About Cherie Altea Bitanga
Cherie Altea Bitanga finds herself constantly making food, talking about food and around people who know food. Her daily adventures go beyond her own kitchen in Singapore, spanning from the nondescript holes-in-the-wall to sumptuous dining adventures. She believes in the art of slow food and scours places in hopes of bringing home unique spices, salts and oils. She is also the occasional artist and food writer who learned how to cook early in life by inheriting culinary family traditions from her motherland: the Philippines.
For over a decade, this blogger's career as an ESL instructor provided a multicultural atmosphere working with diplomats, celebrities, nuns, priests, politicians as well as high school and college students from all over the world. When she grows up, she hopes to cook for a living to celebrate her family's culinary legacy.
Latest Posts by Cherie Altea Bitanga
There was a very long pause the moment Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines. No one knew what was happening because most forms of communications were severed due to the Category 5 typhoon that ravaged the provinces. It took about many hours before media feedback reported of official news.
Yes, Filipinos are used to massive rainfall year in year out. But this is totally unprecedented, combined with what we learned as a STORM SURGE. I’ve never heard of this word before but Tacloban, the hardest-hit province flanked by seas on both sides, had to fight for their lives as the 145mph winds blew 5-meter water walls inward from the seas along with the rains. The devastating effects were likened to a tsunami, where nothing but debris and floating bodies have been left in its path.
Remember the earthquake that toppled our centuries-old cathedrals just weeks ago? Well, the typhoon hit pretty much the same region and more places down south.
I believe the American Red Cross directly allows people outside of the Philippines to donate via PayPal.
We are outside looking in, only getting word from friends back home in the Philippines, those who are worried about relatives and friends in Tacloban and surrounding provinces. Manila was thankfully spared and I count myself blessed that my family is safe.
Friends back home are busy helping out in organizing donation drop-off points, while media friends have helped in the celebrity telethons to raise funds. According to him, a good number of calls he received were people desperately asking the whereabouts of their relatives because they had nowhere else to turn to. There is a powerful photo going around, showing scraps of papers, cardboard, paper plates where messages of survivors and their full names have been scrawled in their own dialects saying “We are alive!” to let families know they survived. These were handed out to a reporter who was at the scene and their details have been published since.
Delivering relief goods have been hampered by damaged towers and runways, boats cannot get through waters filled with floating snarled cables, torn wood, concrete; and cars and trucks battle through blocked roads as well.
Power lines and satellite signals are gone (for now), and fuel is running low in places that need them most, like hospitals. There have been shoutouts, one from a resort owner in beautiful Coron, Palawan, for people who privately own yachts, helicopters and private planes to help get their guests out of islands and bring in food, drinking water and fuel. Their supply of drinking water has been destroyed and contaminated by the flood.
Back in Tacloban the stench of death, according the reports, is overwhelming and finding a place to bring the bodies to has been challenging due to limited manpower at this point. The lives lost in that area has been estimated at 10,000.
Here are some of the things that are urgently needed. Not sure how people outside the PH can send these as of now but these are what I’ve been told is most helpful right now. For those who wish to donate in cash, may I suggest to course it through the American Red Cross.
1. Canned goods with easy-open lids (no need for can opener)
2. Crackers & biscuits
3. Leptospirosis and diarrhoea medicines
4. Sanitary pads
5. Infant solutions
6. Tetra milk packs
7. Eco bags (trying to minimise plastic bag usage)
8. Essential clothes in good condition (Kindness is appreciated, but bikinis, formal gowns, high heels and other non-essential can be donated at another time?)
9. Sheets and blankets always come in handy
10. First-aid kits
11. Pots and ladles
12. Generous supply of drinking water
For your prayers, assistance and for helping my country rise from the rubble, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
The other day, a cab driver recalled his days living on Amber Road before the ECP (a major highway) existed, where the sea greeted him right in front of his doorstep. We also talked about his life as a rugby player in school, his grandfather and fishing. And how the tug at the end of the reel would tell him what kind of fish he’s caught. The other time, it was a man whose family lives simply but believes in investing in gold.
Today, it was a very stern but well-versed, articulate cab driver, a citizen of the world with a booming voice who’s in between logistics assignment. When I mentioned the recent earthquake, he said he knows earthquakes well. “I was under the rubble for 16 hours, not knowing if I was going to live or die. I lost many of my friends that day in Christchurch. Before that, I was the kind of man who thinks only in black or white. That day, I learned to relax, and changed my attitude about things.”
Cab ride: $13. Life story: absolutely priceless.
With all the fuss movies make about Santorini, I discovered I loved Paros more. It’s just as quaint but without the snaking tourist buses around the steep roads, and that palpable hectic party vibe. Paros looks almost just the same but with a lively fishing trade at the port.
