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When in Manila: EAT

Whenever I travel to any country in the world, one of the first few things that is a must to try is their food. Food speaks in a language that everyone understands. It is a reflection of the people, their heritage and somewhat defines their identity. Economically, it is also a determinant of what resources were available at that time: were they bountiful with meat, fish, chicken or are they mostly vegetarians like the Vietnamese who are big on agriculture?

And how is the food prepared? The Japanese for example follow a certain degree of temperature of their hands when making and handling sushi. Why do you think they constantly wipe their hands every now and then? It is a traditional art that is followed and adhered to as a universal standard wherever in the world professionals alike makes sushi.

In northern Asia, it is still debatable after many years who really invented the noodles; whether it was the Chinese or the Italians. Regardless, the way they prepare it is totally different from each other. Italians take pride in their different sauces while the Northern Asians are proud of the many soup base varieties they can prepare it with.

Oh, don’t even get me started with the chopsticks. Another interesting trivia: The Chinese have been wielding chopsticks since 1200 B.C., and by A.D. 500 the slender batons had swept the Asian continent from Vietnam to Japan. It wasn’t until A.D. 400 that people began eating with the utensils. This happened when a population boom across China sapped resources and forced cooks to develop cost-saving habits. They began chopping food into smaller pieces that required less cooking fuel—and happened to be perfect for the tweezers-like grip of chopsticks. As food became bite-sized, knives became more or less obsolete.

Anyhow, getting back on food and my love of it: Anyone who cooks well would fully appreciate the preparation, the well thought of of ingredients, the combination of flavors that sometimes we wouldn’t even imagine would compliment each other (e.g. caramel and salt, sweet and sour, spicy and hot, etc.), the texture, the art of how it was cooked and lastly, the presentation.

Having moved to the US recently, the staple in our household used to be meat. Contrary to the other countries I have lived in where I cooked my own meals practically every day.

Steak, big juicy t-bones, flank, ribs, tenderloin, prepared by my husband either grilled, fried or deep fried with a side of fries or mashed potatoes was a staple. And that was it. A full meal that any Asian would exaggeratedly refer to as a meal for an entire week. Thus explains the weight gain. Haha.

Now a days, we cook more often and hardly eat out. It’s more cost effective and fosters a more cohesive bond among family members.

BUT, when we travel back home to the Philippines, we EAT. Yup! One of the many traits Filipinos have is that there is always reason to celebrate or grieve or sympathize…..with food.

Below is a list of some of my recommendations should you decided to come to Manila, Philippines and enjoy not only the many beautiful sights, exciting activities and experience for your self the innate good naturedness of our fellow Filipinos:

1. Jollibee – Asia’s answer to McDonald’s in fast food burger business. It is the largest fast food chain in the country with international locations in Brunei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States.

My favorites: Ultra Crispy Chicken Joy, Sweet spaghetti with hotdog topped with cheese, and our very own Palabok.

2. BonChon – My husband’s favorite he wants to open a branch in Missouri. BonChon, meaning “my hometown” in Korean, is a global restaurant / quick service restaurant brand that originated in South Korea in 2002. Founder and owner Mr. Jinduk Seh spent years perfecting the distinct cooking technique and addictive sauces that have made BonChon Chicken the well-loved global phenomenon it is today.

It began making waves in the global arena in 2006 as it entered the US market, captivating the discerning palates and discriminating media outlets of New York, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, and the like quickly. Its cult following propelled it to international shores, with stores in Asia (such as Bangkok, Manila, Jakarta, and Singapore) quickly following.

BonChon is currently headquartered in New York, with a network of more than 140 locations spanning 10 countries.

My favorites: Bonchon Chicken wings and drummies (they call it drumstick) in in soy garlic, spicy, honey citrus or crunchy garlic sauce, Chapchae noodles, sweet potato fries and for dessert, Banoffee and Sansrival Koyo.

Bonchon Chicken at the Ayala Triangle in Makati close to my former apartment at the central business district

3. Pepper Lunch (ペッパーランチ Peppā-ranchi?) - Another big time favorite of my husband, is a “fast-steak” restaurant concept that originated in Japan in 1994. As a matter of fact, this is where we had lunch on our very very first date.

Pepper Lunch at Greenbelt 5, Makati

Created by Japanese chef and inventor, Mr. Kunio Ichinose who wanted to serve quality, fast food without the need to train a chef for years.

At Pepper Lunch diners get to cook their own food over a patented electromagnetic plate that is heated up to 260 degrees Celsius within one minute.

