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Hi! I'm Gretchen, a travel writer based in the Philippines. I created Filipina Explorer in 2009 to document my journeys through places, parenthood, and word weaving. This blog is a collection of those stories and everything in between.
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4 Things You Should Know to Make the Perfect Kare-Kare

Traditionally made with oxtail, tripe, and a medley of local vegetables, kare-kare is a fixture at fiesta tables all over the Philippines and is often considered one of the centerpiece dishes during celebrations and gatherings. This rich and creamy peanut-based stew is quite the labor of love to make, though, and it thus can be difficult to master. Home cooks are often daunted by the complexity of the dish, the number of ingredients involved, and the amount of preparation required to bring it to completion.

If you love this classic Filipino stew, you likely already have a favorite beef kare kare recipe that you often go back to, but if you have your own recipe that you think can still be elevated, this is the post for you. Here are a few tips and tricks that you can take into consideration in order to bring your version of kare-kare to the next level and wow everyone at your next party.

Use Oxtail—and Prepare It Properly

While you can make kare-kare with any protein you want, be it chicken, pork, or even fish, true kare-kare makes use of oxtail, no exceptions. Specifically, the most authentic and arguably best version of the dish combines oxtail with beef tripe and stewing beef, usually cut into cubes. It’s the collagen in the oxtail and tripe that gives kare-kare that distinctive sticky, coats-the-tongue mouthfeel, and you’ll find yourself missing out should you choose to remove it from the ingredients list.

You can buy oxtail at the meat section of your favorite supermarket, usually already cut and cleaned. If you’re sourcing it from your local public market, you may need to inspect the pieces thoroughly for leftover hairs. These can simply be shaved off with a disposable razor. The tripe may need to be cleaned and prepared beforehand as well, depending on where you get it from. Use an old toothbrush dipped in a bit of vinegar to loosen and remove any black bits that may have gotten caught in between the fibers of the tripe. You can also take this opportunity to trim the tripe of any excess fat that you may not want going in your dish.

Look for The Freshest Ingredients

Starting with the best ingredients almost always guarantees a stunning finished product. Good meat is only half the equation in kare-kare—the vegetables are equally as important, and sourcing them fresh is worth the effort. Go for eggplants that are firm to the touch and string beans that are a bright, vibrant green. Similarly, your banana blossom should also be dense to the touch and its petals should be tightly packed.

To prepare these vegetables, simply chop them into bite-sized pieces. It’s best to do this close to the end of cooking to prevent them from darkening. Soaking chopped vegetables in water mixed with a squeeze of calamansi juice can also slow down oxidation.

Sauté the Garlic in a Cold Pan

When learning how to fry for the first time, most people are taught to heat the oil in the pan first before adding the ingredients. For a more aromatic kare-kare, though, you’ll want to set that advice aside. Cooking your oil and garlic in a cold pan slowly releases its flavor and helps it cook more evenly. Because garlic cooks so quickly, doing so can also prevent you from burning it. There’s a reason why the Italians do it this way, and it’s a technique worth borrowing if you want to maximize the flavor in your stew without using artificial seasonings.

Don’t Skimp on the Peanuts

Kare-kare’s most well-known component is the sticky peanut sauce that instantly covers everything it touches, from grains of white rice to the roof of your mouth. That distinct flavor simply can’t be faked, nor can it be achieved through shortcuts or substitutions. Do not skimp on the peanuts. Buy more than you think you’ll need. Do not think you can have perfect kare-kare using only peanut butter.

Some people choose to grind their own peanuts at home, and there are various ways to do this. The mortar-and-pestle method can be laborious, but you will be able to control the texture of the finished paste better through it. You can also put the peanuts in a zip-lock bag and crush them using a meat mallet or heavy-bottomed pan. This will result in larger peanut chunks that can add some crunch to the finished dish, which some people find enjoyable. Alternatively, you can use a food processor to make quick work of the task. Simply add a bit of water and rice flour to the bowl to create a paste.

If you do not wish to crush your own peanuts, you can buy them pre-crushed or ground at most public markets.

