17 Aug2010

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The Parian was traditionally the enclave of the Chinese-Filipino mestizos in Cebu, and nearly a hundred years or so ago, it was a fairly chic address to have. Some of the oldest homes from that era have been preserved, but many more have been lost and the area is a a shadow of its former self. Today, this is not the prettiest nor safest part of town, and that’s being kind. So when my brother-in-law recently mentioned that he had been to a newly opened Cafe in the Parian, serving 1960’s style comfort food dishes, my ears perked up instantly. Not only did I want to take a drive and visit to the heart of the Parian, but I wanted to taste what Cafe Elysa had to offer. For a new restaurant, even on “soft opening”, we had the darndest time finding their contact numbers, but after putting the local barangay office on the hunt, they walked over to the restaurant and sent us the contact details, below.

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First off, ignore the exterior of the Cafe, period. What was once probably a wonderful old house has been refurbished in what I like to refer to as Pinoy Provincial Bathroom Tile Exterior Style. The house is now clad in ceramic tiles that will weather the rains, grime, etc. And I can just imagine the tile salesman extolling the virtues of cleaning it with just a sponge and a bit of detergent…

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The interiors aren’t much better, though the original wood floors of the second floor are clearly visible, under a new coat of white paint. The first floor tiles continue the bathroom aesthetic. The cafe is owned and operated by Stephen Aznar, who used to or still lives part-time abroad, and the Cafe is named after his mother Elysa Aznar. The menu is oddly schizophrenic, a rather interesting sounding western style menu which I take it is Stephen’s baby along with a selection of wines (I think someone said he was a trained sommelier), and a very local menu based on the recipes of the long-time family cook of the Aznar’s. It is the latter that I wanted to try that evening.

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Some family portraits show the link to the Sanson family of the Parian, and a photo of Stephen’s mother, who married an Aznar. The local food menu reads like a list of childhood favorites or dishes we used to enjoy when spending the summer in Cebu. My grandmother had a rather unfussy home menu, so these dishes were things we would have more likely experienced in homes of family friends or relatives…

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First, we ordered several portions of humba, that Cebuano-Chinese somewhat adobo like dish, sliced pork hocks, a little sweet from sugar and salty from the soy and fermented beans. Curiously, this had no banana flowers, a classic ingredient, but it was delicious. The sauce wasn’t too thick nor excessively treated to cornstarch, and it was perfect with rice.

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Next up was some pork belly chicharon, or a version of lechon kawali. Excellent. Accompanied with a nice dipping sauce of soy, vinegar and other ingredients.

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The house dinuguan or dugo-dugo, was made with ground meat, a bit odd not to have entrails, but it tasted delicious nonetheless. This reminded me of folks who make callos without tripe… hmmm, not sure how authentic that might be, but it tasted good.

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The ginisang monggo (mung bean stew)was excellent, with perhaps just too much dried fish used in the mix, but still a notch above your typical restaurant fare. It DID taste like a good confident Manang or family cook was at the helm of the stove. Actually, she wasn’t that evening, but I take it these are based on her recipes.

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The kinilaw na tanguigue was EXCELLENT. I don’t order this at restaurants most of the time, since they tend to use frozen fish, but the waiter assured me the tanguigue was fresh and the dish was perfect. We ordered several more for the table. I hope for their sake and that of their customers that they can keep this dish consistently good.

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The Bam-i, that curious mix of canton and sotanghon noodles that is very Cebuano, was strongly flavored but otherwise unremarkable. The strips of thin scrambled egg on the top an unusual garnish for me. I do wonder how this was created at all, probably the result of a cook running out of one noodle or the other, and simply adding in whatever other noodles they found in the larder…

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The sweet and sour sauce of the fried fish was excellent, but the fish itself was skinny and not the finest you might get at a market. This was a pleasure to behold, but in this particular case, it needed a more robust and healthy fish to make it truly delicious.

Up top in the first photo, was the slam dunk dish of the evening, a perfectly balanced kalderetang kambing. Not sure if they can consistently send this dish out as they served it that night, but this was worth the trip to the Parian on a Friday evening, battling traffic jams and a rain storm. Two orders of this, lots of rice and a drink and I would have been more than happy.

