Yummy Yum Cha at Tim Ho Wan

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Tim Ho Wan has always prided itself in being “the world’s cheapest Michelin-star restaurant.” The term Michelin, after all, elevates any restaurant that has been awarded such an honor. Technically speaking, though, only its branches in North Point, Tai Kok, and Sham Shui Po in Hong Kong received one Michelin star each back in 2015. So far. Be that as it may, Tim Ho Wan, whichever branch you go to for dim sum, is a preferred spot for the yummiest yum cha.

Especially their heavenly Baked BBQ Pork Bun! Everybody’s favorite, of course. What with that succulently tenderest pork bathed in a sweet-savory sauce oozing out of a soft cloud of biscuity dough. What’s not to love?

Be prepared to wait for a table. There does not seem to be an hour when there is no queue for these delicious and reasonably priced yum cha.

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Lo de Alberto — it’s MEXcellente!

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It’s their claim to be “the only AUTHENTIC taqueria” in the country which intrigued me. What are authentic Mexican tacos anyway? I wouldn’t know — I’ve never been to Mexico. So I checked out the tiny hole-in-the-wall spot to learn more and judge for myself.

Lo de Alberto serves traditional and authentic Mexican street food, as presented by Mexico-born Chef Balam Nazar. Except for the tortilla chips, EVERYTHING is made fresh and from scratch! The menu choices are not limited to just tacos. You can have huge, well-stuffed burritos, flavorful flautas, generously loaded quesadillas, and even hearty soups. (I liked the Sopa Azteca). Salsas of varying degrees of hotness usually come with every order. There is, of course, Corona, the classic Mexican lager, to help wash down your meal. But you may opt for refreshing, non-alcoholic beverages like the classic Mexican Horchata (made of rice, vanilla, cinnamon, and milk), the Tamarindo (sweet-sour-tart cooler made with sampaloc or tamarind), Sandía (made of watermelon), various Aguas Frescas, and Sangría. Anything and everything goes perfectly well with their delicious tacos and other amazingly yummy fare.

Alberto, in case you were wondering, is a cactus that the chef has had since they started developing the eatery. Lo is a pan that he purchased during that same period.

Whether or not that the food here as authentic as they claim — and my friends, who would know, say that it is! — it is definitely good, delicious, and most satisfying. Worth coming back to again and again.

Lo de Alberto in Makati is on Gallardo St., at the side of Tropical Palms Condominium, just off De La Rose St. in Legaspi Village. Its main branch is at the City Golf Plaza, Dona Julia Vargas Avenue in Pasig City.

Well, hello deli — Brera Deli

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I remember the first real and proper deli that I patronized was the venerable SÄNTIS, owned by Werner Berger (aka Sänti). If I remember right, he was the Executive Chef for Philippine Airlines back in the 70s until he retired and established Euro-Swiss Food Inc. in 1984. And in 1987, he opened Sänti’s Delicatessen on Yakal St. in Makati, offering a wide selection of imported European meats and food products … and wine and cheese, of course … like Manila had never enjoyed before. People, especially gourmets, flocked to his deli and made it part of their weekly marketing to-do.

Of course, not before long, delicatessens (from the French word délicatesse, meaning “delicious things [to eat]) became popular and familiar sources of European food products, like cheeses, sausages and cured meats, other specialty fare, and even prepared dishes. Not soon after, Terry’s opened in the 90s, bringing superb Spanish meats and dishes, thanks to Señor Juan Carlos de Terry.

And now comes a new favorite deli for me, Brera. Owned by the S&L Fine Foods group, it, too, offers a good repertoire of European gourmet food products. Like both Sänti’s and Terry’s Selection, Brera offers as well excellently prepared dishes which make use of and showcase the fine merchandise they sell. The steaks and pastas are outstanding, although being a bit on the the pricey side.

Brera Delicatessen is located at Molito Shopping Complex across from Ayala Alabang Village. And recently, a branch has now openned on the ground floor of the Park Terraces Tower at the Glorietta Complex in Makati.

What is the plural of lanzones?

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Lanzoneses?

Whatever it is, I look forward to enjoying this fruit come August-September, when it is in season. The provinces of Laguna, Butuan, and Cagayan de Oro and the island of Camiguin are famous for the sweetest lanzoneses. In fact, on the 3rd week of October, Camiguin holds its 4-day Lanzones Festival. Great reason to visit the island!

