Monday, August 28, 2017


Once upon a time in Vietnam, the Golden Turtle God gave King Le Thai To a magic sword to help drive away China's invading Minh army which the King did after 10 years of fighting.

One day, the King went boating in a lake where a giant turtle appeared grabbed his magic sword which the King never saw again.

He realized that perhaps that was the Golden Turtle God who came to reclaim the sword that was lent to him so to commemorate that sword-grabbing event, the King renamed the lake as the "Lake of the Returned Sword".

That lake today is a landmark that announces the entrance to the Old Quarter from Hanoi's downtown through Hue and Hang Bai which is 2.1 kilometers by foot from my hotel in Bui Thi Xuan, and nearby along Le Thai To is the Lotus Water Puppet Theater where  plays on the sword-grabbing incident might be showing.    

Some 880 meters away via Le Thai To, Cau Go and Dinh Liet will be a welcome arch that announces Ta Hien, Hanoi's beer street for the tourists, where a photographer poses at the entrance as a sexy Asian tourist walks into the strip, though rows of yellow plastic stools and folding tables, the same entrance where a Tuborg promo girl in her sexy green dress crossed later in the night through Hang Bac.   

I walked back later in the night, the lake a mirror of lights, the shorelines a virtual festival of hawkers and curious tourists and the local population just wanting to relax as I made way this time via Dinh Tien Hoang before turning right to Nguyen Du, left to Thieu Viet Vuong, right into Tue Tin, then another right to Bui Thi Xuan into "The Coffee Shop" where I had my first encounter with Vietnam's iced coffee with condensed milk.

In 2011, a giant turtle with a head as big as a human's and presumed to be at least 100 was caught in the lake. 

Some 2.3 kilometers away along Le Van Huu is the Bun Cha Huong Lien where Anthony Bourdain treated then Pres. Barack Obama to dinner.

Bun Cha is the food of the Golden Turtle God, and Bourdain and Obama actually dined on turtle eggs.

But no, I made that up while having breakfast at "Ka Tunying's Cafe" in Quezon City and added the turtle eggs part while lunching on an over-creamed pasta at "Sizzling Steaks" in Cabanatuan City. 

Friday, August 25, 2017


Happy Hanoi.

That's what I heard from Riza as I embarked on my first trip ever to Vietnam, and I am of course excited as can be upon deplaning at Ho Chi Minh City's Tan So Nhat International Airport, so eager that I stupidly clambered up an escalator going down and instantly became a star of sorts to all those queuing at immigration as I kind of somersaulted in an awkward way.

But I made it to the domestic with only a light limp and bruised knuckles, and that's how I arrived in Hanoi, picked up by Trung's favorite airport shuttle service, and advised by the hotel front desk to walk to Ta Hien Street in the Old Quarter to quench my thirst for a cold Vietnamese beer.  

Walk I did, in the middle of a scorching and humid afternoon sun, all 2.7 kilometers and more as I search for Ta Hien in a jumble of souvenir shops, cafes and a horde of scooters, finding it, going back and forth as I let instinct decide for me which is the best place to sit and enjoy a beer.

That's how I found the Pasteur Street Brewing Company, advertised to be the makers of Vietnam's finest craft beer, right on happy hour [two beers for the price of one] and fully airconditioned too!

So I pretended to be a connoisseur, swirling samples in a glass to rouse the beer spirit, slowly inhaling the aroma set off by breaking beer bubbles, and then taking a long sip to fully discern the flavor, the way I saw wine tasters do their stuff on TV, before asking the bar tender to "give me your bestseller".

The lager was good and complemented the local cheese platter that I ordered with it, and cold which is the most important thing to me, but the dark ale is simply overwhelmed by the laced coffee flavor, and I don't like mixing my drink with my coffee.

That was cool and refreshing but I came for the local beer, and I mean those that are readily available in any ordinary store, so I walked more of Ta Hien Street before settling on a sidewalk restobar where I ordered my first Pho Bo [Vienamese beef noodles] asked for a local beer.

And I was so extremely disappointed when I was served with a bottle of Danish Tuborg which, except for the color of the bottle [Vietnam military fatigue-green], does not have anything to do with Vietnam.

Perhaps Trung sensed my disappointment and asked me after our meetings if I want to sample a really local brew which is an offer I can't refuse, so off we rode on his scooter to a popular watering hole for the locals, as zero tourists, where I was introduced to the Bia Hao, the "soft beer for hard times" that was created in war-time conditions, brewed daily, supplied by the barrel to local joints, and served draft-style.

It is how fresh a beer can be, lesser alcohol but yeah, refreshing indeed. 

I consulted Trip Advisor for dinner the next day and that was how I came to Cong Caphe which is just literally behind the Oxfam office and in front of my hotel along Thai Phien, right on happy hour [two bottles and get a third one free], and finally got introduced to Hanoi Beer and the petite Saigon Special, both from the pale lager family and perhaps appropriate representations of Vietnam's beer culture from the North and South.

