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GOOD FOOD + GOOD FRIENDS + GOOD MEMORIES = one of the best combinations to a Good Life! And somehow, an online chat with friends suddenly brought on wonderful memories of the 80s and triggered a craving for CUA PAO AT EMER’S!

EMER’S — an unpretentious and modest Chinese restaurant located at the lower ground floor of Makati Square (once called “Makati Cinema Square” but now the cinemas are gone), surrounded by the most interesting (and some pretty tacky) stores selling DVDs (although in the 80s, they were more of laser discs and VHS tapes) of films and TV series, CDs and LPs of music both obscure and popular, second-hand books and magazines at Booksale, as well as “PX” goods, firearms and ammunition, vintage furniture, even gaudy gowns and cheap imported clothes, and many many more other goods.

EMER’S, I believe, is as old as the mall itself. Makati (Cinema) Square was, way way back then in the 80s, the gang’s hangout for our weekly billiards, bowling, and beer sessions. And Emer’s was our favorite go-to place for our cua pao and pancit fix, after browsing around the shops. More than 30 years later, I still crave their cua pao, happy to relive fun memories of the wild and wacky 80s with every bite.

Cua pao — or Gua bao, as it is properly called — is the Taiwanese rendition of a pork belly sandwich. It is usually a bao or steamed bun stuffed with slices of slow-braised pork belly, tender and succulent, which are combined with stir-fried pickled mustard greens (or suan cai), wansuy (aka cilantro), and sweet ground peanuts. I read that Gua Bao literally means “tiger bites pig” because the mouth of the bun is like a tiger’s chewing on a pig. Not exactly an appetizing image, but okay.

The first time I had cua pao was at Empress (or was it Emerald) Garden in Ermita, way back in the late 70s, a stone’s throw from my office. And I fell in love with it ever since. And I discovered it at Emer’s when I transferred to an office which was just a few blocks from then-Makati Cinema Square. That delectably soft steamed bun that enfolded those delicious umami, salty, sweet, pungent, and fresh Oriental flavors, all together in an amalgam of interesting textures. What’s not to love?

The cua pao at Emer’s is still as good as I remembered, except that there seems to be less meat now. And I miss the sprigs of cilantro that comes with it. Otherwise, the flavors are there. And it satisfied my food memory craving. Plus, all the other signature dishes of the restaurant — Crab Fuyong, Garlic Chicken, Crispy Bean Curd, etc — are still just as good. But we forgot to order their famous Pata Tim! A good reason to come back the next time… and create new food memories.

The Mile Long tenants will soon be leaving the place but, thankfully, Makati Square where Emer’s is will still be around. Emer’s Food Center is at the Lower Ground Floor. For reservations, you can call 811-1833 or 843-6113.

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