My latest trip to the Philippines was largely a spur of the moment deal…or shall I say spur of the stomach. I totally had no intentions of making that day long journey halfway around the world until my brother and I had a conversation about street food. He mentioned a newly-discovered eatery in our hometown that was serving up amazing Asian fare and that it was helmed by a Malaysian chef.
“Really?” I said, as I mentally calculated how many pounds I needed to lose to offset the inevitable weight gain such a trip was going to cost me.
“Well,” my brother continued, slightly backtracking, “Uhm, It’s more like a carinderya …”
A carinderya is a type of roadside eatery in the Philippines where several dishes are cooked and kept in big pots. There is a ledge and a wooden bench where patrons would sit and eat. Also called “turo-turo”, which literally means “point-point”, the customers point at the dishes they want to eat. Definitely no Michelin-star ratings here.
Apparently this newly opened “carinderya” that my brother was talking about has quickly become a hotspot for Baguio’s who is who. So now you’ve got expensive cars parked outside a roadside eatery…
Anyway, it didn’t take long for me to decide to take that long tedious journey with nothing but a promise of fantastic food from a roadside joint.
However, as it turns out, the place is not a “turo-turo”. For one thing Chef Alvin’s got an impressive menu, some items change everyday while some are in regular rotation (and some are not on the menu, you just need to know your Asian food and ask). He actually prepares each dish to order, although I’m sure he has pre-cooked some of them partly for a quick final toss.
Since he does all the cooking, there is a long wait if you have the misfortune of being stuck behind a big table. Fortunately, there are only a few tables. My brother usually calls ahead because some of the dishes like the Hainanese chicken is by special order only.
Murtabak is minced beef curry wrapped in unleavened bread. I was not too fond of this but the rest of my group liked it.
This is one of the best I’ve ever had, not too sour and not too sweet with just the right amount of spiciness. And the perfectly cooked prawns were almost too big to serve in each individual bowl.
Cream dory is popular white fish in the Philippines. This was melt in your mouth delicious.
I’m not a big fan of vegetables but if they’re cooked this way, I’d gladly eat them. Both were cooked the right side of crunchy (hate overcooked & mushy vegetables), not a shred of green was left on the plate after we were done.
*meat floss is a Chinese condiment made by cooking pork until the collagen dissolves and all that’s left are muscle fibers that can be easily shredded. It is further cooked until it becomes really dry.
I was very pleased with Chef Alvin’s Hainanese Chicken rice. His lime-chili sauce was very addictive, I think our table ordered several refills of that red sauce. He deboned the chicken for us which made it very easy to eat…and yes, this too was feasted on heartily.
There’s nothing that inspires me more than someone who cooks because of love for his craft. This was so apparent with each dish that was carefully plated and served before us. I’ve heard rumors of several enterprising individuals offering Chef Alvin a partnership in opening a more mainstream restaurant. I have a feeling though he is quite happy where he’s at and I fear expanding into another venue will diminish the charming appeal of his little business.
Not to be missed in Baguio:
O-Mai-Khan – a perennial favorite since the 1990’s when it first opened. Best mongolian grill ever even compared to the ones I’ve had in the U.S. I am amazed at how it’s able to maintain its quality over the years. The restaurant is always packed during weekends, so it is best to make reservations. Aside from the mongolian grill there is “The Barbarian” ( a version of crispy pata) which I ordered when I dined there. Alas, it was devoured before I remembered to take a picture.
*Crispy pata – is deep fried pork legs. Check me wrestling with one in the previous post.
Cafe By the Ruins – another favorite, specially of the artsy crowd. Having had the crispy pata from O-Mai-khan the previous night, I wanted to have a light salad for lunch. Conversation went like this:
Me: “I’m getting the Thai grilled beef salad.”
Brother: “I thought you wanted the bagnet.” and then with a conspiratorial devilish smile “It’s masarap (yummy).”
Me: “Ok.” slamming the menu shut while my mind was screaming “Noooo!!!“
The weather was perfect for dining outdoors, 70F no humidity.
So what is a bagnet?
Bagnet is twice fried pork. The first fry takes a long time, an hour I think, so the meat part is almost dry. A thick layer of fat is a desirable attribute. It’s crunchy on the outside and has a quivering “melty” layer of fat in between.
The bagnet was served with lime and “padas” (small fish bagoong) and a side of chopped tomato and shallots.
Just how thick is the layer of fat? Take a look…
Chaya - a charming restaurant serving traditional Japanese home-cooked food. The Japanese lady who runs this establishment sources her ingredients from Japan.
I liked her rendition of Tempura. Unlike the heavily battered version, these were light and crisp. The squash blossoms and the shiso leaves were especially tasty.
And the list goes on…special mention also goes to Hill Station for its excellent mini blue cheese burgers and beef salpicao. Check out their website for their special offerings. I still regret missing their valentine special of Cochinillo – roast suckling pig…
Up next: Toki, Choi Garden and Aubergine