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

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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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Belgium delights

Two cities and not many photos to show for it. It was a hectic time in Belgium. All I could do was soak up every moment and try to remember what I have seen and experienced in Antwerp and Brussels. It was a lot like that trip to The Netherlands where not a single image on the old-school camera film survived the airport’s x-ray machine.

The bed which I did not get to use much while in Antwerp. While quite tiring, the Belgium leg of the trip was fun, fulfilling, and memorable in many ways.
The bed which I did not get to use much while in Antwerp. While quite tiring, the Belgium leg of the trip was fun, fulfilling, and memorable in many ways.
Walked for an hour or so looking for a grocery store a few hours after I arrived in Antwerp. I could not find any so I ended up in a store at a gasoline station next to the hotel.
Walked for an hour or so looking for a grocery store a few hours after I arrived in Antwerp. I could not find any so I ended up in a store at a gasoline station next to the hotel.
Something sweet to perk me up while reviewing for the next day's jury assignments.
Something sweet to perk me up while reviewing for the next day’s jury assignments.
Out and about. Taken while looking for a place to eat dinner.
Out and about. Taken while looking for a place to eat dinner.
Colleagues from Finland, Denmark, Norway, France, Canada, and Hong Kong checking the menu outside Colmar's in Antwerp.
Colleagues from Finland, Denmark, Norway, France, Canada, and Hong Kong checking the menu outside Colmar’s in Antwerp.
Dinner at Colmar's. Unlimited wine, sodas, and beer. I so love the latter!
Dinner at Colmar’s. Unlimited wines, sodas, and beer. I so love the latter!
Not enough days to sample some of the extensive selections of the finest Belgian chocolates.
Not enough days to sample some of the extensive selections of Belgian chocolates.

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.

Davao Food Haunts – Sampling Some of Lachi’s Best Selections

What should have been our first visit to Lachi’s last December 23 did not pan out as planned. But my food trip buddy and I promised to give it another try, which we finally did the day after Christmas. To make sure that we get a table this time, we scheduled lunch as soon as the store opens at 11:00AM. The plan paid off because we definitely were the first ones there.

Arriving 2-3 minutes before opening to avoid the day-after-Christmas lunch rush.
Arriving 2-3 minutes before opening to avoid the day-after-Christmas lunch rush.
Peace and quiet as well as the opportunity to choose the best spot to dine are just some of the perks of being the first guests in.
Peace and quiet as well as the opportunity to choose the best spot to dine are just some of the perks of being the first guests in.

The first thing we asked the staff who approached us was if the green tea cheesecake’s available. I didn’t have much hope that it would be since it’s not unusual for dessert shops to run out of stocks because of early reservations during the holidays. I was quite happy to hear that they have it so we quickly ordered it first.

Green Tea Cheesecake (Php88)
Green Tea Cheesecake (Php88) photo credit: Deanna Jumawan

For the main dish, we both ordered the restaurant’s bestseller – the Unforgettable Spareribs. It’s good but not as I thought it would be given the various feedback I heard and reviews I’ve read about it. There’s nothing to complain about the taste and flavors, but I found myself looking for something to go with it. I’ve tried dipping small bites of it lightly to a mixture of calamansi and soy sauce (since they provide the former and we already have the latter on the table). But the end-result didn’t quite do it for me. I saw a bottle of sauce on the table as well so I tried putting a little of it but it didn’t seem like the perfect match either. I figured the dish is probably best enjoyed without any add-ons.

Unforgettable Spareribs (Php165) photo credit: Deanna Jumawan
Unforgettable Spareribs (Php165) photo credit: Deanna Jumawan
My hot cafe latte (Php105) to go with dessert. photo credit: Deanna Jumawan
My hot cafe latte (Php105) to go with dessert.
photo credit: Deanna Jumawan
Green tea cheese cake up close and almost gone. Adding this to my growing list of favorite desserts. photo credit: Deanna Jumawan
Green tea cheese cake up close and almost gone. Adding this to my growing list of favorite desserts.
photo credit: Deanna Jumawan

Dining at Lachi’s was a pleasant experience. I now understand why many recommend it, especially to people visiting Davao for the first time. It’s not as accessible as the increasing number of mall-based restaurants in the city. But lately I find that I like eating out in places far from the crowds that malls tend to draw.

Lachis

Today’s Discovery – It’s Never Too Late to Develop a Liking for Fruit Cake

Fruit cake was nowhere on my list of favorite Holiday treats before. I have had my share of some since I was a kid and never developed a liking for it. But if there is one thing I learned this Christmas, never is such a strong word to associate with a lot of things in life. And sometimes being wrong is not as painful as it often seems. In fact, it may  even pave the way for some pleasant discoveries.

