07 July 2015

A B-Kyu Week in Manila Part 2/4 - Chinatown, Intramuros and Wooden Spoon at Power Plant

Zany Filipino breakfasts, filthy riverside dining and hanging out at the mall.

On day 2 of our Manila eating week  we took our hotel breakfast vouchers to a shopping mall bakery called Hatch and couldn't resist the intriguing Filipino breakfasts. See menu here. Shawn really wanted the 'golden fried chicken with corn bread pancakes, bourbon honey and spam milk gravy', but his mother appears in a cartoon cloud bubble over his shoulder wagging her finger. She really does, though she is the cats mother.

Instead Shawn has a semi-sensible breakfast of adobo flakes. Adobo is a popular dish of meat stewed in vinegar, spices and soy sauce so to our warped ears adobo flakes sounds like a wholesome bowl of Pork Cornflakes, a dog's dream breakfast, stays crunchy even in milk. Which isn't nearly as good as Smarties Cereal...

Adobo flakes are clever use of leftovers. Pull apart the lovely slow cooked pork, beef or fish adobo into fine shreds then freeze it overnight to dry it out.  Then wok fry it with a smidgeon of oil until it's as dry and crisp as desired. Glenda Barretto, the Pinoy food queen who invented the dish, fries it for 30 to 40 minutes. The result is taste and textural wonder, like crunchy beef jerky, or like a meaty version of those fried shallots you get on top of many Thai dishes. It's extra wonderful when mixed in with rice and a soft fried googie.

This version comes with 'dirty rice', rice fried up with a little onion, garlic, and some strong meaty flavours like chicken livers, or bacon or Italian sausage, which discolours the rice, hence the term dirty rice. The rice had nice fat grains and a light flavour like rice cooked in stock, similar to Hainanese chicken rice. On the side is a dollop of lightly pickled veggies which add fresh zing to the dish. http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/16945/the-original-crispy-adobo-flakes-from-glenda-barretto-herself

Alison's breaky is similar, meaty flakes of corned beef, which is less sweet than the adobo flakes, but equally crunchy. The plate almost made it's way into Alison's bag, she coveted it so. This dish comes with 'extreme garlic rice' which is quite garlicy but not so extreme. It's not like the garlic is playing frisbee with chainsaws or anything.

Our meat flakes are washed down with a mango shake, the magic comes from using a semi ripe, almost green mango, which is lively and piquant, far more nuanced than the well ripe mangoes we eat back in Australia. A native of Townsville recently told us that we Aussies don't know how to eat mango, we eat them over ripe and over sweet. Mangos are most devine when a little under-ripe. Finding mangoes at this stage in Sydney is tricky. We were about to say 'first world problems' but the developing parts of South East Asia would nod along with this one.

We take a taxi to Chinatown, which we read is the oldest Chinatown in the world, they've been selling ugg boots, baby formula and royal jelly here since 1594 (that's what they sell in Sydney's Chinatown, sorry for the in-joke). This is no sanitized tourist Chinatown, this is grey gritty hardcore urban Bladerunner Chinatown, certainly the most mind blowing Chinatown we've ever seen.

The chaos and energy is infectious, we plodded the streets slackjawed. We felt fairly safe amid the poverty and chaos, though there was a basement level wet market we weren't to sure about entering. We reckon we'd be pretty shit scared here at night.

We see this evil poluted urban nightmare of a river. There's a food court type setup along the left side of it's toxic shores. We must go there.

Riverside dining on the left bank.

The place is one long strip of stalls along the river. It's so romantic.

We pick this place to eat because they seem extra friendly and they had frogs legs. We mean on the menu, they aren't frog people. See menu here and here.

Salt'n'pepper frogs legs, we can never resist frog legs when we're in southeast Asia. It's a novelty thing really, frog legs tastes like chicken. Or in this case salt'n'pepper chicken wings.

Kankong with shrimp paste. Gotta get your veggies when you can in Manila.

