Friday, August 31, 2018

Impressions of Manila

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to put a new stamp on my passport with a quick work trip to the Philippines. The time on the ground was too short, the jet lag was a beast, I spent most of the time working, and I never made it out of the metro Manila area.

Nonetheless, it was a great experience: I took my opportunities where I could get them, and I'm looking forward to returning in a month or so.

Sunset over Manila Bay

The highlights? Well, I've spent way more time in Latin America than in Asia or the Pacific Rim, but I do get around a bit, and I loved the fusion of the three regions overlapping geographically and culturally. I slipped into Spanish on more than one occasion, just because it all felt so familiar.

Open mouth. Insert food.
The food was outstanding, though I didn't really get to dig as deep as I would have liked. Pictured to the right is a pretty typical take-out lunch from a small local fast food chain called "Binalot". Basically, it's a fist-sized lump of rice with a couple of tablespoons of shredded BBQ beef and a wedge of tomato - all wrapped in a banana leaf, and wrapped again in a piece of paper. All for less than a dollar. 

A few things stood out to me regarding Philippine cuisine (what I experienced, at least): They do a lot with balancing sweet and sour flavors; they embrace fish, chicken, pork, and beef equally; and it's not nearly as spicy as I would have expected.  
One of the real striking takeaways for me, however, didn't really happen until I got home. Coffee.

Not all Philippine food offerings are appealing
Several months ago I read a piece over at Funraium Labs about a variety of coffee known as "Barako" that was unique to the Philippines. I'm not going to get into the fascinating history of why the Philippines has a unique strain of coffee known as liberica that's neither arabica nor robusto, but if you want to learn more you can check out this piece here.

As a coffee lover, I was immediately intrigued, and committed myself to grabbing a bag or two while I was in Manila. Though I didn't get to do much recreationally during my time there, I did make it to one of the several HUGE shopping malls, where I was able to find a purveyor of distinctively Filipino foods and beverages. 

I didn't get a chance to try the coffee until I got home, but let me tell you...I am NOT disappointed. The coffee itself, as described elsewhere, does have a faint aniseed aroma when whole, but that doesn't really carry once it's been ground. The color (as seen in the picture below) is pretty mixed - some appear to be roasted medium, some a bit more. I'm not sure if this is deliberate, and frankly I'm not too worried about it.

My preferred approach to brewing is the basic drip/pour-over approach. I'm not a fancy guy, just gimme that hot water bean juice. In this regard, the barako works like any other variety of coffee. There's a distinct sweetness to it, which is striking and quite lovely, and it definitely packs a punch. I don't know where it stands in caffeine content relative to other varieties, but it definitely does the job.

Hot water bean juice.
So, you might ask, "where can I get this delightful coffee without spending a big chunk of money on a 20 hour flight to Manila?"

Well, it's a bit tricky. See, barako is only about 1-2% of the world's coffee, and most of that gets consumed by Filipinos themselves. For whatever reason, it just doesn't make it to the US in significant quantities (sorry to assume that only Americans are reading this, but that's where most of my visitor numbers are coming from).

Nonetheless, ye olde Amazon dot com does have a limited number of options. An 8oz. bag of beans can be found here, and a pound of green/raw/unroasted beans is available here. And if you want to buy 'em green and roast 'em yourself, there's ways to do that at home.

So that's it. More on Manila later.

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