Visita Iglesia 2017: Searching for the Costly Perfumed Oil

For this year’s Visita Iglesia, let’s ponder on last Holy Monday’s Gospel reading which relays Jesus’ rebuke of Judas’ hypocrisy and praise for Mary’s use of expensive oil on Him. In the reading, Judas questions Mary’s use of a “costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard”. The account vividly says how Mary “anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” Beautiful.

Judas felt and expressed that what Mary did was a frivolity and a waste, saying that the oil could have been sold and the money used for the poor. However, Jesus tells off Judas, knowing fully well his thievery, treachery but also his fakeness.

He says, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.”

With this account in our minds, let us prepare our Visita Iglesia itinerary around Metro Manila with the intention of visiting churches that feature Mary’s virtue: giving one’s all for the glory of God. This itinerary includes churches that celebrate the masterful craftsmanship and artistic skills generously poured into the building of these temples as well as houses of worship that painstakingly exert effort in holding solemn and beautiful liturgies with much diligence and hard work. This tour will take you to sanctuaries that did not scrimp on our Lord, unreservedly giving only the finest and best.

This itinerary will not include churches that, unfortunately, do not really apply Mary’s fastidiousness in using her hair to anoint Jesus with expensive oil. This will not feature ugly structures or places that have carnivalesque rituals that compromise beauty and sanctity for the appreciation of the majority or to accommodate what is “in”.

This itinerary will list – for both pious and non-religious reasons – churches that truly emphasize the overt and intended purpose of giving glory to God. No bargains, no shortcuts, no cheap alternatives.

Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción de Sta. María de San Agustín (aka San Agustín Church)
Address: Gen. Luna Street, Intramuros, Manila

The intricately painted ceiling of San Agustín is something that beholds.

It is only logical that we begin our visita iglesia at the finest example of the whole-hearted pouring of time, talent and treasure to Our Lord, the first stone church in the country and the only original structure left in Intramuros after the horrible destruction of World War 2: San Agustín. Founded in 1571, it is an historic and original link with our Faith and the centuries. Any visitor will be captivated by the church’s splendid trompe l’oeil (literally “play on the eye” in French) paintings, which were done by Italian opera background painters Giovanni Alberoni and Cesare Dibella. The paintings give the impression that the ceilings and walls are carved when in fact, they are painted.

The sarcophagus of the founder of the city of Manila, El Adelantado, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi

The church and adjacent monastery (which is now an impressive ecclesiastical museum) are important witnesses of history. In a side chapel at the altar, the remains of the founder of Manila, el adelantado Miguel López de Legaspi as well as other Spanish conquistadores are kept in a tomb. Near the entrance, at the Chapel of the Assumption, are the remains of the pioneer members of the Roxas-Zobel-Ayala-Soriano clan, a revered family in the worlds of Philippine business and culture. In 1898, Governor General Fermín de Jaudenes signed the surrender of Manila to the Americans in the sacristy.

A view of the nave during my friend’s wedding at San Agustin

From carved Baroque retablos, to the marble tombstones that dot the church, to the very air of antiquity that one can sense inside it, San Agustín is a sanctuary of art that was preserved from the destruction of war. Its clausura gives one a sense of how Intramuros was like before – a city of monasteries and churches, all boasting of unique art styles that would have been the envy of any Southeast Asian country.

In 1993, San Agustin Church was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Basílica Menor de San Sebastián (aka San Sebastián Church)
Address: Plaza del Carmén, Quiapo, Manila

A steel gem: San Sebastian

My personal favorite among Metro Manila’s beautiful and historic churches is San Sebastián, a neo-gothic jewel tucked in a relatively quieter portion of Quiapo. It is the only all-steel and first pre-fabricated church in the country, and in Asia. Maintained by the Recollect friars, the current San Sebastián was designed by the Spaniard Don Genaro Palacios, head of city works, as requested by the cura Muy Reverendo Padre Fraile Estebán Martínez, OAR. It was completed in 1891. It is one of the best examples of how Manila during the Spanish regime was a cosmopolitan, European outpost that nurtured local skills and talent and also, employed techniques at par with those abroad.

A corner in the sanctuary of San Sebastian

The steel parts were bought from the Societe anonyme des Enterprises de Travaux Publiques in Brussels, Belgium and were shipped to Manila in 8 steamships. This was during the heyday of steel as a building material with the Eiffel Tower being the most famous of such metal edifices.

Like any Gothic structure, you are given the feeling of being lifted up to the heavens by San Sebastia’s vaulted ceiling.

Belgian architects and engineers supervised its assembly. On the other hand, the original, not to mention, intact stained glass windows were purchased from the German Henri Oidtmann Company. The interiors were painted to resemble jasper and marble by members of the Escuela de Dibujo, Pintura y Grabado. Some of the notable artists who helped decorate the church were Lorenzo Rocha, Isabelo Tampingco and Félix Martínez.

A view of the interiors from the adjacent garden

Today, the San Sebastián Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation Inc. spearheaded by Tina Paterno, leads the tedious, costly and dynamic campaign of conserving the unique building against rusting and corrosion. They are approaching the project by engaging not only conservators and material experts but also the local community as well as tourists.

A view of the pulpit

You may book tours around the church (which will take you to the tower!) by contacting the foundation through their Facebook, sending them an email at savesansebastian.org@gmail.com or calling (02)708-5122.

Abbey Church of Our Lady of Montserrat (aka San Beda Abbey)
Address: Mendiola Street, San Miguel, Manila

Within walking from San Sebastián is the quaint and unassuming abbey church of the Benedictine monks, Our Lady of Montserrat, completed in 1925 by the Swedish architect George Asp. Located along a street that has witnessed countless rallies, the monks’ abbey church is an oasis of beauty and peace that is not known to many. The neo-gothic structure is beautified by paintings on its ceilings and sanctuary by two Spanish monks, Dom Lesmes Lopez, OSB and Dom Salvador Alberich, OSB. Both were formerly missionaries to Australia, thus, San Beda is also the only church in the Philippines, which features a kangaroo in its decorations!

San Beda Abbey is a majestic sight when it is illuminated

This church, like many curiosities in Catholicism, enjoys the dual patronage of the Holy Infant as well as the patroness of Cataluña, Nstra. Sra. de Monsterrat, which is affectionately called la morenata due to its darkened color.

The church’s apse is decorated with a glorious illustration of the Apotheosis of the Most Holy Name of Jesus while at the center of the retablo made of cider wood is an image of the Santo Niño de Praga. The statues were made by the celebrated santero Maximo Vicente. It is also good to note that the church’s marble furnishings are made of Carrara marble, a bespoke Italian type of marble used on some of the world’s most famous artworks.

Although restricted from the general public, the attached abbey where the monks reside is also sanctuary of beauty. This is because among its former abbots was Dom Celestino Gusi, OSB, an aristocratic Spaniard who initiated projects that beautified the abbey.

National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Address: Broadway Avenue, New Manila, Quezon City

The new retablo at the renovated Mt. Carmel Shrine

What used to be San Sebastián’s “monopoly”, this airy New Manila landmark now claims to be the foremost shrine in honor of the Queen of the Brown Scapular of Carmel.

The image of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel on the stained glass window.

Constructed in 1954, Mt. Carmel Church’s building was simultaneous to the establishment of the Order of Discalced Carmelite Friars in the Philippines whose pioneers were Irish and American friars. The lot chosen was a portion of Doña Magdalena Hemady’s extensive property in one of the post-war Manila’s premier land developments, New Manila. The area served as a community for pre-war Manila’s patrician families and lots of Spanish-speaking clans. Before the Carmel was built, the residents either walked to E. Rodriguez to the SVD Seminary of Christ the King, the Pink Sisters’ convent in Doña Hemady or to their actual parish of Immaculate Conception in New York. Some would also opt to take their cars all the way to the imposing Sto. Domingo in Quezon Avenue.

Mt. Carmel’s new facade is much more welcoming than before, which was rather cold.

It is a cavernous church, a veritable temple for a queen. Its large stained glass windows are some of the best in Metro Manila, and if you go at the right time in the morning, the illuminated images are simply magical.

It recently underwent a major renovation that has since removed the soot and replaced the seeming dreariness and sobriety of the place with a brighter and friendlier vibe. Today, a baldacchino crowns the sanctuary. Among Metro Manila’s postwar churches, Mt. Carmel’s processional images are some of the better ones with the Santo Entierro placed in a dark wooden carriage.

Carmel of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
Address: Gilmore Avenue, New Manila, Quezon City

The Carmel of St. Therese in Gilmore

Perched on a small hill on the end of Gilmore (and now overshadowed by a humongous condominium) is the charming chapel of the Carmel of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, which is home to a small community of cloistered Carmelite nuns. You only know they’re there as you hear the sweet seraphic voices of the nuns as they sing hidden from view behind the grills.

