Rediscovering Megamall, My New Favorites

Megamall, you will be forgotten no more.

There was a time I practically lived in Megamall, all throughout college (it opened when I was a freshman) and for one year when I was working in the Ortigas area. I was there so often that I actually counted how many steps there were in the staircase leading down from the MRT to Megamall (those were my train-riding days, and it’s 88 steps, FYI).

The passing years offered new places to call my own and like a forgotten friend, Megamall faded into the periphery. Recently, my Bin and I find ourselves in Megamall with a few hours to spare and plenty of options to appease our ferocious hunger pangs.

Somewhat confused by the newly built “C” Parking Building (where on earth is its EDSA entrance???) and miffed by an unhelpful Information service, we decide to do the best thing and wander from the top floor, down.

Its rather curious moniker, Muffin & Puffin, gets our attention alright, and so do the muffins. It’s easy to blow this place off because of its somewhat too-casual air but get past the initial impression. When it comes to muffins in Manila, it’s not a landscape that inspires optimism. There are a few places, all of them coffee shops (I like Coffee Bean’s muffins) and French Baker used to have killer blueberry muffins when it first opened in the early 90s but I’m not sure about now. Muffins are the unfrosted cousins of the cupcake and today when I haven’t even had coffee yet, seven of them are my breakfast.

There are the usual muffin suspects (all P49 each) like the ever-classic Blueberry with Streussels [sic], Chocolate Chip, and our server’s favorite, Cheese (“Because I’m a cheese guy, ma’am,” he says much to my amusement.) The latter is similar to those cheap cheese cupcakes I pick up at groceries or convenience stores under obscure brand names but its tight crumb and yes, cheap cheese pleases me when I’m in that mood. The Hazelnut Muffin is impressive with its liberal licks of a Nutella-like frosting and chunks of hazelnuts pocking the crumb but it’s quite dry.

One of my favorites here is the Blueberry Cream Cheese. Added fat from the cream cheese makes this muffin more moist and it’s stellar when heated. The added warmth points up the blueberry fragrance and flavor, little bits of blue against a buttery crumb.

I also like the Peanut Butter with Banana just because I’m mad for peanut butter, a dollop of which slides lazily down a banana cake blooming with the fruit’s flavor and essence.

Muffin & Puffin
4/F Mega A

Manila’s best beef bowl
With muffins on the mind, my Bin redirects our attentions to so-called real food. “We’ve got to have lunch sometime,” he reasons.

If eating at Choi Garden makes me feel like I’m eating inside a watermelon, eating at Tokyo Bubble Tea (TBT) rouses the same sentiment, but this time inside a bubble. The place is so cheerily bright with its chartreuse and tangerine hues that I couldn’t be in a bad mood here even if I tried.

I don’t come to Tokyo Bubble Tea for their bubble tea but for their Gyudon (P245). The best, if not a strong contender for Manila’s best beef bowl, this particular dish is memorable on many counts. First, it’s simple sustenance, just rice capped with stir-fried beef and onions. Ah, but gaze at the glorious golden orb sitting slightly off-kilter, its bulging sides threatening to spill its yolky goodness. And when indeed, it is pierced, the whole lot – rice, onions, beef – are imbued with a velvety coat. The beef is never stringy, pliant in the way that good sukiyaki-cut meat is, and it boasts a rim of fat, all basted in a sauce that’s salty-tangy, sour-sweet.

A recent discovery is the Chicken Teriyaki Doria (P245) a dubious name that does no justice to this dish. A mantle of melting cheese because yes, this dish is served very hot, is the platform on which strips of chicken rest. Cloaked they are in a teriyaki sauce, its characteristic piquancy a familiarity but this time with cheese, a hidden delight waiting to be discovered. A spoon makes quick work of bringing together a portion of rice and chicken, the cheese stringing along, almost literally. If the idea of cheese and rice is alien to you, let this dish change your mind. The cheese’s supple texture and the rice’s stickiness become one, differentiated only by the chew the chicken brings. Incredible.

Though TBT’s sushi is sometimes soggy, I appreciate the creativity they possess. Take the Aquarious (P475), a combination of maki or CombiMaki, as it’s called. This plate has maki of Korean Beef, Bubble Salad (mixed salad), Crazy Tornado (crunchy maki with rolled cheese and mango) and Nippon Ebi (shrimp). It’s a colorful riot of a dish mindfully made, and a thankful change from the trite trinity of salmon, tuna, and ebi maki.

