Oct 11

Phat in Tulum: Town Eats

Before I headed down to Tulum, I had read an article about Hartwood, a self-described “Mexican Farmhouse Rustic” restaurant opened by two New Yorkers. I was super excited to try it, and got a table the very night we arrived. But halfway through my $45USD ribeye, which was delicious by the way, I thought to myself, “what the hell are we doing. I could be eating fish tacos right now.” And that, my friends, was the decisive moment that changed the trip. Instead of blowing dough on pricey meals we could be enjoying back home in New York, we decided to head into town and eat some REAL MEXICAN FOOD. at REAL MEXICAN PRICES.

fish tacos urge taqueria tulum mexico
First up: fish tacos! Urge taqueria at the entrance of town serves up some of the best. Their tacos come to you fried or grilled, naked on a tortilla. You get to dress them yourself at the salsa bar, I prefer cabbage, pickled red onions, pico and their creamy avocado sauce on mine.

urge taqueria shrimp taco tulum mexico
The shrimp taco is delicious as well. The three fried shrimp per order makes for a very overstuffed taco.

shark meat appetizer, guacamole, el camello tulum mexico
If you’re looking for fresh seafood, head to the southern part of town, where El Camello acts as part fish market, part restaurant, guaranteeing only the freshest. The fish tacos here are served only until 5pm, but I’d say not to bother with them, Urge does a better rendition. The scene at el Camello is lively, with both locals and tourist sharing ice cold beers and swatting flies away at red plastic tables. We started with a complimentary appetizer – a shredded shark meat dip served warm, alongside guacamole and chips.

el camello tulum mexico shrimp ceviche
El Camello’s shrimp ceviche features an extremely generous portion of shrimp, marinated in lime juice with fresh tomatoes an onion. “The first time I’ve had shrimp ceviche without being able to count the shrimp” – as my dining companion commented.

el camello tulum mexico pescado a la plancha grilled fish tulum mexico
The pescado a la plancha is amazing – the fish is thrown on the flattop grill with a generous amount of butter, and served up with fresh veggies, rice and beans.

arrachera steak
If you’re looking for late night eats in the town, definitely head to el Mariachi along the main strip for an ice cold beer an this arrachera steak. Once I tasted el Mariachi’s skirt steak, I instantly regretted having wasted a meal at Hartwood. Instead, I could have had this super tender, smokey, juicy, perfectly cooked steak for a fraction of the price. Served with a basket of tortillas, nothing could make me happier.

Carne Asada al pastor tacos tulum mexico
Of course no trip to Mexico is complete without a proper al pastor taco. And I don’t mean fancy $9 tacos. I want grimey. I want fluorescent lights, greasy counters, and cheap plastic furniture courtesy of the Coca-Cola Corporation. I found all this and more at Antojitos la Chiapaneca along the main strip. These tacos had to be the highlight of my trip. Watching the taco-man cut slices of al pastor off a turning spit while juice from a pineapple rolled down the side of it made me grin from ear to ear. And the best part? A taco here costs $0.75USD!


Urge Taqueria
Avenida Tulum
Northern end of Avenida Tulum,
Right Side heading south, at entrance to town

el Camello
Avenida Tulum & Luna Sur
Southern end of Avenida Tulum,
Left side heading south
Tulum, Mexico

el Mariachi
Avenida Tulum & Orion
Tulum, Mexico

Antojitos la Chiapaneca
Southern End of Avenida Tulum,
On right side heading south
Tulum, Mexico

Oct 11

Phat in Tulum: Beach Eats

Tulum, Mexico. View from Las Ranitas
Tulum, Mexico. Crystal clear water, lazy beaches, and fish tacos galore, whats not to love? I’d been hearing about this getaway just one hour south of Cancun from several freshly-bronzed, returning New Yorkers, and I was curious. So with packed bags and an empty stomach, we headed south of the border – Viva Mexico!

The town of Tulum is just a one-hour drive from Cancun, and that one hour sure puts a world of difference between you and the Spring Break Cancun is so famous for. The town of Tulum is one main drag lined with restaurants and souvenir shops, but make a left and drive 15 minutes and you’ll be in the middle of paradise. Tulum’s beachfront resorts are where the tourists flock, and for good reason – calm, clear water and white sand beaches. The beachside restaurants are much more expensive than in the town ($6 for a Corona?), but sometimes it just worth it if it means I don’t have leave my lounger.

