Friday, August 9, 2019

My Personal Picks at the The Peninsula Manila's MaArte oPEN House Preview

The country's finest gourmet selections converge at The Peninsula Manila once more for the much-awaited yearly art and shopping event...the MaArte Fair.

Now on its 11th year, the MaArte Fair showcases Filipino creativity and artistry from August 16 to 18, 2019 at The Peninsula Manila with a festive mix of local products. From single-origin chocolates to gourmet home-cooked meals, organic produce and herbal teas, fashion apparel, jewelry and accessories to bags, shoes, pottery and home furnishings, this year's MaArte Fair promises both fun and nostalgia with over 65 hand-picked merchants. At the exclusive preview last August 6 at The Peninsula Manila's Escolta, guests sampled some of the tasty offerings for this year's edition at the MaArte oPEN House. Here are my personal picks... 

Drawing inspiration from the famous open-house parties at the timeless North Syquia Apartments, one of Manila's historic buildings from the 1930s, this year's MaArte oPEN House recreates that same laid-back vibe and inspired energy of the posh residential units and their famous parties. Residents of North Syquia Apartments would open their doors to welcome guests once a year for cocktails, comestibles, live bands and art performances. Good times.

"The parties in those apartments were really mellow in mood, very creative, and had a particular warmth to it. Everyone knew  each other, so it just seemed natural that friends would bring friends along to their homes and their neighbors' homes. It was one big community where everyone felt safe and welcome," reminisced Phyllis Zaballero, prominent visual artist and Vice President of the annual fair's organizer, the Museum Foundation of the Philippines, Inc.

With each edition becoming bigger and more successful than the last, guests and shoppers can expect so much more at the 11th MaArte oPEN House. "This year, our answer was to take inspiration from that iconic social gathering as we celebrate the relationships that have been made not just among merchants, artists, and artisans but also among our regular patrons. MaArte Fair has really become a sort of neighborhood of advocates for Philippine art, crafts, and heritage," explained architect and MFPI Treasurer Mico Manalo. This year, The Peninsula Manila is allocating two entire floors for the MaArte oPEN HOuse, recreating the elegant salons and lounge areas of the famous North Syquia Apartments. And it's for a cause, so go ahead and shop. To get you started, here are some tasty finds...

House of Bacolod

The House of Bacolod by Creative Definitions offers a curated selection of Bacolod's finest artisan brands such as Casa Carmela, Felicia's and Virgie's. Their impressive portfolio of local Negrense products showcase some of the finest artisan finds, like the traditional Piaya from Virgie's Homemade Products made with unleavened flour with a sweet muscovado filling sprinkled with sesame seeds for that subtle crunch. What started as a hobby back in 1979 for Virginia "Virgie" Chua has blossomed as one of Bacolod's much-loved brands for premium homemade treats. Today, Virgie's Homemade Products' extensive offerings include not only local delicacies like barquillos and lubid lubid but indulgent pastries like tarts, cookies and puff pastries. The Piaya of Virgie's Homemade Products has that soft and flaky texture everyone looks for in the Negrense delicacy, followed by the nutty sweetness of the muscovado. There are stories behind each flavorful find at the MaArte oPEN House, and you can discover each of their inspiring stories one tasty bite at a time on August 16 to 18 at The Peninsula Manila

The House of Bacolod also carries what is undoubtedly the very best ensaimada of Bacolod. Felicia's Pastry Shop is one family's testament driven by a dream of bringing the sweet taste of Negros to the national stage. It's another inspiring story that began with sisters Fely Lacson Montelibano and Sony Lacson Cometa in their home kitchens churning out decadent cakes like Sans Rival in a variety of flavors and Frozen Brazo as well as local delicacies including Turron de Pili, Pili Crumble and their signature Ensaimada. One bite and you'll immediately notice that the ensaimada is heavier, chewier and denser than the regular variety delivering just the right balance of sweet and salty notes from the cheese and perfectly finished with a buttery richness. This could very well be the best ensaimada in Bacolod.

Casa Carmela offers Bacolod in a bottle redefining heritage Filipino recipes with its range of small batch artisan products. Millie Locsin Kilayco started the business more than a decade ago and is now known for their witty and innovative take on local flavors like the Sexy Squid, Squid Sisig and Crispy Dilis Chips. Casa Carmela offers a wide range of products from seafood to chips, dips and sauces but it's the Pitaw that had me at first bite. Tender and crisp shredded strips of adobo-style wild rice field birds such as snipes or quail deliver big and bold flavors, draping your palate with a savory richness. Great on toast, even better with garlic fried rice and fresh tomatoes. Casa Carmela always has something new to offer, and this one's clearly another winner. Bacolod in a bottle? Absolutely. And then Casa Carmela (for more on House of Bacolod by Creative Definitions, visit their FB Page at

Tsaa Laya

Inspired by local herbal traditions, Tsaa Laya redefines the tea experience infusing organic local herbs, fruits and spices in their premium tea blends. Their exotic tea blends warm both the palate and body with their subtle yet invigorating notes, allowing you to rediscover tea with a new and proudly local perspective. The unique blue tint of Tsaa Laya's Bughaw Butterfly Pea Flower Tea catches your eye, and one sip calms and soothes you in no time. The refreshing floral infusion adds a fragrant sweetness with every sip, followed by vibrant hints of pandan, mint and lemongrass.

