Tag Archives: Isabela

The Fourth Month

Today, May 24th, marks my fourth month in the Philippines, specifically in Isabela my home province.  Although four months is nothing compared on how time flies in the States, it does feel so much longer here.  Thankfully, we have internet to keep me sane and keeps me connected to San Francisco at any given day or night.  Being 7,000 miles away is not really that bad when you’re logged on your Facebook.  Looking back from the moment I have embarked on that plane to the long trip from Manila to Isabela, I can pretty much say that I’m a very fortunate fella to have a place to go home to sans rent (just do chores), to have hardworking and loving parents around that pretty much leave you alone on your business, and to have a the world on my hand and the freedom to discover new places, new things and new friends.

Just for the sake of celebrating this sentiment, here are some selected photos and some random thoughts collected from the last four months.


Flying home in style–Mabuhay class (the classless class). What could be more apt than Philippine Airlines non-stop from SFO to MNL? I dined and finished their stock of Courvoisier and opted for San Miguel beer to pacify my crying soul.

In the plane enroute Manila from San Francisco, I drowned my mixed emotions with PAL’s stock of Courvoisier.  I dined well and the attendants very gracious and super hospitable–it didn’t even feel like a flight.  Or maybe because my emotions were so f*cked up and I wasn’t really paying attention on anything else.  Parting was never an easy thing especially after 20 years.  Suddenly, I was off to my new life just like that.  I took my sweater and stuffed it in my mouth, put a pillow on my face and held it tight.  I wailed.  I screamed.  I felt better but never really shook off that feeling until now.

Sometimes, I miss a lot of things about my former home but, I cannot deny that my heart aches for being so far away from my good friends, my brother Paul, his wife Junko, and my little boy (nephew), Paulo.

Paulo Suzuki Ventura

My existence is for this little guy. He’s the sweetest thing in my life.

Oh, and don’t get me started with the dining scene that doesn’t really exist here in Isabela!  I miss having a social sidekick.

Dining, wining, touring, complaining, moving... name it, we do it!

Cocoy Butter and Kanoa Oyl. Dining, wining, touring, complaining, moving… name it, we do it!

And I miss my job.  I miss Maria, Dado et al… and the greatest kitchen/dining team in the world!

Dignitary Dinner 080 cocoy ventura event-36


But then, as per the Bouvier ladies:

Edith B. Beale Jr.:
You can’t have your cake and eat it, too in life.

Edith Bouvier Beale:
Oh yes I did. I did, I had my cake, loved it, masticated it, chewed it and had everything I wanted.

I had my cake in San Francisco and now, I have a different cake–it’s a rice cake!  When I miss people, places and junk, I just have to remember what’s here in Isabela and I’m always given a sense of purpose.

2.22.14kidsfarm 025mangosorting 013 bagoongfarmkids 069

There are lots of happy and grateful kids and many, many new friends, we have tons of Philippine mangoes and I have happy parents.


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Unlike photographs, our memories are our most ardent source of scent records.  Today, in the bustling market of Santiago City (Isabela), my cousin took me around to buy canning supplies and other things I need at home.  While we navigated the interior of the market, a certain smell kept on catching my attention.

Kampupot (single petal crown). Jasminum sambac.  Sampaguita.

Jasminum sambac

The scent takes me back to a lot of places–all pleasant, some antiquated religious practices, or just sheer bliss of enjoying the simple beauty yet complex scent of a sampaguita.  Needless to say, I almost bought them all from the lady vendor.  Now, my house smells like heaven.

