Sunday, 30 April 2017

Restaurant Review: El Panchito's Fil-Mexicano Resto (Pagsanjan, Laguna)

El Panchito's Fil-Mexicano Resto

It was already past noon when Jandy, Joy, Desiree, Ann, Jessica and I arrived in Pagsanjan and, after meeting up with retired Municipal Tourism Officer Mr. Ramon “Mon” Cabela at the town’s Spanish-era Arch of Guadalupe, asked him on where to delight our craving for some real good food. 

Mon recommended El Panchito's Fil-Mexicano Resto, a restaurant offering Mexican street food favorites with a Filipino twist.  We followed him as he drove his motorcycle.
The dining area

Owned by the husband and wife team of Kit Delos Santos Zaguirre  (the grandson of the woman behind the iconic Aling Taleng's Halo-Halo, the best halo halo in town since 1933) and Jymsee Abaquin Zaguirre, this restaurant opened its doors in 2015.  

The restaurant’s facade had a very homey feel, the fact being it is actually a home, not far from the famous old arch, converted into an L-shaped restaurant.  The dining area was formerly the garage.  The premises of this family-friendly restaurant are clean, the ambiance superb and very relaxing, and the atmosphere wholesome and calm.  
Anticuchos de Pollo

Nachos Bravas
In the dining area, we saw guitars, ukuleles, maracas and Mexican hats on display.  Adding to the Mexican feel was the Mexican music being played.  The whole experience was made even greater by the free Wifi!

Then there’s the great food.  For starters (Antojitos/Pampagana in their menu), we ordered a plate of Nachos Bravas (PhP190) - home fried, multi-colored tortilla chips, drizzled with cheese sauce and crema, topped with mozarella cheese, cheddar cheese, signature picadillo and jalapeno and served with house salsa on the side. They tasted really good, not as dry as some nacho dishes I’ve tasted before, and the  jalapenos were huge.

El Cerdo Fritos
Their main dishes (El Plato Principal/Ulam in their menu) really grabbed a hold of us - Anticuchos de Pollo (PhP200, marinated grilled chicken seasoned with fresh Mexican spices, and served with Mexican rice, buttered corn and pickled cucumber with crema on the side) for Desiree; the El Cerdo BBQ (PhP150, grilled pork liempo in sweet BBQ sauce, with coleslaw and corn, and served with plain rice) for Joy; Chicken Burger (PhP190, deep-fried chicken fillet with coleslaw, lettuce, nachos, tomatoes and cucumber, served with chips on the side) for my son Jandy; El Cerdo Fritos (PhP130, deep-fried pork liempo with pickled cucumber and corn, drizzled with crema and served with Mexican rice) for me and Jessica; and Sisig Plato (PhP160, signature Filipino-style pork sisig, with chopped hard-boiled egg on top, and served with plain rice) for Ann.

Brownie Caliente Con Helado
El Cerdo BBQ
Finally, there’s the sizzling sweetness of their desserts (Postre/Panghimagas in their menu) - the Brownie Caliente Con Helado (PhP190, hot brownies with ice cream on it and milk poured on it) and the famous Aling Taleng’s halo-halo (PhP90).  We liked the former so much, we ordered a second serving. Adding to our fun was all of us wearing Mexican hats, holding ukuleles and having our photo taken in them.

Through word of mouth, this charming restaurant, no longer a hidden secret, will truly become a favorite watering hole for lunch, snacks or dinner for both locals and travelers in the town. Their food prices were very affordable and the servers were very alert and approachable. A must-try restaurant when in Pagsanjan, Laguna.
All dressed up in Mexican hats with ukuleles. L-R: Ms. Desiree Benitez, Mr. Jandy Layug, Mr. Mon Cabela, the author, Ms. Julie Ann Zafe, Ms. Joy Tenedero and Ms. Jessica Bez

El Panchito's Fil-Mexicano Resto: 661 Mabini St., Poblacion Dos, Pagsanjan, 4008 Laguna. Tel: (049) 250-3849.  Mobile number: (0917) 811-4452.  Open daily, 11:00AM - 10:00PM.  Facebook: Instagram: @elpanchitospagsanjan.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

