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Thursday, January 30, 2014

How To Make Ilocos Empanada (In Pictures)

Thanks to the accommodating staff at Fariñas Ilocos Empanada for allowing me to take pictures. A step by step guide to making this delectable snack from the northern region. (Yes, this version has bagnet. Mwahaha.)

Start with a pinch of the dough (they didn't reply when I asked what it was/why it had that orange hue)

Roll it out to make it larger.

Start placing the veggies.

Place raw egg at the center.

Top with minced meat.

Finish with bagnet.

Fold it in to seal.

Dunk in oil and let chemistry do its' magic.

Serve and enjoy.


Head over to The Collective at Malugay Street in Makati, where you will find this delectable number, as well as a number of other dining establishments.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Ramen Virgin's Plunge

Technically, I can't really claim virginity as far as ramen is concerned. I have (vague) memories of having had this noodle dish (with no broth, though) as far back as my elementary school years. Besides, I wouldn't want to risk guffaws if I was to claim I was a virgin anything.

I am, however, a novice where the recent surge of ramen places all over Metro Manila is concerned. What confirmed my late arrival to the ramen party: I actually saw lists for 2013 declaring the Top 5 (even 10!) Ramen Places in Manila!

As they say, better ramen than never.

Having decided to meet at the East Wing of Shangri-la Plaza without a firm commitment as to where we were parking our taste buds, my friends Liza, Malyn and Winnie decided to let our feet and eyes make the decision.

Not wanting to go for something heavy like steak, we were on the lookout for lighter fare. Malyn then suggested we settle on Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen, as the place usually has a line outside (which was strangely absent that Thursday evening).

I excused myself to wash my hands and came back to find this served at our table.

Edamame, or before-they-harden, young soybeans, blanched or boiled then salted. Liza was the first to react: "That's what it is? I keep hearing about edamame this, edamame that, and it's all the rage in the States...and this is it?"

While we initially dismissed it (I thought of it as a less appealing version of peanuts), we ended up finishing the entire bowl. (Feel free to draw your own conclusions.)

I was thankful that the menu had descriptions of the various tonkotsu ramen, and I instantly gravitated towards one entry: Black Garlic Tonkotsu. (380 Pesos) I was curious because a black garlic usually means you burned it (though it was described as having black garlic oil, along with charsiu/pork, green onions, wood ear mushrooms, and bamboo shoots) so I went for it if only to see how this would be translated.

It turned out to be what Malyn and Liza ordered as well. Only Winnie ordered a different ramen, one that was featured in their "new" section, described as a spice experience.

Tonkotsu broth is liquid that is simmered from bones, bone marrow, fat, and other parts, a quick peek online reveals. Before we had time to discuss what that means, our orders arrived.

It looked exactly like the picture in the menu, but I was not prepared for what assaulted my taste buds a few seconds later.

It didn't look heavy but the liquid was creamy, and yet it wasn't cloying (nakakasuya) because it enticed you to take one more sip. And another. And another.

We were sure it wasn't because of milk, gata, or any other milk substitute, and we concluded (correctly) that this was the end product of dissolving all those delicious parts described in our online search earlier. (If you are vegan, you will probably recoil at the description. As a good friend said, more for us, then.)

I remember our server asking how we wanted our noodles. Winnie asked for her recommendation and she proposed "hard" so that the noodles would be al dente. It was the right texture to stand up to and carry the immense flavors swirling in our mouths that instant.

I'm not really a ramen connoisseur (again, think virgin, cough, cough) and I have to admit that the real reason it took me so long to take part of the ramen-mania was that other than sinigang, I was hard pressed to imagine any soup dish as the dish, often thinking of it as the foreplay to the entrée.

But this mélange of rich, hearty flavors certainly opened by eyes - and mouth - to the wonderful world that local foodies have been raving over for quite some time. Ikkoryu Fukuoka has set the bar - for me, since this is my first (okay, I'll stop harping on the virgin line now) - and I'm afraid this signifies a closer inspection on what the other ramen places are serving and how they compare to the first time.

Okay, now I'm done with the virgin references.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The PhP 1049 Breakfast

Which consists of 49 pesos for the Jollibee Hotdog Meal Breakfast. And 1000 pesos for the impounding fee.

The one time that I - the perrenial law abider, the guy who hates it when someone cuts in line, the one who insists that everyone walk on their side of the road - did the wrong thing (parking outside the store, on a no parking street, and hopefully take out a meal and be gone in three minutes) and a traffic enforcer and tow truck operators appear so swiftly it made me a believer of the law enforcement system.

