13 October, 2016

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

Being in a Chinese environment and working for a Chinese-owned company for almost 6 years has become a cultural immersion for me — in a positive kind of way, of course. Dating a Chinese man and having a Chinese best friend now have brought me a good amount of knowledge and understanding about their customs, their way of life, and traditions. I also began to appreciate their cuisine and all these dishes that I used to not eat. Admittedly, before all these, I knew nothing about anything Chinese. Matter of fact, it was something that I used to avoid because this person that I used to know did not like anything Chinese ... so now's like the opposite of everything.

Ghost Month, Mooncakes, and Mid-Autumn Festival
It was in 2011 when I first learned about Ghost Month, 鬼月. I was supposed to have some house repairs done, but was warned by a friend to defer it until after ghost month. I was surprised that ghost month was strictly observed at work. We were not allowed to do big events like groundbreakings, sales rallies, inaugurations, and blessings because at this time, ghosts and spirits are believed to roam the earth. This time was similar to All Souls' Day. Every milestone, big gathering, and major purchase were done after ghost month.


That same year, I received my first Moon Cake, 月饼. For those of you not familiar with this Chinese mid-autumn festival must-have, see photo above ▲. Lucky me got tons of moon cakes that year and years after that.Ü The act of giving moon cakes to family, friends, and colleagues is a practice that dates back ages ago. Moon Cakes symbolize togetherness and if you happen to get one ( or more ), it tells the recipient that your friendship is valued by the other person. Touching, isn't it? The giving of moon cakes is just one of the customs observed by the Chinese during the Mid-Autumn Festival. This festival is considered to be the second biggest Chinese event in a year — the first one being Chinese New Year. The Mid-Autumn Festival goes back to thousands of years ago when ancient Chinese worshiped the moon for bountiful harvest. On the day that the Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated, the moon is also said to be its roundest. This usually falls a few weeks after the end of the Hungry Ghost Festival. [ Read more: The Story Behind Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋节 ]

My First Dice Game
For the past years, I was always invited to go to a Moon Cake / Mid-Autumn Festival gathering, but I never went. This year, I did things differently. My Howe always looked forward to Moon Cake month because of the Dice Game. He always explained it to me, but I never really got a good grasp of how fun it was until this year.

Dice Game rules are simple: the game involves throwing 6 dice into a bowl and if you get any one of the lucky combinations, you get a prize. There are assigned prizes ( 6th place to 1st place ) to the best dice combos. The game goes on until all prizes are won. It could take a while, but it just radiates all these good vibes when you're playing. No one goes home empty-handed or that pretty-much is the idea but I guess it depends on how many prizes are up for grabs.

In this Mid-Autumn Festival party that we went to, P and I got a lot of the sixth prize(s) + a second prize where I got to bring home Chanel goodies. To make my first Dice Game even more memorable, we also won the first prize / the Zhong Guan, which I tell you was worth the wait. If you'll look at my IG photo below, the Zhong Guan's inside the Ang Pow ( red envelope ). While it did seem like forever, waiting for one of the best combinations to come out was definitely worth our while. I guess the odds were in our favor. Our table had 15 players including us and well, the lucky 4 Fours combination was fated to come out during one of our turns.Ü It felt like Thanksgiving and the vibe was just fun, fun, fun. Every person from our table brought something lovely home. All the prizes were very nice. I gotta give it to our host for being generous and for throwing such a marvelous Mid-Autumn Festival party.

After ditching several of these, I finally went to one. Woohoo for my first #MidAutumnFestival 🤗

A photo posted by R U S S (@ruussso) on

Have you ever been to a Mid-Autumn Festival gathering and played the Dice Game? Is it something celebrated in your country? Zhōng qiū jié! 中秋快乐  ☮..Peace + _Love + Good Vibes. RUSS.

23 September, 2016

Laksa Love. #SingaporeInvites #VisitSingapore

No trip to Singapore would be complete without a nice, warm bowl of Laksa. This spicy noodle-soup dish traces its roots from both Malay and Chinese cultures, but is very popular in the Lion City. I have been to SG a couple of times but oddly, I have not had the chance to enjoy authentic Laksa until last February's trip — sending lots of love to everyone from the Singapore Tourism Board ( STB ) for taking three of my closest friends and I to a memorable and truly filling ( burp! ) trip.

A first and more firsts
My last visit to Singapore comprised of a lot of firsts which I'll be sharing in a series of #SingaporeInvites posts. I joined a photo contest sponsored by STB last year and I was one of the Lucky 25 winners who won a trip to SG. This was the first time that I stayed in the Eastern side of Singapore at Joo Chiat / Katong. Being Singapore's first heritage town, Joo Chiat is an interesting area to explore. It has its distinct vibe that both locals and tourists love. I have obviously overlooked this part in my previous trips, but I am glad to have had the chance to experience Katong and its rustic charm a couple of months ago. There aren't skyscrapers around. There's not much vehicles, too — at least that's what I recall. What you'll see are these beautiful, Instagram-worthy preserved Peranakan shop houses that line the streets and a lot of small yet interesting food places to go to. It is in Joo Chiat that I had my first-ever spicy and steaming bowl of Peranakan Laksa.

