When Joel and I visited Manila in February for my visa application, we took it as a chance to have a vacation. We’ve been to Manila several times but each visit felt shorter than the one before it. So, we decided to have that vacation in Manila — where we would visit all the places we want to visit at our own time. Because it was a vacation, we splurged a little bit with food (which we don’t usually do) and I did some research on where to eat that was walking distance from Casa Bocobo, the hotel we where staying at along Kalaw St. and just across Rizal Park.
Not to be biased, but to me, Filipino cuisine is the most flavorful cuisine in the world. (Readers from other countries, thank you for coming here and please feel free to rebut my claim.). “Traditional” Filipino cooking has always been world-class. Traders from around the world have visited our islands and have brought with them influences, not just in culture and religion, but also in cuisine. The Chinese, for example, have traded with early Filipinos since the 14th century, that’s why many good-old Filipino food resemble Chinese food (e.g. pancit). In the 16th century, the Spaniards came and stayed for the next 300 years. They left immeasurable impact not just in societal structure, government, and politics, but more so in cooking. Nowadays, Pinoy comfort food comes with the mix of American influence who stayed here for roughly 50 years.
Emerald Garden Restaurant.We started our culinary tour with Chinese-influenced food. I have read from Instagram (for following foodie Pinoys) about this Chinese restaurant that seems to be an institution. This restaurant also came up everytime I searched for “where to eat near U.S. Embassy.” The siopao here is legendary but when we visited at 11:30 in the morning, siopao was already sold out. We settled with fried rice, siomai, and big juicy dumplings. The place was packed so the earlier the better. Oh, and, a bit of trivia — This was where P-Noy allegedly sought cover during the infamous Quirino Grandstand Stand-off. Price: We paid P500 for a platter of rice, steamed dumplings, a serving of siomai, and a can of Coke.
The Manila Hotel.We capped our day 1 in Manila with Pinoy “high tea” at the famed Manila Hotel. Immediately after landing from Manila, I excitedly wrote about our tea experience at The Manila Hotel. The hotel is strategically located near Quirino Grandstand, the Manila Oceanpark, Rizal Park, Intramuros and the triumvirate of national museums, including the National Museum of Fine Arts and the National Museum of Anthropology, that this should give you respite after heavy touring. I loved that the hotel’s high tea included kakanins. Price: The tea set is priced at P650.
Cafe Breton.On our second day, we treated ourselves to modern Filipino comfort food — with French influences. Cafe Breton is owned by Mariela Luna and Tony Cancio (also of Kanin Club) and is a French-inspired cafe, specializing on crepes and galettes. The cafe opened in 1998 and is now 20 years. We visited the Robinsons Manila branch and I read that the original branch was on Ma. Orosa St., in the same neighborhood. Price: We paid P800 for a serving of salad, a breakfast plate, 2 galettes, and a glass of iced tea.
Hizon’s and Za’s Cafe.On our last day, we stopped for lunch at Za’s Cafe, a restaurant frequented by The King of Comedy and other dignitaries, that serve American-inspired homecooking. This was probably our “best find” during this trip. The restaurant is in a corner and we passed by this while on our way to Robinsons Manila. They were closing that time so we decided we will check it out the next day before we head to the airport. The restaurant is very unassuming. It might have been an old house and it has none of the Instagrammable vibe millennials would flock to. But, the food was downright comforting and delicious — and this restaurant is the favorite of the late comedy king, Dolphy, among other notable celebrities and politicians. I ordered the beef stew while Joel ordered the pork chops. I could still taste the soft beef and the mashed potato. We paid P800 for 2 meals, which also included a serving of salad each meal, and a glass of iced tea.