A Walk for Safety and Unity (Tanay, Rizal)

Walk for Safety and Unity
Last April 5, the DOT Region 4-A led by Dir. Rebecca Villanueva-Labit, the Rizal Provincial Government, Tanay LGU led by Mayor Rex Manuel C. Tanjuatco launched the "A WALK FOR SAFETY AND UNITY," a campaign to lift the moratorium on field trips imposed by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and Department of Education (DepEd) in wake of the tragic bus mishap in Tanay, Rizal which killed 15 people (14 students and the bus driver) last February 21. 

Barker Hall Basketball Court
Chapel of Our Lady of Queen of
Heaven and Earth
At 7 AM, tourism officers, travel agencies, tour operators, academe, tour guides and tourism stakeholders marched from the main road to EPIC PARC Rainforest Camp in Sitio Bayucan, Brgy. Sampaloc.  After a mass held at the Chapel of Our Lady of Queen of Heaven and Earth, a press conference was held at the Barker Hall Basketball Court.   
Mass attendees at Chapel of Our Lady of Queen of Heaven and Earth

Mayor Rex Tanjuatco
Dir. Rebecca Labit
At the presscon were Dir. Labit, Mayor Tanjuatco, Mr. Dong Malonzo (Rizal Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office Chief), Dr. Oliva de Leon (Rizal Provincial Board Member), Engr. Carlos Inofre, Jr. (Chief of the Tanay Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office) and Mr. Rommel Ayuson (Rizal Provincial Board Member).  
In her speech, Dir. Labit lamented that because of the bus driver’s human error, the town of Tanay, as well as other LGUs benefitting from field trips and educational tours, suffered due to the moratorium. A meeting with DepEd and CHED, regarding the moratorium, will be held in June.  She also answered questions regarding DOT accreditation.
Mayor Tanjuatco, on the other hand, commended the  Rizal Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO)  and Tanay Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (MDRRM) for their quick response  during the accident, bringing the wounded to the hospital and preventing further loss of life. He too lamented the municipality’s loss of income and opportunity due to the incident. 
Press conference, L-R: Mr. Dong Malonzo, Ms. Oliva de Leon, Mayor Rex Tanjuatco, Dir. Rebecca Labit, Mr. Rommel Ayuson and Engr. Carlos Inofre
After the "Walk for Safety," travel agencies and tour operators participated in the free familiarization tour, from 1 PM to 5 PM, visiting Regina Rica, Calinawan Cave, and Daranak Falls plus site visits to hotels and restaurants of Tanay. 

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Resort Review: Momarco Resort & Hotel (Tanay, Rizal)

Date of Stay: April 4-5, 2016
RATING (Scale of 1 to 10)
Location: ******
Rooms: ********
Condition and Cleanliness: ********
Staff Performance: ********
Room Comfort: *******
Food and Beverage: ******
Other Amenities: *******
Value for Money: *******

Momarco Resort & Hotel

The 2-storey hotel
Reception Desk
This spacious, cool, breezy and well-maintained resort, with lots of greenery, has various types of rooms available to cater to different needs with a newly built hotel and casitas with suites good for couples.  
Hotel lobby

The 2-storey hotel  has airconditioned rooms with LED cable TV, minibar, smart key card, writing desk and private bath with hot and cold shower, hair dryer and hygiene kit – Superior A (PhP5,625-6,200, 1 queen-size bed and 1 single bed ), Superior B (PhP3,750-4,125, 1 queen-size bed) and Superior C (PhP3,750-4,125, 2 single beds). 
It also has nice and spacious, airconditioned single detached casitas with LCD cable TV, minibar, barbecue grille, outdoor garden set and private bath with hot and cold shower, hair dryer and hygiene kit – Casita De Luxe for 2 (PhP3,250-3,575, 1 king-size bed), Casita De Luxe for 6 (PhP6,750-7,000, 3 double beds) and Casita De Luxe for 7 (PhP7,875-8,125, 2 double beds and 1 bunk bed with pull out). 
Superior C Room - 207

Hotel balcony
Their regular airconditioned rooms have common wash areas, barbecue grilles and common outdoor garden table – Regular A/C for 2 (PhP1,600-1,760, 1 queen or 2 single beds), Regular A/C for 4 (PhP2,600-2,860, 2 bunk beds) and Regular A/C for 10 (PhP6,450-6,700, 5 bunk beds). 

