RAW! Chic Vegan Cuisine @The Farm at San Benito

Happy spring fling, sweets!
It’s been a month since our Chinese New Year post and in that time, The Bamboo Stiletto was whisked away by Herr Hubby for a long, lovely, delicious 3 weeks of holiday. Where did we sashay off to on our vacay, duckies???

Well, to sum it all up or else we’ll be here all day: first stop was Bali, Indonesia. To meet up with The Bamboo Stiletto’s dearest gal pals from high school, all scattered now to the four corners of the earth (namely, Los Angeles, Paris, Dubai, Sydney, as well as Cebu, Boracay…and little ol’ moi, representing Chinoise) and converging on the Island of the Gods, solo or with hubby/boyfriend/partner/what evs in tow.

Anyway, more about Bali in another post, dah-lings, and don’t worry, you’ll be getting an eyeful soon…

Second stop of our little vacay was an incredible, life-altering week at The Farm at San Benito, a wholistic wellness resort in Batangas, about a 90-minute drive from the Philippine capital of Manila. Located in the midst of 50 hectares of lush trees, flowers, a lake, a pond, a river, more coconut trees and bamboo that you can shake a stick at and populated by a charming posse of extremely communicative peacocks, ducks, chickens and a prancing billy goat or two, The Farm comes replete with luxury suites and villas, an amazing spa and an awardwinning organic vegan restaurant.

Herr Hubby and I signed up for a one-week detox cleanse, where we had nothing but fresh juices all day and a hot vegetable soup at night. Take my word for it, boy oh boy, by the time evening would roll around, those nightly hot soups tasted like the most god dang delicious gourmet concoctions on the planet! In addition, we were subjected to colon cleansing sessions, spa treatments to help detoxify and availed ourselves of The Farm’s diverse array of daily activities, such as yoga, power walks, boxing, swimming, etc.

My dear Stiletto-istas, I don’t know about you but if I’m going to suffer through my detox/cleanse, I might as well suffer in luxury…at The Farm. Ha! That was very goopster Gwyneth Paltrow of me. Hahahaaa!!!! But seriously, book the Narra Pool Villa, trust me.

Anyhooz, I thought I’d share our super-delicious “last meal” at The Farm before detox began, which is basically the vegan meal which constituted our last full meal before going on the juice and soup diet. Any preconceived notions I had of vegan food being bland and boring disappeared when I tasted the food at The Farm, where they specialize in mostly raw cuisine (85% raw, only 15% cooked). Check these out and tell me, aren’t these just HELLA SCRUMPTIOUS???

Nori maki rolls with green asparagus & radish

Nori maki rolls with green asparagus & radish

Cucumber ume salad, followed by wakame & grilled scallion soup

Cucumber ume salad, followed by wakame & grilled scallion soup

Alive! udon noodles in shitaake miso broth & oyster mushrooms

Alive! udon noodles in shitaake miso broth & oyster mushrooms

Chocolate (made of organic cocoa) dim sum with fresh fruits

Chocolate (made of organic cocoa) dim sum with fresh fruits

I had headaches in the afternoon of my first day into the juice diet and nausea on the evening of my second day, but after breathing exercises I learned from our yoga teacher at The Farm which, astoundingly, truly worked in relieving my headache, coupled with a good night’s sleep, by the third day, I bounced back with a noticeable uptick in energy. And my energy levels from there just took off. By the end of the week, both Herr Hubby and I had lost weight, trimmed inches off our waists and hips, and felt AH-MAY-ZING!!!  Of course, we are now furiously plotting when and how we can go back…

Meantime, here we are back to reality and the REAL HARD PART: sustaining everything that we’d learned and experienced at The Farm at San Benito. We actually bought The Farm’s recipe book, appropriately called RAW! so we can try out some stuff ourselves at Casa Stiletto. Hey, we’re not turning vegan, ok, but we are making serious attempts at eating healthy. So, get the juicer and blender out of the cupboard!

