Taste of Italy

Italian cuisine is one of the best among the world’s cuisine. It is one of the most popular and most copied type of food as well. And where can you find the best authentic Italian food? In Italy of course!

When we visited Italy last month, we covered most of the country, from the northern region, with cities like Milan and Venice, to the central region which is Tuscany, including the cities of Pisa and Florence, and to the southern region, in Rome and even down to the Amalfi coast.

Amalfi coast (photo taken with an iPhone)

By the way, we avail the services of JDC Private Tours when we were in Italy, that’s why we were able to visit so many places and packed so many activities in such a short period of time. I was more than happy and have only compliments of their business.

Part of our trip of course was sampling authentic Italian food. Their cuisine is known for its regional diversity, especially between the north and south of the Italian peninsula.

Overall, the Italian foods that we ate, from the ‘street’ and on-the-go food to the long sit-down fine dining with 5-course dinner, (one evening we’re treated out by a friend from Rome and we ate dinner for almost 2 hours!), and from the appetizer like bruschetta, to the dessert like tiramisu, were all very good. It was really a delightful gastronomical experience.

Here in the United States, when we talked about Italian food, we think mostly of pizza and pasta. However, many of the “Italian” food we have here are somewhat modified to cater to the American taste.

For instance, when we went to one local restaurant in Rome, there was a note in their menu that says, “we don’t serve spaghetti with meatballs, fettucini alfredo, and lasagna.” That was interesting. Perhaps that’s all the American tourists order, and to the locals those were not even really authentic Italian dishes.

To say that Italy have many kinds of pasta, is an understatement. After all it is the mecca of pasta. But one thing peculiar is all their pasta are served “al dente.” Meaning it is really firm, teetering to raw, that you have to bite and chew it before you can swallow.

Leaning Tower of Pizza…….I mean Pisa

Another thing is that the Italian pizza is not served pre-sliced. They give it to you as a whole piece, fresh from the wood-burning oven, and they give a fork and a knife for you to slice it yourself. I heard that when they first introduced pizza in New York City long long time ago, somebody had the bright idea of serving it by the slice and made more money from it. Since then pizza in the US is served pre-sliced.

In one restaurant we went to in northern Italy, I was impressed on how many types of sauce or variation they have for pizza. The menu had 3 pages just for pizza! And Hawaiian pizza? That’s not even in the menu, because as you can surmise, that’s an American version of an Italian dish.

As a Filipino who grew up in Manila, I also have a different concept of an Italian dish. My favorite is the Greenwich pizza, which I understand is a Filipino brand of pizzeria. Furthermore, I used to think that spaghetti always have a sweet-tasting sauce, just like how my mother prepares it, which is close to the taste of spaghetti in Jollibee, the largest Filipino chain of fast-food restaurants.

When I migrated to America more than 20 years ago, the first time we dined in an “authentic” Italian Restaurant in New Jersey named Trattoria, I was a little surprised that the spaghetti tasted “sour.” In fact me and my wife looked at each other and said to ourselves, maybe the sauce was spoiled as it tasted different. That was an ignoramus moment for us.

Back to our tour of Italy, we landed in Milan airport and stayed in Milan for two nights. On our first day, we were so tired and jet-lagged that my son and daughter went to sleep without having dinner. But my wife and I, despite being tired, felt the hunger pangs and so we went out to eat.

view from our hotel room in Milan

Since we were in the heart of the city of Milan, there were several decent restaurants around our hotel. In fact in our hotel itself was a good ‘ristorante,’ but my wife and I wanted to explore the city. And lo and behold, just walking two blocks from where we were staying, we found what we were looking for.

We were excited as we enter the restaurant. Then we ordered our very first meal in Italy. I understand that you cannot go wrong if you order pasta in Italy, and that’s what I did. I ordered spaghetti. And when I tasted the spaghetti, it was all what I envisioned. It was good.

In case you are wondering what restaurant we went to for our first Italian dinner?

It was Jollibee!

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(*Jollibee opened in Milan last year, and was the first ever Jollibee branch and only one so far in Europe.)

Turo-turo, McDonald’s, at Jollibee

Namayagpag na naman ang mga commercial ng Jollibee nitong nagdaang Valentine’s. Huling-huli kasi ng Jollibee ang kiliti at sintimyento ng mga Pilipino, at siyempre pa pati na rin ang ating panlasa.

