we’ll eat some more, promising ourselves that diet as soon as 2009 comes along and we’ll jump at the stroke of midnight with money in our pockets and wearing clothes with dots, wishing for good fortune. The festive feel is stronger here than anywhere else I know. And that’s just the Filipino part of it all! That being said, I'm setting up my plastic Christmas tree next week.

November 13, 2008

Zuni, Greenbelt 5

I haven’t been to Greenbelt 5 since their new wing opened. So when a family friend asked me to have lunch with her, I immediately suggested Greenbelt. I went there early, so I could stroll around and have a sneak peek of the new stores. I was looking for some stylish corporate wear but wasn’t lucky that day. When T finally arrived we headed to the outdoor strip where Felix, Zuni and Myron’s are located. Since T had already tried Felix and I had eaten in Myron’s this summer, we looked for Zuni. The waitress outside claimed the menu was Mediterranean/European. It sounded good, so we went in and sat down. 

The setting is obviously upscale; the interior is elegant and chic with art displayed on the walls. Very much like the sister restaurant Duo in Serendra. We were served bread and butter as to be expected in a high-end resto these days. I just wished they had more “European” bread, crunchier that is. Despite the nice selection of dishes we decided quite quickly on the Baked Norwegian Salmon in fillo pastry for myself and the Roasted Lapu-Lapu in Pommery-mustard sauce, angel hair pasta and asparagus for T.

The crunchy puff pastry was filled with succulent pink salmon, mushrooms and prawns and came with a delectable sauce and risotto, which was more rice than creamy risotto but mouth-watering nonetheless. The dish was refined and comforting at the same time. It reminded me a lot of the baked salmon my mom used to cook, but in a more upscale version! T finished her dish in a jiffy, so I assume it must have been just as delicious as mine. 

Having sacrificed the starters for desserts, we then ordered the Dark Couverture Souffle and the Zuni Obsession, as recommended by our waitress. As much as I devour my main dish, I like to take my time with desserts and savour every indulgent bite. The soufflé was scrumptious, as is nearly everything with chocolate and the Zuni Obsession was a moist chocolate cake served with vanilla ice-cream and fruit bits. It was good and we finished it. But, it wasn’t as memorable as Ithought it would be. I wish the ice-cream was made out of real vanilla beans. 

Verdict: the service was impeccable, the entrees were extremely satisfying, the portions were large, the desserts were good and the prices, although quite expensive, were justified given the setting and the quality (900P each). This is definitely a place I would drag D to next time…

Zuni Restaurant and Wine Bar
G/F Greenbelt 5, Makati City
Tel: 7570361

November 12, 2008

Best duck in town

I have learned how to eat with chopsticks in Manila. Of course, Asian cuisine is a big hit in Europe, and you’ll find the hippest yuppies gathered around a conveying belt with plates of sashimi and the likes. But I don’t like sushi. I like cooked food, preferably roasted, fried, steamed or in oil. Hence my Asian cuisine of choice: Chinese. I have never eaten Chinese food as good as here in Manila. And when I think Chinese, there’s immediately a picture of a glazed, crispy duck that pops into my mind. 

Earlier this year, in the middle of my mad Peking duck addiction, D had to feed me duck at least once a week. Since I was at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza on business a few times a week, I got the perks of eating lunch at Spirals. The duck carving station chef knew my preference for the thin duck skin rolls by the time the month was over. My cholesterol level must have thanked me when my insanity phase was over. But needless to say I still love duck! Upon our return from Europe, where we only had duck in the shape of foie gras, we went to Hai Shin Lou with D’s boys. The place looks a bit fancier than our usual Chinese spots; I don’t necessarily would want to spend for Chinese food (except if you go to Shang Palace I suppose), so I was a bit hesitant at first. The prices, though, looked relatively reasonable so we went ahead and ordered galore. We left bloated but happy. 

Last week, friends invited me to a Peking duck pig-out. Destination: Hai Shin Lou. D was sick and couldn’t go but I gladly obliged. You don’t say no to duck unless you have a very valid reason. I insisted on ordering the hakaw (steamed shrimp dumplings) as I remembered them to be very yummy. Aside from the whole duck we all came here for, I didn’t care much about the other orders. But I was pleasantly surprised by the beef in tausi sauce. Very tasty indeed. I’m not the biggest fan of salted fish rice, but who am I to say no to carbs? 

The star of the evening however was the perfectly roasted duck with its thin crispy skin and juicy meat. We got more plates full of duck pancakes than I had expected. And I was secretly thrilled I could eat more of those melt-in-your-mouth thin little wraps of crispy skin with scallions and hoisin sauce! My ultimate favorite. The second way was deep fried with pepper and garlic. It was succulent, although difficult to eat because of the plenty little bones. I preferred the diced and rolled in lettuce way we had last time. I vaguely remember that there were gambas and some dish with tofu as well. We spent 700P per head I think. I was dizzy from duck overload.  But I was utterly satisfied.

