Heaven Can Weight: Circles Café

Friday, January 8, 2010 54 comments

Birchermüesli: simplicity among extravagance

How does Paradise become Purgatory? When a vulnerable appetite is tempted to acts of Dantesque gluttony by an otherworldly array of food, that's how.

Such was the diner's dilemma that I faced at the Shangri-La Hotel's breakfast buffet in Makati City, Philippines a few weeks ago. Oh, the food! As far as the eye could see (at least, to the far wall) was a display of chow so luxuriant that I was convinced I had indeed stumbled upon the namesake utopia of James Hilton's Lost Horizon. But as it turned out, a more appropriate literary analogy was Aligheiri's Divine Comedy: I had entered the infernal Circles, Shangri-la's 'theatre-kitchen' café, where enticing international breakfast fare mocked the pious yogurt-and-granola daily regimen of my non-vacation life.

After the final plate was cleared, there wasn't a fig leaf large enough to cover my shameful gorging in this Garden of Eating.

Asian sampler: sashimi, bangus and sambhar

Delicious Doom

Circles' cornucopia offered everything from sushi and dim sum to parathas and pancakes. In a global journey along the buffet line, I giddily chose between Indian sambhar and idli, American bacon and eggs, and Filipino bangus and sinangag (garlic fried rice). It was a microcosm of breakfast traditions from different cultures that challenged patrons to reconsider what constitutes typical morning fare. Bowls of crunchy cereal and pitchers of cold milk stood alongside steaming pots of miso, arroz caldo and ramen noodle soups. For those who preferred more protein-y options, there were Weisswurst and longanisa sausages, corned beef hash, smoked salmon and eggs cooked to order, all of which were equally enjoyable with toasted slices of whole-grain bread or a scoopful of scented jasmine rice.

Sinfully Circles' tempting treats

And then there was Sinfully Circles, a mirror-walled annex whose name tacitly acknowledged the temptations within: breads, pastries, cakes and chocolates of various shapes and flavors adding sweet, buttery, cocoa-licious insult to caloric injury.

But I only had eyes for the kakanin, an assortment of traditional Filipino treats made with whole or ground rice. Between the gaily-colored mochi balls, the striking stripes of sapin-sapin, the deep purple of ube haleya and my absolute favorite, sweet-sticky-scrumptious biko (rice cake topped with latik, or coconut jam), I simply could not resist having dessert for breakfast every day. It proved to be my fall from grace.

What Goes Around Makes Me Round

The restaurant's name, theme and much of the food were quite fitting for the upcoming New Year festivities as circles, spheres and rings are considered auspicious symbols of prosperity (coins) and completion (coming full circle), borrowed from Chinese tradition and incorporated into Filipino celebration.

(Clockwise from top left) Donuts, mochi balls, fresh juice and sushi rolls

Although I grew up participating in these practices, I was surprised to find just how deeply ingrained they were: without conscious thought, I often found my plate filled with these lucky shapes. Less fortuitously, said plate was constantly full for the next 10 days as I made the seemingly endless loop from table to food stations and back again.

By the time our stay at Shangri-La was over, my belly had taken on the soft, pillowy roundness of the freshly-baked pandesal I couldn't resist buttering each morning. Of the 4 pairs of jeans in my vacation wardrobe, only the spandex-blend pair still fit by trip's end. Thank goodness for loose tunics and black yoga pants - I would return home plump, yes, but at least semi-stylish.

I knew better than to lose myself in a buffet, yet the will proves weak when it finds itself in a room filled with delectables crying out, "Eat me!" Like falling asleep in a fairy ring, entering the realm of all-you-can-eat can turn into a nutritional trap and much like a wicked spell, the lure of bottomless dishes is, according to behavioral researchers, powerful and subconsciously irresistible. But that's for my next post.

In the meantime, let me leave you with the hint of hope that I found among the decadent food in Circles - Birchermüesli, a creamy concoction that made me feel indulgent yet faithful to my aforementioned morning mainstay of yogurt and granola. Though it didn't quite stem the overeating, it did help to bring me back down to earth.

Never mind how it came to be that my first taste of this Swiss cereal dish was in the Philippines - it only matters that I did and that I love it! Also known as Bircher-Benner müesli, this luscious, healthy meal was the creation of Swiss physician and nutrition pioneer Maximilian Bircher-Benner (1867-1939), whose original recipe for a simple mixture of raw oats, apple and nuts soaked overnight in sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice has evolved over the years to become a worldwide breakfast favorite. Today, müesli may be readily found pre-packaged at the grocery store but can be made just as easily from scratch at home.

