Business Before Bourdain

This blog entry about the events of Thursday, April 22, 2010 was originally posted on April 23, 2010.

DAY 3:  “[Where’s that market that Anthony Bourdain went to where they buy the food from the market and have a cook prepare it?]” I asked my Tito Pepito in that paraphrase.  “They made prawn adobo.”  A fellow No Reservations fan, he knew what I was talking about, but there was more than one of such a market in the Metro Manila area.  He pulled out his netbook to find out.  “Look it up on Youtube,” I told him.  But when he got online, the connection from the house wi-fi was spotty — the day before we deduced it was a problem with the DSL provider — and we couldn’t get an immediate answer.  We made it our goal to find out and go before day’s end, but first, there was some business to take care of.

NOT SINCE MY TRIP TO SAN JOSE, Costa Rica have I mixed business with pleasure on one of these blogged adventures, but it was in fact a business meeting that was the impetus for my short two-day jaunt to the Philippines this time around in the first place.  Sure, travel pundits (or relatives on my mom’s side) may say two days is way too short a time for even a visit, but then again Manila wasn’t originally on my “Asian appetizer menu” at all — until I realized that attending a meeting there would allow me write off over half my overall airfare costs as a business expense.  Booyah.

My midday power meeting was fueled by a power breakfast, prepared by the housekeeper Jean, which was waiting for me at the table when I woke up: a typical breakfast of Malabon (where my father’s family hailed from) included longonisa (sweet sausage), hard-boiled salted egg with chopped tomatoes, bangus (local fish), garlic fried rice, horse tapa (tastes like lean beef tapa), and fresh sweet ripe mangoes.  After my fill, I hopped in the car with Tito Pepito for my first morning business commute in the Philippines.

My meeting was in Global City, one of the newer Manila neighborhoods of skyscrapers and luxury condos catering to international businesses, upper class residents and ex-pats.  “In five years, this will all be buildings,” my uncle explained.  Development moves fast in these parts — perhaps so Manila could soon compete with Shanghai, Hong Kong, or Kuala Lumpur for suiting conglomerates.  In fact, when I was in the neighborhood five Filipino years ago, instead of buildings there were the empty fields that set the stage for the New Year’s concert we had all gone to.

Global City’s Bonifacio High Street reminded me of a southern California strip mall — sans skater boys and valley girls — with its wifi-enabled cafes, stores, and bars/restaurants catering to ex-pat after work happy hours (i.e. Friday’s).  At the end of the promenade was a mall and an open market — one that sold sweet treats that my father and uncle would eat as kids and call them by the Tagalog word for boogers.  Oh, youths.

Organizing a meeting place in Global City was easy; as one of the spokespeople for the Regus Office Network partnership with American Express (gratuitous plug for Amex), I simply made a reservation with the local branch and rented my own office for an hour. I set up shop and was back in corporate mode (i.e. surfing Facebook) until the phone rang. “You have a guest, Mr. Trinidad,” said the receptionist.

Ramon was an iPhone developer I found and narrowed down from a bigger list of possible candidates — it was a complete coincidence that he was based, out of all places, in Manila where I had family.  I had contracted him to work on an upcoming project I’m doing with Does NY [heart] U Back? and to spare you from the boring details of our meeting, I’ll just say that he totally wowed me with his working prototype and presentation he did on his fancy new iPad.

“So should we get lunch?” I asked.  My favorite part of the work day of course, wherever I’m based.

Being Ramon‘s client, the talented Objective C coder graciously took me out on his tab to the Japanese place downstairs for sashimi, sushi and ramen.  It wasn’t all business as we made face time — something that is becoming a rarity in our modern age of emails and Skype.  Amongst other topics was the behavior of the oversharing generation of Foursquare users, Apple behaving like the new Microsoft, and this brief anecdote he told me about his grandmother witnessing a beheading during the horrific Japanese occupation in WW II.

“You want dessert?” he asked me (several conversations after that story).

“No thanks, I’m full,” I told him. “Every time I come to the Philippines, I gain weight.”

“Yeah, that’s the problem with the Philippines,” he said. “You’re always eating.”

NOT SURPRISINGLY, the rest of the day involved more eating. Tito Pepito picked me up after killing time at a cafe with his netbook, pinpointing the market from Bourdain’s show. “I found the blog of the guy who took him around,” he told me.  “It’s in Cubao, not too far.”