The sanctuary with a nun seen from behind the grill.

It was established by French missionary cloistered nuns from Indochina in 24 November 1926 with the aid of the generosity of the Spanish and Filipino families of New Manila. During the daily morning Masses here, the liturgies are never rushed and the hymns that the nuns sing truly lift up the spirit. Here, rites are never fancy or convoluted but always somber and solemn, giving one the serenity one looks for whenever one is in need of some respite from the troubles of the world.

The sanctuary stripped of its furnishings on Good Friday.


St. Joseph’s Convent of Perpetual Adoration (aka Pink Sisters’ Convent)
Address: Doña Hemady cor. 11th Street, New Manila, Quezon City

The Pink Sisters kneeling in adoration in front of the Real Presence.

New Manila, being the quiet, tree-lined neighborhood that it is, is home to numerous religious houses, churches, chapels and houses of formation. One of these is St. Joseph’s Convent of Perpetual Adoration, which is home to the Pink Sisters, a cloistered order of nuns who are better known by the hue of their habit than there rather kilometric official name: Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration.

The first Pink Sisters were a mix of Germans and Americans and they arrived in the Philippines in 1923. The New Manila convent was established at the invitation of the Philippines’ first Filipino Cardinal, then Archbishop of Manila Rufino Cardinal Santos. The other convents are located in Baguio, Cebu, Davao, Aklan and Tagaytay.

The Exultet during the Easter Vigil of 2014

Today, there are 26 sisters in New Manila, which is the Pink Sisters’ only house of formation (in years past, all convents were houses of formation) and it is an abode for those who seek to participate in Liturgies that are most solemn and sober. In this chapel too, Jesus is present daily, 24 hours a day, in the exposed Blessed Sacrament, which a sister accompanies and looks after always. Our Lord is never left alone.

Sancta Maria Stella Orientis Oratory
Address: St. Josemaría Escrivá Drive, Ortigas Center, Pasig

The sumptuous altar prepared for the weekly Benediction and Exposition on Fridays after the noon Mass.

Our tour ends at an oratory of the Prelature of Opus Dei, the Sancta Maria Stella Orientis Oratory. Named after Our Lady, Star of the Sea, this airconditioned university chapel is witness to some of the most solemn and superbly celebrated Masses in the whole of Metro Manila. It was blessed on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 15 August 1992, making it the newest among the churches I listed here.

Congregants kneel in adoration.

Respectful of the General Rubrics of the Roman Missal, the priests of Opus Dei celebrate Masses here that are bereft of the noise and clutter of other parish priests. Simple and straight to the point, what they do not scrimp on is beauty and solemnity. With an almost gaudy retablo painted in gold, the priests, properly vested with lace amices and exquisite chasubles, do not rush the Masses here and the hymns sung by its choir reveal the richness of our Catholic heritage.

The Mass of Our Lord’s Supper in UA&P Oratory

Communion here is given as communicants kneel. To ensure that utmost respect is rendered to our Lord, the oratory requires visitors to wear proper clothes, barring anyone wearing slippers, shorts and sleeveless attires.

Here, we can here the Judases who would screech and complain.

But we can only expect the Lord rebuking them for their folly.

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Et Verbum caro factum est. And the Word was made flesh.

The sanctuary of the Cubao Cathedral

The sanctuary of the Cubao Cathedral

Christmas, the Eucharist and our Christian Life

There is perhaps no other season in the liturgical life of the Church, my, in the whole of Western Civilization, that elicits much excitement and joy as the holy season of Christmas.

It is undoubtedly the feast favored by Filipinos in particular, a time of largesse and generosity, of celebrations, reunions and countless shared meals. From parties to intimate get-togethers, the season of Christmas gathers friends (both long-time, loyal ones and the mere business acquaintances) around the table.

The Christmas meals we share are indicative of the generosity of spirit that fills each and every person, the divine goodness that can animate in us an overwhelming sense of sharing. We bring all types of food and drink, and with laughter, bittersweet stories of nostalgia, and with dreams for the new year, we dine and drink to our hearts’ content. An endless exchange of sweets happens in the days leading to Christmas while on Noche Buena and on Christmas day, we prepare dishes that are laborious but truly works of love: galantina, morcon, jamon, lengua, and all these other dishes we inherited from our glorious Hispanic heritage.

But why?

All these parties and merriment usually happen, ironically, in the somber season of Advent. Characterized by the penitential color of purple, the Advent season is (well, must be) a season for repentance and introspection, a deepening in our true bond with Christ the Lord whom we await.

The birth of our Savior demands from us a re-orientation of motives and desires, a pruning of our own selves. Sadly, this does not take place amidst the backdrop of parties and reunions.

True, it is good to be with friends and family and to share smiles and wonderful moments. But it is equally important to savor the austerity of Advent so as to truly empty ourselves to the real reason for the season: Jesus Christ.

The Christmas story is one of humanity’s most enduring and endearing narratives, one that combines the poverty of wealth and the power of humility, the repudiation of the world’s standards of glory and the triumphant plan of God that stumps human comprehension.

How can God send His only begotten Son to a family so modest, to a Virgin and to a carpenter? How can it be?

Because God is above all of us, and more than us. Because His plan is to show us the ironies of our pitiful existence.

The story of Christmas finds meaning not on the altar of our food but at the altar of the Mass.

Each time the Holy Sacrifice is said, we commemorate the divine mysteries that brought God to be with us, in the form of flesh, blood, soul and divinity. By the mystery of His incarnation, death and resurrection, we hear the words “Hoc est enim corpus Meum.” – “This is my Body.”

How can a God above all our plans and the judge of our destinies be also the God who humiliates Himself in His impoverished birth in a manger, in His humble ministry as a carpenter and preacher, and in His horrible death on the Cross? How can our God be the same God we truly worship and receive in the defenseless, fragile Sacred Host during Mass?

He is our Savior. In becoming small and being so accessible in the Mass, by taking up the yoke of our wretched humanity, God sanctifies us and makes us His own.

Thus, Christmas is truly a time to appreciate the daily presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. The Eucharist – the source and summit of our Christian lives – is the pinnacle of Jesus’ solidarity with the human race. In the sublime form of the Eucharist, God reaches out to us, demands from us and invites us to humble ourselves too.

The manger has become the tabernacle that’s why it is imperative that we genuflect and kneel in front of the altar as He dwells in it – truly, wholly present.

Venite adoremus, venite adoremus. Venite adoremus Dominum.

The sanctuary of the Cubao Cathedral

The sanctuary of the Cubao Cathedral

We bring to him our weaknesses, our trials, our hopes and aspirations and in receiving Him at Mass, we also make ourselves vulnerable, trusting solely in the nourishment He can provide. We come to Mass with the desire of becoming fortified and raised up so that when we exit the portals of our chuches, we can share the joy of His truth.

The truth of Christ is determined by a joy in service, a passionate inclination to commit one’s self to the happiness of others, to be always unobtrusive, quiet and strong. The strength we find in Christ is one that is not displayed in money or physical attributes.

It is a strength that is unwavering and firm, one that is able to control both mind and body to always be aligned to the precepts of goodness, truth and beauty. The strength we gain from the Eucharist is not of this world but of the heavenly courts.

It is the fortitude to face life’s trial in perfect surrender to the grandeur of God’s plan even if that plan may seem contrary to our perfectly good plans and desires. Yes, even if we are good and holy, sometimes, God can overturn our realities and we can never explain the determining factors of our lives.

But strength in faith, courage in the hope of the resurrection, provide for us the grace of continuous trust in Him. We are strong because we cling unto Him, the child born in a manger.

For this holy season, I invoke upon God that the graces and blessings of Christmas abide in you and your families, and sustain you to a prosperous 2017.

Hodie Christus natus est!

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Why José Rizal Would’ve Loved Madrid Fusión Manila

The presenters, organizers and sponsors toasting to Madrid Fusión Manila during the pre-event Press Conference.

The presenters, organizers and sponsors toasting to Madrid Fusión Manila during the pre-event Press Conference.

Last April, the Philippines successfully hosted the second edition of Madrid Fusión Manila, which was held from 7-9 April 2016 at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City. Attended not only by the perfumed set who can afford the ticket, both the Gastronomy Congress and the Trade Expo attracted a bevy of young culinary arts students, experts in history and culture, entrepreneurs and restaurateurs, growers and food producers, writers, diplomats and purveyors of good taste not only from the Philippines but also from abroad. There were more attendees and participants this year as compared to the first edition.

