Every city girl needs an escape. It doesn’t always have to involve a plane ride or a visa…a quick car ride away from the city smog will suffice. Although jetting off to an exotic, far-off locale would be wonderful, sometimes it’s just not plausible. So you are stuck either dreaming of distant lands, or grabbing your backpack and trying to rediscover familiar terrain closer to home. I choose action over inaction…so C and I did just that.
We spent a fun and relaxing weekend outside Manila’s hubbub, in the city of Tagaytay. Tagaytay is set upon a ridge overlooking Taal Lake and Taal Volcano, a volcano nestled in the middle of the lake. The views are great, and the air clean (compared to Manila) and pleasantly cool. I, and probably most of the city of Manila, have no doubt been there a ton of times, but it is still a nice place to go. Aside from the views and escaping the city heat, you’ve got restaurants to visit, roadside stalls filled with fruits and flowers, and small farms selling organic herbs and vegetables.
We set off early Saturday morning to get there in time for one of my favorite breakfasts in Tagaytay – Humphrey’s Muesli at Breakfast at Antonio’s. I know, strange to travel so far for something quite ordinary…but I love its milky simplicity and that is all the reason I need. We also visited Manos Greek Taverna, a cozy Greek restaurant we had been to before. Manos is a charming Greek man and he uses a lot of products his mother (c’mon, you’ve gotta love this guy) sends him from Greece…including his own olive oil produced by his olive trees back home! I had the Chicken ala Corfu which was redolent with cinnamon and cloves, its flavor sweet and sour care of a veritable mountain of raisins and the juice of calamansi. Although there is no sugar added, the raisins make this dish very sweet…for someone like me it’s great, but if you are not into sweet in your savories give this one a pass. Instead, have what C did: Psari Skaras, a grilled tilapia marinated and basted (by Manos himself!) with a mix of olive oil, calamansi & lemon, and oregano from Greece. Sounds simple, but it was amazingly delicious! It was a tilapia that tasted of Greece…that is the best way I can describe it. Manos’ grilled items are his specialties.
We also had our fill of the local specialties like tawilis (a small freshwater sardine found only in Taal Lake…nowhere else in the world!) and bulalo (bone marrow soup). We warmed ourselves with steaming coffee overlooking the lake and caldera. We browsed through little antique shops and bought local coffee beans and homemade bread. We bought fruits from roadside stalls…sweet-smelling pineapples that seem to grow wild along the countryside.
On our way back home we discovered a small garden called Jardinero’s (which means gardener’s), growing and selling its organic produce. Their bounty included various salad greens (including arugula, hooray!), flat leaf parsley, kohlrabi, squash, baby carrots, rosemary, different kinds of mint, rau rǎm (or Vietnamese coriander), chives, tarragon, cilantro, oregano, spinach, and more that I am sure I’m forgetting. Everything freshly picked as you buy them. They also sell native tomatoes, onions, and ginger. They even had cinnamon bark which they get from the province of Nueva Ecija. As if things couldn’t be more perfect, on top of all these fresh vegetables, they also sold chicharon! Out of place yes, but maybe a sign telling me to return? I guess it is sufficiently clear that I was quite pleased to come upon them!
A short while after, we stopped by the stall of Toscana Farms where I bought gorgeous red capsicums which I will roast and make into a salad. As I was waiting for the lady to prepare my change I noticed a small potted thyme plant. I had been looking for thyme everywhere, and all of my usual sources have been without for a while now, so I snapped it up. Never mind that I live in a flat with no balcony or plant box. At worst, I will at least have some thyme for a couple of dishes. And who knows, perhaps it will survive…sigh, I can dream…