Two people ploughed through all that food. TWO. Let me explain.
Imagine you’re a tourist planning on enjoying your two to four week holiday (depending on where you work) in the Philippines. You have your itinerary in order – stay in Manila for a day, go to Banawe and Sagada, go back to Manila and catch a flight to Boracay, hit up Cebu and maybe spend a week in Palawan before heading back to wherever it is you came from. You’ve planned out the cultural tours, the dive trips, and all the hikes you plan on making, but you completely forgot about the food.
What is Filipino food like? If you have a Filipino co-worker of neighbor (of course you do) then you have probably already tasted their version of adobo. But what else is there to Filipino cuisine? You arrive at Ninoy Aquino International Airport and check into one of the hotels that line Roxas Boulevard or the newer ones with a casino attached, and after a quick shower (and maybe a nap), head over to the Mall of Asia to stock up on items you may have forgotten, and maybe try the native dishes, praying you don’t regret it afterwards.
Before the sheer amount of restaurants at MoA overwhelm you, look for Manam, located in between Lugang Cafe and Toby’s Sports. With a wide variety of Filipino comfort food served up two ways (classic or with a twist) with three portion sizes to choose from (small, medium, and large), one can enjoy an introduction to Filipino cuisine without the reluctance of not knowing what to expect.
For a very Filipino starter, I would recommend one begin with the Ensaladang NamNam (S – Php 125; M – Php 205; L – Php 365), put together with shredded green mangos, pomelo, native tomatoes, and red onions, tossed in bagoong and served with crushed peanuts and tinapa flakes. The sweet, sour, and salty combination whets the appetite, and makes for a brave foray into appreciating the Pinoy palate.
One will love how Manam has an ingenious way of resenting their colorful drinks that make the most of local ingredients, like the Mango + Pomelo + Coconut Cream + Sago (Php 125), a thick shake that is sweet, tart, and creamy; the Mango + Ginger (Php 110), a refreshing shake with a touch of spice; and their take on a frozen mojito, the Dalandan-Mint Slush (Php 165).
The only times I ever have squash flowers are at posh restaurants where they’ve been stuffed and tempura’d, where they’re used more as a case than the main ingredient. Presented as Adobong Bulaklak ng Kalabasa (S – Php 120; M – Php 205; L – Php 365), the flowers are brought front and center in the dish, simply stir-fried with squash and tofu, and served white-adobo style with a smattering of tinapa flakes.
A twist on the humble spring roll, Manam gives the party favorite and upgrade with their Deep-Fried Chorizo & Kesong Puti Lumpia (S – Php 90; M – Php 205; L – Php 370), making for a meaty bite every time. Enjoy the melding of the cheesy chorizo as is or give it a good dunk in vinegar (we Filipinos love our dips) before tucking in.
For a taste of Chinatown without having to go all the way to Ongpin, there is Peking Fried Chicken (S – Php 185; M – Php 325; L – Php 545) on the menu, served with a dark hoisin sauce.
If there’s one thing the Tagalogs eat a lot of, I think that has to be pork, and dishes like this indulgent Crispy Pork Binagoongan (S – Php 200; M – Php 358; L – Php 645) is something you will find yourself craving at the most unusual times of the day, the taste of the tender porcine and crackly skin melding with the sweet and salty binagoongan sauce urging you to order another serving of rice.
Not particularly photogenic is Manam’s famous Sinigang na Beef Short Ribs & Watermelon (S – Php 230; M – Php 405; L – Php 735). Tourists probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference until you’ve supped on a few more bowls of sinigang, but to the Filipinos who grew up on this – this is something special. The warm sour soup is thickened with chunks of sweet watermelon and beef short ribs imbuing their own distinct flavors, making for a mouthwatering meal all on its own.
And of course, when eating any Filipino meal, it is never complete without rice, and in my case, I prefer the Garlic Rice (S – Php 60; M – Php 95; L – Php 155) to compliment all the dishes on the table.
Although taken from French words that mean ‘without rival’, the Choco-Butter Nut Sans Rival (S – Php 250; M – Php 450; L – Php 670) is completely Filipino in origin (although its roots hail from the Dacquoise), with the dessert made with layers of chocolate-flavored buttercream and slivered toasted almonds. Manam’s version is particularly creamy, and one slice i better off shared and paired with a hot cup of Batangas coffee.
Another very Filipino dessert with a twist is their Turon of Mango & Kesong Puti (S – Php 135; M – Php 240; L – Php 450). The simple snack is given a face lift with sweet Philippine mango instead of slices of saba as well as the mild local carabao cheese, wrapped in a spring roll and brown sugar before being deep-fried and served with yema sauce.
The Filipino restaurant isn’t just popular with the tourists, either. This spread was born out of an insatiable craving for pork binagoognan, and the list of dishes ordered seemed to just grow from there once I sat down and looked through the menu. And everything was eaten with done with in around 30 minutes. I call that the Manam effect – good for the soul, bad for the waistline.
Manam is located on the ground floof of the South Wing of the Mall of Asia Complex, Pasay and is open daily from 10am to 10pm.