Tag: Philippines

Entertaining At Home For The Holidays

Thank goodness for the Holidays! It’s that time of the year once again when we gather around for great food with our closest family and friends to celebrate Christmas. Tonight, it gets even more special as every home prepares the traditional Noche Buena feast.

In the Philippines, we are known for celebrating the longest Christmas season. The Christmas Fever begins September 1. It never fails to overwhelm my friends from other countries, really. If you are organizing a Holiday reunion, sometimes it takes an entire year to prepare it because everyone gets so busy around December, that it is best for you to block off everyone’s schedules months ahead.

Nothing Like Home

Most people these days will choose the convenience of renting a serviced residence or reserving a table at some cozy place over entertaining at home. The top consideration is cooking and cleaning up before and after the party. In many instances, travel time and space considerations also factor in.

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Generally, for Christmas Eve at least, Filipinos would gather at one home, usually with extended families but, more and more people stay home with just their respective family units. Here’s a quick checklist that you can use to  make sure that you’re ready to host Noche Buena and Media Noche at your place:

1. Clean your home. Where do you start? Good question. In general, start cleaning from the ceiling (make sure to dust off those spider webs!), then the walls and shelves, then down to the floor. The toilets in your home, not just the one that your guests will be using, need to be scrubbed. It pays for you to give more attention to this part of your house because you want your guests to feel comfortable when nature calls, not to mention, you want your house to smell fresh and clean, and bad smelling toilets can easily spoil that.

Add a bowl or hang a basketful of potpourri. In my toilets, I hang hand towels washed with fabric softener and then I spray just a little bit of a bleaching solution and fabcon. I use the same solution to clean surfaces and my floors. After that, the house smells wonderful! It is so much unlike when you just spray air deodorizer or place a gel freshner that dissipates in seconds, this one stays. I like spraying the same solution to my curtains, bedding, and rugs as well. I’m pretty sure when I get a sofa, it will get this same treatment too.

2. Decorate. The best part of home entertaining is bringing the Christmas spirit to your home. Of course it gets a lot harder and more expensive if you are decorating a larger space that includes both indoor and outdoor spaces. I personally like LED lights bright and white. This year, as we transition to a new home, I opted for a DIY, non-traditional Christmas tree. The kids and I saw this beautiful Eiffel Tower-inspired makeshift tree at the mall once — not for sale — made of silvery glittered strings that we tried to recreate it.

To do away with having to use steel to stand the tree, we opted for a thick silver insulation (cost: Php 150 per meter) which I rolled into a cone. I attached rhinestone bands (Php 150 per roll) to the outer side to make the material more shimmery. Then, I topped off with two 5-meter bright white LED lights with blinking functionalities. I must admit that it does not look much when the sun is up but, at night, it does feel like the stars in the heavens are gracing my home. I tacked some of the aguinaldos and bagged gifts on it to make it even more personalized.

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I almost forgot to rave about how wonderfully, flowers can instantly cheer up and brighten your home. Make that a must for your centerpiece but also add bits and pieces to the periphery. These beautiful gifts of nature will also make your Holiday photos prettier and cozier.

3. Wrap up the gifts. What is Christmas without gifts? The season gets even merrier with these surprises. If you have little children at home or, as guests, Christmas Eve becomes merrier with gifts tucked under the tree. Hunting for the right gift for the right person at your budget level can be pretty tough but, always exciting. Don’t feel pressured to give expensive gifts just get something your friends and family members can make practical use of.

4. Let the Holiday music play. Add more Holiday cheer to your home’s ambiance with cheerful Christmas singing in the background. I personally like our local chorales singing to popular and traditional Philippines Christmas songs but, I haven’t had the chance to get copies of these. I settled for another great musical genre — that of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and their contemporaries. Music sets up your and your guests’ Holiday spirits.

5. Make sure you can stay relaxed. Make sure that you can sit down and talk to your guests when they arrive. Here are some pointers:

  • Prepare everything that can be prepared ahead, ahead of time. From my in-laws, I’ve learned this cooking technique they call sinangkutcha (I’m not even sure I’m writing the term correctly here) but, the concept involves getting all the meat sautéd and boiled to your desired tenderness as early as the day before. On Christmas morning, you can just add in the sauces, spices and garnishing.
  • Consider disposables. Don’t keep yourself away from entertaining your guests because you need to do the dishes in between. The environmentalists will have a say but, if you’re entertaining at home without maids, it really isn’t practical for you to bring out the silverware. I personally choose paper or starch plates and glasses over plastic plates so that your disposables remain biodegradable.
  • Designate a trash collection area. This should be easily accessible to you and to your guests as well. Don’t  have to collect soiled dishes. Your guests will be happy to throw in their own trash.
  • Keep that toilet dry and clean. I regularly have a mopper in each of my bathrooms. I hate wet floors. I don’t remove those moppers from sight even with visitors. It’s sort of a cue for them to  leave behind the floors as dry when they got there. Make sure there’s liquid soap in the sink and towels to dry their hands with. Add in alcohol and lotion when you can. I also like dropping those blue solid detergents into the tank. They help keep the odor away and pretty much last until your party ends.

