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Archive for the ‘Gastronomic Adventures’ Category

Shuk HaCarmel fruits and veggies

When I was a kid, every Saturday morning my Dad would get up at the crack of dawn to go to market. Yup, he was was the official cook of the family. He would return about an hour later laden with all sorts of goodies: prawns still jumping around in the basket, mud crabs snapping their claws, and squid so fresh you could see their spots blinking on and off like Christmas lights (they truly do that!).

He would then rouse us kids from bed and start designating tasks — that’s how we all learned to cook. By the time eight o’clock came around, steaming dishes would be making their way from the kitchen to the dining table, one after another like a grand lauriat feast. Saturday breakfast was always a grand affair in our family, as was Sunday lunch, but that’s a whole other story.

My dad took me to market with him only once or twice, but it was a lesson I never forgot. We always got our food from the wet market; fresh, cheap, and from sources we knew (suki). Buying meat and vegetables from supermarkets was an alien concept that came much, much later in adulthood.

That lesson has served us well here…. There are plenty of supermarkets that can make shopping so much easier and more…er…. sanitary, I suppose. But buying from the wet market always costs less, and it pays to know the people who sell your food. It also helps, of course, if the market is a tourist attraction.

Shuk HaCarmel (literally: The Carmel Market) is one such market. R and I buy our groceries there at least once a month (I used to do it weekly, until I just didn’t have the time).

A few of our local friends are surprised when we say we do our groceries there. They say the place is dirty. Well, dirty is relative. Apparently they’ve never been to Central Market or Burgos Market.

Shuk HaCarmel garden nursery

This is my favorite garden store. Staying a few minutes here is like going to the bookstore…. It never ends well for my wallet. This is where we bought the herbs and vegetables in our garden. We still go back for soil, planter boxes, and the occasional splurging on plants. R always tries to distract me whenever we walk by this store.

Shuk HaCarmel Mushrooms

We call the owner of this store “the mushroom guy” because this is where we get our fresh mushrooms and some veggies. He always has 80s and 90s rock music playing and likes to sing while handing us our change.

Shuk HaCarmel Maganda and Gwapo stall

This stall’s owner always calls us “gwapo” and “maganda” (handsome and beautiful, respectively), words he learned from his Filipino friends. Vanity! He sells us great olives and olive oil from his own farm. He also has good smoked fish (smoked salmon, tinapa, and something that looks like smoked sardines) and honey.

Shuk HaCarmel Candy Store

If you have a sweet tooth, have no fear. The assortment of candies in this place will make your head swim. Oops! That’s my brother buying swiss chocolates for the wifey.

Shuk HaCarmel Candy Store

Gummy worms, anyone?

Shuk HaCarmel Cheese Store

And of course, one of our favorite stores, the cheese store! All sorts of cheese you’ve ever dreamed of, and more cheese that you never knew existed. I can honestly say that my cheese vocabulary has increased fourfold since I’ve been here.

Shuk HaCarmel Meat

This is our regular meat store, manned by Yossi. So many of the people we know in the market are named Yossi, so he is known as “Yossi buto-buto,” because every time he sees us he goes: “Buto-buto, buto-buto!” (Beef ribs) Again, more words picked up from Filipino friends.

Shuk HaCarmel spices

Doesn’t this make you want to just dip your hands and run the spices through your fingers? (Probably not a good idea unless you want to be chased out by an irate shopkeeper and banned from the market.)

Shuk HaCarmel Dead Sea Products

Of course, what respectable local market would be without Dead Sea products? Here you can get all sorts of muds, lotions, salts and whatnot at dirt cheap prices. Pun not intended.

Shuk HaCarmel clothes

If you’re not too particular about the brand of your clothes, you can also find everything here. Shirts, pants, socks, underwear, belly dancing outfits, shoes, etc.

Since the Babii is growing so fast and spending mindless amounts of money on clothes that she would wear only for a a maximum of three months just doesn’t make sense, this is where we buy her socks, tights, house clothes and pajamas (thank goodness for school uniforms!).

Shuk HaCarmel artist

If you stay a little later in the day, you can watch some street performers entertain the pedestrians.

Shuk HaCarmel artist

Sadly, I just don’t seem to have the time anymore.

R and I go to market early, around eight o’clock, to avoid the weekend rush. Come at ten and you’ll be jostling with tourists armed with heavy duty cameras and families rushing to finish their groceries in time for Shabbat dinner.

There are a host of other stores we frequent that I have not mentioned…. There is a pretty comprehensive Asian store, a long alley for chickens, another for fish. There are also various stores selling all sorts of cleaning and household products and (yes!) the ever elusive pork, bacon, ham and salami. When I say you can find everything here, I mean you can find everything here. (Light bulbs, anyone?)

For tourists who want to visit this market (and who wouldn’t?), here are a few tips:

1. Come on a weekday. The stores open a bit later (around 9 or 10 am), but you will avoid most of the serious shoppers. Those looking for the requisite keychains, shirts and Dead Sea lotions for souvenirs will find that prices here are significantly cheaper than prices at the mall or other tourist traps.

2. For those actually looking to buy food, prices are a bit cheaper in stores at the far end (near the bus terminal) and in the inner alleys. But it’s a long walk and not everyone has the stamina. I don’t, but we enter through the terminal and only go halfway up the market, so it’s easier on my limbs.

3. If you get hungry in the middle of all that shopping, there are quite a few restaurants (small and quaint, very touristy) in the market. There are also juice stands. Just keep your eyes peeled.

4. Always weigh the quality of the product against its price and don’t be cheap. Remember, you get what you pay for.

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Ok, maybe street cuisine is a little extreme, as I am not exactly a fan of standing on the sidewalk poking at fish balls while vehicles powder my food with exhaust fumes. But after more than thirty years on Earth, I’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced different kinds of food, in different settings, from real holes-in-the-wall joints to hoity toity affairs where I don’t quite know what to do with all the forks and knives and glasses (and people stealing my bread plate!).

I admit, I love good food. If good service and good ambiance comes with it, I am willing to splurge on such a restaurant once in a while. (Like, maybe, once a year– on my birthday) But it is really frustrating to go to a “famous” place with all the expectations from word of mouth and press releases only to come crashing down to earth and realize that the food at Aling Nene’s Carinderia tasted much, much better.

Case in point, this restaurant which was supposed to be one of the best in the country. I was fortunate enough NOT to be the one paying for the meal. Someone had invited a group of us for a celebratory dinner at this restaurant. It was a weekday and I certainly preferred to spend my evening elsewhere, but could not refuse the invitation. (Go figure.)

So we went, and true to its reputation, the restaurant ambiance screamed EXPENSIVE. So expensive that the prices are not printed on the menu. If you have to ask, you can’t afford it, eh?

Everything was well rehearsed/well-trained. We were greeted warmly, escorted to a private room, and were seated with a view of the restaurant’s vintage wine collection. Ooookay. Pressure.

We took turns ordering, engaged in a little chit chat, drank a little celebratory champagne. And then the food arrived.

I had ordered an appetizer of baby winter vegetables, and a fish main course. The vegetables were nice, but aside from the expert plating, it was nothing that I could not make at home. But never mind. Eat, eat, eat.

Then the fish arrived. It was sea bass, if I remember correctly, in what was supposed to be red wine sauce. At the first bite, the vegetables and the red wine sauce tasted like plastic and the creamy foam was just weird. And the fish needed salt and pepper.

Sigh. I knew it was going to be one of those nights.

Having been expertly trained by my parents since childhood to eat what was on the plate, however, I soldiered on and just pushed the vegetables around.

Then it was time for dessert which, in my opinion, was the best part of the meal. But only relatively so. We were served an assortment of cakes, biscuits and candies. They tasted good (how can anyone go wrong with chocolate?), but for the restaurant’s reputation, I was expecting something that I wouldn’t find in Calea or Bob’s Pastry shop.

Unfortunately, these days there seems to be an unhealthy emphasis in the culinary world on technique and presentation. Sure, the sugar globes and foams and tempered chocolates are all nice to see, but what is the point when you just end up with sugary bubbles and regular chocolate?

In comparison, there is this seedy looking joint a few blocks from our house. The place is old and the furniture is old and at the doorway is a HUGE man who doubles as the waiter and the doorman. (I also suspect he is a part-owner of the place.) At first glance, the place does not look impressive, but it never runs out of customers.

When we went there about a few days before the hoity toity restaurant affair, it was a cold night and we were so hungry we just didn’t care where we would eat.

We plopped down on the chairs, just grateful for the warmth, and the big guy gave us the menu which, incidentally, was printed on the place mats (Menu, check! Set the table, check!).

We ordered a vegetable soup, the “cow” soup, some meatballs and lamb chops. It was also that kind of restaurant that served an assortment of hummus and salads while the orders were being cooked, so we were quite happy to start dipping our pita breads.

Then we noticed one wall filled with framed news articles on the restaurant. Not bad, we thought. Then the food arrived.

vegetable soup

cow soup

Off the bat, the food was fantastic. Everything was just exploding with flavor. From the appetizers and the soups alone, we were stuffed. I did try the lamb chop and, despite not being a fan of lamb, I must say that it was pretty good. lamb chops

But by this time, we had to take home the rest of the food because there was just no way we could finish it.The bill was less than NIS 200, somewhere around US $50 for three people.

Given these two restaurants, it is quite obvious which one I prefer.

These days with all these cooking shows and competitions, people seem to be overly focused on the haute (pronounced “ot,” which means “high” in French) and not enough on the cuisine. I sure as hell would not be going back to that fancy restaurant but I would not be ashamed to bring my friends to the neighborhood carinderia.

Sometimes I think this concept of fine dining, gourmet reviews and press releases is becoming a little bit like the culinary version of the Emperor’s New Clothes. No one wants to look like a barbarian, so they ooh and aah over all the culinary exhibitions and adhere strictly to what the culinary gods decree.

But for me, fine dining isn’t always so fine. Just give me some pork barbeque from that side street in Villamonte, steaming hot rice, and let’s call it a day.

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Have you ever experienced planning something for so long, only to have it postponed again and again?

We had been planning since last year to visit this Ethiopian restaurant with some friends, but for one reason or another, never managed to get around to it.

Incidentally, we ran into each other at the international beer festival last Friday and decided to JUST DO IT. No more planning, no more schedules. The next night we trooped to Petach Tikva to find this elusive Ethiopian restaurant.

First off, the restaurant is on a side street off the main road, very unassuming with no signs, just lots of posters of what I presumed were Ethiopian celebrities. I am not from the place, so I had no idea where we were.

Going inside, the restaurant was small but clean. We had the novel experience of being the only non-Ethiopians there.

Friends P & T did the ordering, while R started off with some Ethiopian beer.

Meta Beer

He said it tasted just like San Miguel Pale Pilsen.

Ethiopian Food

Then the food arrived in traditional Ethiopian baskets. Clockwise from the top: Lamb with onions and peppers, something like curry potatoes, spicy lentils, Ethiopian hummus, and spicy cabbage. At the center is a spicy beef stew (Oops, too much spice!). The food came with Ethiopian crepes (I forgot the name) that tasted a lot like puto.

Ethiopian restaurant vegetarian dish

P, who is vegetarian, was given his own special dish.

Ethiopians definitely know that the best way to eat good food is with your hands. You tear a piece of the crepe, dip it in the food of your choice, and eat away!

Ethiopian Spice Tea

We finished the meal off with some Ethiopian spice tea. It had cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and all sorts of other stuff. Yum.

It was great to be able to try something new and different. T was worried at first that we would find the food too spicy, but as P said, hello, we are Filipinos! (It wasn’t that spicy— R even ate all the green peppers.)

The bill? NIS 282 for five people. That would be about US $76. Of course, we left a tip for the great service. The only down side was that the owner only spoke Hebrew, so we would need a translator every time we go there.

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Sharyns Cansi

When we were kids, our dad used to take us to these hole-in-the-wall restaurants in the Chinese quarter of Bacolod. We discovered a lot of gems that way, and Sharyn’s Cansi House was one of them.

R and I actually had one of our earlier dates here when we were just starting out. Aaaah, memories…..

We were finally able to go back last January. I must say that although the price has gone up considerably in the past few years, the flavor hasn’t changed. It was heaven.

What is cansi exactly? It is a sour soup of beef bone marrow, with slices of unripened jackfruit and a little meat on the bones. The sourness of the soup comes from a fruit called batuan (pronounced bat-wan), a fruit that I have never seen off our island of Negros.

The day we went there, R and I finished two bowls of cansi, four servings of rice and an extra bowl of the stock. All washed down with some ice cold Coca-Cola. Talk about recipe for a heart attack.

Sharyn’s Cansi House is located in Shopping, Bacolod (I have no idea why they call it that, but that has been the way it’s always been). The place is clean and up to sanitation standards, but don’t expect fine dining digs. This is a place where one gets down and dirty with their food, if you know what I mean.

