Food in Review: the Pepper.ph 2018 Food DigestJanuary 7, 2019
The local food scene’s made all sorts of shifts and turns in the past year, some bigger and more impactful than others. Here, we reflect on some of the phenomena—the good and the bad—that made 2018 unforgettable:
There’s just no stopping the ‘Bee. From their humble origins as an ice cream shop, the Filipino fast food chain has gone on to open branches outside of the country, from their first international stores in neighboring Asian countries like Taiwan and Brunei, as well as in North America and Australia. By 2018, Jollibee went full throttle, opening even more branches in other cities within the said countries, as well as bringing their signature burgers and chicken to new horizons—including Italy and the UK. Next up? Japan. With Jollibee having said to aim at joining the ranks of McDonald’s globally, it’s safe to say that this is only the beginning. -Patricia Baes
After taking a break from being Manila’s biggest food fad, milk tea came back in 2018 with a vengeance, and showed it was here to stay. We saw popular Taiwanese places like Macao Imperial Tea, Yifang and Tiger Sugar open up shop, and places like Coco, Serenitea, and Ten Ren gaining more loyal followers. You’d think that the wait would dissuade people from getting a cup, but it seems that as the lines get longer, the more curious people become. If the queues are any indication, we’ll be drinking milk tea (with metal straws) for years to come. – Talia Cortez
Filipino bartenders continue to gain recognition around the globe. The Inaugural Asia’s 50 Best awards last year accorded a number of notable Philippine players: the Curator, landing 25th in the line of Asia’s 50 Best Bars, and Singapore’s Manhattan, the two head bartenders of whom are Filipino. ABV’s Lester Ligon rose to prominence as well, going on to represent the Philippines at the Diageo World Class Bartender of the Year competition in Berlin and emerging as one of the top 20 finalists. In Texas, Filipina bartender Jholah Peñafiel took home gold as the champion of the TGI Friday’s World Bartender Championships. Filipinos sure know how to bring it, and we’re happy to give a toast to that. -PB
Fine. No one in the history of dining has probably thought: “Hey, I’m going to eat in that place today because the bathrooms are FANTASTIC”. But let’s bet that more often than not, if you do end up going to the can, you either bless or curse the place for its amenities or lack thereof. Imagine if the tissue has gone missing, or you just can’t seem to flush—that stuff will haunt you for days. Thank god then for @meronbangbidet, the Instagram that answers the question everyone has been too afraid to ask. This account is the shit. -Pamela Cortez
When it was announced that Foodee Global Concepts was bringing Hawker Chan to Manila, you immediately asked yourself two things: one, where was their first outpost going to be and two, how long until the hype died down before you could go there and not have to stand in line for hours. With two open outlets—and one more on the way—you won’t have to go far to try the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred meal. Although famous for their soya chicken with rice, the char siew with noodles is one dish you cannot miss. -Angela Lim
One of our biggest disappointments this year was the overhyped Maxi Mango. We found the ice cream overly sweet to the point of it being dizzying to consume, and the toppings added to the ice cream to be of average quality. The price is right for something as ordinary as this dessert. If there were no line in the mall and we were really craving mangoes, sure, we’d get it. Otherwise, we’d rather go somewhere else than wait 5 minutes for this. -Bea Osmeña
It’s surprising that not a lot of people know Lagrima. You can’t really go wrong with any of their “feelings” (shout out: carne asada) but their surtido is definitely something you should add to your usual order. A mix of braised stomach, tripe, and skin, the description may be off putting to some but even tripe haters can’t rule this option out completely. It’s especially good on a gringa because the grilled cheese and pickled onions counter the slightly sweet flavour of the sauce. – AL
When news broke out about the cancellation of Madrid Fusion Manila—the gastronomy congress that brought in many of the world’s most brilliant chefs to the Philippines to showcase what the country had to offer—in favor of the dubious Buhay Karinderya project, many were left dismayed, as it came just in the heels of Filipino cuisine finally gaining international recognition. Enter then-Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Berna Romulo Puyat’s appointment as the Secretary of the Department of Tourism in May last year. Already lauded for her contributions in advocating for farmers and local produce, Puyat took no detours, exposing the corruption schemes then rampant within the DOT, and suspending dubious projects (and the people involved in them)—including the veritable Buhay Karinderya. Though the supposed relaunch of Madrid Fusion (initially set for this year) has been cancelled to make way for programs that “directly impact the community”, Puyat continues on her mission of pushing for the Philippines’ local bounties, now reshifting the angle of national tourism to emphasize sustainability. Much as things continue to plunge for many other national issues, in this arena at least, we feel optimistic. -PB
