Flavours of Manila: Eat Your Way Through the Philippines' Capital
Manila's food scene is a growing one, embracing cuisines from various parts of the world. From the spices of the east to the tastes of the west, Filipinos have welcomed these dishes with open arms and stomachs.
The signature Filipino warmth and hospitality extends to the way local dishes are cooked, eaten and shared. Filipinos love simple, home-cooked meals, but they also love full trays and hearty platters for fiestas and grand celebrations. Meals often start with the pronouncement "Kain tayo," meaning "Let's eat," to welcome everyone to the table. They end with pabaon, a small parcel of food from the gathering given as a proper send-off.
There’s no better way to discover the flavours Manila has to offer than by eating your way through the Philippines’ capital.
Filipino Food Feasts
The Filipino breakfast is usually a substantial meal. Tapsilog, cured beef slices paired with garlic fried rice and a sunny-side-up egg, is found in almost every restaurant that serves breakfast. Lunch and dinner favourites are grilled seafood and the eponymous adobo, a staple Filipino dish made of chicken or pork boiled in a marinade of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and garlic. For snacks or merienda, you can never go wrong with the wide range of kakanin. These sticky rice desserts are sweetened with coconut and sugar and come in various colours and flavours such as ube and pandan.
For traditional Filipino eats, Fairmont Makati provides an all-day dining experience. Spectrum restaurant showcases local Filipino fare as well as culinary favourites from around the world. Its live theatre kitchen lines the entire buffet area and caters to whatever your tummy desires.
Bistro Pamana has a menu steeped in history, as the dishes are from heirloom recipes. A must-try heritage dish is Leyte’s Humba, a slab of pork belly slowly simmered in a mix of sweet and spicy juices.
Crafts and Brews
No meal is complete without drinks. Local Edition Coffee and Tea serves coffee made from beans sourced directly from local farmers. They make their mochas with rich, thick carabao’s milk, a true Filipino treat. Yardstick takes their coffee making seriously, even offering workshops for fans and professional coffee servers alike. Their cold brew coffee beats the Manila heat while retaining that distinct coffee flavour.
For a serene ambiance, Writers Bar offers afternoon tea while a pianist serenades guests with jazz and classical music. The bar is styled as an elegant library, with towering shelves filled with timeless classics and inspirational novels.
Those who prefer craft brews over a caffeine fix have plenty of options. Young and thriving, Manila’s craft beer culture has breweries popping up around the city. Wrapped in artist-designed bottles, Joe’s Brew bottles are a perfect match for any pulutan, fried and greasy dishes that Filipinos love to pair with beer. You can taste Engkanto Brewery’s magic in its fruity, tropical brews. Their Dalandan Ale gets its one-of-a-kind taste from dalandan, the Filipino orange. Katipunan Craft Ale’s signature brew, the Indio Pale Ale, is a revolutionary take on the traditional India Pale Ale. Enjoy these craft beers and other shots and spirits at The Belle & Dragon’s elaborately furnished pub or the hip Hooch bar.
For cocktails, the stylish Long Bar is a must-visit. Its signature drink, the Makati Luxury Sling, pays homage to the Singapore Sling with a luxurious touch of 24K gold flakes. It’s a liquid indulgence you shouldn't miss.
Markets and Neighbourhoods
Weekends in Manila call for relaxing walks and market food finds. Legazpi Village, with its vintage buildings and lush parks, is a charming foodie neighbourhood. Located in the central business district of Makati, its quiet streets house some of the country’s best restaurants, a perfect retreat from the chaos of the city.
Your Local, an unassuming restaurant serving Pan-Asian cuisine, was the only Philippine restaurant in Conde Nast Traveler’s 2016 list of the best restaurants in the world. Their Chorizo Sandwich is a sumptuous chorizo patty spread with cream cheese and a burnt onion and chorizo jam, topped with a sunny-side-up egg and packed in a squid-ink sesame bun. Across the street from Your Local, Made Nice Supper Club serves dishes ranging from handmade pasta to grilled octopus and their own version of the Filipino roast suckling pig, lechon. The Girl + The Bull is famous for its fried chicken paired with brioche French toast, while Nikkei is known for its delectable Japanese-Peruvian fare.
For weekend market finds, head over to the Legazpi Sunday Market. What began as a small group of stalls selling organic vegetables has grown into a full-fledged market and bazaar where you can buy fresh produce and ingredients, cooked food and even plants and art. Grab a bottle of sugar cane juice, pressed right in front of you, or fresh ginger ale from Stanford Shaw. Have a taste of deep-fried empanadas stuffed with Vigan longganisa (sausage), mung bean sprouts and an egg, or dig into a chunk of bagnet, deep-fried crispy pork belly. There's also a row of fresh seafood and Filipino-style barbecued chicken and pork, as well as juicy lechon with its crisp crackling.
Rina Diane Caballar is a passionate travel writer and an avid traveler. She has escaped to the island of Bali, soaked up the sun, sand, and seas of her homeland, the Philippines, and is now living in windy Wellington, New Zealand. Her work has appeared on Roads & Kingdoms, The Atlantic, and Quartz, among other outlets.