It was only about 2:30 in the afternoon, the hottest time of day, so we did as the Filipinos do to kill time (after sitting in traffic) and head to the Mall of Asia — no relation to the Mall of America, although it did have an ice rink, a playground, a fancy Pizza Hut Bistro, a chicarron cart, and a view of Manila Bay.  We got some locally-inspired ube macapuno Blizzards from Dairy Queen (served upside down or it’s free!) while waiting for Judiel and his girlfriend Beverly to join us.  By that time there was just enough time to digest during another hour in traffic before planning to eat again with the others.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN’S EPISODE ON THE PHILIPPINES brought the cynical former chef to the Dampa market in a rich part of town, across the street from Araneta Coliseum, where basketball teams of the PBA play, where within the same month Kelly Clarkson will perform in the same venue as a world champion cockfighting match, “World Slasher Cup 2.”  The scene was very familiar to anyone who’s seen the episode (just look it up on Youtube): a huge collection of market stalls selling products like farm-fresh vegetables, different types of eggs (picture above), fresh seafood, and just-slaughtered meats, including (parental discretion is advised) lamb.  And just like on television, you choose your proteins and veggies and bring all the items (paluto) to any one of several cooking stalls to prepare them as you want.  Without trying we chose the same one that Bourdain & Co. chose (it looked the cleanest), and they were kind enough to let us in the kitchen to take pictures of the food prep — from every live crab stab to wok stir.

The end result included some dishes from the Bourdain show as well: alimasag ginataan (crab with coconut milk), steamed crabs (chock full of roe, the “coup de grace” as mentioned on Bourdain’s show), grilled pork belly, pork belly adobo (stewed with vinegar and soy sauce), prawn sinigang (in sour broth), prawn adobo, steamed oysters (not as good as down south), and pinakbet (bittermelon stew).  We accidentally bought enough paluto for a whopping fourteen platters(!), more than enough by far for our party of seven.

“I think we need five other people,” I told JayPee.

“No, we have him,” he said pointing to his brother Judiel.  “His favorite show is Man Vs. Food.”  Judiel was up for the eating challenge, as long as he could continue making goofy poses for photos, including an “L” one inspired by the cheesy election poster nearby.  (L is for laban, or fight, although we all knew it was for loser.)

BOURDAIN’S STYLE OF SHOW is to showcase a more authentic side of travel (which food is an integral part of) away from mainstream cruises and resorts.  Any fan of The Global Trip knows that my style of show is to point out the irony of things, and debunk things you may have seen on television.  What Bourdain failed to tell his audience in his visit to the same place is that within the complex of local, freshly-prepared foods there is actually a Jollibee and 24-hr McDonald’s.  And while the editors of No Reservations try to accentuate the “authenticity” of a place by laying down a soundtrack of acoustic instruments, what they are masking is the fact that a DJ at the Dampa plays auto-tuned dance tracks like this.

“Man, this music makes me want to eat, and buy fish!” I joked.

“Eat it raw,” Judiel quipped.

When the DJ music stopped, it was soon replaced by a cover band that Bourdain definitely edited out — much to Jessica’s chagrin.

“Any requests?” asked one of the ladies gaga to the mostly unattentive, non-applauding audience.

“We request silence,” Beverly joked.  Meanwhile, the boys and I joked about the keyboardist’s mullet of a hair-do.

At the end of our feast, we still had enough food for two more days which was neatly put in takeout containers — sadly I would leave the next morning after this short business trip to Manila.  I guess it was okay in a way, since I stuffed myself for two days — with the eating stamina of a traveling food show host — but enough was enough.

“How does he eat all that food in one day?” my uncle wondered about Mr. Bourdain earlier that morning.  Good question; I wondered the same.


Next entry: Pretty Fly For A White Girl

Previous entry: Five Filipino Years Later

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Comments for “Business Before Bourdain”

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    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/23  at  02:42 PM

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    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/24  at  02:43 AM

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    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/24  at  07:38 PM

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This blog post is one of eighteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Chinese Leftovers And Other Asian Appetizers," which chronicled a trip to Shanghai and Huang Shan in China, as well as brief excursions to Manila, Taipei, and Seoul.

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