Day 13: You are the Filipino Snacks You Eat

So this post is inspired by my previous post on chichirya. Let’s have some fun!

Chichirya or ‘sitsirya’ is the Filipino term for ‘junk food’ although I’d like to think of it as a Filipino term for ‘snacks’. Junk food just sounds like it’s bad for your body. For many Filipino migrants, chichirya is good for your heart.

I think you can tell a lot about a Filipino based on their favourite chichirya. Here goes.

  1. You like Sky Flakes, Chippy’s, Clover Chips or Chiz Curls

Sky Flakes is the most versatile chichirya of all. It comes in all flavours and can be eaten anytime. Like Vilma Santos, Sky Flakes is the Star For All Seasons.

These chichirya are the classics. That means you must have been born in the 60s, 70s or 80s when these snacks were the only thing that ever existed. You must have been one of the first wave of migrants to come to Australia. You’ve got a property, you’ve sponsored at least one family member and you’re probably a community leader.

2. 3. Your pantry is full of bags of Boy Bawang

What would a roadtrip be without Boy Bawang? Don’t watch a Pacquiao match without it. The unbeatable superstar of chichirya.

You’re the sporty type and you love to travel. You live an active life but obsess about Korean drama. Bonding moments with the family are built on hours in front of the TV watching your favourite telenovela or the latest Pacquiao fight.

3. You love Choc-Nut

Choc-Nut is the Picasso of chichirya. It’s not just any chichirya, it’s art.

You’re studying an arts degree or an artist. Forget that the amount of chocolate in every bar of Choc-Nut is a fraction of what you’d get in a Kit Kat, Mars Bar or Snickers, you will still choose a Choc-Nut. It comes packed with memories of your childhood roaming the streets of Manila, playing “tumbang lata” or hide-n-seek until your parents yell out your name out the window telling you it’s dinner time.

Kit Kat is about having a break. Choc-Nut is your own time machine.

4. You eat Maám Inasal

Snack with milkfish? You know the latest trends in the Philippines.

You eat lumpia and bangus as snack? Then you’re either part of the next generation of Filipinos or you’ve just arrived in Australia. You know the latest trends and urban slang in the Philippines and you can’t imagine life without social media. I will probably rely on you to take me to the latest bar next time I’m in Manila.

5. You love Peanuts by Growers

Less Grease Peanuts. I used to love these. I don’t know why but once you’ve had Boy Bawang, you can’t go back to Growers.

Sure, Growers had its day but it’s since been superceded by better nut-based snacks. With or without garlic. Did you ever wonder why a packet of Peanuts Growers is always kulang (not enough)? It’s meant to be for the more health-conscious Filipino. You take comfort in the “less grease” labelling. Although all it means is that you eat twice as much.

I used to love Peanuts Growers but once you’ve had Boy Bawang, you can’t go back. If you still have this in your snack bar, we probably know each other but we’re not really friends.

6. You stopped eating chichirya

You’re even worse than the person who still eats Peanut Growers. I’m taking away your Filipino license. You are banned from all Filipino festivals from now on.

#Day 12. Third blog posting. Yay!

p.s. If you are reading this post and you own Peanuts Growers, don’t be upset. Joke Lang. I am open to all product endorsement deals. 😀

Day 12: Chichirya Me Happy

You are what you munch. Filipino snacks galore.

The word “chichirya” doesn’t exist in the Philippine-Australian language. Ask any Filo-Aussie kid what the word means and they wouldn’t know it, even if they say so while holding a bag of Chippy’s.

I tried to find where the term comes from but I haven’t found a satisfactory answer online. It doesn’t sound Indo-Malay so it could only be a derivative of a Spanish or Mexican word. It refers to Filipino junk food, also pronounced ‘sitsirya’.

The longer you live in Sydney, the less you become attached to “chichirya”. Filipinos love to eat – constantly. We invented ‘grazing’ before it became a Hollywood thing. Our snacks industry is so sophisticated it covers all the meals of the day. There’s the breakfast snack (Sky Flakes), TV snacks (Chiz Curls, Chippy’s, Clover, Oishi Prawn) and anytime snacks (Boy Bawang, Choc Nut).