For my free beer, I opted for another local brew, the Truc Bach, also a pale lager which I found leading the Hanoi and Saigon brands by a bit in terms of that "happy feeling" factor, perhaps because it was my third bottle in an hour and it's free, but interestingly as light and fresh like the lowly Bia Hao. 

But in deference to Hanoi where I am being hosted, I raise a tall glass to its beloved brew and declare Hanoi Beer as my official poison for the duration of my stay which rightfully culminated in a dinner of the equally beloved Bun Cha right where Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama had theirs, the now [in]famous Bun Cha Huong Lien which has lost its name to Obama Bun Cha. 

Monday, August 21, 2017


There is a price to pay for the liberty of taking out my bike [almost] every morning through my preferred trails.

That is eating alone after the kid and the wife has left for school, usually leftovers from yesterday's dinner, which was happily punctuated by a Persian dinner of Kebab and vegetarian samosa while watching Mr. Phogat transform her daughters Geeta and Babita into world class wrestlers in the Bollywood hit "Dangal", but not after going against the resistance of deeply-rooted traditions and beliefs, quelling a rebellion from Geeta and getting locked in a storeroom up by her coach during the final match of the Commonwealth Games.

In other words, Geeta who have been mostly trailing in the final round managed to defeat a superior but snobbish Australian opponent by a point to win the gold medal, and I got to take out my small city bike the next morning for hohum buffet breakfast at Finio's along Tomas Morato Avenue.

But there is a prize for the price, which is helping the wife cook our early morning breakfasts which made her very happy, and being able to watch La Vuelta Espana updates on cable TV every night which made me very happy too.

It was also the last Sunday of the 2017 Bowling Games which is a relief but also a prelude for a gruelling next 4 weeks of travelling.

Monday, August 14, 2017


More than 11 years ago from today, I started blogging about the colonial churches of the Philippines and campaigning for the pansit to be proclaimed as the Filipino national dish.

Hundreds of photographs and 656 blog posts later, the pansit has somewhat faded away.

Maybe because I just had too much of it, or perhaps there were more interesting dishes to shoot and write about from the countries I've visited around the world in the last 11 years.

It took a spur-of-the-moment lunch at a Kapampangan buffet restaurant to remind me that I was the Pansit Guy of blogsphere, and that there's a lot of pansit dishes still to be discovered out there.

And it took me the pansit puti, sauteed bihon noodles wafting with ground black peppers that was supposed to have originated from the LSS Fastfood in Makati, to realize that I was a pansit connoisseur second, my MVI persona being the first.      

So hail to the pansit sang the band as bilaos of its various interpretations were brought to the 2017 Bowling Games, to be consumed by the drunk and happy crowd, to be balo-ted by the Atengs, or simply to rot in the heat of a fierce August sun.

Shooting churches and eating noodles might have segued into The Bicycle Diaries and a travel and food blog of sorts, but I always tell the sheep, cows, carabaos and dogs that I meet in the bike trail that it all started with pansit and two old churches in Obando and Bambang...  

Monday, August 07, 2017


"Bisukol", that with an ebony black hard shell, used to be the King of Snails back in Almaguer until the imported "Golden Kuhol" --- light brown, brittle and almost inedible --- was introduced and radically altered the ricefield ecosystem.

The Prince and Princesses would be the "Agurong" and "Dukyang" that we usually picked in places where there is running water.    

What can be trash snail is the slimy "Birabid" that, if not cooked the right way, can daze its diners.

I enjoyed harvesting these "Treasures of the Ricefields" with my childhood friends but have never eaten any of it in lieu of my Sabadista upbringing.

Until now.  

I was introduced to the culinary pleasure of the "Agurong" much later in Nueva Ecija where my gustatory senses were teased by a plateful of "Kalderetang Susong Pilipit".

My drinking buddies in Bacal 2 would later introduce me to the pleasure of the ginataan version which is the standard pulutan during San Miguel Beer-spiked birthday celebrations.

Anything cooked with coconut milk is supposed to be anti-beer but that turned out to be hearsay.

"Ginataang Susong Pilipit" in fact blended well with beer.  

But I had too many of snails and beer last week, including a feast of "Ginataang Batukari" --- large sea snails tenderized in coconut milk all the way from Casiguran during Day 1 of our annual Bowling Games --- plus sinful dishes of pork [dinakdakan, sisig, barbecue, chicharon] that I've been eating a lot lately.

That plus the small folding bike in Manila acting up and hindering my daily early morning urban prowls has created an uncomfortable sense of fullness inside me.  

So for this week, I decided to work-at-home and so far, I have been trail biking a lot for the sake of being able to enjoy more snails and beer.