Hai Shin Lou
810 Arnaiz Ave., Makati City
Tel: 8925148

November 11, 2008

Sticky remedy

The flavors of my childhood are my ultimate remedy against the blues… When all good talks fail and homesickness kicks in, there’s nothing as comforting as satisfying those sweet tooth cravings that have been nurtured for years and years. In Manila and the age of globalization, I can easily find a taste of “home” at my nearest supermarket. Nutella baguettes and madeleines won't break the bank. But there are still few items that are hard to come across and if it wasn’t for my recent trip to Europe, I would probably forget or give up on them eventually. Just another part of me I had to leave behind when i moved away... 

After a week of emotional rollercoaster because of the career change, I wasn’t too psyched about the two boxes my mom had sent over from Munich as they simply meant i had to unpack them. I was expecting mainly practical stuff for the condo; artworks, kitchen utensils, cleaning products. Nothing that could have even slightly increased my heart beat. But then, hidden in an antic pot my parents had gotten on one of their many trips, I found them. The treasures of my youth… Haribo candies! My recent stash was almost empty; this was providence! But those are not just any kind of gummibears. They are original Haribo because “kids and grown-ups love it so, the happy world of Haribo”. They come in all different shapes, colors and flavors and are simply delicious! These candies are an integral part of German pop-culture and remind me, how as a kid, I would harass my parents to buy some at the grocery store. I would save up my weekly allowance and treat myself to the newest flavors at the kiosk near my school. Fond memories… 

Armed with a new supply that should last me a couple of months, I start the week blues-less and with fresh optimism… Knowing that no matter how far I am, my family will always be somehow close to me, that no matter how much life has changed in the past years I will not forget where I came from, that no matter who I am today, I will still be who I was yesterday. Who would have thought that such deep, philosophical insights lied in tiny, sticky bears? 

November 7, 2008

Moving on

I did it. I know it’s seems like no big deal, but it is to me. So there, I officially accepted the position of assistant manager of the global markets division at VMV Hypoallergenics. It’s a done deal and, after much apprehension, I handed in my resignation at Alliance Française yesterday. One night, at a birthday party, I talked to a friend of a friend who turned out to be working for VMV. I raved about how much I adored the brand and how I even blogged about it

I talked on and on about how after having tried and tested their boo-boo balm to treat my skin asthma, I became an instant fan of it as well as of every other product I got to try, namely the Armada Sun Screen and the Superskin Moisturizer. We were just chitchatting when I jokingly asked if they had any job openings, since a VMV enthusiast like me was the ideal candidate. And destiny has it, that they indeed did. Yikes! I sent him my resume and was asked to drop by the head office a week later. 

The panel interview with the executives went beyond great. And aside from my obvious fondness for their products, I immediately fell in love with the company culture, the philosophy and the very, for a lack of a better word, New York feel (you know stylish, fresh, ambitious). Yet, it took me some persuasive talents to convince me that this was the only reasonable path to walk. For some reason, my mind was reluctant to change, scared I suppose. 

Change happens inevitably, like the ticking of the seconds on my watch. But when it happened so fast, it took me by surprise and threw me out of balance. Except, I need to evolve. So on January - after the initial anxiety attack, the doubts and guilt of leaving my old company behind – I’ll be embracing a new, hopefully more promising, future! To a new chapter in my Manila life, to letting go of the security blanket that is my old workplace, moving on and venturing into new challenges. Cheers to me!

November 6, 2008


One of the many perks of living in the Philippines is the spa. Nail spa, holistic spa experience, home spa; you name it, they got it. Dreaming of a luscious honey scrub or a detoxifying mud wrap? Feeling tired after a long day of work and in need of a relaxing foot spa? What is ridiculously overpriced in Europe is affordable over here. My friend A, who’s living in the cold North of France at the moment, is whining about desperately missing a decent manicure. Once you’ve lived in Manila, you get used to a certain comfort and luxury. My favorite spots to indulge in some pampering are:

Nail tropics: Just a few steps away from my place in Serendra, this is the place to unwind while getting your hands and feet taken care of by lovely ladies. The cozy atmosphere, with the fuchsia cushioned lounge chairs is an invitation to relax and take a nap. The menu of services is affordable (though you can find cheaper). I usually get the floral foot spa and a regular manicure (around 500P). A quick wellness treat without breaking the bank...