The surroundings are more relaxed, the air is cooler and the streets are made of marble (and stay marvelously cold even on a hot, sunny day!). I honestly felt bad for the residents of Santorini because they actually had to put up signs saying that houses (which were constantly surrounded by travelers taking pictures of the homes all times of the day) actually had REAL PEOPLE living in it (it’s a real house!) and request the throng of tourists with their massive cameras to not jump over the gate (who does that anyway???)
There is no such thing as graffiti on this side of the planet. But the sad thing is, I love graffiti and am such a huge fan of Keith Harring and any random artist that can make a funky, colorful wall/lamp post/bench.
It’s always nice to have an element of quirky even in the most mundane of things.
Though many places in Singapore glistens with steel and glass all assembled into architectural marvels, I still prefer heading over to the well-preserved communities and shop houses of the city.
As I was organizing my files just this weekend, I chanced upon a photo of my foavorite artsy hub in Singapore: Haji Lane.
Razor clams. This is perhaps one seafood I fell in love with after moving to Singapore and was first introduced to me as bamboo clams. They run about the length of my hand, shorter than a remote control, thereabouts. But like all other shellfish, when cooked properly, results in such succulent slivers of melt-in-your-mouth goodness and something truly sweet and fragrant even on its own.
For almost three years now, we’ve been eating Asian-styled bamboo clams:
Steamed with LOTS of butter, scallions and even MORE garlic.
Just the thought of it, wanting to describe it on my blog, is making my mouth water. Mmmm.
A first during our first month in Singapore was a trip to Tiong Bahru‘s famed and family-run Sin Hoi Sai restaurant, one that literally started as a hole in the wall decades ago, I was told, and operates early evening and closes before the sun rises.
Here’s another version with vermicelli at Long Beach Seafood here in East Coast Park. Mmmm….
Then last weekend, my husband and I, together with Sara and Alberto dropped in Osvaldo’s Spanish restaurant aptly named Ola Cocina Del Mar.
It was my first time to try a Western styled bamboo clam with generous layers of pancetta adding a burst of flavor with each juicy bite. It was love at first bite.
Having Spain run the Philippines for 400 years yielded Spanish-influenced dishes in our own home as well as family-run restaurants all over the city, something I took for granted back in Manila.
It’s been a frustrating three years since we moved here, trying to find that authentic particular taste I’ve been accustomed to. After discovering Ola Cocina Del Mar, finally, our search for some true Spanish flavours can be put to rest.
I live in one of the smallest places in the world, a little island called Singapore: the melting pot of cultures, sounds, beliefs and flavours. For me, it’s life in this fast-paced city in what I call a real urban jungle — “real” because of the ultra-modern infrastructure amidst lush, thick greenery almost everywhere.
Recently, I went through a medical journey and with that comes the discomfort, the limitation of movement and, of course, a bit of pain. Although I expected that, what I didn’t foresee was the kindness from strangers around me.
Let’s start with the uncles behind the wheel driving my cab.
“Don’t rush! Move slowly!”, said the first cabbie I’ve seen in days since I got sliced and stitched up. ”Sit down first, okay?”, he cautioned, ” Then, put your feet up next”, came the marching orders of the elder driver who was to shuttle me for the first time home. He drove very carefully from the hospital all the way to our residence in the East. I thanked him for making my post-op ride comfy and he told me, as I struggled to find the most bearable position to get out of the cab, once again repeating himself, “Ahh. Take your time, lah!”
After being on house-arrest for three solid weeks, I headed out for some time on the road once again. The same distance en route for a check-up. The cabbie was already waiting in the driveway but I moved as slow as a turtle, each step deliberate as I tried to get used to the sensation each step produced, but wary about putting unnecessary pressure on my stitches. While my husband made his way down the steps, I walked down the handicap ramp. What I didn’t expect was for the driver to go in full-reverse to meet me at the landing.
Most drivers here are typically in a rush, so I apologized because I couldn’t get in the cab as quickly as I wanted. But he scolded me, saying “Ahhh, it’s okay. Go slow. Just go slow,” as he monitored the way I was positioning myself in my seat. “Okay, good”, when he saw that I’ve closed my door. As we exited the estate, I noticed him changing pace significantly with each street hump and the turns along the way.
On the days that I’ve gone out on my own, I noticed that cab drivers would adjust their car closer to me when they see me walking slightly slower than everyone else, but no longer on the handicap ramp. Initially, opening doors was a struggle, and most of them asked if I needed help. I turned them down politely because I tell them that I needed to practice and get used to moving fully once again.
