Showing posts with label Zamboanga. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Zamboanga. Show all posts

Friday, October 19, 2007

Zamboanga Hermosa (part 2)

Here is part 2 of my highlights from our awesome adventure in Zamboanga (if you haven’t read part one click here):

Lunch at Vista del Mar
Vista del Mar is the seaside resort where C popped the question two years ago. This year, our group arranged for a lunch there. This was one of my favorite meals this trip! We had grilled lapu-lapu (a kind of grouper), steamed lapu-lapu with a soy-garlic oil (this was amazingly good! Moist, tender, and oh-so-flavorful), prawns, batter-fried squid, and a trio of delicious salads – pako salad (fiddlehead fern) with tomatoes and a roasted garlic infused olive oil; green mango salad with tomatoes, onions, and crushed peanuts; and my absolute favorite, lato salad (lato is a delicious seaweed that is abundant in Zamboanga – it only grows in clean waters) with tomatoes and onions. We feasted right by the water, the sea breezes mussing our hair as we ate. For dessert we had leche flan and lanzones…the perfect ending to this meal. To work off our lunch we took a leisurely walk to the Maria Clara Art Gallery, which is also on the grounds of the resort. It’s a small, charming gallery with some nice paintings on display, along with local crafts for sale. La Vista del Mar: Calarian, Zamboanga City. Telephone - +63 62 9830099.

Yakan Village
The Yakan Village in Upper Calarian (very near Vista del Mar) is another place I like to visit. The Yakans originally settled in Basilan (and island near Zamboanga City) but some moved to Zamboanga City. They are famous for their beautiful weavings. The colorful designs are made into bags, placemats, table runners, jackets, and many other things to tempt the tourist…a temptation to which I happily yielded. I came away with two table runners and a cute traditional cap for my dad :)

Balikbayan Night - Sitti in Concert
One of the important events during the fiesta is Balikbayan Night – this is when all the Zamboangeños from all corners of the world (balikbayan literally translates to “return to homeland” and is a term used to describe Filipinos who live abroad when they come over to visit) get together for one big party, usually involving dinner and entertainment. One of the main performers that night was Sitti, our very own princess of bossa nova, who apparently has roots in Zamboanga (by way of her grandmother)! This girl is a natural charmer on stage and, by the end of her performance; she had us on our feet and dancing! The dancing did not stop there, and as the next band came on we were all shaking and shimmying in earnest! I love to dance! Thank goodness C can keep up (usually) ;) By the end of the night, after much shouting from our friends, the band called C and I up on stage to sing...In the glare of the spotlight, my emotions struggled between acute embarrassment and that uncontrollable desire to grab the microphone that karaoke-addicts like me tend to suffer. Guess which won out?

Midnight bibingka at Master’s Bakery
After a night of revelry we look for something hearty to settle our stomachs. Although some of us clamor for spit-roasted chicken, while others shout of sisig (um, see here), our uncle directs us to Master’s Bakery, a little hole-in-the-wall bakeshop in Giwan, where we have freshly cooked bibingka (rice-flour cakes topped with local white fresh cheese and salted eggs, baked in a clay oven, then slathered with butter and served with freshly grated coconut) still steaming hot. The bibingka here is bite-sized and topped with cheese, maybe a little butter, and that’s it. None of the red (salted) egg, sugar, and coconut. Perhaps it’s because I don’t really enjoy salted egg on my bibingka that I find this to be one of the best I have ever tried…it could also be because it is fresh out of the oven and thus at its peak. Of course, we can’t discount the fact that it could also be because we had been wining away all night. In any case, nibbling at these incredibly soft warm cakes, while packed in a van filled with your friends, after a night of fun and laughter, was definitely a highlight for me.

Garden Dinner at Palmeras
Another gastronomic highlight on my trip was the splendid dinner C’s mom had prepared for us at the garden of Palmeras (our hotel). This dinner showcased the Spanish influences on Zamboanga’s palate. There was callos (a tripe stew – it’s good!) and lengua (tongue – I know, I know…but I really like it!), prawns in a creamy-spicy sauce, and baked fish. We also had a lechon (roast pig) which was tender and very flavorful (the lechon in Zamboanga rocks!). My favorite though was the famous curacha with Alavar sauce (which I have actually made at home!), or rather Palmera’s sauce as this was our hotel’s own version of that famous Zamboanga condiment. It was so good I put it on more than just my curacha! For dessert we had saguing rebosao (bananas cooked with brown sugar) and the most amazing date bundt cake with caramel sauce (I wouldn’t say this was indigenous in any way, but it was made by special request of my mum-in-law and, indigenous or not, it was spectacular). After the food was gone we toasted the night away with many a “Viva Zamboanga!” :)

Sta. Cruz Island
Visiting Sta. Cruz Island (there are two islands actually, and a sand bar) will always be a highlight for me, and no matter how many times I see it, I don’t think I will ever tire of its untouched white (pink actually…the pink of decades worth of naturally crushed coral) beaches…its sense of isolation despite being so close to the mainland…the irony of the peaceful languor you feel as you lie on its shores, knowing that you can’t visit it unless you have some sort of escort. Sigh…not very zen to have navy guys following you on your meditative beach-walks (no matter how cute they are!). They were really nice though and we badgered them with questions about their missions. We brought a picnic lunch with us…more grilled fish, adobong pusit (squid adobo), and a pile of lato that we had some of the fishermen living on the island fetch for us straight out of the sea (which is the best way to have it)! After lunch we walked to the end of the sand bar...what a magical moment…standing on a thin strip of sand in the middle of the sea with nothing but a bunch of sea birds as company! Check out another traveler’s account of Sta. Cruz islands here.