Large groups are 
accommodated in basic fan-cooled room with double deck beds, good for youth camps and budgeted group outings (PhP425-450). Casa Lucia (PhP18,500-20,000), the yellow house on the hill, can sleep 30 persons. This full service house has a kitchen, dining and living areas.  

Bedrooms are fan-cooled and furnished with queen-size beds and or double deck beds. Bahay ni Inday (PhP11,750-12,000), good for 8 persons, has 2 airconditioned bedrooms and a living, dining and kitchen area. The Gazebo, good for 10 pax, has 2 fan-cooled rooms with bunk beds, It is furnished with grille, dining area and a service kitchen.
The Lanai Restaurant

The resort also has a restaurant (The Lanai, open 6 AM – 8 PM), bar and KTV (Bathala), function rooms (40-pax Laiban A & B, 60-80-pax Sampaloc Hall, 100-150-pax Aldea Hall, Kubo Hall), a huge, kidney-shaped outdoor swimming pool (open 7 AM – 5 PM), two smaller pools (a children’s pool with fountain and the other a manmade lagoon, lined with natural pebbles, with small waterfalls and rock features), poolside cabanas, view deck, , hiking path, mini zoo with some birds an snakes, sundry shop, basketball court, tennis court, sports center (billiards, table tennis, darts),and children’s playground. They've got bikes for rent (PhP100/hour) which you can use on the challenging Bathala Bike Trail of humps, rollers, jumps, berms and other obstacles. They offer videoke rental. 
The huge outdoor swimming pool
The food at the restaurant is reasonably priced and there are quite a lot of options. Whether you are on foot or on a wheelchair, you can get to where you want to be as there are ramps going to the swimming pool, the casitas and the resort’s other amenities. The staff was courteous and helpful. However, internet is only available at the hotel lobby. 
Koi pond

Function hall
This is a good place to unwind as it is close to nature, with massive trees of all sorts. It's also a great place for youth camps, religious activities and teambuilding. 

The resort is also open for those who want to try camping around the rolling terrain or forest trails. Its location, far from the main road, makes it more private and somehow secluded. However, the winding access road leading to the resort was bumpy. There was ample and secure parking space. 
Mini zoo
Momarco Resort & Hotel: Sampaloc Road, Sitio Bathala, Brgy. Plaza Aldea, Tanay, Rizal. Teleax:: +632-4274476. Mobile numbers: (0917) 851-3626, (0928) 559-5306, (0927) 822-9865 and (0918) 942-9873. Email: Website: Facebook: Momarco Resort and Hotel. Entrance fee: PhP250/person (3 yrs up, inclusive of use of swimming pool). Food corkage: PhP50/pax. No pets allowed.

Makulay na Pamana ng Quezon Kulinarya

Quezon Kulinarya

Chef Alfonso Rafael "AR" Jose 

April is Philippine Food Month and this is a perfect time to head south and check out Quezon province’s famous delicacies. 

To showcase its cuisine, members of print and online media were invited to the Makulay na Pamana ng Quezon Kulinarya, an event organized by the Tourism Organization of Quezon Province (TOQPPI), Philippines Inc., led by its president Chef Alfonso Rafael "AR" Jose Ranido, as part of the Flavors of the Philippines 2017, a month-long (March to April 2017) gastronomic celebration hosted by the Department of Tourism as the local component of Madrid Fusion Manila. 

This event will showcase the ingenuity and abilities of Quezonian in the hospitality and food service industry as well as learn from the experts in the field.
Media group at Quezon's Best Niyogan Pasalubong and Coffee Shop 

Breakfast fare
Lito and Maureen Pasciolco 
After a 2.5-hour drive from Manila, we had our first taste of Quezon cuisine at the roadside Quezon's Best Niyogan  Pasalubong and Coffee Shop in Tiaong.  