6. Cook hearty, festive Holiday dishes. The stars of the feast. We all love food and they make gatherings even more memorable. I like making Hors d’oeuvres for my guests — simple ones, nothing fancy that requires cooking. I cut up celery stalks and carrots. If there’s cucumber, cut them up too. I have chips ready and prepare a dip made with ginger, juice of a slice of lemon, hot chilis, basil, onion chives, and a sauce made from reduced fresh milk and melted cheese. Wines and liquors should also be chilled and ready to be served. These will keep early birds busy as you wait for the others and put the finishing touches to your dishes.

Check out the following Holiday dishes that we make in our home and that you might want to try in your own kitchen:

Roast Pork Belly

Beef Morcon

Arroz Valenciana

Callos

Chocolate Cookies

From my family and I to yours, Merry Christmas and cheers to a prosperous New Year! We hope you find warmth in this season of joy.

 

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What To Do When You Got A Full Week To Travel The Philippines

When you have a full week to spend in Manila, Philippines, don’t just stay in the capital! Make time to visit the nearby provinces.

Via domestic flights, you can opt to:

1. Catch the hidden natural wonders of Palawan. The capital, Puerto Princesa is alluring but, if you want more enchantment, go to El Nido or, click to see what’s in store for you in Coron.

Puerto Princesa
One of the hidden falls on the road south from Puerto Princesa.
Coron
On the way up and down to Kayangan Lake, Coron, Philippines.

2. Fly to Bohol. From Tagbilaran, arrange for road transportation to see the Philippine Tarsier, one of the smallest mammals and the one with the largest eyes, and witness the grandeur of The Chocolate Hills of Bohol. See the old churches around town, although many have been destroyed by the 2013 major earthquake that struck the island. Take the Loboc River Cruise and have your lunch on a raft. Proceed to Panglao Island or, in case you don’t have premium budget for an overnight stay, choose one of the resorts by the shore and just take a day trip to the island.

Philippine Tarsier in Bohol, Philippines
When in Bohol, have your photo taken with a Tarsier on your shoulder. Don’t hold if you’re too afraid so as not to harm them. They’re cute but very fragile. They are highly endemic, endangered and bred in captivity.
The Chocolate Hills of Bohol, Philippines
Watch The Chocolate Hills of Bohol from a view deck. You’ll keep wondering how such a magnificent natural wonder was formed by the earth’s violent movements.
Loboc River
Have lunch on one of the rafts or, simply take a cruise down this quiet, still, and historic river of Bohol.

3. Catch the sun in Bicol. Misibis Bay is located on Cagraray Island, Bacacay in Albay Province. To get there, fly Manila to Legazpi City. Feast at the sight of the majestic, perfectly shaped cone of Mayon Volcano and take an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) or even hike up before proceeding to Misibis Bay after lunch or, early the following day.

Mayon Volcano
It greets you the moment you step out of your plane and arrive in Legazpi City, Albay — Mount Mayon, best known as the volcano with a perfectly shaped cone.
Mayon Volcano
Get up close and personal with Mount Mayon. Rent one of these cool ATVs. You can also choose to hike up to the peak. Make sure to check in with the locals before heading to the top as this is a very active volcano and there are danger zones off limits to trekkers.
Bigg's Diner at Embarcadero
Don’t leave Albay without getting a taste of the local “good food” favorite, “Bigg’s Diner”. Make it the branch located at Embarcadero where there is a viewing deck with telescopes so you can view the peak of Mount Mayon and the port below.

 

If you’d rather travel on the road, Boy, Oh Boy, you’re in for a feast for the senses — yes, that includes a rather extraordinary experience for your tastebuds and tummy too.  If you got just 1 week to tour around Manila and the provinces in Luzon, here’s an itinerary that you can use.

Day 1: Arrival.  Check in to Sofitel Philippine Plaza or Hotel H2O for a magnificent view of Manila Bay and the sunset laid out in front of you. Make sure to get a bay side view. If you’d rather see the bustling night life of Makati City or, The Fort in Taguig City, there are also plenty of hotels, both posh and business style, that you can choose from.

Day 2: Drive Out South. Leave your hotel early morning to catch the early morning sunrise of Tagaytay, located about an hour up to 1.5 hours drive from Makati or Manila Bay. Have a cozy breakfast at Antonio’s to experience the ambiance of the glorious Spanish Era in the Philippines or, have a filling buffet breakfast with a full view of the Lake and Taal Volcano at Josephine’s. If you love your Starbucks and just want to take shots of your espresso, there’s a bar located in the area also facing the lake.

Taal Volcano, Tagaytay, Philippines
Catch a view of the Taal Lake on any of the establishments fronting the lake. If you want a closer encounter, take a boat ride and head to Taal Volcano.