Sharyns Cansihan

When they say it’s the best in town, they aren’t kidding.

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Goocha!

Holy guacamole, does it seem like I’m posting an inordinate amount of food-related escapades, or is it just me? If it is midnight at your side of the world and this induces you to pay a visit to the refrigerator, I am truly sorry.

When R, the Babii and I went book shopping the other week, we ended up hungry and exhausted at Goocha, a well-known restaurant in the center of the city. The irony of it all was that we used to live next door to the restaurant, and although we always wondered what the huge crowds outside the restaurant were all about, we never actually got around to going there ourselves.

Cue: three years later. We arrived a little bit before the dinner rush, so we were seated immediately. Upon scanning the menu (which was in English), we were pleasantly surprised to see that the prices were very, very reasonable given the restaurant’s location. Things were looking promising.

The Babii ordered a burger (she wasn’t feeling particularly adventurous that day):

Goocha Burger

I wanted to order so many things that my doctor wouldn’t let me eat— the beef carpaccio, seared tuna, ceviche, etc. (Long story) To be on the safe side, I ordered the fish and chips:

Goocha Fish and Chips

R couldn’t decide, and asked our server to decide for him (such a flirt, this guy). She recommended the seared tuna that I wanted for my self (Aaaaaaahhh!!!!): Goocha Seared Tuna

Then we had a Caesar’s salad:

Goocha Ceasar Salad

And by that, I mean I ordered it and demanded that we all share it. Less guilt that way =D

Goocha drinks

R was especially enamored with their Leffe beer. I had to stop him from draining the whole goblet because he started turning really red and tipsy towards the end.

Would we go back to this restaurant? Most definitely. The food was great, the service impeccable, and to top it all off, the prices were very, very reasonable. (I know I’m repeating myself, but really!)

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Chicken House Inasal

I admit, I have a lot of blog backlog on our (not-so-recent-anymore) holiday. I’m trying to ease them in a little at a time, and today is dedicated to inasal (barbecued chicken).

Inasal is the quintessential Negrense food. Many have tried to imitate it, but very few have succeeded. The chicken is marinated (usually overnight) in a special sauce. I have an inkling what the ingredients are, but at the risk of being hunted down by Negrense inasal makers, please forgive me if i do not divulge it here.

Since I’ve watched the movie Namets, a romantic comedy centered on Negrense food, every time I see inasal I can’t help but remember the “Paa o Pecho?” (Thigh or Breast?) scene. According to one of the protagonists, high maintenance people prefer the chicken breast, while low maintenance, adventurous people prefer the thighs.

True or false?

Anyway, that photo above was taken from Chicken House along Mandalagan St., my all-time favorite inasal restaurant.

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Friday is a weekend here, but since the Babii’s school follows a different schedule, we still have to wake up early in the morning to get her ready and bring her to school (she’s not allowed to walk on her own yet).

One particular Friday, she went to school early to help set up for the annual Spring Fair which she demanded—er, suggested we attend.

It was really too early and we didn’t want to look like stage parents supervising her every move, so we dropped her off and went searching for a nearby cafe.

 Nelly's Kitchen Menu

Our feet took us to Nelly’s Kitchen. One look at the menu and we decided we wanted more than coffee. We ordered the standard breakfast and played with our cameras while waiting.

Nelly's Kitchen Cookie Jars

R’s coffee arrived first.

Nelly's Kitchen Cappuccino

I forgot to mention that Nelly’s Kitchen serves only organic food. It costs a few shekels higher than in a regular cafe, but the price difference is not that significant.

Nelly's Kitchen Breakfast Cheese and Olives

The first part of our breakfast arrived, and it was a platter of cheese, pickled vegetables, and buns. I just love cheese in all forms. It is a seriously guilty pleasure.

Nelly's Kitchen Breakfast Frittata

The second part of breakfast was a cheese and vegetable frittata. R had his coffee and I had a combination carrot and orange juice. It was delicious. Nelly's Kitchen Breakfast Cheese and Olives

The sun rose higher and I knew we had to get going….

The breakfast, including the juice and coffee, was actually good for one person. We just ordered extra rolls as it was a shame not to eat all that cheese. Total bill was NIS 60++ (about $17– pricey for an IHOP, I suppose, but regular by local standards). To top it all off, the service was friendly and attentive.

Do we intend to go back? Definitely.

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