Manila's Magical, Misunderstood Cuisine
By ROBYN ECKHARDT
"But there's no good food there!" friends told me as I prepared for a food-focused trip to Manila more than two years ago.
In fact, as I was to discover, what the Philippines has is Southeast Asia's most misunderstood cuisine. While Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia are foodie destinations, the Philippines is often stereotyped as the home of balut (unhatched duck embryos, a popular snack) and fast-food chain Jollibee. On my trip, though, guided by recommendations from a Filipino expat friend and his local contacts, I ate spectacularly well.
And those Manila contacts quickly became friends, because Filipinos love nothing more than to introduce outsiders to their overlooked cuisine. I've returned to the city many times, just for the food. (Click Filipino Flavors for the rest.)
MAJOR props to Chef J Gamboa and sister Malu for the special mention of Cirkulo and Milky Way! I am a fan of Chef J especially now that they opened Azuthai, the most exciting Thai restaurant in the metropolis. I have eaten there thrice in a span of two months and still can't have my fill of the Shrimp Cake, Masamma Lamb Curry (ooh so tender, falling off the bone), Steamed Apahap, and the mango w/ sticky rice. Some of my friends also prefer the Milky Way halo-halo after our Thai meal, instead of Azuthai's own version. Ang sawaaap, grabeh!
(Sightings: Chef Fernando Aracama, Chef Sau del Rosario, and a few other culinary experts enjoying Chef J's dishes whipped up by his Thai chef. And on another occasion, Sen. Ping Lacson w/ adviser and Daily Tribune columnist Lito Banayo having dinner w/ some colleagues at the height of his double entry exposé on colleague Manny Villar. The two looked happy after their meal, as much as the waitstaff who had their photo taken w/ the controversial senator.)
How fabulous that WSJ also featured Dampa, my all-time fave seafood market/restaurant area! Yes, Pinoy food really is exciting and delicious. I know of many foreigners who have learned to appreciate the various nuances of our adobo. W/c reminds me, I need to eat my dinner right now.