August 10, 2007

PROVINCIAL food trip and why MANILA's so darn expensive

Manileños rant about pretty much everything – their housing costs, their schedules, the girl next door, the traffic, you name it. But when it comes to food, they do not back down. Best eating city in the country? Manila! No question about it. Do not even get them started.

What makes a city a truly great eating city is when it is home to food you just cannot get elsewhere.

Some people still go to places where everything tastes generic from eat all you can places for less than P100 to blah Italian pasta joints (like Sbarro - euw) Well, some places still make these foods right, but they are so few and far between that the city’s food critics pounce on them and next thing you know you are waiting in line 30 minutes for a tiny cupcake or box of Krispy kreme.

And while you can eat magnificently in Manila’s high-end restaurants, how much do these eateries have to do with the fabric of the city? Needing to know an unlisted reservations number to score a table at an elite restaurant does not make it great. Frankly, it makes it obnoxious.

When it comes to food, Bacolod makes Cebu City look one-dimensional, Pampanga pathetically limited and Manila horribly expensive. The best thing eating in the country is not the one with the highest number of expense account restaurants but the one with the highest-quality, most mind blowing variety, the one in which “ where should we go eat?” is not just a challenging question but a life’s pursuit.

In Zamboanga, surprising food is in almost every corner of the city. Here you find a disproportionate abundance of the “best” of each specialty from a Muslim piangang (Chicken cooked in Coconut milk) to Rendang ( spicy beef curry in Coconut milk), Spanish Asado beef to Curacha ( a local Chavacano name given to this sea crab species that is uniquely found in the waters around Zamboanga, and no where else in the world. It is popularly described as a highbred crustacean, with crossbreed characteristics of a large sea crab and the big spiny lobster).
The neighborhood of immigrants who are cooking better than they did at home. It is difficult to even count the number of immigrant groups in the city. They speak in different dialects from Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Chavacano, Tausug , Chinese and even Bahasa and each brought its own cuisine and launched restaurants featuring it. It is not so much that Zamboanga has a few outstanding restaurants; it is that for whole culinary categories it wins hands down.
My Painting (Morita Y Vintas oil on canvas) December 2006

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