The latest innovation in the world of Filipino snacks is the Ulam Snacks. Ulam means main meal or main dish so you can literally use these bags of chichirya instead of pork,chicken or fish. There’s ‘Lechon Manok’ (roast chicken) and ‘Sizzling Bangus’ (milkfish).

Taking chichirya to another level. You can use them as a replacement meal.

I don’t know how so many Filipinos managed to stay skinny with the assortments of chichirya available. There’s even a running joke that you know someone is Filipino when they have snacks fit for four people in their bag. My friend once said that if there’s one thing Filipinos are afraid of, it’s not having any chichirya in their bag.

I think the reason Filipinos don’t overdose on chichirya is that life is so hard in the Philippines that where most people in developed countries turn to expensive gadgets as retail therapy, buying chichirya is our life’s little pleasures. But they do cost money so we always have them in (relative) moderation. Most chichirya come in small packets.

Then you move to Australia and suddenly, the “chichirya” here are easier to afford and come in “large” servings. I remember my brother and I bingeing on Kettle chips and chocolate Moove while watching TV after school. It was ‘chichirya’ heaven of the imported kind. Good bye Choc-Nut, hello Lindt Chocolate, Violet Crumble, Kit Kat, Tim Tams, Snickers, Mars and more.

There are plenty of chichirya from the Philippines that I still get nostalgic over, including Choc Nut, Pretzels (the Filipino version), Pili Nut and Boy Bawang. But knowing what I know now about the empty calories in them – and the high salt and sugar content – I have purposely avoided them when I go to Filipino stores.

The corner shop may be disappearing in Sydney but they are ever-present in the Philippines, thanks to chichirya.

But old habits die hard. I just finished shopping at Aldi and there was nothing in the snacks aisle that appealed to me. So I crossed over to the Korean supermarket across the road and bought the corn chips, cooked the way they do back home, as opposed to the healthy version available at Aldi, Coles and Woolies.

The moral of the story is that chichirya will always be a part of the Filipino culture. Some move on to the upmarket and health-conscious brands (chips made of kale, bean snaps and carrots!) while others still pay the premium for the chichirya they loved back home.

So when a Filipino offers you some Chippy’s, you may find it too salty or too unhealthy on first bite. But do say thanks, when you are offered chichirya, it’s not just about offering you food, they are welcoming you into the family.

#Day 12 (second make-up blog for Day 10)

Photo credit: Google images.

Day 10: One Penny Red in Summer Hill

Well, it was bound to happen. Friday was hectic, Saturday was just as busy so I wake up on a Sunday morning two blogs behind (Fri, Day 10 and Sat, Day 11).

The plan is to write three posts by midnight today – I’ve got a couple of things to do so finger-crossed!

This one is about friendships and food.

If there is one constant in my life, it would be my Uni friends. The same bunch of people I first met when I was an 18-year-old freshman at Sydney Uni. I am amazed (and feel fortunate) that our friendship has survived through the years. A couple of us left for London for a few years, came back, and the distance didn’t change our relationship.

How do we keep the bond strong? Food!

Everyone in the group loves good food. I know that everyone’s a self-proclaimed foodie these days but I’m talking about a time before Instagram and food pics. And I can’t remember a time, ever, that we went to KFC, McDonalds or any place where bad food is served, even during our broke Uni student days. The closest would have to be Pancakes House (but only because they open till late).

Over time (and better salaries), we bonded over conversations held at some of the best brunch cafes in Sydney, the top yum-cha restaurants around town and my favourite: home-cooked dinners (my friend Sharon is French-Mauritian. Her dad was a luxury-hotel chef). No matter how busy we all are, we make time to see each other at least once every few months and always somewhere where good food is served!

On food and friendship Photo Credit:

Our latest catch-up was over the weekend at a place in Summer Hill called One Penny Red. What’s good about the place? Parking! I know it sounds crazy but any Sydneysider will tell you that the only reason we would stay away from Newtown or Surry Hills is not because we wouldn’t love to try out the new places there but because parking is impossible. By contrast, One Penny Red is slightly away from the hustle and bustle, crossing over to residential area, which means there’s plenty of offstreet parking around.

