Eating in Manila

After an amazing flight in Thai Airways’ first class (no, I did not win the lottery, I just saved up on air miles) we touched down at Ninoy Aquino International Airport for three days of eating and exploring the Filipino capital and mega city Manila.

Since we got a really nice price (for a Peninsula) we opted to stay at the Peninsula Manila Hotel, situated in Makati, one of sixteen cities that make up Metro Manila – an area with a 35 million population.

Our first day was spent mainly lazying around the hotel and its vicinity. We had a pretty good, but by Manila standards hideously expensive, dinner in the hotel’s Spices restaurant featuring Pancit stir-fried noodles with pork, chicken and prawns. We also had Inihaw Baboy, a grilled pork dish.

 Intramuros, inside the old Spanish walls

Our second day was spent touring Manila’s walled city, or old town Intramuros (inside the walls) built by the Spanish in the late 1500s. We selected to get a private tour with “Yolo Tours” which for a reasonable price merged their Intramuros and food tour into a one day experience.

We begun by visiting the Manila Cathedral where we managed to walk right into an Easter mass attended by lots of locals. The Philippines is quite religious and roughly 85 percent consider themselves Christian.

During the World War II Intramuros was heavily damaged (according to our guide basically flattened out) by American bombings of the occupying Japanese invaders. One church in the area managed to survive the war though, the impressive San Agustin Church that was opened in 1607. A hidden secret rests in the church’s ceiling and walls. What you ask?  Read on next week and I’ll tell… Just kidding. The secret: All the stone carvings are actually painted.

Bull’s ball soup in Binondo

After the interesting and sometimes sad history lesson of Intramuros, Manila and the Philippines we went on to Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown.

Our first stop was the Café Mezzanine, a place that the local volunteer fire brigade additionally had as their hang out between alarms. We did not experience it, but the restaurant has their own alarm bell, signaling the firemen when there is a nearby fire. We were their for a couple of dishes. First and foremost the soup number five.

Soup number five is a potent (pun intended) soup with bull’s testicles as its main ingredient. It felt somewhat appropriate to enjoy balls for which the restaurant profits went to the volunteer firemen which definitely showed some balls putting out fires in their spare time. How was it then? The soup’s broth was quite tasty. Salty and fatty. The bull’s balls themselves weren’t the best thing I have had, but tasted basically like fatty beef.

We also tried the slightly more easily digested pork and chive dumplings which was dipped in a soy, chili and kalamansi (local lime:ish fruit) dipping sauce.

Next stop was “Sincerity Cafe and Restaurant” where we had crispy Filipino spring rolls, or “Lumpia”. We also had a quite delicious crispy fried oyster cake; sort of like an omelete-pancake with fresh coriander. The final thing we tried at Sincerity was “Machang”, sticky rice with pork and chicken mixed into it, and then baked in pandan leaves. Filipino paella, according to our guide.


Next stop was a fried “Siopao”, a steamed bun, sort of like a bao. The bun was filled with salty and slightly sweet pork, and was in addition to steamed fried on one side.


I love Halo-halo

Since we took the tour on a Sunday, a few of the restaurants that was normally on the tour weren’t open. Because of this our guide threw in a few extras and we got to try our first halo-halo at national chain Chowking.

Chowking’s halo-halo was surprisingly good to be honest. Halo-halo means ‘mix-mix’ in Tagalog and that pretty much what you do. You receive a bowl with ube (purple yam) ice cream, evaporated milk (the stuff you cook for dulce de leche), leche flan (egg custard), coconut, shaved ice, jack fruit strips, sweetened white and black beans, plantains and jelly which you mix-mix together. It’s fresh, it’s desserty at the same time, and it’s really good.

After the final food item had been injested the tour finished and we went back to our hotel to pass out for a while.

Filipino food in Greenbelt

After waking up from our bull’s ball and halo-halo inflicted sleep we needed more food. Close to the Peninsula is the Greenbelt shopping area, a mall complex with restaurants, shops and so on. By advise from our guide we went to a Filipino restaurant there called Gerry’s Grill. We tried “Sizzling pork sisig”, fried pork parts (such as snouze, liver and ears) that was served with kalamansi lime and suppossedly is a popular beer snack.

We also had lechon kawali which is roasted suckling pig belly. We had it with garlic rice and wilted water spinach and it was quite enjoyable and price (1100 php for two including 2 beers each) felt reasonable for the area.


