Oct 172012

Note: this post contains an odd collection of pictures, from my phone camera and Flickr – there were some excellent street vendor and other tourist-y shots from two visits that I carefully edited and compiled into one place (the now defunct hard disk of my Toshiba laptop, a model apparently renowned for issues of this nature). Lesson learned – there will be no more Toshibas and there will be more regular backups from this point on. Anyhow – after a month of soul searching I have decided to go ahead with the article anyway with the available images. It is not the article I set out to produce, but it is something I can still take a little pride in.

Manila is great. It is a wonderful city with much to see and do. And parts of it are scary. I don’t want to dwell on the negative, but I would only be giving you half the story otherwise. It is a big, sprawling, gritty, real, alive place. That is part of the charm for me. And it has history.

The obligatory tourist-y shot – Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila

Personal safety is a concern for some Singaporeans when they think about going to Manila. Yes, there are armed guards at Starbucks – and they are nice people, who smile when they open the door for you. The number of firearms on the streets can take a little getting used to. And in all seriousness, there are times and places where personal safety can be an issue – awareness is the best defense.

Mid afternoon break with San Miguel Light, Manila

Cuisine at street level is pretty varied – you can get burgers, hotdogs, and grilled fish balls from the pushcart guys on most city streets – the cleaner more open modern areas like the CBD of Makati and around Mall of Asia seem to discourage them, but get into the real Manila of narrow streets and honking jeepneys and there they are. The brave can try balut – duck eggs with a more or less developed embryo, hard boiled – I’ve tried it, and let us just say that it’s an acquired taste I haven’t quite acquired yet :) The adventurous can try various preparations of offal and bone marrow – some of these are surprisingly good. I haven’t sampled the grilled chicken intestines yet, and perhaps I never will.

Western- style fast food, and a distinctly Filipino equivalent, are very popular. I may have left hipster foodieland forever in saying this, but I had to try the unlimited gravy at KFC for the sheer novelty value. This is apparently not unusual in the US, but a first for me.

Gravy Station, KFC, Pasay City, Manila

If you are a first time visitor to Manila and a little worried about crime at street level, there are a number of air-conditioned malls that are fairly similar to those you might find here in Singapore (but be prepared for a weapons check at the door – segregated by gender – and the aforementioned armed guard at Starbucks). The biggest and brightest of these is Mall of Asia, and it has an amazing array of food choices – for real Filipino food, I can heartily recommend Gerry’s Grill and the unfortunately named KKK. Must try dishes for the carnivores are Crispy Pata (roast pork knuckle), Adobo (usually pork and/or chicken cooked with soy sauce – there are many regional variations) and Sisig (finely chopped pig face – yes face – from what I understand, mostly snout/cheeks/ears).

Sisig, Gerry’s Grill

This was one lunch at KKK – Seafood Rice with salted egg, Squid Adobo, and Mangosteen Coffee – delicious! The squid was one of the nicest I’ve had ever – salty, richly flavoured, and cooked until slightly crunchy not chewy.

If you go across the road from Mall of Asia to the seafood places on Manila Bay, you will be annoyed by an amazing array of ladyboy touts, several at a time, wanting to drag the passerby into this place or that. In my experience, any place using touts is overcharging the customer to pay for said touts, so I avoid them like the plague.

Traffic. Oh, the traffic. It is nuts. You have to try it at least once to believe it. Luckily, taxis are cheap – but there are a few scoundrels out there. A metered cab (who is prepared to actually turn his meter on) seems to be the best bet – provided the guy is prepared to turn the meter off while he gets petrol and chats with his friends for 10 minutes :) The difference between metered cabs and unmetered minibuses is that the latter can cost five times as much (and still pull the “are you sure you paid for this fare at the desk?” scam, seriously).

And it can be very noisy – the jeepneys honk their horns continuously to let customers within a two block radius know that they are there – this runs for most of the day or night, and if you are lucky enough to have a hotel with good acoustics, you may find it hard to sleep (even 19 floors up).