It's this intimate and novel approach to tea blends that make Tsaa Laya stand out from the usual and more common options in the market. With its premium teas packed in elegant tins, Tsaa Laya is ready to take on much larger markets. And it's about time too. Founded in 2012 as a social media enterprise to provide livelihood to relocated typhoon victims, Tsaa Laya partners with rural communities with integrated herbal farming and tea processing facilities supporting numerous families. Today, Tsaa Laya has two community partners, the Calauan Tea Vilage in Laguna and Kiangan Tea Village from the Cordilleras. Both communities offer lowland herbs and cool climate tea varieties for Tsaa Laya's unique blends. Every sip goes a long way in supporting these communities. And just like many of the products featured at the MaArte oPEN House, there are inspiring stories behind each one.   

That day, Tsaa Laya featured their new tea infusions with local cacao for a new flavor experience. Using cacao husks and roasted cacao nibs, the deep and nutty notes of local cacao add a distinctive layer of flavor to the new Tsaa Laya Pure Cacao tea blend. You can also pair your cacao-infused teas with Tsaa Laya's single origin chocolates like the Bohol Origin Chocolate by Ginto and Davao Chocolate Medallion by Hiraya, each one prepared and packed in Calauan. From bold notes to subtle fruity hints, Tsaa Laya's artisan chocolate completes your tea experience.

The Tsaa Laya Cacao Mint combines the full-bodied flavors of chocolate with the refreshing sharpness of mint in another exquisite tea blend. And there are even more exciting things brewing at Tsaa Laya. Discover Tsaa Laya's vision and mission for tea with a local perspective at the MaArte oPEN House, and have another cup (for more on Tsaa Laya, check out their website at

Green Babes

Green Babes was established back in 2011 by two friends, Bopeep Arroyo and Zerla Mayuga, with one goal, to make top quality gourmet food items available to everyone. And along the way, promote the local food industry. Bopeep and Zerla present their hand-picked selections offering both flavor and wellness in a variety of products, including bottled vegetables and seafood. After all, living a healthy lifestyle doesn't mean cutting back on flavor.

The comforting and soothing heat of Bicol Express is recreated in a jar by Green Babes that's perfect as a dip, sauce or an ingredient for dishes. Available in Pork and Tinapa variants, these jars are packed solid with flavor. The bottled Boneless Bangus in Olive Oil is another must-try from Green Babes.

Each bottled product is made with absolutely no preservatives or MSG so you can enjoy real and honest flavors. But it's the Organic Eggs that make Green Babes really special. From fresh chicken eggs to salted duck eggs and the iconic balut, Green Babes is definitely serious about their eggs.

The salted eggs are silky smooth in texture, with just a whisper of salty hints to balance the richness. In both flavor and texture, the salted duck eggs by Green Babes are one of those tasty finds that make the MaArte oPEN House at The Peninsula Manila the eagerly awaited shopping and culinary event of the year. 

Then, there's the popular but notorious balut. Personally, I don't really look for this iconic street food delicacy. But if the salted duck eggs from Green Babes nailed it, I might as well give this one a shot.  

And I'm hooked. The balut from Green Babes are not more than two weeks old, so it really is balut without the fear factor. Crack it, sip it, and take a big bite. And you'll want another one. Seriously. Bring home a dozen of the salted duck eggs and add some balut to your basket from Green Babes at the The Peninsula Manila's MaArte oPEN House (for more on Green Babes, visit their FB Page at

iBuen Provecho! by O & M Home

Kat de los Angeles adds a flavorful expansion to her successful homeware brand, Oliver & Maude Home, with a line of all-natural gourmet dips and tapenades made with ingredients sourced from small farms across the country with iBuen Provecho! by O & M Home. Pili Laing Jam, Wild-Caught Bagoong Fresca, Tuyo con Picante and Spiced Green Mango Jam (try it with some cream cheese), that's just some of the tasty offerings from iBuen Provecho! by O & M Home. Her venture into food is a logical extension to her business, showcasing the best of Filipino arts and craftsmanship with local and regional flavors. 

The sharp notes of the Wild-Caught Bagoong Fresca doesn't overwhelm the palate. Instead, one savors fresh and clean flavors that's perfect as a dip for vegetable sticks or even crackers. As a condiment and ingredient for cooking at home, iBuen Provecho! by O & M Home's Wild-Caught Bagoong Fresca offers so many tasty possibilities.

