Manila: Food I

So let’s do a proper Manila post. Food in the Philippines get’s a pretty bad rap, and some of it is deserved but a lot isn’t. I’m going to talk about real Filipino food in a different post but for now I’m going to concentrate on food in general.

I’ve mentioned before that I live in a little enclave of Manila called Eastwood City. It’s difficult to describe if you’ve not been here but it’s around a kilometre square of hi-rise buildings, restaurants, shops, etc. When you look at Manila on a map it’s a small area, you have to zoom right in on Google Maps to see it.

Within this tiny bit of Manila is packed a huge range of food outlets. From fast food to fine dining, everything is here and within a couple of minutes walk. One night I worked out you could eat out every night for a month and never have to visit the same place, if you were happy with fast food for lunch some days you could probably do lunch and dinner for a month and still never have to repeat yourself. And you wouldn’t be eating the same thing all the time, there’s a huge range of places here. From decent Philippines fare, to Japanese, to French, to Mexican, to Greek, to Chinese, and then back to the Philippines. You’d not only never have to eat in the same place twice, you’d never have to eat the same thing twice in a month.

It’s not all good, there are a few places that I’d never go to again but there’s far more that serve excellent food at decent prices. The cheapest places will do you a decent meal for a couple of quid, the average seems to be around eight pounds for two courses plus a drink and you’d be really hard pushed to break thirty pounds per person for a full three course meal with wine even in the best place in Eastwood (and it’s totally worth it).

Eastwood is pretty expensive, it caters to business people and well-off locals, but even so you’d have trouble spending more than fifty pounds per head at the most ridiculously pretentious restaurant in Manila (unless you start cracking into the wine cellar — in which case all bets are off). You can easily knock a third off Eastwood prices at other similar places in the city and you can probably at least half them if you pick an out of the way restaurant that doesn’t live in one of the main ‘destinations’, and once you get out of Manila it only gets cheaper.

Eastwood isn’t unique in Manila, there are a handful of other similar areas with the same concentration of eateries, and there are literally dozens of malls which have food courts and a smattering of other places to eat.

So, is any of it good? Well, as I said above, yes — some of it is excellent. But unless you know a local and/or know what you like it’s a little hit and miss. And, to be honest, it’s somewhat more miss than hit, I think that is part of the reason that people have a bad impression of food in the Philippines.

There are also some cultural differences that piss off people, I’ve heard my fellow ex-pats complain about a couple of things that really don’t bother me but I think they contribute to the opinion of food on these islands.

First is that food isn’t generally severed piping hot, it’s a hot country and the locals are used to food coming out kinda lukewarm. You get used to it, and it’s never really been a problem for me except for the occasional steak that’s a little too cool for my liking, but it’s the primary complaint you’ll see on-line if you start researching Philippines food.

The second complaint I’ve heard is that dishes come out at the same time or in the wrong order. I can’t really get behind this, restaurants here are used to people ordering things to share and re-ordering as necessary rather than following the western three course tradition. It’s unusual the first time you get your soup after you’re halfway through your steak, but it’s one of these things you get used to. I’m bewildered by ex-pats that have lived here for years and still complain about it but that, sadly, does seem to be a pattern with some ex-pats here — or maybe it’s just a safe common ground they think they can talk about.

Also, in general, food is generally served ridiculously fast, I’ve had servers apologise to me when my food has taken more than ten minutes. I think this is something that the country inherited from the states, but frankly I don’t mind taking time over my meal and I’m used to a decent meal taking a while. I’d prefer that things took longer, but the the speed of service seems completely unrelated to the quality of the food. Some of the worst food I’ve had took ages and some of the best has been almost instant.

I was going to talk about the difficulty of cooking for myself in the Philippines but I think I’ll save it for another time. I do try and cook in the apartment most of the time, you get bored of eating out all the time.

So finally I’ll talk about my problems with the eating out in Eastwood. I could find you a decent example of whatever you wanted within five minutes walk apart from two things. I haven’t found a decent burger in Eastwood, everything is fast food style. But worse I haven’t found a decent curry in Manila, the one area lacking in the food in the city is spice. Philippines food isn’t particularly spicy, it leans more to the sweet/sour angle, and so almost all restaurants tone down their dishes for the local palette. I sure there are places that would satisfy me but they tend to be harder to find.

But these are concerns that should only worry the people that come to live here, those of you coming for a visit should concentrate on trying out the native cuisine which also gets a bad rep but is, in my opinion, totally undeserved as long as you’re willing to stretch your taste buds a bit (or a lot, depending on what you’re eating). But more of that some other time when I’ve collected more photos.

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