A Most Malodorous Nightspot

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In Davao City there is a bare but interesting chillout spot. It lacks a coffee house’s sub-audible house music, stylish chairs, arty wall paper, and limitless mutations of brewed coffee; it lacks a bar grill’s offering of alcoholic beverages and crunchy, deep-fried pulutan; and the place reeks of Davao’s famously malodorous fruit. This is the Magsaysay Fruit Vendor Association market (near Magsaysay Park and Chinatown), a row of stalls selling pomelo, mangostene, marang, durian, and durian-based candies (mostly the Lola Abon’s variety).

“Seriously? We would be spending time there?” I kept my thoughts to myself as our guide drove us to the market around 9 pm. “Please buy whatever it is you want to buy. I need to go back to the hotel room and sleep.” We went to one of the stalls and our guide haggled with the vendor. After a few seconds, the vendor brought out for us red monoblock chairs and table, and then opened a durian with a knife. I looked around and noticed the same thing: between a stall and a van were yuppies seated in monoblock chairs, guffawing while eating durian, and in front of another stall were well-dressed matrons having a subdued conversation, also enjoying their durian. Starbucks this place definitely isn’t. However the hush of the surrounding premises, the breeze of the night air, and the colorful rows of fruits and candies provided an unusual and stimulating environment for evening powwows. I began to feel less peevish.

We were brought back to the hotel after 30 minutes; the guide said she hoped we enjoyed the night trip. I chuckled, still feeling the night breeze, still intoxicated by the durian. “Oo naman. And thank you for the educational tour.”

Mexican Food in SSS Village, Marikina

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Like a resplendent cactus in a barren desert, or like Salma Hayek amidst a throng of withered nuns, the Mexican eatery Burrito Brothers stood out among the nondescript stores and houses in Lilac Street. Gigantic pictures of Mexican food and images of mustachioed jalapenos wearing hats enlivened the dismal and grimy sidewalk.

My sister and I made the mistake of going there dinner time; there was a long queue, and we ended up eating in another restaurant. I gathered that afternoon was the best moment to visit the joint, so I went there 5 pm.

While standing in front of the counter cum kitchen, I spied an unoccupied table in the miniscule dining area; I decided to dine-in. I ordered the Super Burrito Beef (P129) and a Jalapeno add-on (P25), Cheese Flautas (P55), and Raspberry Iced Tea (P30).

Cement walls surrounding a cramped space, with an electric fan valiantly blowing cool air: perhaps the motif of the dining area was a Mexican prison. The fly that harassed me was certainly congruous with the setup. All that was missing were tattoed prisoners and contraband goods.

The food was worth the price. It’s not the best burrito I’ve tasted (I still prefer the humungous burritos of Mexicali, or the chorizo burrito of Tia Marias), but it did satisfy my craving for Mexican food. I was reminded of the burritos and the flautas of Miggy’s, a chain of Mexican fast food restaurant that operated in the late 90s.

Before I left, I noted the other dishes in the menu: Taco Salad, Nachos, Cheese Dog Wrap, Chimichanga. I need to come back another time to taste these goodies.

[Burrito Brothers is located in Lilac Street, SSS Village, Marikina City]

Ma Mon Luk

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I was in my late 20s when I realized one does not invite a girl out to Ma Mon Luk. I made this mistake while I was courting an officemate. Once, I invited her to have merienda at the said restaurant; she giggled, and replied, ‘Di ba lasang medyas yung mami dyan?’ A year later, with another girl ending up as my girlfriend, I made the same mistake. When I suggested to my partner that we have dinner at the famous Quezon Avenue eating place, she glared at me as if I invited her to a whorehouse or a sex den, and said, “Mag-isa kang pumunta sa Ma Mon Luk!”

Take it from me: Ma Mon Luk serves the most delectable mami and siopao in the country. But one has to be adventurous enough to endure the unusual aroma that is perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the restaurant. The scent is an enigma to me, though some describe it as ‘smelly feet’; personally I disagree, though I cannot make an empirical and definitive statement about it. I do not have the habit of smelling the feet of my companions while eating mami.

What made me stop going to Ma Mon Luk was not the scent, but a change in the workplace and a burgeoning love of Pho. Still, first love – whether mate or food – is unforgettable, and I would occasionally reminisce over the peculiar mami and siopao. An errand this week led me to visit the Banaue area near Quezon Avenue, and I decided, heck, I’ll drop by Ma Mon Luk for lunch.