Mateo's Arrachera tacos, tulum, mexico, steak
At the top of the beach, closest to the town you’ll find Mateo’s Mexican Grill. This is like the TGIF of Tulum, they offer a menu with Mexican classics that anyone can enjoy. But don’t get me wrong, what this place serves up delicious – their plate of three tacos topped generously with arrachera, or marinated skirt steak, is a must try.

Zama's, huevos rancheros, tulum, mexico
Across the road from Mateo’s is Zama’s. If you love huevos, you must try the breakfast at Zamas. They do their huevos over a crispy tostada, delicious!

El Tabano is one of the newer, hipper restaurants on the beach. Items like stuffed ancho peppers, pumpkin mole, meatballs stewed in sweet and sour tamarind sauce show the kitchen’s flair for innovation while paying homage to authentic Mexican cooking traditions. Come to el Tabano for a special meal – the rustic decor, homey atmosphere, and enticing scents wafting from the kitchen to the jungle garden make the experience really unique. And when you come for breakfast, which is available all day, you’ll be served fresh bread and fruit preserves.

Like most beach towns, the farther you get away from civilization, the more isolated (therefore, awesome) the resort is. So skip the popular hotels in town and at the Northern end of the beach. Keep driving until you reach Las Ranitas, an eco hotel located on the southern end. Their rooms are clean, bright and spacious, and every one of them faces the ocean.

Las Ranita's Chilequiles, tulum, mexico
Las Ranitas serves up delicious, albeit expensive, Mexican classics at their hotel restaurant. The Chilequiles were delicious, but there are much better places to dine in the town and along the beach. Enjoy Las Ranitas for their gorgeous rooms, pristine pool, and friendly staff.

Phat Shanghai
Beach vacations are known to bring about a case of the “vacation lean.”

Jul 11

Phat in the Phillipines: Tagaytay

Tagaytay is a little resort town about 40 minutes outside of Manila. It’s perched on top of a mountain overlooking Lake Taal, inside of which sits the world’s smallest active volcano.

tagaytay phillipines lake taal volcano
Yes.. yes.. the volcano is nice and all.. but the FOOD is nicer! The fatness starts on the drive up from Manila. You’ll find sweet white and yellow Japanese corn being sold along the road, Mr. Moo’s fresh cheese stand, Loumar’s ube tarts, and roadside fruit vendors peddling the freshest, sweetest pineapples you’ve ever tasted.

bulalo tagaytay filipino food phillipines beef soup
There’s so much to eat in Tagaytay, I’m not even sure where I should start. I guess with the city’s most famous dish – Bulalo. Apparently, Tagaytay’s cooler climate and mineral-rich grasses produce the best beef, resulting in an incredibly flavorful and savory bulalo soup made from stewed shank and marrow bones. The broth alone is amazing, but spooning out the buttery, melty marrow from the shank bone only makes the experience better. LMZ makes a fine rendition of this dish. Have it with the bangus (fried milkfish) and a heap of rice and you’ll be all set.

fried tawilis fish tagaytay filipino food phillipines
Another Tagaytay specialty is fried tawilis, a sort of freshwater fish related to the sardine. According to wikipedia, these little guys were once saltwater fish, but as volcanoes erupted and the landscape changed, they eventually became freshwater fish exclusive to this part of the Phillipines. Try them fried up and dipped in vinegar. Leslie’s, a chain restaurant with a great view of the volcano, does a great fried tawilis dish. Order anything off their grill to accompany it, you won’t be disappointed!