The Pili Laing Pesto Jam is another unique dip or spread from iBuen Provecho! by O & M Home made with dried gabi leaves, pili nuts, calamansi, garlic, Himalayan Pink Salt and olive oil. Nutty and mildly salty, it's perfect with crackers, sandwiches and as a condiment or relish for meat, chicken and fish.

The Atun y Queso is another versatile product that can be used as a dip or pasta sauce. There's a creative style to flavors much like their approach with the intricate designs of their homeware line and embroideries, boldly innovative weaving fresh flavor blends from local ingredients. Style meets flavor, and iBuen Provecho! by O & M Home does it elegantly.

From sweet and creamy spreads like Creme de Chocolate (L) to the rich Mantequilla Picante (R), a butter spread with chili and chorizo, iBuen Provecho! by O & M Home is another tasty find at the MaArte Fair (for more on iBuen Provecho! by O & M Home, check out their website at 

Felicisimo Gourmet Homecooking

Another proudly homegrown and community-based brand showcases their artisan bottled products at this year's MaArte oPEN House, Felicisimo Gourmet Homecooking. Sourcing most of their ingredients from Bataan, Felicisimo Gourmet Homecooking aims to reconnect consumers with food and health using only the freshest local and organic ingredients with all-natural herbs and spices for all their bottled gourmet products. It's pure freshness in a jar, without preservatives, MSG, chemicals or anything artificial for real and clean flavors. Felicisimo Gourmet Homecooking works with local housewives outside their village for their extensive line of products, and that's yet another inspiring story behind the many featured brands at the MaArte Fair.

From bottled Laing to Kaffir Lime Tinapa and Italian Herbs Tinapa, Gourmet Tuyo (perfect with rice), Bagoong and Flower Crab Fat, Felicisimo Gourmet Homecooking takes all the comforting Filipino flavors and bottles it in their signature jars. From Bataan to your table, nothing comes between fresh flavors...

...with Felicisimo Gourmet Homecooking. They also offer a wide variety of flavorful spreads, like the Herbed Cheese that will have you going for another cracker with a generous dab of their creamy gourmet spread.

The sweet, tart and smoky Bourbon Bacon Jam is another must-try from Felicisimo Gourmet Homecooking. Each bite delivers intense notes, amplified by another bite. The bourbon, with its deep smoky hints, adds a distinct layer to complete the flavors.

You just can't go wrong with Felicisimo Gourmet Homecooking's Flower Crab Fat with its briny richness. Crackers, pasta or rice, this one just nails it for me. 

And this is my kind of liver pate. Felicisimo Gourmet Homecooking's Whisky Chicken Liver Pate is an elegantly smooth spread that's both rich and creamy with tasty undertones of sweet and smoky whisky. There is no gamey aftertaste, just fresh and clean flavors all the way to the last bite followed by a buttery finish (try adding a dab of Bourbon Bacon Jam to the Whisky Chicken Liver Pate). This one's on my list as well, along with many of their bottled products (for more on Felicisimo Gourmet Homecooking, click on their FB Page at

Auro Chocolate

The luxurious and elegant packaging is a visual clue to the artisanal quality of Auro Chocolate, a proudly Filipino bean-to-bar company passionately committed to elevating local cacao to world-class standards. Their indulgent bars made from local heirloom single-origin cacao reflects the long and tedious journey of one of the country's finest chocolate brands from the local farming communities in Davao to their intricate production process. And its paid off, earning global recognition from the prestigious Academy of Chocolate and Great Taste Awards.

The name of the coveted brand is a combination of the chemical symbol for gold in the periodic table and the Spanish word for the precious metal. It's a fittingly apt name for a brand that's elevating local heirloom cacao represented by their premium 70% Dark Chocolate variants, the Tupi, Saloy and Paquibato.

Auro Chocolate also featured their new products, including a chocolate bar with crisp banana chips for both flavor and texture. Exciting things are happening with Filipino chocolate, and Auro Chocolate is up there leading the way (for more on Auro Chocolate, visit their website at 

The finest local products with best practices supporting local communities, it's businesses like these that have the biggest impact at the grassroots. And these are the small businesses that matter, showcased at the MaArte Fair. The MaArte Fair also helps raise much needed funds for the National Museum and its network. In its eleven year run, the MaArte Fair funded various projects such as the publication of exhibit monographs on Silang Church, provision of scholarship funds for ICOMOS Philippines, and the printing of the Cultural Center of the Philippines' visual catalogue. Indulge, and shop for a The Peninsula Manila's MaArte oPEN House on August 16 to 18. 

Jumpstart your shopping season at the MaArte oPEN House on August 16 to 18 (Friday to Sunday), 10 am to 8 pm at The Peninsula Manila. To learn more about MaArte oPEN House, check out their FB Page at and Instagram at @maartefair. You can also share the fun and advocacy by using the hashtags #BeMaArteForACause, #MaArteoPenHouse, #MaArteAtThePen and #ThePeninsulaManila.

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