Paano ba naging pambansang tambayan ng mga Pilipino ang Jollibee?

Bago mag-bagong taon ay bumisita kami sa New York. Habang ang aming mga anak ay nag-a-iceskating sa Bryant Park sa Midtown Manhattan, ay nabanggit ng isa naming kaibigan na may bagong bukas daw na Jollibee sa lugar na iyon. Kuwento pa nila pinipilahan daw ito. Hindi lang mga Pilipino, pati mga Amerikano at ibang lahi ay nakikipila rin. Siguro curious lang sila kung bakit dinudumog ang Jollibee.

Jollibee in Manhattan (photo from New York Post)

Maraming beses din naman akong pumunta sa mga Jollibee branches dito sa Amerika. Napuntahan ko ang Jollibee sa may West Covina California. Ilang beses na rin akong kumain sa Jollibee sa Chicago. At kumain na rin ako sa Jollibee sa may Woodside New York.

Maliban dito sa Amerika nagbukas na rin ng mga branches ang Jollibee sa iba’t ibang bansa sa Asia, Middle East at Europa.

Nang maliliit pa ang aking mga anak, minsa’y nagbalik-bayan kami at nag birthday sila sa isang Jollibee branch sa may Pasay City. Natuwa naman ang aking mga anak at ang aming mga bisita sa isinagawang party. Maliban sa chicken joy at jolly spaghetti, naaliw rin sila sa pagsasayaw ng masayang bubuyog na si Jollibee.

Noong biglaan din akong umuwi ng Pilipinas, ilang taon nang nakalipas, dahil malubha ang kalagayan ng aking nanay, ay naging comfort food ko ang Jollibee. Kasi may malapit na branch mula sa ospital kung saan nakaratay ang aking nanay. O siguro miss ko lang ang lasa nito.

Hindi ako lumaki na pala-hamburger. Nang ako ay nasa high school pa (early 1980’s), hindi pa masyadong tanyag at iilan pa lamang ang Jollibee branches sa Maynila. Sa katunayan hindi namin ito tambayan dahil walang malapit sa aming eskwela.

Ang aming tambayan noon ay isang turo-turo sa tabi ng aming paaralan. Pero noong kami’y nagbalik para sa aming 25th high school graduation anniversary ay laking gulat ko na isang night club na ang nakatirik sa pwesto ng turo-turo. Ibang luto na pala ang inihahain sa lugar na iyon!

Isa pa sa tambayan ng iba naming kaklaseng pasaway noong high school ay isang esblisimyento na may pangalang “Halina.” Dito sila naglalaro. Isa itong bilyaran. Beer garden din ito. Hindi po ako tumambay doon.

Kahit nang nasa kolehiyo na ako, hindi pa rin Jollibee ang paboritong tambayan ko noon kundi isa uling turo-turo malapit sa UST. “Goodah” ang pangalan nito. Mas mura naman kasi sa turo-turo at lutong bahay pa ang putahe. Siguro mas marami pa ring mga Pilipino ang pipiliin ang turo-turo kaysa fast food, o adobo kaysa hamburger.

Ang unang branch ng Jollibee ay nagbukas noong 1978 sa Cubao. Mula noon ay isa-isa nang sumulpot na parang kabute ang mga branches nito. Kahit pumasok pa ang McDonalds sa ating bansa noong 1981, ay naging matatag pa rin ang Jollibee.

Sa pagputok ng katanyagan ng Jollibee, isama na rin natin ang McDonald’s at Wendy’s, ay nahilig nang kumain ang mga Pilipino ng hamburger at french fries. Naging westernized na ang ating panlasa. Pero iniiba pa rin naman natin ang timpla kahit na western food. Tulad ng spaghetti – ang pinoy spaghetti ay manamis-namis, na hindi tulad ng authentic Italian spaghetti na maasim-asim.

Nang ako’y napadpad na sa Amerika, ay aking natunghayan kung gaano kapalasak ang fast foods dito. Lalo na ang McDonald’s. Kahit sa mga hospital ay may mga branches ito. Sa isang hospital sa New York kung saan ako nag-training, ay may McDonald’s sa mismong floor kung saan ang cardiac cath lab. Kaya’t kung ikaw ay inatake sa puso habang kumakain ng hamburger, ay igugulong ka lang nila sa katabing cath lab.

