Cebu

Jose R. Gullas Halad Museum: Where Cebuano Music Lives

This gem of a museum at the old Freeman building at the intersection of Gullas St. and Jacksolem is the go to place for a quick peek into Cebuano popular music.

Housed at the old Freeman building across Cebu Downtown Hotel, it’s facade is non-descript and easy to miss.  Step inside and you’ll be surprised at the modern interiors.

Focusing more on personalities rather than history or survey of styles, there are glass cases of memorabilia such as gowns, manuscripts, music instruments, and records.

One wall featured informative plaques of Cebu’s famous 20th century composers such as Manuel Velez, Iggy Lopez, and Ben Zubiri. Theirs and those of others are now considered classics. Like many popular music composers, very few received formal music training.  

You can listen to mp3 recordings of the music.  Super plus points!  The technology may be crude (an mp3 player directly attached to a head phone) but it works. 

One side of the museum contained family memorabilia and the history of the Freeman daily.

The second floor had a few traditional music instruments and some paintings but they were incorrectly labeled. Maybe I should offer my services as an ethnomusicologist. Hehehe.

The museum was interesting enough to spend an hour. I wish that it receives more donations of memorabilia to add to its collection. 

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Ancestral Houses and Santos

On my last visit to Cebu mid-November, I finally found the time to head downtown and visit two ancestral houses.  Unfortunately, the old Jesuit House was closed as it was a Sunday (shouldn’t it be open on a weekend?).  The light rain didn’t dampen my plans even if I had no umbrella to keep my shaved head from getting drizzled on.  It was now or never.

What I discovered was Cebu’s rich colonial heritage beyond Magellan’s Cross and the Basilica of the Sto. Nino.

These museum-houses were in the typical bahay na bato style of having concrete foundations and wooden upper storeys where the living quarters were.

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Beautiful houses deserve beautiful trappings of wealth, power, and prestige such as  European glassware and lamps.

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I’ve always liked long wooden tables  especially antique ones whose surface has been polished smooth by countless hands and elbows leaning on it..  I wonder what stories this table would tell?

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An antique harp whose strings must have been caressed by a young lady whose many obligations  including having a music education.

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And of course, what is a bahay na bato without a collection of santos to show religious fervor and devotion (and perhaps to get to the good side of the prayle)?

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Unlike those I’ve seen in Paete, Bulacan and Vigan, these antique statues were all small and seemingly crudely-made which actually made them more interesting to look at.  They were wel…errrmm…. cute.. if you can describe santos that.

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In the dimly-lit corner, as I held these dusty miniatures in my hands, my thoughts turned back to a century ago as I looked over their features, running my fingers over the uneven woodwork and faded colors.  It may be even the chinky eyes, the pointed noses, the half-smile, but each of these lovely santos bore the personal marks of the unknown craftsmen who made them.

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A few tourists were arriving as I snapped out of my romantic reverie.  They were of the “ooh! aaahh! take my picture here variety.  I hastily wound-up my visit and thanked the caretaker. Steeping out on to the pavement, I emerged from the shadows of the past to the  fumes of the present.

Notes

I visited two houses but it was the Yap-San Diego House that I fully remembered.  It’s just a few steps away from the Parian Monment at the parian district of Cebu City.

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The Best Lechon Yet

The Best Lechon Yet

My friend, Annie, a Manila expat in Mandaue, introduced me to the Original Lechon Belly at Park Mall across CICC. What can I say? It has been my favorite ever since. The long lines even at 10am show how popular it is.

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Pigging-out on Pig

“So where do you want to go for lunch?” my friend, Annie, asked as she picked me up at the hotel having just arrived from Manila. “Zubuchon!” I gleefully exclaimed.  I had enjoyed the  packaged lechon Julie brought home as pasalubong a few months back but there’s nothing like freshly-roasted lechon with its reddish crisp skin glistening with oil.  Proclaimed by Anthony Bourdain as “the best pig ever,” I was raring  to try it fresh right there at its home in Cebu.   Besides, everyone who knew that I was headed to Cebu for a week for work, would exclaim, “Zubuchon!” like it was a mantra of some sort to bless me for my voyage lest I be struck down like Magellan. So it seemed just fitting that on touch-down, I would head to Zubuchon.

