Meet Me In Manila! | Cooking With Jade

Meet Me In Manila!

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Meet Me In Manila!
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Well, fellow world travelers, I just crossed another country off my list: the Philippines. As many times as I have traveled to southeast Asia, it’s a wonder I hadn’t been earlier. But better late than never! I really had a great time on this relatively quick trip. While the Philippines is comprised of over 8,000 islands(!), I spent most of my time on the country’s most populous island – Luzon – and its national capital city: Manila. Metro Manila, which includes Manila and its 16 very dense “suburbs” (and I use the term loosely), is one of the most crowded metropolitan areas in the world. Despite hours spent sitting in traffic, I did get a chance to explore this huge city. If you’re planning a trip out this way, here are some spots to add to your “Manila folder” (sorry, had to!).

Manila City

Food

I can’t wait to tell you about all the deliciousness I encountered in Manila, but first, a quick history lesson. The Philippines was a Spanish colony for over 300 years. After that (following the Spanish-American War), it was briefly an American territory. It has also long been a popular destination for Chinese merchants and traders (Manila is home to the world’s oldest Chinatown, established in 1594!). Along with native Filipino culture, each of these cultures has left its mark on Filipino cuisine. And the places I visited reflected these diverse influences. Some of my favorites were:

Breakfast/Brunch

Butterboy is known for its decadent European breakfast pastries. Croissants (in several varieties), quiches, and Danishes are all huge sellers.  Butterboy is also known for its popular weekend drag brunches. Drag culture is having a moment in the Philippines right now, and Butterboy captures that moment perfectly. While the bakery only offers carryout service during the week, on the weekend, it is packed with diners eager for a meal and a show. And when you combine delicious pastries with a super fun drag show, you create my personal happy place.

Butter Boy

Lunch

The Filipino fried spring roll known as lumpia is one of the dishes that reflects the country’s Chinese influence. And Globe Lumpia House is one of Manila’s go-to spots for this beloved appetizer. While this compact eatery offers several varieties of lumpia, my favorite was the lumpiang sariwa: a vegetable spring roll made with hearts of palm. 

Globe Lumpia

Dinner

While in Manila, I had to make a pilgrimage to The Aristocrat. And before you think I’ve gone all bougie, The Aristocrat is a decidedly casual café that serves classic Filipino dishes. It’s also the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Manila. And while it now has offshoots throughout the city, I went to the original, which has graced San Andres Street since 1936. They’re famous for their barbecue – marinated, charcoal grilled meats that my carnivorous friends can’t get enough of – as well as their Halo Halo. For the uninitiated, Halo Halo (which translates to “Mix Mix”) is a dessert of condensed milk and shaved ice, mixed with a baffling array of ingredients. The Aristocrat’s iconic Halo Halo features everything from purple yam, to sweetened beans, to rice puffs, to custard. There truly is no dessert quite like it.

Aristocrat

Shopping

Between malls, markets, and a bustling downtown, Metro Manila has plenty of great shopping. Here were some of my favorite spots.

Mall of Asia

At over 6 million square feet, this seaside mall is every bit as epic as our own Mall of America. And while many American companies have outposts here (including restaurants like Olive Garden and Shake Shack), there are also a ton of great local spots. One of my favorites is Kultura, a store whose slogan is “Uniquely Filipino.” The clothes and handcrafted goods here will make great gifts for the folks back home, though you’ll probably want to keep them all for yourself. And if you do work up an appetite here, skip the American franchises and check out Momo, a Filipino chain specializing in Korean soft egg sandwiches. It’s the perfect fuel for your massive mall exploration.

Mall of Asia

Bonifacio Global City

Bonifacio Global City – or BGC, as the locals call it – is one of Manila’s largest, and newest, business districts. The ultra-modern skyscrapers and high-end stores remind me of parts of downtown Chicago or midtown Manhattan. And like those iconic spots, BGC has plenty of great shopping. Mitsukoshi is a two-story mini mall entirely devoted to Japanese stores. Whether you’re looking for a pair of quality chopsticks (which aren’t typically used in the Philippines, btw) or an authentic Japanese tea set, this is your one-stop shop. And if you are looking for some reading material in Manila, I recommend Fully Booked, a bookstore with some really imaginative displays and a wide selection of English language books (English is an official language here, after all).

