Food Trip: Chef Tatung’s Garden Cafe

Last Sunday, I was quite insistent that hubby and I try out a resto that we’ve never been to, some place where we normally wouldn’t go, so while I was at my favorite nail salon (California Nails, by the way), I googled away and read some good reviews about Chef Tatung’s Garden Cafe.
Normally, I wouldn’t drag hubby to such a far-flung place – it was located in Sikatuna Village, QC – which was across the metro from where we live, or more specifically, at the end of the metro from where we were lounging around that day in Intramuros. But the reviews and the thought of eating choc-nut cake overpowered our tendency to be Juan Tamad.
Getting there was quite easy thanks to Google Maps, but it would otherwise have been hard to find if you’re not familiar with the place. As soon as I saw the garden and the house turned cozy cafe, I knew we were in for a treat.
Inside the cafe

You can opt for al fresco dining

We were the only customers when we got there at 7, but the place soon filled up – a pity I didn’t take photos before eating (note to self: keep hunger in check!), perhaps a testament to the good food and service at this place. And the chef was right there in another table at the cafe with us

I got myself a glass of home-brewed iced tea – I was expecting the usual iced tea, but this one was good. In fact, I think it’s one of the best iced teas I’ve had. Very refreshing and not too sweet, it had that distinct aftertaste of fresh leaves (and so I didn’t feel cheated – it probably really was brewed right there).

Since it was just hubby and me, we settled for one dish each – he chose the Adobo Bisaya while I got the Prawns in Aligue Sauce. In case you haven’t noticed, those are our favorites. Hubby has in fact, mastered his own brand of adobo which we eat every weekend. 
I couldn’t decide which was better. The adobo was seriously to die for. It was different from your usual adobo, since this one had the pork deep fried. Come to think of it though, the adobo was actually a cross between lechon kawali and adobo.  The meat was so tender it kind of melted in my mouth. And the pork skin was very crispy. The entire thing was so tasty right down to the last morsel.
Bisaya Adobo

served with achara and a vinegar/soy sauce mix with onions and a bit of chilli.

The prawns, on the other hand, were cooked so perfectly that the shell would come off where my pork touches. I kind of appreciated that fact because some restos tend to overcook to shrimp and it’s hard to peel them off with the meat sticking. And the sauce was so good – aligue (crab fat) with lots of chilli (the labuyo variety included). Not exactly the healthiest option that night but who’s counting calories when the food was this good?

The actual highlight of the evening though, was the warm tsoknut chocolate cake. I can’t even describe how good it was – the moist chocolate cake, the choc-nut topping, the chocolate syrup dripping along the sides. It was so good that hubby was berating me for getting only one slice and for not ordering another one for take home.

Warm Tsoknut Chocolate CakeI would gladly come back for more of this
Prices are quite alright – our bill was only around Php1,200. And the service was good, not obtrusive at all (which is one of my pet peeves). Check out their website here and treat yourself. As for me, will definitely be back!

Pagudpud, Cabugao and the Island of Puro

Ilocos is located along the coastline, and as you can expect, practically all the towns have decent beach resorts you can go to.
I wasn’t really expecting we’d get to see Pagudpud during this trip. I mean, I know we allotted one whole week for our Ilocos trip but Pagupud was almost as far from Vigan as Vigan was from Manila and I didn’t think we were up for the long drive. But thank God there was practically NO traffic and the roads were good (in fact, better than some parts here in Metro Manila) – we made it in probably just three hours. 
Given that swimming wasn’t part of our itinerary, none of us packed swimsuits, and definitely, none of us brought shorts when we went out for a “drive” that morning. So we were all a bit frustrated that the beach was so near and yet we couldn’t really jump in just like that (especially since us girls were wearing jeans that day – so not me). To our credit, we did try to look for board shorts at the Saud Beach Resort where we had our lunch, but sadly, they don’t have any swimming gear for sale. 
Oh well. I just ate and drank my frustration away while looking out into the ocean. Note to self: allot at least one overnight stay in Pagudpud next time. 
The beaches of Pagudpud are not as white nor as powdery as Boracay’s or Bohol’s but definitely picturesque; the waves are rather big but then, that’s what you can expect from the waters up north. That’s why it’s sometimes dubbed the surfer’s beach. 
Pagudpud has a mile-long stretch of white beach

Shrimp sinigang! I love shrimps – to hell with allergies (my face was actually getting itchy and warm as I was eating my lunch but who cares???)!