Para sa inyong kaalaman ang McDonald’s, isang American corporation, ang pinakamalaking fast-food chain sa buong mundo. Sa katunayan lahat ng pinasukan nitong bansa ay halos patayin nito ang mga lokal na kompetisyon. Maliban sa Pilipinas, na Jollibee pa rin ang naghahari. Bakit kaya hindi kayang pataubin ng McDonald’s ang Jollibee kahit pa American hamburger ang kanilang pinaglalabanan?

Dahil kaya mas naaaliw tayo sa bubuyog kaysa sa clown (mascots)? O dahil walang panama sa chicken joy at jolly spaghetti ang kalaban? O nadadala tayo sa mga makabagbag-damdamin na mga commercials? O dahil alam natin na ang Jollibee ay katutubong produktong Pilipino kaya’t tinatangkilik natin ito kaysa sa kumpitensiya? O baka naman mas masarap lang talaga sa ating panlasa ang pagkain nito?

Ano man ang dahilan, naging pambansang tambayan na ng Pinoy ang Jollibee kaysa iba pang fast food chain o restaurant. (Wala po akong komisyon sa Jollibee sa artikulong ito,  pero kung gusto nila akong bigyan ng isang taon na supply ng chickenjoy hindi ko tatanggihan ito.)

Noong ako’y nasa kolehiyo pa, sa harap ng UST Charity Hospital sa may Forbes St. (Lacson Avenue na ngayon) ay may mga lumang bahay na ginagawang boarding houses. Isang araw nagkararoon ng sunog dito, taong 1990 yata iyon. Isa sa aking kaibigan ang nasunugan ng boarding house. Matapos matupok ang lugar na iyon, ang ipinatayong gusali ay hindi na mga bahay, kundi isang malaking McDonalds.

Bulung-bulungan ng iba, dahil hindi mapagiba ang mga lumang bahay para gawing commercial complex kaya raw ito sinunog. Hindi ko sinasabing totoo ito at wala po akong inaakusahan, at lalong hindi ko sinasabing may kinalaman ang McDonald’s o sinuman dito.

Maaring natuwa ang mga estudyante ng UST dahil may malaking McDonald’s na sa harap nito. Hindi nagtagal, isang malaking Jollibee rin ang itinayo katapat nito. Ngayon sangkatutak na fastfoods na ang nasa paligid at pati sa loob ng university. Nandoon pa kaya ang tambayan naming Goodah?

Baka sa susunod, mawala nang lubusan ang mga turo-turo at karinderya. Huwag naman sana.

A Day in New York

New York City has such a pull on my heart. You probably know it already that we lived there for a few years, long time ago. It was there where I received my training for my career, a medical specialty that I am now practicing for the past 20 years.

As the song New York, New York goes:


If I make it there,

I’ll make it everywhere,

It’s up to you,

New York, New York.

Anytime is a good time to visit New York City. But the holiday season is even more noteworthy. Especially on New Year’s when it becomes the center of the world’s celebration.

My family spent the last few days of the year 2018 in New York City. Here are just some of the places we visited:

We passed by some swanky restaurants, but we did not dine there.

Instead we were taken by our friend to a quaint eatery that was more quiet and subdued.

The ambience in this place was homey, relaxed, yet festive. The food was excellent. This is not a paid post, but if the management of this restaurant wants to give me a free meal next time, I heartily would accept it.

Then we went to Midtown Manhattan. Of course we used the iconic New York subway to get there.

Our kids together with some friends’ kids went ice skating.

There are several ice skating rinks in New York City. Perhaps the most famous is the one in Rockefeller area, but that is too small. Then there’s also one in Central Park.

We went to Bryant Park. This is near the New York Public Library. The ice skating rink is surrounded by New York’s skyscprapers. You could even catch a glimpse of the Empire State building from there.

The skating rink was very crowded though. There was a long line of people waiting and it took more than two hours to get in. But our children did not mind, as they chatted away with their friends while waiting in line.

I did not join them and was just satisfied watching the skaters go. Though there were some skaters that fell on the ice, but who cares, at least they were enjoying themselves.

I probably would be included in those falling a lot on the ice if I skated. I tried ice skating before, at least twice, and I would say that I could glide over the ice. Whether I was standing, or I was on my or knees or worse on my butt, but at least I could glide.

Besides watching people skate, the best part for me was watching this big machine sail through the ice.

This is the Zamboni machine, named after it’s American inventor and engineer. This machine smooths the surface of the ice.

