Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Nelson lunch spots ... (Go Mexico, Bar Delicous, Falafel Gourmet, House of Sushi, Crema)

We've been spending a fair amount of time in Nelson during the day running various errands and paying bills that were due some time back. We also get to enjoy lunch in nelson while running these errands. Here's what we've tried in the recent past, the nelson ethnic food scene is definitely getting much better :)

  • Go Mexico: This is a mexican place run by a North Indian on Bridge Street (close to Collingwood). Our friend Chris had visited this place when it first opened and his reviews were not stellar. So it took us a much longer time than normal to visit this place. We went there for lunch today, and boy was it good!. Mari has the grilled fish (monkfish) burrito with a mild salsa and a horchata (home made). I had the chicken burrito with the medium salsa and a fresh lemonade. Ordering the drinks was a mistake :( The drinks were very good but a bit too big and took up valuable stomach space. My chicken burrito was excellent. The rice and beans had a nice spice and sour taste to it from the chicken sauce / salsa. There was a reasonable amount of meat but the combination hit the spot. The burrito seemed to be more like a home made chappati. Mari's fish burrito was also quite good. I tasted the fish and it was fresh and flaky. We only managed to finish half the burritos, so we have a yummy lunch tomorrow. After i mentioned Chris's review, the owner asked me to send Chris back to the place and pick up a free burrito on the house. The burritos are a bit on the steep side for those of us used to $5 taqueria burritos, but the quality of ingredients and size makes up for the cost (its get amortized over 2 lunches!). If you are in Nelson, go visit Go Mexico! now. We need to ensure it stays in business.
  • Falafel Gourmet is another great lunch spot (actually all the places on this list are great lunch spots!). I always get a large lamb and mari gets the smal vegetarian falafel. The large is good enough for a meal and a half. The tahini sauce they use is quite good. We need to get some pita bread and hummus from that store home the next time we are in town
  • Masao and Yuki from our favorite sushi place (House of Sushi) have opened up a new, slightly larger branch on Vanguard St (past the New World). We had lunch there last week. Mari had the fried warehou and salmon over rice with a small salad. I got a pork katsu over rice. We also shared a seaweed salad (which was a large salad with some amount of seaweed in it). We picked a few of their desserts for snacks for the kids. They were ok, i found them a bit too sweet. Masao's japanese curry is very good and worth having. I tried making a japanese curry at home earlier this week, it was good but nowhere close to masao's :(
  • Bar Delicious is our alternate to Hopgoods since its next door. It recently won the best cafe award in Wild Tomato (a local lifestyle magazine). The nicoise salad is very good here, so is the pork belly. Mari got the pan fried fish of the day (warehou). She liked it, but i thought it was very average. We finished off lunch with an excellent coffee from Crema (a coffee cart near the cathedral)
Its so good to be back home and not have to travel for the next few weeks / months :)

Brady trip report ..

Our friends the brady's spent a month in Nelson, New Zealand over the xmas holiday. You can read his trip report here. You can also see some good photos of Nelson and NZ here. This link should help folks who complain that the blog has no photos :) Speaking of which, we hope to upload some of our photos to flickr sometime in the near future :)


Monday, February 11, 2008

A Mumbai Wedding

Claudy and Ruby’s Wedding. It was an outside evening wedding decorated w/ flowers, lights, and more flowers. Pink and white were clearly the chosen colors. The bright lights delayed bedtime and the music started the party. We arrived on time and so we had our choice of tables. Maya and PJ were full of energy and happy to be dancing to fun music on an empty dance floor.

When Maya and PJ’s cousins finally arrived, they happily danced around with them. I took this chance to take pictures of all that was happening. I wore my friend’s sari that she so freely lent to me. Thank you Smita. It was fun to wear as I felt I blended in with the other few hundred guests. Some advantages to wearing a sari – it’s a good guard against mosquitos, and allows air to freely flow through. I had shorts on just in case of it all falling apart. I found myself adjusting it a lot but maybe more so than needed since I was thinking about it’s looseness whenever I wasn’t roaming around taking pictures or keeping up with the kids.

When the two guests of honor arrived, the DJ did a great job keeping the party alive. Everyone had a good time throwing the pink and white tiny styro-foam balls as Claudy and Ruby walked passed all 400+ guests. Right after that they cut the cake. Kurund was more than happy to open the bottle of champagne and squirt a few lucky people. I was very lucky. After the toasts, the dancing started.

