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Away from the shadow of influencers: The real Metro Manila food guide

/ 05:10 AM December 15, 2019

The new Regional Director of the Department of Tourism-National Capital Region (DOT-NCR), Woodrow C. Maquiling Jr. really hit the ground running with his many programs for Metro Manila, especially for culinary tourism.

While the young and dynamic Director RR, as he is fondly called, joined the DOT only last July, his team successfully launched last Thursday not only one but three initiatives to promote culinary tourism in Metro Manila: a food guide (the book is available at the DOT), a video on Metro Manila’s tourist attractions and an app for touring Metro Manila that includes a list of restaurants and food finds.

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I am honored to have been part of the project as writer and editor of the food guide on iconic dishes and restaurants in Metro Manila.

It was a great team effort: The idea for the project came from Tourism Undersecretary Arturo Boncato Jr. and Assistant Secretary Rica Bueno. Then the concept and title, Metro Yummy Picks, were developed by the DOT-NCR team headed by Director RR and Chief Tourism Operations Officer Cathy Agustin. The project was executed by Senior Tourism Officer Ernesto Teston, complete with its own logo designed by artist Rica Palomo Espiritu. All the local tourism offices also got involved as they selected the iconic dishes and restaurants in their localities. Then I joined the team to eat and choose which goes in the guide.

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Iconic dishes

The result is a comprehensive list of where to go to experience a delicious Metro Manila. I was myself surprised by the food items I learned about and quite embarrassed that I had not ever tried some of those before, even after 15 years of food writing.

Pateros was the best discovery for me. Beside posh Bonifacio Global City is the lone municipality in Metro Manila. One would never imagine doing a food trip to Pateros because there are no restaurants, really.

This was where the local tourism office of the DOT came in. Thanks to them, we discovered M&E Catering, which could provide you with an entire spread of Pateros delicacies.

I had a blast trying something called bibingkang Abnoy, which is similar to torta but made with duck eggs that didn’t quite make it to becoming a balut. They also have inutak, made with glutinous rice, sugar, coconut milk and coconut cream, but their version, as opposed to the Taguig version, is presented with dirty cheese ice cream on top. More Pateros delicacies are mentioned in the book. It was definitely a delightful food trip.

Another revelation was Marikina. This city is now becoming quite the food hub, with new restaurants sprouting left and right, but the thrust of the book was not to be simply a restaurant directory but to feature iconic dishes of a place. In Marikina, they have waknatoy and everlasting, or their versions of menudo and meatloaf.

In Pasig, we went to an established bakery: Panaderia Dimas Alang, which turned 100 years old this 2019. Aside from the usual bakery hits like pan de sal, mamon, and the like, they offer a biscuit called Di Ko Akalain: small square biscuits that are such a delight to munch on.

Long-time favorites

Of course, it was also a pleasure visiting old favorites and discovering their new Filipino-inspired menus. In Makati, chef Jessie Sincioco has a delicious prawn laing, giving the humble laing some fine dining flair. In Taguig, chef Fernando Aracama has Chippy con carne, a play on the chili con carne but using the favorite junk food.

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Revisiting these restaurants, I realized the guide must have a list of places where one can conveniently go to for Filipino food so I also added chapters listing Filipino restaurants in Metro Manila as well as new restaurants redefining Filipino cuisine.

Homegrown talent

While there are cities that have long regarded themselves as food destinations such as Malolos, where we went to almost 10 panciterias in one day, there are also cities that honestly don’t have much to boast about in terms of food. Which is why the local tourism office of Muntinlupa must be given credit for seeking and promoting local food entrepreneurs. Through the Muntinlupa local tourism office, we learned about Suman ng Munti—stuffed suman created by Malou Enriquez. We also learned about Juanito’s, a company that now makes powdered bagoong. And just in their own backyard, Dielle’s makes their own raw honey and honey wine. These are all food specialties that Muntinlupa can call their own.

More fun

In today’s world of Instagram, it’s easy to simply follow the crowd to restaurants that social media influencers say are the “best.” This guide, which is really a great idea, hopes to enlighten everyone that there is more out there than what urban restaurants in commercial districts have to offer, and show that even for us locals, it’s really more fun to have gastronomic adventures in different parts of Metro Manila.

We don’t have to go far or even travel abroad for a hard core food trip. Truly, it’s more fun in the Philippines and it’s more fun to eat in Metro Manila!

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TAGS: culinary tourism, Metro Manila food guide, Woodrow C. Maquiling Jr.
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