The Good Food Tour originated in Berlin in 2015 having the objective of gathering people who love food to make new friends, to experience different cuisines and to get to know the people behind the success of the restaurants around town. It was in December 2015 when my mentors from foodpanda Berlin, my two favourite people, Edu and Theresa orchestrated foodpanda Hong Kong’s very own Good Food Tour and I took the lead in making it happen having ten foodies with me going from one restaurant to another, all in one amazing evening. Now, it’s Manila’s time to showcase its fun and bright city with the Philippines’ top foodies. We went to Manila’s central business district – Makati City. I wanted this tour to be all about discovering rich and authentic Filipino flavours and its diversity, originating from different parts of the Philippines. Be it Bicolano, Ilocano, Tagalog, Cebuano, Capampangan, fusion or Pinoy vegetarian, there was just simply no better way to start the Philippines’ first Good Food Tour than going with a Filipino theme.
Filipino food is highly influenced by early cultural contact with China, which introduced a number of staple food into Philippine cuisine, most notably soy sauce, tofu, fish sauce as well as the method of stir-frying and making savoury soup bases. After China, Spanish dishes were eventually incorporated into Philippine cuisine with the more complex dishes usually being prepared for special occasions. Some dishes such as Arroz a la Valenciana remain largely similar in the Philippine context. Some have come to take on a slightly or significantly different meaning. Arroz a la Cubana served in the Philippines is usually cooked with ground beef picadillo. Philippine longganisa, despite its name is more akin to chorizo than Spanish longaniza. And Paella, another Spanish favourite, has its own local version in the Philippine food culture.
Today, Philippine cuisine continues to evolve as new techniques, methods and ingredients find their way into the country. And this month, we invited fourteen foodies to celebrate the ever-delicious, ever-evolving Filipino dishes in this modern age.
5th of July at 4:30PM, I had just finished my full setup, ready for the arrival of our featured foodies at around 5:30PM. A long table with an orange-flamingo theme was ready to sit the arriving guests. It was a rainy afternoon and I was worried that some of the invited guests might cancel at the last minute. I held on to my phone just in case. Luckily, our partner from DiscoverMNL, Lucky Alabado, arrived just in time to help me out with confirming our guests’ attendance. We went live on Facebook to let our friends and followers experience the Good Food Tour virtually. Just before 6:00PM, our foodie friends were seated next to each other. To my surprise, no one cancelled! Our tour was packed, we were a full house!
Our first stop, Lorenzo’s Way by LJC Restaurant Group. This intimate restaurant, named after the founder himself, Lorenzo “Larry” J. Cruz, is located at Greenbelt-5. Walking along the hallway, you can never miss Lorenzo’s Way’s bright decor. The restaurant is comfy and it has seats by the garden, ideal for watching stylish fashionistas that walk around the mall. The restaurant’s interior showcases a good balance of traditional and modern Filipino design, using Narra wood, full glass walls mixed with modern shapes and textures. One by one, our guests started arriving. After saying our first hellos, the group immediately started talking about the Game of Thrones ending. The next best topic to food. At exactly 6:00PM, we were joined by Chef George Lizares, Corporate Chef for all the restaurant concepts under LJC Restaurant Group. Shortly, the food was served and everybody got busy taking photos. I’d say the star of the night was Chef George’s Knockout Knuckles. Honestly, what good is a Filipino food tour without the famous Crispy Pata? Tender meat, nicely flavoured with the chef’s secret set of spices and deep-fried to its crispy form. If you love the traditional Crispy Pata, you will inevitably get hooked on this. This was exactly what we all needed to see on our table. I overheard some guests saying “All men must dine!”… and dine, we did.
Next, our kind and attentive servers topped our table with Paella Valenciana. Seafood and meat done the classic Spanish way. A colourful mixture of saffron-flavoured rice and various meats like squid, shrimp, seashells and chicken and chorizo. You name it! It made a perfect pair for our Sangria.
I had been craving for the King Prawns Creole Hollandaise since I first saw it. Each one of us got a piece of these prawns. I couldn’t remember a time when I’ve tried prawns so juicy and tasty paired nicely with buttered risoni. If I wasn’t saving space for more food for the rest of the evening, I think I may have murdered this plate with five more servings of prawns. This was definitely one for the books!
We were running out of time but our hosts from Lorenzo’s Way couldn’t let us go without us munching on their Strawberry Shortcake. The smell was overwhelmingly fresh. Presented nicely with all the strawberry slices around it that definitely put a smile on my face upon seeing it, like a little kiddo!
