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The Narra Filipino Resto Lounge, Petaling Jaya

Despite having a sizable community here, Filipino cuisine is still (imo) underappreciated in Malaysia. Unlike Thai or Indonesian restaurants, which are ubiquitous all over the country, Filipino restaurants are a bit more difficult to find, and their patrons are usually Filipinos, rather than Malaysians. There is one thing to be said about that, though – it usually means that these are the places that serve authentic food for those who crave a taste of home.

One of these restaurants is The Narra Filipino Resto Lounge, tucked within Dataran Millennium in Petaling Jaya. When searching for the best Filipino restaurants in KL, The Narra regularly tops the list – and for good reason. They have a wide variety of dishes from different parts of the Philippines, service is good, and prices and portions are fair. I’ve been here several times, and even celebrated a birthday here with the Hubs. Since my parents have never tried Filipino cuisine, I thought it’d be a good idea to bring them here for dinner on Sunday.

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The decor is pretty much the same from my previous visit: neat, with clean white tables and chairs, and a small stage where a live band performs on weekends. There is a display of baked goods and cakes at the counter, as well as a couple of shelves stocked with Filipino treats and canned goods. It was quiet during our visit, so we didn’t have to wait long for our food.

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Bro and Pops ordered Calamansi juice while I went for Gulaman, which is a syrupy sweet brown sugar drink with a jelly like substance, similar to cincau or agar. It was a tad too sweet even for me, so you might want to skip this if you don’t like sugary drinks.

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Of course, I had to get my favourite order, Sisig, consisting of chopped pig head with onions, chilli peppers, calamansi and egg, served on a sizzling hotplate. The parts of the pig’s head create a medley of interesting textures: you get the crunch from the cartilage, and soft and fatty bits from the jowls and cheeks. It’s definitely not a healthy dish, what with the fat and grease, but it’s oh-so-sinful.

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I usually come here alone, so I haven’t had the chance to try dishes like the Pininyahang Manok, which is chicken braised in coconut milk, pineapples, carrots, potatoes and bell peppers. My parents found the flavour ‘very odd’, but I liked it because it reminded me of Chinese-style buttermilk, albeit with a slightly sour aftertaste. Not a fan of bell peppers in general, but I don’t think the taste was very pronounced. The chicken was cooked well, and the carrots were done just right; soft without being mushy.

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Bro had Embosilog. The name comes from the dish’s three main components: Embotido (pork meatloaf), Sinangag (garlic fried rice) and Itlog (egg). Nipped a bit from his plate and was impressed. The fried rice was very fragrant and the meatloaf was tasty.

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Grilled pork intestines for sharing. I know some people will find it off-putting but I actually enjoy the slightly gamey smell 😛

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The chicken inasal (grilled chicken thigh) was humongous. Among all of the dishes, I think this was my least favourite. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t exceptional either.

PS: If you’re wondering why we didn’t order Filipino signatures like sinigang (a tamarind-based stew) and adobo (pork cooked in vinegar and soy sauce), it’s because my mom has intestinal and stomach problems, and she can’t take spicy, oily, or sour food. Which ruled out many options because a lot of Filipino dishes are sour, and some of the good ones are oily (lechon, crispy pata).

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Having been to the Philippines many times, I think I have a good grasp of Filipino flavours – but I think my parents found it quite foreign and unlike anything they had tasted before. My mom commented that the food takes some getting used to, while my brother said, “I’m not sure what to make of it. With Thai food or Malay food, you get a distinct flavour profile that is easily recognisable. But these dishes are hard to identify.”

They both make valid points. The Philippines has a unique culture, being the only country in Southeast Asia that was occupied by the Spanish for well over 400 years. The cuisine has strong Spanish and Latin influence, which is why you’ll find dishes like adobo, chiccharon, flan, picadillo and empanadas gracing the dinner table in Filipino and Latino homes. At the same time, it also has distinct Malay influences, as evidenced by the Pininyahang Manok we ordered, which uses coconut milk – a common ingredient in Southeast Asian cooking. There are also dishes like the kare-kare (beef tripe cooked in peanut butter, influenced by Indian cuisine), and lumpia (spring rolls, from Chinese culture).