Jordi Butrón, presenter and purveyor of the EspaiSucre method, holding up a fruit during the Farmers Market Tour facilitated by Asia's Best Female Chef, Ms. Margarita Forés at their family-owned wet market in Cubao.

Jordi Butrón, presenter andurveyor of the EspaiSucre method, holding up a fruit during the Farmers Market Tour facilitated by Ms. Margarita Forés at their family-owned wet market in Cubao.

Chef Fernando Perez Arellano getting his helping of kangkong with bagging during the breakfast hosted by the Araneta Group. I remember how this breakfast featured some of the best breakfast dishes of our cuisine. From quesong puti to chocolate to beef tapa, there were lots to choose from!

Chef Fernando Perez Arellano getting his helping of kangkong with bagoong during the breakfast hosted by the Araneta Group. I remember how this breakfast featured some of the best breakfast dishes of our cuisine. From quesong puti to chocolate to beef tapa, there were lots to choose from!

This year's edition celebrates the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade's role in the exchange of ingredients through the centuries.

This year’s edition celebrates the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade’s role in the exchange of ingredients through the centuries.

What makes Madrid Fusión Manila so important for the author of this article to suggest that even the Philippine national hero himself would’ve enjoyed it? Simple: it placed premium on the Filipino’s talent. And because the event is a profound expression of Philippine-Spanish friendship, all the more would the “First Filipino” have relished the success of what is wrongly perceived as solely a high-brow food event.

With Ms. Margarita Araneta Forés, dubbed by the 50 World's Best as Asia's Best Female Chef. This humble but talented lady repeated last year's tour of Farmer's Market, Metro Manila's biggest wet market that brings in a myriad of fresh ingredients for city dwellers to purchase good seafood, vegetables, meats, etc within reasonable prices.

With Ms. Margarita Araneta Forés, dubbed by the 50 World’s Best as Asia’s Best Female Chef. This talented lady repeated last year’s tour of Farmer’s Market, Metro Manila’s biggest wet market that brings in a myriad of fresh ingredients for city dwellers to purchase good seafood, vegetables, meats, etc within reasonable prices. She was dubbed as the “mother” of Madrid Fusion Manila as she helped convince the right persons of bringing Madrid Fusión to Manila about two years ago

The chef presenters posing for a photo opportunity during the pre-event press conference.

The chef presenters posing for a photo opportunity during the pre-event press conference.

Being part of last year and this year’s team of communicators for the event, this writer can’t help but underscore the historical-cultural relevance of Madrid Fusión Manila. True, it is a product of the post-modern gastronomy of Spaniards (simplistically generalized as “molecular”) but with its edition in Manila, it also takes on the role of being a platform for goodwill and celebration for the two cultures, and for this year, three: Mexico’s. With a theme that commemorates the 450th anniversary of the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade, this year’s Madrid Fusión Manila reminded the participants and those who followed the event that much of today’s modern cuisines were influenced by the flow of ingredients during the 250-year old maritime activity, which many acknowledge as the precursor of globalization. By emphasizing the role the Philippines played in this exchange of goods might have made Rizal proud.

The chef behind San Pellegrino's best restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca, Joan Roca during the Chefs' Hour at Madrid Fusión Manila. My favorite part of his talk was when he shared how grateful he was for the values his parents instilled in them: a sense of SACRIFICE, hard-work, hospitality and the need to be authentic and real.

The chef behind San Pellegrino’s best restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca, Joan Roca during the Chefs’ Hour at Madrid Fusión Manila. My favorite part of his talk was when he shared how grateful he was for the values his parents instilled in them: a sense of SACRIFICE, hard-work, hospitality and the need to be authentic and real.

Prepared on a paellera that measures 10 ft. in diameter, the paella gigante kicked-off Flavors of the Philippines, a run up to Madrid Fusión Manila. More about the Festival de la Paella Gigante here:https://cucharatenedor.wordpress.com/tag/festival-dela-paella-gigante/

Prepared on a paellera that measures 10 ft. in diameter, the paella gigante kicked-off Flavors of the Philippines, a run up to Madrid Fusión Manila. More about the Festival de la Paella Gigante here:https://cucharatenedor.wordpress.com/tag/festival-dela-paella-gigante/

Similar to like last year, Madrid Fusión Manila was part of the activities organized by the Department of Tourism’s “Philippine Food Month” (April) [as usual, we don’t know if the so-called food month will be retained in this new administration…it could be totally scrapped or moved to another month]. The other major food event that took place last April was the World Street Food Congress, obviously more accessible to the different social strata in Philippine society.

With Tita Mielle Esteban ofArum Estrategias Internacionalizacion, S.L who handles Madrid Fusión (the original one in Madrid)

With Tita Mielle Esteban ofArum Estrategias Internacionalizacion, S.L who handles Madrid Fusión (the original one in Madrid)

Leading up to Madrid Fusión Manila were several activities that served as prelude to the gastronomy gathering. First, there was the Paella Gigante event held in Greenbelt 3 as a charity event organized by the Sociedad Española de Beneficencia. It was on a hot summer day when that paella gigante was prepared and boy was it amazing that despite the sheer size of the paellera, the paella itself tasted, smelled and felt exquisite. The chefs who executed the endeavor were from LTB Philippines.

With friends Nicole and Francis at the Tapas Night affair organized by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Spain

With friends Nicole and Francis at the Tapas Night affair organized by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Spain

After paella gigante, food enthusiasts, writers, members of the Filipino-Spanish community and the diplomatic circle were treated by the Embajada de España to a Tapas Night at Greensun, the venue turning into a virtual culinary tour of España. At the center stage, of course, were the jamon (cinco jotas) and cava. It was a beautiful evening, and I can still remember the smell of perfume, cheese and jamon all mixed in one enclosed space.

Jamon cinco jota cut into paper-thin slices by a FILIPINO master cortador!

Jamon cinco jota cut into paper-thin slices by a FILIPINO master cortador!

The Mesa Redonda portion was an enriching feature of this year's Madrid Fusión Manila.

The Mesa Redonda portion was an enriching feature of this year’s Madrid Fusión Manila.

This year’s version of Madrid Fusión Manila also introduced a handful of new features, namely: the opening of the congress with a highly informative, scholarly presentation by historian and archivist Don Antonio Sanchez de Mora of the Archivo General de Las Indias in Sevilla; the twice-a-day Chefs’ Hour, which were intimate press-conferences for the chefs and the media and; a round table discussion among select chefs, which was moderated by Chef José “Chele” Gonzalez, a presenter in last year’s congress and David Celdran, who has proven to be the perfect host for the event. On the last day, Joan Roca, the chef behind one of the world’s best restaurants, El Celler de Can Roca, surprised the gastronomy congress participants when he showed to an audience his team’s newest movie for the very first time.

With my mentor, Dr. Fernando Nakpil Ziálcita, esteemed cultural anthropologist and Hispanist.

With my mentor, Dr. Fernando Nakpil Ziálcita, esteemed cultural anthropologist and Hispanist.

With Ms. Jin Pérez, famous food writer and blogger. I follow her Instagram with much interest.

With Ms. Jin Pérez, famous food writer and blogger. I follow her Instagram with much interest.

Rizal would’ve beamed with pride at the sight of his fellow Filipinos co-presenting on a stage with chefs dubbed by the international community as some of the very best and brightest. They did not only impress; they also shared their philosophies, techniques and recipes to participants and media observers who were curious as to where Filipino chefs are taking Philippine cuisine. This writer admits that last year’s set of Filipino presenters were more stellar and presented far more captivating demonstrations than those this year. Likewise, this author believes that there are many more seasoned but not so-famous Filipino cooks who could’ve better represented Philippine gastronomy. Just like last year, tongues were wagging why he/she was there or why he/she wielded so much influence while some who have been in the industry for so long were veritably snubbed. Nevertheless, this year’s set still showcased great talent. Standing out was Romy Dorotan and Amy Besa’s highly-informative and insightful portion featuring tamales.

Amy Besa and Romy Doorman's highly-informative and almost scholarly presentation on tamales was my favorite of all the Filipino presentations.

Amy Besa and Romy Doorman’s highly-informative and almost scholarly presentation on tamales was my favorite of all the Filipino presentations.

Chef Miko Aspiras' innovative polvoron wasn't only beautiful to the eyes; it tasted wonderful! Actually, you'd be hard bent to categorically define how it tastes because it is packed with flavor.

Chef Miko Aspiras’ innovative polvoron wasn’t only beautiful to the eyes; it tasted wonderful! Actually, you’d be hard bent to categorically define how it tastes because it is packed with flavor.

