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Reena Francisco’s dream food holiday |

Travel and Tourism

Reena Francisco’s dream food holiday

I was forever on a diet and conscious about how I looked. Vanity was the name of the game," declares the bubbly Reena Francisco. "But due to a forthcoming kidney transplant, I began loading up on prescribed steroids. As expected, I was hungry – famished was more like it – and it was simply impossible to control my appetite. After the major surgery and a new lease on life, this is the new me – and that’s many pounds later."

Reena Francisco, the traveling gourmand, is the culinary genius behind ground-breaking restaurants such as the Global Café, Figaro, Tavern and Spam Jam, which is the only one in the world licensed by Hormel Foods Serving, serving comfort food. Reena continues to lead the talented team in the research and development of recipes for their popular menus.

"Global Café’s menu is a rich collection of the most memorable soups, salads and entrees from around the world," she says. "They are actually the by-products of all my travels. I fell in love with the Lamb Biryani when I was in Hong Kong, so I brought the dish here and it’s now one of Global Café’s star main entrees."

Her travels go on and more cuisines are discovered. Allow Reena to tell you her story.

What do you remember most of your first trip abroad?

It was so memorable because I was finally allowed to travel with friends to Hong Kong, unaccompanied by elders. I was 18 and it was so much fun. I splurged on over $200 worth of makeup, which turned out to be something I was allergic to. So naturally I had to distribute it among my friends – a bonanza of additional pasalubongs!

What won’t you leave home without?

In addition to my hair straightening iron and makeup – basically a lipstick will do – I always have these useful, little research cards that contain essential information on the areas I want to go back to, complete with the excellent places to have a meal and suggested menu that includes both food and beverage. I must tell you, I have this fear of hunger. It’s strange, but I don’t know why. I was never deprived naman when I was young. I guess it’s just comforting to know that there’s food around when you want it. I also have this fear of thirst. That’s why I never run out of water. In fact I have a collection of bottled water – of all sizes and shapes – from the countries I have been to. Lastly, I have this fear of bad breath. So I constantly carry mint candies such as Smint, Mentos, Listerin Strips, and many others.

How do you pass time at airports?

Food is something I take seriously. Outbound, I read up on the destinations and the local cuisines. Inbound, I search bookstores for cookbooks of the region I have just been to.

What would you consider a must-do activity in every foreign city you visit?

I love going to grocery stores for the local specialties in frozen packs. I also hit the food stalls and the night markets where I can purchase dried food and hard-to-find spices. Without fail, I always try street food.

If you had to choose among the various cities abroad, which one is your favorite?

Avignon in France. I recall it was April and cold and I loved it what with the lavender bushes all around us. I won’t forget the street markets with eye-catching produce one only reads about in gourmet magazines. A dream of a place to live in.

Bangkok in Thailand is a close second. I am intrigued by its arts and culture. I am a fan of their cuisine. The people are gentle and the lifestyle I desire is affordable.

Favorite hotel?

La Mirande in Avignon in the spring. It is reeking with history, has great architecture with exquisite furniture.

Favorite resort?

Amanpulo – heaven on earth. When you are there, you just don’t want to leave. Ever. Every casita is a marvel in design with a magnificent view – a 180 degrees of the blue sea, the white sand, and some islands. Covered with green vegetation with a staff complement of 270, they attend to the needs of 90 guests – the maximum number on a full, full house.

If you could take home a piece of art, which one would it be?

It’s actually not a piece of museum art. There is this floral arrangement at George V in Paris. It never fails to take my breath away. It’s the gentleman who executes this daily masterpiece that I want to bring home.

Favorite play or musical?

Phantom of the Opera.
I was so totally overwhelmed I cried. The same thing when I watched Cirque du Soleil in Hong Kong – a gift from my sister-in-law Irene Martel Francisco.

Describe your most memorable trip.

Together with family and friends, we went on a five-day tour of Bangkok to celebrate my birthday following an itinerary focused mainly on food. We devoured daily buffet breakfasts and went to a variety of Thai, Korean and Indian restaurants and we all gained an average of 10 pounds each!

Describe your ultimate itinerary of a dream food holiday from breakfast to dinner.

For breakfast it’s at the La Scala at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco, where the ambiance is grand, food is excellent and the service is impeccable. It’s going to be eggs benedict with an assortment of fresh fruits.

My choice for my morning snack is Procacci 1885 at the via Tornabouni in Florence, with a plate of truffle spread on mini hot breads accompanied with a glass of proseco. This is what I would classify as a pampering-your-taste-bud experience.

Lunch is at Sibilla Antico Ristorante at 1739 via delle Sibilla in Rome. And the menu includes antipasto spread of marinated olives, mozzarella balls, prosciutto and salami. Then progress to a choice of rosemary marinated grilled lamb, chicken, pork or beef with Sgroppino, a refreshing dessert drink with the consistency of a "slush" which is made of lemon sorbet, vodka and proseco. The after dinner drinks include their own production of amaretto liqueur and limoncello.

For afternoon snack, go straight to The Peninsula in Hong Kong for their incomparable high tea and request for The Charlie filled with scones and crumpets, cold sandwiches and mini pastries, clotted cream and variety of jams.

And finally for dinner – The Golden Century at Sussex Street in Sydney, and have the delightful Tasmania King Crabs. They are so massive. I actually call them monster crabs. The smallest I’ve seen is over three kilos. I would have it cooked in three ways: steamed with ginger and scallions, baked with salt and pepper and lastly, sautéed all the aligi or crab fat and mix it with pasta.

Who would you like to bump into – dead or alive – during your travels?

Oprah Winfrey. I love her attitude towards life. She can make me cry with inspiration.

There’s also this pastry chef – Pierre Herme of the Laduree Pattiserie. His pastries are astonishing works of art.

Let’s fill in the blanks. "If I had more time, I would…"

Take a cooking class in every country I visit.

What is the best travel advice you can share?

Be adventurous, especially with food. Never scrimp on meals.

What are your pasalubongs?

Food. Snacks from different cities. Usually new discoveries, new recipes that I bring home and share with relatives and friends. Global Café is my pasalubong to my customers.

Aside from unpacking your suitcase, what is the first thing you would do upon returning home?

Take an inventory of the food I brought along.

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