I also spent time talking with our friends, catching up with them, while our children skated. Including an old friend, a classmate back in elementary and high school days. He now lives in Massachusetts.

We were in this place for several hours and my fingers and toes got numb from the cold. I had to walk around to keep warm and many times went inside the market stalls surrounding the place where there were heaters.

It was already dark when we call it a day.

We went back to our hotel which was located across the Hudson River, so technically it was in New Jersey. But you cannot beat the view from there – a view of the New York City skyline.

From New York, I wish you all a Happy and Prosperous New year!

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(*photos taken on the eve of New Year’s Eve)

Electric Reminiscing

Last week during July 4th celebration, we had an experience that reminded me of my days in the Philippines. You may say, how can be a holiday that is so American (US Independence Day) remind me of my home country, the Philippines? Please stay with me and keep on reading.

Our last 4th of July was kind of unusual as we were invited for dinner by our friend to celebrate it with their friend, whom I never met before. We celebrated the holiday in a farm about an hour drive away from our home, in the outskirt of a small town of rural Iowa. We had dinner – burgers, hotdogs, potato salad, and vegetable salad (very American meal) – in a log cabin near a small pond. Then when darkness came we sat in our camping chairs and watched the fireworks that was fired from the nearby town.

Even though the setting of the log cabin was similar to a small barrio back home, but that’s not what reminded me of the Philippines.

Earlier that day, since it’s a holiday and I wanted my wife to take a break too from the kitchen, so we went out for lunch. We chose a restaurant that is located in a large shopping complex close to our home. After we were seated and only a few minutes after our order was taken by the waitress, the power went out. A blackout!

Why do we call it blackout or brownout? Technically the lights are out so it’s black or dark. Should it be “black in?” And is there a difference between blackout and brownout? Many people, including me, think they are synonymous. But according to energy company’s definition, a blackout is a total power outage while a brownout is a partial reduction in system voltage or system capacity. Now I learned something too.

So while we were sitting in the restaurant without power, that brought me back memories of the power outages in Manila.

I was reminded of those candlelight dinners we had, not because we were creating a romantic ambience, but because there’s no electricity and yet we need some light so not to swallow the fish bones. Those sweltering heat that all you can do was to fan yourself with the abaniko made of fronds from buri palm. For your information, we don’t have air-conditioning in our Manila home, but we have a few Standard or Hitachi electric fans.

Most of the people, at least from our neighborhood, would go outside in the street and hangout in front of their houses when the power is out. No TV to watch any teleserye, and it’s too hot to relax or nap indoors. So no other recourse but to gossip with your neighbors outside while enjoying Manila’s evening breeze. Lahat istambay sa kalye. 

Those blackouts most of the time, would last one to two hours.  And during the 1980’s to early 90’s, we had rolling blackouts or scheduled power outages, to conserve energy as there’s not enough power supply to cope with Metro Manila’s increasing electric need. Or perhaps the government just thought it was a good fad.

Sometimes it was not just once a day that we had blackouts, as it could be twice a day or more. With the lights going on and off so often, all business becomes “patay-sindi.” Of course the real “patay-sindi” establishments or the red-light districts just gets darker. And when the power is out, Metro Manila becomes one big sauna place, with its residents sweating profusely that no amount of tawas or Rexona matters.

Even hospitals and other vital facilities were not spared from this power outages. Some of the facilities have their own power generator, but even then, their generators cannot supply all their facility’s electric need. So maybe the generators can support the power for the lights, but not the air conditioning or some other functions.

When we were 4th year medical students, one of the roles we have was to become human ventilators. One of our sign-outs was the list of all patients in the hospital on mechanical ventilator. So when the power goes out, we all would run to our assigned patients and manually ambu-bagged the patient for the next hour or so, or until the power returns. Squeezing the ambubag for an hour was a good exercise for the forearm though and it strengthens the grip. I just did not realize until then that, that was one of my duties when I signed up for medical school.

When the long-awaited electric power finally returns, you could hear a loud hurray and even applause from the whole neighborhood. As if we need to cheer the energy company for restoring the power. It’s like it was our “utang na loob” to have our electricity back. Utang na loob na buhay ‘yan!

Back to our 4th of July lunch in the restaurant, as we waited for our food, the waitress told us that our food would be ready soon. They might have gas-powered grills as they can still cook even without electricity. Though it was already starting to get hot inside as there’s no a/c. They did not have to bring out candles though as it was still bright with all the windows open. We were not given the reason for the power outage which in the first place, was a very rare occasion here.