I put together this müesli with ingredients in my pantry (although I do have a bag of Bob's Red Mill Müesli on hand) and instead of condensed milk or cream and lemon juice, I used yogurt and orange juice. Like most of today's müesli recipes, it differs from Dr. Bircher-Benner's original creation in specific ingredients but remains faithful in its simple essence - a delicious way to say "Magandang umaga!" (Good morning!)

Basic Birchermüesli for One
These ingredients and measurements are flexible so feel free to substitute and to increase amounts as needed for the servings desired.


1/4 cup rolled oats
1 Tbsp sliced almonds
1 Tbsp dried cranberries, chopped into small bits
1/4 cup plain, lowfat yogurt
1/4 cup orange juice
1 Tbsp grated or finely chopped fresh apple (I used Fuji)

To Make

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients (except apple and cinnamon) and stir until well blended. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. To serve, top with grated apple and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

If you'd like to try some of the wonderful fare I enjoyed at Shangri-La's Circle Café, check out these great recipes from a few of my favorite bloggers:

Idly and Tomato Sambhar from Chitra at Ratatouille: Anyone Can Cook
Sinangag (Garlic Fried Rice) from Joelen at What's Cookin', Chicago?
Longanisa from Marvin at Burnt Lumpia
Daifuku (Mochi with Adzuki Bean Paste) from Divina at Sense & Serendipity
Sapin-Sapin and Ube Haleya from Manang at Kusina ni Manang
Biko from Marketman at Market Manila
Pandesal from The Beancounter


  • Tangled Noodle's Big Sis said...

    So fortunate to have share the "Circles" experience with you. It is my most memorable and loving trip thus far :)

    Love, ATS

  • Caroline said...

    That really was shangri-la. I'm soo jealous, you get to spend the holidays in the Philippines!! That Swiss cereal sounds great, esp with the addition of condensed milk.

  • Daily Spud said...

    Welcome back and Happy New Year! I'm not sure that I would have made it out of that breakfast buffet ever :D

    And now, I'm off to have my regular meusli with yoghurt and dream of edibles that are far more sinful :)

  • Unknown said...

    Wow! That's one amazing buffet! Sounds a little like me when I was on my honeymoon - I deliberately left the skinny jeans at home. Knew that wasn't gonna work!

    Hope you enjoyed your trip!

  • Yarntangler said...

    You've done it now! We are going to go back and revisit muesli done the right way.

    We never would have had time to see the sights had we begun the day with breakfast there.

  • Anonymous said...

    Oh, dear--what a spread!! If I had been there, I'd probably still be eating.

    Thank goodness for müesli:)

    Happy, Happy New Year, TN! :D

  • Marvin said...

    I've always wanted to spend the holidays in the Philippines. You were so lucky to have done so! I'll have to look into the Shangri-La next time I'm there.

  • Trissa said...

    Welcome back! I do remember Filipino Hotel Buffets - no one does it quite like them don't you think? How I miss them - except for the consequences after! Thanks for your recipe too!

  • Unknown said...

    You has to go to Lolo Dad's in Makati City. You just has to. A little pricey but SO worth it. I'll post my visit up very soon but if you're still there, YOU HAS TO GO!!!

  • Midge said...

    All that food is one of the reasons why I try to save a trip to Circles for the more momentous events of my life. It's just too rich for everyday - but oh-so worth it, every single calorific bit of it!

  • Anonymous said...

    Hi TN! Looks like we both have spent some time re-vamping our blogs. I love, love, love what you you are doing here. Really wonderful! Stay in touch. Danielle

  • The Diva on a Diet said...

    My stars, what a glorious feast! Looks like you spent the holidays in fine, and delicious, fashion, Noodle! How lovely, indeed!

    Happy New Year and welcome back to the blog - I've missed you! :)

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Thank you all for your comments on my first post of 2010!

    Lilimonster - I wish I'd thought that far ahead. Way too overconfident about my willpower! 8-)

    Big Sis - It was so special! I wish the whole family could be together like that more often. Hope we'll be out Cali-way soon to see you all!

    Jenn - Definitely don't miss it! Perhaps you'll have a stronger will than me.

    Caroline - I am so grateful that we had this opportunity. My whole family was there, the first time in over 5 years! As for the cereal, I'm definitely going to try the SCM version but for now, I have to stick with yogurt - too much flub I have to get rid of!