While the dancing started, I and Maya wandered around the buffet table. The servers were kind and allowed Maya and I to take some food before the official food announcement. There were a lot of food choices for vegetarians, carnivores and mithai eaters. The jellibee was the best I’ve every eaten. The chocolate cake was excellent too.

There were crayons and paper available to all the children which helped entertain the kids while the adults filled the dance floor or just relaxed at the table while enjoying the moment.

Around 930pm or so, Maya and PJ fell asleep on a couple of the cushy chairs. They’re cousin Anika joined them. When the music stopped around 10pm or so, everyone quit dancing to eat. To end a fun filled evening, we went on stage to congratulate Claudy and Ruby once again.

You can view a few of the wedding pictures here.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Trip Report: Final Days in PI ...

We decided to take the family to Normi's beach resort in Bacanotan. Mari's mom has a huge family, so we invited only the kids. This was an unplanned event, so trying to figure out food and transportation for 100 people or so was not really feasible. We ended up with approx 25 adult/kids at the beach. Bacanotan is quite close to the water, but there is no public access to the beach. This is really sad and shocking. Its amazing places exist where there are km's of coastline but no public access. Most of the locals cannot really afford to pay the $3 (USD) to a resort to access the beach. Due to the high cost a beach visit is a very rare occurrence for most of the family. It was quite nice to see all the kids have a great time at the beach. We had a big wave drench all the little kids and then the group decided it would be a bit more fun to play in the swimming pool. After the swim session, we had a snack of club sandwiches, fries, cold drinks and topped it off with ice cream.

The number of kids / young adults is very noticeable in PI. In the villages the percentage is even more noticeable. Mari's dad mentioned that more than 50% of the population is under 30 years. Family sizes are quite high in the villages, and quite a few teens are kids. PI is also a very religious country. Most towns have churches of quite a few denominations (roman catholic, iglesio de christi, seventh day adventist, latter day saints). I suspect the high birth rate is due to a combination of the influence of religion / church and lack of education. Quite a few of mari's cousin's drop out before they even complete high school.

We drove to Manila a few days before our departure to HK / NZ. We stayed at Fraser Place Apartments in Makati. The apartment was quite spacious and the kids had a great time running around the place. We were travel fatigued by the time we goto manila, and took it quite easy and stayed in and around the apartment most of the time. Manila was quite hot during the day and the ac apartment and swimming pool were quite attractive. We had the families of Joy and Alex (maris cousins) visit us in the evenings. Maya and PJ had a great time playing with alliana and justin. Since we were such a large group we just picked up some takeout food for dinner.

We then flew to HK and spent the day there before catching our flight back to NZ. HK was quite cold so we could not spend much time outside. We did have a great dim sum meal at the Celestial Cafe at the Sheraton in Kowloon. We also spent some time in Kowloon Park. We then took the ferry to Hong Kong Island and spent the remainder of the day at IFC mall. We found a good market there, CitySuper, which seems to be similar to whole foods in the US. We got some good bread and a great sashimi platter for a light dinner. We made the children march up and down the escalators at IFC mall and the airport a fair amount. This worked out quite nicely since they slept on the plane even before the plane took off and were knocked out for the next 9 hours.

The flight back was uneventful. We got back home at 5:00 pm. It feels good to be back in a place for the next few months at least ...

Monday, February 04, 2008

Trip Report: Tam-awan Village

We read about Tam-awan Village in the Lonely Planet while looking for places to stay in Baguio. The description was interesting enough and seemed like we would learn a bit more about Filipino culture and tribes that we decided to stay there. On friday evening, we landed up in Tam-awan Village. Alex is not very familiar with Baguio, so it took us some time to find the right road to get to Tam-awan.