Not too long after, our food came. The restaurants closed its doors for new customers but let those people inside finish their meals. After we were done eating, the waitress told us with a smile that we can go and don’t have to pay, as our meal was on the house. I think with their computers off, we can’t pay with credit cards anyway.

I left a generous tip on the table, both for the free lunch and for the evoked reminiscing – a sultry trip down memory lane.

Eating Out

It is officially summertime in our area. Summer solstice was June 21, so our days are long and hot. Time for picnics and grilling outside.

A couple of days ago, I came home early and my wife asked me to accompany her to the grocery store. She said she’s going to prepare a special dinner and needed to buy some items.  She saw in the internet this “summer dish” and wanted to try it.

After we got home and after some time and much loving effort, our dinner was ready. The new dish my wife prepared is called the Italian grilled vegetable salad. I am not a food blogger, so I’m not enumerating the ingredients needed to make this dish nor would I pretend that I know how to prepare it. Though I think some of you can figure it out just by looking at the photo below.

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I know it’s a deviation from our usual Filipino food we have at home. Where’s the pancit? Where’s the adobo?

It rained heavily early that afternoon so it cooled down a bit. The temperature outside was very comfortable and did not feel like an oven. We checked the forecast too and there should be no more rain the rest of the day.

So to make it a perfect summer dinner we decided that we should eat out too. No, not eat out in a restaurant. I mean eat out, outdoor in our deck.

The earlier downpour plus the strong winds also drove the insects away. Many times there are lots of flies around that you can’t eat out without having a fly swatter in hand. Besides, the rain already washed our outdoor table and chairs clean.

Eating outdoor is popular during summer time. Even fancy restaurants here have patio outside where you can dine. However, I still feel uneasy sometimes when the tables outside the restaurant is near a street where people passing by can see your every bite or can even grab your food. Maybe it’s just me.

After elaborate preparation – setting our table and taking all the food out, we were ready to eat. Of course we took a photo first before we chomp down the food (photo below).

IMG_6707.jpgNote how presentable and artful our table was. It was Instagram worthy. For you readers, I want to let you know that we usually don’t dine like this. Most of the time we scoop our food to our plate directly from the pots and pans. And knife and table napkins, who need those? Please also note the tomatoes, not on the table but on the planter near the table. They are not ripe yet though.

After saying grace and after we literally took our first bite, the rain started falling. Yes, rain! Darn! Can’t trust those weather forecasters.

We hurried back and carried all the food inside. We ended up eating inside our home just like we do everyday. Our “perfect” outdoor dinner was ruined by the rain. Though it would take more than rain to ruin our evening or break our spirits. We remain thankful, after all, it was still a very satisfying dinner.

At least we can claim we ate outside. Even for one bite.

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(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Chilled

Last week, my partners and I went to a fancy restaurant in town. We have a candidate who is applying to join our practice that we interviewed so we took him to a place, a little pricey,  but reputable, especially when it comes to steak and chops. We don’t want to have an applicant think that we are cheap.

I am not really in to steak and chops, but after tasting their food, I would say that this restaurant have a valid reason to claim that their steak is the best in town.

Besides the entrée, some other small things are remarkable. The fresh sea food platter appetizer was nicely presented and decorated in a bucket full of ice. The drinks were cold and chilled. Those were expected, I suppose.

However, when I excuse myself from the group and went to the restroom, I found something else that was “cool.” This one I was not expecting.

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Do you see it? I know their urinals are not really swanky nor high-tech, yet it is classy. Though, I’m pertaining to something else.

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Yes, you got it. Those are ice cubes in the urinals! Why they put ice in there, I have no clue.

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I guess they chill the appetizers, the drinks, and yes, even the pee. Cool!

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Post Note:

After searching the web, I found out why restaurants and bars put ice on the urinals. No, it’s not to chill the pee. But ice is a cheaper alternative to the urinal cake. When the ice melts it flushes the urine, so no need of auto-flush. Plus, the restaurants have a lot of supply of ice anyway, and it is easier to toss the used ice, like those in their fresh sea food platter, in the urinal than tossing them outside. And lastly, it gives the men (sorry ladies, you may never understand this) something to aim for when they take a leak.

I really learned something from this post. I hope you did too.

 

Death by Chocolate

All she wanted was to taste the chocolate.