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For dessert, we tried their battered and fried bananas that were so-so, but note the effort to peel that kalamansi! We also had several bowls of mango or ube ice cream that came straight out of a plastic container from the grocery… Overall a very satisfying home-cooked style meal. Roughly PHP300-350 per person if you are a large group and eat heartily. Some folks won’t get this place, but others will feel right at home the minute they taste the food.

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Now if only they got rid of these tacky battery operated candles. Yikes. :)

Cafe Elysa
30-a Zamora Street
Parian, Cebu City
4149265
4166793
09214538377
09088724980

Call ahead to let them know you are coming, even though we were the only table of 8 diners at dinner that Friday evening.

 

COMMENTS:

  1. faith says:

    Huhuhu. That kinilaw na tanguigue is making me cry. I want! ;p

    Aug 17, 2010 | 4:35 pm

     
  2. kitchen says:

    Yummy, is that a sliced “saba” bananas in the Caldertang Kambing? hmm intresting, from the photos it looks clean and well executed. like the way Cafe Metro and Recipes present their food. nice and simple, i like it. for me less is more.

    Aug 17, 2010 | 4:39 pm

     
  3. joyce says:

    sigh. now craving for kinilaw. i only eat it when im in cebu or at a friend’s house

    Aug 17, 2010 | 6:10 pm

     
  4. Seigfred says:

    awww…. i love it anyway. it’s authentic Filipino. restaurants like this are becoming scarce as this kind of cooking are being left by restaurants to carinderias. i love eating in these joints. it’s as intimate as a forbidden rendezvous.

    Aug 17, 2010 | 6:47 pm

     
  5. Jack Hammer says:

    Ironic…Parian (unconverted) was the area near IntraMuros, where the Chinese who did not convert to Christianity and could not own land, during the Spanish rule were confined.

    And Binondo (converted) was the area where the converted Christians, who had many privileges and could own land were allowed to reside as Mestizos de Sangley.

    Therefore, Mestizo in Parian…Ironic indeed.

    Aug 17, 2010 | 8:06 pm

     
  6. Artisan Chocolatier says:

    I found this place a while back when my cousin, Susie B, mentioned that the humba was excellent and would have been something her dad would come back too, if he were still around. Loved the kinilaw na tanguigue, ginisang monggo, pork belly chicharon, and humba. Have to go back to try the other dishes.

    MM, did the dugo-dugo give you the hebe-hebe?

    Aug 17, 2010 | 8:50 pm

     
  7. Jr says:

    MM,

    I can’t wait to go to lunch today and order some kambing and mybe some humba. There goes my diet again.

    Thanks,

    Jr.

    Aug 17, 2010 | 9:32 pm

     
  8. Nadia says:

    MM…are lechon kawali, dinuguan, ginisang monggo and kalderetang kambing authentically Cebuano? Apart from the humba and the bam-i, I was sort of expecting something more ‘local’ in their menu. I grew up in Manila and I grew up with those dishes too. Maybe our cook was Cebuano?

    Aug 17, 2010 | 9:37 pm

     
  9. Marketman says:

    Nadia, dinuguan is fairly common in cebu, particularly since they eat so much lechon relative to other places… monggo is also common what with the dried fish and all. lechon kawali and kalderetang kambing were perhaps less common, but for some families, this was comfort food nonetheless. Really local would be simple vegetable soups with fish, kinilaw, etc. Artisan, I am still not big on dinuguan, but this one was pretty good even if it only have ground meat…

    Aug 17, 2010 | 9:47 pm

     
  10. Footloose says:

    One still needs company whether you are converted or not. When Goiti besieged Soliman’s palisaded stronghold at the mount of the Pasig river in 1570, he found forty Chinese settlers there married to native women. The following year when Legazpi himself arrived to re-take and found Manila, the resident Chinese had mysteriously multiplied to 150. So you see, the Spaniards were not math wizards by any count that’s why they pretty well left commerce in the hands of Sangleys which apparently derived from Fukien and means merchant.

