Experiencing Davao

Spending time with friends who are visiting Davao, either for work or leisure, is a great time for me not just to touch base but also see the city with fresh eyes. The lure of reconnecting with friends I have not seen for some time overcomes my usual desire to avoid going out and being caught in the city’s increasingly worsening traffic problem.

So it was welcome news when a longtime friend told me she will be in Davao for two days to do some research work. She arrived just before midnight on the 30th of November and left early evening on the 2nd of December. It was her third visit, but she spent most of her time in her previous visits outside the city exploring Samal Island and climbing Mount Apo. The short visit was a good time to stay at the heart of the city and experience it. It also allowed me to see what has changed, what remained the same, and what I call the in-betweens — the subtle things that are easy to miss out when you are too busy looking and paying attention.

The Traffic Problem
What used to be a roughly 20-minute trip from home to Abreeza or Gaisano Mall on a weekday now stretches to at least 45 minutes. Weekends can be just as bad except early in the morning when it is much lighter. And it is even worse when I try to venture farther to Ecoland or Matina. I thought I have escaped the nightmarish traffic woes of Manila when I decided to go back home to Davao in 2009. I may have enjoyed a few years respite from it. But those restful days are over and I have to deal with living with heavy traffic again. This makes walking a much better option. But Davao City is not really what I would call a “walkable” city. It may be safer to walk here than in Manila. But walking here can be a far from pleasant experience when it is too hot or raining heavily.

Bankerohan Public Market
The perpetually busy and crowded Bankerohan Public Market can be overwhelming. And it has evolved into a tourist attraction in its own right. Known for its overabundance of cheap produce from across the Davao Region, it is a great place to find a wide array of fruits and food products. A lot of tourists go there to buy pasalubongs and/or try its famous tsokolate de batirol (sikwate) and puto maya.

Looking for Durian 
I was honestly surprised by some of the videos I have seen showing people’s reaction when they try to eat durian. I did not realize a lot of people hate it so much. The smell can be nasty but I thought that they would learn to appreciate it once they get to taste the fruit. I was wrong. I felt bad thinking about the people who received durian candies from me as pasalubong and promised to avoid doing that unless I am sure the recipient eats durian.

My friend’s visit sparked a question in my mind about how the city’s famous fruits seem to be in short supply lately. I  know it is not in season, but I find it unusual not to see a lot of them out there. Even during the last Kadayawan, durians were unusually expensive. The many small trucks and makeshift stalls selling them at roadsides that were familiar sights during the Kadayawan month were also conspicuously absent.

As my friend and I explored the fruit market in Bankerohan, we only saw a handful of stalls selling unripe ones. The famous durian restaurant just across the Fruitasan do not have them either. I was used to eating fresh durian all-year round and this was the first time I had trouble finding one. So my friend and I settled for the frozen D101 variety that one of the vendors in the fruit market was selling.

Trying out the beer and frozen D101 durian combo

My friend told me that eating durian in the hotel room is not allowed so we have to finish it off before she turns in for the night. We tried asking the hotel staff at the restaurant if we can it eat there but were told we have to take it outside the premises. Who would have thought that finding a place to eat [frozen] durian in a city famous for it can be so troublesome? Thankfully, there was a 7-11 nearby with an outside seating. I grabbed a beer and settled in to enjoy my first taste of the D101 variety which tasted amazing.

Davao’s Cacao in the Spotlight
Davao has long been known as one of the countries best places to find abundant and different varieties of durians. Not to mention the best and cheapest mangosteens when in season. It is also home to top quality bananas and mangoes. And in recent years, a new addition to the list has been stealing the spotlight — the region’s cacao which produces the finest tableas that a growing number of Dabawenyos are beginning to enjoy.

I was actually surprised that it took this long for it to get noticed. Cacao and tableas are part of my childhood. I remember learning how to make pure and rich tableas from the seeds of cacao fruits harvested from the trees in my grandparents’ backyard at their home in Davao del Norte. My grandmother makes enough to last for months and even send some for us living in the city and to my uncle who was based in Manila.

Some of the goodies at the Cacao de Davao stall at the ground floor of the SM Lanang Premier

 

More Cacao de Davao products
Cacao de Davao Tablea

I love cacao so it is great to see so many good quality products now being sold in stalls and supermarkets in malls here. I brought my friend to Cacao City which opened last month. I first heard of the store from my sister who gave me the deliciously divine Wit’s Sweets and Savouries’ Durian Granola which she bought from there.