In the past years, local cooks and industry insiders have come to recognize the true diversity of Filipino food beyond the ubiquitous sisig and adobo, and onto previously lesser-represented cuisines from around the country. In particular, it’s worth shining the spotlight on that of Marawi, capital of Lanao del Sur and infamous battleground between government forces and militant groups with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during the Battle of Marawi in 2017. Though much of the area itself remains to be in rehabilitation, its cuisine is a Halal haven which, similar to other regional cuisines around Mindanao, employs the lavish use of spices. Distinctive to Marawi is palapa—a multipurpose condiment made with sakurab (spring onions), ginger, chili, and other aromatics—which can be enjoyed on its own, but also injects its distinctly herby, aromatic punch and heat as the backbone of their stews and braises. Iconic dishes include randang sapi (braised beef with soy, roasted coconut, and spices), chicken piaparan (chicken stewed with coconut milk, palapa, and turmeric), tinadtag (a sweet, crunchy delicacy made with rice and coconut), and others that we look forward to seeing in more eateries and restaurant menus in Manila soon. -PB
If you haven’t eaten KBBQ this year have you even lived? From Samgyupsalamat to Romantic Baboy, it was all about the unlimited meat sweats this year. Filipinos love a good bargain and for _99 pesos, you got a variety of pork belly, beef and maybe even chicken or shrimp that never stopped coming to your table. Maybe we mourn how overlooked other Korean dishes have now become, or how even our favorite, most traditional Korean places have succumbed to the unli-craze sometimes sacrificing their banchan quality. Or maybe, we just sit back, turn over the galbi, and enjoy. -TC
NutriAsia went under fire when 300 workers went on strike, accusing their employers of unfair labor practices. The strikes even became violent, with both sides pointing fingers at one another for starting the violence that left many injured. Photos and lists of the workers’ grievances made their rounds on social media, with many people calling their friends to boycott NutriAsia brands such as Datu Puti, UFC, Mang Tomas, Golden Fiesta and Papa. -BO
Long ago, Chinese food in Manila was often bunched together in restaurant menus that offered the best of the regions across the country, or focused on Cantonese interpretations. Steadily however, there has been a growth of Szechuan, Hunan, and other mainland cuisines establishing roots all over the city. Along Macapagal for example, whole apartment complexes have been built with these restaurants covering their bottom floors, and you can make a whole food crawl out of the hot pot and bbq restaurants along Yakal. The service is sometimes questionable, but the food is often great, authentic, and intense. What this means for the Philippines and our workers, we have no idea—so we’ll enjoy this skeptically for now. -PC
These things are everywhere. Le Sucre Lab might have started it all, but there are now one million and one copies, and it has been hard to weed through them and find something that’s actually good. Props to the idea—the gooiest, meltiest version of everyone’s favorite cake flavor, stuffed into a tin to perpetuate the illusion of it being so soft that it’s spoonable. In reality, it’s mostly pudding and sauce, and a lot of versions out there suffer in quality that you’re better off putting boxed mixes and canned frosting together. We can’t wait until this trend extinguishes this year, and is replaced by something more substantial. -PC
Toyo is probably one of the best restaurants in the Philippines right now. 2018 has really been their year—they’ve received accolade after accolade, and the team has cemented the eatery’s status as the modern standard-bearer of Filipino cuisine. But what’s really given them street cred is their collaboration with Uniqlo—the Japanese brand’s endorsement has thrust them further into the spotlight, and rightly so. -PC
2018 was a big year for purveyors and home cooks. The rise of social media directories like Yummy Home Kitchen, coupled with the advent of door-to-door delivery services, have made it even easier for independent entrepreneurs to connect their products to customers. Our 2018 purveyors stand out for their innovation and quality ingredients that proves you don’t need a brick-and-mortar to build a food business.