Neo Spa: An oasis of wellness… The sleek and minimalist interior infuses you with a feeling of tranquility the moment you set foot inside. I get my regular massage at home, but I feel in better hands in Neo Spa when it comes to more holistic treatments. I love their volcanic stone massage (1500P) as well as their Hawaiian Lomi Lomi (1350P) in which they claim they reunite my body, mind and spirit. It sounds all a bit too spiritualist, but when my thoughts race away and I can’t seem to clear my head, my four walls are too distracting. In Neo Spa, I forget the outside world for a couple of hours. I come out rejuvenated and with a clear mind. Definitely worth an indulgence once in a while…

Spaholics: For these days when I’m simply too lazy to step out of the house… Spaholics’ masahistas come with a whole arsenal of relaxing stuff ranging from aromatherapy essential oils to soothing music. Best of all, they come with the massage bed and fresh linens! Unlike with your regular massage service, you won’t have to worry about messing up your sheets with oil. The therapists are very professional and I regularly fall asleep under their trained hands. Service ranges from the signature massage (500P) to Hot Stone Massage (650P) and even a Salt Glow Body Scrub (700P). I might try latter right before I hit Boracay this December. The menu also offers the traditional Bentosa treatment (ancient cupping method), which is next on my to-do list. Of course you won’t have the steam bath, Jacuzzi and plush bathrobes at home, but isn’t it the ultimate relaxation experience if you can just go back to dozing off once your therapist leaves your place? Your own private home as a sanctuary…

November 4, 2008

Un jour à Paris

Ah! So this is what Paris tastes like… There are three things to keep in mind when looking for a great, authentic and affordable meal in Paris. 1) Stay away from anything written in guidebooks. 2) Stay away from any restaurants within 500m of a sightseeing site. 3) Ask a local. In our case, we had to ask my sister. We didn’t quite keep true to the rules, since she doesn’t quite qualify as a local but a 6-months stay shall do the job. 

So after a long and tiring day of sightseeing and plenty of walking, we had just enough strength left to walk to the bistro aptly named Un Jour à Paris (A Day in Paris) just one street away from our temporary residence. The restaurant is a modern style bistro, kept in red and dark wood. Kevin, who already knew my sister immediately gave us the menu and informed us about the menu du jour. The few other customers were greeted by their first names too, obviously habitués (regulars). The place instantly gave me a feel of comfort and coziness, although I was still shivering from cold (despite the two sweaters I was wearing) and sleepiness. Of course, I didn’t hesitate a second when I saw the divine sounding words Foie… Gras…. and to counterbalance the high dosage of fat we were about to consume, I ordered a mixed salad with goat cheese. For main course we chose the Entrecote, the Steak Tartare, and the Lamb, all so typically Français! 

The food was plentiful, tasty and utterly satisfying after a long day of marching through the entire city. We were so full that we didn’t even manage dessert anymore. This should mean something as I can’t recall the last time this happened. But we were in for another few days in the city of macaroon, éclairs and other sweet delights, so it didn’t matter too much. This is a place that we’ll come back for even once my sister will have moved out of her apartment, simply because it’s great food, served by friendly French waiters (quite a rarity in Paris), in a pleasant setting, all while leaving your wallet relatively painless (we spent 50€ for the three of us).

48, Rue de l’Echiquier
Tel : +33 144 830021
Metro : Bonne-Nouvelle 

October 31, 2008

Casa Goñi

I joined a bazaar for the first time this week. Back in Germany I used to join children flea markets selling my old books and toys to earn a money and buy new ones. Here in Manila, particularly around the Christmas season, which by the way starts as early as September, people join bazaars selling overruns from abroad or products they’ve created themselves. It’s a great venue for small entrepreneurs, well at least that’s what I’ve heard. The bazaar I joined wasn’t well organized and poorly advertised, hence our booth had very few customers and we didn’t make much sales. But that’s another story and if I’d go on with it it’ll turn out to be a rant post. So I’ll switch to a more pleasant topic; one of my favorites actually: Food! 

While desperately waiting for people we could lure into our booth, I discovered the food stalls outside the bazaar. One of the stalls advertised authentic Spanish cuisine, and because I am always in the lookout for European food, I was an easy customer. I ordered Tres Chorizos Paella and finished the dish for lunch. Before dinner, I bought another 2 servings (180P each) and reheated them at home with D. Not quite helping with my plan to get in shape for our beach trip this December but so decadently yummy. Aside from the chorizo bits, the paella had bacon bits in it to give it more flavor. They had delicious looking Paella Negra and Chicken Estofado as well. I ended up spending more on food than i had earned that day...

The owners of Casa Goñi are Spanish (but joked how they don’t even speak it) and sell traditional Spanish cuisine every Sunday at the Legaspi Market. I’ve been to the Saturday market in Salcedo but now I got a reason to visit Legaspi Village soon. 

Casa Goñi
Brgy. San Lorenzo Sunday Market
9AM-2PM Legaspi Carpark
Call Macille or Loubel at 517-8776

October 29, 2008


My sister recently blogged (yes, we are a family of geeks) about how envious she was about my life and the choices I made. In her eyes, I have always fought for what I wanted, despite the hardships, the challenges and the stones that have been thrown on my way. She envies me for the love I found, the home that I’m trying to create in Manila.


