Away for the Weekend: Exploring the streets of Binondo

The sweltering heat, the halo-halo stalls and the dry, monsoon winds – summer season is officially here! I actually have mixed feelings about summer. I love the fact that it’s not wet but i also hate it because you sweat a lot. However, what I think is truly charming about summer is the fact that it warrants you the opportunity to go on limitless adventures.

This year, I began my summer adventure with a trip to Binondo, the old business district of Manila. I have long wanted to go to Binondo to take a photo of the church and, of course, sample authentic Chinese cooking.

I excitedly took out my camera as we went down in front of Binondo Church. However, my excitement was quickly replaced with disappointment because my SLR was acting up. The LCD kept on displaying an error message. I attempted to remedy the problem – I turned it off, then on again, I took out the battery, I removed the lens, cleaned the contact points then put the lens back again – to no avail. After a few attempts, I was finally able to take one photo of Binondo Church. After that, I couldn’t take shots again so I just gave up.

Binondo Church


From Binondo Church, we decided to walk all the way to Sta. Cruz Church and pass through Ongpin St. As we began traversing Ongpin St., we were immediately tempted to try the first restaurant we saw – Tasty Dumplings. As mentioned earlier, I have long wanted to try Chinese food in Binondo because of all the delicious stories I hear about these.

We ordered steamed meat dumplings and one big bowl of mushroom ball noodles. The noodles were served but we were disappointed to find out that it was soup-based. We thought that we ordered pancit. Apparently, you had to explicitly say to the waiter that you are ordering pancit, else, they’ll immediately assume that it’s noodle soup (or mami style). We took a sip of the soup and it was good – tasty and meaty.
 

Mushroom ball soup
Steamed dumplings

Then came the six-piece steamed dumplings. These looked absolutely like gyoza. I prepared the dipping sauce – soy sauce, chili-garlic (the restaurant uses green chili) and…no calamansi? I asked for calamansi but the waiter informed me that what they had was only vinegar. Vinegar-soy-chili sauce for dumplings? That didn’t sound too appetizing so we just settled for soy sauce-chili combination.

I couldn’t wait for my first bite so I dipped my first dumpling in the sauce and put it in my mouth. It didn’t taste anything like the Chinese dumplings I was expecting. It tasted like gyoza. Again, utterly disappointing. The wrapper was thick and was starchy…too starchy. As for the noodles, we were met with more disappointment as the noodles were also very starchy. The mushroom balls, on the other hand, tasted more like squid balls. After a few more bites and some experimentation with the sauce, we decided to just have the remaining food wrapped and gave it to a lady beggar outside the store. 

Feeling frustrated, we went to Eng Bee Tin to buy hopia. I bought two combinations: one of ube and pastillas and another of ube and cheese.We ate the hopia monggo as we walked along Ongpin St.

A few moments later, we arrived at Sta. Cruz Church. We were hesitant to take photos of the Church because of some “suspicious-looking” people outside the church so we decided not to.

From Sta. Cruz Church, we took a jeep to Intramuros. We immediately headed to the Manila Cathedral and took photos. I tried my camera again and, luckily, I was able to capture a few pictures of Manila Cathedral.


Manila Cathedral

Of course, our outing will not be complete without a visit to Luneta. A few walks around Luneta and a stroll around the spruced up relief map of the Philippines, then we decided to head back to La Loma for dinner. We originally planned to eat at Eat Fresh but, unfortunately, it was already closed when we got there. So off we went to Chic Boy where we had grilled liempo, chicken inasal, grilled eggplants and green mango salad.

It was already very late when we finished dinner so we said our goodbyes soon after.


Beautiful Mindanao: My Adventure Down South

Once again, I had the privilege to be given another out-of-town assignment. This time, it was in beautiful General Santos City. Dismayed with our previous Cebu trip because of the lack of time to roam around, we were determined to make our Mindanao trip worthwhile.

General Santos City International Airport

Magandang GenSan!

 We arrived in GenSan on a Thursday. The lack of sleep didn’t douse our excitement a bit. Our friend Rose Celis, branch Account Officer, picked us up from the General Santos City International Airport. We were to meet the rest of the branch officers for brunch, Rose told us. The ride from the airport was a long one but it was also a chance to marvel at the beautiful GenSan countryside with its rolling plains and pastureland.

At around 10 AM, we arrived at the Sarangani Highlands, a beautiful oasis amidst the bucolic landscape. Rose introduced us to the others who were waiting. After just a few moments, we warmed up to the hospitality that is GenSan. Before our lunch, we toured Sarangani Highlands and saw the magnificent hand-painted doors of the rooms. The sleeping quarters had the feel of a villa mixed with indigenous materials. The owner even showed us the room where Shamcey Supsup stayed at during her visit to the place.

Hand-painted doors at Sarangani Highlands
Flowers at Sarangani Highlands

Fountain – Sarangani Highlands
Praying mantis

It was past 11 AM and we were all hungry. We ordered two of Sarangani Highlands’ bestsellers — Arroz ala Sarangani and sizzling bangus belly. Likewise, we ordered the famous Alamid coffee. Needless to say, the food, the coffee, the ambiance and the view of Sarangani Bay were absolutely perfect. After our sumptuous meal, we headed to the branch and spent the rest of the afternoon working.