    All the pictures look good except the dinuguan and the battery powered candle that looks like a glowing baby pacifier.

    Aug 17, 2010 | 10:02 pm

     
  11. KUMAGCOW says:

    My Mom cooks the best Humba I know… and we’re in Quezon City LOL

    Aug 17, 2010 | 11:26 pm

     
  12. Ley says:

    This is a must try then. Thanks MM!

    Aug 18, 2010 | 9:11 am

     
  13. Jaja says:

    Thanks for sharing this MM. hopefully we can try it out soon. =)

    Aug 18, 2010 | 9:40 am

     
  14. Itzuy says:

    Thank you for sharing this – I’m quite new to your blog but I love how you present each day with varied topics that make us always long for “home”. I will be spending this coming Christmas in Cebu and Bohol and I will surely try to visit Elysa, though I can’t wait for my yaya to make her to-die-for vegetable lao-oy. I will have to try the humba – our pork in Sydney smells of “pang-hi” so my husband doesn’t eat pork in Australia. He waits to go back to the Phils for a taste of our inasal. We will also try Zubuchon soon.

    Aug 18, 2010 | 10:48 am

     
  15. zerho says:

    I used to live in that exact place during my board exam review, it was kinda of rundown. This cafe is something i would look forward to, whenever i get to visit Cebu.

    Aug 18, 2010 | 11:38 am

     
  16. Mimi says:

    Hahaha…bathroom exterior…makes me wonder if my grandmother and the architect went to the same design school. Lola tiles everything -even the guardhouse! And if you give your opinion, pakialamera ka pa, hay!

    The menu doesn’t really sound Cebuano, rather more of modern Filipino cuisine in general.

    Aug 18, 2010 | 2:39 pm

     
  17. marissewalangkaparis says:

    I love kinilaw….and dinuguan…yumm….havent eaten kinilaw in ages,,,,

    Aug 18, 2010 | 4:55 pm

     
  18. susie b says:

    Stephen Aznar is not just an amazing cook, he is one of the nicest guys I know. He is a foodie par excellence and with his little restaurant, he shares his love of food. You are right in that he is a sommelier..he spends part of his year in NYC, where he works for probably the best wine merchant in the city. I think it is wonderful that he has taken a risk and put his little restaurant in the Parian; he hopes to gentrify it and to bring life to a once-bustling part of town. What a brave thing to do when nobody goes south of Mango Avenue when the sun goes down!
    Cafe Elyssa, humble as it may be, is where we bring our guests. Stephen is a great host and we have never been let down by his kitchen. We brought our business partner from South Africa there the other night and had the BEST ever squid dish i have ever had, bar none. Incredibly tender fans of squid, topped with ginger sauce on bright green perfectly cooked bok choi. We were so taken we ordered another serving of it. Part of the meal that Stephen chose for us was a fried red snapper with per-peri sauce. Again, fantastic. He sent out a Moroccan style dish with harissa..using beef shank in place of lamb. I was stuffed but the orange notes in the sauce made me very happy.
    Next time you are in town, ring him up and arrange for his green chicken curry. When I am in a bind with sudden guests, I send my driver downtown with a tupperware and it comes back with this amazing curry. The kind that is so good you want to lick the tupperware clean. He laughs at me….not many people order by the caldero!
    With advance notice, he sets up wonderful evenings at his restaurant. I like that he supports the art community by displaying work for sale on his walls. I can tell you that I am thrilled to have this little gem in Cebu.
    Stephen took this building and, with whatever resources he had, he put together a space to sit and enjoy food. Perhaps the tiles and the battery-operated lights are not chic, but his food is straight from the heart, the way it should be. I would be so happy if your review brings him the business he needs!
    And Artisinal is correct, my Dad would have a frequent flyer card just for his humba! ;-)

    Aug 19, 2010 | 6:19 pm

     
  19. Dennis says:

    Can’t wait to visit and try the home made dishes. Thanks for sharing – now I have a reason to go to Cebu.