If only we were this quick in charging lawmakers who squander our money, lapping it up with their friends using bogus NGOs, and hauling their asses into court and jail.

Yes, I'm talking about you, Tanda, Seksi, and Pogi.

(And yes, you may think that my Jollibee caper has nothing to do with the pork barrel scam. I guess this is where being a writer comes in handy.)

Plus, while I did pay my fine, was issued a ticket, and paid for my offense literally (they even escorted me to the ATM machine as I did not have cash on hand), my biggest regret was that I inadvertently added to the coffers of the Binay dynasty's city.

So, should 2016 see us with a Binay presidency, I will fully admit I contributed to that victory.

Against my will.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Call For Financial Literacy

Having woken up a little later than usual, I decided to hail a cab (which is not so easy a task in Makati, where everyone seems to be hailing one). Thankfully, I was able to snag one as our area has a nearby tambayan for taxi drivers.

As I occupied the back seat, I noticed the driver had to be pushing 60, at least. He was definitely hard of hearing as he had to ask me twice for my destination, and he drove in a rather tentative manner. No, it wasn't because he had just gotten his license, but rather, he had a hard time turning his head to watch for oncoming vehicles. His reflexes - or lack of it - gave me pause, but since I needed a ride ASAP, I considered myself lucky enough to have snagged a cab.

As a financial advisor, I am confronted on a daily basis of an uncomfortable truth: so much of this country's population cannot afford to retire.

At a time when we should be savoring the fruits of the labor we have toiled for decades, people like my taxi driver that day are still working because they don't have a choice.

(Courtesy of

It's easy enough to pass it off as "unavoidable": prices keep going up, the exchange rate is dismal, the government keeps piling on taxes, family members keep asking for help, loans have to be paid, etc. Much of these factors are beyond our individual control, so it behooves us all to ask ourselves:

What part of our finances can we control?

And did we do our part in matters within our control, to ensure that we will see an end to working out of need, at an age when we are, to use that phrase, put out to pasture?

I submit that much of our financial woes are due to the fact that our financial literacy is quite low. And while I'm sure our parents, in one way or another, did impart to us some "tips" on saving money - like turning off the iron 30 minutes before you're through pressing clothes, or having us open "kiddie" bank accounts - we don't seem to have a formal structure for learning about finances in our educational institutions.

We are unaware - and thoroughly unprepared - for how pervasive the matter of financial management will permeate all of our adult lives.

It contributes to why we have so many OFWs, or people having more than one job: we aren't earning enough, we aren't saving enough, we fall for the "easy way out" - using credit cards and going to loan sharks as a way to cope with financial demands, not realizing the grave we are digging ourselves, we don't keep track of our expenses and continue railing against the wages we get but don't find it contradictory that we will pull out all the stops just to have the latest Galaxy or iPhone model.

I wish our schools taught us the basics of personal finance. I remember taking up Economics in third year high school, but that isn't the kind of education I'm referring to. Yes, it's important to know what comprises the Gross National Product, but it is essential and vital to realize why we should save first before spending.

I was taught that inflation means being able to buy less goods with the same 100 pesos I had in 1984, but no one told me about why finding the right savings or investment vehicle is vital in blunting the effects of inflation.

And while some parents always run away when an insurance agent comes around, you only need to see the survivors of Yolanda, Ondoy and countless other calamities on TV wailing "Paano na kami?!? Siya lang ang bumubuhay sa amin, kinuha pa siya?!?" to realize how important risk management is for all families.

My line of work has given me a glimpse into some very interesting financial habits, and by interesting, I mean quizzical.

I was able to talk to a call center agent who told me she was hard pressed to save a thousand pesos every month, but during the course of our conversation, proudly reveals that she spent 25,000 pesos a few months back to see a foreign pop act, "the best show I've ever seen!"

Or the fashion ingenue who had all the designer bags, clothes and accessories a human body can carry, but revealed to me that it was all on installment basis, and that her relatively large salary is already bondaged to three credit card companies for at least 3 years.

So it's quite amazing to be able to meet an office worker - who earns a little over 20,000 pesos a month - who is able to invest almost half a million in one fell swoop, proof that what matters is not what you have, but what you do with it.

It is often said that education is the key to a better life.

And an important life lesson I wish everyone learns early on is that we have to take control of our finances, lest they take control of our lives.