Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Barbara's Restaurant: An Extraordinary Filipino Dining Experience within the Walled City

It’s fast becoming a tradition. This year, just like last year, the night before my birthday, I chose to dine again in a Filipino restaurant. And this time, I had it in a great restaurant inside the Walled City.

Have you heard about Barbara’s?

Barbara's is located at the Plaza San Luis Complex in Intramuros. They are open from Mondays thru Saturdays. Dinner starts at 6:30pm.

Barbara’s restaurant is located inside the elegant Plaza San Luis Complex, in front of San Agustin Chruch. This plaza is my favorite spot inside Intramuros. Inside you will find the beautiful Casa Manila, White Knight Hotel Intramuros and La Monja Loca Store- all of which are pretty much about the old Philippines. During my first time inside it, I thought I was somewhere in Spain! It was beautiful! It was the Philippines during the era of the Spanish conquistadores.

Plaza San Luis Complex is one of the most interesting spots within the Walled City. It houses Casa Manila, White Knight Hotel Intramuros, La Monja Loca Store and Barbara's Restaurant.

And then we entered Barbara’s.

I remembered during high school, my Filipino teacher would call my late-coming classmates “Gobernador Generales”. In English, the Governor Generals. The Spanish rulers of Las Islas de las Filipinas! It was said that the Governor General will always come in late for any gatherings. Everyone will have to wait for them before anything starts. They were kings!

This is what I exactly felt when I entered Barbara’s. I came in late for the cultural presentation. (Office time is till' 7pm so I really have no choice.) And when we came, they started dancing. I was the Governor General that night!

Imagine entering a restaurant serving authentic Filipino dishes and filled with loud Filipino music while dancers entertain the guests with traditional Filipino dances. Watch their awesome performance of Tinikling here!

When we were assisted by a waitress in Filipiniana to our seats (looked like the owner of the house during the old times), the more that I felt like a Governor General. But I did not remain in my seat. I stood up and stayed near the center where all the dancing and singing are happening. It was an amazing experience! It’s been a year that I’m blogging about food and travel (I have an old blog here). But this is the first time that I heard of a Filipino restaurant inside the Walled City where cultural presentations are being held every night (except Sundays)! I found the best Filipino restaurant of all time!

The performers of Kultura Filipina at Barbara's Restaurant. Show starts at 7:15pm everyday- except Sundays.

I thought I was already a "full" Filipino. Through blogging and through my travels, I have eaten a lot Filipino dishes already. I've witnessed a couple Filipino cultural presentations too. I have even sang at least one Kundiman song while wearing Barong Tagalog. But my moment at Barabara’s showed me the things that I don't know yet about my own culture. It has taken me to a new and remarkable experience- dining as a Filipino in a big Spanish-Filipino house within the historic Walled City while watching Filipino cultural performances.

Barbara's serve authentic Filipino dishes. Dinner buffet is at Php495+.

Salads and desserts at Barbara's.
A paragraph in their brochure said it right, “Step into a place reminiscent of old world elegance. Located along the historic General Luna street in Intramuros, the restaurant evokes the charm and beauty of a bygone era. Go up the intricately carved staircase and be greeted by silver-gilded mirrors. With high ceilings and crystal chandeliers, the setting is a world apart from your modern day shopping mall restaurant.”

The old Filipino interior of Barbara's Restaurant.
Experience more of Kultura Filipina at Barbara's Restaurant through our YouTube videos! Please visit our channel at

Friday, December 23, 2011

The 7 Churches of Intramuros: Then and Now

Maybe a revival of piety (using the term in its Latin sense) will in the future inspire the return to Intramuros of all its former churches, chapels, convents and beaterios. Only then will Intramuros be really "restored". -Nick Joaquin

The Old Manila that was Intramuros was not only the economic and military center of the Spanish Empire in the far east. It was also the bastion of its strong Christian Faith. There used to stand, within the walls of Intramuros, seven houses of God, all built with architectural magnificence. 

I've been always dreaming that one day, all the other 5 churches of Intramuros would rise again from the rubble. If you will visit the Walled City right now, you'll notice that only 2 of the original 7 churches managed to endure the test of time. Ask me what happened to the other 5 and I will answer you with a deep regretful sigh. What happened after the war was that our government focused on building new establishments over the rubble of the past glorious city, a mistake that put Manila's former beauty into a chaotic bustling city. Forever I will be unhappy that our post-war government chose development rather than restoration.

To repeat, Intramuros was the conjunto, of all its traditional temples; without its other colleagues, even the Cathedral and San Agustin are merely crown jewels without a crown. -Nick Joaquin
What remained from the Seven Churches of Intramuros are the San Agustin Church (the only building left standing after the Liberation of Manila in 1945; listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the Manila Cathedral (rebuilt from 1953-1958). The other five no longer exist within the walls of Intramuros, the San Ignacio Church was left in ruins until now and the other 4 have new establishments built on their site.