    Aug 20, 2010 | 8:50 pm

     
  20. Mayet says:

    I miss definitely the humba with the fermented beans…my father was a cocinero for fiestas and he adds the fermented beans and some leaves of laurel. Maybe they can add in the menu the “paklay” it is authentically Cebuano too!

    Aug 21, 2010 | 1:44 am

     
  21. mila caval says:

    I love Steve how he handling his restuarant ,very good food every single dish that you ordered,UHM!!! yummy,I have been in Eleysa Cafe many times when I was visiting Cebu. I missed Steve cooking.

    Aug 23, 2010 | 7:54 am

     
  22. teddy says:

    this is the kind of restaurant i WILL bother to find when next i am in cebu.. gads, i LOVE home-cooked food from recipes of old manangs in the kitchen. thanks for sharing MM!

    Aug 23, 2010 | 10:29 am

     
  23. al says:

    i live a block away from this place. the building is not old and in fact, recently built. if im not mistaken the upper floors and the adjacent building is a boarding house.

    i didnt realize that it IS a restaurant, my first impression was that it was some sort of cazera for the lodgers. i pass by it on my way to work. it wasn’t until a colleague of mine, who shares the same adventure for new, small, less commercial, but authentic restos, mentioned it to me, that I begin to see it as a resto.

    i havent been there yet, but this article sure made me more curious. thanks!

    Aug 24, 2010 | 9:45 am

     
  24. Marketman says:

    al, the exteriors may have been extensively renovated, but the posts and wide plank wooden floorboards inside point it being an older structure or at least parts of an older structure within… it’s worth a visit if you live a block away, the food is good.

    Aug 24, 2010 | 10:06 am

     
  25. New diner says:

    Your review of Cafe Elysa is naive and without knowledge of the sincerity of the place, the chef, and its offerings. Cebu too low for your taste?

    Sep 11, 2010 | 3:47 am

     
  26. Marketman says:

    new diner, how odd you would have that reaction, I generally viewed the food to be quite good, and the place a bit tacky. As for the chef, he was actually nowhere to be found on the evening that we dined there. In fact, I was NOT under the impression that the owner was a CHEF, but rather a sommelier, which is not the same unless he is a trained chef AND a sommelier. And not that you have to BE a CHEF to cook well, but it is you that mentions the word “chef”. And as for the offerings, we had most of the items on the Filipino (not the western) menu and I praised many of them. As for Cebu, it is YOU that are not only an uninformed first time reader and commenter, but had you bothered to read a smidgen of the 2,700 posts in the archive of the blog, you would know I was born there, my family has had roots there that go back several hundred years at least, and I am extremely proud of the city and have done several dozen posts on the food and markets of Cebu, from Bogo and Malapascua in the North all the way down to Boljoon in the South. So if you think I have misread Cafe Elysa, you are certainly entitled to your opinion, but to me, your opinion as stated holds little sway whatsoever. As for the post on Cafe Elysa, it will probably result in SEVERAL DOZEN people trying out the Cafe, whereas your comment will certainly only serve to turn off a few potential diners at least.

    Not all diners of a restaurant get to meet the owners or chefs in person, therefore they will rightly base their views of their meal(s) there on the food presented and tasted, the service they experienced and the environment it was served in. And you don’t need to be sophisticated to realize plastering bathroom or ceramic tiles on the outside of a home risks being described “Pinoy Provincial Bathroom Style”. And when you do that to what was probably a century+ old wooden building, it is a shame to boot.

    Finally, while I do not normally allow new comments from readers who aren’t honest or transparent enough to leave a real and functioning email address, I have let yours through and responded to it so that the rest of the readers of marketmanila and of this post, many of them prospective guests to Cafe Elysa, can judge who is “naive” for themselves. I take it from your IP address that you are accessing this blog from Cebu, via a pldt hookup, so your naivete is showing more than mine. Check out some of the following links in case you were wondering:

    A Road Trip to Southern Cebu
    The Old Houses of Carcar Cebu
    Bogo Market, Cebu
    Malapascua Island, Cebu
    The Battle of the Bellies
    Ensaimada Part I : An Introduction to the family recipe
    Ensaimada Part II : The Recipe
    Marketman’s Lechon
    A fifty year-old passport
    The Parian District of Cebu