With ChefVirgilio Martínez Vélez, the Peruvian chef who spoke on the"Colors of the Amazonia", a fantastic play of colors that showcased the many colors of seeds in the world renowned rain forest while one of his appetizers allows his diners to seemingly eat barks, stems and flowers from the natural wonder.

With ChefVirgilio Martínez Vélez, the Peruvian chef who spoke on the”Colors of the Amazonia”, a fantastic play of colors that showcased the many colors of seeds in the world renowned rain forest while one of his appetizers allows his diners to seemingly eat barks, stems and flowers from the natural wonder.

The excitement and learning didn’t end within the enclosed walls of the congress. In fact, they extended, and were heightened, at the much-anticipated Regional Lunches, jointly curated by the Department of Tourism, the Department of Agriculture (through the indefatigable Undersecretary Berna Romulo Puyat) and Alicia Colby Sy, Editor-in-Chief of Town and Country. The chefs who participated gave their all, the expansive lunches proving the variety and richness of our regions. The best, perhaps for this author, was the Luzon fare followed by the Mindanao lunch. It was a big question among many why the Visayan Regional Lunch was such a disappointment when the Visayas as a region is known for its amazing gastronomic heritage.

Ms. Dedet dela Fuente's Pepita's Lechon section was the crowd favorite. You don't need a college degree to know why.

Ms. Dedet dela Fuente’s Pepita’s Lechon section was the crowd favorite. You don’t need a college degree to know why.

Rich man's lechon: decorated with gold leaf and stuffed with a decadent truffle rice.

Rich man’s lechon: decorated with gold leaf and stuffed with a decadent truffle rice.

In his day and age, Rizal and his fellow ilustrados tried their best to prove to Spaniards and to other Europeans that Filipinos deserved equality precisely because they can compete or even prove to be better than their colonial masters. By excelling in different fields, most notably in the arts, the ilustrados pounced on every opportunity to demand respect and adulation. One can only imagine if there was a Filipino ilustrado during their time who could have used cuisine as his sword. Perhaps, we could’ve have gained independence at a much faster pace if someone made his reformist agenda through the tummies of the colonizers. Forgive my whimsical assertion but yes, the Filipino and his techniques can prove that the Philippines is a world-class destination, a country inhabited by talented cooks and blessed with a wonderful variety of local (and imported, through centuries of trading) ingredients.

A different take on the lowly salted egg (itlog na pula)

A different take on the lowly salted egg (itlog na pula)

Perhaps the signature Madrid Fusión Manila dish: kinilaw.

Perhaps the signature Madrid Fusión Manila dish: kinilaw.

Pata Negros has a sharp flavor profile, very similar to European hams.

Pata Negros has a sharp flavor profile, very similar to European hams.

Let us hope that the next Madrid Fusión Manila will push through. Perhaps, instead of the calamansi, Davao’s durian can take next year’s center stage.

Madrid Fusión Manila, a celebration of human talent, something José Rizal would have wanted to participate in.

Madrid Fusión Manila, a celebration of human talent, something José Rizal would have wanted to participate in. It was a joint effort of the Philippines’ Department of Tourism, Tourism Promotions Board, Department of Agriculture, Arum Estrategias, and so many private restaurateurs, food producers, the media, etc.

Posted in COMIDA FILIPINA, LA VIDA FILIPINA, Rizal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Half a day in Intramuros: Must Visit Places and Must Dos

A serene view from Intramuros of the former Legislative Building now the National Art Gallery

A serene view from Intramuros of the former Legislative Building now the National Art Gallery

Due to the massive urban sprawl Manileños have been experiencing at a rapid rate these past few decades, more and more are physically being distant from the historic center of the city. This creates for a lot of citizens a feeling of disassociation from their urban cultural history and heritage.

The Puerta Real, which leads to a garden. This gate was formerly used exclusively by the Governor General and the Archbishop of Manila.

The Puerta Real, which leads to a garden. This gate was formerly used exclusively by the Governor General and the Archbishop of Manila.

Fortunately, in today’s age of the Internet, increased mobility and the leisure travel craze, more and more folks from places like Quezon City, Marikina, Antipolo, Makati, Las Piñas, Mandaluyong and all these other “provinces” of pre-war Manila are developing an encouraging sign of interest in the old capital. I am not claiming that there is increased sympathy or even, care for Manila. However, it cannot be denied that more and more youths and adults can be seen walking the streets of Intramuros and Binondo. We who work for the promotion and preservation of the city must be happy with the influx of smartphone-holding people, taking “blogger” shots here and there, and well, just visiting the remnants of what used to be “a city of affections”.

A view of the after-sunset glow from Bayleaf's Skydeck

A view of the after-sunset glow from Bayleaf’s Skydeck

Before I get carried away and turn this entry into an essay, allow me to share with you my suggested itinerary for a trip to Intramuros. I must admit, I would prefer that people would call on me to be their guide but unfortunately, I can only do tours on weekends and holidays – upon request. This blog entry will be a helpful guide for you as you go around the historic (some squalid) streets of la ciudad murada, Intramuros, the walled city.

The main portals of San Agustín has been witnessing this all-too-familiar scene for roughly four hundred years now. Until today, San Agustín Church is a favorite wedding venue.

The main portals of San Agustín has been witnessing this all-too-familiar scene for roughly four hundred years now. Until today, San Agustín Church is a favorite wedding venue.

This is because sadly, getting around Intramuros can be quite overwhelming especially with the lack of signboards, directions, maps and other helpful information. You may search on Google maps directions but you’ll be hard-pressed to get information behind the streets’ names, the stories about the buildings and the historical context of certain events because well, you either didn’t pay much attention to your history classes or you simply don’t know them. Nevertheless, here’s my informative guide to half a day in Intramuros.

Allow me to even propose a time-table for this one-day tour of Intramuros for your reference and guidance. Note that I dropped Fort Santiago here as visiting it will take much of your time. You can go to it if you have a whole day set aside for Intramuros.

1:00 PM – San Agustín Church and Museum (Calle Gen. Luna)

The patio of the cloister of San Agustín

The patio of the cloister of San Agustín

If there is one sole original structure within Intramuros, it is none other than San Agustín Church, the only connection of any person to the history, art and culture of pre-War Intramuros. It is an exquisite repository of local Baroque designs and fixtures. Built in 1581, it is a UNESCO heritage site.

The intricately painted ceiling of San Agustín is something that beholds.

The intricately painted ceiling of San Agustín is something that beholds.

If there is one museum in Intramuros you must visit, it is this one. Inaugurated in 1975 by the former Principe de Asturias (eventually King) Juan Carlos de Borbon and former Princess Sofía, it holds a vast collection of Augustinian and ecclestiastical arts and artifacts saved through the years. The former monastery gives visitors a veritable feel of the religious life in one of Intramuros’ seven convents, with its manicured gardens and patios, stone staircase and cloister or clausura lined with religious paintings.

The sarcophagus of the founder of the city of Manila, El Adelantado, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi

The sarcophagus of the founder of the city of Manila, El Adelantado, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi

What you’re in for at the museum: Paintings, wooden pieces of furniture, pre-Vatican II vestments with gold thread, bronze, silver and gold works, exquisite ivory statues, centuries-old books and documents (including dictionaries of ancient Philippine languages) as well as access to the Sala de Profundis, the hair-raising crypt (occupied by some of Manila’s old rich families and historic figures including the ilustrado artist Juan Luna y Novicio) and Padre Blanco’s gardens. Currently, the coro or choirloft, which features the silladores or the carved Molave choir stalls of the friars, is closed due to conservation work. From this loft, one can view the church’s nave and get up close to the pipe organ.

The tombs of the forebears of the Zóbel - Roxas - de Ayala - Soriano clan

The tombs of the forebears of the Zóbel – Roxas – de Ayala – Soriano clan

Sala de Profundis or the Crypt of San Agustín

Sala de Profundis or the Crypt of San Agustín

Perhaps one of the most famous pieces in the San Agustín Museum collection is this statue of the Dominican martyr San Pedro de Verona who was hacked on the head by heathens.

Perhaps one of the most famous pieces in the San Agustín Museum collection is this statue of the Dominican martyr San Pedro de Verona who was hacked on the head by heathens.

Must sees:

– The trompe l’oeil (“fools the eye” in French) decoration of the wall and ceiling gives you the impression that the ornamentations are carved but they are actually painted. Started in 1875 by Italian opera backdrop artists Cesare Alberoni and Giovanni Dibella, the paintings are actually under threat of corrosion due to the air quality in the area.
– The side chapel of The Assumption, which you can immediately find at your left upon entering the church. It is a family crypt where most of the ancestors of the highly-influential and affluent Zóbel – Roxas – de Ayala – Soriano family are interred.
– The pulpit or ambo is an artistic piece. Elaborately gilded, it is located at the right side of the church (if one is facing the sanctuary) and holds a position of prominence since in the old days, when the microphone was still non-existent, the priest used to give sermons from the canopied structure. It has native flora and the pineapple as its decorative motifs.
– The Chapel of the Conquistadores – located at the left side of the sanctuary, the sarcophagus of the founder of the city of Manila, el adelantado, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, figures in the middle. It contains the mortal remains not only of Legaspi but also the other pioneer conquistadores who used to be buried in the church but whose bones were scatted when the British pillaged the church during their occupation from 1762-64.