I arrived 1:30 pm, and was surprised to see that most of the tables were occupied. The waiters had a hard time keeping up with the customers, and I had to move from table to table to ensure I was noticed. A family at a nearby table took its time in deciding what food to get, so I signaled the server assigned to them to get my order (Original Mami Large, Siopao with Asado and Chicken). While waiting for my food, I noticed that the establishment still retained the marble table tops, the antiquated ceiling fans, and the wood panels. I also noticed a an old sewing machine on display in the dining area; its purpose is a mystery to me, a mystery as beguiling as the secret ingredient of the mami broth

Food arrived after 5 minutes. The dishes were as delightful as I remember them to be. The mami (P95) still had the same thick noodles, the same generous helping of beef and chicken chunks, and the same flavorful broth. The siopao (p55) still had the same rough dough, and the same asado, chicken, and salted egg filling. And I had the same feeling of satiety after every Ma Mon Luk meal.

On my way home, I belched and tasted the broth in my mouth. I suddenly thought, perhaps I should pop a breath mint into my mouth, lest people say I had sweaty socks for lunch.

Nomnomnom Happy Place

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It was the endorsement of a fellow foodie that led me to try out a joint called Nomnomnom Happy Place, perhaps the only restaurant in Manila whose name is partly onomatopoeic, partly metonymic, and wholly ridiculous, like a motel calling itself Boinkboinkboink Pleasure Palace.

The restaurant is in a building located on the corner of E. Rodriguez and Tomas Morato, the same building where World Class Persian Kabab is located; as a proprietor, you have a problem with the location of your business when the landmark to your restaurant is another restaurant. I found it strange that the path to Nomnomnom resembled a path to a residential area – I felt like a burglar trespassing private property, instead of a customer searching for a restaurant.

Inside, I seem to have wandered into a Papemelroti gift shop. There were a number of quaint items on display, like the bird house and the wooden light house replica. The room relaxed diners because of the intentionally dim lighting and the soft colors of the walls and the decors; I thought I suddenly drifted to sleep and began dreaming because I saw a rainbow and a reindeer who declared ‘Something good always happens’, but it turned out they was just paintings on the wall. The pressure of wood on my back and my rump ensured that I wouldn’t be dozing off during the meal.

Based on the recommendation of the waitress, I ordered the enchilada (P160) plus tomato and lentil soup (P90). My friend was late in texting that she recommends the stuffed tomato. Much to my horror, I discovered through a belated reading of the menu that the enchilada I ordered was stuffed with kangkong and did not contain a shred of meat. I suppressed a cry of anguish: I was in a semi-vegetarian restaurant. I can imagine my friend reprimanding me upon hearing my story, ‘Serves you right for not listening to me carefully.’

My order arrived after 7 to 10 minutes. The soup was spicy and slightly sweet; I would have preferred more salt, as I prefer salty soup. The enchilada… well what can I say about an enchilada stuffed with foliage instead of flesh, except that it tastes like enchilada stuffed with foliage instead of flesh. The dish was overflowing with cream cheese, and there I dipped the leaves that clumped together, to make it taste less like kangkong. Truth be told, it was an interesting use of kangkong, though I would have preferred spinach as stuffing (like spinach lasagna, or spinach calzone).

I left the restaurant with hunger dissipated, my belly stuffed with kangkong leaves. If I try Nomnomnom again, I’ll try out the few non-vegetarian dishes, or perhaps the stuffed tomato my friend was raving about.

World Class Persian Kabab

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It was an establishment begging for a visit: the name of the restaurant is an amusing, hyperbolic claim – World Class Persian Kabab – and the signage is a lurid red-and-white combination reminiscent of the banner of local tabloids. With curiosity and sense of irony piqued, I decided to try out the food.

I entered the restaurant ignorant of what world-class kebabs taste like, my experience with the dish limited to the offerings of local Mediterranean joints. Arriving an hour early before lunch time, I found myself the only customer, though I observed some of the restaurant staff having lunch.

A lady in t-shirt and jeans approached to get my order. I noted the tattered plastic covering the menu and the functional (and ugly) metal chairs. World-class facilities they aren’t. However, the prices are enticingly cheap. I ordered Pita Bread (P10/piece), Hummus (P45), and Chicken Kebab with Basmati Rice (P90).

Food arrived after 5 to 7 minutes. I enjoyed the repast, though it takes effort to bungle the preparation of good hummus and kebab. The pita bread was a bit crispy, and a piece was burnt in some parts. The hummus was oily but more flavorful than usual. With regards to the kebab, I appreciated the use of basmati instead of plain rice to accompany the meat. I also appreciated that they didn’t skimp on the vegetables: instead of just tomatoes and onions, the kebab was also complemented by lettuce and cucumber. I would have wanted a bigger serving of chicken kebab though.

Thus, I enjoyed the meal and will perhaps coming back to try out the other dishes. I am still ignorant though of what world class kebabs taste like.

[World Class Persian Kebab is on the corner of E. Rodriguez and Tomas Morato, Q.C.]

Van Marley’s

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I was looking at the menu of Van Marley’s – a Dutch eatery in Xavierville, Q.C. – and I imagined what the Dutch are like. Judging by the sausages, deep fried food, and sweet pancakes, I pictured Netherlanders as fat and wheezing, prone to cardiac arrest and diabetes. I noted the various European alcoholic beverages on the wooden shelf in front of me. Beer bellies, I thought to myself, the Dutch have beer bellies.