I’d be remiss in my foodie duties if I eat at TBT and not order a milk tea and worse, if I omit the bubbles . The Strawberry Green Tea (medium, P85) has no milk but what I’ve come to call a white moustache, a cap of sweetened cream that does, truly, give its drinker a white moustache. The green tea here is but a nuance, the berry’s sweetness riding shotgun.

My Bin likes the Honeydew Melon (medium, P115), milky and sweet, it reminds me of the milky melon drinks I drank as a kid, complete with shaved melon strips.

Tokyo Bubble Tea
Lower Ground Floor, Mega A
Facebook page for more information and additional locations.

A café to keep coming back to

Akihabara is a district in Tokyo, Japan, an area that’s ground zero for electronics, and to an extent, anime and manga as well. In Manila, Akihabara’s nickname, Akiba, is the name of a Japan-centric café.

More like a fancy kiosk as opposed to a stand-alone establishment, its spare seating and modest signage belie the excellence of its drinks and comestibles. The coffee beans are from Japan but are locally roasted in adherence to Japanese technology.

Japanese coffee is dark and strong with high acidity, a much-desired quality. As is common in most of Asia, Japanese coffee is often anointed with cream or milk. Akiba’s most popular coffee is the Nutty Macadamia Kofino (P120/P130). It’s similar to a lavish latte, but its overlay of milk foam is studded with sesame seeds: sip then chew. The macadamia comes in through a syrup – I always ask for a half-pump, lest it be too sweet.

green tea times two: drink and cake

Like a Starbucks Green Tea Latte sans the foam, the Matcha Latte (P80/P90) is like supping a stream of smoothness. Never achingly sweet, the milk only serves to refine the tannic nature of matcha. This is a most suitable beverage to pair with the Green Tea Cheesecake as various green tea taste sensations announce themselves in interesting ways through dessert and drink.

Perhaps the star of Akiba is their line of Trifle Drinks (P90/P100). Available in Matcha, Jasmine, or Chai, I opt for the coffee version in the Signature Trifle Kohi (cover photo and above). So special are these Trifle drinks that there’s even a how-to-drink sketch on the menu. All you need to know: “We highly suggest to drink it without straw.” Such a maxim demands to be followed and so I do but all I get is another white moustache and no coffee. A straw facilitates equal amounts of coffee (ooh, nice and strong! And cold!), its slap tethered and tamed by the salty-sweet richness of the cream. Mmm, no wonder it’s their superstar.

Akiba Café
2/F Mega A

Barangay Bagnet
Tell me if that isn’t one catchy name or what?

After everything we’ve eaten today, we find ourselves drifting into the food court. Frankly, I can’t remember the last time I ate in a food court, maybe it was in college, the memory is indistinct. But the wait’s been worth it, because suddenly, I see it from afar. Strategically lighted for maximum oomph! effect, is a paean to pork belly.

Brgy. Bagnet displays a bubbly, blister-skinned pork belly, gilded and glistening from its hot oil bath. It proves to be a siren song for those who pay homage to everything oily, porky, belly, crackling! Even at an hour that’s closer to merienda than it is to lunch, Brgy. Bagnet draws them in.

bagnet = bliss

Of course it’s the name that gets to me first and then that display, a more rough-hewn version of the one at the Peninsula Manila’s Escolta. But of course this is a food court and expectations must be adjusted. There are truly affordable combo meals with bagnet, veg, and rice but I can’t help but think how much it would cost to order that one monstrous bagnet for myself. I could stare at that display all day I tell you, complete with mouth open and tongue hanging out.

Bagnet+ensaladang talong+rice = P95

Chopped into more manageable, too-modest portions, the skin has become relatively rubbery but with enough crunch to redeem itself. An under-layer of fat delineates the crackling from the meat which is nicely moist. Of course this is food court java rice, but the ensaladang talong rounds everything out well.

Bagnet sisig+rice =P75; gising-gising P45

The bagnet sisig is outrageously creative but screams for a sizzling plate, all that surface area dying for heat so they can crisp up. My Bin likes the gising-gising, – chopped kangkong stalks, green finger chilies, and in a nod to its Bicolano origin, laced in coconut milk.

SM Megamall
EDSA corner J. Vargas Ave., Mandaluyong City

Another reason that keeps me going back to Megamall:
Yabu, Manila’s House of Katsu

And one more reason to get to Megamall, this weekend especially:
The mall-wide Mega Food Sale this coming February 24, 25, 26.

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