The refectory (which I still is under conservation work) is located across the crypt. It houses the Pagrel collection, part of donation of Don Luís Araneta to the museum.

The refectory (which I still is under conservation work) is located across the crypt. It houses the Pagrel collection, part of donation of Don Luís Araneta to the museum.

Myself in the clausura during one of my tours

Myself in the clausura during one of my tours

Tips:
– The museum opens at 8:00 AM and has a lunch break from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM. It closes at 6:00 PM.
– The entrance fee for adults is at Php 200 while students should bring their IDs so that they would only pay Php 100.
– If you don’t have time or you don’t want to go to the museum but you want to see the church, you can enter the church at 5:00 PM.
– You would usually see the doors flung open but that’s because there’s a wedding. You can only stay at the narthex if there are religious ceremonies going on.
– Don’t be in a rush when you do the museum tour. Take your time as you read through the descriptions and marvel at the fine craftsmanship of Filipino and Chinese artisans.

A sumptuous image of Nuestra Señora de la Consolación y la Correa, patroness of the Augustinians in the Philippines, wearing hammered silver and gold thread vestments mounted on a silver-plated carroza - one of the many images you can see in the museum.

A sumptuous image of Nuestra Señora de la Consolación y la Correa, patroness of the Augustinians in the Philippines, wearing hammered silver and gold thread vestments mounted on a silver-plated carroza – one of the many images you can see in the museum.

2:00 PM – Plaza San Luís Complex

Calle Urdaneta lines the Plaza San Luís Complex

Calle Urdaneta lines the Plaza San Luís Complex

A reconstructed compound, it resembles a Spanish colonial residential enclave. Entering it gives you a semblance of what it was like to enter the mansions of pre-War Intramuros. Currently, it houses souvenir shops and Barbara’s, one of a few dining options in Intramuros. Although the Barbara’s in the upper floor is quite formal in set-up, you can enjoy a more relaxed dining experience at the first floor, surrounded by plants and white-washed stone walls. Sometimes, rondalla music would accompany you here.

The Barbara's section of the compound makes you feel you're being transported to a different era.

The Barbara’s section of the compound makes you feel you’re being transported to a different era.

Tips:

– This is a good spot to catch your breath after the tour of San Agustín. Catch a cup of coffee and have some heavy pancit (stir-fried noodles) as you rest your feet for a few minutes and bask in the old colonial world feel of the place.
– Casa Manila is located within Plaza San Luís. It is a museum that depicts the classic colonial residence of a middle-class Filipino family. It has beautiful furnishings. However, the museum’s stiff restrictions (i.e. because of the polished wooden flooring, you are only allowed to walk on the red carpet, which also serves as the route of the museum visit; no photographs allowed, etc.) can be a turn-off. Also, if you’ve been to other old houses in the country, this might pale in comparison. But for first-timers, I suggest you go and see it for yourself. It isn’t something though you’d be coming back to.
– Entrance fee: Php 75.00

The portion of Calle Luna in front of Plaza San Luís has cobbled stones, giving you a real feeling it's a well-preserved area of Intramuros.

The portion of Calle Luna in front of Plaza San Luís has cobbled stones, giving you a real feeling it’s a well-preserved area of Intramuros.

Trivia: The whole area is not original. Because of the excellent work initiated by the former First Lady Imelda Marcos, visitors get the impression they’re in an historic compound.

Casa Manila - a museum you can visit once, and never come back to.

Casa Manila – a museum you can visit once, and never come back to.

2:30 PM – Memorare Monument (Plazuela de Sta. Isabel, Calle General Luna cor. Calle Anda)

Memorare Monument at Plazuela de Sta. Isabel

Memorare Monument at Plazuela de Sta. Isabel

Serving as a common gravestone to the 100,000 innocent civilian men, women, children and infants who were killed during the Liberation of Manila in February 1945, it is a somber stop in tours I give. It remembers the unjust, cold and bloody murder of Filipinos, Spaniards, and other persons living within Manila during the time when they were supposed to be freed from the Japanese. Scuplted by Peter de Guzman, the memorial was unveiled in 1995 on what used to be a girls’ school’s plaza. The merciless murders perpetuated by the Japanese Imperial army during its last day in Manila caused severe trauma to the city’s original residents, compelling them to leave their once beautiful city, and transfer to the suburban, almost provincial areas of San Juan, Pasay, New Manila, Quezon Avenue, and eventually, Makati.

A sobering stop reminding tourists that Intramuros was witness to some of the most violent and terrifying chapters in human history. Manila was the second most destroyed city after Warsaw during World War 2. It lost forever its charm, its very soul.

A sobering stop reminding tourists that Intramuros was witness to some of the most violent and terrifying chapters in human history. Manila was the second most destroyed city after Warsaw during World War 2. It lost forever its charm, its very soul.

Statue of King Carlos IV

Statue of King Carlos IV

2:45 PM – Plaza de Roma (Calle Aduana/Andres Soriano Avenue cor. Calle Real del Palacio/Gen. Luna Street)

A view of Plaza de Roma from the steps of the Cathedral

A view of Plaza de Roma from the steps of the Cathedral

Located at a strategic area in Intramuros, Plaza Roma was formerly Plaza Mayor, the “queen” of all plazas in the country, which was surrounded by the former Palacio del Gobernador, the Ayuntamiento (which was recently reconstructed rather tastefully) and the Manila Cathedral, the “mother” of all dioceses in the Philippines. One must remember that Intramuros was the city of Manila; thus, Plaza Mayor, being the main public square of the capital, it was once a busy and important open space, similar to all the major squares in European cities. Why, even bull fights were held here. Eventually, it was transformed into a garden, and today it is a manicured garden graced at the center of a bronze statue of King Carlos IV, the Spanish monarch who sent the vaccine against small pox to Spain’s only colony in the Far East. The said statue was erected in 1824. The plaza’s current name – Plaza de Roma – in in honor of the Eternal City of Rome, and the change was brought about in 1961 when the first Filipino was elevated as a Prince of the Church (cardinal), the aristocratic Archbishop Rufino Jiao Cardinal Santos.

A view of Manila Cathedral from Plaza de Roma

A view of Manila Cathedral from Plaza de Roma

The tympanum above the main portico bears a Latin inscription, which in English means: To your Immaculate Heart, we entrusted for safekeeping and consecrated. It also bears a strong net-romanesque style.

3:00 PM – Manila Cathedral or formally the Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción de Santa María (Calle Gen. Luna cor. Postigo)

Destroyed during the Liberation of Manila in 1945, the current building was rebuilt in 1958 through the efforts of the first Filipino Cardinal, Archbishop Rufino Cardinal Santos. The 8th cathedral building to stand on the same spot, it was designed in the neo-romanesque style by a team of Filipino and Italian artists under the supervision of notable Filipino architect Fernando Ocampo. Technically, the Manila Cathedral as an establishment has been around for 430+ years.

During Holy Week, expect the cathedral to be filled with both pilgrims and tourists.

During Holy Week, expect the cathedral to be filled with both pilgrims and tourists.

Three Popes have celebrated Mass here: Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II and most recently, Pope Francis. Beneath the cathedral is the crypt where past archbishops of Manila are buried. The reason why this church is important is because all the other archdioceses and dioceses in the country were technically established by the Archdiocese of Manila. The church also houses the biggest pipe organ in Asia.

A mosaic of St. Jude in one of the side chapels.

A mosaic of St. Jude in one of the side chapels.

Must sees:
– The replicas of la Pieta and San Pietro statues, the original ones being iconic artworks in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
– The mosaics. Not many notice the exquisite mosaic works that grace the side chapels of the cathedral. These mosaics were executed by Italian artists and some of them are accentuated with gold leaf. The ceiling of the canopy in the sanctuary is also decorated with gold leaf mosaic.
– The cardinal’s galero or red hat which hangs from the dome. It is a sign that a church is a cardinal’s church.

A view of the sanctuary of Manila Cathedral with the image of Our Lady veiled as customary during Holy Week.

A view of the sanctuary of Manila Cathedral with the image of Our Lady veiled as customary during Holy Week.