My friend Deanna gave me a fruit cake that she brought home with her from Cagayan de Oro. While I appreciated the gesture when her little boy handed it to me, I honestly was wondering how I would be able to finish it. I did not have fond memories of the fruit cakes I have tasted in the past. I remember some of them tasted dry while others were overpowered by the strong taste of brandy or whatever type of liquor is used to make them. But the present I got was not I expected it to be. I like that it is moist and the liquory taste just enough to blend well with the rest of ingredients. For a Noche Buena and Christmas day treat, it is a delightful addition worth savoring, especially with a hot mug of tea or coffee.

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(Note: I was not able to take photos of the fruit cake I got so I asked my friend to send me some. Credit for the photos goes to Deanna Jumawan.)

Revisiting What’s Now a Not-So Tiny Kitchen

My food trip buddy and I, along with her two kids, were supposed to have lunch at Lachi’s yesterday. It would have been the first time for us to eat there. The place is said to be one of Davao’s gastronomical attractions so we were looking forward to the experience.

We arrived at the restaurant at almost 1:00pm hence the place was already jampacked. We were third on the waiting list. But seeing how most of the diners have just started with their meals it seemed like we had a long wait ahead of us. We tried following the lead of the others who were also on the waiting list by pre-ordering our food. We were already picking our desserts when we were told that they only have muffins and chocolate oatmeal bars left. All the other desserts including the green tea cheesecake, which was what I really came for, were unavailable. Whatever stocks of cakes, cheesecakes, and other sweets they have left at the store have been reserved. Lunch without the resto’s popular desserts was not exactly how we imagined our Lachi’s trip would turn out to be be.

Since it looked like it would take quite a while for us to be seated, my friend suggested that we just eat at Tiny Kitchen instead. I brought her there before so she remembered that it was just nearby. So we cancelled our orders and moved to Tiny Kitchen. It was a good thing too since it would be her first time to dine at the restaurant’s new location.

Tiny Kitchen used to be a small family-owned/ran restaurant along Torres St. But there’s nothing “tiny” about it now. They have moved to a bigger place. The new location is just a few blocks away from the old one. They got bigger and better in many ways without losing the old charm. It’s been a while since I’ve been to the new place so I was pleasantly surprised with all the changes I’ve seen. There have also been several new additions to the menu since my last visit.

We were still third on the waiting list when we got there, but the wait wasn’t long. We busied ourselves choosing from along the many scrumptious selections and ordered what we wanted so we wouldn’t have to wait long for our food once we get seated.

When we finally got a table and served our food, I couldn’t help but think that we may not have been able to dine where we originally wanted but we ended up in  place that served as a hearty, much-loved, and delicious late lunch.

Seafood bechamel I'm not much into creamy/buttery pastas but this is one of the few exceptions I'm willing to make. It's my first time to try this dish. It has shrimps, squid, mussels, and chunks of chicken.
Seafood Bechamel
I’m not much into creamy/buttery pastas but this is one of the few exceptions I’m willing to make. It’s my first time to try this dish. It has shrimps, squid, mussels, and chunks of chicken. It’s quite tasty without being overpowering.
Lengua My friend Deanna's choice. The lengua's cooked just right and the sauce goes really with the meat. I loved this dish as well.
Lengua
My friend Deanna’s choice. The lengua’s cooked just right and the sauce goes really with the meat. I loved this dish as well.
Gambas My friend's daughter's choice. A bit spicy but delicious as well.
Gambas
My friend’s daughter’s choice. A bit spicy but delicious as well.
Fritos (fried chicken) My friend's son's choice. Something that a young boy would typically choose. Big serving and looks crunchy though I haven't tried it.
Fritos (fried chicken)
My friend’s son’s choice. Something that a young boy would typically choose. Big serving and looks crunchy though I haven’t tried it.
Square Indulgence My favorite so I usually end up ordering it every time I visit the place.
Square Indulgence
My favorite so I usually end up ordering it every time I visit the place.
Creme Brulee cheesecake My friend's pick. I've added it to my growing list of must-haves at Tiny Kitchen. I'm not really into anything that hasn't any chocolate in it but this one's so good!
Creme Brulee cheesecake
My friend’s pick. I’ve added it to my growing list of must-haves at Tiny Kitchen. I’m not really into anything that hasn’t any chocolate in it but this one’s so good!
Chocolate Mousse The little boy's choice. He finished it off all by himself so I'm guessing it's as good as it looked.
Chocolate Mousse
The little boy’s choice. He finished it off all by himself so I’m guessing it’s as good as it looked.