The boss lady recommended buttered chicken. Deep fried bits of chook with a puddle of melty butter sauce at the bottom. It's rich and delicious, the flesh is amazingly moist. The flavour is unusual, we guess they use some kind of gee or maybe Blue Band, which is evil long life margarine. It tastes better than Blue Band though. Some folks love their Blue Band, it's something you'd have to grow up with.

It's filling up with the lunch crowd, seems we were lucky to get in early for a table.

Everything happens street-side in Chinatown. Folks were living on the street, complete with cots, pets and clean blankies.

Random street in Chinatown.

Random street in Chinatown. We didn't take many photos around here, didn't feel particularly comfortable pulling the camera out.

We walk over to Intramurous, the old crumbly fort area and don't get much out of it. We really should have got a guide, engaged one of those motortrike touts. Sometimes our reluctance to use guides and tours really works against us.

We stop for a rest in a little cornershop and bakery with tables outside and grab what we thought were local softdrinks, only discover the are made by Coke. Bastards!

We get a couple of little cakes to share. A Sputnik is hard semisweet bread, named after the Sputnik satellite, also round in shape. Only three pesos, which in Australian dollars equates to bugger all. We also get a small semi stale piece of cake.

We take a bite of the cakes and a ragged bunch of kiddies descend on us asking for money or soft drinks or something. We try to shoo them off, but a little girl, maybe five or six years old in dirty clothes points to our half eaten cakes which we give to her and she looks overjoyed. So we buy the kiddies a bunch more cakes. We expected them to run off and go silly or pester us for more stuff, or fight over the food. But they sat down at our table, shared out the food between themselves, quietly ate, and gratuitously said “thank you, sir!” We were gobsmacked at the manners and etiquette of a bunch of little street urchins. Filipinos are the nicest folks in the world.

For din dins we head into the upmarket Powerplant Mall next to our hotel. We snare a table at the jam packed Wooden Spoon restaurant, sneaking ahead of folks in larger groups. It's amazing where you can get when dining as two. We couldn't get in the night before so we're quite chuffed.

Folks seem to visit these mid-range restaurants in big family groups, often there are maids hovering in the background, almost invisible.

Apparently Wooden Spoon is run by a celebrity chef. The food is modern Filipino, like traditional Filipino with cleaner, less funky, and very accessible flavours. We'd highly recommend this to wary eaters wishing to dip their toes in for the first time. See menu here: page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5, page 6, page 7.

Crab pancit - 185 pesos. Thin airy, crisp, light noodles with a mound of crab goo on top. The waiter mixes it up before we get a chance to take a photo of it unmixed. The crabby goo is perfect, rich and lardy. When combined with the feather light noodles it's magic.

Mmmm, crab goo.

Sitaw sa gata - 142 pesos. Beans and steamed squash simmered in coconut milk, given a salty flavour kick with toasted dried anchovies. Good simple and honest.

Humba - 229 pesos. Pork simmered in sweet soy with banana blossoms and peanuts. An easy crowd pleaser, tender in a sweet dark sauce.

Red & century egg salad with peanuts - 164 pesos. The preserved eggs have big funky notes, too funky for wussy Shawn, Alison loves it. We both love the tangy salad which is like tom yum light.

We love Manila.


  1. Goddamn I love Filipino breakfast! Love your tales from Binondo (Chinatown), it is intense, even for seasoned Asia travellers. If you go back to Manila I highly recommending taking a tour of Intramuros with Carlos Celdran. He understands Manila like few people. Looking forward to the next installment!

  2. Damn, how good is Filipino greasy meat breakfast? Love your tales from Binondo (Chinatown), it is intense, even for seasoned Asia travellers. If you go back to Manila I highly recommend taking a tour of Intramuros with Carlos Celdran. He understands Manila like few people. Looking forward to the next installment!


Thanks for your comment joy - please keep your musings happy - if you want to complain about a restaurant please do it on a restaurant review site (or your own blog) - we're all about celebrating cultural diversity and the great eats that come along with it :-)

Our ethics: We pay for all our own meals and travel (though sometimes Mum shouts us).