R. Lapid's Chicharrones pork rinds tagaytay phillipines leslie's
R. Lapids, Pork Specialist, specializes in.. well.. pork. Stop into their store along the main road for a heart-attack inducing dose of crispy fried chicharrones, or pork rinds. They have several different varieties that vary in size, flavor, and spiciness. For the adventurous eater, try the bulaklak, deep fried flower-shaped nuggets of pork organs (for the love of god, can someone tell me what part of the pig I am eating?) that are both crispy and soft/chewy. Incredible when dipped in the accompanying vinegar.

crispy pata tagaytay phillipines
Crispy pata is one of the most memorable dishes I had in the Phillipines. Imagine an entire pork leg (knuckles included) simmered in a spiced broth, air-dried, and then the entire thing is deep fried! For me, eating the pata is all about ratio – got to have a bite that includes both the crunchy skin and the sticky flesh around the knuckle. Dipped in a vinegar soy sauce and served over white rice – crispy pata is heaven!

mr moo's cheese tagaytay phillipines
Mr. Moo’s is a roadside stand that offers fresh cow, goat, and waterbuffalo milks and cheeses. Snap up a block of the freshly made cow cheese and a bag of pandesal and you’ll have a wonderful breakfast. The cow cheese is a lot like Mexican queso blanco, mild and crumbly with a deliciously creamy flavor.


Jun 11

Phat in the Phillipines: Boracay

Now if there is one thing I love more than good eats, it would be good eats on a beautiful beach. Boracay is a great place for just that. If you’ve never been, well, Boracay is one of the most beautiful beaches on earth – powder soft white sand beaches and warm, tranquil aqua blue waters that recede as the sun sets.. resulting in a million little pools along the beach that reflect the awesome Phillipine sunset. Throw in a mango shake stand at every resort along the beach and a great currency exchange rate – I’m there!

There’s something for everyone in Boracay; resorts that offer quiet R&R on the secluded end of the beach, resorts that entice backpackers with 6 shots for free if you drink them in 60 seconds, and resorts that attract the young and sexy crowd with their fancy cocktails and Moby songs blasting out of their speakers. But if there’s anything I’ve learned about beach vacationing – its that you should never book your hotel in advance, and always stay as far away from the airport as possible. As soon as I got to Boracay, I spent an hour walking along the beach and checking out different resorts. Even though it was high season, most places had vacancy and were happy to offer a “walk-in” discount.

MR Holiday, boracay, phillipines
Eventually I settled on MR Holiday – a true hidden gem situated next to the Discovery Sands megaresort at Boat Station One. The rooms were super clean, bright, spacious, and had bumpin A/C (so necessary). The staff was wonderfully attentive and really made me feel taken care of. They have beach beds and umbrellas up front along the best part of the beach, and you can order ice cold San Miguel Lights and mango shakes right to your lounger.

longsilog, MR Holiday, boracay, phillipines
Breakfast is included in the price – be sure to have the longsilog! I did… everyday. Sweet Filipino sausage with rice, an egg, dipping vinegar, a slice of mango, and a fresh pineapple juice was the perfect meal to set my day off.

diving boracay fish eye divers
Boracay is the perfect place for sitting around and doing nothing all day. Need a hat? No worries, someone will come down the beach and sell one to you. If you need a hand-carved Jesus crucifix, they’ve got you covered on that, too. Although I would have loved to sit around on my bum all day, I actually decided to go to Boracay to fulfill my lifelong dream of learning to scuba dive! Boracay’s waters are great for scuba – lots of gorgeous reefs and corals to visit, and the best part – instead of spending two days training in a pool, you can walk right into the ocean! If you’re interested in diving in Boracay, I highly recommend Fish Eye Divers, located next to the Starbucks at D’Mall. My instructor, Peter, was awesome. His patient and calm demeanor made learning scuba basics a breeze. Another thing I appreciated was the new and clean equipment at Fish Eye.

Everyday after classroom activities and a dive, I’d still have a couple hours to catch the sun before it disappeared in a purple, gold, and pink blaze. Post-sunset, I’d wander the beach and eat my face off. A lot of the food in Boracay is rather meh.. you’ll encounter the typical tourist offerings ($10 USD pizza… no thanks), but if you dig a little you’ll also find some gems.

merly's longaburger
Merly’s Longaburger is a cart located just outside of Free Willy Divers near D’Mall. You’ll find her when the sun goes down. At first glance I was not so impressed – longanisa pressed between hamburger buns.. how good could it be? Well, lets just say it was FUCKING GOOD. Merly’s grills the longanisa until its nice and crispy on the outside, slices it up, slathers it with a mysteriously delicious and spicy red sauce, and sandwiches it all between two toasted hamburger buns. So simple, yet ridiculously good. A must try if you are in Boracay.

uni boracay phillipines
My friend had tipped me off to the Phillipines’ abundant amount of fresh and inexpensive uni. I wandered into D’Mall and sat down at any ol’ Japanese restaurant and ordered the uni sashimi. For $300 PHP (about $7USD) you’ll get a huge pile of ridiculously fresh, sweet, crisp uni. You can barely get a handroll for that much in NYC.