(Photos by Deanna Jumawan)

TK

Durian Delights at Lola Abon’s

Our cousin from Bohol was just one of the many relatives who arrived from different parts of the Visayas and Mindanao to attend my aunt’s wake and funeral the other day. It has been a long time since I have seen most of my relatives from my father’s side of the family. After my aunt was laid to rest, my sister and I took advantage of the remaining time with our cousin who was scheduled to leave in the evening. She said she wanted to go to Lola Abon’s to buy some durian candies so we went with her.

It was my first time to visit the popular candy store. It is at the other end of the city and quite far from where we live so I usually end up buying durian candies at other pasalubong shops closer to our place. I now understand why the candy store is still one of the go-to places when buying pasalubongs from Davao.

Taken from the pomelo stall beside it.
Taken from the pomelo stall beside it.
My cousin and sister buying pomelos from grandma. Her stall is just beside Lola Abon's building.
My cousin and sister buying pomelos from grandma. Her stall is just beside Lola Abon’s building.
Different kinds of durian treats (candies, yema, pastillas, etc)
Different kinds of durian treats (candies, yema, pastillas, etc)
My first time to try this delicious durian ice cream. Loved it!
My first time to try this delicious durian ice cream. Loved it!
Durian ice cream
Durian ice cream
A nice place to shop for durian candies. I like how the store has a clean restroom and sitting area.
A nice place to shop for durian candies. I like how the store has a clean restroom and sitting area.

A Smorgasbord of Foods and Thoughts

My high school friend and I rarely get to see each other since she is based at Cagayan de Oro city. This is why we try to schedule what we call our “food trip” meet-ups when she comes for a visit. This time, we agreed to have our lunch date at a popular buffet place in the city. While not really a fan of buffets, I have been thinking about the last one I have been to while in Chungju. The pleasant experience as well as the scrumptious food I enjoyed at that time made me think about giving the restaurant here a try. Something that I was not keen on doing before.

As expected, the place was already jampacked when I got there. The crowd was the first thing that hit me when I entered the restaurant led by one of the staff in charge of seating guests. I’m not sure if all Sundays are like that or it was more crowded because it was after Halloween and many are celebrating All Souls’ Day. For such a huge space, there were already a lot of people and lunch was not even in full swing yet. I was only roughly half an hour after its opening hours.

The restaurant is definitely bigger and has more extensive selections of food and beverages than Edelweiss in Chungju. But since I’m one of those people who feel easily drained in the midst of a crowd, I couldn’t help but think that I probably should have visited the place on a weekday. I liked Edelweiss’ more subdued ambiance.

With nothing to do while waiting for my friend and her kids, I just sat there surveying my surroundings. I noticed that our table was wobbling. The lighting seemed a bit dark for me considering it was lunch time. I think it was because we were seated a bit farther from the entrance.

I have no complaints about the extensiveness of the selections. There were so many that I wasn’t able to sample each one of them. I found myself gravitating to the Japanese cuisine area. I also love how there were so many choices of desserts and drinks. In that aspect, it was certainly far better than the other place.

For now, I’m not sure if I find the experience worth the cost of the meal. The food was good, but nothing stood out for me like the spinach and smoked salmon salad at Edelweiss that somehow got stuck in my head. I guess I was looking for that something different that would make me want to come back. But then again, I haven’t tried much of what’s in the entire menu so there must’ve been plenty I’ve missed.

In terms of service, there’s nothing much for me to say. Except for the reservation that was handled efficiently, there was nothing remarkable that I could remember. It was a busy day and I could just imagine all the staff have their hands full so I wasn’t expecting much interaction with them. Our table was bussed regularly in the beginning. But the frequency diminished as lunchtime progressed. I also noticed some of the dessert spoons were not cleaned thoroughly. These are common lapses that happen to many restaurants during the lunch or dinner rush.

Buffets are one of my weakest points. I’ve often wondered how someone with my appetite and love for food can’t seem to eat as much as I could at buffets. I think having a smorgasbord of choices overwhelms me. Or it could also be that I tend to gravitate to food that satisfies me most. It’s probably why I loved the relatively smaller buffet place at the upper floors of Lotte Mart in Chungu. Popular but not overly crowded on the nights we dined there. The food was good. While the dessert selections were a disappointment, the overall experience was great. Something that I didn’t feel during this most recent buffet indulgence.