The restaurant has won the 2017 Small Bar Awards in Australia, thanks to its bar area called ‘Vernon’s Bar’. On the surface, there’s nothing special about the design of the space but the wine collection looks pretty diverse and carefully curated.

As for the food, we opted for a custom menu:

Goose liver parfait, quince jam with sourdough bread
Salt cod fritters with smoked chilli mayo
Roasted king prawns with bisque butter
Whole rainbow trout with broad bean, zucchini flowers and sugar snap beans
Beef short ribs

And finally, for dessert, passionfruit tart and banana beignet.

The food gets top marks and the reason I’ve included the menu here is to remember who the conversation went. Over sourdough bread and goose liver parfait, we spoke about the challenges of working mothers in the workforce. The need for flexibility when it comes to office hours and how some around the table feel ‘judged’ when they have to go early to get to the daycare on time.

Then there’s the guilt around that: you can’t quit work because you need to cover daycare expense but at the same time you don’t want to miss out on that precious first two years of your child growing up.

We moved to the fritters. Sue talks about her Christmas plans. She is going to spend it in New York with her sister’s family. Her sister owns a three-bedroom house in Manhattan. In Manhattan! That is crazy-good.

We had to stop talking when the king prawns were served. What a simple dish and yet so delicious. I’m thinking about making them at home one day. So lucky to live in Sydney where King Prawns get to the size of lobsters!

It was when the rainbow trout was served that things got serious. Not for this blog but it’s not the first time yesterday when someone drops some big news mid-mains. From break-ups, to new relationships, to pregnancies, to weddings, marriages, separation and everything in between, they are all shared around the dining table. The good thing is, it never ruins anyone’s appetite (except that one time at Phoenix Restaurant just before we were digging into some seafood…). You have to take the good with the bad. That’s what friendship is about.

Alas, I had to dash to meet my mom so I hastily said goodbye before the desserts came in (sacrilege!). Story of my life: so many things happening that I miss out on some of those moments I wish I could be present at. The banana beignet conversation was one of them.

Passionfruit tart and banana beignet. Photo: TripAdvisor

I highly, highly recommend One Penny Red. It was buzzing last night and I’m not surprised – something about those huge bay windows and the fact that it’s a historic building. Built in 1900, it used to be the Post Office where mail was sorted on the second floor (now Vernon’s Bar).

One Penny Red used to be the local Post Office before it was converted to a restaurant.

I can’t wait until the next time.


p.s. of course, we had cocktails.

Photo credit: Google images

Day 2 of 30: All hail, coffee

First, the location. Sydney CBD. Closest train station: Wynyard. As a City worker, my universe is bordered by George Street in the East, Margaret Street in the North, Sussex in the West and King Street in the South.

If I were a character on Game of Thrones, this is my King’s Landing.

Around here, coffee is the cup of life. The day can’t start without it and the day ends because we can’t have anymore. If we are not talking about coffee, we are thinking about coffee. The earth is round and at the centre of it is good coffee 😀

So, tea drinkers, look away. There’s nothing here for you. Nada. Not a leaf. At best, some of these places do a decent peppermint. But this post is mainly for coffee snobs. 😀 Here are my Top Five:

83 Clarence Street

Want your coffee strong and heavy? Nook is your spot. This cafe is as hipster as it gets. It has won awards and stuff. Even has its own coffee pilgrims. Sometimes I think it’s a tad overrated but maybe I’m just spoilt for choice. It is included here because, for first-timers, Nook delivers a good range of beans and sometimes, I just want to be walking around with a coffee cup that comes with Nook’s oh-so-cool packaging. 😀

Pavel & Co
222 Kent Street

Another good café and with the best crispy pork belly and brown rice lunchbox in town. I come to this place ALL the time. Hmmm, crispy pork belly. Sorry, I’m easily distracted by crispy pork belly. But I would go as far to say that Pavel’s is even better than roast pork from BBQ King in Chinatown (there, I said it). That’s a big statement coming from me. Pavel does a range of salads (kale, beetroot, etc.) and they are on point. In my eyes, Pavel can do no wrong. Lunch, coffee, cronuts. Hmmmmm, cronuts.