Cacao City at Palma Gil

The everything-Davao cacao products store is located beside the Pasalubong Center at Palma Gil just beside People’s Park. It showcases local brands like Malagos Chocolate, Cacao de Davao, Cacao Culture Farms, Rosario’s Delicacies, Wit’s Sweets and Savouries, and more.

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Saturday Morning at Bankerohan Market: Of Walking and Enjoying Davao’s Sikwate and Puto Maya

When I’m in a city that’s new to me, I try to go to the central market very early in my trip. I’ll go at 6 a.m., when people are shopping for businesses. You get to see what people buy and really eat. There are usually food stands and trucks geared exclusively to locals. You get an idea of what a city or country is good at, because they’re catering to local tastes. ~ Anthony Bourdain

Food markets and cemeteries. Two of the fascinations I acquired in recent years when traveling. One offers a glimpse into the daily life of the locals and the other about stillness and death.

While I have been to Bankerohan market a few times, I mostly do not frequent it since it is in the opposite and far side of the area where I live. So when a high school classmate/close friend came for a visit I thought it would be nice to do what many locals and tourists do when in Davao — have some sikwate and puto maya at the city’s largest public market.

My friend and I decided to take an early morning walk from the hotel where she was staying to Bankerohan. We set out about a quarter to six in the morning for the roughly 2.5-km walk, which was much later than planned. We got sidetracked a bit by the fascinating sculptures outside the hotel. It was a pleasant walk along neighborhood streets, main thoroughfares, and alleys with plenty of reminiscing along the way as we saw familiar landmarks that reminded us of our high school days.

The entrance to Ponce Suites Gallery Hotel, Davao City
One of the many sculptures outside the hotel
More sculptures
The sculpture of the boy at the right side reminds me of the University of the Philippines’ (UP) Oblation
Full circle
Almost done
Meditation
Storytelling time
Some of the stalls at the fruit stand building in Bankerohan market

 

Fruits and treats
Mangosteen
Durian
The batirol used to prepare the tsokolate (sikwate). The chocolate drink is prepared using tablea made from cacao from Davao
Waiting for our tsokolate batirol (sikwate)
A hot cup of sikwate with milk
Puto maya that pairs deliciously with the hot chocolate drink.

2 tsokolate de batirol (sikwate) with milk + 2 puto maya = Php56.00

Bonus find: 1 lapad bottle of honey = Php100

Food, Comfort, and Conversation: A Taste of Sea Green Part 2

It has been years since my last visit at Sea Green Cafe, which seems to be turning out as a place to meet with high school classmates I rarely see. It was one of the top places that came to mind when I was thinking about where to have dinner with another classmate and close friend from high school who is visiting from Cebu. I know she would be happy to eat at any of the restaurants in the mall where she was hanging out after her appointment with a client. But I wanted to bring her somewhere else for a change. Luckily, Sea Green was only a few minutes away so we agreed to go there.

The cafe has undergone a lot of upgrades and changes that I could hardly recognize it. I like the new look and feel much better than the old. And I love the timing of the visit because there were only a handful of other guests apart from us which added to the feeling of homey comfort and coziness that matched its ambiance.

Having tried some of the cafe’s bests on my previous visit, I was determined to try something new this time around. But I simply could not pass up on the Tablea Cheesecake, which turned out to be more delicious than before.

At Sea Green Cafe
My friend Leonor taking a look around the place
My friend checking out the items at the counter
Fried Quesong Puti
Baked Organic Chicken with Pan Roasted Vegetables
I love this dish!
Brown rice
Tablea Cheesecake
The Tablea Cheesecake up close. The bitter & sweet taste of the tablea balanced by the natural sweetness of the ripe mango toppings ❤

A Matcha Mille Crepe Kind of Day

I have been craving for Milky Cakes and Sweets’ matcha mille crepe as soon as I saw some photos of it on their Facebook page. So I finally headed out to their stall at the ground floor of SM Lanang this morning after I finished with my errands. I bought a slice for take out and had it after lunch.