Here are a couple more tips if you’re planning a trip to Boracay:
- Try the calamansi lime cupcakes at Real Coffee near D’Mall. They are super dense and limey.
- For a really nice dinner, try the buffet at Discovery Sands Resort. It’s a bit pricey, $900PHP per person, but you’ll get to feast on ceviche appetizers, hot food bar, a grilled seafood and lechon station, and even a halo halo station. But if grilled seafood is your main priority, I’d skip this one as the chefs literally grill the clams one by one… kind of ridiculous if you’re trying to feed a hungry crowd. The service is lovely and the tables are right on the sand at the nicest part of the beach.
- For a cheap, crazy seafood buffet, head towards Boat Station Three and look for the $300 all you can eat buffets. The best ones have lots of smoke emitting from their grills and are crowded with huge Filipino families. Two clues that the food is good! I tried the one outside of Victory Divers and nearly ate my weight in grilled clams and oysters.
- The mango shake with milk at Jony’s Shakes at Boat Station One is delicious. A bit pricey – certainly you can find comparable for cheaper, but I really liked this one after a day of diving. They also have a great longsilog.


Jun 11

Phat in the Phillipines: Cafe Juanita

cafe juanita manila phillipines pasig city
Cafe Juanita is like the Spanish-Filipino version of NYC’s Serendipity. It’s decorated in a maximalist fashion, with all sorts of kitschy knick knacks and unique furniture and light fixtures providing a visual feast while you dine. You go for the eclectic interior decor as much as the fine food.

We started with a few bottles of San Miguel Light and a salad of shrimp and wingbeans dressed in coconut milk-based sauce. Wingbeans are a Southeast Asian specialty. Like snap peas, they have a mild flavor and excellent crunch, which went well with the tender shrimp and coconut milk in this dish.

cafe juanita manila phillipines pasig city crispy lapu lapu
We also tried an order of the crispy lapu lapu, or local grouper. Is it me, or do all Filipino restaurants turn out perfect fried dishes? This lapu lapu was still tender and moist, while the batter was superbly crisp. Paired with a sweet tamarind sauce, this dish was excellent.

cafe juanita manila phillipines pasig city corned beef sinigang
Sinigang is a Filipino soup flavored with guava and tamarind, resulting in a complex sweet and sour flavor. The version we tried was made with corned beef – cooked until it was amazingly tender and fell apart when touched. Okra, chilis, tomatoes, onion, and corn rounded out the flavors.

Cafe Juanita
2 United St
Pasig City, Manila
+68 036 632-0357

May 11

Phat in the Phillipines: Epic Pig Roast at Casa Balbina

There were a lot of things I wanted to do in the Phillipines – see my friend; Anton, lie on a beach, get scuba certified… but most importantly.. I really wanted to see a whole pig being roasted. And then eat it. Ravenously. Luckily for me, my good friend and host, Anton, does this often with his family and was able to arrange a roast during my visit. And so we packed a weekend bag (of elastic waist pants and gut-shielding tops) and headed out to his family’s farm 40 minutes outside of Manila.

