Filipino food is underappreciated in the US, probably because there are very few Filipino restaurants. It’s quintessential grandma cooking, with some unusual menu items, but generally tastes that are easy on western palates. I had two great meals in Quezon City today, first lunch with colleagues at Wooden Spoon, Tripadvisor’s top restaurant in the city. The three dishes we shared were (top then left to right) bicol express (slightly spicy pork in coconut milk, kare-kare (slow stewed beef in peanut sauce, and my current favorite), caldareta (spanish influenced beef stew) and some kind of stuffed vegetable dish. All were excellent, and the atmosphere was relaxed and comfortable. My solo dinner was at Romulo Cafe, more upscale atmosphere, with lots of stainless and glass and waiters in white shirt and ties. It’s Tripadvisor number 15, for what it’s worth. I had one of my new favorite dishes, ensaladang pilipina (steamed or boiled vegetables plus egg with bagoong, shrimp paste). The vegetables included okra, radish, and green mango. I ordered (on the waiter’s advice) an adobo-style chicken in coconut milk, a dish I haven’t had before. Despite his protestations that he had brought me that dish, it was clearly bicol express once more. I didn’t argue since I like it almost as much as kare-kare. Both dishes were very good. And to be clear, upscale in this context means $12.25 for the two dishes plus rice and a San Miguel. Lunch was 27.50 for the four dishes plus rice and multiple glasses of iced tea, so really about the same prices. No one here (or in the US) knows why there aren’t more Filipino restaurants in the US. Whatever the reason, I hope that changes soon!

Taboan Dried Seafood Market in Cebu City, the Philippines

 Drying and salting fish (and other seafood, like squid) provides an effective preservation option for hot climates with little refrigeration. Although you can buy dried seafood everywhere in the Philippines, seeing it sold in bulk is an eye-widening experience. The Taboan Market in Cebu City is filled with stalls selling a variety of mostly small fish, squid strips, and fish bones. The latter are not used for soup, as you might imagine. Instead, they’re deep fried to make crispy fish-bone chips for breakfast. Although dried fish is not on most Americans’ top 10 list, I’ve developed a taste for dilis (anchovy), danggit (rabbitfish), and pusit (squid) with rice for breakfast. Try it, you’ll like it!

Miscellaneous dishes from three Manila meals. All good. Jay J’s Inasal was the best. I can’t remember the names of the other two, one in a mall, one in an outdoor foodcourt.

And then there’s balut, a favorite filipino snack. Supposedly sold everywhere by street vendors, I didn’t see any on the street. Fortunately, I found this dish of balut adobo at the buffet. So what is balut? It’s a partly developed duck (or sometimes chicken) embryo, hard boiled. How does it taste? Like a fowl-tasting (sorry, couldn’t resist) hard boiled egg. Any texture issues? Not too bad, the bones are still soft and the feathers not feathery. Did I like it? Yes, enough to eat it again. Of course the adobo sauce didn’t hurt.

And then there’s balut, a favorite filipino snack. Supposedly sold everywhere by street vendors, I didn’t see any on the street. Fortunately, I found this dish of balut adobo at the buffet. So what is balut? It’s a partly developed duck (or sometimes chicken) embryo, hard boiled. How does it taste? Like a fowl-tasting (sorry, couldn’t resist) hard boiled egg. Any texture issues? Not too bad, the bones are still soft and the feathers not feathery. Did I like it? Yes, enough to eat it again. Of course the adobo sauce didn’t hurt.

Filipino food has such enormous variety that the hardest decision for a newcomer is what to choose. Fortunately, the all you can eat buffet is alive and well, even if it’s a chain in a mall. Two well regarded representatives are Kamayan and Cabelan. We ate lunch twice at Kamayan, with little repetition (except for balut. More later about that.) and once at Cabelan, which had completely different regional cooking. Everything was new, everything was good, some dishes were great. We suffer from a severe shortage of filipino restaurants in the US. Hopefully I’ll get back there soon.

Cafe Juanita serves some of the best filipino food in Manila, in an over the top setting (not just our opinion). Thanks to the excellent advice of our local friends, we had a great dinner. Cost was US$50 for four, including tax and tip, considered moderately expensive as Manila restaurants go. I hope I get to return.

Breakfast buffet at Linden Suites Hotel, Manila. The Philippines is one of those countries with breakfast that seems like dinner to Americans. Fried rice, soup, fish, meat, stews—all available. The buffet at the Linden Suites Hotel in Manila was excellent (as was the hotel), with a menu that changed daily (unlike most hotel breakfast buffets in my experience). Noteworthy items included crunchy dried fish, congee (rice porridge, sadly not repeated) and kare-kare vegetables (stewed in a peanut sauce).

Brasilia may not be the “real” Brazil, but like all capitals it gets good food from all over the country. I was successful in finding real traditional food at Mangai (no plate picture because I ate it too fast), great meat at Fogo de Chao, and a great fish stew—moqueca—at Bargaco. No feijoada (Brazil’s national dish), since I wasn’t there on a Saturday. And all these were lunches, the big meal of the day.

A light lunch at Insalata Ricca near the Vatican of a pizza margherita and lentil soup following the roast pork sandwich and fresh ricotta purchased at the Trionfale market. Our last dinner in Italy was at da Mario’s near the Parthenon, an old favorite with traditional Roman dishes and a happy neighborhood vibe. January 18, 2013

Tags: food italy travel

The Trionfale Market, Rome’s largest, is an endless invitation for gorgeous food photos. On a sunny winter’s day in Rome, wandering through the medieval section of the city and enjoying the people and sights is definitely the way to go. January 18, 2013

Tags: food italy travel