Sizzling Bangus Belly – Sarangani Highlands
Arroz a la Sarangani – Sarangani Highlands
Fresh fruits – Sarangani Highlands
By 4PM, we decided to buy some stuff that we will use for the inauguration the next day. Plus, of course, we wanted to visit one of the landmarks of GenSan — KCC Mall, perhaps the most well-known shopping center in the area. Everything about KCC Mall reminded us of SM — the layout of the stalls, the department store, the grocery area at the basement and also the green plastic bags.

After our chores for the day, we were treated to a dinner — no, a feast! — in one of the humble restaurants in the area. Grilled tuna panga, clam soup, a great-tasting fish whose name I forgot, and bihod adobo. Bihod or fish roe has always intrigued me because it seemed so rich and tasty in pictures.

Clam Soup
Grilled tuna panga

Delicious GenSan dinner

The following day was all work. We were just relieved that the inauguration went well. The highlight of the event was the whole fresh tuna carved and served as sashimi.

Whole tuna

Freshest tuna sashimi
Tuna sashimi

Fireworks…

…more fireworks

…more fireworks
…more fireworks
…and more fireworks

 
Day 3 at GenSan, Saturday. Now it was time for some serious adventure. Rose and Felix met us at the branch at around 1PM.

Grand winner of the tuna float designing contest

Sculptures at the provincial capitol

Sarangani Provincial Capitol

Sarangani Provincial Capitol

The gold-plated Glan Municipal Hall
Another majestic view of Sarangani Bay

 From there, we drove all the way to Sarangani Bay in Gumasa, Sarangani — around 2 hours of continuous driving. We arrived at Sarangani Bay at a little past 3PM then ordered lunch at Isla Jardin Resort. We had fish belly; perhaps the best way to really savor the taste of this coastal province is to sample its fish dishes.

Fish belly at Isla Jardin Resport

We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling around the white sands of Sarangani Bay and taking shots of the horizon as well as the mangrove trees. By 5:30 PM, we thought it best to head back to GenSan because of the long drive.

Sarangani Bay
White sands of Sarangani Bay

Mangrove buds

Mangrove

Mangrove roots

Rose, Felix & Rayne

Strolling along the beach

Hermit crab

Beautiful Sarangani Bay

 

Mangrove – Sarangani Bay

 

Sarangani Bay

  

Final shot before we left

We were at GenSan by 7PM, and very hungry. We bought isaw and barbecue at a local shop. We then proceeded to the Tiongson Arcade where they sell fresh produce like meat, fish, clams and seaweeds.

Fresh tilapia at Tiongson Arcade

 

Fresh seafood

 

Squids

 

Fresh catfish on skewers

 

Bagaybay or tuna sperm sacs

 

Clams for the perfect soup

 The food is cooked after the order is placed. Food must be very good as the place was packed. We bought clams, tilapia and another type of fish. In a few minutes, clam soup, crispy-fried tilapia (they call it fish chicharon) and buttered fish were served. Once again, it was gastronomic heaven.

After the splendid dinner, it was time for some dessert and coffee. We drove to Blugre Coffee at Robinson’s for our sugar and caffeine fixes. I ordered ice-blended durian coffee with whipped cream. It smelled like authentic durian and it tasted good. I just didn’t like its consistency which was a bit too thick so you quickly get thirsty with each gulp.

Slice of chocolate cake swimming in cream – Blugre Cafe

Durian coffee which was a little bit too rich – Blugre Cafe

Sunday, our last Day at GenSan. Rose met us at the lodge after our breakfast. We were to go to South Cotabato, specifically at Mt. Matutum. We were to attend Mass at the Trappistine Monastery at the foot of Mt. Matutum. On the way to Mt. Matutum, there were endless pineapple fields. I later found out that this was Dole’s. Monotonous view but charming nonetheless.

Dole pineapple plantation
Trappistine Monastery at the foot of Mt. Matutum, South Cotabato

 We arrived at the Monastery just in time for the Mass and the first thing that greeted us were the angelic voices of the nuns. After the Mass, the people trooped to the Monastery’s store to buy pastries. The nuns sold cookies, handicrafts and other baked goodies to supplement their income.

Our flight was at 3PM that afternoon so we still had time for a quick lunch. And quick indeed was our lunch at Jollibee. Rose and his younger brother accompanied us to the airport. We wanted to stay a bit longer in GenSan but, alas, we had work waiting for us in Manila. We promised Rose that we will see each other again in more adventures. We had Corregidor and Tagaytay in our priority list. I promised myself that I would be back in Mindanao someday.

Boarding

Return flight

Return flight

 A few moments later, we were air bound. We slept through the entire flight because we were tired from all the driving and nights out.

We were in Manila by 5:30 PM. Later that evening, we were at Rayne’s house for dinner and a few drinks in celebration of his birthday.

It was a weekend well-spent; full of unforgettable food, places and new acquiantances.