Ideally, a combination of freshly ground peanuts and peanut butter should go into your kare-kare. Look for a peanut butter brand that isn’t too sweet, or it will lend that flavor to the stew.


With these tips, you shouldn’t have any trouble impressing your guests with your improved kare-kare. Try them out today!


5 Signs That a Pre-Owned Yacht Is the Better Choice for You

For many would-be yacht owners, like the ones already deep into the hobby of boating, the dream is to order a brand-new yacht from a fine boatbuilder. For them, there would be no comparable joy to waiting for the vessel to arrive and taking it on its maiden cruise. But for others, like those who are yet to discover yachting and want to do so on a budget, the dream is usually a little more flexible. Just like a well-maintained secondhand car or gadget, a pre-owned yacht can afford many of the same pleasures as a brand-new one at a lower price. This is why many buyers in the yacht market specifically look for secondhand options.

In the yachting industry, a brand-new watercraft’s original value usually depreciates by about 10% within a year of its purchase. This price can go down further by as much as 8% every year thereafter before leveling off, depending on factors like the condition of the boat. Secondhand owners of a high-quality, well-maintained unit will be rewarded for their purchase in many ways. They’ll be able to experience the thrill of boating for a smaller sum, and they’ll be more at ease in picking up the yachting life on a boat that’s already been broken in.

Are you thinking about purchasing a pre-owned yacht instead of a brand new one? What are the signs that this is the right decision to make? If all the signs listed below apply to you, take the plunge and look for pre-owned yachts for sale from a reputable distributor like Europa Yachts Philippines.

You’re a Beginning Yachtsman

For many people who are just starting a hobby like motorbiking or collecting watches, it doesn’t make much sense to buy the highest-tier model at the very beginning. At the outset, their preferences may not be completely clear to them. It makes more sense to acquire something at a lower stake and then slowly acquire knowledge, skills, and familiarity with the hobby or market.

The same can apply to you if you’re just starting out with the yachting life. You’ll be more comfortable learning about boating on a more affordable, more user-friendly vessel that’s already been broken in. This is also a good opportunity for you to familiarize yourself with a brand known for its long service life—and in addition, understand what really goes into the yacht’s craftsmanship. Calm your nerves about learning to be a proper yachtsman and test-drive your newly found skills on a pre-owned yacht.

You’re More Nervous about Buying a Brand-New Yacht

Some people actively enjoy getting brand-new things, but others experience great anxiety about it. They may have a fear of wrecking a beautiful thing, or feel added pressure to make up for such a large investment. But it would be a shame if this ultimately takes away from their enjoyment of the purchase—or even discourage them from making the purchase at all.

If you’re the type who gets the jitters about buying something very expensive and brand-new, then opt to buy a pre-owned yacht instead. This will help you better relax about your purchase and maybe even derive more joy from it.

You Want to Save Money on Your Initial Purchase

The most obvious argument for purchasing a secondhand yacht instead of a brand-new one is the significant price difference. This will make all the difference for yachtsmen who have tighter budgets, but who still want a taste of the yachting life.

If you don’t want to spend so much upfront for your yacht, it’s definitely the better option to buy secondhand. You will likely have to spend for an upgrade or two, but those costs may pale in comparison to what you’d spend for a new boat.

You Don’t Mind Doing a Little Extra Maintenance

For the most part, a pre-owned yacht will have already demonstrated the extent of its seaworthiness to the initial owner. But as the second owner, you might have to do a little refurbishing to get it to look and perform at its peak again. The costs of maintenance and the time it takes to complete maintenance work really depends on the condition of the individual boat.

But say you don’t mind making calls to a marine surveyor and getting maintenance work done on the hull, engine, sails, rigging, and plumbing. If that’s the case, go on ahead and scour the market for a secondhand yacht. Just ask for assistance from your yacht brokers so that you won’t end up with a boat whose repairs and maintenance will drain your pocket further.