    Pigpigscorner - The sashimi & sushi were great but I'm a carb girl so I stuffed myself silly with breads and cakes!

    Spud - Thank you! I barely escaped but I'm afraid to step foot on a scale to gauge the full damage. Sinful edibles are all well and good but meusli and yogurt are my best friends right now!

    Sam - And I couldn't resist! 8-) I'm happy that the photo shows even a smidge of how good Swiss müesli can be. This may have been one of my best souvenirs from the Philippines!

    ValleyWriter - Thank you! The trip was such great fun, notwithstanding my lack of control. It's a crushing blow to the ego when your pants fit one day and not the next. I couldn't even blame laundry! Still, those tight jeans may have saved me from further self-destruction. 8-)

    Angie - It was a treacherous paradise . . . I loved every minute and bite!

    Dawn - It is so very, horribly, deliciously, mortifyingly, satisfyingly true!

    Bob - I'm glad I'm not alone! Maybe next time, I should share. 8-)

    Yarntangler - I wanted to take a nap after breakfast each day! 8-) This Swiss-style müesli really is a treat - like having pudding for breakfast but ever so much healthier!

    Sarah - Thank you! I usually avoid buffets but am a big fan of dim sum. The difference, I think, is that in the former, all the food is out there, filling my vision, whereas dim sum trucks hide them. Out of sight, out of mind, off of hips . . . !

    Velva - It's like discovering Aladdin's cave but I have to admit, I got greedy for the 'gold'. Still, I wouldn't exchange the tasty memories for anything (well, except to fit back into my jeans again!)

    BCGW - Thanks! It has been a long while since I've last visited you - gotta see what you've been up to!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    OPC - If you'd been there, we'd both be having a grand ol' time! Happy New Year, dear friend!

    Marvin - Oh, I hope you and your family will do so! Last year was the first Christmas we spent in PI in 18 years and I'd forgotten how raucously festive it is. As for the Shangri-La, my mom booked the room & got a special rate for 'balikbayans'. If ever you make plans, let me know and I'll ask her about it!

    Greg - Thank you so much! I'm hoping to start the New Year on a much more even keel than I ended the old one! 8-)

    Trissa - I thought breakfast at my parents' had tons of food but I was so unprepared for the hotel buffet! Glad you liked the müesli.

    Duo - I've been sticking to this müesli and plain yogurt/granola since we've returned, hoping to undo the breakfast damage. Still, how could I possibly pass up on such a feast?

    Kat - So help me, it was, it really was worth it! 8-D

    MrsLavendula - This dish is definitely a breeze! We had a fantastic time in Manila and sincerely hope that we'll be able to return in the future!

    Gourmand Extraordinaire - I walked by Lolo Dad's on my way from the hotel to Glorietta nearly everyday! I kept wondering what it was like - we'll definitely stop in the next time. Thanks!

    Midge - If I'd known, I might have strengthened my will but I was caught off guard and that was the end of my thinner self! 8-) But I can't regret it. And I'm a bit envious that you can still go for your special occasions. Be sure to post pix for the next time so I can remember . . . !

    Gera - I'm hoping all those lucky circles and round foods are an auspicious sign that my year will be filled with good luck! Thank you, friend!

    Lisa - This müesli really saved me from just ballooning and now it's helping me recuperate without feeling like I've gone from 60 to zero on the food enjoyment part. The buffet was like a whirlpool - once you're sucked in, you helplessly just go 'round and 'round . . . ! 8-D

    Danielle - Hello! I almost panicked when I realized that I had an old URL for you but determined Googling led me to your new site! I'm focused on organizing myself this new year so that I will be sure to stay in touch with my blog friends like you. Happy New Year!

    Diva - Happy, happy New Year, my dear Diva!! I'll be over to your site shortly - I'm going through my reader in reverse order (started with 'Y' - very few 'Z' blogs out there apparently). But I will catch up, I promise. The holidays did their job and I feel rejuvenated - the spa massage helped, too. 8-P

    Teanna - I shouldn't look at the pictures anymore because I feel the familiar pull! Speaking of getting hungry, I saw you have a tres leches post up. Talk about wicked! I've deliberately waited until I'm full from dinner before I visit you.

    Karine - You're welcome! I truly fell in love with this dish from the first moment I tasted it. I love that it has both a creamy and crunchy texture, first from soaking in the yogurt and then from the nuts and fresh apple. I hope you'll try it for yourself!

  • The Beancounter said...

    Hello there and welcome back!