Trivia:
– The statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in the altar used to be painted totally in gold. However, since it was too glaring, almost gaudy, they repainted it.
– The Manila Archdiocese used to be a parish of the Archdiocese of Mexico.
– The cross on the dome of the Manila Cathedral used to be the Philippines’ “Kilometer Zero”, the reference point from which all distances were measured.
– Its bells are the largest in use in the whole country.
– Its pipe organ is the biggest in Asia.

A view of the pipe organ of Manila Cathedral

A view of the pipe organ of Manila Cathedral

The Ayuntamiento lit up at night.

The Ayuntamiento lit up at night.

3:30 PM – Ayuntamiento (Formerly Calle Aduana/Andres Soriano Avenue)

The Ayuntamiento or the former City Hall made a recent comeback to the walled city when it was reconstructed on its original site to house the Bureau of Treasury. It is a rather tasteful reconstruction project, and its main hall is a beautiful place to hold an event.

The Ayuntamiento served as the palace of the Manila City Council, which consisted of two alcaldes (city leaders), eight oidores (judges), a clerk, and a chief constable. This set-up was also the precursor of the current Supreme Court. The First Philippine Assembly and the eventual Philippine Legislature also held sessions here. It was destroyed in 1945 with only the outer walls of the original building left standing, and for practically 60 years, it served as parking lot. In 2009, reconstruction began and was completed albeit delayed in 2013.

Trivia: It used to be known as the “Marble Palace” because of its generous use of Romblon marble.

Tip: You really can’t enter the building because it’s an office and not a tourist site.

A view of the Ayuntamiento during the day.

A view of the Ayuntamiento during the day.

3:45 PM – Intendencia/Casa de Moneda/Aduana (Muralla cor. Calle Aduana/Andrés Soriano Avenue)

The Intendencia

The Intendencia

This building serves as a “what-if” reminder to visitors in Intramuros. You see, after the Liberation of Manila (World War II), not all the structures were flattened. Most of the facades and outer walls of the churches, convents, palaces and buildings remained. This was one such example. The unfortunate tearing down of old buildings took place through the decades particularly in the 50s and 60s. Intramuros could have been a city of wonderful if not, hair-raising facades!

Some of the remaining wrought iron fixtures in the building. Thankfully, not all have been stolen by junk peddlers.

Some of the remaining wrought iron fixtures in the building. Thankfully, not all have been stolen by junk peddlers.

The Intendencia used to be customs house of the country. Inspectors of the galleons that would enter the Pasig River would hold office here. This was also where the first Philippine currency was minted after we stopped using Mexican silver after Mexico’s independence from Spain.

Until 1979, the Intendencia was still in use.

Until 1979, the Intendencia was still in use.

Actually, the building was still used after the War and was conserved to function as the offices of the Central Bank, the National Treasury and the Commission on Elections. However, in 1979, a fire ravaged the building. Currently, it serves as a picturesque albeit creepy backdrop with its remaining elaborate wrought iron grills, arched doorways and sparsely-decorated Baroque façade. Trees, ivy and plans have grown inside the edifice.

Plaza Mexico is very near the Intendencia. One can make a stop to visit this monument celebrating the long ties that bind Mexico and the Philippines.

Plaza Mexico is very near the Intendencia. One can make a stop to visit this monument celebrating the long ties that bind Mexico and the Philippines.

Trivia: The first Philippine Pesos were minted here. They called our money “pera” in reference to “perra” (bitch), as it bore the face of the unpopular Reina Isabela II.

The statue and puerta de Reina Isabela II is also very near the Intendencia.

The statue and puerta de Reina Isabela II is also very near the Intendencia.

4:00 PM – Muralla Walk

A view of the cathedral from the back of Letran as you make your way to Muralla

A view of the cathedral from the back of Letran as you make your way to Muralla

This portion of my tour takes you on the actual adobe stone walls of Intramuros as you walk the periphery. Coming from the Intendencia, you make your way down to el Colegio de San Júan de Letran whose high school department is the oldest suriving in the country.

The clock tower of Letran bears the date of establishment and the date when the "new" building was erected (1937).

The clock tower of Letran bears the date of establishment and the date when the “new” building was erected (1937).

You ascend the walls in front of Letran and walk on it, passing by the Puerta del Parían near Lyceum.

A view of the clock tower of Manila City Hall from the walls

A view of the clock tower of Manila City Hall from the walls

Upon reaching Mapúa College, you may take time to take photographs at the palisade replete with cannons.

Walls lined with cannons

Walls lined with cannons

Trivia:
– The walls of Intramuros are made from adobe stones quarried from Guadalupe, Makati and transported through the Pasig River. The project of fortifying the city with stone was initiated by a Jesuit, Padre Antonio Sedeño, SJ, after whom the Salcedo Village street was named.

– The Mapúa compound used to be the Franciscan friars’ section of the city, occupied by the Iglesia de San Francisco and the Capilla del Venerable Orden Tercero (VOT) or the Chapel of the Third Order, the lay arm of the Franciscans.

You can walk on the walls of Intramuros. This activity gives you a nice vantage point to view different aspects of  the walled city as well as its peripheries, just like the soldiers of yore.

You can walk on the walls of Intramuros. This activity gives you a nice vantage point to view different aspects of the walled city as well as its peripheries, just like the soldiers of yore.

4:30 PM – Sunset at Bayleaf Hotel’s Skydeck

A view of the Intramuros golf course, the National Art Gallery and Natural Sciences Gallery from Bayleaf Hotel's Skydeck

A view of the Intramuros golf course, the National Art Gallery and Natural Sciences Gallery from Bayleaf Hotel’s Skydeck

To end your tour of the “ciudad insigne y siempre leal” – “the distinguished and ever loyal city” (a royal appellation given by the King of Spain to Manila/Intramuros), go to the penthouse level of the Bayleaf Hotel (owned by the Laurel family).

This restaurant deck affords you a 360-degree view of Metro Manila. On good days, you can marvel at the iconic Manila sunset as you enjoy cold drinks to end your tour.

End your tour of Intramuros with a cold drink at Bayleaf Hotel. If the weather permits, you will be able to enjoy fantastic views of the sun setting over Manila Bay.

End your tour of Intramuros with a cold drink at Bayleaf Hotel. If the weather permits, you will be able to enjoy fantastic views of the sun setting over Manila Bay.

If you have more time for Intramuros, I suggest you also visit:

1.) Baluarte de San Diego – an archeological site, you can pay a measly Php 75 to enter the grounds, which also include a bonsai garden and access to a portion of the bulwark that affords you a great view of the former Beaterio or convent of the Religious of the Virgin Mary, which is now the Lights and Sounds Museum.

2.) Fort Santiago – the former military headquarters during the entire 300-year rule of the Spaniards, this has been transformed into pocket gardens and parks, an idyllic tourist and event venue. The former main gate which bears the bas relief of Santiago Matamoros (St. James Slayer of the Moors), patron of Spain, still stands.

Heavily damaged during World War 2 (there's a photo of a tank ramming itself into the gate), the former entrance into Fort Santiago stands proudly as one of Intramuros' more popular monuments.

Heavily damaged during World War 2 (there’s a photo of a tank ramming itself into the gate), the former entrance into Fort Santiago stands proudly as one of Intramuros’ more popular monuments.

Posted in GUIA: TOURS, OLD MANILA, VIAJES | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Diwali and Elegant South Mumbai

Thoroughly enjoyed my days spent exploring South Bombay

Thoroughly enjoyed my days spent exploring South Bombay

A NIGHT IN SOUTH MUMBAI

A tree-lined street at Colaba, South Bombay

A tree-lined street at Colaba, South Bombay

We came in time for the Diwali, the Festival of Lights and a time of family reunions and gift-giving for Hindus. On the eve of the Diwali, our counterparts graciously took us to South Mumbai, a place I personally fell in love with. Because we came at night, it had a different appeal. Some of the stately Edwardian buildings were lit while others were obscured by the evening darkness.

Our group at Mondegar

Our group at Mondegar

For that evening, our friends first brought us to a South Mumbai institution, Mondegar’s Café. Inside, one can get the old Escolta feel as if one was being transported to 1950s Manila. It was packed to the seams. However, it was also a witness to a violent and sad chapter of Mumbai history when Islamic radicals sprayed bullets into the café as they shut down Mumbai, culminating with their occupation of The Taj Mahal Hotel. After having some beer and chicken tandoor, our colleagues took us to this famous street side joint called Bademiya, a hit among Mumbai young professionals. It was street food but it looked clean and with hot grills, it was really appealing. The set-up was you ordered your food and when these would be ready, the dishes would be brought to your car… hood or trunk! What we did was we opened our car’s hood, laid out news papers and the food on paper plates and voila, we had a hearty dinner! We ordered some of Bademiya’s popular offerings: chicken tikka rolls (super spicy!) and lamb and chicken brains with lots of onions and soft, warm roti.