Zubuchon

“What’s good to eat here?” Annie asked her signage supplier who happened to be lunching there too as we took a table in the cramped restaurant that could barely hold 20 people.  “Hmmm…. lechon?” he answered.  “Order the monggo,” he added.  We ordered 1/4 lechon, monggo with lechon, and two cups of rice.  The monggo was delicious as it was cooked with coconut milk (I was to find out in the following days that this was the Cebuano way of preparing it) making it creamy and it came with bits and pieces of  what else, lechon.   The piece-de-resistance was just as it should be —  meat that was tender to the bite and skin crisp with just a thick layer of fat underneath.  It was tasty but it kinda taste, well… clean.. like the meat had been scrubbed-off its pigginess.  It  had none of the too-meaty taste that most lechons have.  Or maybe because I was eating in modernist surroundings with white chairs and glistening metal-topped tables with black apron-ed and capped staff  rather than eatery-looking places that seemed more synonymous with lechon. Don’t you ever notice how lechon tastes kinda different if you’re having it in a hotel such as part of the buffet of Circles at Shangri-la? It kinda doesn’t taste as lechon as it should be? It’s like eating fishballs from a plate with a fork in the comfort of your home even if you bought it from the vendor just outside.

A week later, we were at the CNT restaurant just across SM at the north reclamation area.  Not even the fear of a tsunami from another earthquake could deter us from lunching at this Cebu institution.  Long before Zubuchon came into being, people deplaning from Cebu would have little white boxes of CNT lechon as pasalubong.  It was the Cebuano version of Krispy Kreme pasalubong from the US back in those days when the donuts were like manna from heaven partaken only by those  who had the privilege of having viajero friends and relatives kind enough to hand-carry them.

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The smell of roasted pig assaulted us as we made our way across the spacious eatery to grab a table by the open windows. Being a Sunday, the place was packed with locals waiting for their numbers to be called for their order of lechon. We ordered 1.5k, some puso (rice in small woven pouches) and two orders of chopsuey for our group of five.  Chicklet, a Bisaya from Davao and who had been Cebu-based for the last five years had mentioned that the locals didn’t really take to Zubuchon as it had none of the trademark saltiness of Cebu lechon.  Biting into the lechon, I realized that was what accounted for the clean taste of Zubuchon.   It was not salty.  It was definitely not bland.  It was delicious, in fact. But it was just not salty.  CNT was just what Cebu lechon had to be —- salty and really flavorful with all the stuff they put inside the pig as it roasts.   The meat was tender though not as that as Zubuchon.

So which really is the better pig?  When I think of Chinese roast suckling pig, I taste salty-sweet.  When I think of Spanish cochinillo, I taste herbs.  When I think of Balinese babi guling, I taste spices.  When I think of Cebu lechon, I taste salt, onions, and tanglad.  So I choose CNT.  I like its saltiness and earthy flavor. It’s the taste of the Cebu countryside.  Zubuchon, to me, tastes too clean like it was meant for delicate taste budes. The brother of another friend, tells his sister to bring home the Cebuano lechon that’s not authentic, referring to Zubuchon.  His sister says that he doesn’t like Cebu lechon’s taste that’s why he likes the simple flavors of Zubuchon.  To each his own. then.

While awaiting my flight at the terminal, I see a Zubuchon stand dispensing frozen lechon. Now, anything that has been cooked then frozen has definitely been compromised, if not in flavor, then in texture.  But a fresh and warm lechon in the plane cabin might bee too much for the olfactory senses of some.  So Fara and I buy a kilo each.  As we sit, we look at a freshly-cooked lechon in styrofoam trays covered in cling-wrap. “I want some,” Fara says.  Our boarding announcement comes just in the nick of time.

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Cebu: Where the Sweet Things Are

People think of Cebu and they think of beaches. Me I think of sweets.  Nope, not the famed dried mangoes.  I think of pastries, cakes, cookies, warm brownie cups, pies and everything else that puts a grin on my sweet teeth.

I spent more than a week in the cities of Cebu and Mandaue recently and in spite of the 6.9 earthquake that sent me rushing down three floors and the subsequent aftershocks, I had a really sweet time at this wonderful place where everyone seems to be just eating and eating and eating.