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The Perfect Longganisa

The longganisas of the Philippines are as varied as its people.  Each are unique and very special and to many, it holds such profound gravity, to a point that it conveniently became one of the key factors on one’s regional identity.  For example, the longganisas of Pampanga are sweet like its people.  The northern conterpart, Vigan, is renowned for their savory and garlicky longganisa.  Other regions are interestingly shaped smaller or larger.  Then again, all of those are special at their own ways.  However, in my 20 years in the States, I have never encountered a longganisa close to the flavours of home.  I call it the “Perfect Longganisa”–lots of native garlic, a little sweet, a little salty, a hint of vinegar, and just the right amount of fat and meat.  And since I’ve been home, I’ve been trying to make up for all those years I’ve missed Isabela longganisa.  Don’t worry, I don’t eat it everyday or every week.  It’s served every other week and in small quantity–I’m not lying!

longganisa 009

Cooked gently by first placing these freshly made Isabela longganisas on a dry kawali. Cover and turn on heat, keep it to the lowest setting. These beauties will cook in its own juice, avoid lifting the lid too much. After about 20 to 30 minutes, remove the lid and turn longganisas once with a pair of tongs. Let remaining juice evaporate and encourage caramelization, turning longannisas as dim feet for even coloring. The rendered fat will aid browning.

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Sanggumay Dreams

BBQ Sangummay 022

Intoxicating perfume.  Vivid colors of purple, violet, and mauve.  Orchids of my childhood often made into a corsage or simply left as is adorning the dark bark of  a [tamarind] tree.  But, wait!  It also comes in white!  Like the Duchess of Alba–an albino sanggumay.

sanggumayputi 008


Side by side, they compliment each other.  These are my botanical treasures.  They look best after a night rain and a foggy morning.  Truly jewels in the heart of the rainforest (or my front yard).


Click here for more information about Sanggumay.

“If you take care of a heart properly, with immeasurable patience, it will blossom like Sanggumay.”  (I just made this up).  Ha!

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Wisdom of the Mangoes






My father has a mango grove and now that I’m dealing one-on-one with our mangoes, I’ve somewhat learned to understand the profound wisdom of the bearing cycle of a mango tree.  Trees can teach us so much, just like these mango trees–it has shown me that in order to have a successful life, a victor will fight through tough sequential elements and immense internal pressure.

When a mango tree starts blossoming, it will blossom profusely and ever so fragrantly.  To walk through a fully-blossomed tree is to encounter countless flying insects—definitely not as romantic as a cherry tree in full bloom.  There, pollination in full action, making sure all flowers are fertilized triggered by nature.

Then, just a few days after, most of the blossoms will fall off, as well as the nasty sap it’ll shower the ground. Just make sure you don’t park your car under the tree for you will regret it.  At this point, there will be just a few fertilized flowers on the stalks.  And, if it rains, there are much more flowers to fall off.

Then budding of fruits occur.  Throughout the development of the fruit, some will continually fall off the branches naturally.  From tiny to large, developed fruits will also fall leaving the blossoming stalk–that once were a profusion of blossom and fruit buds–with now only fruits that could be counted with just one hand.  It’s natural selection at its best.

When quasi-matured green mango fruits fall off, it’s picked off the ground and made into some salad.  The green fruit is the epitome of pressure. As soon as it is peeled, instantaneously, the crunchy flesh would crack open–as if it was a genuine relief to break free from its rind.  For every green mangoes I’ve peeled, they have always cracked with a loud crunch.  From there, I’ve concluded that a green mango holds so much pressure in order to maintain that compact, dense flesh.  By keeping the pressure inside the fruit, when it ripens, it’ll reward you with its succulent, fine and complex texture with a concentration of sweetness and utter explosion of indescribable flavors only your palette and heart will know how to explain, because there are no words in human language to describe its true taste.

The mango tree teaches me to live through the tough elements of life in order to ripen with elegance and profound quality.

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Isabela Express

After 67 days since I left my beloved San Francisco, I’m beginning to make sense of my reality here in the province I grew up in: Isabela, Philippines.  Armed with tools of my everyday conveniences in the States that I’ve brought with me, I wish to document moments, things and traditions I’ve taken for granted when I was young and stupid growing up in this bucolic, agrarian countryside.  As I hang my apron temporarily, giving my “chef” title a break, to smell the roses (or ilang-ilang in this case), I wish to share the world that happiness comes from the smallest and simplest things.  I look forward to my everyday adventures whether it is around my yard or out and about other provinces and big cities.

Welcome to Isabela Express and come explore with me!


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