Purveyors

After Hours With A Malate Mama-San

November 24, 2014

I’m not sure what got me here. It’s after hours on a Thursday night/Friday morning, and I’m on a side street in Malate. Bianca (not her real name) is sitting outside one of the many colorful clubs in the area, complete with neon signs and a bevy of scantily-clad women holding menu boards of drinks, food, and services. Cigarette in her perfectly-manicured hand, she is a strong character, talking over every girl we are sitting with, ordering them around to help us or make way for us. She is a mama-san in every sense of the word—impeccably dressed in a way that set her apart from the cheap dresses and lucite heels, chatty and slightly abrasive, and with a presence much more commanding than her counterparts. On any other night, we would be drinking anywhere along the street, downing an amaretto sour in Malate’s famed Oarhouse or watching some band butcher classics in the former Penguin. But tonight, we are here to eat.

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Bianca is our tour guide for the night. Done for the day, she sells cosmetics to the girls at night,  “Saan mo ba gustong pumunta? Gusto mo ba makita yung totoong Malate? O yung kinakainan namin ng cliyente? Malaki yung pagkakaiba nun.” (Where do you want to go? Do you want to see the real Malate? Or what our clients eat? There’s a huge difference.) We first make our way to Shawarma Snack Center, which Bianca says serves both purposes. The famed Malate institution which now has branches almost everywhere has a shinier, newer space across the street, but it is the shack where most residents grab a bite to eat. I still maintain that their mixed grill is the best of its value and flavor in the city. With Arabic rice, each piece of meat is charred until the flesh’s exterior is the color of soot, but with a pinkish middle, juice escaping from even within the chicken breast. We are interrupted mid-meal by a man with graying skin, his open fists clutching a scribbled prayer, and his frail voice whispering to us to stay with him. We leave as soon as he goes through to the bathroom, regretting leaving the last bits of hummus on the plate.

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Bianca brings us to Adriatico, one of the liveliest streets in the neighborhood. This is where we meet a few of her friends, some still working. Right beside the club is an unassuming take-away, with only a tiny window and fading tarpaulin as signs of life. Bento boxes are all under PHP 150, and I’m thinking this will probably just be standard fare. After Bianca gets one of her girls to pose and eat, we try the yakiniku. These girls are spoiled; it is like Yoshinoya’s beef bowls on crack. The serving is huge, and the beef without grease. There is even expertly pickled ginger on top of the whole dish, providing a spark and punch.

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She brings us to another, more famous local hangout, Erra’s Ramen. The bowls here hardly make a dent on their meager salaries, which make it popular with the girls. It is also a vignette of Malate nightlife, with the crowd a mix of backpackers, girls off duty and some less than appealing roadside thugs, peddling everything from knockoff watches to snakes. Yes, there were snakes.

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Now, Bianca tell us that not all of Malate is gritty. She says that they eat well, and almost everything is authentic because of the many foreign nationals that roam the streets. They often eat at hotels, Pan Pacific being the best one, or order in from restaurants all along the road, which often offer direct-to-room service. We end up at Izakaya Kenta, a tiny restaurant with bamboo private rooms that looks as if it was ripped straight from a side street in Japan. For such a late (or early) hour, the rooms were almost all full, throngs of Japanese businessmen sitting tatami-style, hands enveloped around tiny mugs of sake. The prices here seem ridiculous after the places we’ve been to, but Bianca tells us she has a regular’s discount here. The tofu salad was a quiet, unassuming revelation. Our photographer, Pam, and I agree this might have been the best tofu we’ve ever had. Cold and quivering at the slightest nudge, it was soybean at its most sincere and most delicious. She recommends Tanabe too, which has become a favorite since a friend introduced their uni foilyaki to me. For Korean, there are many places within walking distance of each other in the area, but the simple Full Chicken House has exceptionally good Korean fried chicken.

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We are shocked at how varied the choices are here, and not one place let us down. The one that took us most by surprise however, was SuperSix Grill, just off Malate’s famous circle, the place reminding us of Bangkok’s Khao San road. You would think that the place (known as ‘payong-payongan’ to the locals) served standard roadside fare barbeque, but the choices were varied and not at all typical. Their grilled sticks of pork were Japanese-like, and made for even better yakitori than Kikufuji’s. Bianca said that although this is where everyone went to either wind down or start the night before business, it’s not one where she and her girls would often go to. ‘Ayaw namin ng mga turo-turo. Di pwede yung public. Ay Alam mo naman kung anong iniisip ng mga tao.’ (We don’t like places like these. It can’t be public. You know what people think.)

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The night ends as Bianca hardly says a goodbye. She waves from across the street while we are waiting for our orders to arrive, then leaves abruptly as if she was never there. We are left to fend for ourselves during the night. I manage to find the way to Oarhouse on Bocobo, which I have hardly been to, but with tonight’s circumstances, seems at least a little familiar. We grab an amaretto sour, then don’t speak. Once out of the quiet respite of our own thoughts, I look at Pam. “What the fuck just happened?”

Would you try any of these restaurants in Malate? What are your favorite late night spots in Manila? Tell us below!


