Manila eats: my 5 most memorable meals

Now that I know what it’s like to live in a non-foodie culture, coming home to Manila’s foodie scene was gloroius. Manila peeps, you’ve got it gooooood.

In Amsterdam, casual dining options such as the cafe or lunchroom are plentiful, but rarely deviate from a stubborn devotion to bread: tostis (grilled cheese sandwiches), broodjes (sandwiches), paninis (Italian sandwiches) and tartines (open-faced French sandwiches). Do you see a pattern here? “If we can make it at home, why pay for it?” seems to be the general attitude towards eating out. And the practical Dutch are more the type to socialize over after-work drinks and nibbles (borrel and hapjes) than to bond over tables groaning with food.

That’s why eating out becomes a mission of the utmost importance when I’m in Manila. Spot.ph’s list of 50 great restaurants of 2013, plus recommendations from friends, guided me in sampling a few of the new additions to Manila’s booming restaurant scene. Here are some of my favorites.

1) Wrong Ramen. The ramen craze that swept Singapore when I left three years ago has hit Manila. I wonder if it will ever reach Amsterdam? I’ve craved ramen so many times this year—the cold, gray, gloomy weather here is perfect for it. Sadly, there are no ramen bars in this city (why?!?) so I had to wait for Wrong Ramen to satisfy my cravings.

Wrong Ramen Tantanmen

It was worth the wait. Every dish at this irreverent ramen bar is big, bold and packed full of flavor. I ordered the Tantanmen, a rich sesame broth with shredded chashu (roast pork), which is as good as it sounds. Next time, I’m going for the F.U. Ramen: crispy fried slices of Spam with bacon, cheese and a fried egg in garlic pepper broth. Pinoy breakfast in ramen form, brilliant.

2) Wooden Spoon. Have a great Spanish tapas bar or French bistro to recommend? Couldn’t care less. When I’m home, European cuisine ceases to exist for me; it’s all about Filipino food. The flavors of home welcomed me heartily at Chef Sandy Daza’s Wooden Spoon, the best Filipino meal I’ve had this year.

Wooden Spoon crab pancit and sago cake

I stuffed myself silly with the crab pancit, originally served by Nora Daza at her pioneering Filipino restaurant in Paris: a sinfully creamy sauce of crab fat and crabmeat on airy, crisp nodles. I also loved the sago cake, tiny tapioca pearls topped with coconut cream, palm sugar and crispy rice puffs.

Every item on the menu has a story behind it, which adds that warm and personal touch. Wooden Spoon is home cooking at its best, and just the way I wanted to be welcomed home.

3) Namnam. A close runner up to Wooden Spoon is Namnam, which offers a clever two-sided menu of classic Filipino comfort food on one side, and the same dishes with a creative twist on the other.

Namnam watermelon sinigang and lamb adobo

My favorite dish was the beef short ribs sinigang with watermelon, the latter adding a unusual sweetness and a pop of bright red to the sweet-sour-salty-spicy broth we all know and love. Swapping pork with lamb in adobo is a simple twist I enjoyed; after seeing this picture, Marlon now wants to try it at home.

Namnam corned beef sisig

Marlon also wanted to kill me after seeing that I had sizzling corned beef sisig without him. If anything unfortunate happens to me, blame the sisig at Namnam

Namnam clean dishes

We clearly won the Battle of Namnam. *BURP*

4) Tonkatsu by Terazawa. Beyond the standard sushi and teppanyaki bar, there’s not much in the way of specialized Japanese restaurants here. That’s why I just had to have my annual helping of panko-breadcrumbed, deep-fried slices of black kurobota pig, a.k.a. tonkatsu.

Tonkatsu by Terazawa

 

I wouldn’t say Tonkatsu by Terazawa is the best katsu I’ve ever had, but it was five minutes from my house and was generous with unlimited shredded cabbage and free green tea. I miss freebies, so I’m pretty easy to please.

5) Pancake House. Were you expecting me to end with a bang? Is this a cop-out? It’s just that I can’t go home without a meal at Manila’s oldest, most beloved all-day breakfast chain.

Pancake House chocolate chip pancakes
My order has been the same for years: a three-piece chocolate chip pancake, topped with whipped butter and peanut butter, drizzled with maple syrup, chased down with an ice-cold Sarsi.

While personal tastes evolve and new flavors are fun to discover, part of me loves how some things never change. Otherwise, it just wouldn’t be home, right?

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Comments

  1. says

    Tantanmen at Wrong Ramen is my go-to order, and it’s the best version! I’ve tried it at other joints and Wrong’s is still the best. There’s also Mitsuyado Sei-Men at Jupiter, which specializes in tsukeimen – the noodles are served separately from a rich broth. You can also get the noodles with cheese topping but I preferred without. :)

    And Pancake House! My go-to order naman diyan is MMC2: chicken, spaghetti and taco. Classic!!

    • Deepa says

      In college, the owners of Pancake House used to invite us every year to go caroling at their family Christmas parties (they’re Atenean kasi). That was one of my favorite gigs kasi may make-your-own pancake station. For the kids supposedly, pero lagi akong nakikipila, hihihi!

  2. Jenny says

    Wow! You really did your homework and knew where to go to eat. When we fly home, we usually end up eating at old favorites and hardly ever try anything new.

    • Deepa says

      I’m usually the same, but coming across that article from Spot really made me want to eat out a lot! I got to squeeze in a few old faves like Via Mare and Jollibee, but I wish I had been able to eat at Razon’s and North Park. So much food, so little time!

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