Anton failed to mention that his family’s farm, known as Casa Balbina, is paradise. The old farmhouse sits just off the main road, and features some of the most gorgeous light fixtures and original wooden floors I’ve ever seen. We had the pleasure of staying overnight in the farmhouse.

breakfast pandesal
The whole pig roast process would begin early the next morning. Of course we couldn’t start the next day without a bit of breakfast.. sticky rice steamed in banana leaves, eaten with a touch of sugar and freshly baked pandesal. After breakfast, a small pig was slaughtered and prepped for the roast. Have you ever seen a pig being driven? Well, this is what it looks like:

lechon roast phillipines pig
These fellas took turns sitting around and carefully turning the pig on a 10ft long spit. A steering wheel ingeniously attached to the end made for convenient roasting. Every once in awhile, the pig was brushed with palm fronds to redistribute the juices over the skin – resulting in this:

lechon roast phillipines pig
Golden SKIN!

filipino blood cake chicken soup
To go with the lechon, we had a couple more amazing dishes – one being this fantastic blood cake and chicken soup. The soup was a little sour and tangy, with plenty of ginger giving the dish its kick. Chunks of bone in chicken and cakes made with pigs blood and rice made it super hearty. I wanted more but I knew I had to save room for the lechon…

lechon roast pig phillipines
The main course – tender, fall of the bone, moist, fatty, succulent, ridiculously good roasted pork. Served with plenty of lechon sauce – a slightly sweet and tangy sauce flavored with the liver of the pig and thickened with breadcrumbs.

lechon roast pig phillipines
Of course the best part is the crispy skin – and there was plenty of it!

Thank you Anton for the fattest, most amazing food experience ever!

May 11

Phat in the Phillipines: Sweet Treats

Needed a quick escape from NYC… and a serious pork fix. So here I am, eating my way through the Phillipines! I’ve been seriously eating nonstop, alternating between pork, fried pork, fried fish, and double fried pork. But more on that later, I thought I’d kick off my Phillipines blog posts by having dessert first.

halo halo sa buko phillipines dessert ube ice cream
Definitely can’t mention Filipino desserts without the most popular – Halo halo, extra special because it was delivered in a young coconut (buko). Halo halo is all about the textures and layers of flavor – dried sweetened jackfruit, creamy adzuki beans, pandan jelly, chunks of silky flan, coconut cream and lots of other goodies all topped with a scoop of ube (taro) ice cream. If you like Singaporean bobo chacha or Vietnamese che, this is for you.

buko pandan filipino dessert
Buko pandan is a rich dessert featuring pandan (a leaf with a faintly coconut taste and bright green color) jelly, coconut cream, and strips of buko. Delicious, but the cream makes it so that you only need a few bites of this.

bibingka filipino dessert rice cake salty duck red egg
If there’s one dessert you need to try in the Phillipines, I’d say its this – bibingka, or rice flour and coconut milk cake cooked over coals in a banana leaf. It already sounds amazing, but top it with some buko shreds and salty duck egg – and it becomes infinitely more incredible. It’s both sweet and salty at the same time, while the rice flour in the cake gives it an almost custard-like texture.

buko tart pie filipino dessert loumars
Everywhere you go, you’ll see shops that sell buko pies and tarts. Little tartlets with strips of layered buko meat – a nice little treat. (see what i did there) We got ours at Loumar’s.

buko tart pie filipino dessert loumars
Glamour shot. Layers of fresh young coconut.. what more could you ask for?

tagaytay roadside fruit stand
And the best dessert of all – loads of fresh fruit. I’m staying in Tagaytay, a little resort town high up in the mountains outside of Manila where you can get fresh fruit off the side of the road. Pineapple fields everywhere – producing the sweetest pineapple you’ve ever tasted. Fresh mangos, fragrant calamansi lime, jackfruit, baby bananas… this.. is seriously paradise.


May 11

Lollihop for Android

lollihop for android

Here’s a little plug for a project I worked on.. if you have an Android phone and love to eat as much as I do, you’ll need this app!

Lollihop is an app for your phone that can help you locate healthy dishes nearby. Search by ingredient and use it to track the nutritional and caloric content. Sure, you can use its sleek interface to help you reach your dietary goals… or… you can use it to find the closest restaurant serving chicken fried steak / bacon cheeseburgers / disco fries, like myself.

Curious? Check it out here or read a write-up about the app. iPhone users, worry not, it will be available for your device soon!


May 11

Vote for Asia’s Best Restaurants for the 2011/2012 Miele Guide

Never before have gourmand demands in China’s major cities been so spoilt for choices. The diversity of Chinese cruisine has multiplied and fortified throughout the years and Shanghai has ushered an unprecedented boom in the city’s restaurant scene. Young protégés of celebrity chefs and kitchens are immigrating to China from New York and London to open new ventures. It certainly has no lack of gastronomes – it is a nation that is always eager to discover the next hidden gem in the local culinary landscape and certainly one that possesses an abundance of eateries across all tastes, and yet manages to remain unique and invariably exciting.