Choice cuts of beef, chicken, pork and salmon are served with rice and vegetables for guests to cook and season using flavors of teriyaki, onion sauce, honey brown sauce (Amakuchi) or garlic soy sauce (Karakuchi)—and that dash of freshly ground pepper to give you that delicious, flavor-filled meal.

Now there are over 200 Pepper Lunch outlets in Japan and all over Asia, including South Korea, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

My Favorites: Garlic Beef pepper rice and spicy tuna salad.

4. Pancake House – The Philippine equivalent of iHop only better (interiors, menu selection and price)

Though I only ordered a set menu during my visit, I was more than happy with my order.

The house special set. My favorite!

My favorites: Caramel banana walnut waffle, French toast, Almondigas, Bacon Potato Salad, Adobo Sulipan and their to die for spaghetti with meat sauce.

On a higher scale, I recommend the following:

5. Mesa Filipino Moderne – A perfect place to bring our entire party of 10 and eat family style with my siblings, our Madre de Familia and our children and my sister’s restaurateur husband. They serve a wide variety of items from appetizers to soups, main dishes to grill items, choice meat and seafood complemented with a selection of desserts and coupled with specialty drinks. In contrast to others, substantially all items are prepared daily inside the restaurant’s kitchen facility using high quality and fresh ingredients based on innovative and authentic regional recipes.

What we ordered and looooved it!: My favorite Beef Kare-Kare (In peanut sauce), Boneless Crispy Pata (Pork Hind leg), Boneless Tilapia, Suahe on the rocks, Sisig (Pork face – yes, you read it right.. including ears, snout and chin.)

What we wanted to order but had no more room in our tummy: Crispychon (roasted suckling pig it’s skin so crispy you can cut it with a plate!)

Suahe is a type of shrimp. The server brings in hot rocks and drops the raw shrimps right infront of you and lets it cook with the hot rocks.

Fish spring roll

Pinatayong manok means a chicken that you let stand up.

Yummy deep fried tilapia, deboned and served into bite size pieces served with 4 different kinds of dip

Boneless pork hind leg. Crispy skin and soft tender meat in the middle.

Fried rice cooked with Shrimp paste and topped with egg and mangoes

6. XO 46 Bistro Filipino - Tucked away in Salcedo Village and Century City in Makati are two elegant oasis’, steeped in old world tradition and charm… XO46 was built with the Filipino and foreign gastronome in mind…. those who wish to enjoy the varied flavors of our islands in its purest form.

XO 46 Heritage Bistro at Century City

Our server during our visit. Loved the ambiance and the energy that their staff welcomes you with.

They offer time-honored dishes slowly and lovingly prepared using traditional methods and ingredients. Here, instant food is taboo…. we prepare our dishes the long way, the way our forefathers did. We offer fiery coconut concoctions from the Bicolandias…earthy, robust flavors from the Ilocos region and deliciously Hispanic dishes from Central Luzon. And as a homage to our Spanish heritage, we also offer a selection of tapas and an array of fine wines from Rioja, Baxias, Villadolid and Catalunya, Spain.

While waiting for your order, the give you a sample of puto (steamed rice cake) in pandan, ube (purple yam) and plain . It is served with a small amount of butter where the orange one is flavored in aligue (crab eggs) . On the other small bowl is cornick (toasted corn) mainly eaten as a snack. But all these details was just a delight. It gives you an experience of culture, food and hospitality that Filipinos are known for.

Pork Binagoongan. I have my own recipe known by my family which the so love I cook it almost at least once a month. But for my son to say this was really good made me jealous! Happy jealous! :-)

Their Batchoy was very flavorful. Though I didn't care much for too much fat served on the dish.

The Halo halo is to die for. I hate clumpy shaved ice on my halo halo, theirs was very smooth and the milk and sugar was already mixed. The original flavors were there: nata de coco, red beans, jackfruit, banana, caong, leche flan and ube with a sprinkle of pinipig! Dear Chef, I so love you! :-)

Note: We went to their Century City Branch and was just blown away by the super tagalog speaking staff all dolled up in a terno and barong. Beat that Via Mare!

What we ordered and looooved it: Pork Binagoongan, Chicken Inasal Batchoy Special and their gourmet Halo Halo! Yum!

If this doesn’t make your mouth water (because mine is just writing about it) I don't know what will …

So when in Manila, Eat, pray and love.

Photos and company text courtesy of their respective sites except for Pancake House and XO 46 Bistro Filipino.