Exactly my plan
Matcha Mille Crepe to go
Milky Cakes and Sweets’ matcha mille crepe

There are three things in matcha mille crepe that I love — matcha, crepes, and layers. But there is something about all of them together that did not quite work for me. I could taste the matcha and the crepe which is good. And yet there is something that I seem to be missing. Maybe it is all about the layers. My choices in cakes have always been simple. Maybe all that layering made it complicated for me. It got me thinking why I like layers in the first place.

Sweet Sensations: My Favorite Davao Treats

When it comes to sweet treats, Davao has its share of the best ones in my book. I’m a bit picky with desserts and sweets. Anything that doesn’t have chocolate or green tea in it isn’t high on my list. But I’ve tasted a lot of Davao’s delicious durian everything – candies, coffees, cheesecakes, jams, pastillas, pies, and yema among others. I think that anyone who visits this place or knows anyone from here should give them a try. Here are some of what I usually give or recommend to friends:

Malagos Chocolates

I like everything from this brand. But it’s the 65% Dark Chocolate that really got me hooked. My first taste of it was a pleasant surprise. The quality was better than some of the artisanal local brands of chocolates I’ve tried in the past. The more recent ones I’ve tasted though are even better. I don’t know if they improved on it or not. All I know is that there’s something about its texture now that I really love.

Where to buy: Visit their website for a list of retailers or shop at their online store.

Cacao Davao Durian Filled Dark Chocolate

Cacao Davao's unsweetened chocolate callets and durian filled dark chocolate
Cacao Davao’s unsweetened chocolate callets and durian filled dark chocolate

Cacao Davao has a wide range of products that include unsweetened 100% chocolate callets, cocoa powder, cocoa nibs, and cocoa butter to name a few. But it’s their durian filled dark chocolate that makes me go the extra miles, literally. The store where they sell them is not along the usual routes I take or pass through when I’m downtown. But I find myself making the effort to go there, especially before I travel. It’s usually one of the pasalubongs or gifts I give to friends I’ll be meeting in my travels.

Where to buy: Cacao Davao, San Pedro Extension, Davao City (in front of Phoenix Gas Station)

Apo ni Lola Assorted Durian Candies

Durian caramel bars and durian coffee bars
Durian caramel bars and durian coffee bars
Creamy durian bars and langka (jackfruit) yema bars
Creamy durian bars and langka (jackfruit) yema bars
Yema durian sandwich spread and durian hopia
Yema durian sandwich spread and durian hopia
Assorted durian candies/pastillas
Assorted durian candies/pastillas

Apo ni Lola is one of my most recent discoveries. I didn’t even know that there was such a brand. I haven’t come across it before in my visits at the fruits stands in Magsaysay. I’m not sure if I just didn’t notice them or the fruit stalls I’ve been to don’t sell them. Apparently, this brand is an offshoot of the popular Lola Abon’s brand and is owned by a third generation member of the family. It was when I spent a night with my aunt and cousin at the Royal Mandaya Hotel that I found out about this. There was this small souvenir shop at the mezzanine that sells them at factory prices. I like their assorted durian candies, durian piayaya, and yema durian sandwich spread. I haven’t tried the durian hopia, but if it’s as good as the piayaya then I’ll probably love it as well.

Where to buy: Apo ni Lola, #28 San Miguel Village, Matina, Davao City; Souvenir shop at the Mezzanine of the Royal Mandaya Hotel, Palma Gil St., Davao City

Davao’s Finest Fruits Fresh From Farms

The naive sixteen-year old probinsyana in me was shocked the first time I went to the market with my aunt the first few days after arriving in Manila several years ago. I was surprised at the prices of bananas and calamansi among others. Spending most of my early years in my grandparents’ home in the province made me clueless to the workings of a highly-urbanized city life.

I grew up in a place where a lot of things I wanted or needed were found and picked in my grandparents’ backyard. I lived in the midst of fruit-bearing trees like avocado, banana, cacao, guava, mango, pomelo, santol, and star fruit to name a few. I learned about drying and roasting coffee beans and cacao seeds after watching and helping my grandmother. My first taste of tablea and hot chocolate prepared in batirol was at my grandparents’ home.

Fast-forward to that day in a market somewhere in Manila, I stood there processing what I saw as my aunt paid for the things she bought. I think it was then that I realized that I was truly far from home and from everything that comfort represented. That moment gave me a glimpse of what my life would be in college and the years following that as I stayed in the big city.