These ones here are from Cagayan de Oro. And they are all incredibly sweet. Not peachy-sweet, but sweet with a touch of tartness, like most Asian fruits. In my mind, I judge the sweetness of the fruit by its firm flesh that has a little give and some brown marks. For me, those marks indicate the qualities of ripeness and sweetness. It also helps when the black ants come in droves, crawling all over the bunches, and get into a sugar orgy.

Interestingly enough, sweet as it can be, it’s a good choice of snack for those with diabetes, as it can actually help improve the body’s glucose levels.

Legend has it that the word “lanzones” is derived from lason, meaning poison. There was a time, they say, when the fruits were poisonous. To make a long story short, Mother Mary put her thumbmark on the fruit to remove the poison and made it sweet, juicy, and safe to eat.

Well, any fruit with a divine blessing is definitely a fave for me. And now that it’s in season, I’m having my fill of lanzoneses…es.

WARUNG — Comfort Food of Indonesia

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Driving down the winding East Capitol Drive at Pasig’s Kapitolyo, we came upon a lovely mid-century house in which the best home-cooked Indonesian food I have so far enjoyed in Manila is served. Warung Kapitolyo.

You’ll know you’re there when you see this intricately carved wooden doorway in front. Simply drive up (there is parking inside) and walk into the house’s warm and welcoming interiors. The high ceilings, the open-spaced set-up, the touches of traditional Indonesian embellishments… but, most of all, the friendly and genial hospitality of owners Louh Decena and Tess Doctora and their wonderful staff … all combine to make anyone feel right gladly received and at ease.

In a nutshell, Louh and her sister Tess have lived as expats in Jakarta for decades. When they returned to the Philippines, they decided to bring home with them the flavors of Indonesian cuisine that they learned to love. Louh admitted that they really knew next to nothing about running a restaurant business. In fact, Louh herself will admit that she is not a trained professional cook. What she did know was how to cook the traditional Indonesian food she and her sister had learned to love all those years. So they took a chance and, with the help of Indonesian experts, set up Warung in Kapitolyo. From fine-tuning the recipes and facilitating staff training to the design and aesthetics of the house they bought and renovated to provide that wonderfully homey Indonesian atmosphere, Warung came into being.

They make it a point, as much as possible, to use authentic Indonesian ingredients and spices, making their own sambal, saus kacang (peanut sauce), and tempeh (which is like tofu but better, tastier, and healthier). They even grow their own Indonesian chillies and herbs to ensure that the flavors are as true to the cuisine as possible. But they also bring in special Indonesian ingredients which cannot be found here, even the butter. The result is dishes which are homey, uncomplicated, and delicious Indonesian comfort food.

Warung Kapitolyo is on 83 East Capitol Drive in Pasig. It’s open from Monday to Saturday, from lunch to dinner. To make reservations, you may call 0917.534.7089. On Sundays, you can drop by their stall at the Legazpi Sunday Market in Makati and get your Indonesian food fix right there and then or to go. Warung, after all, means a stall or stand in Bahasa.

 

Prosciutto di Quack-quack

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When you hear prosciutto, no doubt you immediately think of that delightful dry-cured Italian ham made from a hog’s leg. But if you are fortunate enough to come across it, you should try duck or goose prosciutto. Familiar as we all are with the traditional prosciutto made from pigs, this is an entirely different, divine, and ducky experience.

Prosciutto d’Oca

It seems the Jewish community in Italy and all over Europe, forbidden by religious law to eat pork, had found a way to enjoy a more Kosher prosciutto, using duck or goose. According to food writer  , “…Jews in every country in the Diaspora found ways to create kosher versions of their neighbors’ food. Italian Jews took duck and smoked it to create duck prosciutto, the kosher cousin to the famous Italian salted ham.”

And I am so happy that they did. Goose or duck prosciutto has its own distinct rich flavor that’s a league all on its own. It tastes salty-sweet with a slight gamey sharpness that goes perfectly with a full-bodied, bold red, like a Pinot Noir or Malbec. It was no surprise that all the duck or goose prosciutto slices (I’m not exactly sure which one it is but I think it was duck) served at the Cheese Club were polished off in under an hour, while all the other deli meats offered had to settle for second choice.

Now, can anyone tell me please where I can buy duck prosciutto here in Manila?

VENGO! — your neighborhood café & taquería

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If you’re jonesing for traditional and authentic Mexican food… no, this is not the place for you. But if you like flavorful, modern, Mexican-INSPIRED food and drinks, then yes, ven aquí a Vengo!