I chose the Kroket (Croquette, containing meat ragout) and the Dutchkins (miniature Dutch pancakes). While waiting for my order, I explored the things around me. I chuckled at some of the pictures in the menu. You have to be extremely liberal, or extremely licentious, to choose photographs of sex shops and the red light district (with accompanying caption: red light district) to represent your country. I saw a Netherlands flag on the ceiling, and a Netherlands travel guide on the magazine shelf. I was perplexed with the Rastafarian motif of the restaurant: two lamps had the face of Bob Marley, and there was a poster of a peace logo, surrounded by psychedelic shapes and colors. Is there a Jamaica-Netherlands connection we are unfamiliar with? Totally un-Dutch-like was the background music: the radio was playing Eraserhead’s El Bimbo.

Food arrived after ten minutes. I started eating the Kroket. It reminded me of Corn Dogs, although with a thinner though crunchier coating, and containing shredded meat instead of hot dog. I enjoyed the Dutchkins – my order had blueberry paste (with hints of cream cheese) on top of each mini-pancake, and the sour and saltiness balanced the sweetness of the pancake and powdered sugar. Though truth be told, I still prefer crepe with sour fruit. The Kroket cost P135, the Blue Berry Cream Cheese Dutchkins P125.00.

I’ll try to come back to Van Marley’s in a few weeks with fellow foodies so that we can try the beer and other dishes.

———————–

One week after, I came back to Van Marley’s with a couple of friends. We tried the Drunk Dory and Flaming Dutch Wings and found both dishes delicious. I also changed my initial assessment of Dutchkins: those little things are divine! Especially, the ones with blueberry cream toppings.

Little Tokyo

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We were a band of gluttons from Quezon City and Marikina, on a sortie in faraway Makati to find Little Tokyo, a cluster of Japanese restaurant that is the Avalon of foodies searching for authentic Japanese Food in Manila.

The group found Little Tokyo beside Makati Cinema Square (which is along Pasong Tamo). We arrived around 5 pm, ready to wield our chopsticks against a phalanx of sushis, tempuras, and udons. To our dismay, we discovered that the restaurants open at 6 pm, and so we had to retreat momentarily to a nearby den of DVD vendors.

We returned an hour later, rapacious and ravenous enough to take on any gastronomical challenge. The terrain was unfamiliar so we had to learn the rules of engagement, the most important being to order from a restaurant if you occupy the chairs in front of it. However, you can also order dishes from other eateries as long as the restaurant whose seats you have occupied does not serve those dishes. You can eat inside the establishment, but the dining area looks cramped, and eating in the open air seems more interesting.

The restaurant we chose was Nodasho. Despite the pictures and the English translations in the menu, we were at a loss as to what we would be ordering. We all turned to the group-appointed tactician, who then utilized the shock-and-awe strategy, which in layman’s terms means order enough food so that it keeps on coming until we are rendered senseless. She then berated us for our indecisiveness.

After 10 minutes, we had our first skirmish. From a nearby restaurant came the Takoyaki, which is batter with octopus pieces, shaped into a ball. The dish is ‘ballsier’ than the food stall version found in malls, that is to say the ball is bigger and contains actual octopus pieces. I also noticed that the batter is soft and creamy.

The battle became more intense when the sushi platter was served. Being a valiant trooper, I took it upon myself to eat the sushi pieces my fellow soldiers were avoiding: sea urchin roe, which – frankly speaking – looks like the spilled innards of a casualty of war; mackerel – fishy as expected; and tuna sashimi. As a side dish, we had potato salad, which we felt was fish-flavored mashed potato.

Then came a blitzkrieg of dishes: Niku Udon (beef and thick noodles in broth), Yaki onigiri (sushi rice shaped into a semi-triangular piece), plain Ebi Tempura and Ebi Tempura Soba (Ebi Tempura and buckwheat noodles in broth), Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake, similar in taste to the batter of the Takoyaki) and croquettes and a grilled fish whose names I failed to catch. Our appetites were pummeled by the culinary shock-and-awe, and we eventually had to raise the white flag.

As in the aftermath of any battle, we accounted for the damages. We were 7 in the group, and each had to contribute P600 for the meal. I did not see the receipt, but I listed the prices of some of the dishes. Yes, they are more expensive than ones in a mall-based Japanese restaurant, but believe me the food is worth it.

Anyway, below are the prices I managed to list down:

  • California Maki P200
  • Ebi Tempura P330
  • Okonomiyaki P290
  • Ebi Tempura Edon Soba P320
  • Niku UdonSoba P280

We left around 8 pm, vowing to come back to exact vengeance on the dishes that eluded us. We will return Little Tokyo, we will return.

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