RAW! The Uncook Book from The Farm at San Benito, with gazillions of yummy vegan recipes!

RAW! The Uncook Book from The Farm at San Benito, with gazillions of yummy vegan recipes!

For a hotelier and a writer/blogger couple such as Herr Hubby and myself, eating healthy can be a bit of a stretch, but we’re gonna have fun trying, duckies.

:-)Ha! Ain’t life a HOOT?

What are your thoughts on raw cuisine, Stiletto-istas? How about vegan cuisine, does it float your boat? Would you like to share some delicious recipes here?…oh, please do SHARE!!!

Canton Fair 101: The Olympics of Bargain Shopping

The Canton Fair, the world’s biggest trade fair, which happens in Guangzhou every year for 3 weeks from mid-October until early November, finally ends today. For the past 3 weeks, we’ve tried to avoid going out as much as possible since everything, restaurants, bars, the train stations/airports, shopping malls, hotels, and indeed, traffic in the city, has been frenzied. It was ri-DON-culous trying to get a cab to go anywhere!

It was The Bamboo Stiletto’s first Canton Fair, so we were determined to experience it all for the first time and document accordingly. The Canton Fair is the mother of all bargain shopping experiences so for the benefit of those die-hard shoppingeras/shoppingeros out there, I’m sharing my experience here, in the spirit of, let’s call it, “best practices.”

How exactly do you navigate the Canton Fair? You are not an import-export wholesaler, trader or buyer. But you live in Guangzhou and rumor has it among your expat friends that shopping bargains can be had when the world’s biggest trade fair is happening at your doorstep.

The good news? The rumors are true. The bad news? The Canton Fair happens in three phases roughly spanning three weeks and individual shopping bargains can only happen on the last day of each of those phases, when traders are getting ready to pack up their goods and may be looking to offload their inventory of samples to save on shipping costs.

So, one of the first things you need to do is identify which products are being traded on which phase. For instance, home decor/furniture, gifts & toys may be traded during Phase 2 and fashion/clothing & shoes/bags may take place during Phase 3. Ask around, read the newspaper or check on websites like City Weekend Guangzhou (plug, plug:-). You absolutely have got to get the dates right for the items you like.

Once you’ve got that down, just like any elite athlete, you then have to prep big-time because the Canton Fair is like the Olympics of bargain shopping!

The next thing you need to do is obtain a Canton Fair overseas buyer’s pass. Never mind that you are a Guangzhou resident and that the only things you’ve bought lately were milk and eggs from the Corner’s Deli. Prepare to bring your passport, an ID photo, a business card and RMB 100 (about USD 16). You can apply for your pass at any of the overseas buyers’ registration counters at most five-star hotels in town.

Can’t find any of these counters? Head over to the Canton Fair venue itself, at the Pazhou Exhibition Center, and follow the clearly marked signs indicating the spacious and airy hall for “Overseas Buyers Registration.” Friendly, smiling trade fair staff, all speaking perfect English, will be on hand to efficiently assist you with forms and payment, provide you with a Canton Fair guide map and within minutes…voila! You are now an overseas buyer. The cool thing is, the pass is good for a lifetime, so if you want to return for more bargain shopping expeditions in future Canton Fairs, better keep your pass safe.

Officially registered to spend some shopping money!

Now that you have your pass and can sling it around your neck – like all the real buyers do at the Fair – you then plan your transportation strategy. Going there is a no-brainer. You can take the Guangzhou metro, cab it or see if you can swing a ride on any of the free Canton Fair shuttle buses proliferating at any of the major five-star hotels in the city. No, going there is not a problem at all…it is your exit transportation strategy that you should be carefully planning. If you don’t have your own, preferably very spacious, vehicle, then our recommendation is that you splurge a little bit and hire a mini-van with a driver.  Make sure you’ve got the driver’s mobile handy and remind him to stay alert, for when he needs to pick you up (with your vanload of purchases) at any of the exits afterwards.