All these years she was strongly warned against having chocolates. It’s not that she’ll have pimples or she’ll get fat when she eats them. It is more morbid than that. Her parents said that she is allergic to it. Deathly allergic to it. The last time she tasted chocolate was when she was 5 years old. And that was more than 30 years ago.

But chocolate is irresistible.

Everybody likes chocolates. In fact it is the most popular dessert in the world. Perhaps many will consider it as God’s gift to men. Some pundits would even say that the food Eve fell for was chocolate that was in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

As you probably know, chocolates are made from cacao. Interestingly the Latin name for cacao tree is Theobroma cacao which means “food of the gods.” Theo is god, and broma is food.

Why does eating chocolate so irresistible?

According to scientific facts, chocolates contains several chemicals that can affect our mood. Especially dark chocolates. Caffeine and theobromine are among those substances, which can make us more alert and gives us energy. I’m sure you’re familiar with the “pick-me-up” effect from the caffeine in your morning brew.

Chocolates also contains Anandamide that helps stimulate and open synapses in our brain that allow “feel good” waves to transmit more easily. A similar chemical, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC can have the same effect. THC is from marijuana. And you wonder why you can’t resist your craving for chocolates?

Furthermore, both serotonin and endorphins, neurotransmitters or chemicals in our brains, are released when we eat chocolates, and in turn, this brings on a sense of well-being. Just so you know, exercise also can release those endorphins, that can give you a euphoric mood after a work-out. Many call it as the “runner’s high.”

Lastly, Phenylethylamine is a chemical that our brain releases when we fall in love. It also acts as an anti-depressant by combining with dopamine that is naturally present in our brain. And guess what? Chocolates contains Phenylethylamine.

So go ahead, give chocolates to your loved one. Send chocolates to the one you want to date. Give chocolates on Valentine’s. I know flowers are nice, but can they release Phenylethylamine? Eating the flowers is not suggested.

Chocolate production is a multi-million dollar business. Ghirardelli, Godiva, Lindt, Cadbury and Hershey, to name a few, are big-name companies that are successful in this trade. Though I am still biased to the Filipino Choc-nut.

Besides chocolate bars and candies, there are also several chocolate-flavored desserts. Like cakes, ice cream, mousse, cookies, shakes, drinks, and whatever you can think of. There’s even chocolate-flavored cigarettes! That’s evil.

Then there’s different confectionaries that are called “Death by Chocolate.” I’m not talking about the chocolate-flavored cigarettes, though that is an apt name for that. “Death by Chocolate” is an idiomatic term they use to describe various desserts that feature chocolate.

Death by chocolate IIIBack to our patient, as I stated in the beginning, all she really wanted was to taste chocolate again. So she took a bite of a chocolate cookie. And she liked it! She took another bite, and another. The chocolate tasted so good, she finished the whole cookie.

Not too long after, she felt that her body was getting numb. She got alarmed, she took Benadryl. Four of them. But the symptoms did not get any better. She then started having some shortness of breath. Soon her tongue and lips swelled up. Then she cannot swallow or breathe anymore.

Finally she was brought to the Emergency Room. She was immediately intubated to establish an airway and then was hooked up to a mechanical ventilator. That’s how she ended up in our ICU.

All because of chocolate.

For two days she was on life support. Her blood pressure also dropped to dangerously low levels. These were all due to severe allergic reaction.

But she improved. With intense supportive care and mechanical ventilation, plus IV fluids, steroids and anti-histamines, and some tincture of time, she got better.

On the third day, she was weaned off the ventilator, and was discharged out of the ICU. I then warned her, that in no instance ever, that she should taste chocolates again.

Death by Chocolate? Almost.

(*photo from here)

Pinoy Transplant Visits the CIA

Yes, you read the title right. Take note of the “CIA” sign at the door, on the photo below.

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But it is not Central Intelligence of America. It is rather the Culinary Institute of America.

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CIA is a premier culinary school, and boast to be the best in the world. An institution specializing in culinary, baking and pastry arts. It’s main campus is located in Hyde Park in New York, which is the one we visited.

The school campus is nestled in a beautiful location near the Hudson River, with surrounding views that is conducive for learning and artistic inspiration.

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Touring the CIA campus is a gratifying experience in itself as you see the beautiful and clean premises and also take a glimpse of the students honing their crafts.

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Just watch out for crossing chefs.

