The home of banana ketchup, Eater’s favorite fried chicken, and arguably the world’s longest Christmas season (it unofficially starts in September), Manila is a huge metropolis made up of many individual cities and the homes of more than 13 million people. This huge, frantic scene can feel challenging for some visitors to the Philippines, which is why many pass it over in favor of idyllic rural paradises like Palawan and Boracay. But the complexity and breadth of the capital city have their benefits, providing space for countless cultures and subcultures, all best observed through the seemingly infinite food scene.
The first thing you’ll notice are the extreme differences in various pockets of the city. To the west, near the bay, is old Manila, home to Chinatown, the Golden Mosque, and the walled city of Intramuros, where the earliest restaurants and casual turo turo steam tables abound. They coexist with the manicured business district, where dining is determined by global tastes and the social habits of the upwardly mobile. To the north and south are residential areas, where food is familiar and comfortable. All of it is Manila; the prix fixe, the fried siopao (pork buns), and the skewered betamax (coagulated chicken blood) make up the city’s palate.
In recent years, Manila’s chefs and restaurateurs have found new legs to stand on, as Filipino food has achieved long-overdue international attention. They’re cooking their own cuisine on their own terms, fusing heirloom traditions, local ingredients, and modern methods to create world-class menus. Following the pains of the pandemic, a new creativity permeates the city’s food scene, as chefs accustomed to working in scarcity have become even more resourceful. Filipino food has always been good. Now that more of the world is ready to try it, Manila is more than ready to share it.
Toni Potenciano is a freelance writer based in Manila, Philippines. She currently works at And A Half, an independent design studio.Read More