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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

entry arrow3:26 PM | Food Roundup Dumaguete 2016: Healthy Bar by Chef Twine

I am an accidental foodie: I used to write a food column for a local paper and have written extensively about the Dumaguete food scene for national magazines and newspapers -- until I decided to discontinue the enterprise about four years ago. Still, people I know who visit Dumaguete keep asking me about the best places to go to eat, and I've found I no longer quite know the scene. A lot can change in half a decade. So I've decided to try a new approach this year and go about sampling the local food culture once more and document everything online in the course of twelve months. The city has grown and expanded enough in the years since 2011, and a significant part of what's happening food-wise has become unfamiliar to me. Consider this a personal adventure.

A friend of mine has one rule when it comes to choosing a restaurant, especially in another city: “Never ever go inside an establishment that’s practically empty, especially during the peak hours. There must be a reason why nobody’s there.” There you go: a distrust of empty places as functional food criticism. Sometimes, arriving in a foreign city, I do find myself following my friend’s advise — although one can easily make an argument about why a place could be empty: it could be new, and no one has heard of it yet; it could be too experimental, or too exotic, which is not reason enough to stay away. Most of the time though, that distrust is pure instinct that’s right on the mark. When we entered Healthy Bar by Chef Twine right at the height of lunchtime, the cafe right along Aldecoa Drive seemed spectacularly empty, and the resounding chirp of greeting by its lone waitress — “Good morning!” — almost overplayed its cheer: it smelled of relief, and it made me think, “Are we their first customers of the day?” But we’ve been looking for a good alternative for Lokal Organic Cafe, which had closed so abruptly and has yet to make true its promise to resurrect itself in a better venue. We wanted a healthy option for mealtimes; we wanted vegetables! Our first impression was that Healthy Bar has none of the lovely kitsch of Lokal Organic: it reminds you in fact of a dental clinic — all done in immaculate white and dashes of brown and vegetable green — and all with an agricultural theme. It has posters and cut-outs featuring earnest quotes, some of them Biblical, about the virtues of organic farming. The tables are elegant if a bit uncomfortable, and on every tabletop is a plastic jar with greens sprouting from it, a goldfish swimming about in the clear containers. The menu, when it comes, is a sad-looking plastic binder, the kind you use for bureaucratic purposes — but it is filled with all things this “healthy bar” wants to be known for: they have oat meal flavoured with everything from carrot to chocolate to Oreo (ranging from P65 to P70), they have “on-the-go” salad (P75-79), they have organic coffee (native robusta), they have a wheat grass blend (P110), they have mango wine (P69 per glass/P200 per bottle). We asked for their lunch menu — this was, after all, a cafe that bills itself as having a chef — and we are shown a page in the menu that enumerates all manner of “logs,” from tocilog to tapsilog, but with a healthy twist: each dish is served with deep purple rice. And that’s it. I said, “I had no idea you needed a chef to think up a ‘log’ dish.” We chose the chicsilog (supposedly ginger organic chicken) and vegelog (which turned out to be three slices each of tomato and cucumber), and at P75, the dishes were fair for their price, if ultimately unfulfilling. (The eggs however were done just right.) For drinks, we had lember “infused water” (P60), which was basically flavoured water without the guilt of sugar. The slice of green tea cake (P55) we had for dessert was tiny — but thank God for that, because it was hard and tasted like cardboard. It wasn’t altogether a happy meal — but we gave its signature offering a chance to give us back our good mood. The twinebocker halo-halo (P65), a concoction without sugar or ice and just plain fruit, milk, and herbs, was our salvation, truly a delight — and this saved us from pronouncing this meal a small disaster. So, go for the halo-halo, but don’t expect much from everything else. Ordered at 11:30 AM. Order received at 11:55 AM.


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