One of the best hotel breakfasts and THE BEST goat tacos

Day three was spent lazying around the hotel for the first part of the day. The Peninsula served up a really good breakfast buffet with both tasty bread (usually hard to find); crispy bacon (also rare on buffets); fresh tropical fruit; yoghurts; cold cuts; local food like pancit noodles, garlic rice and pork adobo; pancakes; waffles – they also had an egg station and my first ever seen juice station. In addition to that they had some seriously good homemade pastries. My favourite one was a mango and vanilla cream Danish pastry with the fresh melting-in-your-mouth mango slices and the soft smooth vanilla cream contrasted by the perfectly crunchy danish. Mm-mm-mm.

After hyper-ventilating for a couple of hours we were again hungry. Based on advise from a couple of friends we set foot on a place called “El Chupacabra”, or “the goat sucker”. The chupacabra is a goat blood-sucking creature that according to some is a myth.

Nevertheless, we were their to suck some goat ourselves, and after some initial confusion we managed to find the place in an alley close to Makati Avenue (totally walkable from Peninsula/Greenbelt Area).

We ordered the spicy goat meat taco (cabrito) and the “al pastor”. Both were seriously good, I would stretch as far as to say that the goat taco was the best I’ve ever had. Spicy, tender meat, super-thin corn tortillas and simple yet delicious condiments. Good prices too, so definitely a must visit if you like tacos and find yourself in Manila.


A tenth of a sunset and Jollibee

The rest of the day was spent in the giant Mall of Asia where we went to see the Manila Bay-sunset. Although we couldn’t see that much of it due to clouds, it was pretty cool to stroll along the water together with lots of local couples and families hangig out there. By recommendation from our food tour guide we also tried Philippino fast food-chain Jollibee that has spread as far as Doha Qatar lately. Wasn’t terribly impressed unfortunately (sorry Filipinos) with my Champ burger.

The last meal

Our last meal (okay I had one more of the awesome Peninsula breakfasts, but that does not count) in Manila was the Halo-halo Harana. The HHH is one of Peninsula Manila’s signature dishes and is a fancied-up version of the Filipino national dessert. It contains leche flan, chickpeas, sweetened kidney beans, coconut gel, the purple yam ube ice cream, sago, evaporated milk, jackfruit, creamy coconu and rice puffs. This was really a treat, but on the other hand it was about 850 php including service and taxes which would’ve been expensive for a dessert even in Sweden. It was so good though!

After the final mix-mix our time in Manila had come to and end. We’re currently enjoying one of the prettier places I’ve been to: the island of Boracay, under an hour’s flight from Manila.

A weekend of pasta in Rome

Visited Rome in November 2015 for a weekend of eating, sightseeing and general indulgence. My judgement might be slightly affected by the fact that I totally love Italian food and that the weather was 20 degrees celsius and the sun was shining. Something very important for a Swede coming from the borderline winter that is November. In short: I loved Rome, its amazing pasta, its sights, the easy walking everywhere and the friendly atmosphere in the city.


Must visit: Colosseum.

Must visit 2: Fontana di Trevi.


Delicious pizza slices at Il Melograno, close to Fontana di Trevi.


When in Rome (sorry), eat gelato! And oh how good this gelato at aptly named Wonderful Ice Cream was.


Pantheon by night.


Before the trip I spent considerate time researching the city’s best carbonara. One of the often-mentioned places was Armando al Pantheon. Of course I had to visit (reservations recommended), and I wasn’t disappointed. The best carbonara I’ve ever had. Creamy deliciousness with egg yolks, crunchy, fatty and salty guanciale (cured pig’s cheek) and pecorino cheese.


A decent Saltimbocca alla Romana, not nearly as good as the carbonara, but totally edible. Pounded veal with ham and sage, cooked in a white wine reduction.


Tasty Tiramisú. Still at Armando al Pantheon.


Next day: The Vatican. To get into St Peter’s square itself, there’s no need to queue. To get into the museums, you can either wait in line or buy a fast track ticket. Since we had limited time we opted to buy fast track tickets from the Vatican Museums website and saved ourselves a few euros by not going through an agency. Link to where we bought our tickets, we paid roughly 20 euros a person and did not wait at all to get in.


A decent, although not fantastic pizza diavola (spicy salami) at Il Pozzetto.


Fast forward to dinner at Ristorante da Alessio. Bruschetta with fresh tomatoes to start.


Truffle risotto. Not spectacular, but quite tasty nevertheless.

Bucatini all’Amatriciana. Sort of thick spaghetti served with a very tasty tomato and guanciale sauce. Of course topped with pecorino cheese. So good!


This was really good. A hot sizzling pan with slices of beef, potatoes, courgettes and (I know, wrong country) béarnaise sauce.


