Friday, December 23, 2016

Go Chinese for a Different Holiday Feast: Crystal Jade Offers Christmas Menus of Tasty Delights

Chinese food is not a usual option for a Christmas feast. There are no special dishes reserved for such celebration, China being largely non-Christian and thus having no Christmas traditions. But with the proliferation of Chinese restaurants around the world, many of them have been catering to Christian Chinese, as well as other nationalities celebrating one of the world’s biggest occasions. One of them is Singapore-based Crystal Jade, which has branches in several countries including the Philippines.
Crystal Jade’s branch at the Bonifacio High Street in Taguig City has prepared special menus for the Filipinos’ most beloved celebration, including regular items prepared in a “Christmas-y way” and new dishes specially concocted for the occasion.
Take, for example, the sliced bitter gourd or ampalaya with plum sauce. Usually served arranged like a flower, it is now served arranged like a Christmas tree with pieces of cherry and mango serving as embellishment with a preserved plum (which we usually call champoy) at the top. The bitter gourd is blanched, thus preserving much of its nutrients. Its bitterness is tempered by the tart sweetness of the plum sauce, and such combination makes for an interesting dish of contrasting flavors.
Another intriguing dish of contrasting flavors and an imaginative way of serving is the new almond with scallop soup. The almond flavor in creamy broth is usually served as dessert in a form as gelatin. Now, it is as a warm, creamy soup, the saltiness replacing the sweetness. However, it is served in the shell of a ripe papaya, so you can scrape off the papaya flesh while spooning the bisque, providing hints of sweetness and freshness to each slurp. At the bottom is an indulgent surprise — a fat medallion of scallop meat. 
There is also a duo of crispy duck sandwich and shredded duck fruit salad. The sandwich is actually made of slivers of vegetables and duck meat in between squares of crisp fried duck skin, which is surprisingly delectable. This is contrasted by the rich salad.
    Another addition to Crystal Jade’s deluxe Christmas menu is the pan-fried bean curd roll with special sauce. It is composed of tasty meat roulades wrapped in bean curd skin and set in a pool of secret exquisite sauce, which is actually shark’s fin soup, treasured in Chinese gastronomy but controversial.
Another ingredient considered luxurious in Chinese cuisine is the fish maw, or the swim bladders of large fishes, sold dried. Crystal Jade’s fish maw with black truffle and osmanthus is actually a fried rice dish with strips of fish maw and flavored with black truffle and osmanthus flowers. Fragrant and flavorful, this harmonious ensemble of exotic ingredients is very likable.
These are currently being offered for the holiday season and are featured in Crystal Jade’s specially curated holiday full-course sets, which start at about P8,800 (with complimentary gift certificates) and includes interesting dishes such as golden baked crab shells (which we recognize as crab relleno), live garoupa served in two ways, steamed rice with seafood and abalone sauce in lotus leaf, steamed garoupa with black fungus and cordycep flowers, and yang zhou fried rice and red bean mango mouse cake.
To make your holiday feast truly delicious and indulgent, add in Crystal Jade favorites such as steamed soupy pork dumpling or xiao long bao and the steamed cream custard bun with salted egg yolk.
Crystal Jade was established in Singapore in 1991, offering an assortment of Chinese dishes prepared in luxurious and exquisite ways. Over the years, the restaurant has grown into a food and beverage company with over 100 outlets in Asia-Pacific and the United States. The first Philippine branch opened in 2010 in Greenhills, San Juan City, and then moved to its present location at 7th Avenue, Bonifacio High Street, Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City, in 2013. In July 2016, the restaurant earned its first one Michelin star. The guide inspectors particularly cited its Cantonese barbecue meats, seafood dishes, foie gras with Japanese sake and pan-fried scallop, roasted suckling pig with black truffle and the selection of wines.

For inquiries, call 808-5233 or visit

Fish maw with black truffle and osmanthus
Pan-fried bean curd roll with special sauce
Sliced bitter gourd with plum sauce

Monday, December 12, 2016

Developing Divisoria: Tutuban Center Undergoes Renovation While Honoring its Heritage

