I was born in Manila and moved to the US in 1995. Since then, I've only gone back to visit twice: in 1999 and 2001. You can probably imagine how exciting this trip was for me. It was a last minute trip as I had no previous plans to come back this year at all, but my cousin and boyfriend convinced me to make the trip to visit my grandma for her 86th birthday.
Because I hadn't been back in a while, I wasn't sure what to expect. To be honest, I didn't expect to enjoy myself as much as I did and to be genuinely upset to be leaving so soon. Ten days (or really more like 8) is not enough.
It was a strange feeling to be back to my hometown (MNL represent!). I felt a great deal of nostalgia on this particular trip and felt such a deep connection and appreciation for everything: the people, the places, the food (oh the food). We would drive by a certain place, I'd see a sign on the road or eat a certain dish and memories would come flooding back. Maybe it comes with age. I was only 14 years old when I last visited so I'm sure the only thing I was concerned about back then was looking cool to all my old friends and family.
Because I took a billion pictures, I decided it'd be best to split it up into different posts and I thought I'd start with the food! These are just highlights because most of the time, I was too busy wolfing down my food to pause and take a picture. But I do hope you enjoy the pictures that I did manage to take!
Check them out after the cut!
My first meal in the Philippines was oddly enough at Chow King. I guess it's a little uneventful seeing as there are Chow Kings here in San Diego. Nevertheless, the food was delicious and I loved that they had "plain" halo-halo because really, that's my favorite type of halo-halo.
The first 6 hours of my trip was spent at Mall of Asia. Due to the vehicle coding restrictions and the ridiculous traffic in Manila, we had to spend a few hours at MOA to waste time before we could take off again to pick up my parents.
We found a food stand called "Chichabog" that sold all sorts of snacks: roasted peanuts, roasted cashews and several different kinds of chicharon, none of which looked that appetizing to me. Don't get me wrong, I love chicharon, but some of them just looked a little scary, even for someone like me who will basically try anything once.
On my second day, our relatives took my parents and I shopping at Green Hills and to one of my cousin's favorite Chinese restaurants, Gloria Maris. The day before, my cousin ordered a green mango shake at my grandma's birthday party at another restaurant and I was a little intrigued. So the next day, I decided to order one for myself at Gloria Maris and what a revelation it was! For the rest of my trip, that was the only drink I ordered at every restaurant we went to.
The next day, my mom's sister and her husband drove back down from the province and came home with a gigantic tray of goodness and when I say gigantic, I mean enormous. It was probably 24" across. On one side was biko (the darker side) and the other was tocino del cielo. Biko is a sort of sticky rice and tocino del cielo is very similar to flan. Both are considered desserts and are perfect for afternoon mieryenda. If you ever come across either one at a Filipino restaurant, I highly recommend you try them!
I couldn't go back to the Philippines and not eat my favorite childhood snack! For as long as I can remember, this has been my favorite breakfast/snack/late night snack/dessert. It's so simple and tastes SO good. I have a clear memory of my great aunt (who also happened to be our neighbor) making this for me. I know I'm not the only one that stans for bread, butter and sugar. Where y'all at?!
And who can forget about taho? Oh my beloved taho. There's just something about a nice, warm cup of taho in the morning. That first spoonful brought on so many memories and an indescribable sugar rush. And it wasn't just the taste that had me remembering my childhoood. The way the vendor scooped out the tofu, the sound the spoon made when it hit the side of the tin container, the dark caramel color of the syrup and the way it dripped onto the side of my cup, all of it brought me back to a simpler time, when all I cared about was going over to my neighbor's house to play. Watching the vendor serve us was probably just as enjoyable as eating the taho itself.
Apart from taho being one of my favorite Filipino breakfast treats, I also LOVE the red hotdogs. Yes they are red, and yes they taste delicious. I don't know why non-natives get so freaked out by the red casing. They do taste different from American hotdogs, but not in a bad way. I can't really describe it. Try it out for yourself one of these days, Seafood City sell them at all of their stores.
An empty pantry or fridge is unheard of in a Filipino household. My grandma kept them both stocked with almost anything you can imagine.
We mostly ate out during my trip, but there were a couple of days that my aunt, my grandma's helper Lina and my mom made some home-cooked meals. This particular meal was fried fish, tinola and pinakbet. Meals like this are one of the reasons why you can't ever diet while on vacation.
A couple of days later, we had some kare-kare.
One night, we ordered some Jollibee for dinner. Of course, I had to get the chicken joy/spaghetti combo! Seriously, Jolliebee has the best spaghetti ever. I don't care if that makes me a fob.
One of my favorite things about the Philippines is that food is everywhere! You are never short for options because there is at least 3 restaurants on one block and a variety of street vendors. One day, my uncle saw a buko (coconut) vendor pushing his cart outside and bought about 10 coconuts. I came downstairs and there they all were, sitting on the kitchen table. I was sad that I didn't get to see him perform the whole deal, with cutting the coconut out of the shell, etc. If you do want to see it, just Youtube "buko vendor" and you'll see how it impressive it actually is. And if you've never had fresh coconut juice or coconut meat, let me tell you that it is absolute heaven and that you HAVE to try it at least once in your life.
I'm a Filipino at heart and that Filipino heart belongs to green mangoes and bagoong. This was one of the foods I was looking forward to the most on this trip because I haven't had a real green mango (you know, the kind that is sour beyond all measure) in years. I was so amped on having some that I asked my mom that for my first green mango, I wanted one to myself and that I wasn't going to share with anyone else. Yes, my love for green mangoes is real. Real and true. Nothing gets between me and my green mango.
Omg, I sound insane. Anyway, this may not be your cup of tea, especially since you do eat the mango with bagoong (shrimp paste). But if you're an adventurous eater, you should definitely try this unlikely, mouth watering combo.
(My mouth is watering right now!)
I visited the Philippines during Holy Week so I got to eat a lot of fish. A lot of FRESH fish. My family and I made the long trek (about 6 hours long) out to Zambales during the tail end of my trip and we were treated to an amazing meal by mom's godparents. There were three different kinds of fried fish, pinakbet, grilled eggplant, vegetable lumpia, sweet and sour fish, some octopus seviche type of dish, green mangoes (heeeeey!) and biko for dessert! It was a great way to round out my vacation.
My last real meal in the Philippines was at a restaurant in Subic called Seafood Island. We were there on Good Friday so of course seafood was on the menu. We chose to share this massive meal which included rice, crab, shrimp, pinakbet, grilled octopus, mussles, barbecue pork and barbecue chicken and it was more than enough for the 5 of us! What a great way to end a trip, no?
I am still daydreaming about all the foods I got to eat (even those that weren't pictured). The food alone is enough reason for me to plan another trip. Honestly, I wish I could've described in better detail how good the food was, but maybe you'll just have to come with me next time ;)
Stay tuned for the next part of PH 2016 Photo Diary!