Lastly, before you actually enter the hallowed halls of the Pazhou Exhibition Center, do a mental checklist of your clothing and equipment. You must have your Canton Fair buyer’s pass and guide map in hand. Wear the most comfortable walking shoes you own. Don’t tote one of your heavy designer handbags; this is not the day for showing off your latest “It bag” purchase to your girlfriends. Carry cash – lots of it, if you can. Don’t forget your mobile – essential for communicating with lost friends and the aforementioned exit strategy driver. And bring a large suitcase or large shopping trolley – with wheels. 

Gurlfriendz, at the Canton Fair, we’re gonna need bigger trolleys than these!

You are now ready to go shopping!

Once inside the Fair, give yourself a couple of minutes to get your bearings and simply gawk. The sheer vastness of the trade halls, the mass and diversity of people from all over the world are overwhelming to the senses. Yet everything is well-organized, with clearly marked signs for directions. Cafes and restaurants offer refreshments and meals, courier companies vie for packing and shipping services and bathrooms everywhere are well-stocked and clean. To get from one trade hall to another, there are covered walkways, with carpeted “sidewalks” for those on foot and “lanes” for those riding in comfort on little electric trams that shuttle back and forth in between trade halls. Try not to get run over by an over-eager shuttle and stay safely on the “sidewalk” instead.

Study the map, figure out which trade hall you want to hit, then attack.

In the beginning, you will probably browse slowly among the stalls because you will be so overwhelmed. The quality of most products at the Canton Fair is simply superb, truly export-worthy and world-class and the sheer number of gorgeous items all in one vast place is visually staggering.

Some traders cannot be bothered to sell to individual shoppers and some of these traders already have makeshift signs posted outside their stalls, saying: “No sale.” This means that unless you’re willing to buy in volume quantities, don’t even bother them. Some traders who are willing to sell, have signs saying so, “Sale” or “Stock sale”. However, not everyone willing to sell posts signs, so, if you do see anything you fancy really badly, it is still best to ask. Simply walk into the shop, quickly point at the stuff you want and say outright:“Mai, bu mai?”  (buy, cannot buy?) After a while, you will be amazed at how swiftly you can do this at so many shops and how much ground you’re able to cover in minutes.

Keep a watchful eye open for stalls whose staff are already busy clearing the stall and packing their items into wooden crates as they will usually be more amenable to giving items away at hefty discounts, or if you’re especially lucky, for free. This usually happens in early afternoon, right after lunchtime.

By early afternoon, after two or three hours at the Fair, you might find that even your large suitcase or shopping trolley will not be adequate for your purchases and you’re wondering how on earth you’re going to transport everything outside the trade hall to the exit gate. Make sure first, at the last stall where you’ve made big-ticket purchases (like, a piece of furniture) that you are issued a gate pass so that you can exit the trade hall with all of your purchases without being questioned by security.

Just as the Fair slowly winds down, you will notice an army of ayis (literally, aunties, in China, to mean, older ladies or maids) pulling flat wooden trolleys with rope, wandering the halls. Hail one of these ayis and negotiate in your best Chinese for her and her friend to load up their trolley with your items and take you to the nearest exit gate, in exchange for a small fee.

Once at the gate, it’s a simple matter of calling your driver to pick you up and load up all your new goodies in the car.

Exhausted but triumphant, The Bamboo Stiletto & fellow Stiletto-istas looking like a bunch of bedraggled garbage ladies, surrounded by our purchases as we wait for our driver at the Fair’s exit gate.

And, duckies, you must be wondering what on earth got our stilettos into a twist at the Fair…here’s a peek at what we picked up (after 2 hours of shopping – we were too dizzy to continue any further):

Blue Tray (free)

Scored the darling blue tray for free from a hastily departing trader…now it’s part of a charming vignette in the guestroom.

Red tray (free)

From the same trader, also scored this beautiful red tray for free…now it makes a striking bar tray in a corner of the dining room.