My favorite is the Pork Cheek Confit Taco — crispy-fried pork cheek and chicharon in a soft taco. They make their tacos and tortillas fresh everyday. I like washing it down with one of their signature cocktails, like that Sweep The Leg drink made with gin, cucumber, mint, lime,and a splash of water with orris root essence. Light and refreshing on a sun-blasted Manila day. Or night.

It’s a cafe and restaurant in one, offering a lot of tasty, Mexican-fusion dishes to choose from — from salads and tortillas to rice bowls — as well as an array of coffee concoctions and cocktail drinks. Vengo Neighborhood Cafe has a branch on Carlos Palanca St. (just off De La Rosa St.) in Legaspi Village in Makati. It’s open from 11am onwards. 

Burgers at UCC Mentoré

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I “discovered” great burgers at an unlikely spot — UCC Mentoré. A cozy and often overlooked oasis in the middle of the Raffles and Fairmont Hotels at the Glorietta Complex in Makati. When you think UCC, you most likely think just Japanese + coffee. But they serve great and delicious food there, from soups, salads, and sandwiches to pasta and pastries.

Mentore Burger: 1/3 lb US Angus beef burger with caramelized onions and blue cheese. Served with wedged fries.

Sloppy Joe Burger : Grilled beef patty smothered in cheese sauce and marinara, topped with onions and a fried egg. Served with wedged fries.

Araya Ramen

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Araya Ramen restaurant sits unobtrusively beside the exit ramp and beneath the De la Rosa Car Park 1 in Legaspi Village in Makati. It reminds me a lot of Tokyo’s small ramen-yas in and underneath the city’s train stations, serving quick and simple but good and hearty steaming bowls of ramen for the harried workers and the time-pressed salarymen.

It’s a tiny and rather cramped space, with a long counter facing the kitchen and a few tables along the side. Not a spot for lingering around and chatting. Slurp your ramen and eat your gyoza or whatever siding you want — there are others waiting their turn for a quick and satisfying meal before heading back to work or home.

Funnily enough, according to the Urban Dictionary, araya means “A drop-dead gorgeous girl who can be ugly at times but really beautiful. She’s such a flirt, she’s a cutie, she loves to text but mostly call! She’s a cheerleader most of the time and a ninja the rest.” That’s a funny definition. I also learned that Araya means “‘wild valley’ or ‘new valley’ in eastern Japan and pronounced Aratani in western Japan.”

No idea which one applies to the name of the restaurant but Araya Ramen can be found along De la Rosa St. below the De la Rosa Car Park 1, the one nearest to Greenbelt 5. I also don’t know if they accept reservations but you can call 888-4422 to make sure.

The magical Black Pig

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Pigs are truly magical animals. From snout to tail — there doesn’t seem to be a part of a pig that we can’t enjoy. Even its blood and balls! One could go practically the whole hog with a pig, so to speak. Such a waste of a glorious animal, if one didn’t.

At The Black Pig Charcuterie, Bar, and Restaurant, Chef Carlos Garcia is the wizard whose dishes have brought out the magic in every part of the pig, especially the black Iberian pig of Spain, from which we derive the wonderful Jamon Iberico, AND of course our very own native pig, which is highly prized for our traditional lechon and comes usually in all-black color or black with a white belly.

The Black Pig serves deliciously innovative dishes which they describe as a “mix of European-inspired recipes using fresh local ingredients”, not necessarily all pork. A few combinations are unusual or even unexpected, such as Char Siu Pork on a bed of our local adlai grain, Extremadura Lamb Caldereta braised in white wine, or Iberico Pork Paté. They also offer a fine and satisfying set lunch menu everyday. Or you could simply while the time away and nibble on their choices of excellent charcuterie and cheeses while enjoying unlimited glasses of cava, wine, or sangria. Or craft beer on tap, if that’s more your preference. You may choose to stay inside the stylish, modern interiors or on the balcony for al fresco wining and dining (enjoy the fresh breezes of the South while it is not yet too congested). They’re open from breakfast to midnight.

From the food to the service and even the beverage choices, everything, in my own personal experience so far, has been excellent. Every dish served seemed to be thoughtfully curated and perfectly prepared. Pork and other meats are rarely well glorified as they are here. If I had a choice, I’d be happy to come enjoy a wonderful lunch and stay on for happy hour and dinner and on till midnight comes.

The Black Pig is located at the 2nd floor, Commerce Center, at Filinvest in Alabang. It’s often best to reserve, especially in the evenings: call 808-1406 or +63 917-8450744. And don’t forget to have your parking ticket validated for free parking.