Our next reservation was for Fely-J’s Kitchen, set for 7:00PM. Lucky had just finished taking a few photos with Chef George when the rest of the foodies started heading out to the next stop. We arrived just on time and found our new table inside Fely-J’s Kitchen which is also owned and operated by LJC Restaurant Group. Of course, I wasn’t surprised to find Chef George there. I was happy to spend another hour with him exchanging jokes and stories. A funny and friendly man, not to mention very talented as a culinary artist.
Fely-J’s Kitchen is on the second level of Greenbelt-5. The overall decor is Asian inspired. With an interior accented with a pink and white wall at the left end of the restaurant, this place is hard to miss. The hard wooden tables and chairs match the neutral coloured walls textured with perfectly-aligned squares and circles.
The chef welcomed all of us to Fely-J’s Kitchen with individual servings of Thai Shrimps and Pomelo Salad. Being based in Hong Kong for a few years, it had been a while since I had laid my hands on a Pinoy salad like this. I didn’t wait for another second before I made my first attack. This shrimp and pomelo salad was the perfect way to start our mid-evening bit of the tour. I never imagined two of my guilty pleasures put together to create this piece of art. Oh, my friends, I am certainly coming back for more of this!
Tilapia is loved by many Pinoys and it has evolved from the simple fried fish dish to the classic sweet and sour or flame-grilled tilapia. That evening, we discovered yet another mouth-watering dish that makes tilapia even more appetising. The chef let us try his Tilapia with Sweet Plum Sauce. A modern Pinoy fusion at its best.
In the Philippines, a meal is never complete without the rice. Fely-J’s team made sure that everyone got this Filipino staple during the food tour, with not one, but two kinds of specialty rice offered only at this restaurant. Have you ever tried fried rice cooked in the sweetness of pineapple, mixed with various kinds of meat, eggs, vegetables and mild hint of spices? The chef calls it Piña Rice. But don’t get too excited. The king of all fried rice is next. Imagine your favourite Sisig dish, mixed nicely with a generous serving of fried rice. I bet you’d think these two make a complete dinner altogether. But yes, the chef served us the best fried rice I’ve ever tried – Fely-J’s Sisig Fried Rice. Sinful, but an absolute delight!
Just when we thought the mid part was over, a new dish was brought to our table – their famous Beef Smores. Folks, this is not your sweet confectionery kind of smore, this is a stew, a delightful beef stew. Like many Singaporean and Malaysian-Eurasian recipes, it has its origins in Spain and Portuguese and like so many Eurasian dishes, this one has a European base with added exotic spices. Now considered a part of the modern Filipino culture, I think it’s safe to say I wasn’t the only one who loved it!
My stomach was almost full. I was saving room for the last part of the evening. At exactly 8:00PM, We all got up and headed over to Restaurante Pia y Damaso. Owned and managed by the executive chef herself, Bambi Sy Gobio. Her menu takes us back to the old Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo days. Good Filipino food that truly reflects our history with bits of trivia. Most of their dishes are modern Filipino with a hint of Spanish influence.
Restaurante Pia y Damaso is a quiet, small restaurant next to Fely-J’s Kitchen. They actually share a common al fresco area which made it convenient for us as we continued with the tour. The white marble-top tables looked very prominent. Bambi warmly welcomed us. She had prepared a table for all fourteen guests and for myself. She stayed and shared with us a short history about her restaurant which is co-owned by her brother.
Shortly after her introduction, our first dish arrived. A platter of Bacon Date, Filo Asado and Chorizo Pandesal. I could smell the chorizo from a distance and I immediately had my first bite as it landed in front of me. My favourite bit is the bacon-wrapped date. The saltiness and the sweet finish of the date was spectacular. I have never tried anything like it. The Filo Asado was calling out my name. I took my first bite and I absolutely loved the nice complement between the filo pastry, the asado and the caramelised apple slices. Needless to say, it was gone in a second. I took a bite of the Chorizo Pandesal. The meat was delightful and the bread was perfectly baked, served warm and fresh from the oven. It was perfect! Who would have known that this simple Filipino bread usually served at breakfast in many Filipino household is now a gourmet Filipino dish?