    …and there are at least three dozen other Cebu-centric posts from budbud kabog, to torta, to the Boljoon church, feeding programs that have brought some 40,000 full meals to public school elementary children, market trips to the Carbon, the Pasil market, tabuan, etc. Oh, and quite a few on Anthony Bourdain’s visit to Cebu a couple of years ago. “Cebu too low for my taste” you ask? Not in the least, it is you that has put the city down by making such a negative comment that was at best, NAIVE (defined as “deficient in WORLDLY WISDOM AND INFORMED JUDGMENT” by the Merriam Webster online dictionary. Now look up “fishpan”. :)

    Sep 11, 2010 | 6:17 pm

     
  27. pinky,phil. says:

    It was such a treat to taste the food at Cafe Elysa. Everybody enjoyed all the dishes served on our table. The humba and dinuguan alone (ofcourse with rice) could easily satisfy your craving for good old home-cooking. Not to mention the tasty meatball pasta which i never got to finish, since i was too full by the time it was served. Considering i already had a mouthful of the other just as delicious kinilaw, fried lumpia, chicken wings and fried squid. Come to think of it I never realized I ate that much (lol). I would definitely be back for more to try the other dishes in the menu.
    Kudos to the chef.

    Sep 11, 2010 | 7:35 pm

     
  28. carinae says:

    It’s been a while since I’ve visited your blog, but the pictures here…Oh my! I’ve got to point my mother in the direction of this restaurant when she goes back to the PI.

    Must add you to my twitter feed. :D

    Sep 12, 2010 | 4:50 am

     
  29. pasolini says:

    Not sure if this is true but heard it from a cebuano friend..

    KINILAW means INI, HILAW and
    SINUGBA means SINUNOG SA BAGA.

    makes sense tho :-)

    Sep 12, 2010 | 10:43 am

     
  30. kulasa says:

    Tsk tsk. Shame on you new diner. Fishpan award!

    Sep 12, 2010 | 10:51 am

     
  31. sophie says:

    did he/she think before he write his comments? read well what’s posted?…MAGBASA!

    Sep 12, 2010 | 11:54 am

     
  32. Kaya says:

    wish you didn’t have to take a sabbatical on this blog. archives will do for the meantime =D

    Sep 12, 2010 | 3:40 pm

     
  33. eej says:

    Sabbatical or not, MM still tends this blog and ready to bash any numbskull with uninformed and misleading comments. Numbskull vs. Fishpan — Fishpan wins! Ding ding ding ding ding…

    Sep 12, 2010 | 11:08 pm

     
  34. gorgeous witch says:

    sensitive ha… at least it gave excitement to an otherwise boring long weekend! :)

    Sep 12, 2010 | 11:28 pm

     
  35. Philip says:

    and another fish pan of the year contender….

    Sep 13, 2010 | 8:27 am

     
  36. jacob's_human says:

    Trolls. They can provoke as much as they want, but they can never be as smart as they think they are. Sad, ugly creatures, these trolls. Fishpan for the troll.

    Sep 13, 2010 | 9:25 am

     
  37. birdvet says:

    Classic Marketman! Thanks!

    Sep 13, 2010 | 1:51 pm

     
  38. myra_p says:

    Awesomely naive commenter… Nothing like a rant to get the juices flowing, and to get your regulars to comment again :p

    Sep 13, 2010 | 4:14 pm

     
  39. Mrs. CGX says:

    we missed this in Cebu.. so little time to go around.

    Sep 13, 2010 | 10:59 pm

     
  40. terrey says:

    bathroom tiles for a house exterior indeed is tacky, period! nonetheless, will try to eat out at this resto in Dec.

    Sep 14, 2010 | 1:20 pm

     
  41. Cebuana Infidel says:

    MM established his sincere opinion— not the correctness of his thought. When a
    man goes to a place, and taste the food, it says something to him. It makes an impression on his mind. It awakens his memory, and this impression depends upon his experience — upon his intellectual capacity. Readers form opinions and it usually depends upon the ignorance of the gentleman who reads it.

