Look for the classics with a twist in Manila
This fast-growing Manila-based restaurant chain has endeared itself to Pinoy diners so much that items on its signature “classics and twists” menu have become, well, just classics. So they’ve upped their game by opening three Manam cafés in quick succession (at SM Megamall, Molito and the Podium), specializing in sinful, slightly crazy comfort food for that peculiarly Pinoy in-between-meals meal that is the merienda. If you’ve arrived too early or too late to get a full serving of the restaurant’s short rib sinigang (their version of the classic sour broth is sweetened by watermelon) or crispy sisig (theirs is served over pancit canton noodles instead of rice), ask for coffee and pair it with the café’s quirky pastries. The ube sticky rolls put the earthy flavors of purple yam in a traditional treat, while the calamansi tart is a more tangy Filipino take on the key lime pie.
We won’t judge if you order the Chorizo Ensaymada ’Wich — essentially a cheesy, buttery ensaymada roll cut in half to hold a choriburger patty. A meatless three-cheese version replaces the burger patty with the fresh kesong puti cheese made from carabao milk.
Pro tip: You can amp up the Three Cheese Ensaymada ’Wich by adding raclette, making it a four-cheese ensaymada.
You have to hand it to Manila’s hotel buffets: Instead of serving up generically international fare, they’ve been coming up with unique, memorable concepts that have made them a mainstay in Filipino family celebrations.
Kusina, at the new Hilton Manila in Resorts World, aims to be the go-to venue for family gatherings. The relatively small menu proudly highlights Filipino favorites, from the humble humba, a sweeter, stickier cousin to adobo; to the kare-kare, a stew that mostly makes an appearance only during special occasions. The drinks station also features a charming, nostalgic collection of samalamig, which every Filipino schoolchild will recognize as the generic term for cooling drinks bought on the street.
But the buffet’s centerpiece is their seafood dampa station, a tribute to the quick-cooking diners found next to wet markets near the sea. The catch of the day is laid out for the picking, before it’s whisked away to the kitchen to be cooked to your specifications.
Pro tip: The chef is especially proud of the kare-kare, and for good reason. You’ll be hard-pressed to find kare-kare of this quality outside a Filipino home during fiesta season.
The Filipino-food spinoff of Chateau 1771 pioneered the whole classics-with-a-twist wave when it debuted its corned beef sinigang 17 years ago, adding the salty pantry staple to the traditionally sour dish.
Revisit their menu by trying the smoked fish spring rolls, a riff on the lumpia that brings in umami from smoked milkfish, or the fried kesong puti, a Filipino take on mozzarella sticks. Sentro still puts its corned beef sinigang front and center, but also try the Rated GG — galunggong, a fish traditionally associated with working-class home food, is given the Spanish sardine treatment, cooked in oil and topped with browned garlic.
Pro tip: Sentro is perhaps the only Filipino cuisine restaurant that employs a sommelier; they offer a wine list that is designed to go with a cuisine that does not traditionally include wine.
This article first appeared in the April 2019 issue of Smile magazine.