My favorites in alphabetical order:

Dessert Factory

I never took a table here. It has always been a take-out of the cheesecakecicle.  A piece of cheesecake covered in chocolate sauce then frozen.  Convenient and yummy!  Skewered on a popsicle stick, you can have your cake and really eat it too!

Fudge

It just opened in 2010 but this place has already attracted hordes of loyal followers; me included.  It was the perfect way to remove some aftershock stress two Mondays ago, the day the quake shook Cebu and nearby Negros.  Sure, there was a mild aftershock which sent my chair shaking a bit but I was too busy enjoying the Chocnut Sansrival to get nervous.  On the course of the next few days, I visited this place about four times. Everything here is absolutely delicious down to the ladyfingers dipped in white chocolate.  The Cheesecake Delight is a rich chocolate cake with.. get this… cheesecake inside! Be warned: if you’re like me that have desserts before the main course, this is a tummy filler.  So have it after dinner or else the decadence will leave you so satiated.  I also had dinner twice here ordering Prawns in Pasta with Aligue Sauce and a bacon and cheese sandwhich. Simple, hearty, and yummy.  Too bad they only have a single branch located in A.S. Fortuna.  The plain white sign that looked more doesn’t belie the yummy treats inside the low cafe/restaurant.

Chocnut Sansrival. Perfect.

La Marea

I was raving about this place a couple of years ago.  This was my introduction to the sweet world of Cebu’s dessert outlets.  It has since opened a stall at SM Cebu dispensing its famous warm brownie cup.  But ever since discovering Fudge, I have since rated the former as my favorite dessert place edging out La Marea.  It didn’t help that when I re-visited last week, the Warm Yema Cup tasted ordinary.  Nothing exemplary.  The yema cake was a little dry and tasted more like milk than yema.  I tried to save the experience by ordering a mango cobbler but it turned out too sour and to sweet, like eating a cheap mango preserve.  Remove the ice cream from both desserts and it would have turned-out bad.  Thumbs down for my experience here.  It still has a wide variety of desserts though. La Marea is in Crossover at Banilad.

Not good. Not bad. Just okay.

Leona’s

The name conjures traditional home-baked sweets such as torta or bibingka.  But no, the Banoffee Pie rules this place.  Chunks of bananas in a sweet butterscotch sauce topped with light cream— banoffee pie is a make or break item. Easy to make but easy to mess-up.  Leona’s does it really well.  I’ve always loved the combination of mint and chocolate–very refreshing to the palate.  Leona’s Fudge Mint Delight was just that—refreshing and yummy.  The savory slices of cake loaves  and savory breads were tempting but I stayed close to the refrigerated goodies.  This green and white bakeshop has branches all over. I went to the ones at SM Cebu and J Centre Mall.

Sweets for my sweet tooth on Valentine's Day

Can you taste the bananas?

Tablea

Who doesn’t like tablea— that rich local chocolate medallions that can be turned into a hot drink or used in desserts?  This little cafe near the escalator at J Centre Mall in Mandaue is probably the best place to have nifty desserts made from .. what else… tablea.  I brought home a pack of tablea polvoron (Php 80) and a pack of chocolate-covered cacao beans (Php 150).  Very very very good.  Pure chocolate bliss.

Vanille

I just had some French macaroons to take-out at this swanky place with bright minimalist interiors. Think of Bizu.  Not much choices but there was a promising-looking Praline sansrival. The coconut macaroons were a little chewy though.  It should have been a little crisp on the outside. Tasted good.  Find it at Ayala Center Mall.

I think Cebu is the best place in the Philippines if you have a sweet tooth.  Not even Metro Manila can compete with the number of dessert outlets.  Cebu has really outstanding places and the offerings are creative, yummy, and inexpensive.

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Fudge

In an era when dessert places have names such as “Dessert Factory” and  “Goodies n Sweets” which all conjure visions of saccharine heavens,  “Fudge” sounds so dry and dreary.  Repeat after me— “Fudge.”  It comes out of your pursed lips like an obscene word.  Even the signage out front the ordinary facade of the small place is so well….. ordinary you’d give it a miss. But step inside, feast your eyes  at the cakes on display, grab a seat, place your order and be delighted.