    “A pebble surrounded by diamonds remains a common stone, and a diamond surrounded by pebbles is still a gem” – Cafe Elyssa is and will always be a gem surrounded by pebbles, valued and enjoyed by the worthy

    Sep 15, 2010 | 6:18 pm

     
  42. pinkytab says:

    We went to Cafe Elysa and were not disappointed at all. Their munggo is excellent and also the garlic fried pork – something like lechon kawali. We ordered some other dishes that were also good. I really hope this restaurant takes off. After lunch we walked to the Yap-Sandiego heritage home nearby – that too was worth the trip.
    We also went to Rica’s in Banawe. Excellent restaurant. Simple in design but very cozy. Their salpicado is to die for.

    Sep 23, 2010 | 9:40 am

     
  43. WinkyB says:

    I was very amused with Comment #26. I agree with you MM. And you are by far, after friends and family of course, one of my favorite Cebuanos. If only you could taste my recipe for Torta Cebuana. Thanks to your blog, I have created flavorful dishes here in Dallas and the photos you’ve posted have become my looking glass to the Philippines.

    Thank you!

    Sep 23, 2010 | 1:16 pm

     
  44. Margaret Y. says:

    Oh my, I’ll try to swing by Cafe after the posts here. My hubby who grew up in Toledo city still swears by authentic Cebuano Humba… which I have not been able to re-create for his taste… any recipes I could try MM?

    Cheers, MM (nickname for Margaret Mary) ;)

    Sep 27, 2010 | 2:08 pm

     
  45. esther says:

    NAIVE (defined as “deficient in WORLDLY WISDOM AND INFORMED JUDGMENT” by the Merriam Webster online dictionary. Now look up “fishpan”. :) ——> I love it! Panalo!

    Oct 6, 2010 | 1:41 pm

     
  46. eppie says:

    Dear MM,
    Thanks to your blog I tasted the food at
    Cafe Elysa. The dshes were superb and the owner
    Steve was there for few minuts to answer our inquires .
    I encourage everyone to drop by at Cafe Elysa when in Cebu.
    Sulit talaga..
    Steve Aznar keep up the good work.

    Oct 11, 2010 | 2:51 pm

     
  47. NASYO says:

    planning to have dinner there with my wife.

    Oct 28, 2010 | 8:36 am

     
  48. raquel says:

    i will go there,just to taste the foods,with my friends..looks so yummy!!!!!!!
    it makes my tommy starts to starv……..

    Nov 8, 2010 | 4:45 pm

     
  49. inky says:

    i already been there. lahat masarap!

    Feb 19, 2011 | 2:47 pm

     
  50. Rupert says:

    i was thinking of this place in Parian that my friend told me a few months back but i cant remember it until i hit the Bing search engine with “restaurant parian cebu” and bingo! number one in the result is this website! thanks for the review, i was planning to bring my friends there this friday for dinner before hitting the road for the “Gabii Sa Kabilin 2011” a Cebuano for Night of Heritage centered in Parian area which is the location of old museums in Cebu. This would be a great night this coming Friday.

    Just in case you will be in Cebu:

    http://sinebuano.com/gabii-sa-kabilin-night-of-heritage-2011-this-may-27

    May 24, 2011 | 8:45 pm

     
  51. Eugene Jamerlan says:

    i just ate there this evening and the cream dory with anchovies was just right with the cucumber salad. the house wine was spanish and very good. they feature Cebuano artists on the walls and the music was very relaxing. i had a great time!

    a very satisfied ilonggo

    Jul 6, 2011 | 2:40 am

     
  52. john says:

    Silingan rata pero wala pa ko ka kaon diri…

    mokaon ko diri dyud inig abog nako sa cebu… diri ko kaon kada adlaw

    Dec 22, 2011 | 4:33 pm

     
  53. emmanuel says:

    MM, very fair and correct in your rebuttal..i will check this out with my wife when i’ll arrive from abroad…thanks for the info..(nindot ilang presentation sa pagkaon)…

    Jun 6, 2012 | 7:37 pm

     
 

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