Laksa Love

I'm no Laksa expert, but one thing I'm sure of is that Laksa may not be for everyone. In my family and in my circle of friends, there are a few of us who enjoy this flavorful, super spicy, creamy coconut-based aromatic soup-noodle dish. Most people I know shun spicy food, the same way that they do not like anything coconut-based. However, if you like gastro-adventures and dig that burning feeling on your taste buds, you're definitely in for a treat with a hearty bowl of Laksa.

Our STB Singapore Invites tour guide, Wai Keong took us to the best Laksa place in Joo Chiat, 328 Katong Laksa. Wai Keong shared with us that 328 Katong Laksa is THE go-to restaurant for authentic Peranakan Laksa. Not only that, the guys here beat master chef Gordon Ramsay several years back for SingTel's Hawker Heroes. This certainly made 328 Katong Laksa a huge hit. It got foodies curious. Tourists would go out of their way to try their Laksa. I got to talk to this French dude and he admitted that he almost got lost going to Katong district taking the subway and the bus so he opted to go to Joo Chiat using Grab. After devouring his bowl of this popular Peranakan dish, he said it was so worth the extra bucks he had to shell out for the ride. Aside from this, its history makes this dish more interesting.
"The descendants of these Chinese traders were called the Peranakans, and the tradition of Laksa was born out of the Peranakan desire to marry Chinese food with existing Southeast Asian flavors like coconut milk, and those brought over by South Asian traders, like chilis. Often, the desire to marry cuisines resulted from literal marriages between Peranakans and locals. In Indonesia, for example, the origin story of Laksa traces back to the Chinese coastal settlements. Chinese sailors set out to find local wives, and these women began incorporating chili peppers and coconut milk into Chinese noodle soup." [ Read more: How inter-marriage created one of the most delicious food ]

If you get the chance to travel to Singapore in one of your future trips, don't forget to visit the Joo Chiat / Katong district for an authentic bowl of Peranakan Laksa. Want the best Laksa? You know where to go.  ☮..Peace + _Love + Good Vibes. RUSS.

The SingaporeInvites Series
» Lucky 25. #VisitSingapore #SingaporeInvites
» The build up of anticipation

15 August, 2016

Rainy day blues

We've been deprived of a beautiful sunny day for over six days now.Ö I am the least bit thrilled about it because I'm a sun baby. I live for circuit training, mojitos on a hot day, blue skies, and a lot of sunshine. The whole of last week was just awful and weather reports say that there wasn't even a typhoon. My Howe on the other hand is the opposite. He is like Edward Cullen; he loves this no-sun kind of weather.

Rainy days make me feel tired and lethargic.
I'm a pretty punctual person except for last week. From Monday to Saturday, I clocked in between 8:01AM to 8:05AM. Sure, this was still within the grace period set by the company, but little me does not like being late at all. Waking up in the morning, I rely on the natural morning light that pours through the tiny space in between the shades by my window. Obviously, I had none of this daylight for the past days, which made waking up in the morning challenging because each time I'd open my eyes, it looked like it was 4 o' clock in the morning outside.

Rain, rain go away.

Rainy days force me to skip the gym. Boo :(
Missed appointments and gym dates — blame it on our poor drainage system and Metro Manila traffic that goes from bad to worse to terrible when it rains. My gym is just a 10-minute drive from my work place, but last week was just so bad that I missed training thrice. I braved the rains on Monday but got stranded in one of the side streets because of the floods. It wasn't something that I was willing to go through again so for the next days, my gym bag just sat there at the back of my car. Sorry, Coach Ron.

And even if I don't like the rainy days, I love how they're perfect for cheese pizza and wine.
When all plans fail on a Friday night because of the rains, pizza delivery will always save the day ( or your evening! ). Last Friday, I discovered that Yellow Cab's 4 Cheese Pizza is yummy. My usual pizza is always overflowing with toppings, something like the more, the merrier because I have this impression that Cheese Pizza is boring. Surprisingly, even if Yellow Cab's 4 Cheese Pizza looked a little plain, it did not disappoint. Ramen has always been my favorite rainy day comfort food, but now there's a delivery alternative: 4 Cheese Pizza! When dining out, I often pair my pizza with a Cab or White Zinfandel but last week's bipolar weather made me try on a different wine style. I opened a bottle of Rosé and just like magic, being stuck at home didn't feel so bad anymore — nothing that a glass of wine can't fix.

It's Monday. I was up extra, extra early because I woke up to sound of rain pattering on my window. Even if I want to go back to bed, I'm all awake now. As if it's not enough that dark, grey skies and the gloomy weather are making me feel like I am trapped in a bubble, I got some Monday blues to cure, too. What a bad combination, no? But I'm a trooper. I've had more than enough of the rainy day blues and I refuse to be bitten by any of the Monday blues. I just want my sunny days back. I'd give anything for a nice, warm weather.

I miss Mr. Sun 😕
5 days is just too much. I never really liked the rainy days.

A photo posted by R U S S (@ruussso) on

Are you a sun-lover like me? Or are you the type who finds the rainy days relaxing and uplifting? What's your favorite rainy day comfort food? How do you beat the rainy day blues?  ☮..Peace & _Love. And still waiting for a lot of sunshine. RUSS.