Pork Liempo, which I didn’t really taste. 😛

Grilled squid – yummy! Amother favorite of mine.

Paoay Lake
Admittedly, our goal when we made the detour to Paoay Lake was to see the Malacanang of the North – the mansion the Marcoses had built in their home province during the Marcos regime. It has since been converted into a museum/events venue. But, as luck would have it, we got there at closing time. Guess it’s another reason for us to have a third trip to Ilocos.
The palace overlooks the Paoay lake and I can just imagine how Marcos, in his dying moments, probably wished he was brought here instead of being exiled in Hawaii. I don’t know if it’s just me, but the ocean, or in this case, lake, has a calming effect that the city cannot produce (oh well, he was probably near the ocean anyway).
According to legend, a once prosperous village was located there but they soon turned greedy and forgot to worship God. As punishment, God destroyed their village and only one couple managed to get out alive – however, the wife turned to look at their village and turned into stone, along with her husband who had turned to help her. Sounds so much like Sodom and Gomorrah, eh? Anyway, another story goes that during the Spanish regime, a storm and an earthquake struck the area and submerged the town.
Now, of course I don’t know the real origin of the lake but suffice to say that it was worth travelling to this part of Ilocos to see its beauty.
I wonder, have divers explored this lake to verify if there really is a village down there?

As I said, there are plenty of nice resorts in Ilocos and we almost always found ourselves in one during our week-long trip. The second resort we went to was the Cabugao Beach Resort.
Silly old me forgot to take photos of how beautiful the beach was – I was probably too hungry and too hot (literally) to remember. But if you’re ever in the area, I would suggest you check out this resort. The resort’s new and they have a pretty nice pool. Plus, you get a perfect view of the ocean while eating at their resto. The food was nothing spectacular but 

Some food pics (and yet again, I forgot to take a photo of our main dish, hahaha):
Ilocos version of Miki – it was a bit too salty but other than that, I loved it!

Ensaladang talong – I just have to order this whenever I see it on the menu
Nothing beats being on the beach and sipping fresh coconut juice

Puro Island
Few people probably know the existence of this little island off the coast of Caoayan town in Ilocos Sur and you need the help of locals getting to it – the island is uninhabited, there is no electricity and the only mode of transportation is the motorized banca.
It actually reminded me of Virgin Island in Bohol (or Potipot in Zambales), minus the long stretch of white, powdery beach and calm waters. Here, the waters suddenly go deep a few feet from the shore and the waves are quite strong – powerful enough to roll me over several times on the sand. But still, for non-swimmers like me, you still get a few meters to wade in. Just make sure you have strong swimmers in your group who can rescue you in case you get tossed about into the deeper parts. Oh, and I might suggest a life ring.  
That’s Puro Island straight ahead – just a five minute boat ride
Colorful bancas! Arrgh, hubby’s shoulder (bottom left) is ruining the shot! I must make sure to cut out that portion.
And that’s our boat. 🙂 I just loved the colorful bancas so much I took lots of photos of them.

Again, forgetful me forgot to put sunblock on my arms and back – I only put sunblock on my face and legs and I now have a bad case of tan lines and sunburnt skin. I also didn’t have any decent swimsuit and as it was the Holy Week, we couldn’t buy any. So I ended up wearing the shortest pair of shorts in my luggage and my trusty tank top. But it was worth it.  🙂
See the deep blue part so close to the shore? That’s already over ten feet (or even twenty, as one of our guides said). The sand was so hot that we couldn’t walk without our flipflops.

Yes, the island is very small – you can circle it in less than an hour

Since the place was uninhabited, we had to cook our own food and bring our own utensils – and this is where the enterprising locals helped A LOT. Our friend had already pre-arranged our boat, our guides, and our food so all we had to do was swim while our food was being cooked.
If I ever wondered what food in paradise must taste like, this would be close – nothing beats fresh fish caught straight from the ocean grilled just a few minutes before you eat. It was my first time eating fresh sea weed too, and while I won’t be craving for it anytime soon, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I liked it actually, enough to get two or three servings of it.