1. Manila Cathedral

The ecclesiastical seat of the Archdiocese of Manila. Catastrophic events such as fire, earthquake and war have caused this structure to be reconstructed eight times on the same site (the last was completed in 1958 after its total destruction by the Liberation of Manila in 1945). The cross on its central dome was the zero kilometer reference point for all locations in the Philippines during the Spanish era (the reference point is now located at the Independence flagpole in Rizal Park). On its crypt lies the remains of former Archbishops of Manila including Cardinal Santos and Cardinal Sin.

Pre-war photo of the Manila Cathedral.
[Photo Credits:]

The Manila Cathedral at present.

2. San Agustin Church

Built by the Augustinians from 1587 and completed in 1604, it is considered to be the oldest stone church in the Philippines. Nothing remained standing inside the walled city except the Church of San Agustin after the Liberation of Manila in 1945. The church was spared from the bombings because it's bell tower was marked with a Red Cross (in times of war, attacking any building/establishment/vehicle that carries an emblem of Red Cross is a great war crime). In 1994, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pre-war photo of San Agustin Church.
[Photo Credits:]

San Agustin Church at present.

3. San Ignacio Church

The church (neo-classical in style with two towers) was built by the Jesuits in 1889. The famous Filipino sculptor Isabelo Tampingco and his students worked on the lavish woodwork on its interior. However, it was greatly destroyed during the war and was left in ruins to date. At one time it became the E.J. Neil warehouse. Currently, there is an archaeological excavation at the site of its ruins, it is said that San Ignacio Church will be the future site of Museo de Intramuros that will house the religious collection of Intramuros Administration.

Pre-war photo of San Ignacio Church.
[Photo Credits:]

At the back of the ruins of San Ignacio Church.
Archaeological excavation site inside the walls of the ruins of San Ignacio Church.

4. Lourdes Church

House of the Franciscan Capuchin friars built in 1891. It houses the allegedly miraculous statue of the Our Lady of Lourdes, carved by Manuel Flores in 1892. The war also destroyed the church in 1945, forcing the Capuchins to move to its current location in Retiro, Quezon City. This site is now occupied by El Amanecer compound where the Ilustrado Restaurant and Silahis antique shop is located.

Pre-war photo of Lourdes Church.
[Photo Credits:]

The old site of the Lourdes Church. Now site of Silahis Souvenir Shop.

5. Recoletos Church

The church that was famous for its four-story bell tower and its magnificent interior. Was built several times from 1619 (the last was built in 1782). It was in this church that Father Diego Cera, the man behind the construction of the Las Pinas Bamboo Organ, started making organs made of bamboos. The Recollect friars moved to San Sebastian Church in Quiapo after the war severely destroyed their church in Intramuros. Manilla Bulletin now occupies the site. 

Pre-war photo of Recoletos Church.
[Photo Credits:]

Old site of Recoletos Church. Now site of the Manila Bulletin Building.

6. San Francisco Church

The church of the Franciscan Order (second to arrive in the country) first built in 1578. It was burned down in 1583 so a new stone church was built in 1602. The earthquake of 1645 destroyed again the church. The third church was built in 1738. It then had a retablo-like facade decorated with collumns, statues and niches. It remained in ruins after its destruction during the war. Mapua Institute of Technology rose from its rubble.

Pre-war photo of San Francisco Church.
[Photo Credits:]

Old site of San Francisco Church. now site of Mapua Institute of Technology.

7. Santo Domingo Church
The Dominicans built five churches on the same site, the last (built in 1868) was designed by Felix Roxas Sr. in Neo-Gothic style. The church was famous for its ivory image of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary (Nuestra Senora del Santisimo Rosario) also known as the Virgin of La Naval. It is believed that the Virgin Mary brought victory to Spanish fleet over the invading Dutch, hence the feast of La Naval is celebrated annually every 7th of October. When the Japanese burned down the church in 1941, the Dominicans moved to its current site in Quezon City. The site is now occupied by the Bank of the Philippines Islands.

Pre-war photo of Sto. Domingo Church.
[Photo Credits:]

Old site of Sto. Domingo Church. Now site of BPI building.

About the Contributor

Ivan BriƱas Cultura, 19, a biology student with an adventurer's instinct and a little introverted personality. He is a history lover and a wannabe photographer. He's a pure Filipino from Manila who dreams to have M.D. after his name. Though his ultimate goal in life is to have his name in Philippines' history. Solo traveling, photography, locating historic markers and watching musicals are his favorite pastime.