There are some places that seem just right at first glance. Tam-awan Village is that place :). To get to the reception/cafe, you climb up 30 steps or so. Its a small patch of forest surrounded by some old and lots of new development. While climbing the steps an artist entertained the kids by mimicking an elephant and falling water sounds (a hollow bamboo stick filled with seeds or rocks). There is a small open area courtyard (dap-ay, a stone paved gathering place) which is the main focal point of the village. Surrounding the courtyard is the cafe, the art gallery, a performing stage and an Ifugao house which can sleep upto 8 people. The group stayed in this house while we stayed in a smaller house slightly further up the hill. The house is made up of heavy hand-hewn timber, the roof is covered with hay and bound with reed and cogon. In the original construction, nails were not used in the building (probably because nails were not available either). The houses were disassembled and tagged at the source, and reconstructed in the village (was relatively easy to do due to lack of nails!). I had an interesting discussion with maya about the differences between the hut and the houses we have stayed in on this trip. Some of the things we talked about were that the hut was basically a single room, all cooking / cleaning / bathroom was outside the structure. The ceiling was also very very high. The hut was quite warm despite the cold outside (good insulation with the wood). The door was basically a piece of wood that slid open (and hence not attached). The door slipped out of its groove when mari tried opening the door. This freaked the kids out as they thought we were now stuck in the house forever. Inside, the house had a benches on all 4 sides, where guests could sit and chat. The benches were made of bamboo and hence we could see the ground underneath. The benches were also handy to keep all our stuff. There was a small wooden bridge to get to the other side of the complex and to a view point, hence the name Tam-awan, which mean a vantage point. On a clear day, one can see the south china sea, however we were fogged in on both days and visibility was quite limited. While at Tam-awan, we also had some artists sketch portraits of the children.

We had two dinners and a breakfast at the village. The meals were quite excellent and we managed to sample most/all of the dishes. We had some cordillera (moutain region) cuisine. One of their special dishes is pinikpikan (killing-me-softly chicken) chicken, which is chicken in a clear soup broth. There was also few different preparations of bangus (milkfish). Their adobo dish and longanissa was the highlight. Alex and Arlene liked the tuyo (fried salted fish) quite a bit. Breakfast was pretty much the same as dinner, with a fried egg added to the meal. We also had an excellent bottle of rice wine. The next day at the cultural show they released a coffee wine. They had a coffee arts festival starting the next day, and we were told that their coffee was quite good. We thought it was a bit too weak and not as flavorful as some of the other beans we've had in the past.

The next day mari's mom got a two hour (hilog) massage which she recommends highly. We returned that evening to Tam-awan for a cultural performance (and even more food). We saw a couple of indigenous dances including an excellent mindaon performance from a manila based group. The kids were quite enchanted with the tribal dances since there was lots of movement and sound. The indigenous dances were done by kids from the local school. The last dance included audience participation and mari graciously volunteered the two kids. During the break, PJ entertained the female dancers and invited them all the New Zealand. Maya decided to invite the girls to San Francisco. I suspect our kids are as confused about where they really live, as we are :). Both PJ and Maya agreed not to invite any of the boy dancers, since in their words, boys are too much 'masti' (naughty). I suspect the 'lion episode' in singapore zoo is still haunting them a bit. The village seems to have a fair amount of local support since most of the crowd was filipino, and many of them seemed to be local to baguio city.

Tam-awan is run by the Chanum (which means water in Ibaloi) foundation. It was started 12 years ago (1996) by a group of 3 men from Manila.The aim of the foundation is to sustain and nurture indigenous customs, promote awareness and respect for the cultural heritage and arts in the Phillipines, particularly in the Cordilleras. I spoke a bit with one of them, Chit, during our stay there. Chit was an electronics engineer for 10+ years, and then worked in the government for a few years, before he decided to focus on Tam-awan and the Chanum foundation. He has a great working relationship with the staff and artists and seems very much at ease at the village. He was also a contributing editor to Lonely Planet, PI. I suspect the prominent mention of Tam-awan in the LP guide, gets them quite a few visitors. The current goal for the foundation and village is to raise money to build a museum and display gallery for work. The foundation also has art therapy classes for kids from the surrounding provinces. We hope to link them with some of the other schools and organizations that we support in PI.

In this blog post, I have borrowed liberally from the tam-awan brochure. Please see the tam-awan website ( for more information and/or contact them via email ( or phone (+63 921 588 3131, +63-74-423-0570)

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Trip Report: Baguio City, Phillipines

Baguio is a 2 hour drive from Bacnotan where we are staying (in Northern Luzon). We decided to do a short road trip to Baguio City and check out a larger city in PI. We were joined on this trip by Arlene and two of her nieces and a nephew. To avoid traffic we left at 7:00 am, however we still hit school traffic in San Fernando and were stuck in it for some time. We were soon past that traffic and climbing up the mountain on a fairly steep twisty road. At the top of Quezon Hill, a hose of the car blew and we were stranded near Baguio City. Luckily, mari's cousin and our driver Alex is also a mechanic, so while he made a trip to town to get a new hose, we jumped into a Jeepney and went to the main plaza and Burnham park. We found a pretty large playground and kid cycle rental in the park. That kept the kids entertained for the next couple of hours. Maya was quite happy to be playing outside (instead of sitting in the car) and was biking around the park like crazy. PJ on the other hand was content to be sitting in the passenger seat driven around by the older kids.