For me personally, I like some dishes, and some other dishes not so much. The hubs says I blaspheme because I don’t like the taste of Choco Butternut, but hey, you can’t expect every single non-Malaysian to fall head over heels with nasi lemak, right? (although I have yet to meet someone who didn’t like nasi lemak, lol).

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The Narra also sells imported products from the Philippines, such as corned beef, banana ketchup (mom: WHAT?) and Mang Tomas (pork liver sauce).

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I usually get Piattos (they call it Jigs here in Malaysia – although it’s super difficult to find these days), but the restaurant was out of stock, so I got some Lucky Mee Pancit Canton to take home instead.

Our meal (plus my snacks) came up to about RM120. I think we went a bit overboard – could have made do with 3 dishes instead of four – but the price was fairly reasonable given the portions.

If you’re Malaysian and curious about how Filipino cuisine tastes like, The Narra is a good place to try authentic Filipino food. If you’re a Filipino residing in Malaysia, the dishes and the atmosphere (the servers sing Filipino songs while they go about their work, and the resto is always playing OPM) will surely remind you of home.

THE NARRA FILIPINO RESTO LOUNGE

G001 Dataran Millennium, Jalan 14/1, 46100 Petaling Jaya, Selangor

Opening hours: 10.30AM – 9.30PM (Saturdays 11.30PM)

Phone: 03-7498 1061

https://www.facebook.com/thenarraresto/

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Review: Ticket To Korea, Setiawalk Puchong

Setiawalk Puchong has seen better days. Once the hottest hangout spot in Puchong, the place has been on a decline, especially in the last few years. There aren’t many restaurants left, but one that has been around since the mall’s inception is Ticket to Korea. Despite having been to Setiawalk many times, I have never thought to try them out — so a recent lunch date with my friend H was as good a time as any.

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The restaurant’s interior is brightly lit by natural sunlight and the space feels cosy and welcoming. A young couple whom I assume to be the owners greeted us enthusiastically, and we were quickly given menus. Aside from authentic Korean fare the likes of bulgogi and pajeon (pancake), diners will also find popular fusion dishes like Korean-style pork ribs with cheese, hot plate cheesy corn, and kimchi quesadilla.

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H ordered a bibimbap bowl, which came in a huge portion — I think it was good enough for two small eaters. It was beautifully presented, with generous heapings of vegetables, grilled pork belly, shredded cucumber, carrots and seaweed, topped off with a fried egg. It was delicious; the sweet and savoury sauce brought everything together really well.

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Despite the sweltering heat outside, I went for the Kimchi Ramen (because I’m masochist that way lol).

The bowl looked fiery red when it came to the table; there were soft slices of tofu swimming within, and the soup’s colour contrasted nicely with the enoki mushrooms and spring onion garnish on top. The soup was the bomb. Some places cut corners and add more kimchi paste, which means you get watery, ‘flavoured’ soup — but with this, I could really taste the texture of fibrous, blended vegetables, and there was a good amount of kimchi within as well. It was thick and sour, perfect for whetting the appetite, and the slight viscosity meant that the soup clung to each strand of ramyeon for maximum flavour. Did I also mention that the pork slices were super tender and had a great ratio of lean and fat?

The owners kept popping by to our table to check if I was okay with the heat. The soup was rather spicy, but hey — what’s pleasure without a bit of pain? *wink wink

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To wash everything down, a cold glass of coffee with condensed milk.
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We had a nice surprise at the end, compliments of the house — ice cream, served on a cold stone plate. They were drizzled over with what tasted like honey, and cookie shavings. Definitely a sweet end to a satisfying meal.

There are lots of good things to say about our dining experience here: the service was impeccable, the dishes that we tried tasted excellent, and prices were not too steep (our meal for two came up to about RM60). I wouldn’t mind a return visit !

PS: They have another branch at Tropicana Avenue, PJ.