My first time there, I had a most rich cheesecake baked inside an utterly thick and decadent chocolate cake.   The following night, I tried the famous Chocnut cheesecake.  It was smooth and had the unmistakable Choc-nut taste that reminded me so much of my childhood. Forkful after forkful of the wonderful cake awakened my taste buds to the nutty taste that had long since been gone from my gastronomic senses, replaced by the now more popular and cheaper, Hany.   I put down my fork with both appetite and taste buds appeased.

The rule when dining in dessert places is to leave as soon as you put the last crumbly morsel  in your mouth.  It is not a place to linger lest you develop diabetes in one sitting.  As I sat at the small table in light conversation with Annie, the White Chocolate Cheesecake sitting so dainty and pretty on the refrigerated glass stand beckoned to me.  I walked over and saw how beautiful it was.  The icing looked like a dress with curled up designs.  It also contained one of my favorite ingredients— white chocolate.  I had to have it.  I ordered it, delighted in it and promptly left as the Blueberry Cheesecake jealously beckoned.

And now as  I write this, I have a Brownie Cheesecake, a Mango Delight, and Sansrival, and a Ladyfinger all waiting to be tasted.

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Is That An Earthquake?

I was just about to wrap-up the final section of the training before breaking-out for lunch when I noticed my legs seemed to be jiggling.  Noel, one of the participants had just walked back to his and I thought he was stomping his feet.  Then it started shaking.  Cold dread clutched at my heart and I asked everyone around the table, “is that an earthquake?”  Annie stood-up and I rushed out the door to the reception area where the two young ladies at the desk were staring in wide-eyed horror? It then dawned to everyone that IT was an earthquake.  We were on the third floor of the J Center Mall and we all rushed to the escalators, down to the ground floor, and out to the patio.  All the while I kept hearing Annie saying, “Earl! Earl! Don’t panic.”

The ground had stopped shaking by the time we were catching out break outside.  There weren’t much people at the mall since, aside from being newly-opened and not fully finished, it was a Monday.

It was terrifying.  The last time I experience an earthquake was almost a decade ago in Malate when a few friends and I were having some crepes at Cafe Breton.  “Earthquake!” I shouted as the ground shook and decorative plates in display on the walls came crashing.  That I was in a place far away from home made this quake a little more terrifying.

It was lunch-time anyway so I told everyone else to just be back at 1:30.  The mall was closed a for while so the building engineers could check the structure as well as to prevent any panic as aftershocks were expected.

Back at the training room around 1:30, people were panicking as news of a tsnuami alert spread.  We heard from various sources that SM and Ayala malls were closed for the day, that Colon was flooded already, and that there was an aftershock scheduled at 2pm.  The last one, of course, was simply hard-to-believe.  No one predict yet an earthquake, much more an aftershock.

I let everyone go around 4pm as the mall had also closed by now and it seemed everyone in Mandaue and most probably nearby Cebu city had probably gone home.  Then the aftershock came. I was seated at Annie’s workstation when I felt the ground shaking again. “Earthquake?” Annie, who was standing beside me, said.  We all rushed out again with Pinky, the assistant building administrator in front of me.

It was over by the time we made it down.  We decide to call it a day. We had forgotten our bags at the office so we had to run back-up and get them.  It’s tiring to be running up and down 3 floors on escalators.  Fortunately, the office where I was conducting the training was close to the escalators which were close to the exit to the patio.

We had dinner at Fudge again and while having my white chocolate cheesecake (yummy!) I felt a quick aftershock.  Annie didn’t feel it but I overheard the guy seated at the high-stool mention something about an aftershock (the only non-Cebuano word he said) while the girl who had just returned to her seat after perusing the cake display aksed her companions if they felt an aftershock.

The news said that the earthqauke was a6.9 and occured 10k off Negros Oriental where there were reported deaths and damages.  Cebu is okay except for all that panick as it was the first time that an earthquake like this occurred.  I was afraid that I wouldn’t get any sleep from all that anxiety about another aftershock but sleep did come.

After been stuck in the elevator at the Holiday Inn in Ortigas last Friday and and an earthquake in Cebu yesterday, I’m a little exhausted.

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