The Magnificent Taal Lake

“What humbugs we are, who pretend to live for Beauty, and never see the Dawn” by Logan Pearsall Smith. In the world where we live in, our way of life has been made simpler and more convenient with the existence of the Internet and modern technology in general. But one great disadvantage that it brings to us is the undeniable fact that it gradually makes us lose physical interaction with nature and other people as well. I feel one needs to begin to look beyond the confines of our homes, workplaces, and cities that we adore for us to see the beauty that lies on the other side of the earth. Like this dangerous yet ecstatic vision in the province of Batangas, on the island of Luzon, Philippines known as Taal Lake.

A vista of Taal Lake, formely known as Bonbon Lake, can be enjoyed from many surrounding locations like, Mt. Maculot, Balete, San Nicolas, Batangas and a lot more. But the “Tagaytay-Taal Ridge” in Tagaytay City is the most preferred vantage point, both for foreign and local tourists alike, to enjoy a safer and a sweeping view of the lake.

Taal Lake is the deepest and the third largest lake in the Philippines and also famous for being the home where the world's smallest but most active volcanoes lie in its waters, called Taal Volcano. Making it to the list of lakes from all corners of the world possessing “all the right extremes” showcasing nature at its most spectacular, as the fourth most beautiful lake in the world.

Moreover, Taal Lake is the crater of a crater of an island. Near the center of Taal Lake is Volcano Island that has a small lake that holds a small island called the Vulcan Point. And if you need further explanation - Taal Lake is the world's largest lake on an island in a lake on an island that has its own small island within. Whew! Amazing right?

Furthermore, Taal Volcano will be equally worth mentioning being an integral part of Taal Lake. Taal Volcano has had 33 recorded eruptions since its first known outburst in 1572. Its most catastrophic eruption occurred in 1754 and 1911. Making the whole region surrounding Taal at considerable volcanic risk any time any day. That is why it has been declared as a permanent danger zone. And a joint effort from the Department of Tourism, PHIVOLCS and other local units have been closely monitoring Taal Volcano's activities to make sure significant development will be immediately relayed to the traveling public and “exploring fans” as well.

Yet despite Taal's obvious dangerous attributes, it has maintained its reputation as one of the Philippines major tourist attractions and photographed views. It surely have won the hearts of nature lovers, travelers and sightseers who came from far and near witness a uniquely intriguing natural wonder.

Fresh Pond Seafood of Arlington Mass., Prioritizes Accurate Seafood Labeling

Editor's note: this is the second in a series of articles, at The Weekly New England Travel and Vacation Gazette, focusing on Massachusetts seafood restaurants and sellers that say that they are committed to accurate labeling of their seafood. Seafood mislabeling has been a hot topic in the news lately as the Boston Globe recently wrote about many seafood restaurants and markets in the area not labeling their seafood correctly).

I recently had a chance to talk with Marty Hagerty, owner of Fresh Pond Seafood in Arlington, Mass., about the recent seafood mislabeling controversy,  covered by the Boston Globe. He emphasized that they would never mislabel any of their seafood: "I can tell what I'm buying."

Those words have a lot of weight, given Fresh Pond Seafood in Cambridge gained a household name reputation in the area. Marty's father opened that store about 35 years ago until its closure in 2006. Marty, 48, and in the seafood business for more than 25 years, recently opened his new location -- a fish market that also has four booths for dining in -- at 75 Summer St. in Arlington.

Hagerty expressed disappointment in other seafood restaurants and markets involved in mislabeling their seafood. He cites Nantucket scallops as an example of a seafood that can be mislabeled or "cheapened."

"We sell Nantucket Bay scallops at certain times of the year -- very expensive -- but some, I'm sure, mix in cheap scallops and try to pass it off as Nantucket scallops," said Hagerty. "I think (in general) many of these people that got caught mislabeling knew what they were selling. Just my opinion."

Hagerty's main sea scallops supply comes from George's Bank in Boston -- very different than the "processed" or "wet" scallops that are quite commonplace.