Enter via Erskine Street

Then there’s this cafe you wouldn’t know exists unless you’re a true local. It’s called Yola (short for “York Lane”). This is probably the most Melbourne-esque of the bunch. The coffee is average but you come here to be away from the hustle and bustle. It’s like a lovers hideaway or a secret drop-off point.

Highly recommend: Sit at the front and pretend you’re a secret agent about to receive classified documents. Fantasy comes complete with expensive French trench coat and dark Gucci sunglasses.

york lanePanzerotti Bistro
60 Margaret Street

But my two favourite cafes at the moment are on opposite sides of my coffee zone. Panzerotti on Margaret Street and Micro at Barangaroo.

Panzerotti just changed baristas two months ago so I’m grieving. The new guy is okay but a good barista is like an ex. It’s very hard to let go. I’m getting coffee from him but I’m keeping my options open.


23 Barangaroo Avenue

Micro, on the other hand, is the new café on the block. I’m supporting it because it is owned by Hazel de los Reyes, the same person who started the award-winning cafe in Marrickville called Coffee Alchemy. Also, she’s a Filipina. A Filipina barista who won Barista of the Year several years ago. Her coffee philosophy is not an art or science. It’s a religion.

 At home and in the office

But my coffee obsession knows no bounds. I have a nifty Nespresso in my office and a coffee machine from Aldi at home. It’s not about having the most expensive stuff. Aldi’s homebrand does the job and Nespresso equals George Clooney (Damn you, clever marketing!).

Sometimes I wonder whether I should quit. Then I see people having coffee and think … nehhhh. That’s just silly talk.

What about you? Yes, you. What’s your favourite coffee spot?

Photo credit: Google images

P.S. Look Ma, Day 2 of my 30 Days of Blogging

Eat like the French

The moment of truth: less than eight hours after arriving at the Sydney airport, I tentatively stepped on my bathroom weighing scale. The type of desserts I had in the past two weeks flashed before me: several rounds of creme brulee, croissants, the tarte pignon from St. Tropez, the baby trop, the grand trop, desserts every day on the cruise… I’ve never had this much dessert in my life over a three-week period.

Then I thought of the copious amount of red wine I drank (more than I’ve ever had over the same time period), the three-course meals, the pasta lunches…

Then the visit to an all-you-can-eat chocolate shop and all the snacks I ate during my 21-hour long flight back home…

This isn’t going to end well.

But, but, but…

I looked at my weight … 54.1kg … a few hundred grams less than when I left Sydney.

I actually LOST weight after all that eating.

How can it be?

Yes, I walked and ran and stayed fairly active but this is a better outcome than I expected!

The only logical explanation for it is this: French food does not make you fat. More red wine?

Nine reasons why I love going to Filipino fiestas

I’m sure you have your own reasons why you attend Filipino fiestas. Here are my top nine, in no particular order.

1) No one judges you if you eat all day, on the hour.

2) If a Filipino owes you money and you haven’t seen him/her, he/she will be at the fiesta.

3) Because everyone will be there, karaoke machines in thousands of Filipino households everywhere will finally get some rest.

4) If you have a stall, the fiesta will test your hustle. If you don’t own a stall, the fiesta will test your skills on how to say “no” in 100 ways.

5) Everything costs $5.

6) If something costs more than $5, you can get your mom/dad/auntie/uncle/cousin/friend to pay for it.

7) There will be a beauty contest. This is the only time judging someone based on their swimwear is perfectly acceptable.

8) You can buy a parol (Christmas lantern) here, even if it’s not Christmas yet.

9) If you are eating all day, you can have Filipino breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert dishes at the same time, on the same plate, and eat them in any order you so desire.


Meet the Tea Master

I’ve found a new appreciation for Chinese tea after discovering a tea house on Military Road in Neutral Bay. My friends and I decided to go for a short stroll along this main street after a filling meal at Japaz. We spotted the Tea House from across the road, standing out like a beacon as it was the only shop still lit up at 8pm on a Saturday night.