Visit his blog here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Wedding at San Agustin Church

San Agustin Church is dubbed as the Wedding Capital of the Philippines.

After touring Intramuros and having lunch at Ristorante delle Mitre, we passed by in front of San Agustin Church, the oldest stone church in the Philippines. But something caught my attention that moment that made me pause and go nearer the old church. A number of onlookers, foreigners and locals, are huddled right outside its huge wooden doors. Something's going on.

The next second, a shiny white car with white flowers in front came into the picture. It stopped just right outside the doors of San Agustin Church. I knew it!

Someone's getting married today.

Here comes the bride...
The back door of the shiny white car suddenly opened. And then a beautiful chinita girl dressed in a magnificent-looking gown stood up. She looked trembling! She was aware that all eyes were upon her that moment. But she still looked amazing!

The groom, indeed, made the right choice.


And then, as if she had rehearsed for this a long long time ago. She took her post right outside the big wooden doors of the old church. Eyes and cameras were all focused on her.


Upon the signal of the over-all coordinator, two men stood beside her and pushed the wooden doors open. And then...

Off she went...

It was a lovely event that capped our Intramuros tour!

To know more about the Wedding Rites at San Agustin Church, please click here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Simbang Gabi: The Intramuros Experience

The Christmas spirit in the Walled City is very much alive.

One day, I just had a sudden inspiration to attend the Simbang Gabi in Intramuros.

I don't remember myself being religious about attending the Dawn Masses before as I am a self-confessed nocturnal being and I loathe waking up early. But, I thought it might be a good experience for me to attend it at least once. This time, at no less than the Manila Cathedral.

So after a get-together with some college friends in Tomas Morato in Q.C., I headed straight to the Walled City. From the windows of my cab, I witnessed how the scenery changed- from seeing the bright lights of the restaurants, bars and cars in the city to the dimly-lit and old-looking Spanish-Filipino houses, streets and other establishments in Intramuros.

As my cab went further inside the Walled City, I couldn't help but notice the increasing amount of brightness emanating from ahead. As we draw nearer San Agustin Church, I saw them- the people who are going to attend the mass, the sacristans who are glowing in the whiteness of their garments and some vendors selling bibingka and puto bumbong. Something warm welled up from my insides.

It's Christmas time.

And when we reached the cathedral, here is what I saw.

The Manila Cathedral looked magnificent that day.

Manila Cathedral was a house of gold in the middle of the evening sky. It was glowing! I saw a lot of people going straight inside the church. It was 4 o'clock in the morning. The mass shall start any moment soon. As for me, I took my time to admire the beautiful facade of the cathedral and took some shots.

The beautiful interiors of the Manila Cathedral.

As I entered the cathedral, an equally beautiful and magnificent interior welcomed me. It was huge and grand! I couldn't help myself taking a few shots before I pick my seat in one of the first few pews in front. It was already filled with people when I came in. The mass is, indeed, going to start any moment soon.

Simbang Gabi or the Dawn Mass is a 9-day devotional mass that starts from December 16 to 24. In Spanish, it is called Misa de Gallo or the Rooster's Mass due to its nature of being celebrated before the dawn.

It started during the era of the Spanish colonizers as a practical compromise for the farmers who still wish to attend the novena masses in the evenings after a whole day of labor in the fields. Since they normally start their day in the fields before the sun rises, the priests decided to hold the dawn masses for them.

After the service, the people and the clergy would share the former's offerings to the church before they head to the fields. They offer sacks of rice, fruits and vegetables that the farmers harvest themselves. This is where all our all-time favorite Christmas snacks such as bibingka and puto bumbong originated from.

Just like this one.

After the mass, people lined up to taste their all-time favorite Bibingka.

My favorite taho drink was also present that day. I can feel the distinct "Filipino Christmas spirit" just with the way these kids huddled at the taho vendor. I wish the taho vendors would never get tired selling their well-loved merchandise in the mornings- forever. It is my morning cup and morning music, all at the same time.

I would be demise if the next generation of Filipinos will not be able to experience this beautiful part of every Filipino's childhood.

My all-time favorite drink, Taho, was present that day too.
Merry Christmas, folks!


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Friday, December 16, 2011

Lights and Sounds Museum: A Walking Tour To Philippine History

Lapu-Lapu is regarded as the first Filipino hero.
When I first heard of the Lights and Sounds Museum, I thought I was just going to watch an ordinary show about the making of Intramuros. But when I entered a big room, standing, and with lights all turned off, I felt I was up for something more exciting that day. The Lights and Sounds Museum wasn't just a museum, it was an experience center!