Seven years after coming back to Davao for good, I still marvel at a lot of things that I used to take for granted — especially the fruits. Davao City may be urbanized, but it is not hard to find the finest fruits fresh from farms. And if you are lucky to find yourself in the city in August, you can have your fill of a wide array of fruits for cheap.

Fruits are among Davao’s treasures. This is why I was excited like many other Davaoenos when I heard about the Asian Fruit Market project. But I forgot about it until recently when I noticed that they have already initiated it. I passed by the area earlier but did not have time to explore the stalls. I noticed that at 11:00AM many of the booths were still empty. But I expect that things will be livelier later in the day. I think AFM is still at its initial phase. I cannot wait to see how it will look and feel like several weeks or months from now.

Taken from the covered area where some fruit stands were located.
Taken from the covered area where some fruit stands were located.
At the covered area near Seda Hotel in Abreeza
At the covered area near Seda Hotel in Abreeza
Some of the structures in front of Abreeza Mall
Some of the structures in front of Abreeza Mall

The Hague Supermarket Items That I Miss

I love going to supermarkets when traveling. They are easily the best places to find necessities that I opt not to pack when I want to travel light. I also find it comforting to find familiar items which remind me of home.

Staying for three months at The Hague entailed a lot of cooking and grocery shopping. This meant frequent trips to the nearest supermarkets like Albert Heijn, Aldi, and Konmar. There were also visits to the open-air markets that I always enjoyed.

It has been years since that short stay but I still miss some of the items that have special spots on my list of favorite things:

1. Stroopwafels

stroopwafelNothing prepared me for my first taste of these delicious treats. And they quickly became part of my daily life while I was there. The chewy confections were the only snacks I made sure I had in stock. I took a particular liking to one brand that has the finest (at least in my limited experience) small-sized and scrumptious stroopwafels. I found them at the first supermarket I visited. Thankfully, they were also available in the other supermarkets and small grocer stores so it was easy for me to get them. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the name of the brand. But I still have a picture of the packaging in my head.

2. Cheese

cheese-shopI was not a cheese person before that trip. But I became a convert during my time at The Hague. Not only because Holland/The Netherlands is the home to the famous Goudse kaas. It was also because it was the first place where I found a wide array of cheeses almost everywhere. The supermarkets and open markets were veritable treasure troves of so many cheeses in all shapes and sizes. I could not even pronounce or read the names on the labels of some of the cheeses I found at the supermarkets. I just grabbed whatever looked good to me. Later on, I decided to sample as many kinds and that has been one of the best things that I did in my brief stay there.

3. Rookworst

This sausage is not only tasty. The cooked variety is also the most convenient and easiest to prepare. It is excellent for meals any time of the day. And I even loved making sandwiches out of them — with whatever cheese I had on hand.

4. Chocolates

The supermarkets’ chocolates aisles are little slices of heaven on earth. The Hague’s close proximity to Belgium and its other European neighbors famous for their chocolates meant there was no shortage of delightful treats to try. I opted for brands that were unfamiliar to me. And I was never disappointed with my picks.

5. Ice cream

I am ambivalent about ice cream. I could probably live without it. But I developed an appreciation for it in my sojourn at The Hague. It was probably because of the many Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs selections for me to choose from.

There is more to the city than these items that makes me yearn to go back.  I may not have been to many places yet. But The Hague will always have a special place in my heart.

 

Finding a New Happy Place

It is not every day that I find a Happy Place to add to my list. Maybe it is for lack of trying on my part for I do not venture out much. Or maybe, that inexplicable feeling that hits me when I find it does not surface easily. I prefer places away from the crowd or big enough to give me plenty of personal space where I could experience simple joys.

Among my happiest places in the world include the lakes where rowing has brought me over the years, the parks where I do my daily runs in The Hague, the pathways of Tokyo, the quiet roads of Aioi, Aizuwakamatsu and Minimi-aizu. The tree-lined streets of Jongno-gu, the old post town of  Ouchi-juku, the ancient water town of Zhujiajiao, and the old village inside the vast park in Mungyeong likewise give me that deep feeling of contentment. The quaint cafes and restaurants found in towns and cities I have wandered into are also on that special list.

Manga Toshokan is a new addition to my happy place list. I have been planning to visit it soon after it opened last year. But I never got around to doing it.

Just one of the bookshelves in the cafe filled with manga I couldn't wait to read.
Just one of the bookshelves in the cafe filled with manga I couldn’t wait to read.