Red Eames Chair (RMB 120, approx. USD 20)

This lovely red Eames chair, now sitting in a corner of the living room, was selling for only RMB 120 (roughly USD 20), can you believe it???? Trader, who specialized in modern mid-century furniture (my absolute LOVEZ!), was in a hurry to get out of town & just wanted to get dump his samples. Was dying to get my hands on an Eames rocking chair but wasn’t “chop chop” (hurry, hurry) enough…someone snatched it up from right under my  nose!

Metallic Chinoiserie Stool
Inspiration Scenario: Lobby, W Hotel Singapore

Since I spotted these metallic chinoiserie stools in design magazines, browsed vintage versions on Etsy.com & spotted them IRL (in real life) at the W hotel, Singapore (lobby pictured here), I’ve been harbouring an all-consuming lust.

Metallic Chinoiserie Stool (RMB 400, approx. USD 66) & Lime-Green Tray (free)
Actual Scenario: Casa Stiletto 

I was beside myself with excitement at the Fair when I spotted the silver chinoiserie stool (foreground) & the trader agreed to sell it to me for RMB 400 (about USD 66). He had a gold one too, but I knew the silver would be perfect in our living room at Casa Stiletto, as a side table ideally serving as a perch for coffee or a drink, the occasional book or magazine, next to our Eames lounger & ottoman. Oh, and btw, that lime-green tray you see on the purple ottoman? That’s a freebie too 🙂

Congratulations to moi…we’ve successfully navigated our first Canton Fair!!!   Now, life in Guangzhou can, hopefully, get back to normal.

Posh Nosh: Robata Grill and Bar, Sofitel Guangzhou

Recently, we landed a little writing/editing gig for City Weekend Guangzhou – for you non-China based folks, City Weekend is a popular English-language expat rag, with print and online editions in Beijing and Shanghai. Here in Guangzhou, we now have  a newly revamped online edition but no print edition (not yet).

Whether you’re an old China hand or a greenie fresh off the plane, their magazines and website are indispensable, telling you all the events & doo-da in your city, crammed full of directory listings on everything from hospitals to hotels (with telephone numbers and helpful bi-lingual addresses), classifieds to help you in your search for the perfect apartment or ayi.

What our new gig basically entails is we get a chance to posh nosh in restaurants around town, hang out in hotels, swan around in spas and be besties with all the PR chicks and guys. Then, we head back to our  home office in Casa Stiletto and write about all the divalicious antics we’ve been up to! Tough life but hey, someone’s gotta do it!

Our first “assignment” was to have lunch at Robata Grill and Bar, the sleek-chic, modern Japanese resto at the Sofitel Hotel Guangzhou. We were on it like jam on bread or, I should say, like sushi on rice, haha!

We opted for Robata’s “Sake Experience” – a sake-pairing set menu, but minus the sake. Regretfully. We were sorely tempted but it was lunchtime on a schoolday after all. We would have passed out, snoring, for the entire afternoon! Here’s a quick look at our posh nosh.

Assorted Sushi

Faced with this giNORmous platter of sushi, it was easy to forget that we still had more courses to come, we just wanted to gorge ourselves!

Assorted Sashimi 

Seafood so fresh, just kind of melts in your mouth…Robata jets ’em in from the best in the world: Japan, Maldives, Finland, Australia…

Assorted Robatayaki

This grilled shrimp, Mirin-marinated pork belly & sweet potato, all cooked robatayaki-style, was a highlight for us. Flavours a-mingling! The pork? To die for!

Parilla-Grilled Australian Angus Beef with Duck Fat Fries

This baby satisfied our inner carnivore big time! Luscious Australian Angus beef ternderloin, grilled on the Argentinian parilla, & paired with Duck Fat Fries. Yum!

Tofu Cheesecake with Apple Miso Sorbet

Capping off our meal was Tofu Cheesecake, paired with Apple Miso Sorbet and fresh fruits.

Wasn’t that lunch just oishi-desu??? To read our full dining review on City Weekend Guangzhou’s website, please click here. To find out how to get to Robata Grill and Bar at Sofitel Hotel, Guangzhou, please click here.