Many stalls and stores in Divisoria sprout fake pine trees and sparkle with boxes and boxes of glittery trimmings and Christmas decors, and the volume of shoppers expectedly swells this Christmas season. This area in the district of Tondo in Manila is a well-known shopping and commercial Mecca with numerous stores, shopping centers, makeshift stalls and bazaars spilling into each other it looks like one sprawl of a market. It is where one can almost everything, and haggling is the most popular mode of transaction. 
            Divisoria’s being a commercial center most likely started in the 16th or 17th century, during the Spanish colonial years, when Chinese merchants, shut out from the walled area of Intramuros, started doing business here and in adjacent Binondo. It grew to be an important trading center that the Main Station of the Manila Railroad Company was built here in 1887 and started operation in 1892. Trains went from Divisoria to Dagupan in Pangasinan, and vice versa. The train service is defunct now and the station was transformed into a shopping center, but Divisoria continues to be a bustling commercial area although afflicted with urban decay and squalor. Four hulking malls now rise among the entanglements of stalls and stores. One of them is the Tutuban Center, along Claro M. Recto Avenue, which now operates the mall which was once the Main Station.
Twenty hectares of land owned by the Philippine National Railways is leased to Prime Orion Group, which developed the Tutuban Center in 1988, utilizing 8.5 hectares for the buildings. Tutuban Center has become a popular destination over the years with about fifty thousand people visiting it on weekdays and sixty thousand on weekends.
“Tutuban is a twenty-hectare property located right beside the heart of Manila’s trading district—Divisoria. The property is accessible to popular districts and landmarks such as Divisoria market, Ongpin, Binondo, Escolta, North and South Harbors, Quiapo, Intramuros and the University belt,” described Rowena Tomeldan, Tutuban Properties, Inc. president and vice president and head of Ayala Malls Group, Ayala Land, Inc.
Early this year, Ayala Land has become part owner of the shopping complex. It is part of the Ayala Group of Companies, which has interests in real estate, telecommunications and tourism, among others, but is known for its chain of malls. With the entry of Ayala, Tutuban Center undergoes renovations and marks a milestone, ushering in a kind of renewal for Divisoria itself.
The renovation work, said Norie Ranial, head of operations of Tutuban Center, “highlighted the heritage component of the Main Station and enhanced the Prime Block building.”
According to Tomeldan, the renovation works and building improvements are in partnership with the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).
“The original Tutuban Station façade and columns built in 1892 have been restored. Some of the work done were repainting based on the heritage color palette, improving lighting to highlight its façade details, and preserving its brick walls and century-old wrought iron pillars that lead all the way to the food court,” she said.
“We have worked to preserve and restore the heritage elements of the original railway station.  It is a good example of colonial architecture in the Philippines as the only train station with a Spanish colonial style of domestic architecture, inspired by the two-storey brick ancestral house,” Ranial explained. “Along the interiors of the Main Station are more than century-old wrought iron columns with ornate pillar caps.”
“Across Tutuban Center is a monument to the Father of the Philippine Revolution, Andres Bonifacio. This was made in commemoration of the town where he was born,” she further said. “We also have twelve large canvas art works, which depict highlights of this brave hero’s life in the East Loop of the mall. The National Historical Commission of the Philippines was involved in ensuring the authenticity of these scenes from Bonifacio’s life. We hope that even in a small way, more visitors and shoppers can gain an appreciation of the history behind this great shopping destination.”
The Main Station features regular retail stores, service stores and food outlets, as well as Robinsons Department Store and Supermarket. At the second level is the new food court.
“The popular Kikiam in Ilaya is now being offered in a food cart set-up in the food court,” said Ranial. “We will soon have other popular Divisoria and Binondo food and restaurant brands in our food court.”
These eateries and brands include El Presidente Tea House, King’s Bakeshop and Eng Ho.
Next to the Main Station is the Prime Block which has stores offering wholesale products such as fabrics and textiles, curtains, fashion, accessories, ribbons, mannequins and wigs, supplies for salons and spas, tailor supplies, school supplies, toys, artificial flowers and gardening needs among others. Prime Block retains the well-known Divisoria bargain shopping style.
The building improvements include upgraded exteriors and renovated interiors, repainting, improved signage, installing about 5,600 LED lights, air-conditioning and the restrooms. For services, enhancements include customer service booths, security and housekeeping services.
“Visitors will also notice better pedestrian and vehicular circulation throughout the development. We have a new ticket booth and additional 150 parking slots in the Recto parking area,” Ranial added.
“Tutuban Center has introduced the new Prime Block Clusters on Level 3 of the Prime Block building. Shoppers will find improved merchandise zoning in this area. For Phase 1, we have 175 stalls with an approximate size of eleven square meters per stall,” said Ranial.
Many of Tutuban Center’s 600 tenants are long-time Divisoria merchants. One is Malou Salvador, who owns of Anding’s Toys and Flowers, which her mother started as a stall at the market in Divisoria. The store is more than forty years old.
“The Prime Block Clusters is anchored by Anding’s Toys and Flowers, Inc., which occupies 317 square meters or about 18 stalls,” Ranial revealed. “Anding’s showcases a wide array of products that go beyond toys and flowers. They have party favors, costume accessories, party decor, garden decor, picket fences and hedges and so much more, even Halloween items and Christmas decors. They have been in business for more than twenty years, and majority of the big malls and other establishments get their supplies from Anding’s.”
Additionally, Tutuban Center hosts a night market, which comprises about 400 stalls, in its open spaces.
Mall officials said they will retain the mode that Divisoria is known for but will bring in qualities Ayala malls are known for such as efficiency in service, security, comfort, value for open spaces and polished architectural aesthetics.
“Tutuban Center has built relationships over generations of shoppers and merchants. We know our market and we are committed to providing the best experience for them and our merchant partners,” Ranial said.
“Our vision is to develop Tutuban Center into an organized and efficient wholesale and retail district at the heart of Manila,” said Tomeldan, who also mentioned that redeveloping Tutuban Center is both challenging and exciting.
She also said that they are not planning on bringing in popular local and international brands that are ubiquitous in malls.