From here, you can drive up to a beach in Batangas or, try the hot springs of San Pablo or Calamba in Laguna. Batangas is a diving site. If you’re into that, then you should make time to spend a day or two in Batangas. If you’d rather take a relaxing dip in a hot pool of water, head to Laguna where manmade pools are filled with natural hot spring water coming from the lakes and mountains in the area. You can choose to stay or, go back late afternoon to your hotel in Manila.

Day 3: Drive Up North. Drive back to Manila on to C-5 or via EDSA, all the way to the North Luzon Express Way (NLEX). Make Pampanga your first stop. If you love the outdoors, most especially when you are traveling with grade school aged children, you should check out the activities at Sandbox, located in Porac, Pampanga.

Or, you can also just go on a gastronomic adventure in Pampanga. After all, it is recognized as the Culinary Capital of the Philippines. You can’t miss Aling Lucing’s Sisig in Angeles City. Don’t fill up because you do have to try nearby Mila’s for their Chicharon Bulaklak and Paco Salad with Salted Egg too.

Mila's Chicharon Bulaklak
Mila’s Chicharon Bulaklak — the crunchiest, juiciest pack you’ll ever have!
Mila's Paco Salad
Balance out the grease with this local salad served with salted eggs and tomatoes.

If you want to go full outdoor fun then, you should drive up all the way to Mt. Pinatubo for a rugged adventure. This mountain last erupted on June 15, 1991, which buried several towns in Zambales, Pampanga and Tarlac, while the effects of the eruption were felt worldwide. It continues to be the home of Aetas, a group of indigenous people residing in Luzon. Several tour packages are available which take you on a combination of a 4×4 drive and hiking to the mouth of this caldera for a view of the lake.

Stay a night in hotels inside or within the vicinity of Clark Field where one of two former US bases (the other one was in Subic) was once located.

Day 4: Head to The Hundred Islands. Former Filipina beauty queen, Charlene Gonzales, was asked during the Miss Universe Pageant, “How many islands is the Philippine archipelago made up of?” to which she wittingly answered, “High tide or, low tide?” The 100 islands in the 7,100 islands that make up the Philippines is located in Alaminos, Pangasinan. From Pampanga, it should take you half of the day to get there. According to Ms Gonzales it could go up to 108 or, experts claim, possibly more, on low tide.

Your target is to get to Alaminos by sundown because there are no hotels in the area. Instead, you should get a guest room from local homes of townsfolk. You need not worry as these are all registered by the local government. However, do not expect the convenience of a five-star hotel. You should also ask your host for a “bangkero” or boat’s man. It’s best for you to book your boat now and ask your boat’s man or host as well if they can market and prepare lunch for you on one of the islands the following day.

Hundred Islands
See one of the best offerings of Islands Philippines by visiting Alaminos, Pangasinan — your entry point to The Hundred Islands National Park.

Must-try food? Fresh Sinigang na Hipon or Isda (Shrimp or Fish in Tamarind Soup Base), Inihaw na Liempo (Grilled Pork Ribs), and Alaminos Longganisa — one of my most favorite sausages of all time!

Day 5: Sail to the Islands. Spend the early morning to around noon touring the many islands in the area. Take lunch and make room to befriend the locals. Dare yourself and your company to find your own island and practically really own it for several hours.

Make it back to shore by around two or three in the afternoon. Pack and drive farther up north to Baguio. You should be in your next destination by dinner time. To experience the best of Baguio, you should book a room in advance at The Manor or, Le Monet Hotel which are both located inside Camp John Hay. If you’d rather experience the city center, I personally recommend the newly refurbished Paragon Hotel on Otek Street just one block away from Burnham Park.

Warning: It can get really chilly at night so you better not be wearing the beach outfit you had on at Hundred Islands.

Day 6: Explore the best of Baguio. For a more detailed account of what you can do during your stay, check out this post and this post and this if you want to go all the way to Sagada. Baguio is only about four hours drive away from Manila so, you can either spend another night or, head out on Day 6.

Day 7: Visit Old Manila. If your plane leaves late evening, you can still catch the grandeur of Old Manila and go fully loaded on history by visiting Fort Santiago, Intramuros, and the National Museum.

Spoliarium by Juan Luna
Spoliarium by Juan Luna at the Main Gallery of The National Museum. Juan Luna topped other entries to the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1884 held in Madrid with this painting. It was a defining moment for Filipinos where they beat the Spaniards, the colonizers, during the Expo. You should also take the time to go to nearby Intramuros and Fort Santiago or, even take a half day tour of Corregidor, a historic island just off the coast of Manila Bay.

Been to any of these places? Share your tips. If you found this guide helpful and actually used it to tour Philippines, whether you are a local or a foreigner, give your thumbs up, better yet, share the most defining moments of your trip with us! Happy vacationing!

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