Celebrating Asia’s best chefs and restaurants, The Miele Guide is an authoritative and independent annual publication which evaluates and ranks restaurants across the regions, which is determined by the votes of an invited jury, professional restaurant critics, a jury of respected foodies and the public. Through a thorough jury and voting system, The Miele Guide gives much-deserved recognition to the establishments that showcase Asia’s culinary landscape.

The Miele Guide is a great resource for discovering world class food across Asia. Take part in recognizing Shanghai’s best restaurants by casting your vote:

The Miele Guide - Vote Now

Mar 11

Phat in NYC: The City’s Best XLB. THE. BEST.

So it’s been awhile since my last proper xiao long bao fix. 8 Months, 27 days, 8 hours, and 27 minutes to be exact. Ok, maybe not that exact. But like a crack fiend jonesin for the next euphoric hit, my craving for a decent xiao long bao in New York City has morphed into a fevered frenzy. Joe’s, Shanghai Cafe, Nanxiang.. just methadone until I can get my hands on the real thing. But luckily for me, I got a guy.

Enter Eddie Huang, aka The Pop Chef, of Baohaus NYC. He tipped me off to a place where I could score some legitimate xiao long bao. I was skeptical, but intrigued. Good XLB in NYC? I dunno man… I mean, first of all the place is called 456 Shanghai. And its not even located at number 456. It’s located at 69 Mott Street! Certainly, if you had the err.. fortune.. of landing an address at #69 whatever street, wouldn’t you go ahead and name it after that? So anyways.. 456 Shanghai. Here it goes:

shanghainese cold dish kofu jellyfish 456 Shanghai eddie huang baohaus nyc
Eddie and I started off with a sampler plate of your traditional Shanghainese cold dishes – kofu (my favorite), jellyfish, marinated bamboo shoots, and some kind of greens chopped finely with smoked tofu. Okay. So far so good. Pretty authentic. I have to say that kofu is the best I’ve had since Shanghai.

xiao long bao soup dumpling 456 Shanghai eddie huang baohaus nyc
We ordered two baskets of dumplings – one crab and pork, one regular pork. They arrived on our table piping hot and billowing clouds of steam. Upon first glance they looked pretty good.. petite and elegant, unlike the enormous American monstrosities served at Joe’s. Xiao Long Bao are a thing of beauty – perfect little pleats, delicate wrappers, pristine soup… they should be just large enough to fit in the well of your porcelain soup spoon. These did. The wrapper was perfect – sheet thin and just barely chewy and strong enough to hold the gush of porky, full-bodied soup contained inside. YES. This is it. I’m actually high on pork. Let me get another hit!

shenjiang bao 456 Shanghai eddie huang baohaus nyc
Another treat you have to try at 456 Shanghai is their Shenjiang bao. I’ve always steered clear of shenjiang bao because they are usually decorated with a slick coating of recycled grease (probably) harvested from the streets of Shanghai. Although I’m sure that same recycled grease is what is flavoring my beloved street xlbs, there is something about seeing the oil on the outside of your food that is so disconcerting to me. But I’m so glad Eddie put in this order of Shenjiang Bao.. they were incredible. The bun was perfectly pan-fried on the bottom, yet fluffy and light on the top. I couldn’t help but give the little suckers a smack just watch them bounce back. And the best part – instead of soggy wet bun surrounding a ball of meat on the inside, 456’s bao magically hold all the juices of the filling intact. Take a bite of a bao and you’ll get the light, resilient bun, which gives way to a rush of warm porky soup surrounding a delicious ball of meat. Amazing.

Here’s a photo of Eddie pointing at some crazy candied ham and Jenga bread dish he ordered. Thanks for schooling me in XLB, chef!

PS – Thanks to my big sis Kechia Ley for the photos. I’ve learned the fine art of outsourcing.


456 Shanghai
69 Mott St
(between Bayard St & Canal St)
New York, NY
(212) 964-0003