“We want to create jobs especially for small and medium enterprises and micro-entrepreneurs. We want to develop and take a chance on young entrepreneurs,” Tomeldan said. “We want people to come here feeling safe and secure, knowing it’s a comfortable place.”

Prime Block Clusters

Prime Block Clusters
Aking's Toys and Flowers at the Prime Block Clusters
Profusion of Christmas decors at the Aking's Toys and Flowers at the Prime Block Clusters

 The Prime Block Clusters
The Main Station
Main Station's historical marker
Inside the Main Station
Metal pillars with ornamentation preserved from the old structure
The information desk
The food court
Prime Orion Properties Inc. director Victor Say, Ayala Land board director Tony Aquino, Prime Orion Properties Inc. director Felipe Yap, Tutuban Properties, Inc. president Rowena Tomeldan and Prime Orion Properties Inc. president Junie Jalandoni  

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Making Mimaropa's Moment: Puerto Princesa Hosts Second Region-wide Festival

The Arawatan Festival contingent of Occidental Mindoro was declared champion in the street-dance competition
The Arawatan Festival group from Occidental Mindoro took to the streets, joining the throngs of expectant people. Dressed as Hanunuo Mangyans, which are indigenous to the province, they were less spectacularly costumed than the other groups, but their steps and movements were energetic. Their festival’s name is Mangyan for “cooperation” or “helping each other out,” and the festival, held in the middle of November, celebrates such practice. Thus, this time, the group demonstrated such spirit but on a larger scale, through a rousing dance drama that told the story of a group of Mangyans and Tagalogs of the province traveling through the different provinces of the Mimaropa region and meeting their peoples, ending with an emphasis on unity. The Occidental Mindoro group clinched the first prize in the street dance component of the Mimaropa Festival, held from November 7 to 11, 2016, in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, for effectively exemplifying an ideal of the region.
The Philippines’ only region-wide festival, which is now on its second staging, serves as a venue for “unifying the different provinces of the region,” reiterated newly-installed Department of Tourism (DoT) regional director for Mimaropa Danilo B. Intong.
The region is divided by waters, being made up of islands at the northwest part of the Philippines, southwest of its largest island Luzon. This cluster is made up of the provinces of Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan, thus the portmanteau name Mimaropa, Each has its own unique culture that crafting a singular identity can be elusive, something the first celebration of the Mimaropa Festival attempted.
The idea for the festival was hatched during a meeting of the Regional Development Council, and the first Mimaropa Festival was hosted by Oriental Mindoro from November 9 to 14, 2015, almost coinciding with the 65th foundation anniversary of the province. It was agreed that holding of the festival would be rotated among the five provinces. This year, Puerto Princesa City agreed to host the event.
Oriental Mindoro governor Alfonso V. Umali, Jr. admitted that the festival is still “undergoing birth pangs and there are still gaps to be addressed.” But he said the first Mimaropa Festival “was successful. That’s why Puerto Princesa was enticed to host.”
On the other hand, Puerto Princesa mayor Lucilo R. Bayron said the Mimaropa Festival is a welcome addition to the different events that the capital of Palawan is holding in November, which are their way of attracting more tourists. They are targeting a million tourist arrivals a year.
Puerto Princesa or Palawan as a whole is Mimaropa’s leading tourist destination with two world-renowned attractions—the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) and the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, both United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) World Heritage sites. Moreover, according to Bayron, the city has a host of natural and man-made sites for tourists to enjoy, plus different events spread out through the year.
Two events of Puerto Princesa were linked to the festival—the Puerto Princesa Underground River Day and the Asian Dragon Boat Championships/Puerto Princesa International Club Crew Championships.
