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 


Related Posts with Thumbnails