"Basically, with processed scallops you throw 500 pounds of scallops into a vat with chemicals and they blow up, looking very pretty," said Hagerty. "When you cook them, though, they shrink! We use the 'dry' scallops from George's Bank that have no chemicals added."

Other properly labeled seafood sold at Fresh Pond Seafood include: shrimp, lobster meat, halibut, salmon, flounder, scrod, haddock, Bluefish, catfish, sea bass, snapper, Mahi Mahi, steamers, mussels, little necks, cherrystones, oysters, tuna, grey sole, swordfish, soft shell crabs, Maine crabmeat, crab cakes, trout, stuffed clams and shad roe.

Hagerty doesn't mind Fresh Pond Seafood being inspected, as he clearly takes pride in selling his seafood as labeled.

"I welcome any inspections," said Hegarty. "I know what I'm buying. I've been going to the pier since I was 17!"

Editor's note, part II: restaurants and fish markets in the Boston area, please write us about your business that doesn't mislabel seafood! We will consider calling you back for an interview. Thanks!

Two South of Boston Seafood Restaurants That Avoid Seafood Mislabeling

Woods Seafood, Plymouth, Mass. (photo by Eric)
A Boston Globe series entitled "Fishy Business" recently revealed alleged seafood mislabeling amongst many fish restaurants and sellers in the area. A Globe crew collected 134 seafood samples and sent them to a lab in Canada, which found 48 per cent of the seafood mislabeled.  For a quick "101," I recommend you check out a Boston Globe video here on seafood mislabeling, which explains the "who, what, when, where, why and how" of this troubling news. You can also find links to related articles on this page.

After reading about this reported seafood fraud, I thought it would be a good idea to contact local seafood restaurants and markets in hopes of finding some businesses not involved with seafood mislabeling. I think locating these type of establishments is important, as I know people that have read the articles are now suspicious of all local seafood restaurants and markets. Can't blame them -- how does one know who is on the up, and others that either knowingly or inadvertently mislabel their seafood?

I checked in with two of my favorite locally-owned and operated seafood places, Pier 18 Seafood and Grille in East Bridgewater, Mass., and Woods Seafood in Plymouth, Mass. For full disclosure, I have no affiliation, including vested interest, in either of these two seafood spots. I think the key takeaway with both of these restaurants is that they have the confidence to say that they welcome testing.

Peter Soroka, owner of Pier 18, took an immediate stand-up position and said, "We weren't tested (by the Globe), but welcome any testing. We don't have that issue (with seafood mislabeling). We're very honest and deal with reputable fish dealers. We don't lead people wrong."

Saroka cites the fish in a fish and chips meal as a classic example of taking a short cut, with many restaurants using cheaper pollock instead of haddock or cod -- something Pier 18 will never do.

"They (other businesses) get away with it, it's much cheaper,"said Saroka. "We don't do that here."

Jay Kimball, who bought Woods Seafood at Plymouth Harbor 23 years ago, prides his restaurant on being reputable.  The presence of a public fish market on the premises authenticates the restaurant seafood, says Kimball.

"If you came in off the street and saw on the menu our swordfish, scallops, bluefish, or salmon and asked staff where it came from, they could point to our fish market where you can see everything clearly labeled. We're transparent in everything we do."

A virtual walking encyclopedia of his inventory and where it comes from, Kimball prides himself of knowing his New England seafood suppliers, as well as those from outside the area. As examples, his scallops come from New Bedford,  farmed raised salmon from Canada, wild sockeye salmon from Alaska, crab meat from Maine, and swordfish from the outer banks of Nova Scotia and Maine.

Kimball said he wasn't contacted by the Globe, but would always welcome any kind of official testing. Regarding his business, Kimball says that Woods Seafood receives routine inspections from the local Board of Health and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That's it for now! Please check back in often as I will be writing more in the next month or two about Boston area seafood restaurants and markets that say that they don't have an issue with seafood fraud -- and welcome any testing.

Editor's note: restaurants and fish markets in the Boston area, please write us about your business that doesn't mislabel seafood! We will consider calling you back for an interview. Thanks!