In celebration of the river’s inclusion in the New 7 Wonders of Nature on November 11, 2011, the PPUR Day was held from November 10 to 11 with a series activities that included a dance competition, a quiz show and environmental endeavor, among others, many of which were held at the Sabang Wharf.
“This is the third year that we are celebrating it,” explained Elizabeth Maclang, Protected Area and World Heritage Site manager. “This year’s celebration is focused on making an impact, celebrating the PPUR’s outstanding universal value, not just to the communities within the park, but in the entirety of the city and hopefully, nationally and internationally.”
On the other hand, the Asian Dragonboat Competition was held from November 11 to 13 at the City Baywalk and Puerto Princesa Bay with teams from Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand and Indonesia competing in 10 events 200-meter and 500-meter distances.
While the Mimaropa Festival was geared towards enhancing the city’s tourism, it was also meant to showcase the best of the region. The festival was highlighted by a street-dancing competition, an agriculture-tourism-trade fair, and the crowning of Festival King and Queen.
The trade fair, mounted from November 7 to 11 at the City Park, featured booths of the different Mimaropa provinces with food items, tourism offerings and products of their native cultures, among others.
The street dancing competition on November 9 proved to be the most popular event where contingents paraded along Rizal Avenue. Each province sent their best festival groups to enthrall audiences.
Marinduque’s bright and colorful Bila-Bila Festival group of its capital Boac depicted the life cycle of butterfly, which has become a recent touristic venture. The Bila-Bila Festival is held during Boac’s fiesta on December 8, focusing on the butterfly and its breeding industry.
Oriental Mindoro fielded the mesmerizing Pandangitab Festival group of Baco. It showed the practice of sending off fishermen by the shore at the break of dawn by wives carrying lamps and lights, giving birth to a folk dance using little flickering lights. In lush terno and barong Tagalog, the dance was graceful yet dramatic.
Oriental Mindoro’s Calapan City showcased its Kalap Festival, which tells the folk history of the city, from being a small community of Tagalog and Mangyan to the invasions of Moro pirates and the coming of Christianity. It also explains the origin of the city’s name—from kalap, meaning “to gather (wood)” or “to forage.” The energetic and engaging entry was adjudged second place.   
Romblon’s Kanidugan Festival of Odiongan, celebrated every April to commemorate the founding of Odiongan and to honor its patron Saint Vincent Ferrer, derives its name from the nidog or coconut. The group showed how the people gather coconuts and make use of different parts of the tree.
Palawan’s Baragatan Festival of Quezon placed third with a dance that highlighted Palawan icons, especially the Manunggul Jar and the reefs of Tubbataha using eye-catching props. Similarly, Puerto Princesa’s Balayong Festival group made use of spectacular props to depict the life cycle of the balayong or cherry including the blossoming of gigantic flowers and their pollination by gigantic butterflies and bees.
The search for Mimaropa Festival King and Queen on November 10 at the City Coliseum was also a fun watch as young men and women bested each other with beauty and smarts. Production numbers were iterations of their street-dance performances.
The festival is but a glimpse of the different wonders of the region. Mimaropa officials promised to continue holding the Mimaropa Festival to drum up the region’s potentials and make it one of the Philippines’ popular events. Next year, the province of Romblon is set to host.

For more information, contact Cecil Aranton of the DoT Mimaropa Regional Office through email and telephone number (02) 890-1014.

Mimaropa Festival prime movers: Romblon governor Eduardo Firmalo, Oriental Mindoro Gov. Alfonso Umali Jr., Department of Tourism regional director for Mimaropa Danilo Intong, Occidental Mindoro Gov. Mario Gene Mendiola and Puerto Princesa Mayor Lucilo Bayron

The Bila-Bila Festival group of Boac, Marinduque

The Pandangitab Festival of Oriental Mindoro

Marinduque’s contestants at the Mimaropa Festival King and Queen contest

Oriental Mindoro contestants at the Mimaropa Festival King and Queen contest dancing the Pandangitab Festival number

The Asian Dragonboat Competition at Puerto Princesa Bay