A diorama of one of the battles fought between the Filipinos and the Spaniards.
The museum was divided into different rooms. Each one of them is depicting some of the highlights of the Philippine history. It has dioramas- moving replicas of people and objects placed in scenes that tell the remarkable stories of the Philippines' past.

Statues of the different Filipino heroes were placed inside the Lights and Sounds Museum.
Each scene is to be "experienced" one by one. It is dramatically narrated by a voice over with some background music. The lights are also in place to direct the attention of the audience to the main characters. A tour facilitator is also present to lead the audience from one room to another.

We were brought to Europe inside the Lights and Sounds Museum and experienced the life of Jose Rizal and his fellow Filipinos when they were there.
The life of Jose Rizal was one of the highlights in the Lights and Sound Museum. It was an instant trip to Europe when we were brought by the tour facilitator to Jose Rizal's life in Spain and Germany.

The publishing of La Solidaridad.
We were able to "experience" the national hero's life through the images being depicted in the dioramas.  The dioramas were not anymore at their best conditions today but I still enjoyed the entire show, nonetheless.

The different characters from Noli Me Tangere.
There was even a room showcasing the characters of Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. It was nice to go back once again to the novels written by Jose Rizal. This time, with life-size dioramas and dramatic narrations.

The friars warned the Filipinos about reading Rizal's novels.
The Lights and Sounds Museum was a project of the former Tourism Secretary, Richard Gordon. The aim of the museum is to retell the history of the Philippines to local and foreign visitors in an interactive and fun setting.

The building of Intramuros.
Another highlight of the show is the story of how Intramuros, the Walled City, was built. This topic wasn't discussed that much during my classes in history in high school and college.

The Filipinos weren't allowed to enter inside Intramuros- except the slaves.
Because of the Lights and Sounds Museum, I have learned that ordinary Filipinos- except the special guests and the slaves- weren't allowed to enter the walls of Intramuros back then. It was exclusive to the Spaniards- the government officials, the friars and their guests. It was also said that the Spaniards made it a very happy place. Spaniards held feasts inside it every now and then,  leaving the Filipinos outside hungry and oppressed.

A diorama of Jose Rizal when he was imprisoned in Fort Santiago.

Lights and Sounds Museum is located at Sta. Lucia cor. Victoria Sts. The tour requires a minimum fee of PhP 1,000 per tour. The first show starts at 10:00 AM and the last show at 6:00 PM. For reservations or inquiries, you may contact (02) 524 2827.

Blogger's Note: These pictures were taken at the museum with permission the Intramuros Administration.

Manila Cathedral: A Timeline of Strength

The beautiful facade of the Manila Cathedral.

Timeline of Events:
  • 1571. The first church was built out of nipa and bamboo.
  • 1583. The cathedral was destroyed by fire.
  • 1591. The second cathedral was built of stone and mortar.

In the facade is a Latin statement which may be translated as "Thy heart we entrust to you, immaculate and consecrated." 

  • 1599. The cathedral was destroyed by earthquake.
  • 1600. The cathedral was partially destroyed by earthquake.
  • 1614. The third cathedral was built.

A picture in the interiors of the Manila Cathdral.

  • 1621. The cathedral was destroyed by an earthquake.
  • 1645. The cathedral was destroyed by an earthquake.
  • 1654 - 1681. The fourth cathedral was magnificently built by Archbishop Miguel Poblete.

The facade up close.

  • 1751. The cathedral was demolished.
  • 1760. The fifth cathedral was inaugurated. 
  • 1850. The cathedral was renovated.

The angel at the Narthex that holds the holy water.

  • 1852. The cathedral was destroyed by an earthquake.
  • 1854 - 1858. The sixth cathedral was constructed.
  • June 3, 1863. The cathedral was destroyed by an earthquake.

The altar of the Manila Cathedral with an image of the Immaculate Conception.

  • 1879. The seventh cathedral was inaugurated in 1879. 
  • 1880. The cathedral was severely damaged by an earthquake when the belltower collapsed.
  • 1945. The cathedral was totally destroyed during the Battle of Manila.

One of the authorized replicas of  Pieta sculpted by Michelangelo Buonarroti.

  • 1953 - 1958. The present  and the eighth cathedral was built. 
  • 1981. The cathedral was elevated to the rank of Minor Basilica by Pope John Paul II  and officially named Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

Facing the cathedral, in Plaza Roma, is the statue of King Charles IV of Spain. This was built in gratitude for the king for his support of the Balmis Expedition during the 1800s. His royal doctor, Dr. Francisco Javier de Balmis, led the mission of giving out smallpox vaccines to the Filipinos. The king's daughter, Maria Luisa, said to have suffered the same illness.

To know more about the Manila Cathedral, please visit their website at