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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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

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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March Highlights – Inspired. Reconnected. Empowered.

I welcomed March, which also happened to be Women’s Month, with a simple goal of doing something, no matter how small, for the women in sports advocacy. Somehow, along the way, small milestones just piled up. I couldn’t think of a better way to end it than how it did – being with like-minded people who inspired and re-energized me to dream and do more.

March 6 – Davao Kendo Club’s 1st Women’s Shiai/Tournament

(Photo credit: Jesh Juson)
(Photo credit: Jesh Juson)

March 8 – Women in Rowing PH featured in our IF’s website and International Women’s Day video

Screenshot from the World Rowing website
Screenshot from the World Rowing website

March 28-30 – IMPULSE Seminar: Empowerment of women in sports in the Philippines

(Photo credit: Krizanne Ty)
(Photo credit: Krizanne Ty)

Looking forward to more collaborations with all the inspiring women and men around me.

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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[Photos] Lunch at Wynward Valley Organic Vegetables Garden

Lunch with friends a couple of weeks back was at a new place (at least to me). One of the said friends who had been there several times before recommended it. It was near Abreeza Mall so she told us to meet her there so we could all go together to the restaurant.

Wynward Valley Organic Vegetables Garden is only a few meters away from the exit near Italianni’s and TGI Friday’s in Abreeza. A friend and I arrived decided to walk there instead of taking her car. We went ahead because our other friends said they will be coming late.

I like the place though it was a bit hot. But there were wall fans near each table. I did not like my food getting cooled by the fan’s breeze so I chose to sit away from it. But since it was a humid day, it got a bit uncomfortable at some point. Still, it was not that bad. I think the interior and overall set-up matched what the garden bistro is about so I had no complaints. I just wished that the hot food was served much warmer. I do not know why they were already a tad cold when they reached our table.

Inside the restaurant.
Inside the restaurant.
The appetizer my friend ordered. Seems like the potatoes used were baked instead of deep-fried. Toppings include yogurt.
The appetizer my friend ordered. Seems like the potatoes used were baked instead of deep-fried. Toppings include yogurt.
My garlic encrusted malasuge.
My garlic encrusted malasuge.
My other friend's choice - Garlic encrusted tuna belly with organic black rice and stir fried veggies
My other friend’s choice – Garlic encrusted tuna belly with organic black rice and stir fried veggies
Guyabano Cucumber Mint Smoothie. And the Lean Beef Veggie Burger my other friend ordered.
Guyabano Cucumber Mint Smoothie. And the Lean Beef Veggie Burger my other friend ordered.
The Guyabano Blue Ternate Ice Cream is a must-try IMHO.
The Guyabano Blue Ternate Ice Cream is a must-try IMHO.
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Dining during dinner rush at Lyndon’s Worlds Worst Ribs and Awful Chicken Restaurant

Davao City may be my hometown, but it is still mostly unexplored territory to me. I spent most of my childhood days in my grandparents’ home in Davao del Norte. I only stayed in our home in the city when I started high school. Then I left for college in Manila soon after I graduated. In the four years I was studying in Davao, it was basically home-school-home for me. I did not really like going out for as long as I can remember. So I do not know much about our city.

I have been rediscovering Davao since I came back from Manila in 2009. I am still far from learning as much as I should by this time. But it is fun for me to discover new things about it as they come. Just this Friday night, I had a chance to experience the nightlife at Roxas avenue. I am familiar with the place since it is along the area where the college campus of my high school alma mater is located. From what I understood before, the street comes to life at night. And I finally got the chance to see it for myself.

I was expecting a place bustling with activity given all the things I have heard about it. But nothing prepared me for the huge crowd and traffic. It was because of all the days my friends and I could meet there, it had to be on a Friday night during the week of Kadayawan Festival. It was also a holiday and the day before the Indak-Indak sa Kadalanan event. I imagine that most of the people I saw there were local tourists from different parts of the country. My friend told me that he had a hard time booking an accommodation since all the hotels and inns were fully booked.

The whole stretch of Roxas street was teeming with people and vehicles. Traffic was crawling. It took me some time to reach our meeting place. It was a lot like being in Myeong-dong sans all the awesome shops that draw people there. But what gave me the same vibe were the makeshift stalls selling clothes, food, trinkets, and a wide array of souvenirs. There was also that sea of people walking along the street. It was fun and overwhelming at the same time.

Signage in front of the restaurant
Signage in front of the restaurant

One of my friends led us to Lyndon’s World’s Worst Ribs and Awful Chicken. It was one of the many commercial and food establishments there. We arrived during dinner rush so I was not expecting much from our dining experience. The three of us met while working for a chain of a well-known group of restaurants. So we understand how crazy it gets once the rush begins.

Surprisingly, everything went smoothly. The service may not be at par with the standards in the restaurant we worked for before. But it was not bad either. It was several notches better than some I have experienced in the many restaurants I have been to here in Davao. The names on the menu were a misnomer. There was nothing bad about the ribs which the three of us had. It was tasty and tender. The shrimps we ordered tasted fresh.

Some of the items on the menu
Some of the items on the menu
More of what's on the menu.
More of what’s on the menu.
I was tempted to order the Tasteless Pancit Canton.
I was tempted to order the Tasteless Pancit Canton.

I now understand why some people say it is one of the local restaurants to visit when in Davao. I was happy with the food we had and it was worth what we paid for. It is one of the places in the city where you can find good food at great value for your money.

Ribs and shrimps.
Ribs and shrimps.
The worst ribs in town...NOT.
The worst ribs in town…NOT.

The 3 Best Things about August in Davao

I love August. And I’m loving it even more since I came back to my hometown. Here are the three best things about this month which are on top of everything that living in Davao entails.

1. In-Season Fruits

Rambutan and mangosteen
Rambutan and mangosteen

It’s the season of fruits. Mangosteen that costs as much as Php150-200/kilo during off-season are everywhere. Several makeshift stalls and parked vehicles sell them for as low as Php35/kilo. There’s also plenty of fruits like marang, rambutan, and durian. I usually have a limited list of fruits I like (i.e. ripe mangoes, avocados, marang, and lanzones). But even I get excited and have so much fun eating these colorful and delicious fruits.

2. Kadayawan Festival

It’s a festive time for the city. The events leading to Kadayawan week add to the build-up of anticipation and excitement. It’s a fitting festival not just to appreciate and highlight nature and bountiful harvests. It’s also a time to pay tribute to the city and region’s different indigenous people.

3. Sale and Big Discounts Everywhere

I’m more of a foodie than a shopaholic. I know that there are sales everywhere but I’m still surprised by the big discounts I get when I end up shopping. Yesterday I went to an eye center to have my eyes checked. It turned out my eye grade increased by .75 since the last time I had it checked. I had to have my eyeglasses’ lenses replaced while there. I was surprised that it was cheaper than I expected. I even got a surprise gift of colored contact lenses with my eye grade. It seems like all stores in the malls take part on the city-wide sales that last for weeks.

I may be biased about this since I live here. But I’ve been gone for almost 20 years before coming back so I’m still discovering a lot about this city. If there’s one thing I can say, it may not be perfect. But staying here doesn’t make me regret leaving Manila.