Until our next nosh – Stiletto-istas, smile & stay posh! 🙂

Gobsmacked: Shopping at Sanyuanli Clothing Market

Up until today, we’d ventured to all kinds of wholesale markets in Guangzhou, from the pet fish market to the bling-bling market… but we’d actually never been to a clothes market. Duh! It was high time to rectify the situation so, with two girlfriends whom I’d bamboozled into showing me the way, off we went.

Our destination was the wholesale clothing market district of Sanyuanli. My girlfriends had forewarned me that because of the overwhelming sheer volume of clothes for sale, it was best to tackle the shopping by going one market or building at a time. So, baby steps, dear Stiletto-istas, baby steps…

I thought I was used to shopping in markets by now, in Beijing & Shanghai, in Bangkok & Manila, but when we got there, I swear to God, I was still overwhelmed. Absolutely gobsmacked. This market had five storeys and there were sooooooo many shops, selling soooooo many clothes, from women’s, men’s, children’s clothes, you name it, they had it all. Piles upon bundles, plastic bags upon sacks, it was insane! Some shops had prices quoting by the kilogramme! Some shops didn’t bother about any sort of display at all; clothes were simply strewn about, spilling out of plastic bags that looked suspiciously like the black plastic garbage bags you see only in kitchens. Walk into these shops and you feel like an unwitting extra in that horrifyingly addictive reality TV show, “Hoarders.”

And to think this was just in a single building…this entire district had streets upon streets, with buildings upon buildings, all devoted to clothing. For instance, a quick peek at the building next door revealed an entire barrio crammed with shops all selling jeans.

Anyhooz, I was busy walking around wide-eyed with mouth agape, that I completely forgot to take photos of the market for you guys. I do apologize for that but – worry not! – our morning wasn’t completely wasted.

In order not to go completely batshit-crazy in the market, I’d decided to concentrate on hunting for very specific clothing items. Clothes which I know I can always use here in Guangzhou or Hong Kong, with sub-tropical climates, are always handy in tropical countries like the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and can always be counted on as summer staples.

Stylish white cotton tops and/or dresses: this was my mission.  It took a couple of hours of combing through that market but I’m happy to report…mission successfully accomplished! When I got home, I then had fun playing amateur stylist and putting together outfits and accessories to go with my newly purchased whites. Here are the results!

White eyelet smock top with 3/4 sleeves. Pair with candy-hued shorts (like this scarlet pair) & accessorize with a funky necklace to enhance its simple neckline. Doesn’t the white top just pop?

Another white eyelet number, this one with an elastic waistband & shoulder (so you can choose to bare both shoulders or go assymetrical, with one shoulder bared). For a soft yet sexy look, pair with white denim cut-off minis (like this) or your scruffiest Daisy Dukes. Accessorize those tanned bare shoulders with a dramatic statement necklace.

This entire outfit is so totally moi, it’s practically my uniform! Loose white embroidered top (check out that gorgeous detailing around the neckline & sleeves) paired with creamy khaki shorts & a matching jute & wood necklace. Slip on flat or wedge espadrilles & you’re good to go. Gaaah, so adorbs!

The party top! All sleek, shiny & sequinned in a very simple, chic cut. Imagine with your favourite skinny jeans and…your sexiest pair of STILETTOS, OF COURSE, DAHLINGS! Sizzle, sizzle!

Let me share a secret with you, seeing as we’re all besties here and all: I actually already had a similar top to that top above sitting in my closet at home, the exact same cut, style, fabric & sequins, but in silver, not in white. Except that my old silver top was purchased at Calvin Klein and had cost me an absolute BOMB (this was when The Bamboo Stiletto was still a corporate rat racer and was earning accordingly, having no time then to bargain-hunt in markets). You will absolutely die when I tell you how much the white Calvin look-alike above actually cost me. 🙂

Speaking of corporate rat racers, here’s a stylish look for the office. Working girl, you can go from business meetings to a working dinner with this ensemble:

A practical yet pretty white top with lace & eyelet embellishments is feminine yet businesslike when paired with a pencil skirt in neutral hues like this grey. Amp up the style with a simple necklace or an elegant belt. When heading out for dinner with work colleagues or business clients, a stylish alternative to the usual blazer is a great scarf.