(…) My older sister. Seven years older than me, almost eight. When I was still little I was so impressed by her. My parents trusted her completely and for good reasons. I thought she had the perfect relationship, the perfect boyfriend, the perfect friends and the perfect grades. All in all, the perfect life. But as all of us, she experienced setbacks. But funny enough, that just made me look up to her even more. Because she never gave up, always followed through with what she thought was right. She never listened to anyone but herself, not even to my parents. And they can be quite convincing and sometimes they can seem mean, even though I know they love us from the bottom of there heart and want to protect us.

I have always been jealous of her, she had all I ever wanted. And to be honest, she still does. I am the rebel of the family, or at least I used to be. I wanted to go out and party when I wasn't supposed to and I never managed to make a man stick to me for long enough... but my sister found her true love, her soulmate. When you see them together, you just know, this is how it is supposed to be. And I envy her so much, you can't imagine... on my way of finding something at least half as beautiful as what she has, I have gone over a few boyfriends, some of which I am not very proud of.

But I am not the romantic one of the family. It even seems like I am not the one that has family, house with garden and fence, written in her future. I am the career-oriented one. I travel around the world because that's what you do when you are in the hospitality business. I have crazy working hours, and I even do some overtime to impress the boss. I study like crazy, top of my class, because this job is what I want to do. I want to be a business woman. I want to be the general manager of the big hotels of this world. So I look up to my sister, and I envy her, because she has, what I gave up when I started my insanely-expensive hospitality management studies... a steady partner to love. A home. (…)


Ironically enough, I envy her for just the opposite. I gave up the ambitious career dreams I had for something as capricious as love. Don’t get me wrong, I have to regrets regarding my choices, even the wrong ones, as they made me who I am today and because ultimately it made me happy. Life is the sum of all your choices. We are shaped by the decisions we make.

But I look back sometimes and wonder how my life would have been. I see my little sister today, working in a glamorous hotel, meeting all those people I only hear about on TV and I’m jealous. She has all those doors opened in front of her. She can become who ever she wants to be. Life has so much in store for her. Not that mine hasn’t, but I set different priorities… and i got lucky that love didn't disappoint me.

But despite our differences and the distance between us, she and I are alike. We are driven do what we have to do to find happiness.Her post comes at a time in which I’m actually on the verge of change; trying to find my way back to my initial dreams of becoming a successful business woman. So all isn’t black or white. She’ll find her soulmate one day. And I'll stop wondering what if... Most importantly, no matter what, I’ll always be proud of her. She’s my little sister. 

October 27, 2008


Change is inevitable. Or so they say. With all the changes in my life and the still ongoing adjustments of having moved to the other side of the globe, I am not sure I am ready for more changes. I’ve been running ever since I graduated high school. Mostly running away. I ran from law school, I ran from bad boyfriends, I ran from commitment. I left continents to avoid dealing with problems. 

But two years ago, I stopped. I took on the biggest challenge yet: I left against all common sense, against advise from close ones and despite all logic and moved to Manila for someone I knew for barely a few months. What seemed crazy to everyone else back then, made perfect sense to me. Deep inside, for the first time ever, I knew that this was completely right. I wasn’t running away, I had found what I was long searching for. Today, looking back, I realize how much I risked. Leaving friends, family and career behind, for an unsure future both emotionally and financially. Yet, I do not have any regrets, because the return on investment is priceless. I have found what us girls call The One and I am here building our future together. 

With all the craziness of getting used to Manila and feeling lost, I was grateful to find a job that creates a bridge between my French heritage and my new life in the Philippines. Was it the job I envisioned myself in? No. But it felt right then, uncomplicated and somehow familiar. I’ve been in it since the moment I decided that Manila was to become my new home. I have learned a lot, built a professional network and overall made very good friends. 

But change is inevitable. And my rational side knows it. It is time to move on. I have been using this job as a security blanket. I have built my life around D, his friends, his family… But at work, it’s my own little world. It’s the result of my own life I have managed to build here and it feels good. Except that I am stuck and frustrated. Professionally speaking. To make things worse (or better I suppose) providence found me a job opening this week that fits me like a glove. I went to the interview and it went great. And today I got an offer. 

So what do I do now? Do I move on, embrace yet another challenge, another new environment to get use to? Or do I keep myself from growing for the sake of security and convenience? My brain knows what to do. But why is a part of me (somewhere around the stomach area it seems) anxious, unsure and confused? Change is good. Change is necessary. Change is inevitable. Om!