With a beautiful window display of Chinese tea sets, tea cannisters and tea boxes, the shop drew us like a magnet. We decided to come in for what was intended to be a quick browse but the owner, dressed in a traditional Chinese outfit, asked us if we had time to sit down for a cuppa.

And that’s where the fun began. You wouldn’t think there’d be any fun going to a tea house but one of my favourite movies of all time is “Kung Fu Hustle”. The shop reminded me so much of the movie, mainly because the background music sounded exactly like the traditional Chinese music performed by the Chinese harpists/kung fu masters in the movie. While Master Raymond don’t look anything like Bruce Lee, he looked the part (to me, anyway!), looking very unassuming in his light brown Chinese tunic. I imagine him to be like Clark Kent – taking of his presciption glasses and, voila! Ninja!

Looking around, surrounded by beautiful wooden oriental furniture, tea sets with Chinese inscriptions, silver tea cannisters, horses made of jade, three-legged toads and all things Feng Shui, I felt there must be a backdoor somewhere and that the shop is really a portal to 18th Century China or something. But of course that’s just my imagination running wild.

Master Raymond, as I called our host and ‘tea master’, served us our first cup of tea – a white tea –  and began to talk about the differences between the Chinese tea that he serves and herbal tea. We were all ears – like kung fu cadets listening to Si Fu (master). My friend Cam is an avid tea drinker and was firing questions like she was about to take a tea exam:“What’s the difference between Oolong Tea and the other tea? What is the best temperature? I drink Oolong tea at night, is that good?”

Master Raymond took all our questions in his stride and answered them dutifully. I am sure he would have heard variations to the same questions but he indulged us, eager to pass down his knowledge of enjoying “quality” tea.

“Drinking tea is not just drinking tea. It’s a lifestyle,” he said.

I, on the other hand, just came from Jamaica and had some interesting questions to ask. Though let me preface this by saying they are mere questions and not something I would act upon. These were questions I asked after he gave us white tea to drink, then red tea, and then finally, black tea, illustrating the differences between the taste of these teas and the difference between the colour of the tea leaves and how they are processed.

I asked, “Master Raymond, can you … smoke this tea?”

Laughter. I don’t actually recall him giving an answer although one of the tea drinkers said that he’s sure it’s possible although what effect it would have is something else.

I also asked, “Master Raymond, can you … mix vodka with this tea?”

Once again, laughter. Although Master Raymond took this question seriously and had a frown on his face, probably going through the directory of tea he knows to get me an answer.

Again, his guest, who wasn’t part of our party, but is a regular at his tea shop, theorised that the white peony tea, iced and cold, will go well with vodka.

9.30pm and it was closing time. Our party definitely learnt more about good quality tea and I thoroughly enjoyed the complimentary green tea cookies that came with our tea. The plan now is to save up to buy what Sue called the Rolls Royce of tea, raw puerh tea of a certain vintage year. I can’t remember the details as, believe it or not, you can get drunk on tea.

“So, Master Raymond, all these tea give you “long life”, is there a tea I can buy that will make me rich? Like a ‘wealth’ tea?”

He laughed, and answered. “See, this here?”, he said, pointing to the surroundings. “Enjoying cups of tea with your friends and being happy. That’s wealth. So yes, there is [such a thing] as wealth tea, too.”

My Tea House
3-5 133 Military Road
Neutral Bay

Michelle Baltazar is the author of a new travel book called “Love, Manila: 10 Days, 10 Discoveries”. You can order the book here.

A beginner’s guide to Filipino cuisine

A lighter take on the serious question ‘what is Filipino food?’

The best way to master Filipino cuisine is to dive straight into the deep end: gatecrash a Filipino party, preferably a fiesta.

It is only in the middle of it all, with your plate in hand, staring at a long buffet table of meat dishes, and a much longer table for desserts, that you will discover a Filipino truism: there’s no such thing as too much meat or too much dessert.