Since we did not have the car and the kids wanted to be like the grandparents, we had lunch at the nearby McDonalds. After lunch we headed to SM mall since mari's dad wanted to get a new cell phone or sim card. What was supposed to be a quick trip, turned out to be a 2+ hour wait at the mall. There was a bouncy slide thing at the mall, so the kids were quite happy jumping up and down. We finally had a decent cup of coffee at the mall. Its been a long time since I've been to a large mall, but a bit sad to see that most of the food carts were selling junk food (donuts, nachos, hotdog and fries). No wonder obesity is an epidemic in today's world. While we were hunting for Mari's dad and mum, they were at an Internet Cafe and playing Bingo respectively at the mall. Finally after gathering all the troops we piled into the car and headed to Tam-awan Village. The place was quite amazing and warrants its own blog post which I'll do next.

The next day we headed to Burnham park and the kids ran around for a couple of hours. Mari's dad wanted us to visit the Botanical gardens, so we headed there next. We could not find it, and decided to goto John Hay Park. The kids wanted to go horseriding, so we rented a couple of horses and went on the trails for some time. John Hay park is definitely very nice and we could have spent a much longer time there. However we were running a bit late and had to rush to meet the rest of the group at SM mall (again!). We had a mediocre meal at Taste of Laoag (the province that mari's dad comes from) in the food court at SM Mall. PI food courts are a bit better than the ones in the US but cannot be compared to the ones in Singapore. Its hard to have a quick meal with a large group in a restaurant. We then did some handicraft shopping at Easter Weaving Room (near Tam-awan Village). Mari bought a few traditional filipino costumes for folks in NZ, her dad bought a bottle of rice wine and berry wine (which were quite good). We then headed back to Tam-awan village for a cultural show before heading back home to Bacnotan. We had a good time in Baguio and would have prefered to stay another night. However the other folks in the group wanted to head home, so home we went :(

Saturday, February 02, 2008

First impressions of Phillipines ...

After an uneventful flight we landed in Manila, Phillipines in the afternoon. Maya seems to have gotten over her motion sickness since she has not fallen ill the past 5 flights. Hopefully this is a thing of the past. PJ was quite tired and slept for most of the way. The Manila immigration queue reminded me of Mumbai's queue 10 years ago. Not sure why it takes folks such a long time to realize that a snake queue, with a controller at the top, is more manageable and fair rather than 10 separate queues, which tend to split up and merge as the lines lengthen, counters open / close. After some initial confusion as to where mari's dad and alex were, we were finally picked up at the passenger pickup point. We needed to book our tickets from Manila to Hong Kong, so we headed over to Cebu Pacific Air. We could not book our tickets on the internet, since their credit card processor refused to accept our credit cards. The office was relatively empty compared to the number of staff there, but the progress was super slow. It took us close to an hour to book our tix. the agent made 4 copies of 4-6 pages of our passports, we also had to sign for the receipt we received. Not sure why they need to waste so much paper. This was probably our first indication of how things happen in PI.

Due to some mixup in communication, we were scheduled to drive for another 5 hours after we landed. We were hungry and tired, so i was not really looking forward to a long unplanned road trip with the kids. Luckily the kids love mari's dad, and I was hoping he would be the savior (which he was, thanx grandpa!). We had a quick lunch at Makati (the financial capital of PI, sister city to Manila) at a fast food place (Deli France and JolliBee). This was kinda sad, since we had avoided eating at any fast food place on our trip (i don't count an udupi joint in India as fast food, though you could make a very convincing case that it is!). We then headed North towards San Fernando de la Union, which is where the tagalon clan resides (mari's mom side). The five hour trip turned out to be a bit more than 6.5 hours. We finally reached home at 10:00 pm. The kids were asleep, which helped ease the transition.

Phillipines and India are quite similar. Most of the highways are 2 lane. There is significantly less traffic in PI. However the tricycle (a motorcycle with an attachment that can seat 2-4 people) are quite dominant on the highways. These vehicles are quite slow (35 kmph) and basically get down the overall speed of the highway to their speed. These vehicles are not well lit either, so you have to careful and aware of their dim lights at night. It reminded me a bit of our Hrishikesh road trip a couple of years ago, where the bottleneck was even slower bullock carts carrying sugarcane crops.