Paris, A taste of India

I didn’t find much about the 10eme arrondissement in my guidebooks. My sister rented a small (and this is an understatement) apartment in the Rue d’Enghien, just by the Metro Bonne-Nouvelle and two stops away from every shopaholics dream: the Galeries Lafayette. So when we went off wandering the streets in the neighborhood, we couldn’t have been more delighted. A stroll away from our temporary home, we found ourselves in a hodgepodge of tailor stores, spice markets, barber shops and restaurants. All having one thing in common: India. 

We were in Passage Brady, a narrow passageway squeezed in between two buildings in a somewhat dodgy area, so narrow than one could easily miss it if it wasn’t for the bustling life, colors and the bizarre mixture of smells of nan bread and incense. Neon signs and persuasive waiters lure you into one of the many little restaurants, all with an extensive menu full of tandooris, curries, vindaloos and the likes. I actually forgot the place with ended up in. The food was good though not memorable and I would choose Swagat (Munich) and Queens (Manila) anytime over this place. But… I suppose there must be a really good place in the passageway and we just weren’t that lucky. Also, if you’re craving for Indian flavors, this Little India is definitely a place worth checking out.

October 21, 2008

Where is home?

Just in time for another of my homesickness waves, two of my favorite bloggers posted entries today on life overseas and how the notion of home becomes a difficult question to answer. Aran from Cannelle et Vanille is back in the U.S. after a trip in her hometown in the Basque country and explains how she feels torn between her roots and her new “home”. Listing several things he misses about the U.S., Paris-resident David Lebovitz wraps it up by saying that despite it all “home” is where you make your morning coffee. 

I have been living and working in Manila for 2 years now and yet, I must admit I have had troubles adjusting. Life in this colorful city is quite different from my Western experience. The stereotypes apply in most cases: traffic is horrendous, tardiness is expected (yes, the famous Filipino time) and environmental awareness is something that has yet to be developed. European breads, cheeses, hams and others are difficult to come by and mostly overpriced. My contractors in my new apartment are causing me constant headaches and I have yet to get used to my gas oven. I get bitten by evil mosquitoes and have a runny nose because of my air-conditioned office.

But just like everything in life, Manila has its good sides too. I can buy mangoes and pineapples without burning a hole in my wallet. At the restaurant, waiters attend to you without making you feel you’re bothering them. I can enjoy lying by the pool or wear open-toe shoes all year long. So instead, of ranting and complaining about flaws and comparing it to other places, I have decided come to peace with Manila and focus on the good things.

October 20, 2008

The hype of frozen yogurt

I never counted yogurt amongst my favorite desserts. Until recently! When the whole frozen yogurt craze began in Manila, I thought I’ll give it a try. Even though my friend K would always order yogurt ice cream whenever weather in Munich was warm enough to allow it, I never was curious enough to try it and stuck with berry or chocolate flavors. But unfortunately for the ice-cream lover in me, I found it hard to come by a good gelateria around here, so here I was looking for an alternative. 

My first encounter with the new hype was in Mall of Asia. I’ve gotten several press releases and coupons for try-out from the White Hat through my work. I decided to find out what it was all about. I ordered a cup of frozen yogurt with dark chocolate bits and fresh strawberries. The moment the spoon hit my lips I was won over. The sweet, smooth, slightly tangy ice cream, together with the fruitiness of the strawberries and the crunchiness of the chocolate… Aaaahh… it all came together so well! Too bad MOA is so far away. 

During our recent trip in Paris, we strolled through the Marais district and came face to face with My Berry. I had read about Pinkberry in the U.S.A, the source of the frozen yogurt craze and now owned by Starbucks, and this French version looked like it got quite some inspiration from its American brother. The name, the logo, the store design… But I didn’t care; all I wanted was frozen yogurt, despite the chilly wind that day. I had my strawberry-choco mix again, but was slightly disappointed when I got to taste it. My Berry wasn’t too generous on the strawberries and the yogurt wasn’t as smooth as the one in White Hat. But I was happy nonetheless, despite the horrendous typical Paris price.
Back in Manila, I had a meeting in Podium and decided that this was the perfect opportunity to try out Yogurbud afterwards. So far, this is the cheapest place I’ve ever tried. But I was surprised that once I dug into my cup there was more air than frozen yogurt. Plus their fruit toppings were frozen, which was quite annoying. I was back in MOA yesterday, and the White Hat confirmed that this is the place for me when it comes to frozen yogurt. Strawberries are out of season so I had to replace them with kiwi, which wasn’t so bad either. 

On my way to the car, my eye caught a pink and white sign, reminding me strongly of My Berry and Pinkberry. Filipino-owned I love Berries is opening up their first outlet in MOA! So far, I had only heard of it from bazaars and read about it on blogs, claiming it to be as close as Pinkberry as you can get. I can’t wait to try it out. Meanwhile, I’ll be on the search for an ice-cream machine so that I can give in to my guilty pleasure in the comfort of my own walls.

2/F Entertainment Mall
SM Mall of Asia

25, rue Vieille du Temple

3/F Podium Mall

October 17, 2008

Paris, L'As du Falafel

Traveling Europe on a budget is all about knowing to eat in the right places. Paris is known for its tourist traps restaurants (think Rue de la Huchette with its greasy Greek taverns) and overpriced menus. Now some people decide that McDonald’s is the alternative. But have you really traveled all the way to Paris to eat a quarter-pounder with cheese (which by the way is called Royal burger with cheese!)?? 

The golden rule is to avoid any place mentioned in any Paris travel guide. With one exception! L’As du Falafel. World-renowned, and apparently patronized by Lenny Kravitz, this is a place where you get your money’s worth. Rue des Rosiers is in the Marais and is known to be the Jewish district of Paris. There are several other falafel restaurants in the street, but l’As du Falafel indisputably has the longest line of people waiting for a taste of Middle East. 

The few hesitating tourists were quickly convinced by what seems to be the greatest salesman in town, instantly talking them into lining up for what he promised to be the best falafel in town. I felt a little sorry for the establishment across the narrow alley, their salesman enviously staring at the long queue. 

I have never tried falafel before, but I was eager to find out why D was raving about it so enthusiastically. Falafel is basically a fried ball made out of mashed chickpeas. It’s fried hummus. It’s served in pita bread stuffed with crispy cabbage, eggplants, creamy hummus, tahini and harissa sauce. The challenge lies in eating this vegetarian delight. There’s barely space to sit inside and the Rue des Rosiers doesn’t have any benches. 

So what do you do? You tilt your head to the side and take a gargantuan bite into the falafel, hoping that its filling won’t spill out and land on your shirt. Be sure to ask for plenty of napkins as you will definitely need them. We were lucky enough that someone left a utility cart outside his front door a few steps away from l’As du Falafel and we comfortably settle on it, enjoying our lunch. Verdict? 5€ for a decent, vegetarian (healthy?) and truly satisfying lunch, what more can you ask for?

L’As du Falafel
34, Rue des Rosiers
Tel : +33 1 4887 6360
Metro : St.-Paul

October 16, 2008


I feel blah. You know that yucky feeling that you can't properly describe? The way it makes you feel demoralized, passionless, ... well blah! Coming home after a trip abroad is like waking up from a dream. Back at NAIA airport, standing by the baggage claim, reality snapped back and my mood instantly shifted somewhere between melancholy and grief. I knew when I left that I’ll eventually had to come. This time I didn’t extend my stay the way I used to so many times before. I knew that after 24 days of carefree fun, away from responsibilities, tight schedules and predictable routines, I would have to face everyday life again.

Work is a dread these days. My frame of mind is fluctuating somewhere between apathy and aggression. I catch myself daydreaming about the places I’ve seen, the places I wanted to see but didn’t have the time to and the places I’m planning on seeing next. My diagnosis is clear. I have an acute homecoming depression. I suppose that my condition is worsen by the fact that I have a predisposition for itchy feet.  

Aargh! This is so frustrating. I wake up on the morning happy after a good night’s sleep. I’m passed the jetlag insomnia phase. But then I realize that I have to get ready for yet another day of ordinariness, slipping back into “normality”, worrying about traffic, difficult clients, moody superiors, overdue laundry and an empty fridge. So what do I do now? I figured, after some research on reverse culture shock, homecoming blues and the likes that the only solution was to drop the past regret, stop the future anticipation and focus on the present. 

Easier said than done. As usual. The past is easier to let go. But the future is stubborn. My head constantly updates the list on the places I want to travel. Egypt, Greek islands, safari in Africa, Angkor Wat, China, Palawan, Bali… the list goes on and on. I finally get what the present is for. Those never-ending days at the office, the rat race… for one, the time spent “home” is what pays for the trips. I have yet to find a gold donkey. And most of all, the mundane life at home is what causes the excitement and exoticism of traveling. So while I ponder on those thoughts, here are, in random order, the places that trigger my wanderlust.

October 14, 2008

Barcelona, La Boquería and La Fonda part 2

Aside from Gaudí and Las Ramblas, Barcelona is also well known for its legendary and delightful El Mercat de La Boquería. It’s a popular market in the middle of the city center, right by Las Ramblas. We wandered around enjoying the visually charming displays of fresh fruits and vegetables, letting all our senses take in the overload on sound, colors and aromas. The market is a must-see and despite the hoards of tourists it gives a unique Spanish feel. Of course after much walking and contemplating, hunger set in. We wanted to try out El Quim but the place was crowded and it would have been impossible for us to find 4 seats at the tiny bar. 