I hope you enjoyed these highlights as much as I enjoyed reliving them. I can’t wait for next year’s fiesta…already our group is getting bigger as more friends want to see what all the fuss is about :) Have a good weekend everyone!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Zamboanga Hermosa (part 1)

I’m back! Well, I’ve been back since Sunday but you know how it is…trying to ease into the swing of things while your body and mind are still lounging in the warm afterglow of a fantastic holiday. So let me linger a bit longer in this post-vacation bliss by sharing it all with you…

I was eagerly looking forward to returning to Zamboanga after my first eventful trip there two years ago. During that trip I got my first taste of C’s birth-city, my first taste of curacha, and my first taste of being engaged. Zamboanga delighted me at every corner, swirling around me in so many colors like the beautiful batiks you find in the market.

This year we went back with a bunch of friends in tow, which made the trip extra special…and extra fun! Every day was an adventure, whether we were eating (which we did in glorious excess!), shopping (again…glorious excess!), lying on a pristine beach (sweet island life…), painting the town red (viva Zamboanga!), or singing on stage (oh boy…this needs no further explanation I think). Nothing makes a holiday better than a fabulous group of people to share it with :)

Here are some of the highlights* of my trip:

Zamboanga Airport
Laid back and open air, with a roof designed to blend in with the native architecture and sunlight streaming through the skylights. A troupe of dancers sashay to local music to welcome you. Everyone is smiling and the exotic sound of chavacano tickles my ears. It is at this moment when I feel the complete disconnect from Manila and from work. Heaven!

Knickerbockers and Crispy noodles at Palmeras
Palmeras was the lovely hotel we stayed at. Relatively new-ish (compared to the old, venerable Lantaka by the sea), it has nice clean rooms, friendly staff, and a pretty garden to hang out in. It also has a great café that serves Knickerbockers – a pile of fruits (bananas, watermelon, mango) and jello cubes in a glass, topped with a scoop of strawberry ice cream. It is at once sweet & luscious, and cool & refreshing. I cannot count how many of these concoctions we consumed as a group…too many I’m sure! And every other table in the place seemed to be ordering them as well! Aside from the blessed Knickerbocker, the Crispy Noodles with Seafood is also worth a taste – the sauce is thick and intensely flavorful with tender chunks of seafood all throughout, topped with a generous head of noodles, crispy on top and soft where they are soaked by the sauce. Palmeras Hotel & Restaurant, Pasonanca Road, Zamboanga City. Telefax - +63 62 9913284.

Shopping at the Barter Trade
Now who doesn’t enjoy a spot (or more!) of shopping? :) I certainly do! The barter trade is a complex of stalls selling everything from instant noodles to gorgeous batik cloths, malongs, and sarongs. We all went a little bananas here (well, the girls at least). I came away with malongs and batik robes for the folks back home, as well as kantiw (or sawal…are they the same? anyone?) – the loose cotton pants worn by the Muslims in the region – these pants are so comfy and perfect for lounging!

Exploring Zamboanga City Market
I hadn’t been to the main market the first time I visited Zamboanga, but because we had a contingent among us clamoring for durian off we went to get some. While the durian-eaters inspected the fruit, extolling the virtues of each variety, I wandered about looking at all the produce on display. Aside from the colorful fruit stalls they had the hugest daing (dried salted fish) I had ever seen! Later in the afternoon (yes, we went more than once…apparently cravings for durian are wild and unpredictable!) there were big hunks of tuna being loaded onto scales…although we weren’t in our tuna capital (that would be General Santos), Zamboanga is still a treasure trove of all manners of seafood.

Jimmy’s Satti Haus
Another bit of local eats I missed during my first trip. Satti is little bits of beef or chicken on a stick, grilled over hot coals, much like the Malaysian satay (as we are close neighbors the two could very likely be related). It is served with a sticky orange sauce which is both sweet and spicy. The satti is placed in a bowl literally swimming in the sauce together with rice that has been packed so much it is practically solid. I think we were a bit shocked at how small the satti pieces were, but we quickly found a way around that by simply eating more…heehee! We bought our satti at Jimmy’s Satti Haus (Campaner cor. Brillantes)…get it fresh off the grill and don’t forget the sauce and the rice! We ate ours plain because we got it to-go but I would have loved to have it with all the trappings! Next time I am definitely planting myself at a table and getting the full treatment!