Next, Bambi ordered the Chinese Lumpia Salad for everyone. This is the traditional Chinese lumpia without the wrapper, served on a bed of fresh cabbage. The salad came with shrimp, pork, green beans, bean sprouts, carrots, arranque, beancurd, fried seaweed noodles, roasted peanuts and fresh cilantro leaves. A must-try for all the healthy eaters out there. Now you know Filipino food can be healthy too!
For our next dish, Bambi took the liberty in ordering another new addition to her menu – Placido Penitente with Mussel Cerveza Cream. A dish inspired by a character from the book of El Filibusterismo, a recurring theme with the restaurant’s subversive Filipino cuisine. I’d say it’s a complete meal all in one dish. Where else can you find seafood cooked with cervesa, served on top of rice. For an added tang, don’t forget to squeeze the lemon!
I am an absolute fan of pork Filipino dishes, and though this was the first time I’ve ever encountered this next dish, I must say I have instantly fallen in love with it. The Piña Pork Cilantro was served to us in smaller portions. This is another new item on Restaurante Pia y Damaso‘s menu. Perfectly caramelised pork, cooked in pineapple juice and spiced up with fresh cilantro. It was sweet and savoury and the meat was tender. The pineapple’s prominent flavour was balanced off by the cilantro. If any of you would like to try this, I just want to say, I’d make time for you if you’d invite me! This is definitely a place to bring your friends for a perfect homey hang-out.
Our next dish was another one of my most favourite part of the evening – Fried Chicken with Salted Egg. Yet, another simple Filipino dish turned into a stylish gourmet treat. The perfectly-fried, crispy chicken meat and skin went well with the bold flavours of the salted egg. The complex flavours and textures mixed very nicely which bursted into a rich and satisfying experience. Sinful, but good!
To cap off the evening, Bambi surprised us with yet another special item from her menu. Her signature desserts! Enter Ensaimada and Belgian Bibingka Waffle. These are actually two different items from their menu, but Bambi decided to make us try both. Tsokolate Eh and Toasted Ensaimada Quezo de Bola come as a pair. The chocolate sauce is made with Davao tablea cacao and Malagos goats milk, served with toasted Ensaimada. The bread is made in-house to ensure its freshness and consistency. I was already full, but I just couldn’t let the moment pass without munching on this delicious treat!
The Belgian Bibingka Waffle was made with Malagos goats cheese, quezo de bola, salted egg and coco jam. The bit that I liked most about this was the nice complement between the salted egg and the cheese.
After our enjoyable time with satisfying Filipino food and a pleasant atmosphere with lots of laughter, we gathered together for a quick group photo shoot.
Sadly our tour was coming to end. We all stood warm in the cold and rainy evening. One by one, we said our goodbyes, but that evening was something so rewarding that we all realised, it was just the beginning of more Good Food Tours in Manila. The most fulfilling bit of the whole experience is getting the chance to see some old friends and also the chance to meet new ones.
*Video concept, direction and production by Zane Balmaceda
*All images are credited to Zane Balmaceda
Lorenzo’s Way – Where Taste Matters
Address: G/F, Greenbelt-5, Legazpi Street, Makati City, Philippines
You can also place your order now here.
Fely-J’s Kitchen – Asian Home Cooked Dishes
Address: 2/F, Greenbelt-5, Legazpi Street, Makati City, Philippines
You can also place your order now here.
Restaurante Pia y Damaso – Subversive Filipino Cuisine
Address: 2/F, Greenbelt-5, Legazpi Street, Makati City, Philippines
You can also place your order now here.
- Carina Castillo from @carinacastle
- Alexis Deocaris from @forkspoonmanila
- Maylyn De Guzman from @whattoeatph
- Michael Manabat from @goodeatsph
- Mark Tan from @eatsplorations
- Mitch Yu from @cheffymitchyu
- Rommel Bulaquina from @foodpanda_ph
- Andrew Co from @trendhotspot
- Robbie Garcia from smenation.com.ph
- Rafael Reynante from choosephilippines.com
- Ailene Co from trend-hotspot.com
- Paul Riyadh Chuapoco from paultheprguy.com
- Chichi Tullao from happytummytravels.com
- Gerry San Miguel from dude4food.blogspot.com
- Lucky Alabado from discovermnl.com
- Zane Balmaceda from magazine.foodpanda.ph
Born and raised in a multi-cultural environment and a firm believer that the best way to learn is to travel the world. Daddy to a yorkie. He enjoys hiking and outdoor bootcamp. His passion for arts, writing, food and business administration lead him to be foodpanda’s Senior Marketing Manager in Hong Kong and in the Philippines.