TICKET TO KOREA

C-8-1, Block C, Setiawalk, Persiaran Wawasan, Jalan Wawasan 1/1, Taman Wawasan, 47160 Puchong, Selangor

Opening hours: 12PM – 11PM (daily)

facebook.com/tickettokoreafinedining

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2017 in Pictures

It was 2014 when I first had the idea of posting a Year in Review: a ‘recap’ with highlights of each month – as a way to look back on the ups and downs that I’ve been through, and how the experiences have helped me to grow into a better person. Life will never be smooth-sailing all the time – but I’ve been luckier than most, and I count my blessings every day.

This will be the fourth In Pictures post, and I hope to continue this tradition (hopefully!) for many more years to come. 🙂

2017 has been an exceedingly good year. There were a few downs but I’ve mostly been blessed with incredible experiences and great people. This is a personal belief, but I think the ‘personality’ of my Chinese zodiac, the horse, suits me perfectly. Horses love to run free, and likewise, I love to travel around and see new places, so I’ve been very fortunate to have a job that allows me to fulfill my passion.

Without further ado:

JANUARY

Chinese New Year fell on January this year, and the fam and I travelled back to Ipoh, Perak for our annual reunion with the relatives. As usual, the parents ferreted out some places for us to visit while in town, and we visited a Tibetan Temple for the first time.

I think part of my wanderlust and thirst for travel comes from my parents. They might not be physically adventurous in the sense that they like hiking/diving etc., but they will always seek out new experiences and places to visit. We weren’t (okay, still not actually :P) rich, but as a kid, my parents would always bring me to local destinations like Langkawi, Melaka and Port Dickson, or even to KL to see the Twin Towers, ride on the trains, visit the museums, the science centres. I think it’s very important for parents to take their children out to see the world and experience it together. Not just shove an electronic device in their face to keep them occupied, and be done with it.

FEBRUARY

In Feb, the fam and I spent a week in Taiwan, at Taichung and Taipei. The country is beautiful yet modern, with stunning nature and huge metropolises, as well as a rich Chinese culture with notable Japanese influences (from the time they were under Japanese rule). One of my favourite places was Jiufen, a rural town perched on a mountain cliff overlooking the ocean. Comprised of narrow alleyways and old buildings with unique architecture, it was said to have been the inspiration of Hayao Miyazaki’s famous anime, Spirited Away.

Another unforgettable place we visited was Shifen, which had this gorgeous waterfall.

And of course, no trip to Taipei would be complete without a picture of the famous Taipei 101. 

MARCH

After returning from Taiwan, it was off again on more travels the following month, this time to Redang Island on the East Coast of Peninsula Malaysia, for ‘work’. Yes, I put it in brackets because a lot of my friends keep telling me how it isn’t really ‘work’ when I’m enjoying it… but hey, who says you can’t enjoy work?

Okay, so it’s not a 9-to-5, stuck-in-a-cubicle job, but it’s a job nonetheless. lol

Icing on top of the cake for March: a viral story I wrote for a local portal came to the attention of BBC‘s Lifestyle section, and they asked me to write a piece for them. I think it is every writer’s dream to be published in such a big news organisation, and no matter how my writing career goes from now on, I can say I’ve ticked this off the list. 😀

APRIL

Back on the road in April, this time to Australia! The last time I was here was in 1997. It was so long ago that I barely have any memories of it (maybe kangaroos and the Sydney Harbour Bridge) but since it was to Victoria, it was a new experience anyway. It was a short trip but we managed to squeeze in a lot of things (mostly food). Spent two nights in Melbourne and the rest in the rural regions of Victoria, where we stayed at quaint hotels in the middle of nowhere, visited vineyards for wine tastings and ate a lot of delicious Australian-kampung food.

Getting lost in the bush because there was no signal coverage.

Drinking prosecco on a beautiful day out in the sunshine, surrounded by vineyards, at King Valley. 

No rest for the wanderluster! Still had the time/energy to go for a weekend trip with the fam to Kuala Kubu Bahru, a quaint town on the edges of Selangor where they have awesome chicken chop, nice hill views and this vivid pink-staircased temple.

MAY

Took a ‘break’ from travelling, but still had to attend some events for work. Got to interview the veteran Malaysian songstress, Dato Sheila Majid, for the magazine. She was really cool and down to earth, none of that diva-ish air you might expect from someone of her stature.

