Manila Eats – Dining Filipino Style

by Amanda McInerney on 14/04/2014

My recent visit to Manila was short, but sweet. Sweet because the fondness for sugar over there is incredible, but also because – even during my very short visit – I got to eat often and really well. If you’re headed to Manila and are looking for dining tips, start here! While a guest of the KitchenAid Gourmet Summit I lived and breathed food – I talked it, listened to talks about it, learned lots about making the preparation of it much faster and easier, cooked it and ate it. As far as the latter goes we were very spoiled indeed, having the chance to try many aspects of the Filipino food experience, so read on for a glimpse of the culinary treats we enjoyed.

A local dining secret, The Crescent Moon Cafe is hidden away from tourists and you won’t find it without quite a bit of help. A family run garden restaurant in the back streets of Antipolo City, Rizal, it is about 25 kilometres east of Manila and worth the trip. The restaurant itself is an open dining pavillion in the centre of a lovingly designed and planted garden full of palms and ponds. The garden is also home to the pottery business of Lanelle Abueva-Fernando, the daughter of Bey Fernando who opened the restaurant in 1997 when ill health forced him to give up his legal work.

Relying on no other advertising than word of mouth, the Crescent Moon is noted for it’s fresh local food, with a menu that changes daily depending upon what is available at the local market. One dish that is a regular is the Alagaw appetiser. Alagaw leaves are native to the Philippines and valued for their medicinal properties. In this dish they are used as the wrapper for a range of other ingredients including chopped onion, ginger, green mangoes, garlic, green chili, dried shrimps, basil, peanuts and a secret sweet brown sauce to create a deliciously fresh appetiser. We followed that with an amazing local take on pumpkin soup made rich and creamy with the addition of coconut cream and tender pieces of young coconut which had been simmered in the soup until they were soft. Add to that the chicken curry, beef stir fry and rice and you’ve got a pretty splendid meal – and one that set us back less than $40Au for three of us – a bargain!

The Goose Station (a clever play on words, think de-gus-tation) is an intimate, chef-run, fine dining restaurant tucked away in a corner of the Bonifacio district. Using local ingredients and with a nod to the local culinary heritage, this menu is a far cry from simple traditional food, displaying a sophistication that would do the chefs proud anywhere in the world. The degustation menu is a stunner, as evinced by the fact that I made my way through it despite having enjoyed a three course lunch earlier in the day!

The skill and artistry coming out of their kitchen shone in the paper-thin pastry Foie Gras Cone, the subtle hint of sesame in the Tuna Tartare and the beauty of their signature Beet Garden. Like I said – modern and sophisticated.

Embracing the traditional, La Cocina de Tita Moning, is a personal family museum and an exclusive private restaurant. Again, not the sort of place you can wander into off the street, this is the ancestral home of the Legarda family and is secreted behind significant security barriers as it is inside the region surrounding Malacanang presidential palace. The restaurant is run by chef Suzette Legarda- Montinola – grand-daughter of the original Legarda’s and a lecturer at Enderun Culinary College – and we were taken of a tour of some of the public rooms before our meal. Several rooms are kept more or less as they were when Suzette’s grandparents lived in the house, giving us a glimpse at the lifestyle of wealthy and influential Filipinos in the early 20th century.

We were seated in the sumptuous dining room, set as it would have been in it’s heyday, and served a menu which Suzette oversees,  featuring dishes that her grandmother created and had served. This is a more traditional look at Filipino food. We began with Tinolang Manok, a native chicken broth, served in fine china cups and saucers, and made our way through a menu which displays the many influences on the local cuisine.  This included dishes like roast pork served with chicharon (a pork rind dish) and paella, alongside the Filipino favourite Kare Kare and fresh papaya and mango salad with a honey calamansi dressing.

Of course, the reason I was in Manila in the first place was to be able to spend some time learning more about the highly respected range of KitchenAid products and I did that in the fabulous teaching kitchens of Enderun College, but more about my back-to-school days later in the week. As part of the culinary and hospitality course Enderun students learn the ropes in Restaurant 101, a fine dining application restaurant which focuses on French technique, coupled with the bold Asian flavours of local, seasonal ingredients. The restaurant is open to the public – so no pressure for the students there ;-) – and each day we enjoyed a set, three course menu the standard of which is comparable to any fine dining restaurant I’ve enjoyed anywhere in the world.

The Filipinos love their food and this is just a glimpse of their exciting culinary scene. I haven’t even started on the street food there – but that will come, later.

Whilst in Manila Lambs’ Ears and Honey was a guest of KitchenAid.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella April 14, 2014 at 12:58 pm

The food looks good but I love that pottery! That really caught my eye, especially the jade coloured pottery.

Kate April 15, 2014 at 7:25 am

I passed this straight on to Younes as he has a family of 5 from Manila on tour with him this week.

Maureen | Orgasmic Chef April 15, 2014 at 5:46 pm

I have a good friend named Arvin who lives in the Philippines and he does photo shoots for food magazines. Food is quite attractive but I’m in love with the pottery in your photos!

Hotly Spiced April 16, 2014 at 8:19 am

What a lot of contrast you have in this post. It’s great that you were able to get off the tourism trail and discover really wonderful hidden gems in Manila. The appetiser made in those leaves sounds really interesting and I love the dining setting at the last restaurant xx

Anna Johnston April 16, 2014 at 7:42 pm

Amazing. What a wonderful whirl wind adventure. All the food looks delightful, and I love seeing the locals doing there thing, but the little pots look particularly cool. A few years back I started collecting blue pots, will have to source some from the Philippines too. :)

InTolerant Chef April 23, 2014 at 12:05 pm

What an amazing time you must have had indeed! I’m so glad you showed us such a wide range of cuisine- such variety and it all looks so delicious xox

Fiona @TIFFIN bite sized food adventures April 28, 2014 at 8:06 pm

I always think Filipino food is so underrated in Australia. Not that I know much about it myself but it’s curious how it’s still a real niche. Enjoyed your post and how lucky you were to visit Crescent Moon. As for the degusttaion after a 3 course lunch…well, someone had to do it!

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