Once you’ve overcome the cultural shock of seeing guests eat their mains and desserts at the same time, go ahead and approach the buffet table. Go for the food tray that looks almost empty – it is guaranteed the same tray only minutes ago had adobo, kare kare or bistek.

Adobo served at Isdaan restaurant in Tarlac

Adobo served at Isdaan restaurant in Tarlac

Of course any big occasion calls for spit roast pork or lechon. If you want to impress Filipinos with your culinary knowledge, try the line: “I love lechon!”

You can say this to them anywhere – in bus stops, at the local café or at church.

And now for the mains, which is the desserts. You must try the Filipino fruit salad. With this dessert, fruit is an afterthought. Instead you will come to enjoy heaven made of slivers of young coconut, palm jellies, heavy cream and sweetened milk.

But don’t overdo it, save some space for the important stuff: biko, puto kutsinta, bibingka, maja blanca, leche flan and turon. As many Filipinos would attest, it is possible to eat all of it in one sitting.

But on that basic question: ‘what is Filipino food?’, do not expect a definitive answer.

An acceptable but still vague way to describe Filipino cuisine is to say it embraces many cuisines, with some serious Spanish, Indo-Malay and Chinese influences.

Filipino dishes are not spicy or light in the stomach like most Asian dishes nor are they too buttery or heavy in the stomach like most European dishes. It floats between the two, adopting the best of both East and West flavours.

If that answer is not good enough, don’t expect an explanation from your Filipino friends. They are too busy eating.

A slice of Italy in Sydney

In one week I’ve been to two of Sydney’s best places to be if you love all things Italian. One is old and one is new. Beppi’s on Stanley Street is a fair way away from the maddening crowd of the city and, while some people say it’s lost its sheen, I love the olde-worlde feel of staff greeting you as if you were visiting a family restaurant (it is!) and having a hearty home-cooked meal (the entire menu did look hearty and the pasta were all home-cooked!). In one corner of the resto was a group of young-ish kids (maybe in their 20s) having lobster (!) and on another, a group of about seven women, many of whom looked like they were in their 70s (?) celebrating a birthday.

I feel bad that the chef might think that I didn’t like my meal – started off with portobello mushrooms then to angel pasta with crab meat, prawn and lobster (I think). But the truth was, the meals were so generous and were sized for men about to go play in the field or till the land, not a small Asian woman! But they were delish and the brulee tart with vanilla gelato (and espresso) to finish off were just as yummy. Alas, so much food but not enough time. It was the sign of the times certainly that we left at the respectable time of 2.30pm, hardly a long lunch.

A few days back I had coffee with another friend at Fratelli Fresh on Bridge Street. Again I’ve never been to the place but everyone’s been raving about it since it opened late last year. I swear for a second I thought I was in Melbourne. The vibe was definitely there and with the selection of wine they have? I’ll definitely be back.

Another person from the industry asked me how I feel about the idea that being based in Australia, many of my relatives back in the Philippines see me as a breadwinner, someone they can rely on for funds specially when work is scarce back home and many live a kayod-tuka (v poor) existence.

Wow, that’s the first time anyone’s ever asked me that. I told him I feel blessed that I’m the one giving. That I am fortunate enough to be the person who has the opportunity to give and that, in the past, I’ve struggled with it but have now come to terms with it. Sometimes I wish I can buy all the designer clothes or designer bags or designer shoes I want – but instead that money goes back to the Phils. But who needs another extra pair of shoes anyway, right? So I let that selfish thought of accumulating more (unnecessary) material things pass through my mind for a second, savour the idea of owning yet another new item, then I move on and share the money instead with those who need them for basic needs, not for frivolity.

So anyway, I read from this book that one South American tribe have a different concept of numbers. They can only count up to five! That’s why when an anthropologist (?) visited them and stayed with them, he got used to this measuring system and on his return to America, struggled to quantify time and money when the right number is more than five.

I think there’d be less inequity in the world if we adopt this simpler numbering system. Imagine what it would be like when the passage of time, the measure of wealth and the measure of happiness can be assessed from a scale of 1 to 5?

Imagine what it would be like when infinity can be described as having more than five pairs of shoes!