Monday, 29 December 2014

THANK YOU and Round-Up of 2014 Highlights

And just like that, we'll see the back of 2014 in a couple of days.

From the Middle East to Paris to Tuscany, Munich, Bavarian countryside, and back to the Middle East again, allow me to look back at this year's blog highlights (tip: click on the photos to take you to the stories).

January to March:
I'm continents away from my immediate family, so being together in one place is a luxury. This year's birthday was celebrated in the UAE. I've been to Dubai several times, so a trip to Abu Dhabi was made for a change. With my mum and sisters, we visited Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and went up the top of the Burj Khalifa to watch the sunset. In March, this blog turned 1 !

April to June:
I was asked by The Filipino Expat magazine to feature my favourite art destination in Europe. London, of course, is my choice hands down. The photo I took of an elephant-octopus wall art in East London for the Alternative London Walking Tour made its way to the magazine. In May, I had an unequivocally fabulous night at Filipino LGBT UK's Drag Queen fundraising event for the Home of the Golden Gays in the Philippines. In June, I joined my fantabulous friends at the Gay Pride parade in London.

July to September:
Work whisked me away to Paris and I took the chance to explore the city of love again, ending up at the love lock bridge, formally known as the Pont Des Arts footbridge. August to September was full-on with trips to Tuscany (Suvereto, Giglio Island, Giannutri Island, and Pisa) and Munich-Bavarian Alps, stopping at Obersalzberg's 'Eagle's Nest'. A very good friend of mine and his partner from The Netherlands joined me and my friends from Zumba class in our dance marathons in Italy. I had some unexpected extra days off work, so I dragged my friend to The Fan Museum in Greenwich

October to December:
The rest of the post about Munich-Bavaria spilt over to October. We had a brief stop at Berchtesgaden, a scenic market town below the 'Eagle's Nest' up the Obersalzberg. A visit to Munich isn't complete without a sneak peak of Marienplatz and the HofbrÀuhaus. What else is in Munich? The major breweries of course. Did the beer rounds. In Munich, I met up with a highschool friend and her little daughter. Prior to that, the last time we saw each other was in 1993. In November, I finally posted my visit to Dachau Concentration Camp in the outskirts of Munich. It took a while as it wasn't the happiest of tours, but I was prompted by the stolen original wrought-iron gate, which I haven't heard of any updates yet. Beginning of December was spent in the Middle East again with family. Another highschool friend and her partner treated me to a trip to one of the other Emirates. The Cove Rotana in Ras al-Khaima fully recharged my batteries for a long winter ahead!

It has been an absolute delight, this past year. I'm very grateful for the privilege of travelling and brief time spent with family and friends despite my limited time off work. I'm grateful for having this sliver of online corner where I get to share my thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

I'm grateful for you, my online readers, supporters, commenters, and friends that I have made along the blogosphere way.

Thank you for coming along with me in my journey. Thank you for making all my efforts worthwhile. Thank you for your time.

All the best for all of us in 2015!


Sunday, 21 December 2014

Breakfast Filipino Style in Dubai + The Beach

I have been to Dubai countless times and have seen the tourist trap scenes, but this city seems to always have something touristy to offer everytime I turn up. 

Whenever I'm there, I do my best to avoid anything that's available in Britain or France as I live in the UK and get to travel to France twice a year for work, I'm not short of Blighty and Gallic indulgence.

Though I'm very impressed with the modern exterior of Dubai (perhaps apart from Japan, where else can you see toilet seats that automatically change its plastic cover to ensure that the next patron is guaranteed a clean and comfortable trip to the loo?), I'm not very fond of its cutting-edge modernity just because I'm partial to ancient and historical places, structures and sights.