    First of, thanks for the link to my site...

    secondly, i'm very jealous... we'll try Shangri-La's breakfast next time! The choice is mind-boggling... i'll probably try to get up early and stay till they close just to make sure i've sampled everything!

    Looking forward to more post from/'bout Phils!

  • Anonymous said...

    Wow, what a fabulous feast! Getting hungry looking at it at midnight :) Will have to make your version of Birchermüesli in the morning, sounds so yummy!

  • Divina Pe said...

    Thanks for the link. The food at Shangri-la was really a feast and we still go back every few months to have breakfast or even dinner. Hope to see you the next time you visit. Hmm, when would that be? Glad you enjoyed your stay here and you really deserve a break.

  • SKIP TO MALOU said...

    This post makes me miss all those buffets in the Philippines...always a delightful experiece as I recall--- the beautiful spread, the luxe dining interiors and the glorious food!!!!
    Hello my name is Malou, and great to see a lovely blog like yours...

  • Lori said...

    Plump yet semi-stylish, haha, love it! What a recap. The food sounds amazing. I especially enjoyed the picture of the juices. That is one thing I do really miss about Brazil. Funny that you brought up the muesli because our first place to try the real deal was in SE Asia in KL. :) We've been hooked ever since and this one I have to try!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Beancounter - You are most welcome! I've been meaning to make your pan de sal recipe so this serves as a reminder. I came pretty darn close to sampling everything - the only things I skipped were the 'American'-style breakfast items. I can make those at home! 8-)

    5 Star - I hope you do try the müesli. It's such a complete meal in a bowl and the varied textures are really quite satisfying!

    Divina - I wish I'd had time to hook up with you and other Manila bloggers! But you can be sure that I will let you know when we visit again (and I'm determined to return to PI soon!) I'd love to hear about your experiences at Circles, too!

    Maya - Thank you! I enjoyed myself tremendously. Happy New Year to you!

    Wendyywy - I love Ice Kacang! It's similar but different to Filipino halo-halo; shaved ice treats are so delicious, aren't they?

    Unplanned Cooking - Thanks! I hope you'll enjoy the müesli. I'm a bit embarrassed to have posted a 'recipe' - it's so simple!

    Casey - Thank you and welcome! The eats were all delicious, too.

    Impromptu Diva - Hello, Malou! Thanks so much for coming over, though I'm sorry this post made you miss those buffets. Despite all the weight I gained, I miss it, too! 8-)

    Juliana - Please do try out the cereal! All the food was marvelous, just not so good when eaten all at the same time. 8-)

    Rebecca - I've apparently developed a cast-iron stomach that I could merge all those different flavors together. On the other hand, it made me a wee bit overconfident over how much I could, and should, eat!

    Petite Nonya - Thank you so much! Delicious food has a way of inspiring me. 8-D

    Sook - Welcome and thank you for following! I hope you'll enjoy my future posts, though I sometimes run a bit behind. So glad you like the müesli - it's quite a treat!

    MaryMoh - Eating at Circles was beyond fun but the relaxation faded somewhat when I realized how much I overdid it. Now, I'm trying not to stress and just concentrating on getting back to my reasonable habits. 8-)

    Lori - I need to follow in your running footsteps: I can not believe how quickly I could gain so much in just 2 weeks. And it seemed literally overnight (one day I could fit into my jeans, and the next not at all!) How funny that you're 1st experience with müesli was in Asian, too. I think we may be a bit too insulated here in America! Hope you enjoy it.

  • Anonymous said...

    just came across your blog through sophia's, and i must tell you that it's absolutely BEAUTIFUL and i love it! looking forward to reading more from ya.

  • Table Talk said...

    What a fantastic way to spend the holidays~ I'm still dreaming of a trip to the Philippines...someday.
    In the meantime, I will live vicariously through your travels---thanks for sharing with us!
    Welcome back and happy new year!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Sorry for the late replies to your lovely comments!

    Moretolifethanlettuce - Thank you and hello! Sophia is an awesome blogger and I'm so pleased that we've connected through her.

    Table Talk - Happy New Year! I certainly hope you'll make that trip to the Philippines; I'm a bit biased but I feel that it's really a hidden gem of Asia. 8-)

    Erica - Thank you! It was indeed a feast but I didn't handle myself too well. Still, I enjoyed it with my husband and family so it wasn't all that bad.

    Kitchen Butterfly - Thanks! I am so addicted to bircher now. I keep repeating myself but it's creamy texture and sweetness make me feel like I'm indulging but it's really quite nutritious. That's pretty much the perfect dish, isn't it? 8-)


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