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Friday, June 18, 2010

The Long and Winding Gen San Road

“The long and winding road… that leads to your door…”

My friends and I were singing along this Beatles classic as we were literally on a journey along a long and winding road that would bring us, as we would later discover, to the doors of a secret garden, a crunch-lover’s safe haven, a party innovator’s sanctuary, and the fruit of a champion’s labor. We were on a road trip to General Santos City.

Off To a Secret Garden

A road trip to Gen San would take three hours, we heard. So, by two in the afternoon, our bags were packed, our tummies were filled, our CD players were blasting and we were ready to leave Davao City. We wanted to reach Gen San before sunset as we heard that there was one special place to witness Mr. Sun disappear into Saranggani Bay: Saranggani Highlands.

Located approximately twenty minutes away from down town Gen San, Saranggani Hghlands was our first stop. We deemed it was only right to kick off our night time road trip with a gorgeous view of the sunset; signaling the beginning of another crazy evening with friends. However, we could not pass up the opportunity for a smorgasbord of fresh foodie finds.

The Saranggani Highlands menu read like a culinary passport to all of the most exotic places in Asia. They served us some fresh Mango and Pomelo Salad with sautéed Shrimps; a delectable start to our feast. We then had some fried prawns that had a dusting of sesame seeds and tasted like a bite into a Chinese spice rack. The Filipino-Thai flavors of the Crispy Hito (Catfish) with Mango Salsa overtook our senses as we enjoyed the bite-sized bits of extra-crispy Hito fillets tossed in a sweet sauce and then topped with fresh green mangoes, tomatoes, and bagoong (shrimp paste). Our favorite however, was the Indian-Moroccan inspired Pork Spareribs in Coffee Sauce; a stew of tender pork ribs in a sweet and tangy sauce of ginger, spices, and coffee. For dessert we decided to stand at the edge of the property and wait for the gorgeous sun to set. We were awe-stricken as we watched the waters of Saranggani Bay’s hue change from a golden orange to a depp amber, and finally to pitch black. At this point we realized this was not going to be an ordinary road trip.

The Crunch-Lover’s Safe Haven

When we got back to downtown Gen San, one of my friends started craving for some Italian food. Only one place came to mind-- the home of the world’s largest pizza: Mamma Maria’s Pizzeria.

Mamma Maria’s Pizzeria was not like any other pizza place we have gone to before; it had a sense of drama about it. When we walked in the door we immediately felt like we were transported to Italy as murals of Italian tourist spots covered the walls. Even the menu was exciting as they offered Kinilaw Pizza, Crocodile Pizza, Kabab Pizza, and a Banana and Curry Pizza. However, we settled for the good old thirty-inch Hawaiian Pizza (we couldn’t possibly consume a sixty-three inch pizza, their biggest), some Pasta Carbonara and Bolgnese. To add more drama to the place, the pizza-makers showed off their skills from the open kitchen. Their pizza definitely did not disappoint the thin-crust lover in all of us as their pie had a signature crunch that you could not find anywhere else; it actually felt like eating crackers…with loads of super delish toppings!

A Party Innovator’s Sanctuary

After our second meal for the night we were super-filled and ready to do what we do best: party. We couldn’t exactly hit the dance floor because we were too full so we decided to check out some watering holes instead. We drove around the city for a good thirty minutes until we parked the car right in front of Piyesta at Robinson’s Gen San. We realized that Piyesta was one of the most popular night-time destinations in the city as it was packed to the brim.

Fortunately, we managed to grab some seats and started ordering their signature offerings. We tried their Kurasticks (from the root word kurat which means ‘to be surprised’) which were green chili stuffed with ground beef and then wrapped in lumpia (Filipino spring roll) wrapper and deep-fried to golden perfection. To accompany the Kurasticks we ordered some Gayuma (love potion), a combination of Rhum, Vodka, Tequila and Strawberry Juice which were served in test tubes (if you order the drink by the bucket) or graduated cylinders. Piyesta definitely made boozing a lot of fun; giving us a taste of Gen San innovation and flair for the extraordinary.

Fruit of a Champion’s Labor

After six buckets of gayuma we decided that we were ready to experience deeper all that the Gen San party scene had to offer. After a short drive, we arrived at one of the newest and hottest party places in town: J Mix. Named after Jinkee Pacquiao, Manny Pacquiao’s better half, this bar represented what new Gen San was all about. It had a perfectly calculated mix of the best music, wonderful interiors and lighting, and, just like our previous destination, it offered some really innovative drinks.

We ordered their signature poison: J Mix shots, which was a combination of fresh juice and hard alcohol served in double-shot glasses. It was refreshing, simple, and definitely packed a punch. However, the star of the night was the Flaming J Mix. The bartender carefully prepared all the components of the drink. He placed a margarita glass that was topped with a bottle opener and filled with rum and vodka on our table. He topped the bottle opener with a bottle of Bacardi 151 and a shot glass. He then poured some tequila and triple sec over the whole set-up and lit it on fire. The result: a tall tower of flaming glass. My friends and I then took turns in sipping the warm alcohol with our straws. The Flaming J Mix is definitely not for someone who has low tolerance towards alcohol.

The Road Lead Us To…

Our night time road trip was definitely fun-filled and insightful. It gave us a peak into General Santos City’s bustling night life filled with great food, unique drinks, and quirky novelties. It seemed like a night was not enough to fully understand the intricacies of the city’s nightscape, but we had to end our trip.

As we headed back home, we played that old Beatles classic again and as we sang along “The Long and Winding Road” we realized that the establishments we have gone to were not our real destination; they were simply stop-overs on our journey along the long and winding roads of General Santos City. However, those long and winding roads definitely lead us somewhere special. It lead us to the realization that sometimes, all you need to have fun is a couple of good friends, a tank full of gas, and a serious case of wanderlust.

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