Of Bulalo, Tawilis and Coffee…

Bulalo – Beef-based soup dish cooked with vegetables with beef bones thrown in the mix. The broth mixture is light. Meat is tender. Best served hot.

Tawilis – This is not a cooking style or recipe. It is the local name of a small-sized freshwater fish that can only be found in the Philippines particularly in the Taal Lake. Until recently, I really have not heard of this fish before. It is supposedly a one-of-a-kind fish species that can only be found in freshwater too.

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24th of the 11th

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Bulalo, is one of the most popular dishes here in the Philippines. Perhaps every Filipino has heard of it. It is a soup recipe that originated in the northern part of the Philippines. That’s the island of Luzon, in case you did not know. If I am not mistaken, story has it that Batangas makes the best bulalos and also came up with it first. Well according to the “legends” as she told me. However, Tagaytay, being geographically close to the supposed source of this savory hodgepodge, also makes one mean bulalo. And the one thing that makes the whole dining experience different with this particular soup is that you are supposed to dig into the bones and eat the marrows as well. It is not bulalo if it does not have that. Go ahead and take spoon fulls.

The tawilis we had were deep-fried. They were my first. Oily, crunchy and appetizing. You eat it whole replete with the fish’s head and tail. Don’t worry about the fish bones. Dip it in some soy sauce, vinegar, or a mix of both. Squeeze in lemons for additional taste. Then just bite in.

These two do not have to be eaten hand in hand. You could always have one without the other. But being that you are in Tagaytay, then why not? After all, these swimming tiny delicacies are unique in that area. That is what I was told.

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It was a cold night in Tagaytay. One lit with the moon’s warm, fuzzy, yet comforting  and doting presence. Hovering slightly above the threshold since way back in Laguna earlier when the slow march to dusk was happening. Like it was clinging on to the earth from which she arose. Maybe one would hardly notice the moon was out in full. One can be forgiven for not knowing right away. But I knew. I have always been aware. It grows on you as time passes by.  Definitely. Surely. How could I not?

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It was a picnic. A late afternoon one at that! Not like how most picnics go. Still on a grassy spot and, as a bonus, by a lake. Most of the time you do these things in the mornings. But this was different. It was not supposed to be, but it just was. No sandwiches (Where is Subway when you need one? Uggghh!) or coffee or orange juice. I should have just made some. Instead we had an assortment of chips and a handful of disgusting-tasting candies. While I suspect some of the crawling and flying insects also eagerly joined in to make a picnic out of us. We had banters and laughters. Many a moment of continued discourse of just about anything and nothing. Pauses. Fleeting silence. At some point flashlight-phones were involved. It was fun.

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Nuvali did not turn out as how I pictured it in my mind. For months I had been painting a different scene of this talked-about location ever since I learned about it. No, I was not disappointed. Don’t get me wrong. The place is really very nice. One could just spend a whole day doing many things out there, I surmise, which is completely against her advice. Rolling fields of green. Man-made lakes. Plenty of trails to go hiking or biking. A lot of dining options if you did not bring your own. Hangout places. There is a big mall in the middle of it all. So one could go shopping too. One just has to be creative. A mixture of the rural and urban landscape gracefully intertwined as the creators envisioned it to be. The thing is that there was just too many people that time. Easily as abundant as the swarms of kois that swam in their fish ponds. In the end it is the company you share it with that matters the most. Everything else just becomes secondary to that fact. And this was what made it all worthwhile.

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Hunting for a respectable bulalo and tawilis spot that night that was not too posh and pricey, yet not rundown as well, was almost a bemusing experience. Still, it was an amusing adventure. We all were not familiar with the places there too. Especially so when tummies were already making funny noises after only eating junk food the whole afternoon. We wanted something that had a local feel in it.

A number of u-turns had to be made. The streets of Tagaytay are narrow and dark at night. Steady streams of traffic as we coursed upwards and downwards searching for the right place. Then some were stretches of emptiness. My ears were popping as the car went higher and higher up the mountains. This is just south of Metro Manila. Quite known as a quick getaway, a short holiday stay, or a relaxing stopover destination. An escape away from the maddening city life of the Metro.

It sits atop a ridge where it overlooks the famous Taal volcano wading within its watery confines of a lake. Temperatures can get mildly cold and the wind breezy up there. Grab a jacket if you plan to head out. Wear warm clothing. I was not really affected by the cold that night and sipping on warm bulalo soup is just perfect for that kind of weather.

Afterwards, we had some original home-brewed coffee and hot chocolate with a slice of cheesecake to cap the night at another popular local cafe.

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Tagaytay was not planned. Nor was the one hour detour to Paseo de Sta. Rosa mall right before Nuvali. For one thing, shopping at the latter garnered us some relatively cheaper shoes to take home. It was one big sale and endless promotions one store after another.

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It was a night to remember without a doubt. Though there was definitely a lack of photo-taking of the principals and the food we partook and the places we visited. Etched in a memory. I sometimes yearn of the good old days when it was all very simple. No smartphones and instant messengers. No distracting and disruptive social media. Stripped off of Internet technology that is both a curse and a blessing, that night were purely moments of genuine and intimate human interaction.