Ox brain, chicken keema and lentejas with hot fluffy roti served on our car's hood at Bademiya, Colaba

Ox brain, chicken keema and lentejas with hot fluffy roti served on our car’s hood at Bademiya, Colaba

Enjoying our streetside food

Enjoying our streetside food

Going home, we took the train. Now, you must agree with me, with all those scenes we’ve seen on Discovery Channel or National Geographic of Indian trains bursting with people and the occasional monkey climbing in the coaches, we’ve already developed our pre-conceived notions of what a train ride in India could be like. Well, since we rode the train from the terminus at a very late hour on the eve of the Diwali, we didn’t experience anything eventful…until we got to our stop. Upon arriving at our stop, someone was pushed out of the coach and he hit the platform with a loud thud, eliciting screams from the white tourists!

Posing at the floral carpet for Diwali at The Leela, Mumbai

Posing at the floral carpet for Diwali at The Leela, Mumbai

DIWALI IN MUMBAI

CST lit for the Diwali

CST lit for the Diwali

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Diwali in Mumbai fell on a Thursday and Francis and I began our day tour around South Mumbai roughly after lunch. We alighted our car at Colaba, which was the street shopping area in South Mumbai. After an hour or so of going through boutiques (Francis managed to buy his girlfriend an elegant cashmere jacket perfect for a fall outdoor affair), we had a quick lunch at Leopold’s, a popular café frequented by tourists who might be after either Indian or continental fare.

Posing with the Gateway of India behind me.

Posing with the Gateway of India behind me.

South Mumbai streetscape

Afterwards, we began our walk from Colaba past the

The clock tower of Mumbai University, which has one of the best campuses in the world.

The clock tower of Mumbai University, which has one of the best campuses in the world.


Mumbai University,
Bombay High Court

Bombay High Court

Bombay High Court,

The Municipal Corporation Building reminds me of Cibeles in Madrid. It houses  houses the civic body that governs the city of Mumbai

The Municipal Corporation Building reminds me of Cibeles in Madrid. It houses houses the civic body that governs the city of Mumbai



the Municipal Corporation Building

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) was built iin 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) was built iin 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.

and on to the iconic and breathtaking Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, an impressive edifice of combined Indo-Saracenic and High Victorian Gothic Revival styles replete with ornamentation and topped by a dome.

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which survived a terrorist attack a few years back. It stands proudly in front of the bay.

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which survived a terrorist attack a few years back. It stands proudly in front of the bay.

Our walk through canopied streets and excellently laid out avenues reminded Francis of New York while I felt I was back in Europe.

Have you ever seen shows that featured this side of Bombay? For me, it was surreal to walk through these streets because they never registered in mind to have been extant in India. Impressive!

Have you ever seen shows that featured this side of Bombay? For me, it was surreal to walk through these streets because they never registered in mind to have been extant in India. Impressive!

Edwardian and Victorian buildings abount in South Bombay, adding a sense of gentility to the otherwise chaotic mega metropolis.

Edwardian and Victorian buildings abount in South Bombay, adding a sense of gentility to the otherwise chaotic mega metropolis.

The ornate Flora Fountain is a heritage structure in Mumbai located on Martyr's Square.

The ornate Flora Fountain is a heritage structure in Mumbai located on Martyr’s Square.

A lot of my preconceived notions of India were erased because of our trip to South Mumbai. India is indeed a multi-faceted country. We intended to have a short break at the McDonald’s across CST as we booked an Uber but because of mobile data and roaming problems, it took almost 30 minutes before the driver finally got our call and made the move to go to where we were. Apparently in India, the drivers wouldn’t drive until you call them.

Francs and I unwinding at Corniche on the grand feast of the Diwali.

Francs and I unwinding at Corniche on the grand feast of the Diwali.

From there, we went to Bandara, a hip coastal town, which was frequented by Mumbai’s middle class youths and expatriate community. We settled in this placed called Corniche, an al fresco café on the beachfront. We were lucky because we made it to their happy hour promotion, which was “Buy 1 Drink, Get 1 Drink”. We then bought one bottle of red Indian wine to get another one free! Throughout Mumbai during Diwali, we saw floral carpets with oil lamps everywhere, ranging from elegant ones to the more simpler displays.

An old black cab behind me.

An old black cab behind me.

LAST DAY IN MUMBAI

Beautifully preserved buildings utilized for modern ends.

Beautifully preserved buildings utilized for modern ends.

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On my last day in Mumbai, Vineeta graciously took me around South Mumbai. We walked along tree-lined streets and grand avenues that reminded me of Paris and Madrid. Upon my request, she also brought me to the textile market, Mangaldas where I splurged on beautiful fabrics for my polos. The qualities of the cloths were superb while the prints were very unique. She also brought me to a famous eatery that served traditional Indian food on banana leaves.

St. Mary's Basilica in Bandara

St. Mary’s Basilica in Bandara

After lunch, I went to Bandara again to visit the Catholic basilica of Holy Mary, which sports a neo-gothic style. I noticed that the locals also prayed at the sanctuary area in the same posture as they would in Hindi temples. Finally, before I flew out of India, I had an afternoon drink on the rooftop restaurant of the Sea Palace Hotel, which afforded me fantastic sunset views of the Bay of Mumbai. It was a quiet afternoon that left me feeling extremely grateful for my once-in-a-lifetime experience in India.

The view from the Sea Palace Hotel

The view from the Sea Palace Hotel

Mumbai International Airport was exquisite! Really beautiful!

Mumbai International Airport was exquisite! Really beautiful!

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INDIA 2015

Elephants on parade at Amer Fort, Jaipur, Rajasthan

Elephants on parade at Amer Fort, Jaipur, Rajasthan


One of the most unexpected trips I’ve ever had was my business trip to India last year. I went with my team mate (and also, school batch mate) Francis. We were tasked to monitor a project and create positive rapport with our 3rd party supplier, and the deployment was more than 2 weeks.

India had always, to tell you honestly, given me the impression of being too over-the-top a destination that I never really wanted to visit it. Ever since I was a young kid who loved watching National Geographic, scenes of rats being adored, king cobras poisoning hapless farmers, elephants running amok and corpses being allowed to rot at the banks of Ganges – all these, well, turned me off. Before my trip, I researched on some travel tips to avoid getting food poisoning, and the list was quite long: “don’t eat cut fruit”, “don’t drink water that is not served in a sealed bottle”, “do not try street food”, etc.

Our 5-star accommodation in Mumbai - The Leela

Our 5-star accommodation in Mumbai – The Leela

Fortunately, throughout our stay in India, we never woke up to bad tummies.

The lobby of The Leela upon our arrival in Mumbai at past 12 in the evening.

The lobby of The Leela upon our arrival in Mumbai at past 12 in the evening.

For our first time in India, our main destination was Mumbai where the office of our consultants were located. Luckily, we had a swell time staying for two weeks at The Leela, one of Mumbai’s oldest 5-star hotels. It was 5-minutes away from the international airport and is an expansive compound with a big pool and well-appointed lobby. Our room was not big but neither was it cramped. Sadly, we never enjoyed the breakfast fare here except during our first day. Why? Because they served practically the same items EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Every day, we took either Uber or Meru cars as it was very difficult using local cabs as foreigners. We also had the option of using the rickshaw but that would mean more than 1 hour of traveling amidst Indian heat and Mumbai traffic. To tell you honestly though, the only difference with Manila and Mumbai traffic is that in Mumbai, you’d see an occasional cow on the road. Manila traffic is almost like Mumbai’s! It wasn’t too much of a culture shock.

The quintissential Mumbai ride: the rickshaw

The quintissential Mumbai ride: the rickshaw

Every lunch, Francis and I would enjoy authentic Indian food as our counterparts’ office had free buffet lunch daily. Francis loved the Indian practice of putting yoghurt on rice. I, on the other hand, loved the lentils, the eggs and the different kinds of rice served. Since a lot in the office were vegetarians, it was always a treat for me and Francis when there would be chicken or veal served.

Every day, we came home to this beautiful view.

Every day, we came home to this beautiful view.

In this series of blog entries, I will share with you some of my memorable times spent in the land of colorful saris, exoticism and dizzying culture – India.
DIWALI and SOUTH MUMBAI

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Why I Will Miss La Cocina de Tita Moning

A private sala shared to the curious public. La Cocina de Tita Moning is housed in the former home of Dr. Alejandro Roces Legarda and Doña Ramona Hernandez who was also known as Tita Moning. Diners get to experience the Legarda household's own lifestyle with the restaurant featuring some family memorabilia for guests to use, touch or see.