And, lastly, here’s a sweet look that’s ideal for a surprise lunch date with the boyfriend or the hubby. Especially if it’s a special lunch date, y’ know, like meeting his Mom for the first time (wanna make a good, demure ladylike impression, right, babes?) :

A simple white eyelet sheath spells dewy romance when paired with soft pearls & strappy sandals. A statement scarf – such as this gorgeous silk beauty designed by our creative & talented friend VAL – definitely adds ooooompppphhhhh! Interested in snagging a signature VAL scarf like this for yourself? Easy-peasy. Just click on http://expressionsbyval.wordpress.com/

So, those were the results of our morning hunt for alles weiss at Sanyuanli. Not bad, eh? And NOW, apres le shopping, you nosy Stiletto-istas may be asking, what was la damage? Let’s see, you can see that we bought a total of 5 tops & 1 dress, correct? Our total cost for this entire loot came to RMB 415 (approximately USD 70). Less than a hundred bucks, can you believe it? The Calvin look-alike sequinned top? That was the best bargain of the lot, costing me RMB 35 (about USD 6!!!). The dress was the most expensive, with a cost of RMB 120 (about USD 20).

My girlfriends reminded me that actually, the cost per item was still rather high because I had only bought one piece of each item and seeing as we were in a wholesale market, the prices could still have gone lower if I had bought multiple pieces. Gaaaah! Whaaaa…??? How on earth do these people make any profit? The mind boggles!

So now that we’ve successfully completed our baby steps-shopping at Sanyuanli, we look forward to sharing our future, more confident shopping forays with y’all. Excited, Stiletto-istas? Because we sure are! 🙂

How to get there: Very simple. Take the Guangzhou metro to Sanyuanli station, take exit D and the market is right on top. No need to even get out onto the street. Another, more comfy option, is to cab it & ask the driver to drop you at Sanyuanli ditie (metro station), walk down into the station and look for exit D. Make sure to bring cash only, plastic not welcome in most places in this market. Happy shopping!

gorgeous limited edition long scarves on 100% silk chiffon, personally designed by VAL…perfect for inflight travel style or for just spicing up that summer outfit!

The Bamboo Stiletto was in a state of excitement when we received a personal note from a multi-talented good friend and former “rat race” colleague, VAL, about the recent launch of “Celebration”, an original collection of gorgeous long scarves on 100% silk chiffon personally designed by VAL herself. The scarves’ launch coincided with the debut of VAL’s own blog about the creativity and inspirations behind her designs – check out Expressions by VAL (including how to order her scarves) here!

You must know that The Bamboo Stiletto is infatuated with accessories; we believe that it completely makes or breaks an outfit. For the lucky ducks out there who are travelling to fabulous summer destinations, these “art to wear” scarves would make the perfect stylish inflight travel accessory. Think about it, won’t you love snuggling up in the cozy warmth of your own soft long VAL scarf instead of those scratchy airline blankets on long flights? Or, if you’re not travelling and simply staying put, a colourful VAL scarf is just perfect for jazzing up any summer outfit. Scarves & stilettos…what’s not to love?

Of course we are now absolutely besotted with getting our hands on a VAL scarf of our own. For our Shanghai Stiletto-istas, did you know that you can buy a VAL scarf at Simply Life – our fave lifestyle store in trendy Xintiandi, The Bamboo Stiletto’s old neighborhood? As for the rest of us, thank goodness for the internet because now we can all buy a VAL scarf without travelling to Shanghai! We’re debating between these 2 designs: “A Fishy Tale” or “Summer Sun”?

Hmmm…why don’t you check out VAL’s designs for yourself and tell us which one is your favourite???

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