The place is a book cafe with an extensive collection of manga as well as some good selections of classic and contemporary novels. The omurice I ordered was delicious and filling. The desserts were tempting. I opted for the chocolate chip cookies, which I found satisfying. The iced cafe latte could have been better. But I had no complaints. I was there for the manga. I did not do much reading though. There are plenty of time for that in future visits. Instead, I soaked in the simple pleasure of being there.

I do not know how different the experience would have been if the place was busy. But the quiet time I had there was a big draw for me. I can imagine myself spending hours there. I just have to time my visits well to avoid the crowd.

Area where the cubicles are located.
Area where the cubicles are located.
One of the cubicles in the cafe.
One of the cubicles in the cafe.
More manga
More manga

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Location:
Manga Toshokan is located at Doors 4 and 5, Belfran Bldg., Palma Gil St. cor. CM Recto St., Davao City
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6 Lessons Learned from Brewing Tea

(Image source: http://www.itoen.com/preparing-tea)
(Image source: http://www.itoen.com/preparing-tea)

For someone who loves tea, I have to admit I know little of the proper way to brew it. All I know is that I am not supposed to let the loose tea or a tea bag steep for 5 minutes or more as this will leave a bitter aftertaste. Last night’s attempt to prepare a drink from the Mountain Tea Leaves my sister brought home from Sagada made me realize why I have always been fascinated by the Japanese tea ceremony. There is so much to learn and enjoy from the process of preparing tea.

Sagada Mountain Tea Leaves
Sagada Mountain Tea Leaves

I have tried preparing loose leaf tea before. But it was the first time for me to brew one using full leaves so I had no idea what to do. I made the mistake of adding the leaves into the boiling water and letting it simmer for a few minutes. Once done, I somehow forgot to quickly remove the leaves. I got busy doing something else that by the time I remembered, the tea was already too bitter for me to enjoy. This later prompted the overthinker in me to ponder about the things I learned from my failed tea brewing experience.

1) The quality of work and effort you put into doing something is directly proportional to the quality of the results you get.

2) There are things you have to do slowly.

3) Paying attention and being present in every task increases the chances of success. And it creates a sense of fulfillment.

4) You do not always get it right the first time.

5) There is nothing much to be gained in dwelling on certain things for too long. Imagine life events like tea leaves that could produce bitter drinks if left to steep longer than they should. It is best to enjoy things or ponder on them for as long as you can then let go.

6) Take time to slow down. The best things in life, like a cup of tea, are best created or prepared slowly. So be mindful and give it all you’ve got.

Satisfying a Craving for Kinilaw

It has been over a year or more since I last had kinilaw. I usually eat the dish when we prepare one at home. I tend to avoid ordering it in restaurants. In my almost 20 years living in Manila, I do not recall having kinilaw there. I just waited for the holidays or Christmas breaks I spent here at home to enjoy it.

I finally had kinilaw again last night at a restaurant near us. I once wrote something about how there seems to be grilled restaurants everywhere here in Davao. And that you have not truly experienced the city if you have not dined in one of them. The fact that there is now a Penong’s branch within walking distance from our village goes to show that their business just keeps growing.

Penong’s is one of my favorite value-for-money restaurants in Davao. It has been a while since I visited the place. Some of the selections on the menu were new to me. I quickly ordered the kinilaw and tried some of the new dishes they have.

Kinilaw ~ Fresh Malasugue with calamansi juice, cucumber, mangoes, onion, vinegar, and siling labuyo.
Kinilaw ~ Fresh Malasugue with calamansi extract, cucumber, mangoes, onion, vinegar, and siling labuyo.
Sinugbang Tiyan ng Isda (Grilled fish belly with atchara on the side)
Sinugbang Tiyan ng Isda (My dad’s order – grilled fish belly with atchara on the side)
Sweet and Spicy Shrimps
Sweet and Spicy Shrimps

My sister also ordered the i4 (2 pcs pork belly strips with unlimited rice) which tasted a lot like bacon. We also ordered the ice cream shakes. My sister picked durian while I opted for ube. The durian shake was good although she said she will ask them not to add condensed milk the next time she orders it. As for my ube shake, I was perfectly happy with it.

It was a good dinner. I was happy with the ambiance and service. I am looking forward to dining there again.

Here’s a look at their menu. (Source: Penong’s BBQ)

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