Erra’s Ramen

Address: Adriatico St, Malate, Manila

Full Chicken House

Address: Remedios Circle, Malate, Manila

Izakaya Kenta

Address: Unit B GF, Malate Bayview Mansion, 1781 Adriatico St, Malate, Manila

Otora Take Out Bento

Address: Adriatico St, Malate, Manila

Shawarma Snack Center

Address: 484 R. Salas St, Ermita, Manila

SuperSix

Address: 475 Padre Paura cor Mabini St, Malate, Manila

Tanabe

Address: 553 Remedios St, Malate, Manila

Pamela Cortez Pamela Cortez

Pamela Cortez writes about food full-time, and has honed her craft while writing for publications such as Rogue, Town and Country, and The Philippine Star. She once rode on a mule for a mile just to eat mint tea and lamb in Morocco, and has eaten a block of Quickmelt in one sitting. Her attempt at food photography can be viewed online @meyarrr.

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18 comments in this post SHOW

18 responses to “After Hours With A Malate Mama-San”

  1. Adrian De Leon says:

    This was such a joy to read. It’s like a localized Lucky Peach article. More pieces like this please! 🙂

  2. Malate, with all its grit and grime, is beautiful and delicious at night. I used to wonder why all the guide books and online travel sources point tourists and backpackers to Manila’s red light district for cheap lodging, and I would think what a way it would have been to get oriented with the Philippines on what is probably their first night in the country. I used to think,”Hell, what a perfect way to sentence these backpackers to a guaranteed mugging.” But I have come to realize that for the most part, even the sketchiest alleys in Malate can be safe if you just leave the people alone, walk straight, keep a focused eye on where you are going and don’t wander off without a purpose. The food is generally cheap, good and hearty. All the mentioned places are wonderful: SSC never dissapoints; Erra’s service is glacial, the waiters a bit suplado but as my pork-loving friends say, the chashu makes up for the shitty service. I have had the same tofu salad in Kenta and I also think it’s the silkiest and most subtle tofu dish I have tried.

    I miss living in Taft where all these are a jeep ride away…

    • Pamela Cortez says:

      I agree, it’s sometimes the seediest and most far-flung, unassuming places that have the best food.

    • Volts Sanchez says:

      I usually get smiles at Erras, but I think that’s because I make an effort to chat up the people serving me. Protip: get the siomai! Not bad, not bad…

  3. Lee says:

    This is a very good read. I am not from Manila and I have had stayed in Tune Hotel Malate because of its proximity to places I need to be at. I never wandered out at night because of my preconceived notions of Malate based on what I heard and read from the influential “them” who “said” this and that. I survived the hunger pangs at night on supplies safely purchased from the hotel’s 7-11 grocery which could have been replaced with a satisying bowl of ramen had I been more daring.

  4. Volts Sanchez says:

    Love this article. I’ve only ever tried Erras (thanks to Pepper, actually) and SSC (there’s a branch in BF, on President’s Avenue), but now I know where else to go.

    Actually, a little more about SSC: there are two, literally across the (tiny) road from each other. The only differences are the ambience (one is comparatively fancy, the other is more turo-turo) and the corresponding change in price. All food is cooked in the earthier one, so it’s your call 😉

    • I actually thought the one inside (the main one) is the air-conditioned one but the Arabic and Persian expats are allowed to smoke and shisha. The one across the street is the al-fresco one that doesn’t allow smoking, which is rather baliktad if you’ll ask me. The main one has a hotel upstairs, which also has a balcony overlooking the parking spaces so that you can watch your car while dining to make sure that the street kids don’t key it. The main one has a widescreen 🙂 It is where I would have my iftars and soccer games last Ramadan, which was coincidentally fell on World Cup Season.

      • Volts Sanchez says:

        I’ve never gone to the pricier one #BudgetLiving #WhyPayMore #MoreMoneyForFood

        • Well I noticed the food in what I would call the main hall is often served on huge platters with massive servings complete with the whole enchilada: you order shawarma and they serve it on a bed of fries, with a small mound of hummus, pickles, tomatoes and olives. I also noticed that indeed, most of the diners in the main hall are expats and the locals tend to go to the one across the street. Maybe preference but I love the low tables and couches in the main hall (interesting din yung mga foreign currencies that guests leave under the glass tabletop), and the access to the clean bathroom 🙂

  5. Hope says:

    Really great article. More like this please!

  6. Lovelee says:

    Thanks for this post. I now have additional places to check out when I go there soon. I’ve tried already Erra’s Ramen. Shawarma Snack Center and Super Six and they were all positive experiences. Thanks again! =)

  7. Robert says:

    The place has been renamed to VEST Ramen. COuldnt see any trace of the Erra Ramen but the stall/boiler/soup area is still there. I ate right behind them behind the green post. Service is terrible but it isnt a resto right? Had to wait 10 minutes before I asked the cook to make me a tantanmen. 90 bucks bill. A return? Maybe when not crowded.

  8. Mellie says:

    Try CAPTAIN’S NOOK at 1810 Maria Oroza Corner Nakpil St. , Malate, Manila

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