Discovered the wonder that is 4Fingers Korean-style fried chicken. Yes, they’ve been on the market for some time but it was only this month that I got to try it. Been addicted ever since.

JUNE

Went to my first Musical, Love Story. It was a nice production with great performances and sets, but the bro fell asleep lol.

JULY

The trip that I was really excited for finally came: Japan! As part of a media trip, we traveled to the Chubu (central) region of Honshu, spanning several historic cities such as Kanazawa, Nagoya and Nagano, as well as rural towns where we experienced a slice of the authentic countryside life. In the process, I learnt a lot about Japanese culture and the country’s history, and gained newfound respect for its people. Nowhere will you find such pride and commitment to preserving history and tradition, whilst still being one of the most advanced nations in the world.

Historic Higashi Chaya Geisha District, where geishas still perform in teahouses.

Breathtaking views of the valley at Ainokura Village, one of the last ancient thatched roof houses in the Gokayama region, where its people have lived the same, slow pace of life for centuries.

Coming back from Japan, it was a blow when I heard the news on Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington’s death. I grew up listening to LP songs and it helped me through some dark times. Never has a celebrity’s death affected me in a personal way as much as his passing. It felt like I had lost a friend.

AUGUST

August was a relatively quiet month, but got to make my own snowskin mooncakes ! Ever tried port wine and cheese flavoured ones? 🙂

SEPTEMBER

My favourite month of the year, because it’s birthday month. 😛 There’s also a lazy vibe that kicks in, being the last quarter and all. Kickstarted September with several shows, including one featuring the Sachal Ensemble, a Pakistani traditional music band. Their amazing talent aside, you will be moved by the story of these musicians, who were once celebrated in their native Lahore before war and radical Islamisation silenced their songs.

Daytrip with the fam to Jenjarom, where we visited a tranquil and well kept Buddhist temple called Fo Guang Shan.

The boyfie finally came to visit! Took him to explore (and eat) around Ipoh and KL. I missed him a lot so it was nice to just hangout with each other and do couple-y things. It’s difficult being in a long distance relationship, but we’re working things out and hopefully he’ll be here soon, for good. Fingers crossed.

Found the best tonkatsu in the world (okay, maybe just Malaysia).

OCTOBER

More fam trips! This was planned by the parents coz they heard it from their auntie/uncle friends. I was initially unenthusiastic coz Betong sounded like some backwater hicktown (except Thai version) but the trip turned out pretty fun! It was also quite an experience to drive across the border of a country as opposed to taking a plane.

The best part of the trip was probably the visit to the communist tunnels. Betong was a former communist hideout, and they had base deep within the hills. Today it has been converted into a tourist attraction, but you still need to walk pretty far into the jungle (albeit on a proper pathway) and you get to traverse the tunnels they dug as bomb shelters. Interesting insight into their lives, to say the least.

NOVEMBER

November was really busy. What with all the travelling throughout the year, I burnt a big hole in my pocket so I needed to replenish it with part time writing gigs. At the same time, two members of my staff left so I had to take up their responsibilities. The good news was the comp gave me a promotion + raise – the bad news = drowning in work.

DECEMBER

It was a spur of the moment thing but I decided to buy a ticket to Manila (again) to celebrate the boyfie’s birthday. This is our first year together. It has been like a tempest. We’re both hot-tempered so like Eminem puts it, “it’s like a tornado meets a volcano”.

He’s a tiger, and like a tiger, he’s domineering. I’m a horse, and like a horse, the thing I hate the most is being controlled or told what to do. I like doing whatever I want, whenever I want without having to explain anything to anyone. We’ve both toned down those traits so as not to lose each other. He tries to be less aggressive and domineering in his approach, and to be more mindful of my feelings, I try to be less emotional and be more understanding towards his needs. I’m used to being accountable to no one, but I realise that I’m not alone anymore, and being a couple sometimes requires finding out what the other person thinks/feels before making a decision.

So congrats, I guess you (partly) tamed the wild filly. 😛

That’s all for 2017! Once again, thank you for reading and have an awesome one ahead. Here’s to a brand new year!