The Vatican as seen from Castel Sant’Angelo. The Castle featured amazing views over Rome in all directions and is definitely worth a visit.


The last meal in Rome: Tonnarelli cacio e pepe at Cotto, next door to our hotel. A delicious classic with pasta, pecorino cheese and black pepper made silky smooth combined with some of the cooking liquid. A great end to a great weekend. Pasta is, and has always been, my favorite comfort food. Usually I get disappointed when I go out and order pasta, but of course, Rome did not let me down.

Four days in the Maldives

Since visiting Fiji a couple of years ago while living and studying in Sydney, Australia, I’ve had a desire to visit more island paradise places. Fortunately for me, we had a trip for a friends’s birthday in Thailand coming up in March, earlier this year, and managed to find a ticket that would take us from Stockholm to Male, the capital of the small island state of Maldives, and then back from Bangkok to Stockholm for less than $800 a head. After finding another good deal on IHG’s website for a four day stay at Holiday Inn Kandooma ($250/night for two) we were on our way!



After a really nice, slightly boozy, flight from Stockholm to Dubai (the four of us going to the Maldives managed to end up on the same plane as two other friends headed for the party in Thailand) we touched down in the capital Male, a really stunning place in itself. But we were going further and boarded a hideously expensive boat transfer straight away after picking up our bags in the airport. The hotels, at least the resort islands, do in many cases have their own counters in the airport, so you just walk there and they’ll take you to your boat. This was the case for us, going to the Holiday Inn Kandooma, a 45 minute boat ride from the airport.


Kandooma Island
The island of Kandooma is pretty much paradise. White beaches (three of them), crystal clear water, tropical fishes, and no crowds. Most other visitors to the island seemed to hang out near the pool and beach adjacent to it and the lobby area where the restaurants were located. So we pretty much had one of the beaches to ourselves. Perhaps because this was close to where the small reef sharks swam (yikes).

The food
The one problem with finding a semi-bargain trip to The Maldives is that it’s not really going to be an affordable trip no matter how much you try. The prices for food on Kandooma Island was priced from roughly $20-25 (plus the 21 percent ++ tax) for something like a burger, a pizza or a pasta to about $60-70 (++) for a steak at the island’s fancy restaurant The Kitchen. We tried most option except for the buffet restaurant which charged around $60++ for an all you can eat buffet each night.


Pad Thai in the Bokkuraa Coffee Club. The island least expensive place. Still expensive though. But at least the food was tasty, nicely presented and you got enough of it to get full, which is always a plus at $25 a course. 🙂


Of course I had to sample some local stuff. This was a Garudhia soup – a clear broth – with slow cooked tuna, lime, chili and garlic. Served with rice it was decently filling and really nice. Especially the slow cooked tuna was peppery and delicious.


A local “Dhoni” or fisherman’s platter with tuna steak, grilled prawns, mussels, squid, fried rice, grilled vegetables and salad. The fish and seafood could have been a little more carefully cooked. But still a quite unbeatable plate of food given the location and atmosphere.


Fortunately for us cheapskates, breakfast was included, and this is where we really pigged out. Breakfast was served until 10:30 am each day, and at 10:00:ish we dove in. The breakfast was really one of the best I’ve experienced. Especially if you wanted to fill up to be able to avoid having lunch, saving ourself 50 bucks or so. There were dumplings, eggs, rotis (made a la minute by a dedicated roti chef), delicious curries, noodles, bread, pastries. Everything was really fresh and well made, and the chefs seemed to really enjoy what they did.

The Kitchen
The reason why we visited the Maldives in the first place was that we were on our way to Thailand to celebrate one of our friends turning 30. Since the soon-to-be-old friend was with us visiting the Maldives we of course had to celebrate the actual birthday as well, even though the big party was to be in Thailand a couple of days later. The fancy restaurant on Kandooma Island was called The Kitchen, and to The Kitchen we went.

First up was an amuse in the shape of a deep fried seafood and chicken wonton. Tasted like it looks. Nothing spectacular.


A delicious Black Angus tenderloin with herb butter and garlic mash. Crazy expensive but so, so good.


And finally a complimentary happy birthday cake. One thing should be pointed out though. Food was really expensive, but fortunately drinks weren’t as bad. A beer was $5 and a bottle of wine about $40. So while still expensive, not as crazy expensive as some of the food.


Well, after four days of lazying on the beautiful beach, eating lots of delicious food (and enormous amounts of the complimentary snacks that came with beer purchases) we boarded our boat back to the airport and flew off into the sunset to the “land of smiles”.

If you want to read my TripAdvisor review of Holiday Inn Kandooma. You’ll find it here.