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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?