Mari's parents have a place in Balatacon, adjacent to the highway. So there is a constant vehicle noise all times of the day and night. Luckily its not a super crowded highway, so the pollution is not as bad as mumbai. I'm typing this with a window to the highway, and hear a vehicle approx once a minute or so (at 8:40 pm at nite). The one big advantage, PI has over India is clean restrooms (they are called comfort rooms out here). A few days sampling has revealed that most/all places have pretty clean restrooms. In india, the worst part of a road trip is the unpleasant restrooms (unless it a super busy corridor and you hit a few cafe coffee days along the way). Balatacon is close to the ocean, so we were hoping to go to the beach on a regular basis. Public access to the beach is a foreign concept here. So far we have not seen any public access.

Mari's dad mentioned that he knew a doctor who lives on the beach. So we headed over to the doctor's house. The family was away, so mari's dad went in to call them from his cell. It was super hot and approx 20 mins later, the gate opened and we were granted permission to access the beach. I noticed Mari's dad sitting on the bench with his head down. This is strange behavior for him. I kep watching him and wondered what he was doing. He then got up, but could not support his own weight. I shouted to mari that her dad is sick and we rushed over and supported him. We lifted him into the car and drove towards the hospital. The car had its AC going on full blast, so was quite cool. He recovered pretty quickly and insisted we go home, rather than the hospital. He did mention he was dizzy since he took a tablet a bit late (he was supposed to have taken it the previous nite, he took it in the morning). We listened to him and went home. He looked and felt much better by the time we got home. Mari's mom insisted we get a doctor and do a home visit. So Alex, Arlene and Winnie (mari's extended family cousins) went in search of a doctor. They located and came back with a doctor an hour later. The doctor realized that he has a very low pulse and recommended he stop taking one of his pills for a temporary period of time. She also recommended he check himself into a hospital. He ignored the latter half, but did take a break for the rest of the day. PJ and Maya were quite shocked and saddened to see their grandpa fall sick and could not understand what was happening and why. Later that evening, he felt good enough to join the extended Tagalan family for a clan feast.

Food in PI is not bad, my major complaint is that its always served cold. I'm used to eating food that is piping hot, so making this transition has been quite hard. At mari's place in alameda, we always have the option of microwaving the food to heat it up, which i frequently exercise. Out here in the country, the option does not exist. I'm hoping to taste a few more delicacies from other parts of PI I suspect we'll hit a few restaurants to try these delicacies. the LP guide seems quite good in this regard. The coffee is still Nescafe, so the country needs to make a few strides in the coffee department. This opinion is very biased, since we are in a small town in PI.

We decided to goto the beach early today since it gets quite hot in the afternoon. We hit the beach by 8:00 am (after picking up a few relatives along the way). We went to Normi's resort a few km south, which also has a couple of swimming pools in the resort. We spent a large part of the morning there, had a decent breakfast before heading further south to the city of San Fernando. While the kids were playing in the playground, Mari and I took turns scouting out for good lunch places. Seems like most place in PI are "taru-taru" (point and pick), with very little food being cooked (or at least assembled) to order. We lucked out and found Midtown Manor, a fairly crowded place (high turnover hopefully means the food is more fresh). The place also had upstairs seating, where we could order food (not sure whether it was cooked, or just carted from down below. i suspect a combination of both). While we had a pretty good filipino lunch, mari's parents went to McDonald's. We had gone our separate ways since they wanted to go to PI's Costco, which we decided to pass on. Later in the evening, we visited Mari's cousin Winnie's stall in the market. She runs a pretty happening halo-halo stall in the market and has got quite a few customers (while the other shops are closed for the day). Unfortunately halo-halo has lots of crushed ice, made from ordinary water. While tempting, we had to pass on it and decided to have a treat and had a coke. Singapore and PI are the only places (so far), where i've desperately felt the need to have an ice-cool coca-cola.

We are headed to Baggio in the morning, a hill station to the east of san fernando. We are supposed to be staying at this pretty cool arts complex. more reports from there (i'll also post this entry from a cafe there). Internet in PI is super cheap. the cafe charges 20 pesos / hour, which is approx 50 cents / hour.