Up next: Sand Dunes only in Ilocos!

Ilocos Norte

I never really thought of Ilocos as a summer destination and a lot of people probably assume that the only place to visit there is the Vigan Heritage Village (and Pagudpud). But actually, there are so many places to see and things to do in Ilocos that it will probably take you weeks to see all of them.
On our first day, we decided to head out of Vigan and drive as far as we could and just work our way back to our hotel in Vigan. 
Patapat Viaduct
First item ticked off my list of places to see in Ilocos – the Patapat Viaduct, about 4 hours away from VIgan (or 300+ kilometers!). The fourth longest bridge in the country, it connects Ilocos to the Cagayan Valley. There isn’t really much to see except for the viaduct which snakes its way around the mountainside, overlooking the ocean.
Only my fear of heights prevented me from sitting on those white ledges and just closing my eyes to listen to the waves
Bangui Windmills
The wind mills, a project of the Northwind Development Corporation, is considered the biggest in Southeast Asia. It is located along the shores of Bangui, Ilocos Norte, facing the South China Sea. Each turbine has three blades with a six-meter diameter on top of a 50-meter body. 
We weren’t able to see the wind mills up close since we were already pressed for time so we had to make do with the look-out point. Guess we’ll save that for another trip (yes, hubby and I loved Ilocos so much we are already planning our third visit!).
Another blurred shot. I really need to get a better grip. Haha.

Cape Bojeador Lighthouse
Built during the Spanish period, the octagonal lighthouse was first lit in 1892, and is made of bricks covered by white paint. It is still being used 100 years after it was built, although the place is in dire need of repair – the roof is falling down, the balustrade from the pavilion to the tower itself is rickety and rust has eaten away most of the steel casings. Simply put, the lighthouse is a disaster waiting to happen. 
There is a small museum in the pavilion although it is poorly kept, and smells damp and moldy. It contains clippings and documents pertaining to the history of the lighthouse, but most are too yellowed to be of much interest. 
The view from the top is so beautiful and serene.

Just to give a perspective of how tall the tower is.

Cape Bojeador Lighthouse is one of the oldest, still active lighthouses in the country so I really wish the government will exert some effort in its upkeep. Even if wasn’t used anymore, it’s still a piece of history that should not be left to rot.

Up next: Ilocos Beaches: Pagudpud, Cabugao and the Island of Puro

Rainbow Connection

Saw two rainbows during our out of town vacation last week – such a rare occurrence. I rarely see rainbows nowadays and to see two rainbows in two consecutive days?!? Amazing.
Day 1:
The other end of the rainbow


Day 2:

The second rainbow I saw was even a first for me – it was my first time (as far as I can remember) to see a full arc! Too bad our car was moving too fast for me to get a decent shot, plus, there were too many cars on the road for me to simply get off our car and take photos like I did on the first day.
Don’t you just love rainbows? To me, they symbolize hope. And what better way to be reminded that good things are to come? 🙂

Visita Iglesia 2012 – Ilocos Edition

By some stroke of luck, hubby and I found ourselves in a week-long out of town trip in Ilocos coinciding with Holy Week, so we figured it would be nice to visit the old churches in the province for our annual Visita Iglesia. Our group (we were travelling with college friends) was based in Vigan so we started our Visita a few towns away and just worked our way back to Vigan. 
First stop was the Shrine of the Santo Cristo Milagroso (Sinait Church), home of the miraculous Black Nazarene, locally known as Apo Lakay (Lord). This life-sized statue was found back in the 17thcentury, along with a statue of the Virgin Mary, floating along the shores of Sinait and Badoc towns. According to stories, people from Badoc were unable to move the Black Nazarene while the people of Sinait were unable to move the Virgin Mary but could move the Black Nazarene. Given this, the locals split the two statues between their towns and to this day, they are venerated as the towns’ respective patrons.