Contemporary designers’ take on the Mascota
The mascota is the dress traditionally worn by the high-society Zamboanga ladies of yore. It is said to be Spanish in origin, which is easy to believe as many things in Zamboanga (including its language) seem to originate from the Spanish. So as not to lose this tradition the city started a mascota competition where local designers create their own renditions of this beautiful costume. The competition this year was held in Fort Pilar and the old stone walls of the aged fort proved to be a magical backdrop for the charming models (each of them tall and tan and slim, with dark shining hair and a come-hither smile…I used to dream about looking like these girls when I was a child!) in their mascota finery. Here’s an article you can read about the mascota competition last year.

That's all for now as the “daily grind” calls and I must answer (criminy). But stick around for part two :)

*I'll be posting highlights but if anyone has questions just email me and I'll answer as best I can!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I am Curacha (con salsa Alavar)

As I can see in the comments of my last post, a bunch of you already guessed that my crustacean visitor was a curacha from Zamboanga. It’s always a thrill to see such passion for local crustaceans. I’d love to give out prizes but I hope you will all be happy with a virtual-pat on the back for now…PAT-PAT :)

So yes, this not-so-little beauty is a curacha! (I have to point out here that many find this crab to be horrible-looking and scary, but that is a matter of perspective I think) It’s a very popular deep-sea crustacean found in the waters of Zamboanga, a province in the southern part of the Philippines, where spectacular seafood abound. It is likened to a cross between a crab and a lobster. Whether raw or cooked, it’s this brilliant reddish color. They say that curacha can only be found in the waters around Zamboanga, however, it seems that they are either the same as, or at least related to, the spanner crab or red frog crab that can be found in east and west coasts of Australia. Whatever the case, they are delicious and I am happy to share their provenance with my friendly Australian neighbors :)

I first tried curacha during a trip to Zamboanga in 2005 to visit my then-boyfriend’s (now-husband) hometown and, much to my surprise and delight, also to get engaged! Although the proposal was the highlight of the trip, the awesome seafood was also part of the wonderful experience that is Zamboanga. I am a big lover of crustaceans so I was eager to try the much-talked-about curacha and it did not disappoint. Unlike most crabs whose majority of meat can be found in their claws, the mother-load of the curacha’s meat is found in its body (although the claws also have meat). This one pictured here easily fed C and I to nirvanic fullness!

This fellow (and three of its siblings) arrived on our doorstep care of my father-in-law, who sent them from Zamboanga. He boils them fresh from the market over there, then freezes them and sends them to Manila. To say I was excited to receive them is an understatement. As I happily re-packed them in Ziploc bags (one in each gallon sized bag!), I already had the perfect way to prepare our first one. Another of C’s generous relatives gave us a kilo of Alavar sauce. A popular culinary highlight of Zamboanga, Alavar sauce is a deliciously secret blend of coconut milk and spices served and sold in Alavar Seafood Restaurant. Curacha with Alavar sauce is a dish not to be missed when visiting Zamboanga, a veritable institution really, so of course I had to prepare my first curacha this way.

Curacha con salsa Alavar*
  • 1 large curacha, boiled until just done (do not overcook!)
  • 500 grams Alavar sauce (approximate – depends on how sauce-y you want your dish…just a tip, the extra sauce is amazing on steaming hot rice!)
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1-2 pieces sili pangsigang (long green chili – other chilis can be used, just adjust to your own heat factor)
  • Vegetable or canola oil

- Chop curacha in 2-4 pieces (first slice in half lengthways, then cracking it widthways is easy…which you can opt to do or not). Remove “lungs” (those weird finger-like things you also find in other crabs) and discard. Set crab pieces aside.
- Heat oil in a large wok or kawali. When oil is hot add garlic, onions, ginger, and chilis and sauté until onion is translucent.
- Add Alavar sauce and sauté for a few minutes until flavors meld and sauce is bubbling a bit.
- Add curacha pieces and toss until heated through.
- Serve immediately with hot steamed rice. Serves 2.

A few notes:
- I already had pre-boiled curacha, so this recipe reflects that. I’m sure it would be even better to cook the curacha directly in the sauce.
- Although Alavar sauce is delicious, I like to punch things up by adding extra spices and chilis.
- This is my first time to prepare this and I’m very open to suggestions!

If anyone out there makes it to Zamboanga, you must try this! Or if you have access to curacha and Alavar sauce in Manila (I hear they have a branch in Quezon city), make this dish post haste (although I’m sure if you have access to both then you already have made this)! The curacha’s body is filled with sweet and succulent meat. Just like the last time I had it, every time I poked my fingers in the shell more and more of the luxurious meat came out. It really is as good as all that. Aside from coconut milk and “secret spices”, Alavar sauce supposedly also contains crab fat. Now imagine that for a moment…crab in crab fat. Wait, it gets better (or worse, depending on perspective). As we are devouring this meal, C suddenly bursts out, “Omg! I think I found the aligue (crab fat)!” So make that crabfat found in the crab cooked in crabfat. There is only one place for that…on my rice!

I will leave you now to imagine what we looked like after this meal. Full to bursting, crab bits all over our hands, Alavar stains on our mouths, and a little bit incoherent. Not such a pretty sight let me tell you. Then again, that’s a matter of perspective.

*This is not Spanish. It's Chavacano, Zamboanga’s native dialect :)