Tropical depressions have come and gone from the Philippines together with the old year, but Christmas is still here. A trip to two different malls attest to this lingering Christmas vibe. Robinsons Mall on Aurora Boulevard, New Manila has a Christmas ‘centerpiece’ fused with a carousel feel to it coming on every 10 min at the main entrance lobby. The Christmas light flickers, a gigantic bear rides a bike, and a Christmas song plays on loop. At the other side of the city, SM Mall of Asia, popularly known as MOA, is similarly still decked in its Christmas attire done to the theme of Christmas animals. 

A Christmas tree greets shoppers at the main lobby of Robinsons Magnolia.

Christmas ride with a cuddly bear at Robinsons Magnolia

complete Christmas set up as viewed from the third floor

Without a doubt, the rituals – gift-giving, Simbang Gabi, and Christmas Eve dinner – have been performed yet the Christmassy feel still remains. I suppose this is part of the Filipinos’ much vaunted capacity to be happy in the face of economic crises, natural disasters, and personal tragedies. In fact, a report from the Philippine Daily Inquirer proved this supposition true when Gallup International’s 41st Annual Global End of Year Survey, an opinion survey conducted among 55 countries, placed the Philippines third-happiest country, following Fiji and Colombia. 

The question that tugs at my mind is are the Filipinos truly happy? Or is it a calculated shift in mindset, choosing happiness over depression or hopelessness given the state of things in the country? I can only surmise that majority of my compatriots choose to be happy because the other options are far grim, and Christmas does help to negate hope against hope. The idea of the birth of Jesus Christ engenders hopefulness and its twin, happiness, which propel people to see their lives vis-a-vis the world in a different light.

Christmas as interpreted by SM Mall of Asia

SM Mall of Asia’s Christmas tree

the complete Christmas tableaux at SM Mall of Asia

Another reason is the belief that Christmas isn’t entirely over until the three wise men bearing gifts (or are they kings?) have done their visitation of the divine child. Once that day passes then Christmas is officially over and the Christmas decor can be taken down and stored. The Christmassy ambience slowly dissipates after this then speeds up when students troop to school and all employees report to work. A very strong indication that Christmas is over is the turtle-pace, stress-inducing traffic that confronts the commuters which had disappeared momentarily with the exodus of the population to their hometowns for the holidays.

But for now it is still Christmas with the future looking bright. It is best to revel in it before hard, cold reality sets in and locks horns with one’s happiness.

Food Tales


It's the season to celebrate at  Robinson's Magnolia.
It’s the season to celebrate at Robinson’s Magnolia.

Food tripping is a big part of my itinerary when am on holiday in Manila, giving me a chance to try new places I’ve never been to. The month of December, although it is the season to stuff one’s face silly, is a difficult time to go around town because of the massive traffic snarls and the possibility of meeting with holiday crashers (read: pickpockets). There’s also the nightmarish end to a great jaunt because of the lack of cabs and where you can, literally, spend more than an hour at a taxi queue. But with a little planning, i.e. calling for a cab in advance, leaving for home before the rush hour, I was able to conduct a short survey of the culinary landscape in and out of Quezon City.

As a creature of habit, Starbucks or The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf are the usual places I head to for a cappuccino or a white chocolate mocha (the nearest approximation of the seasonal offer Asian Dolce Latte, I was informed)  yet one hot afternoon my father and I made our way to Seattle’s Best Coffee on Tomas Morato. I first tried this coffee place in Singapore ages ago but it had folded up. Now, to my surprise, there are, according to the cashier, 18 outlets in Manila. The tuna salad was to my father’s liking while my herb omelette with French toast was middling although the white chocolate mocha coffee I ordered was a revelation. In fact, it had more culinary flair to the one from Starbucks. A cousin, upon seeing my homage in Instagram, opined that Seattle’s holiday hazelnut drink was not bad either.

White chocolate mocha adds the sparkle to a ho-hum day.
White chocolate mocha adds the sparkle to a ho-hum day.
Simple but flavourful - chicken ala pobre by Cravings.
Simple but flavourful – chicken ala pobre by Cravings.

For Filipino cuisine, I stumbled upon a dish that proved a good lunch choice at Cravings at II Terrazzo on Tomas Morato. Named Chicken ala Pobre, it is a sizzling plate three pieces of chicken wrapped in gravy and toasted garlic that sits well on the palate for its simplicity. It was a filling lunch that still left one with enough room for dessert.

Italian cuisine is part of the culinary mainstays in the Philippines except that one is hard-pressed to find an Italian restaurant that truly makes scrumptious pasta (read: not commercial in taste). Lombardi’s at the second level of Robinson’s Magnolia didn’t disappoint. Looking spiffy in all-black attire when we had lunch this New Year’s Eve, Chef David Lombardi made good on its promise of giving Italian goodness. Topping my list of must-try dishes are the parmigiana di melanzane (roasted eggplant with stewed tomato and mozzarella), spaghetti ai frutti di mare (spaghetti with seafood) and the linguine tartufatti with its lip-smacking truffle.

The clean look of Lombardi's belies a lip-smacking cuisine.
The clean look of Lombardi’s belies a lip-smacking cuisine.

The parmigiana was smooth, melting in the mouth, while the two pasta dishes effused with zest – the fresh mussels, shrimps and clams melded well with the fresh tomato sauce and al dente noodles while the truffles tickled the palate to no end. The calamari fritti with aioli sauce has potential; I need to wean myself from the thicker calamari I’m used to having at Marché in Plaza Senayan, Indonesia.

(top to bottom) tartufatti, parmigiana and  spaghetti ai frutti di mare
(top to bottom) tartufatti, parmigiana and spaghetti ai frutti di mare
Indulge in a bit of nostalgia and ice cream.
Indulge in a bit of nostalgia and ice cream.
No one can resist the call of Magnolia.
No one can resist the call of Magnolia.

Rounding up the short culinary survey was a journey down memory lane. Dessert was at Magnolia Flavour House. Robinson’s Magnolia wasn’t what it was before when I was a child. It wasn’t a sprawling mall ringed by hi-rise condominiums, but a Magnolia ice cream plant that also housed the iconic ice cream parlour, Magnolia House. Thankfully, it wasn’t demolished but dressed up, sitting majestically on the first floor with a mini train ferrying young and old passengers meandering within the grounds. Look down from the al fresco section of the second floor and see how the sign seems to motion you to drop by for a sundae. Inside is a small waiting area for ice cream lovers but the wait isn’t that long. It looked cramped although it might be a matter of perspective because the place was packed to the rafters, which can also account for its warm feel. These little things fade the moment the ice cream creations are served.

Banana split - all-time favourite ice cream creation at the  new Magnolia Flavour House.
Banana split – all-time favourite ice cream creation at the new Magnolia Flavour House.

The pickings are not abundant but they were sure packed with flavour. I muse at what the culinary landscape will be like on my next vacation.

For the chocolate lover - Black and White.
For the chocolate lover – Black and White.