Shrine of the Santo Cristo Milagroso, Sinait, Ilocos Sur

Our second stop was the St. Mark the Evangelist Church in the town of Cabugao. This church was built around 1695 although it has gone through some major reinforcements and facelifts over the centuries. It’s a relief that the church’s bell tower is intact, unlike most of the old churches in the country.

St. Mark the Evangelist Church, Cabugao, Ilocos Sur

Up next on our itinerary was the church of St. William the Hermit (San Guillermo de Aquitania) in Magsingal. It is baroque in design, with buttresses to fortify the structure although from the facade, it looked quite modern due to its yellow paint.The first church was built in the 17th century although the present structure was built in the 19th century. It’s included in the National Commission for Culture and the Arts as a national heritage site.
St. William the Hermit Church, Magsingal, Ilocos Sur (pardon the low quality of the photo; made a mistake while clicking my trusty iphone)
The interior of this church is probably my favourite among the churches we visited during our Visita, for the simple reason that it still uses an old retablo (wooden altar).
The retablo has three layers and eight niches which are occupied by statues of saints. 
The church also has an old choir loft and a pulpit but are both no longer used. 

If I favoured Magsingal’s interior for its wood works, I would have to give my vote to the Sto. Domingo Church, our fourth stop, for most impressive exterior. More on the gothic side of the spectrum, I love the tiny turrets dotting the facade of the church.

Sto. Domingo Church, Santo Domingo, Ilocos Sur. Built in the early parts of the 18th century.

Our next church, San Ildefonso, looked deceptively modern, what with its bright beige and maroon paint but it is actually around 200 years old, having been built around the 19thcentury. But if you look closely at the side walls, you will notice the old brick tiles, prevalent of structures built during the Spanish era, peeking out.

San Ildefonso, San Ildefonso, Ilocos Sur
The next church on our list was the Sta. Catalina Church in Vigan, in honor of St. Catherine of Alexandria. According to the town’s official website, Spanish soldiers were venturing out of Ciudad Fernandina (the old name of Vigan) and came upon a spring to rest. They took turns drinking from the spring when an apparition appeared, and one of the soldiers recognized it as that of St. Catherine. From then on, the town had been known as Sta. Catalina.
I am not sure if the present structure is the same one built in the 18th century but I must say that the church grounds is one of the most well-maintained I have come across. 

The seventh and last stop for our Visita was the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity (Nuestra Senora de Caridad) or St. Augustine Parish Church in Bantay, perhaps the most picturesque of the seven and one of the oldest in Ilocos, having been built in 1590. 
Perched atop a small hill with its bell tower situated in a more elevated hill about thirty meters away, the church enjoys expansive grounds and allows for scenic photos to be taken.

Me and Hubby

Shot taken from the bottom steps of the hill leading to the bell tower

We were able to complete the seven churches even before we reached the Vigan Heritage Village but aside from the churches I listed above, there are many old churches to visit in the Ilocos province, starting with the Vigan Cathedral itself, which is part of the Unesco World Heritage site. 
Sadly though, the buttresses of the church had been cemented and you can no longer see the original bricks.but here’s a photo I took two years ago:

There are many old churches in Ilocos, since it was one of the earliest provinces reached by Spanish missionaries so we were able to visit two more churches. 
One is the St. John the Baptist Church in San Juan (Lapog). Built in 1799 through voluntary services rendered by the locals, several townspeople were held hostage during World War II in this church by the Japanese. The Japanese threatened to kill everyone inside the church if no one will confess to a crime committed against one of their comrades. What this crime is, I am not too sure – one site says the Japanese were merely looking for the burial site of their comrade while others say the Japanese wanted to know who killed their comrade. In any case, one of the men, Constante Varilla Castro, admitted to the crime to spare the townspeople.
A historical marker now stands in the church grounds to commemorate Castro’s sacrifice.

About two hours away from Vigan is the town of Paoay, which is home to the second UNESCO Baroque church in the province, the San Agustin Church (Church of Paoay), built in 1704. It is arguably one of the best and most intricate churches I have ever seen, and certainly has the most imposing set of buttresses of all the churches I’ve visited in the country.