You’d Love to Own a Yacht with a Story

This may not be an important reason for some when it comes to choosing between a brand-new boat and a pre-owned boat, but it’s definitely a plus for those with a romantic streak. A pre-owned boat will certainly already have a history attached to it if it comes into your ownership. It will already embody the happy memories of family cruises, fishing or diving trips, or sailing regattas. That will make the boat feel more lived-in and congenial

If this is something that actively appeals to you and you want a yacht with its own story, by all means search for one in the secondhand market. That history is something only a pre-owned yacht will be able to give you.

If the insights in this article resonated with you, it may be high time to start looking for a pre-owned yacht. What’s important is that you find a yacht brokerage service that you trust, as well as agents who will take you through the complexities of the sale. Lastly, don’t forget to consider other factors beyond price, like the yacht brand and the yacht type. When all of the details are in order and your decision to buy a secondhand yacht is clear as day, just say yes. Soon after that, you’ll be embarking on your next big yachting adventure!




Of Itineraries and possibilities

These days it's easy to get discouraged to look forward to anything. "You know you are okay, but there's that sadness that comes and goes. You wonder what you're living for," a friend recently shared. I feel it too. That sadness, fragile, like a scab constantly aching to be scratched and bled.

Sometimes I worry that by the time a vaccine becomes available to us, we won't be the same anymore - that gusto, that keenness for life outside these walls. Lia has gotten used to stagnation. She won't even bike or walk 300 meters with me. It's too hard, she says. She'd rather stay at home, facing a screen than a sunset, the wind, fleeting figures. She used to love those. What huge change a year in isolation does to these young minds.

Before the pandemic, one of my favorite pastimes is researching destinations and plotting itineraries. I crafted Word file upon Word file of itineraries from scratch: a two-week LuzViMin trip using only ferries and buses, a 30-day Southeast Asia trip ending in Thailand, one for Alabat-Mercedes, another for a Bukidnon-ARMM loop. I'd get lost in the flurry of possibilities.

Those itineraries symbolized dreams. They were a reason - a stark one against the everyday reality of working to survive. I created them even If I'm not sure they will happen, because I had every hope that they will, even if it's 10, 20 years down the road.

We are ants, and the pandemic; the broken things it exposed and made even more broken is a mammoth's foot bearing down on us. The will to draft itineraries escapes me.

This morning I saw this photo. We were at the summit of Mt. Bagang in Zambales with friends. At high noon, the sun revealed an infinite expanse of mountains and a smattering of trees jutting out of ash from the 1990 eruption. Our guide was teaching Lia about cattails, and she listened intently. 

"Mama, cattails!" she wailed, her eyes wide with awe. She was in that moment, happy and content. We all were. 

I realized I'm not ready to give that up yet. I want to remain open for the things Lia can only learn and feel outside. I want to be there when they unfold.

I clicked my mouse. A blank page shows. On it, I typed "Catanduanes".

Letter #21: Nine

Hello, Lia.

Yesterday marked your second birthday in quarantine. In the old days, we'd go out into the world, our oversized backpacks brimming with zest for all things wild and undiscovered. Normally, I'd say change is life-enchanting, but we both know a pandemic is anything but.

You had your fair share of tears in the past year, each the color of sadness. Some were shed for classrooms whose walls are now merely imagined. Some for people whose hands you can only touch via a screen. Some for trees you cannot hug. Some for homes and still moments - in airports or long bus rides; at sea or in the mountains; head up to the sky or looking down the earth.

We are living amid a monumental shift, Lia. I wish I can assure you that beautiful things can be looked forward to with certainty. But like time, touch and sight are but gifts lent to us. We exist in impermanence, and the only way to make sense of it all is to live now, Here, with intention and gratitude.

So, today I hope to create space for gratitude. Despite the small world we now move in, like light, we can still move in it at our own speed, without contraptions and hooks. In spite of how grim the following days, weeks, and years might become, I have your resilience, humor, and wisdom to see them through with. And though tomorrow hangs in great uncertainty, I am grateful that we have us Here, now - dreaming, loving, fighting for the future, and making the best of what we have together, as we always do. This moment, what you feel Here and now, is real and certain. Never forget that.

Grateful to be Here on your ninth year on Earth, witnessing you soldier on,

PS - Your birthday was celebrated at home with your friends, Lola, and Lolo. You said it's your "best birthday ever".

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