So we sat down at one of the various places around La Boquería. What a mistake! The place was a total rip-off and we left as soon as the waiter informed us that a simple seafood paella would cost each of us 15€. But where should we go instead? The day before, when the receptionist from Market Hotel recommended us La Fonda, I wanted to google some reviews about it and accidently stumbled upon another restaurant called La Fonda, which apparently had nothing to do with the former.

La Fonda Escudellers was just a five-minute walk from La Boquería and despite the warnings on the net about long queues, we were lucky to be seated right away. We ordered seafood and mixed paella (12€ and good for 3-4 persons!), fideua (like paella but with noodles), several tapas (croquettes, calamares…) and a goat cheese salad with pine nuts. Overall, food was delicious and affordable (60€ for 4 persons and plenty of left-overs). The setting is nice and the service friendly. I’m glad we left the tourist trap and settled for some good quality food that was wallet friendly as well!

La Fonda
Passatge Escudellers 10
Tel: +34 933 017515
Subway station: Liceu or Drassanes

October 12, 2008

Barcelona, Pasa Pasa Restaurant

We spent 3 nights in Barcelona. I can’t believe we spent 2 of them having dinner in Pasa Pasa. Recommended by Fe, who works at Market Hotel, this joint seems to be the meeting point of the Filipino community. Simple setting with all the Pinoy cuisine favorites and of course TFC on tv. Craving for some comfort food, we had lechon kawali (very crispy), siopao (no comparison to home but ok nonetheless), BBQ (yummy) and soup (weirdly tasted a bit like pizza). Turns out that Danny, the brother of Fe and owner of the restaurant is also an avid mountainbiker and D quickly found a new buddy in him. The following day we met up with the culinary dreamteam and ironically after eating the exquisite dishes from Michelin star chefs for the past days, they were craving simple Asian cuisine. We sat down in a Chinese restaurant just off the Ramblas. One look in the menu was enough to tell us how overpriced the place was (think 2€ for one dumpling) and there we were, once again, walking back to the Raval district to Pasa Pasa. This time around, we were even invited to join the usual crowd in the back room for some beer and karaoke, but we chose to stay in front in the restaurant and give in to some more Pinoy classics. This proves once again, that no matter where you are, you can’t forget your roots. Even on the far end of the globe, one always looks for a slice of home.

October 11, 2008

Barcelona the conventional way

After 4 days of endless walking in Paris, I was exhausted and the least motivated to continue our sightseeing marathon in Spain. We opted for the Bus Turistic today, although I am not usually a fan of tour bus tourism. We walked to the nearest stop and paid our day pass (20€ each) and got into the bus. The tour was to last 5 hours if you do the whole route and don’t even get out at any stop and we decided to maximize our ticket and did almost all of it. We only took a quick break at the park Guell. Although it was meant to be a hop-on, hop-off kinda thing, we mostly stayed on the open-roof deck of the bus and decided to visit the places we liked by foot later on in the trip. The tour was a welcome change from the endless kilometers of using up my Gola’s soles.

So if you’re tired like we were or it’s your first time in Barcelona and you only have limited time, then this is definitely for you. Buses are clean, there’s one every 5-10 minutes, you can listen to informative comments via the headphones provided (in several languages), the tour brings you to all the visit-worthy sites in Barcelona and you even get a coupon book with discounts to museums and the likes. It’s not the classiest nor most cosmopolicious way to discover the city, but in our case it was a no-brainer.

October 10, 2008


I’m sorry I couldn’t help it. Here’s a rant on current issues. You betcha’ that this woman is driving me mad. Sarah Palin is on the way to becoming Vice-President of the United States. Where is this supposed to lead? Now I don’t get to vote in the U.S., but with the phenomenon of globalization, shouldn’t all citizen of the world be concerned with what is happening in the country that gave us the Iraq War and a recent global financial crisis? 

I respect that each individual has different political opinions and should make an educated decision on whether to vote Democrat or Republican. But… And this is the part that is making me pull my hair. How can someone in their right mind, consider placing their vote with McCain when it implies that Sarah “JoeSixPack” Palin is to become Vice-President??? I mean this woman has the potential to become the next U.S. president should old McCain not make it through his term. This woman can’t even pronounce Eye-Raq and Eye-Ran properly! But let’s not be too quick to judge her. After all she has all the competencies to advise maverick McCain on matters of foreign policy for example. Come on, she can see Russia from her front porch! She’s delusional. 

During a recent interview with Couric on why she only gotten a passport last year and if it was revealing her lack of interest in the world, Palin replied: “I’m not one of those who maybe came from a background of, you know, kids who perhaps graduate college and their parents get them a passport, and give them a backpack and say ‘Go off and travel the world’. No, I’ve worked all my life, in fact I’ve usually had 2 jobs all my life until I had kids. I was not a part of, I guess, that culture. The way that I have understood the world is through education, through books, through mediums that have provided me a lot of perspective on the world.”