Buttresses at the back of the church; there are 24 buttresses supporting the church, made up of coral rocks

About two years ago, hubby and I were also able to visit two other churches, one of them also listed in the UNESCO Baroque Churches of the Philippines: the Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur, about thirty minutes from Vigan.

A much older church lies in Laoag City, capital of Ilocos Norte – the St. William’s Cathedral. Surprisingly, this structure is actually older than the UNESCO churches I mentioned above, having been built in 1590 by the Augustinians.
The church is famous for its sinking bellfry, which you are likely to miss if you are not aware of it or don’t know where to look, because it is located about 80 meters away and partially hidden from view by taller structures. So-called sinking because the tower sinks an inch or so a year due to a natural phenomenon called desertification, whereby the soil on which it stands is changed to sand due to the hot weather (yes, it is very hot in Laoag).

The Long Drive North

Hubby and I took a week-long vacation up north – this trip marks a lot of firsts for us: first time to drive this far (think 300+ kilometres from Manila to Vigan and another 300+ to Pagudpud for one of our day trips), the longest vacation together, the longest time away from our kid, and the longest trip with our friends from college. 

And this being hubby’s first real test as a driver, our convoy decided to make its way slowly with several stopovers and sigh-seeing. We entered the NLEX around 9:30am and reached Manaoag, our first stopover, around 1pm. Not bad, eh? 

We weren’t really familiar with restos around the area and had it been just hubby and me, we would have gone with any of the more familiar fast food chains in the town proper. Luckily, we had our friends who grew up in the region and they introduced us to Ruperto’s, which was a little further from the town center but also along the main highway.

Ruperto’s isn’t just a restaurant; it’s actually a hotel-resort-restaurant, built on what used to be farmland. I am not sure if there are many guests checked in but the place itself looked nice and clean and pool was inviting. 

pardon the cut on the panorama shot – my hands were a bit shaky that day

the restaurant
Food was great too! I enjoyed the fresh fish very much, even though it was a bit “fishy” for me. 

We stayed in Manaoag for a few more hours to pray at the shrine. People attribute lots of miracles to the lady of Manaoag, and while I personally haven’t experienced any obvious miracles, I was in awe of the stories I’ve heard. 

Our next stopover was already in La Union for dinner. Our Manaoag stopover had set us back three hours so McDonald’s would have to do for dinner if we were to reach Vigan before 9PM.

Which we unfortunately didn’t. Traffic was very light but the road leading up to Ilocos was poorly lit. In fact, I don’t recall seeing brightly lit lampposts and the road was bumpy with lots of unfinished construction so it was a little before 10PM when we reached our hotel. 

Return Trip
There were a lot of tourists up North and I think it’s just a matter of time before it rivals the Boracay crowd. Unfortunately, this also meant driving back to Manila on the last day of the holidays would be a nightmare so we left one day earlier to avoid the mad dash to the capital.

Our return trip took around the same time but this time, our stop over was in Agoo – at the Ice Tea Rue restaurant for dinner. I don’t know what the name meant nor the specialty of the place but given the Japanese accents inside the resto, I would assume it’s supposed to be Japanese.

In any case, food was great. We had chili garlic prawns which were to die for (and quite a steal as I think we got five pieces of prawns for only Php225!), roasted chicken, and bagnet, plus fruit shake for all five of us. Can you imagine our tab was only Php1100+? I would definitely visit this place if we do get to travel this side of Luzon in the future.

On a side note, it seems the town (or city?) of Agoo benefited a lot from Judiel Nieva. For those of you too young to remember, he was the “visionary” from maybe, 18 years ago, who supposedly saw the Virgin Mary in Agoo, Pangasinan. Pilgrims would trek to Pangasinan to see him and the previously sleepy town progressed into a bustling center with establishments popping up everywhere.

He was later proven a fraud after a Church investigation, with the supposed messages all copied from Fatima and Lourdes (and had wrong grammars that added to evidence against him), and the “crying” statue of the Virgin Mary rigged with a contraption to make it look like it was shedding tears. Judiel has since come out of the closet but we’re not sure if he has undergone a sex change operation. Last I heard of, he’s now living in a condo in Paranaque.