Bonifacio Global City

Cultural Activities

Of course, it wasn’t all eating and shopping: I made sure to hit up some cool cultural sites as well. And Manila has plenty to choose from! Here’s where I went for my history/culture fix:

Intramuros

As I mentioned, the Philippines were a Spanish colony for hundreds of years, and the historic walled city known as Intramuros (Spanish for “between the walls”) represents the oldest vestiges of the Spanish Empire in the Philippines. Built by the Spanish in the late 16th century, the enclosed area comprises over 50 blocks in the heart of Manila. Sadly, much of the area was destroyed during World War II by the U.S. military (Japanese soldiers hid in the ruins and tunnels of Intramuros, so Allied planes bombed the area indiscriminately), but plenty of historic sites remain. Tour Fort Santiago to see what remains of the original Spanish fort. 

And be sure to check out San Augustin Church, the oldest stone church in the Philippines. Completed in 1607 – and designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993 – this beautiful building was one of the few churches to survive Allied bombardment. Also, it’s worth mentioning that Intramuros is not just a collection of ruins and historic sites: it’s a densely populated neighborhood full of street vendors, shops, and cafes. It’s a great place to stroll around for an afternoon and connect with Manila’s past. 

Intramuros

Binondo

I mentioned earlier that Manila has the oldest Chinatown in the world. That neighborhood is called Binondo, and it’s definitely worth exploring. You could spend a whole day here sampling the food alone, at places like Shanghai Fried Siopao (famous for its savory meatball-filled buns) or casual sit-down spot Chaun Kee, which has been feeding the neighborhood for over 70 years. While you’re in Binondo, I also highly recommend checking out the First United Building. Back when it was built – nearly 100 years ago – this Art Deco gem was the tallest building in Manila. Now, it houses a market where you can find all kinds of local crafts. Finally, if you’re not too churched out from your visit to San Augustin, stop by the Minor Basilica and National Shrine of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz (aka “Binondo Church”) which dates back to the 16th century. And while the original building was destroyed by British bombardment in the 18th century (sadly, this city has a war-torn history), a beautiful granite building was erected on the site about a hundred years later.

Binondo

Nightlife

Manila has a reputation for seriously letting its hair down late at night. Of course, I had to investigate these rumors for myself. Yeah, that’s why I was drunkenly scream-singing “Uptown Funk” in a Manila karaoke bar at 2 am…for research. Anyway, it turns out the rumors are definitely true! Here were some of my favorite spots:

Rooftops Galore

Whenever you’re in a city with warm weather, beautiful ocean views, and hundreds of skyscrapers, you’re bound to find some amazing rooftop bars. Of all the rooftops I went to, a few stood head and shoulders above the pack. The Penthouse 8747 occupies the 22nd floor of the Lepanto Building in crowded Makati. The décor is pure Art Deco, inspired by the Great Gatsby. And for a night I got to party like Jay Gatsby, albeit with a much happier ending. Encaramada Rooftop sits on top of the Wyndham Hotel in the aforementioned Mall of Asia and offers stunning 360-degree views of the ocean and surrounding neighborhood. If you can snag a seat here at sunset, more power to you. Finally, Mistral Rooftop Bar occupies the 10th floor of the Raffles Building in Makati. What this spot lacks in height, it makes up for in pulsating live music.

Penthouse

Karaoke

Karaoke is a popular late-night pastime in Manila—it’s seriously huge. And that’s why – even though my singing is nearly as bad as my dancing – I had to give it a try. Rockstar KTV (that is, Karaoke Television) operates two branches in Metro Manila, each with themed private rooms. Whether you want to belt it out in the Britney Spears Room, or jam in the Bob Marley Room, this is a great spot to unleash your inner rockstar. Ditto for Chill Top Cubao. This rooftop karaoke bar in Quezon City (Metro Manila’s biggest city) is open 24 hours, for all of you late-night crooners. Finally, Monkey Mic Family KTV, also in Quezon City, is known for pairing karaoke with creative bar snacks—my kind of combo!

Monkey Mic

Until We Meet Again!

My trip to Manila was a bit of a whirlwind, in the best way possible. From the centuries-old historical sites, to the diverse array of cuisines, to the awesome malls and lively bars, this city truly has something for everyone. This vibrant, hospitable city deserves some serious props. It certainly deserves better than my absolute butchering of “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” but that’s a story for another time.

If you enjoyed this article or have suggestions on how we can improve it, please leave us a comment below. Also, make sure to check out other articles I’ve created or stories I’ve written about food culture – here.


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