Rising popularity of #keto aside, thanks perhaps to the better ease of access of information and ingredients, more local bakers have ventured into making yeasted treats using sourdough starters, alternative flours, and the like. While the Philippines has an existing distinctive affair with bread which we’re no less proud of, we’re happy to now have access to a wider variety of breads from all around the world, made through artisanal means. Standouts include Not-So-Jewish Baker‘s sourdough bagels, 28 Derby‘s croissants, Madge’s Aussie crumpets, and Baker Street Bread and Love‘s springy focaccia.
Dips to Dive Into
People think of dips as just appetizers, but a really good dip will have you wanting to have them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and maybe even for dessert. Of the many we’ve tried, we couldn’t get enough of Mitza’s Good Eats‘ Whipped Paneer Chermoula, which is as zesty as it is creamy; and Skinny Dippin‘s Spinach-Artichoke dip, which we finished in one sitting.
Whether for ethical reasons or just for the sake of exploring food alternatives, we’re seeing more and more options for food that’s plant-based, cruelty-free, and downright delicious in their own right. You don’t need to be vegan to enjoy the flavor explosion of Herbivora‘s BBQ jackfruit sandwich, or the nutty goodness of Sift‘s bean- and grain-based sausages and patties. Creamy goodness can be had sans dairy, as exemplified by SIMPL‘s soy-based sauces and Niyog‘s coconut-based kefir and yogurt. Desserts are no exception, with Miuccia‘s line of “luxe” cakes which—with the great range of textures in every layer—stands out among the plethora of tin desserts.
We satisfied our inner carnivore in a number of delicious ways this year. Ereñeta-Manaloto‘s traditional chorizo had us going back for heaps of extra rice, while Petite Charcuterie de Manille‘s French-style sausages transported us to France in each bite. And for bacon you’ll want to have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Artisanal Foods‘ meaty slabs have you covered.
The world of local, craft-made libations have been on a steady rise in the past years and 2018 is no different. Many a hot day last year was made bearable with Oh GK‘s oregano-based juice and Lick‘s fruity blends of iced tea. For a buzz, we stand by Ilustrado Brews‘ Sinta Mead and Monkey Eagle Brewery‘s tropics-inspired craft beers.
Much as we love cooking, we get it—it’s not always an option for the time-pressed, and getting takeout can be expensive. If you’ve ever gotten home at midnight with nothing to cook in the fridge, but it’s worth stocking up on freezer-friendly fuel—some of our faves include Happy Plate‘s pinangat, Quisina‘s smoked dinuguan, and Mister Delicious‘ range of Everyday Foods (we loved their carnitas!). For parties and potlucks, we turn to China Mommy‘s fortune bags and curry crabs, or Cociñoni‘s Korean-inspired take on lechon.
The dessert scene can be littered with options that look better than they taste, but there are a notable few that had us back for seconds. We got to try better versions of long-loved classics, like Keso Cakes‘ deceptively plain, but (very) thicc cheesecakes. Cookies of all sorts flooded our Instagram feeds, and Delirious Cookie Co.’s line of mega-chewy goods stood out. On the less nostalgic end of the spectrum, we witnessed the rise of previously-unexplored flavors on the homemade ice cream front, like Happy Creamery‘s Goat’s Cheese with Pili and Piescream Co.‘s Violet Crumble. -BO and PB