Here, the down-to-earth and hospitable owners Lito and Maureen Pasciolco welcomed us with a hearty breakfast of pan de sal, coconut jam (a best seller varieties with pineapple, chocolate and salted caramel), macaroons, ginatang mungo and bilo-bilopancit habhab and fresh mangoes and suman.  

These we downed with coffee, fresh buko, or  sweetened  tuba. Opened in 1993, this coconut products store sells export-quality nata de coco, virgin coconut oil, and coconut vinegar to name a few.

Rebecca Labit
Verna Esmeralda Buensuceso
The grand launch of the Flavors of the Philippines was held at the Atrium of SM Lucena where local tourism officials welcomed us.  The Master of Ceremony was Mr. Ramoncito "Monching" Leynes

Welcome messages were delivered by the SM City Lucena Mall Manager Ms. Maricel Alquiros, and the TOQPPI 2016 - 2018 president AR Jose Ranido, follow by the opening remarks by Event Chairman Mr. Niño V. Magararo (Operations Manager of Rainsummer Travel and Tours).  
Jota Gumaqueña performed by Gumaca National High School Dance Troupe

Sinantolan at Sugpo
Also present during the grand launching were  Ms. Verna Esmeralda Buensuceso (DOT Director for Market Development) and Ms. Rebecca Villanueva-Labit (DOT Region IV-A Director) who both spoke on the  emergence of  Filipino culinary tourism as an important segment that has developed into an emerging international trend. During the intermission, a dance number was provided by the beautifully costumed Gumaca National High School Dance Troupe who performed the "Jota Gumaqueña." 
Tagayan ritual presented by Mrs. Tina Decal (at left)

Pancit Habhab
tagayan (drinking ritual to welcome guests), featuring Quezon's lambanog, presented by Mrs. Maria Cristina "Tina" Diasanta-Decal (who operates Kulinarya Tagala, a food and culture tour of southern Tagalog) ended the celebration. Closing remarks were delivered by Quezon Kulinarya Vice-Chairman Ms. Jean de Guzman (Senoritas Mexinoy Kitchen)  A delicious lunch was prepared by Mrs. Milada Dealo-Valde of Koffee Klatch Bakeshop and Cookies and La Donna Anna Restaurant and Catering Services of Lucban, Quezon.  After lunch, a press conference was held.
Press Conference: L-R: Ms. Marissa Nallan, Dir. Verna Buensuceso, Dir. Rebecca Labit, Ms. Carmen Marasigan, Ms. Cristina Decal, Chef Cornelio "Cocoy" Ventura (Villa Escudero executive chef), Mr. Nino Magararo 
and Chef AR Jose Ranido

Matamis na alang-ang na cassava
Also held during the launch were experiential and interactive cooking demos, by Quezon chefs (Chef Vincent "Vino" Veluz of Buddy's Restaurant; Ms. Maria Luisa "Malou" Martinez of F & M Restaurant; Ms. Ma. Carmen "Chuchay" Marasigan of Luisa & Daughter, Ms. Cynthia "Chi" Eleazar of Halina Hotel; Mr. Irvin Jae S. Wagan of Laksa Restaurant;   Ms. Milada Valde of ADV/Koffee Klatch; and Ms. Agnes A. Luna of Samkara Restaurant & Garden Resort ), of simple and straightforward heirloom recipes and heritage Quezon cuisine handed down from generation to generation.
Ms. Malou Martinez demonstrates how to make alang-ang

Puto bao
They include pansit buko (noodles, made of buko strips, sautéed with fresh vegetables); adobo sa puti (simmered in local sukang niyog); bingangi (grilled shrimp topped with sinantolan, grated santol simmered in rich coconut milk); minanok consomme (a soup dish using beef instead of chicken, mixed with garlic, onions and mustard leaves) and hardinera (their version of embutido). 
Gourmet tuyo and tinapa, suka, alabing, banana loaf and sampinit jam

Appetizers prepared include minukmokkaliblib galletas (mashed boiled cassava mixed with salt and sugar), Dona Aurora with latik (grounded glutinous rice in caramelized sugar) and bikang dulong (small fish fritters). Generous servings of bukayo (caramelized coconut strips);  tinutong ng monggo (sticky rice cooked in coconut milk mixed crushed broiled beans); puto bao; and saging na niyupak (boiled bananas peeled and mashed with sugar, grated coconut and margarine) were served to guests. 

