Filipino Gastronomic Escapade: A Double Food Review

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Let’s face it: Filipino food is the gastronomic equivalent of coming home.

Whether it’s your home, your friend’s or your neighbor’s, nothing speaks “comfort” like the soothing aroma of the concotions of different condiments and spices that can be only described as linamnam.

So when Andrew Zimmern proclaimed Filipino food as “the next big thing”, Filipinos were sent in a frenzy all over. After generations and generations of worldwide diaspora, our ambrosial cuisine of flavor and richness has somehow managed to fly under the radar, in comparison to our Asian neighbors who have met mainstream success overseas. And to finally get the recognition that yes, Filipino food is in fact, delicious and goes beyond lumpia and into a plethora of recipes spanning 7,107 islands, is in a word, awesome.

And who doesn’t want their lutong-bahay recipes getting a shot at fame? There is no reason why we shouldn’t get a piece of the action domestically. Here, we visited two restaurants from the North and South (of Metro Manila, that is), each with their distinct character, but with a shared affinity for lip-smacking, heavenly food.

Manam

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Located in SM Mall of Asia in Pasay, Manam is summed up by its catchphrase, “Filipino food redefined.” This bistro tiptoes on the spectrum of tradition and modernity, as evident in their decor as well as in the food. At first glance, it gives off the warmth of an inviting home with its elegant interior, but the devil is in the details. The place is decked out in neutrals, mirrors on the wall liven up the walls, and the lamps and chandeliers adorning the place have a modern yet ornate feel to them.

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The menu also lives up to this distinct dichotomy, dividing each selection into the aptly-titled “Classics” on one side, and “Twists” on the other, opening up a whole new variety of entrees for diners of every taste palette. Each dish, including rice, can be ordered in servings for 1, 3 or 6 people, catering to the Filipino gastronomic sensibilities where quantity is just as important as quality.

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For our trip, we ordered three dishes, all good for a hungry threesome: Braised then Fried Chicken & Pork Adobo with Flakes, a quintessential Filipino classic; Adobong bulaklak ng kalabasa, and Corned Beef Sisig as part of their “twisted” repertoire to satisfy the adventurers in us, as well as a hefty serving of garlic rice.

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IMG_5144The garlic rice was light, fragrant and pleasantly garlicky, without the usual oiliness that we have come to know in most homemade recipes. But, the chicken and pork adobo dish (sans pork, since one of us didn’t eat pork) definitely did not disappoint, with its tender and moist chicken meat, and savory nuot hanggang buto flavor. The delicate garlic shreds also complemented the chicken and sauce well.                                                                 IMG_5142

While it may not look like much at first, the adobong bulaklak ng kalabasa proved that its taste betrayed its appearance. It was tangy with a hickory smoke flavor, courtesy of its tinapa flakes that blended well with the dish.

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The runaway winner, the corned beef sisig was, in a word, breakfast paradise. It consisted of a generous serving of melt-in-your-mouth corned beef, topped with a fried egg and a glorious sprinkling of chopped onions, SPAM bites and fried potato skins. It’s the perfect post-alcohol grub, in fact, after a night out with friends.

With its reasonable price, cool interiors and sulit servings, book your next dinner date or pre-cocktails with friends here for a treat of comfort Filipino food with an edge.

Penpen’s Kitchen

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Just by the facade of the eclectic Cubao Expo stands a no-frills, straightforward diner with PENPEN decked out in large letters in the front.

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Here is a restaurant that says so much with what little it shows. PENPEN is, of course, the brainchild of film actor Ping Medina, who is the son of another actor, Pen Medina. The overall character of the joint shuns all pretensions and revels in its scrappy glory, with industrial lights and decor abound. The accent giving this place a quirky touch would be the collage of iconic Filipino movie posters covering two parallel columns and a portion of a ceiling, creating that eccentric arch effect.

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The dishes also tread the territory of adventurous while still remaining friendly for diners of all gastronomic appetites, with dishes such as Smoked Tapang Usa and Egg Duck Silog, a notch above the standard tapsilog. The deer meat lived up to its name in terms of smokiness, and was deliciously tender and flavorful.

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Another favorite was the Cheesy Baked Bangus Belly, which was a marriage of two guilty pleasures: cheese and bangus belly. It had a wonderfully creamy texture, thanks to both the melted cheese and the belly. It might have been in our best interest to order one each, as one cheesy bangus belly was hardly enough to satiate a cheese and fish-loving appetite of three.

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The Malunggay Pasta with Kesong Puti in Pili Nut Oil had a delicate flavor, with the kesong puti adding a welcome nuance to an otherwise mild-tasting dish.

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An industrial-inspired, artistic retreat that is all business, Penpen’s appeals to the more hip and pop culture-enthused side of the Filipino. Bring your Lino Brocka-quoting buds here for dinner before heading off to Fred’s, or tag along your teleserye-loving family who might just want to get a glimpse of Ping. Either way, it’s great on the budget, and all are satisfied. #

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