A private sala shared to the curious public. La Cocina de Tita Moning is housed in the former home of Dr. Alejandro Roces Legarda and Doña Ramona Hernandez who was also known as Tita Moning. Diners get to experience the Legarda household’s own lifestyle with the restaurant featuring some family memorabilia for guests to use, touch or see.

In a week, La Cocina de Tita Moning, the bespoke restaurant experience in old Manila, will be closing her doors to guests and diners after a 15-year run. Located within the former home of Dr. Don Alejandro Roces Legarda and Doña Ramona Hernández (aka Tita Moning to relatives and the then tightly-knit Manileño community) in one of the earliest Art Deco residences in the city (the house was built in 1937), La Cocina de Tita Moning was opened by one of the couple’s grandchildren, Suzette L. Montinola, who is also a faculty member at Enderun Colleges, not solely to run a business but likewise, to share to the greater public Tita Moning’s recipes, which were already quite popular among her friends and family.

The biggest group I've toured at La Cocina de Tita Moning, members and friends of the Heritage Conservation Society - Youth.

The biggest group I’ve toured at La Cocina de Tita Moning, members and friends of the Heritage Conservation Society – Youth.

A member of the staff serving leche flan for one of the groups I brought for merienda cena.

A member of the staff serving leche flan for one of the groups I brought for merienda cena.

Members of the staff putting paella valenciana on the plates of students I brought to La Cocina on one occasion

Members of the staff putting paella valenciana on the plates of students I brought to La Cocina on one occasion

The restaurant was a big hit. It was a novel experience in a Manila that was still beginning to jumpstart what is currently a booming restaurant scene. What set La Cocina de Tita Moning apart was the fact that diners (who had to call at least 24 hours in advance to reserve a table) were given an experiential meal, which made them feel they were being transported to a bygone Manila – a Manila of gentility, sophistication, class and affection. Specializing in Fil-Hispanic menus, La Cocina de Tita Moning provided the total dining experience –

The patio is where guests begin their La Cocina de Tita Moning experience. It gives you a very homey vibe and it is a perfect spot to enjoy your pandan iced tea.

The patio is where guests begin their La Cocina de Tita Moning experience. It gives you a very homey vibe and it is a perfect spot to enjoy your pandan iced tea.

from the ambience,

Exquisite Vajillas La Cartuja from Sevilla. These are expensive china and by the sheer number of pieces in La Cocina, you get an idea of the old wealth of the family. It's a joy to be eating on these.

Exquisite Vajillas La Cartuja from Sevilla. These are expensive china and by the sheer number of pieces in La Cocina, you get an idea of the old wealth of the family. It’s a joy to be eating on these.

Roast pork with crispy cracklings served on La Cartuja Sevillana.

Roast pork with crispy cracklings served on La Cartuja Sevillana.

to the exquisite La Cartuja china,

The Murano pieces were bought by Mrs. Legarda from previous trips to Italy.

The Murano pieces were bought by Mrs. Legarda from previous trips to Italy.

the Murano table centerpieces, the silver,

The household staff are always ready to assist you.

the staff’s attention – all those made it a wonderful place to mark special occasions.

The Spanish Pop Culture class I brought to La Cocina. Their professor was my own profesora, la Señora Heide Aquino.

The Spanish Pop Culture class I brought to La Cocina. Their professor was my own profesora, la Señora Heide Aquino.

And the beautiful part is, visitors come to a realization that there was indeed that kind of Manila in recent history. It was a chance to dine how our grandparents dined, and for those who are not from the same social background as the Roces-Legarda family, an opportunity to eat how the alta de sociedad wined and dined.

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Claudia, Nicole and I. Claudia, who had been a vegetarian for years, suddenly ate chicken relleno and savored every bit of it without feeling guilty!

European guests at the sala

A small walking tour group

 

However, for this author, La Cocina de TIta Moning wasn’t only a restaurant; it was an important asset or feature of my tours.

Welcoming guests at the foyer of the Legarda house, which smells like butter. Yummy!

Welcoming guests at the foyer of the Legarda house, which smells like butter. Yummy!

As some of you know, I give tours around Manila and in all the groups who asked me to guide them around Manila, I never failed to recommend La Cocina de Tita Moning as a must-visit stop. Usually, my tours would end there or would have a merienda stop in the patio. Ms. Suzette actually customized a merienda menu for my tour groups. For a modest fee of P500, my guests got to tour the house and have their fill of toast bread with their signature queso de bola spread, sotanghon guisado, really good chicken relleno, leche flan and pandan iced tea.

With friends Patty and Bianca Rodriguez

With friends Patty and Bianca Rodriguez

Friends from France and Spain on a December 30 tour

My friends from Globe posing in the sala

My friends from Globe posing in the sala

With Mathilde, Seb, Chiara and Nico. This particular tour was quite a memorable one. I enjoyed their group very much!

With Mathilde, Seb, Chiara and Nico. This particular tour was quite a memorable one. I enjoyed their group very much!

I can’t count the number of groups I’ve brought to La Cocina de Tita Moning. However, I can say that in all those visits to the house, the staff have always given us the warmest welcome that only a Filipino family could. Service was always top-notch and the food never faltered in consistency of taste.

The Aguinaldo siblings listening as they started their tour at the foyer

The Aguinaldo siblings listening as they started their tour at the foyer

When La Cocina de Tita Moning accepts its last order on 31 May (which happens to be my birthday!), I will miss it terribly. My tours always ended or started on a high point precisely because of the unique and genuine Filipino hospitality and heritage my guests experience when we stop at La Cocina de Tita Moning. For reasons we can only guess – and for things that are purely private in nature – the Legardas’ (a family whose members form part of the Philippines’ historic cultural and intellectual elite) decision to close to the public their private property is another loss for Philippine cultural heritage. Why? Not only is the house a heritage site but its recent mission and purpose of introducing Filipinos and foreigners to a real, tasteful aspect of our culture will be lost, and will be replaced by other restaurants in Manila which do not measure to the authenticity it offers.

Tita Moning's classic bread and butter pudding. Decadent!

Tita Moning’s classic bread and butter pudding. Decadent!

With Suzette Montinola at Madrid Fusion Manila 2016

With Suzette Montinola at Madrid Fusion Manila 2016

Christmastime was a good time bringing guests to La Cocina because the house would be spruced up with Christmas decor and lights.

Christmastime was a good time bringing guests to La Cocina because the house would be spruced up with Christmas decor and lights.

Speakers with KF Seetoh of Makansutra and Domingo Ramon Enerio, Chief Operating Officer of the Tourism Promotions Board at the sala of La Cocina de Tita Moning after the TPB's hosted reception for World Street Food Congress speakers and international media.

Speakers with KF Seetoh of Makansutra and Domingo Ramon Enerio, Chief Operating Officer of the Tourism Promotions Board at the sala of La Cocina de Tita Moning after the TPB’s hosted reception for World Street Food Congress speakers and international media.

And finally, on a more intimate and personal level, one of the reasons why I love La Cocina de Tita Moning so much is because it is the only restaurant in Metro Manila that reminds me of the cooking of a person I miss so much: my own lola (grandmother), my Lola Entel.

My Lola and her family. She's the girl at the far right.

My Lola and her family. She’s the girl at the far right.

Born to a middle-class Manila family in 1922, Lola was known to her family, friends, in-laws and children in law (and then, to their own families), as a marvelous cook. Like any Filipina woman born to a Manila from that era, she had a strong Fil-Hispanic and Americanized orientation. What I miss from her own kitchen – morcon, lengua estofada or con champiñon, galantina, relleno, meat loaf, potato salad, pancit palabok, waffles and pancakes, doughnuts laced with generous amounts of sugar, kare-kare – a long list of things I dearly miss. All of those labors of love tasted of her own character – loving, passionate, patient, of good taste.

Lola carrying Papa in our family compound in Cubao with my uncles and aunts in their younger years.

Lola carrying Papa in our family compound in Cubao with my uncles and aunts in their younger years.

That is the great, almost divine, aspect of food – it evokes memories. Food (taste, scent, texture, presentation, etc.) take you back to stories from the past, and by savoring meals, you are reminded of so many things that actually, make you as a person. Food nourishes the body, the spirit, the mind and also, the heart.

Chinie Diaz, Suzette Montinola and myself at the World Street Food Congress

Chinie Diaz, Suzette Montinola and myself at the World Street Food Congress

To Ms. Suzette, Manang Tining, the entire staff of La Cocina de Tita Moning: muchísimas gracias por todo. Thank you very much for everything. Maraming, maraming salamat sa lahat!

READ ON THE FOOD I LOVED MOST FROM LA COCINA DE TITA MONING HERE:

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