Good food that’s good to eat even when it’s not raining.
Since I have a list of my Favorite Rainy Day Drinks, it’s only fitting that I have a similar list, but this time for Rainy Day Food. Rain or shine however, good food prevails whatever the weather.
Laksa at Tao Yuan
Laksa is something that I make at home occasionally. I want to cook it more often but it just takes so gosh-darn long. So, sensing an imminent laksa craving, I once asked several foodie friends, all whose palates I trust, which laksa they most recommend. Naturally, one of them couldn’t resist and had to cheekily respond, “You’ve got to fly to Singapore for that, dear,” but hands down, the unanimous reply was Tao Yuan. Known for a whole host of irresistible Singaporean dishes such as Cereal Prawns and that tremendous Deep Fried Fish in Mango Sauce, Tao Yuan, until recently, involved quite the trek to get to. Malate and Resorts World aren’t part of my regular commute. Thankfully, with the opening of its third store in Greenbelt 3, it needn’t require a logistical plan or a luck of the draw reservation scheme.
In Malaysia and Singapore, laksa is a category of regional noodle soup dishes, with Singaporean laksas noted for their coconut milk-creaminess. The soup is so thick that it’s often called “gravy,” a liquid that’s remarkably deep, complex, and sour simultaneously. It bespeaks a flavor of anchovies, belacan (fermented shrimp paste), and herbaceous nuances. Tao Yuan’s laksa is a fitting representative of all these, and I especially love the bean sprouts’ crunch contrasting with the slim but firm noodles.
I can’t help but chuckle however at the fact that I’m given a ladle and two bowls, ostensibly to share. But I said nothing about that, this bowl is all for me.
Congee at Causeway
Congee is one of those things I eat for a litany of reasons: I’m feeling bloated, I want to feel full without eating too much, or it’s raining outside and I want nothing more than to feel the warmth of nourishment. It sounds simple enough, I think, but I think good congee is hard to find. The congees I like best are not found at fancy Chinese restaurants like Summer Palace but at Luk Yuen (I grew up on the stuff) and now, at Causeway.
The location I frequent is the one along Libis and believe me when I say that it could have been plucked straight out of Binondo. It’s noisy, service is scarce, and the floors are best not looked at lest my appetite be dashed. But the congee, I can’t complain about that.
It comes in a big bowl that’s chipped (it wouldn’t be authentic otherwise), and the porridge (may I call it that?) is lightly seasoned. Yes, I know it’s a smidgen and a kilo of MSG perhaps, but I’m not sensitive to that stuff. The rice still has some bite to it and this variant, the pork with century egg, tastes fresh. The pork has no malansa taste to it and the eggs don’t taste like they’ve fermented for longer than 100 years (!). I like the little chips that are a garnish and the fact that underneath all this hot porridge is a golden egg poaching and ready to satiate and stain this feel-good food.
Causeway Seafood Restaurant
Caldereta Pasta at 1521
The Caldereta Pasta (P310) at 1521 is one of those dishes that makes me think, “Now why didn’t I think of that!” My Bin adds, “This pasta is an incredible result of someone’s late night foraging in the refrigerator.” Really, who would think of putting together beef spareribs – as it’s described in the menu – and melding it in a “…lush tomato and roasted liver sauce dusted with grated quezo de bola.” Again, from the menu, and a description that’s entirely apt.
I’ve been to 1521 several times and it’s this pasta that I keep coming back for. I like that it’s served hot, so hot that even my superpower, tungsten fingers can’t hold the bottom of the plate for long. The steam tickles and tantalizes my nose, igniting deep hunger, and all thoughts of self-restraint depart. Good beef caldereta, the kind that makes people say, “Now this is how my mom makes caldereta!” is often the result of long, slow cooking, generous swigs of olive oil anointing a duo of tomato: sauce and paste, aromatics, olives, peppers, pimientos, and a great plus are potatoes. Mashed chicken livers add an air of luxury and memorable richness to the dish but concessions have been made to canned liver spread.
Every forkful of 1521’s Caldereta Pasta is loaded with noodles, beef, and peppers. I make sure to include a forkful of potato too, they’re fried and possess delightfully crispy edges. This is a super satisfying dish and a real retro charmer too with its addition of two Prima butter-sugar toasts, the crunchy stuff from a pack.
1521 at Burgos Circle
Lamb is something that I don’t see often on Manila’s menus and when it is, it’s rarely done well. One recent lamb dish I enjoy however, is the Lamb Shank (P780) at Savoy Bistro. Presented on a pretty plate, this is an honest-to-goodness shank from a leg of lamb. Less meaty and slightly chewier than the sirloin end, it takes well to braising, as it has been for three hours in a Merlot-based sauce. The wine’s fruity notes fuse beautifully with the rosemary, awakened by just the right amount of aromatics. The meat, as promised on the menu, “falls off the bone,” and is served with a satisfying risotto. The dish is a classic example of restraint and execution.
Savoy Bistro is located in a place called the East Asian Art Gallery, and many of the restaurant’s dishes are plated beautifully, reflections of its sophisticated, artful interiors.