Car Land is Banawe, a destination for those looking to pimp their cars or are too thrifty to look elsewhere. Horror stories abound of course about the quality (and legality!) that one receives in terms of automotive parts, but Banawe has its own charm.
I come here for the food. Thereâ€™s no dearth of dimsum and noodle places in Banawe; each one offers up its own brand of these Asian specialties and thereâ€™s always North Park for those who want to stick to the tried and true.
Singaporean food writer Victor Yue is right when he says that kopi tiam was just the â€œâ€¦good old coffeeshop of long ago situated at every village centre or corner of the street. Well, ask anyone now, kopitiam becomes KOPITIAM, a brand nameâ€¦ [with] many progressing to Starbucks or Coffee Bean and Tea Leafâ€¦â€ If that may be the case, then Old Chinatown KopiTiam near Banawe fits right in with Mr. Yueâ€™s description, but itâ€™s one of those places so appealing, I must try it out.
Situated on Maria Clara Street which is perpendicular to Banawe, Old Chinatown KopiTiam (from now on referred to as OCKT) beckons with its old style signage complete with two diametrically placed coffee beans. I assume that it only serves kopi (coffee) and kaya jam a la Kopi Roti but Iâ€˜m about to be pleasantly surprised.
Having opened just last December, OCKT enchants me with its interiors â€“ heavy wood tables still possessing that pleasantly â€œwoodyâ€ smell paired with stools and quaint chairs with high backs. Antique mugs, jars, and picture frames line one wall while strategically placed lamps illuminate the room. Itâ€™s very pretty and certainly makes me feel all the more welcome. Ask to be served by Gerald or Marco, theyâ€™ll make sure youâ€™re taken care of.
The menu (see cover photo) is also a piece of work: four thick boards about a quarter of an inch thick and greaseproof, itâ€™s done in a burnished yellow that soothes the eyes and excites the appetite. A short note at the beginning of the menu states that the dishes served are favorites from Malay hawkers. Naturally, there are several versions of various meat dishes served in clay pot, fish in spicy sauces, as well as several varieties of fried rice; one of which is the pineapple fried rice served in a whole pineapple and so strikingly presented that it elicits a gasp from me when served at the other table. A popular dish here, Iâ€™m told, is the Golden Butter Chicken Cubes (P188), chicken fingers in a butter and cream sauce. I donâ€™t try it on this visit but its popularity is evident in its presence on all the other tables.
Upon being seated, a metal pitcher filled with hot water is laid on the table. Dunked in it are chopsticks and spoons and forks. Itâ€™s nice to have a choice. A squat ceramic pot of hot tea appears, its golden liquid steaming. Iâ€™m surprised â€“ this is tea thatâ€™s of the same quality served in high-end Chinese restaurants.
And the surprises just keep on coming. The char kway teowâ€™s (P228) flat rice noodles are plump and soft mixing with the scrambled egg curds, different textures juxtaposing with the crunch of red peppers and the firmness of whole Chinese sausages. This is an outstanding dish, comparable to the char kway teow Iâ€™ve had in Singapore. In fact, I can almost half believe that itâ€™s been flown in from some hawker stall there.
I want to order the Pineapple Rice, so taken am I with its originality but Iâ€™m outvoted by my Bin and Boo who prefer the Yang Zhou (Yang Chow) Fried Rice (both P198). It satisfies on all counts especially with the Jumbo Siomai (3/P98; steamed or fried) that so enamors my little girl that she and her dad split two orders between the two of them. (Iâ€™m lucky to have wangled even half of one). The fresh black mushrooms in the filling give meatiness and satisfying bite. The siomai isnâ€™t â€œjumboâ€ in the supersized sense of the word, but itâ€™s quite large, about two inches high.
Though a bit tough, the Kopi SpareRibs (P188) have a sticky sauce thatâ€™s great dribbled over the rice and the Shaoxing Drunken Chicken in Claypot (P218) offers up these whole cloves of garlic made smoky and soft by its long braising.
They make the kopi outside the main dining room of OCKT. I covet the stainless steel teapots with overly long and narrow spouts. In them, water and coffee grounds are heated over what the server calls a â€œVulcanâ€ stove â€“ really just charcoal set under a grill. When my kopi with condensed milk (P55) arrives, Iâ€™m a bit disappointed to see that itâ€™s served in a ceramic cup instead of a see-through glass so Iâ€™m deprived of the pleasure of seeing the coffee â€œfloatâ€ over the milk. Here, the condensed milk has also been stirred beforehand into the coffee. One sip however and all is forgiven. The thick milk has smoothened out the kopiâ€™s rough edges, its sweetness contributing full mouthfeel, and of course thereâ€™s that beautiful caramel color.
While a too-full stomach forces the soft-boiled eggs to wait for next time, the kaya toast intrigues: I can have a single spread (P48) or a double spread (P68), the latter being a triple decker, so to speak. Smeared sparingly, the kaya-butter tandem is tasty and in spite of a full meal, itâ€™s relatively easy to polish off an order. The kaya peanut butter toast (P68) is a variation with the faintest of peanutty overtones.
Old Chinatown KopiTiam
86 Maria Clara Street,
Sto. Domingo, QC
415-1145 / 467-6141
Open Monday-Sunday, 11am â€“ 11pm