Home for the holidays, almost

Home for the holidays, almost

We were in Manila for about two weeks, thanks to the invitation of the Department of Tourism, Tourism Promotions Board and the Philippine Consulate General New York.

It was Thanksgiving Week, and our local hosts made sure that we didn’t miss Thanksgiving back in the U.S.. In real time, we had our hearty Thanksgiving Feast, which was also our welcome dinner. It was held at Grind Bistro in BGC (Bonifacio Global City), owned by New York-trained Cristina Imperial Carl and her husband Steven. They even baked a beautiful cake for us to celebrate the holiday.

The following morning, the friendly waitstaff at Marriott Cafe reminded us that there was going to be a Thanksgiving Dinner that evening, complete with turkey and the works. We smiled and thanked them for the hospitality, but we told them we were off to Davao that afternoon.

For our breakfast buffet, they probably noticed how most, if not all of us, would pass through the salad and pastry stations, look over the pasta and Chinese area and always end up on that corner of the buffet setup, where there are heaps of dilis and danggit, tocino and tapa, garlic fried rice and itlog na maalat.

We called it the Breakfast of Champions and it has a little of everything mentioned above, with an addition of a longganisa or a big spoonful of corned beef and two eggs, sunny side up.

Thankfully, this little breakfast tradition we were able to do at the Seda Hotel and Pearl Farm in Davao as well, with a few minor variations.

Our lunches were memorable as well, particularly in Davao.

At Hijo Resorts, the world’s only beach resort and nature park within a banana plantation, our hosts prepared a farm-to-table luncheon using ingredients that were easily sourced within the resort, using traditional ways and spices that are not widely used anymore.

We were served dishes from the indigenous Kalagan tribe. Lani Sta. Maria, operations head of the resort told us that there are about a thousand members of the Kalagan tribe who live in the community so they thought it would be proper to include some of their dishes in the menu.

We had a river cruise along the Madaum River before we had our luncheon and we saw the mangroves, small fishing boats that the local tribesmen use and a number of kingfishers, which live in the forest and the mangroves. The 4.5-kilometer river gets its name from the word madalum, which means deep (15 feet deep).

The next day, our buffet was on board a boat as we explored Talikud and Samal Islands, en route to Pearl Farm, our home for the evening. On our menu was a lechon biik or lechon de leche, the most succulent lechon there is. Then our chef on-board prepared seafood dishes for us, among them a salt-encrusted whole fish. We also feasted on the fruits and dessert, including a durian-topped cake.

At the Malagos Chocolate Farm, we were introduced to a chocolate-flavored humba. It was good but it wasn’t a big hit. Maybe chocolate works way better with bacon and not with braised pork belly.

And as some of us extended for a few days, I had a chance to meet some friends and family over sumptuous meals.

A must during this time of the year is the seasonal dessert fare bibingka and puto bumbong. Some restaurants have actually created a station or an area where someone is in charge of cooking these delightful snacks.

After a hearty dinner with friends at Provenciano along the booming restaurant-lined Maginhawa Street, we sampled their puto bumbong and the craving just hit the spot. While traditionally served before (or after) Simbang Gabi, this delicacy has become an all-year-round snack for some since there are now restaurants which have put it on their menus.

It is the happiest season to be in the Philippines with family and friends but for many of us, doing so is a luxury and one that doesn’t happen often. That is why we treasure the moments we are back in the homeland – no matter how short they are – because it is quality time that matters most.

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