Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Week of Great Food and Nonstop Travel

HONG KONG - I'm typing this out from the CX lounge in Hong Kong airport as I wait for my flight to Istanbul, one of my favorite cities in the world. We're to spend ten days visiting the sights of Istanbul, Capadoccia and Konya -- watch out for our special Turkey features in future issues of Travelife Magazine.

This week has been full of good food and lots of travel. It started in Tokyo on Sunday and soon we'll be ending the work week in Istanbul, hopefully over a great grilled seafood dinner at one of those noisy and delicious places, full of local flavor, by the Bosphorus.

Beef curry and Paris croissant at Narita Airport

Monday morning, bright and early, I was at Narita Airport waiting for my morning JAL flight back to Manila. I headed sleepily for the lounge with their beef curry on my mind, only to realize that their famous beef curry is only served after 11 AM. Lots of JAL frequent fliers have made eating beef curry over hot white rice at the lounge a pre-departure ritual, and I'm one of them. What's so great about it? It's the quintessential Japanese curry, which is neither Indian nor Thai, but closer to Javanese curry actually. And it's thick, full of slivers of juicy meat, and great with vinegared onions.

But there was no curry on offer last Monday. Instead, breakfast was being served. But breakfast at the JAL lounge, too, has its classics. I always get a big serving of runny scrambled eggs with catsup and a bit of Japanese mentaiko (cod roe) which is really delicious with hot rice. And even if I know the calories are going to pile up, I simply can't resist having two croissants afterwards. The croissants served at the JAL lounge are made by the Tokyo branch of the famous Maison Kayser bakery in Paris, so they're fluffy, light and buttery. Even now as I write this, I'm thinking that I should've have had a third croissant!

Philippine food at Dusit Thani

Then it was back to Manila in time for a Philippine Independence Day dinner at the Dusit Thani Hotel, cooked up by Stephanie Zubiri and organized by Dusit GM Prateek Kumar, Dusit F&B Director Gilbert Uy and Dusit PR Danelle Palang. There were a lot of people already when I arrived, so I headed straight for the buffet to see what looked tantalizing. Stephanie's Pinoy food was all done with a twist: salmon kinilaw, priniritong corned beef, sinigang bouillabaise, balsamic beef adobo, coconut tanglad panna cotta, and rosemary turon. Looking at this very interesting fusions, I guess you understand why I once again threw caloric caution to the wind and simply heaped my plate.

Several things stood out: the sinigang bouillabaise with its garlic mayonnaise, with its mix of sourness and spiciness, was a big hit at my table; along with the priniritong corned beef. I also particularly enjoyed the balsamic beef adobo, and after tasting Stephanie's version, I realized that balsamic would indeed make a great base for fusion adobo. It was a wonderful welcome back home, to have all these Filipino treats to choose from.

Stephanie's Filipino specialties will be on offer within the Basix buffet at lunch and dinner until Independence Day, June 12. So if you're hankering for some interesting Pinoy fusion, do go while the promotion lasts.

Dinner with the US Ambassador

The next day, I was invited by United States Ambassador Harry Thomas to his beautiful and elegant home in North Forbes for an honest-to-goodness American barbecue. When I arrived, the party was in full swing with tables laid out in the courtyard, laden with -- literally -- American goodness, and still another buffet table in the dining room. I've never been a fan of American food, but that may now all change. On Tuesday night, I just could not get away from the food, almost stationing myself by the barbecue beer can chicken the whole evening and running over to other food stations every now and then to refill other depleted offerings.

The barbecue beer can chicken, for those not familiar with this very novel way of barbecuing a chicken, involves inserting a can of beer, with the beer, into a chicken, and roasting it as is to allow the flavor and fumes of the beer to soak into the chicken as it cooks. That night's chicken was so flavorful and tender that the meat simply fell off the bone. Everything was simply delicious, but I especially remember going back for thirds and fourths of the corned beef sandwich which literally melted in my mouth, the juicy prime rib steak, and the french fries with mayonnaise wasabi sauce. Apparently, the affair was catered by The Plaza, one of Manila's most respected caterers, and Karla Reyes, a member of the family behind The Plaza, personally planned the event and created the recipes based on American food ingredients. The barbecue beer can chicken, too, is a Reyes family recipe - this time from her uncle Raymund Reyes who also offers it at the Ski Ray BBQ & Grill and at a stall at the Legazpi Village Market on Sundays.

The jolly atmosphere -- some people were even doing a barn dance in one corner -- further contributed to everyone's enjoyment. Great party and an excellent venue for showcasing American cuisine at its best.

Gawad Kalinga Builders' Night

Meanwhile, last night was a different kind of event altogether. We headed to the Rockwell Tent to attend the 2nd Gawad Kalinga (GK) Builders' Night, where we heard glowing and inspirational testimonies from Tony Meloto and a whole cast of people who were either builders or recipients of GK help. Tony Meloto arrived at midnight the previous day after joining an early Philippine Independence Day parade in New York and crossing the US continent 6 times in 2 weeks in his neverending bid to promote GK interests.

The entire evening was incredibly moving, and particularly the speech by Dylan Wilk, a British national and GK director, about his transition from one of Britain's 10 richest men to probably one of its 10 poorest now (in his own words) -- but also, it seems, one of its happiest. Dylan spoke so inspiringly about his experience of helping and giving that he easily and quickly moved the crowd present. "God didn't design a single Filipino to be poor," he said. "Together we can eradicate poverty by 2024."

At the end of the meeting, Beliz Balkir, wife of Peninsula Manila general manager Jonathan Crook, formally announced the launch of the Gawad Kalinga Charity Ball on October 8 at the Peninsula Manila -- a charity and auction fundraiser for a specific village in Sulu, to be organized by her in cooperation with the Peninsula Manila and Travelife Magazine (yes, we're heavily involved in this project!) and many other companies. "Generations of families continue to live a life of poverty in Sulu," Beliz said. "GK's entry into Sulu to build communities for the poor has been seen to impact greatly in building a new culture of working together and rebuilding together – and ultimately building long-lasting stability in the area; one house at a time."

For this charity ball on October 8, GK is also preparing a stellar cast of performers for that evening including many big superstar names to be announced soon. If your company would like to get involved in this, please email us at In the meantime, stay tuned for our next post -- this time from the beautiful, historic and mesmerizing city of Istanbul!


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