Ha, but they did send her to community college in Hawaii, the U.S. state with the highest cost of living in the country. Plus who is she to judge travelers. Not everyone gets their travel expenses paid by the mommy bank. Most young people who have been around the globe worked hard for it, often saving up for it through several side jobs. This madwoman is supposed to comprehend the global challenges we’re facing? How can she? When you are abroad, you gain new perspectives and broader intellectual understandings. The experiences you have when you meet new cultures and their people cannot be replaced by TV or books. Yes, theory is important. But, especially in her position, shouldn’t she practice what she preaches. Her discourse is always about patriotism, but how can she not be proud of her country? It’s the only one she’s ever known. Aaargh! She annoys me in so many ways. 

"According to a recent poll, 61% of people surveyed said they would rather see Sarah Palin in a bikini than Pamela Anderson. Although 99% said they would rather see Pamela Anderson as vice president." --Jay Leno 

Barcelona, Market Hotel

We seem to have a hand on picking hotels with Filipino staff. After Amsterdam 2 years ago, we now find ourselves in Barcelona’s Market Hotel. A block away from the Gran Via where the airport shuttle conveniently dropped us off, this quaint little hotel is hidden in a little alley, but nonetheless easy to find. At the reception D spotted a Filipina employee right away and she soon after gave him the address of the next Pinoy restaurant in town; of course owned by her brother. We soon realized that most of the staff was indeed from the Philippines and that the hotel even had a branch in Sorsogon (trip planned next April!), the hometown of the owner’s wife. After some chitchat we sat down in the hotel restaurant while waiting for our room to be ready. The gorgeous dining area, kept in white with black and gold accents, serves a daily lunch menu for less than 10€. After having read several positive reviews about it, and being tired from yet another early morning, we gladly accepted the opportunity to test the Mediterranean food right where we were, instead of wandering around for a spot to grab a bite. On the menu for D were mixed salad with tuna and bistek a la plancha with potatoes. I had a delicious cream of leeks and duck with soy reduction and vegetables. Finally we both gave in to some sinful turron ice cream. We enjoyed our first meal of the day (no time for breakfast on our way from Paris) and noticed that the restaurant filled up quickly with a diverse crowd of tourists and locals alike. So far, so good.
Our room was another pleasant surprise. Spacious, with modern Asian style, a large bed with cotton sheets and free Wifi; I couldn’t have asked for more. And yet, I got more. The best shower ever! I read about it on Tripadvisor and thought it was exaggerated to rate a hotel according to their showers, but I was wrong. After 4 days in a tiny Parisian bathroom, this black tile bathroom with wonderfully relaxing rainshower was a dream come true. Aside from a walk-in closet, this type of shower will be a must have on my the-day-i-own-a-house list. No longer hungry, freshened up and rested after the obligatory Spanish siesta, we are now ready to explore the city. Barcelona here we come!

Market Hotel
Passatge de Sant Antoni Abad 10
Tel: +34 934 242965

October 8, 2008


Quaint is my new favorite word. And it totally applies to this little town called Fontainebleau. D and I went there on a day trip, actually more of half a day, during our stay in beautiful Paris. Most people come here because of the royal château and we indeed caught a short glimpse of it, but we were really here to visit the campus of INSEAD. If everything goes well (keep your fingers crossed), this could be our new address starting next September. Although I’m still a bit confused on whether I should get all psyched about moving back to Europe or be troubled that I have finally settled down in Manila and may not be ready for another drastic change. Oh well, that’s a whole other story. And the future is still uncertain anyhow.

So there we are in Fontainebleau after a 35 minutes train ride from the Gare de Lyon in Paris. From the train station we take the bus to the university grounds which lie on the outskirts of the town. The campus is not comparable to the vast US colleges. It’s rather small and we quickly toured the premises. The buildings are mostly modern glass structures that are the antonym of quaint. But I suppose an elite business school can’t be charming. After the official tour and all the question-answer over and done with, we got to use our free lunch coupons in the cafeteria. And in all fairness, having studied in 4 different universities and eaten in several others, this is the best school canteen I’ve ever been to! At least I know that if D studies in INSEAD, I can always talk myself out of cooking for us and eat here.

We walked back into town, had a photo op in front of the famous castle and got a feel of the Fontainebleau. Coming from Manila where most of the historical architecture has been destroyed, we felt transported in some place in the 18th and 19th century. Old buildings, small cafes and very old ladies populate the streets. It’s cute and very picturesque. The epitome of quaint and it does remind me quite a bit of Passau. I can imagine myself living here, for a bit at least. An urban girl like me can’t stay away from the bustling city life for too long. Although, Paris is just a train ride away… Enough daydreaming. Although I must admit that I long to celebrate a white Christmas again.


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