Could I live in Manila? I’ve thought about this. Sticking to the whitebread air conditioned malls is not really me – and getting anywhere around town is a real hassle. That said, the wider Philippines has so much going for it. And I think that it is fair to say that the Filipino people love their food – perhaps not always with the intense and obvious passion shown here in Singapore, but it is very obvious nevertheless. It is my kind of place.

Will I go back? Most assuredly. Apart from personal ties, it is a three hour flight from Singapore, and like other weekend getaway destinations, those flights are cheap if you plan ahead.

Sep 192012

In the DeHappy Seafood Penang post I talked about Singapore as a base for weekends away – and it is one of the things that makes working and living here very special. People love living here – but they love getting away for the weekend as well.

The Rock Bar, Ayana Resort, Bali

Sunset from The Rock Bar, Ayana Resort, Bali

Most of South East Asia really is only an hour or two away by jet – Melaka, Penang and Kuala Lumpur are only an hour away. Sabah/Sarawak/Brunei/Phuket/Bali/Jakarta/Ho Chi Minh City are two or less. Stretch that to a three hour flight and you can get to Cebu/Clark/Manila in the Philippines, and it is not much further to Hong Kong or Sri Lanka – all with regular direct flights. Some destinations require transfers and these can place an otherwise desirable area out of reach for a weekend trip (an example is Boracay in the Philippines – one of the nicest places I’ve been but a little far away for a weekend trip – to be the subject of another blog post).

Fort Santiago, Manila

Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila

The pressure from many budget airlines operating in the region tends to keep flight prices low, especially if you keep an eye out for special offers and book well in advance. Competition for the cheaper fares is intense anywhere near a public holiday here, and getting the best deal requires some planning. Expedia has a weekend getaway finder that includes some popular regional destinations.

Tour Boats, Phi Phi Island near Phuket, Thailand

Phi Phi Island, near Phuket, Thailand

My strongest advice is to check independent reviews before booking any hotel – I got burnt on a Penang hotel once because I only looked at the hotel website (and the reality was very substandard). In this case, the Internet is definitely your friend – anywhere you might go has probably been reviewed or blogged about before. And please talk to people here – providing holiday and food advice (when sought) is a passion for many Singaporeans, and it is a good way to get to know your colleagues and neighbours.

Street Life, Penang, Malaysia

Street scene, Penang, Malaysia

In this blog I will share my experiences of the food in these regional getaway spots – hopefully you will see something you like. I promise to link those posts back to here so that it is more about food than my tourist happy-snaps :)

Sep 072012

Chasing food and cultural experiences has taken me to some interesting places. One of the joys of living in Singapore is that most of south east Asia is only an hour or two away by jet – and with several budget airlines operating in the region, a weekend away becomes a very real option. Tricks and traps for planning these outings is a good topic for a future blog post. One such trip took us to Penang – I’ve written about the great Assam Laksa at the Air Hitam market there.

The other culinary highlight of that trip was dinner at DeHappy Seafood on Macalister Road. They have an interesting crab menu:


This is the Garlic and Black Bean Crab, Hong Kong style:


It’s hard to describe how wonderful these two smaller (around 500gram) crabs were – cooked to perfection in a salty black bean and garlic sauce, shallots, and spring onions. We ate them with seafood fried rice, garlic kankong, and some salted egg prawns (the latter sadly overshadowed by the magnificence of the crab).

After the crab, there were some amazing oysters – that’s my hand, and trust me it is not a small hand :)

The manager apologised in advance for having to charge us MYR8 (SGD3) each owing to supply problems – so we just ordered half a dozen. When they came out, I remember saying that I was glad we didn’t order a whole dozen :)

20120907-082844.jpg The oysters had an incredibly fresh clean taste.

I didn’t get a good pic of DeHappy at night as it was raining – if you go to look for it, this is what it looks like during the day:

Please note that they are scheduled to move into larger premises next door (to the right) some time later this year.

All in, with a few bottles of Tiger beer to wash it down, the meal came to less than SGD70. This is one of the reasons Penang is so popular with Singaporean food lovers – great seafood at a good price.


I look forward to returning to Penang to eat at DeHappy once again.

Do you have a favourite seafood place in Penang? If so, please leave a comment and let me know :)