But dining and tasting their food creation is another whole experience of its own. And that’s what we did.

The CIA New York Campus operates four public restaurants. If you don’t mind to be a “guinea pig” of these budding chefs, because in a sense their creation is part of their training and test, and your satisfaction could be a part of their grade. But I’m pretty sure these students are under the watchful eye of certified master chefs.

We dined at Bocuse Restaurant, which serves traditional French Restaurant. If there’s a restaurant there that serves traditional Filipino food, that’s where I’ll go, but there’s none.

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I was not disappointed. From the ambience, the service, the presentation and the food were all excellent. The food I ate there, is one of the best food I ever tasted. I have been to fancy restaurants before, but the appetizer, entrée and desert I had in CIA was a league of its own. An absolute gastronomic delight!

Whoever prepared my food, he or she definitely passed with flying colors, in my humble opinion.

By the way, their wine list is exhaustive as well. But since I dont’ drink wine or any alcoholic drink for that matter, for personal and health reasons, so I did not have any.

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One unique policy they have in their restaurants is that they don’t accept monetary tips from customers, as part of their student’s education is to provide outstanding service even without tips. To this I tip my hat.

From the CIA campus,

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Pinoy Transplant

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(*I did not receive any commission for the above post. However if CIA would like to give me a free dinner next time I visit, I will definitely accept it.)

(**Photos taken with an iPhone)

Farm Dining

Since we moved in Iowa several years ago, we have dined in different restaurants here in metro Des Moines area. From formal to casual, from fancy to rustic, from pricey to low-cost, and from long-sit-down meal to on-the-run fast food. This also encompassed several international cuisines, like American, Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Italian, French, Vietnamese, Laotian, Korean, Japanese, Mongolian, Indian, Greek, Ecuadorian, and Lebanese.

We also enjoy Filipino cuisine here, but it is not in a restaurant. It is my wife’s home cooking.

But when you’re in Iowa, I believe there’s a restaurant that embodies this state’s culture. The restaurant is the Iowa Machine Shed.

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The ambience is farm-themed, and the dining experience is relaxed, warm and family oriented. The establishment prides itself as a restaurant that honors the American farmer.

Outside the restaurant are some old farming equipments that adds to its distinctive appeal.

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my son on the tractor

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old gasoline pump

They even have a complimentary tractor ride that takes you around the neighborhood of the restaurant, and let you catch a glimpse of the “Living History Farm*” next door, that the restaurant supports.

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tractor ride

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Since the state of Iowa is the number one producer of pork and corn in the US, and probably the whole world, so it is not surprising these are what greets you at the door.

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Inside the place, they have a small store that you can browse through while you wait to be seated.

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The dining area, the tables and chairs, gives you a feel of a farmer’s kitchen or even a barn.

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The waiters and waitresses are in their denim overalls, that I wonder if they are dressed to harvest the corn and milk the cow, as well as to serve us our food.

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Even the silverware and glassware are uniquely farm-like: sturdy and rustic. Here’s what my son did to the glass, knives and the water pitcher. Good balancing act!

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I know that the most important part of the restaurant is the menu and the food it offers. Of course this restaurant serves lots of bacon and pork chops. But I assure you, they offer more than pork chops and corn on the cob.

I don’t have any photos of the food they serve on this post, for I intentionally left them out for you to come and visit, and personally see and try them for yourselves.

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Lastly, when you dine here, appreciate all the farmers and all the people and their efforts that brought food to your table. And besides there is a sign near the counter that says, “complaining to the cook will be hazardous to your health.”

From Iowa,

Pinoytransplant.

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(*Living History Farm is an outdoor museum in Iowa that tells the story of how Iowans transformed the fertile prairies of the Midwest into the most productive farmland in the world.)

(**This is not a paid post. But on second thought, maybe they should give me a free meal on our next visit. Just wishful thinking.)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Lunchtime

Pakbet is a traditional Ilocano dish, from the northern part of the Philippines. The word pinakbet or pakbet, came from “pinakebbet,” which means shriveled. The dish uses vegetables like sitaw (string beans), ampalaya (bitter melon), eggplant, okra, and kalabasa (squash), sauteed in bagoong (condiment made from fermented fish).

During our last visit in Ilocos, we had pakbet, but in a pizza! Still tasted like the classic Ilocano recipe, albeit with an Italian twist.

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(*Entry for WordPress photo challenge prompt)