Ouan's Worth Farm Resort
The resort's swimming pool
After the launch, we were checked in at Ouan’s Worth Farm where, prior to dinner, we were shown around the family museum by no less than retired PNP  Chief (during the Ramos administration) Director-General Recaredo A. Sarmiento (PMA Class 1966), who is from Buenavista in Marinduque.  The 3-hectare resort farm also offers a lot of activities such as picnicking, swimming, wall climbing, rappelling and zip lining.
Retired Gen. Recaredo Sarmiento

Dinner that night was to be al fresco at the Halina Z Compound along Red V Road where we experienced Quezon’s Mercato dining. Here we feasted on local Quezon cuisine as well as familiar grilled favorites coming from 17 different stalls. The next day, after breakfast at Ouan’s Grandma’s Kitchen, we were driven to Verdana Farm in Brgy. Balubal within the nearby town of Sariaya.
Mercato dining at Halina Z Compound 

Here, we were to have an encargado lunch, an authentic farm dining experience with roots from the Spanish Colonial era, with Mt. Banahaw as our backdrop. The encargado (or katiwala) were the people who looked after the affluent middle-class’ plantations. 

Verdana Farm

Ginangang tambakol sa kamias
Inadobong baboy sa sukang niyog 
The dishes were cooked and presented by TOQPPI pillars Mrs. Chuchay Marasigan,  Mrs. Chi Eleazar, Mrs. Malou Martinez (Vice-President of TOQPPI) and Mrs. Tina Diasanta-Decal; followed the theme of the event – Pamana (Heritage).  They were assisted by Chef AR Jose Ranido and  committee members Mr. Irvin Jae S. Wagan, Ms. Jean de Guzman, Niño Magararo and Ms. Maria Luisa "Mariz" C. Villabroza (of Myles Travel and Tours).
Inihaw na sugpo stuffed with sinantolan thermidor

Several of the locally-made dishes served to us mostly used coconut as its key ingredient - inadobong baboy sa sukang niyog and adobong manok sa gata

Other dishes include inihaw na sugpo stuffed with sinantolan thermidor; ginangang tambakol sa kamiasminanok consommé and bulanglang na gulay with bagoong isda.  These we partook of using our hands (kamayan) on plates fashioned out of the trunk of banana trees.
Ingredients and tools for making
After lunch, we witnessed how buri (or buli) is made into threads as well as how local delicacies such as the sticky an sweet kalamay (a family staple every Christmas, it is a mixture of glutinous rice flour, coconut milk and muscovado brown sugar, steamed until set and of chewy consistency), pinais (a dish made out of prawns, pork and coconut meat, wrapped in banana leaf then cooked in coconut milk) and minukmok (made from a variety of banana called saba). 

Long ago, before the age of the "texting,” young men can get a chance to spend time with the women they were courting when protective parents of the girl ask them to make minukmok using the traditional large mortar and pestle.

Prior to our departure for Manila, we dropped by the Rodriguez House (also called Villa Sariaya), a luxurious ancestral home owned by former Mayor Catalino Rodriguez (the town’s presidente during the American Occupation).  On May 14, 2008, it was declared by the National Historical Institute as one of the three Heritage Houses of Sariaya.  Now transformed into a museum, here we did photo shoots wearing Commonwealth Era period attire for - Filipiniana costumes for the ladies and priestly garb for the guys.

The author (left) and media colleague Randy Valiente dressed up as priests

Quezon's Best Niyogan  Pasalubong and Coffee Shop: 1358 Capistrano St. Lusacan 4325 Tiaong, Quezon. Tel: (042) 545-6173. Email: