‘Ming None | Mingnan Chinese Cuisine

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Downtown Cebu. Sleazy even in the brightness of high noon. Walls and ancient shop fronts shed paint and plaster. A dirty old man, in every sense, sold goat-eyelash cock rings beside a stall displaying cheap plush toys. Neon drained out of the glass tubes of signage’s desperately clinging to buildings. The unease of knowing we were being followed by eyes was overcome only by the sheer nostalgia of having spent many an after-school afternoon in its more glorious days. We were on the mission for Mingnan, an old Chinese haunt beloved by the Chinese and Pinoys alike. Each wrong turn and dead end allowed for discoveries and rediscoveries that the getting lost became quite the enjoyable game. Lost in amazement and our own thoughts, while in the background, random characters in a blur of their own. Tucked into a quiet side street and marked by a tarp bleached out by the sun, finally, Chingri-la!

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Walking into a Wong Kar-Wai restaurant scene, we made our way past the South China Sea of tables teeming with the babble of shrewd business deals. Eight chafing dishes in a glass display cements the widely held notion that the Chinese invented the stir-fry. We went for the classics: Sweet & Sour Pork, Pork & Vegetables, Tofu and Chinese Fried Chicken.

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Not having Good Morning brand towels over our shoulders to merit table-sharing with the ground floor patrons, we were led to the second level space reserved for special occasions, like torture and summary executions as the stained walls and floors seemed to suggest. The tables were the classic family-of-eight with a Lazy Susan, let’s call it Suzy Wong here, topped with a table caddy true to lauriat-style dining.

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The staple Sweet & Sour Pork screamed authenticity here with a reduction from scratch as opposed to the bottled sauce prep. I especially loved the generous cuts of zucchini, red & green peppers and red onions cooked but still retaining a slight veggie fiber crunch. Thankfully leaner offcuts, the meat itself was left unseasoned taking on the full flavor of the sauce.

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The Pork & Vegetables stir-fried in oyster sauce also wouldn’t be too unfamiliar to the local palate. I expected downtown cooking to leave vegetables over cooked and wilted but, again, the vegetables here shine through with an excellent doneness.

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The Tofu, done in a black bean sauce, had a slightly chewy outer texture as with most fried tofu. It reminded me of Mapo Tofu without any spice.

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A soft-batter coated the Fried Chicken enough for a definite layer but not to tip the coating to meat ratio in favor of the former. I’m sure we’ve all come across restaurants serving chicken-flavored fried flour. The chicken was nothing revolutionary but helped tie the entire meal together.

It was a relatively great experience to get with the bygone feel of the area. I was only ever slightly so disappointed I had to eat rice but happier that none of what we had was urban legend feline. To cap off the meal, we had the classic Filipino-Chinese dessert: toothpicks.

Mingnan Chinese Cuisine is located near Princess Bazaar on Osmena Bvld., corner Plaridel St., Cebu City.

FIBA Burger Challenge | Shangri-la’s Mactan Resort & Spa Cebu

The PussyKat excitedly informed me that she confirmed our participation in The Shangri-la’s Mactan Resort and Spa’s Burger Challenge. The promotional event was for the resorts’ celebration of the 2014 FIBA World Cup with their seven themed Burger Specials at Buko Bar. Finding out that we’ll be randomly paired up with other invitees, the competition already began at home with her poking fun at the possibility of The Hamburgero losing to the other contestants and, especially, to her. Quite confident with her extensive home cooking experience, this woman terribly underestimated someone who used to cook relatively fancy, full meals in an overheating dish dryer.

Pairing off through a draw, the two-man teams then drew country names to represent and, consequently, burger type to build. The formidable Doyzkie of iluvcebu.com was joined by Jason of Everything Cebu for Team Greece. Birthday girl Monica of istorya.net and the Fiona of Sun Star Cebu made up Team Australia. Entering the tourney in third as Team Mexico were Patty of Zee Lifestyle and Gerald of istorya.net. Former cheerleaders and erstwhile Mean Girls, The PussyKat of onefrozenmargarita and Joanna of Sun Star Cebu waved stars and stripes for Team USA. The underdogs, coming in last, were The Hamburgero of pornografeed and Jessica of Everything Cebu for national pride, Team Philippines.

What we could call a simultaneous two-on-two by five began with the referee, Executive Chef Mark Mulder, explaining the mechanics and assisted by Sous Chef Manuel “Yoyong” Taboada. Each team was shown a photo of the burger they were to build and were to gather their ingredients from the presets, season, grill and assemble with considerations for completeness of the designated burger stacks, presentation and, of course, taste.

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The jump b̶a̶l̶l̶ bowl at the opening tip had everyone scrambling for their ingredients. Moving to the safety of the sidelines, Team Philippines quickly shied away from the heat in a strategic move to let the powerhouses initially slug it out. Team USA, missing their shot at onions, committed the first foul in the game when The PussyKat went for a backdoor cut to steal half a bowl from Team Philippines.

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Team Greece calmly went through the paces. The duo had an excellent game plan of including a Greek side salad although it remained to be seen at that point if the extras would cut it. Kitchen power forward Monica of Team Australia led the pack on the seasoning and was first on the grill with Fiona starting their stack early on. Team Mexico, under pressure to live up to their MVP Patty’s name, definitely needed to bring on the spice but no one can underestimate the possible advantages of the jalapeno-guacamole play with their 6-foot-1 center, Gerald. Sidling through all that aggression and seeing the rest of the teams refusing to destroy the pre-formed patties integrity with just exterior seasoning, Team Philippines incorporated the seasoning into the meat at the expense of possible loss of presentation points. Team USA committed their second flagrant foul by excessive player contact when The PussyKat and Joanna boxed in Team Philippines for the move.

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Speedy Australia hit a long three-pointer as first to complete their stack with an emu patty and Brie cheese but had to go round back due to injury: forgetting to grill the pineapple.

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Mexico went out strong with their chicken patty, jalapeno pepper, guacamole and tomato salsa combo leading to a toss between them and Australia.

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Greece stood out as the most impressive, winning “Best in Presentation” when their beef patty, romaine lettuce, melitzanosalata (eggplant puree) and feta cheese stack lined up beautifully in a shot.

USAFIN

T̶e̶a̶m̶ ̶U̶S̶A̶,̶ ̶w̶e̶l̶l̶.̶.̶.̶ T̶e̶a̶m̶ ̶U̶S̶A̶ ̶w̶e̶n̶t̶ ̶w̶i̶t̶h̶o̶u̶t̶ ̶p̶o̶i̶n̶t̶s̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶w̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶w̶o̶u̶l̶d̶ ̶h̶a̶v̶e̶ ̶b̶e̶e̶n̶ ̶c̶l̶a̶s̶s̶i̶c̶ ̶A̶m̶e̶r̶i̶c̶a̶n̶a̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶b̶e̶e̶f̶ ̶w̶i̶t̶h̶ ̶c̶r̶i̶s̶p̶y̶ ̶b̶a̶c̶o̶n̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶c̶h̶e̶e̶s̶e̶ ̶w̶h̶e̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶y̶ ̶f̶u̶m̶b̶l̶e̶d̶ ̶a̶ ̶p̶a̶s̶s̶ ̶ T̶e̶a̶m̶ ̶U̶S̶A̶ ̶t̶h̶r̶e̶w̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶i̶r̶ ̶h̶a̶n̶d̶s̶ ̶u̶p̶,̶ ̶n̶o̶d̶d̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶i̶r̶ ̶h̶e̶a̶d̶s̶ ̶l̶i̶k̶e̶ ̶y̶e̶a̶h̶,̶ ̶m̶o̶v̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶i̶r̶ ̶h̶i̶p̶s̶ ̶l̶i̶k̶e̶ ̶y̶e̶a̶h̶ ̶b̶u̶t̶ ̶t̶o̶o̶ ̶b̶a̶d̶ ̶i̶t̶ ̶a̶i̶n̶’̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶i̶r̶ ̶p̶a̶r̶t̶y̶.̶.̶.̶ In the interest of self-preservation, no further commentary on Team USA will be made available.

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Team Philippines set their presence in the low position with a precision cut lower bun with both players alternately bounce passing tomatoes and onions onto the lettuce. Banking on the earlier fast break with the well-seasoned Adobo pork patty, Jessica put on a slice of Kesong Puti (Carabao Cheese) in a layup with The Hamburgero following up another point taking it from Jessica and tipping-in atchara (pickled green papaya) on and around the rim. The Hamburgero then threw some chicharon cracklings up in an alley oop with Jessica bringing down the top bun in a buzzer beating slam dunk.

Waiting for Chef Mark to judge the burgers according to taste, the weary teams were led into the Buko Bar for a post-game feast. Traditional team fare of chicken wings, pizza, pasta and the players’ choice of beverages were served. The actual burger specials from the SMRS kitchen were also served to share in the spirit of sportsmanship and camaraderie. *smiles my smarmiest* LOL.

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Issuing disclaimers to soften whatever blows will be dealt, Chef Mark finally announced the winner for “Best in Taste”: TEAM PHILIPPINES!

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You wuz sayin’, YooWezEyy?

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Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort & Spa, Cebu beefs up for FIBA World Cup 2014, inviting basketball enthusiasts to get their game on and indulge in burger-ific times with the debut of seven juicy burger specials at Buko Bar.
From August 30 to September 14, jump shots and slam dunks rule the court as the rustic al fresco poolside lounge plays host to buzzer beaters with live telecasts of the FIBA World Cup 2014.In tasty celebration of the world championship playoffs, basketball fans are invited to experience each exciting minute with every mouthwatering bite of Burger Specials in American, Australian, Greek, Korean, Mexican, Philippine and Spanish flavors. Available at P500++ each, Buko Bar’s burgers are composed of succulent patties served on fresh sesame buns and come with a side order of the resort’s signature Cajun fries. For inquiries and reservations, guests may contact Restaurant reservations at (63-32)231-8224 or email fbreservations.mac@shangri-la.com.
–Official Press Release

The Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort & Spa, Cebu is located at Punta Engano, Mactan, Cebu, Philippines.

Photos for Team USA and Team Australia’s Burgers are courtesy of The Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort and Spa, Cebu.

Kickin’ Little | Little India

You’d spot a tiny explosion of color at the corner of that disjointed strip of the Raintree Mall. A surly-looking tita looks out from behind the counter through the glass storefront as if to dare you to come in. Taking up the challenge, The PussyKat and I found ourselves in that four square meter jewelry box called Little India. Okay, maybe it was around ten.

Little is an understatement with shallow wall-counter table seating for a shoulder-to-shoulder ten stools split into wall and street views. Possibly seeking to foster a sense of community among its patrons, one is almost guaranteed to make friends on good night. The tita, curt as she looks, took our orders like she meant only business. I let it slide, still on a sugar high from a neighboring milk tea shop, while trying to keep The PussyKat’s claws sheathed. We limited our orders to a pre-dinner snack number.

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Chunks of yellow curry-spiced chicken swathed in buttery cheese exploded from the samosa shell looking strangely a lot like an empanada. Only two pieces a set, we just had to get another. I suspected a potato extender but we finished those too fast to be absolutely sure.

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The Chicken Kebab Roll was on the slim side considering similar wrap items from other Indian restos on The Island. Its innards all a blur on the tongue, it was pretty tasty but rife with a fastfoody feel cemented by a, although not at all bad, toasted flour wrap that Coronel Sanders wouldn’t mind having it as an exotic member of his Twister lineup.

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Still left wanting, we followed up with a Chicken Biryani. Rice, saffron for color, spices, some veg, whispers of scrambled egg and an archeological dig for the chicken. *bobbles head*

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Lassis usually skirt the P100 tag and we were quite happy they came cheap here only to learn that those also came a third of the usual size. As with her rice, The PussyKat can hardly resist an Indian Chai. Served some ten seconds short of hot from the microwave, this one was heavy on milk with enough zing from the spice.

As Mr. India’s little sister, Little India is little everything –from space to scaled down prices and portions, but is still worth a try for the scaled down budget.

Now, let’s dance!

Little India is located at Raintree Mall, Gen. Maxilom Ave., Cebu City.

Cup o’ Cake | Country Basket

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“That Chocolate Barrel Cake looks like it’s spent a few days on the display chiller.”, I pointed out to The PussyKat while we took forever to pick our sweet fix. The KitKat fencing sported a zebra-stripe bloom and the chocolate candy topping bleached and bleeding. The overly enthusiastic attendant chimed in, “Bag-o na namo, ser!* I must look really stupid or good help is just hard to come by nowadays.

20140808_204517 We wanted only to somehow counter the MSG from our dimsum dinner and picked two cupcakes from a selection to wash down with an Americano. A stone’s throw from JY Square Discovery Mall, Country Basket first caught my attention earlier this year in my hunt for Azabu — a failed mission finding both joints still closed at 10AM.

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The tight, long, two-story space seemed inspired by container van construction and had me reconsidering my future, progressive eco-home dreams. Decked in pastels and some craft movement quirk, it remained the inviting space it was on my bum visit.

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Ever the chocoholic, I attacked the Chocolate Brownie Cupcake first only to be dismayed that I had to put some elbow into cutting through it with a fork. The dehydrated frosting promptly came off in one piece, revealing a condensation where it uncoupled, suggesting close relations to that Chocolate Barrel Cake. The equally dehydrated base strangely remained quite tasty. I bet a fresh one would be a killer. That I’ll have to come back for.

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Gingerly poking the Very Blueberry Cupcake with a fork, the frosting yielded instantly to my relief. A dollop of blueberry jam on the frosting  lightly laced with the same flavor began the very of the moist, blueberry-infused base. A saving grace to its brown brother, it defined fresh in comparison.

The bitters balancing out the above sugars, the medium roast Arabica brew was light on the tongue, had a soft mouthfeel with a distinct acidity and aftertaste familiar to men who really know their women.

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I was tempted to try out another item when my waistband reminded me what the operative word of skinny jeans is. A Crème Brulee Cupcake winked at me on our way out, knowing I’ll be back.

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Country Basket is located at JY Prestigio, Lahug, Cebu City.

*”That’s our new item, Sir”

The Hungry Burro | La Lucha

La Lucha is easily lost among the eateries along Juana Osmena Street even with its light-up signage in red, boldface Helvetica. Working up an appetite after house-hunting with The Pussykat, it was a few blocks far enough to sweat through my sleeves. She insisted that we walk all the way, confident she was wearing flats, to regretfully flick beads of sweat off her brow when we reached the non-airconditioned space. The sole industrial fan was hogged by two other patrons at one table leaving us to enjoy the temperature as I would imagine it would be at taquerias in Mexico. I would highly recommend a visit at a cooler evening time. Done up roughly in a single coat of orange enamel paint, it had a no frills, we-serve-real-food-and-nothing-else attitude. No waitresses in faux-Mex ensembles here.

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Asking for specialty cold drinks, we were offered a Pineapple & Mango Agua Fresca and a Horchata. Reminiscent of those sugary “fruit juices” sold from sidewalk pushcarts, that Pineapple-Mango combo hinted at real fruit ingredients with the inclusive fruit chunks. Described by the attendant as “rice juice”, the Horchata registered the taste and consistency of sweetened skim milk with some nutty notes and the flavor of the broth in unsalted rice porridge. Pegged at PHP50 a regular dixie, it was a bit of a stretch to justify pricing with half the cups filled with ice. Refreshing nonetheless.

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My Super Burrito was stuffed with beans, rice, salsa, cheese, sour cream, guacamole and Pollo Asado or grilled chicken, a step-up from the Regular which would be missing the Sour Cream and Guac. The chicken was among the meat choices of Carne Asada — Steak, Carnitas — Braised Pork, Pollo — Chicken Breast, Buche — Pork Stomach, Chille Verde — Pork in Tomatillo sauce, Lengua — Beef Tongue and Al Pastor — Marinated Pork. Possibly used to the aggressive “Mexican” flavors of local restaurants, one would find this burrito pleasantly subtle with individual flavors of the ingredients melding together almost indiscernibly from the other in a beautiful little Mexican Hat Dance in your mouth.

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The PussyKat had a Regular Flour Quesadilla which only had cheese and fresh salsa, skipping the sour cream, guac and meat of the “Super Flour” one. Served as a split half-moon instead of the usual sandwich of two tortillas cut into wedges, the thin profile did not betray the substantial fillings. Having that gritty, hand-rolled texture authenticity, the tortillas had enough density and benefitted from a slight toasting on the griddle to hold up like a thin-crust pizza. Almost good enough to eat by itself.

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Orange and Jalapeno sauces were served in squeeze bottles, the former surprisingly spicier than the expectedly extremely spicy latter. Sadly, the attendants could not give us any more information on the make other than that their amo makes it himself, emphasizing that he’s the real DelaCoy and needlessly adding that he’s only twenty-nine.

Literally with an entire wall of choices, the menu printed on a tarp covering a wall, La Lucha — translated to The Fight or referring to the Mexican show wrestling, may very well mean the internal struggle to choose between burritos, tacos, quesadillas, tortas, tostadas, enchiladas, flautas and the many different permutations of each.

La Lucha is located at 225-G Elizabeth Pond, Kamputhaw, Cebu City right beside NS Pension House.

The First To Love | Circa 1900’s + EastWest Cafe

The First to Love

By Simeon Dumdum, Jr.

Always she is a step ahead.
Each time I think of giving flowers,
She would surprise me with the swift
Appearance of roses. And if
I get up in the morning, pulled
Out of bed by the idea of
A walk across the fields, she would
Be lacing her shoes, and the coffee,
Which was on my mind, would fill up
The room with its delightful presence.
But one day, when there was a downpour,
I made sure I would be the first
To suggest that we have a race
In the rain, but she turned me down,
And I saw in her smile that we
Were too old for such recklessness.
But that afternoon, the sun blazed,
And she asked what just then had crossed
My mind, that we both go outside.
The road was a patchwork of water.
I wanted to help her across
A shimmering puddle, forgetting
That her legs were longer than mine.

I was invited to host and read at the very first Cebu LitFest, a festival of the love for everything literary, and local, by Little Boy Productions and the Cebuano Studies Center. Kenneth Cobonpue provided the furniture for the stage set and at the guests and participants lounge where we were treated to refreshments from Circa 1900 and East West Cafe.

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The morning started strong and took on some weight towards noon. The primarily student crowd got revved up when local rock celebrity, Cattski Espina took the stage for her interactive talk on songwriting, getting everyone to sing along and excited for the LitFest Jam scheduled in the evening. Breaks allowed photo ops with the featured guests and the “Children and Kings” chair/sculpture out of hundreds of plastic toys in a form inspired by the Game of Thrones’ Iron Throne.

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At the lounge, Chef Christian Tan served Open-Faced Chorizo Sandwiches with Mangoes and Caramelized Onions. These came in a seemingly endless supply. I don’t like to eat when I’m doing events but these came in perfectly-sized bites, enough to hold back hunger pangs while keeping light in my belly. The spicy chorizo was minced and lay on a toasted baguette round, balanced by the pungent sweetness of the caramelized onions and the mango coulis. Coarse ground black pepper over everything tied in the pop of sweetness to the heat of the spiced meat. I hardly noticed the Cobonpue Manolo buffet table it was displayed on.

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A tower on a separate table held liquor-laced cupcakes by Lorraine Dytian in three flavors: Chocolate Baileys, Lemon Tequila and Banana Rum. Those were lightweight and with only a hint of the liquor flavors. I would have preferred a definite kick in them but it was held back, wisely so or I would have slurred through my reading after my nth piece.

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I had my go-to Nutty Oaty from Fruit Magic for lunch. Quick, easy to down, filling and packed with protein and fiber. I needed to be on my feet most of the time and a visit to the throne room was one I’d like to avoid until the show was over.

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Literary greats flooded the stage in the afternoon building up to the evening finale of poetry readings by select Cebuano personalities interspersed with musical sets from featured artists under the 22 Tango Records label. Finishing my piece, the rest of the readings and sets went on autopilot until closing. I can’t wait for next years’. Yes, I’m even more excited about what they would serve then. I’d be the first to eat and…the first to love.

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