One of them looked back at me and declared, “You had operation, lah.”
“You can tell, uncle?”, said I.
He replied, almost indignantly, “Yes! We know. So, no problem. We’ll drive slow.”
When I went to the same restaurant the second time after a week, the server asked me, “Are you feeling better today, ma’am?”. It caught me off-guard because I realised that the staff was actually aware of my condition. Before I could thank him for asking, he quickly asked, “Do you need a pillow? We can put a cushion for your back?”
I thanked him profusely as he came back with two seat cushions that he improvised as a backrest. The same server was generous enough, as I paid my bill, to ask me if he can call the cab on my behalf so I didn’t need to wait and stand too long on the sidewalk.
Such small acts of kindness that make a big difference — from people, in places you don’t expect but at a time I needed it most.
But I know for a fact that it’s not because I was handicapped at that time. It’s happened even when we had just moved here. I was in the grocery holding two packs of cheese of a different brand. I guess I looked thoughtful because an elderly lady shopper made conversation with me.
She pointed at one, saying “This one, better. This other one?”, her face scrunched up. ” Taste is not so good.”
“Really?”, I said.
She asked, “What are you cooking?”
“I’m making pizza tonight.”, said a more enlightened me.
“Ahhh. Then you get this” (she proceeds to pluck out another pack from the chiller).
“You see”, she pointed out, “this one only X number of grams, but for X price. You see? This one, has more. Can put more on your pizza”.
I proceeded to the check-out lane with the recommended cheese in my basket.
And why not? Not only did I get the cheese I needed, I had a fun chat with a stranger, too!
Same grocery different day, I was tiptoeing to reach a bottle of detergent in a top shelf. A woman, perhaps my age, looked at me and offered, “Do you need help? I can reach it for you if you want”.
I laughed , slightly embarrassed, but more relieved as I said, “Please, yes! Thank you!”. And another time, I was reaching up, trying to hook a bottle of peppercorns with the tips of my fingers when a grandfatherly man interrupted the feat.
“Here…”, he reached up for the bottle and handed it to me, “Is this what you wanted? I’ll get it for you.”
Years ago, I documented a trail of random kindness in another frenzied part of the world: Tokyo.
What’s more interesting is I was on the receiving end of help from harried commuters in some of the busiest subway stations in the world.
I tell people that they probably encounter helping hands but maybe they’re just too busy to notice. To many of my friends, most have grown a bit too cynical to accept my stories as fact. To them, it could merely be fiction as a result of my naiveté.
But it’s not.
And yet others see it differently: they say it’s a blessing.
A mundane act that transforms the ordinary into something truly extraordinary.
It is a pure and simple gesture of generosity.
Nothing less, nothing more.
From one soul to another, expecting nothing in return.
Something brightened my day one rainy fall afternoon on my first trip to a charming place called Boston. Although there was a bit of hemming and hawing while planning the long haul ( 20 hours!!!), stumbling upon things like these can make me forget about the fatigue and slight weather-related mood swings (even for just a bit).
Just a few days before the surprise and severe snowstorm battered the East coast late October (not the best way to introduce snow to me for the first time, I tell you), my husband took me on a stroll around the parks and brought me to Copley Square.
And there we met the bronze sculpture created by Nancy Schon: “Hare And Tortoise” — a witty and wonderfully creative tribute to all runners who attend the Boston Marathon flying in from all over.
Dedicated to one of the world’s oldest foot races, celebrates winning by virtue of perseverance, focus… and wit.
Recently, I find myself with a lot of totes hanging on a door knob. All presents from friends. Because of this, I have a tote for every purpose i.e. large grocery trips, small grocery trips, art class, for walking Jones. I don’t bother changing the stuff in it. I simply pick up the bag corresponding to my choice activity and — swoosh! — I’m out of the house!
Here’s something that actually didn’t take long to make. What took time was me obsessing my measurements and whether I’m cutting things straight. Yey to my Janome machine! It didn’t eat any of my fabric and did this work totally knot-free. After making my initial project back into sewing. When I first started working, I had all my clothes made! Then over the years, the trade just dwindled away and I was left with no seamstress. What I like best about sewing is that I get to choose and use the colors and patterns I want — be it a dress or as simple as a bag.
For this tote bag,I popped over to Craftsy dot com! There was an online tutorial I studied and went over twice showing how to make a reversible tote bag. The instruction is so clear even a sewing newbie such as myself was able to follow everything and produced something as clean as this — on both sides at that, too.
Trust me on this. I don’t sew. In fact, I only started sewing when I bought my summer colors and machine — which was two days ago.
It’s really quite amazing what a proper sewing machine (and some precise fabric scissors) can do.