Some people get their jollies walking into old bookstores to find a rare first edition. Others love a clothes store and finding the perfect matching handbag. For us, a neighbourhood grocery store specialising in something from somewhere else than here is our jackpot.
Shelves stocked with jars and packets of wonderful new foods is just what Pasalubong in Mascot offers. It's almost a little hard to get around inside the store with every nook and cranny filled with baskets, boxes, fridges and freezers stocked with imported Filipino foods. On the front counter are local made fresh foods and a large rack of baked goods. Out the back you can spy the kitchen where fresh made goods are cooked and packed to take home.
Scanning the shelves we recognise a lot of foods from our trip to Manila. The purple sweet potato known as ube features in so many different products, usually sweet. These crackers were a new version of ube delight we hadn't seen before.
Many of the products are preserved or canned fish. These milk fish are cooked so they taste like sardines and are a breakfast staple.
The freezers are another treasure trove. The big lids are lifted to reveal frozen hot pepper leaves, bananas and of course, ube. It's getting to be ube-quitos.
Some products you just love for the look of the packaging, let alone the ingredients inside. This Reno Liver Spread just conjours up images of cowboys on the range eating this on crackers around a fire.
These squids are probably similar to the tiny squids we ate at Milky Way in Manila. They're on the shopping list for next time.
If you were ever thinking about having a halo-halo party (what a great idea!), all your fixins are here. Beans, soft young coconut, fruits (especially jackfruit) are bottled in sweet syrup and ready to be topped with custard flan and shaved ice.
Another freezer at the front of the store is filled with frozen meats, especially the small longanisa sausages. These small thumb length sized snags find their way into breakfast, lunch and dinner and snacks in between. Frozen lumpia (small spring rolls or egg rolls) are ready to be deep fried.
Then there's the fresh food. At the counter at the back of the store all the fresh made goods are laid out. The sweeties are colourful, made with coconut, cassava and sugar and of course, ube.
There's a large number of pre-prepared savoury dishes ready packed to take home. At the back of the store is a large kitchen where these goodies are made.
We grabbed a selection for dinner that night. They're cold, so you need to take them home to heat and eat.
We tried a lot of chicharron in the Philippines, but not deep fried chicken skin. The packet recommended they be microwaved for a few minutes but perhaps a quick bake in a hot oven might have gotten them a little crispier. The skins are thick and a little chewy otherwise.
Dinuguan, or pork in a sauce of chilli, vinegar and blood. We love this dish, and this one has an extra level of funk we weren't expecting. Perhaps being made for the home market there's no skimping out on the stronger flavour. Shawn prefers it cold when the flavour isn't as strong.
Pinakbet vegetables make the best side dish in a Filipino meal. Pumpkin, eggplant and green beans are cooked with shrimp paste until soft. As with a lot of vegetable dishes in south east Asia, it's not really vegetarian so watch out if you want to steer clear of animal products.
The absolute best thing we bought was a big container of flan resting quietly in a bed of sugar syrup.
Alison took a bite of this, her eyes widened and she passed the container silently to Shawn. He scooped up a portion and understood. There was silence while it was consumed and at the end, they discussed their flan epiphany. All hail the flan.
Look for the balikbayan boxes out the front. These are special large cardboard boxes that overseas Filipinos can send back home filled with goodies.