The one thing I always look forward to in Dubai is the food. There's so much variety. It's so good that I never ever feel shortchanged when eating out in Dubai. Name it, they have it. Growing up in the Philippines where American cultural influences pervade, from our choice of music and sport, to our language, to our concept of fast-food as proper food, I miss that sloppy American fare that some sophisticated and health-conscious Europeans frown upon. Most of all, in times of utter abhorrence for blandness, lack of choices and curry overkill, I miss Filipino food, or go-to eateries for savoury cravings. In Dubai, I can have my fill of both without travelling to the US or the Philippines.

TAPA KING: The King of Delectable, Now Here!

There's definitely nothing comparable to home-made, but some places just hit the right spot. Besides, comfort food to me is something at the ready and effortless. So, when I heard that Tapa King opened in Dubai, I asked my friends to take me there.

Tapa King is a fast-food chain that "...give [s] customers a rice meal alternative to hamburgers, hotdogs, and pizza --the real comfort food that is filling and reminds you of your favorite home-cooked meals" (via the company's website). Tapa is dried thin slices of beef cured or marinated in salt and spices. It's often fried, and when served with fried rice (sinangag) and fried egg (itlog), it's known as Philippine breakfast staple Tapsilog (portmanteau of tapa, sinangag and itlog). Side dish includes atchara or pickled papaya which comes close to German sauerkraut. It doesn't end with that. We dip the Tapa in white vinegar. Southeast Asian food isn't complete without a roster of condiments or sauces.

Yes, we eat rice (and fried at that!) for breakfast, and though we have come to embrace American breakfast as well (hotdogs, pancakes, bacon, etc) and I normally eat Continental or Weetabix nowadays, my genes for high-carbohydrate and oily morning starter kick in from time to time.

Tapa King doesn't only serve breakfast. A full day meal is covered, including merienda or afternoon snack. Suffice it to say, eating is national obsession back in the Philippines. Tapa! Breakfast can't get any better than this!

Another breakfast staple which also works for lunch or dinner because of the rice. Some of you will cringe because the fish's head is still attached, but headless or not, Daing na Bangus (milkfish marinated in vinegar, garlic, and ground black pepper then fried) goes head-to-head with Tapsilog as one of Filipinos' favourite breakfast meals. Again, the fish is accompanied by vinegar as condiment. And garlic. We like it over the top.

Now, this one pictured below is not a breakfast meal. I don't remember the last time I cooked this at home, so when my friends ordered it alongside Tapsilog and Daing na Bangus, I devoured it. Sinigang is a Philippine stew with clear soup whose taste is a delectable genius concoction of sour and savoury. It's almost always tamarind-based and uses pork or beef or chicken or fish for meat, then mixed with an array of vegetables such as garlic, onions, tomatoes, okra, taro, daikon radish, water spinach, string beans, and aubergine (eggplant in the Philippines). What's the condiment, you asked? This one is paired with fish sauce or patis.

Tapa King's Sinigang

A few days after coming back to the UK, I had my Tapa King withdrawal symptoms. I was tetchy. My colleague -- who also spent her formative years in Asia -- and I went on a nostalgic food chat. Both coming from food-loving cultures, we spoke of food being about variety, choice, taste, texture, adventure, and choices, rather than a strained relationship with calories.

On the day I was flying back to the UK, my family and I spent the morning walking around The Beach in Dubai. It's described as 'where urban meets the sea.' I grew up in a coastal town, so I do miss having the sea close by. A sea where the water is warm enough to take a dip and where I can walk barefoot.

Met these two whose cousins are probably envious as they've made it to the big city

I thought of the wintry weather I'd be coming home to when I saw these. In a few hours, all of these would be but a dream.

My sister and brother-in-law moved to a new residence in Sharjah. They now have a balcony! In London where space is prime, it was visually liberating to see such vastness. This was my view in the mornings.

But I especially loved it at night.

And so another visit to the UAE has ended. 

I came back to a very hectic work schedule and fell ill. But, I'm feeling much better and all set for Christmas.

Hope you're doing well with your preparations for the holidays!

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