The IRRI’s Cafeteria Changes the Game of How Everyday Food is Served and PreparedJanuary 8, 2020
- Gela VelascoWords
Cafeterias are rarely known as a go-to place for food. Midway into the semester, you’re practically sick of the same old viand choices, undercooked pasta, and questionable renditions of classics like adobo and laing. When my sister told me some of her bosses go to the International Rice Research Institute’s (IRRI) cafeteria to have celebratory meals, I had to eat and see for myself what the fuss was all about. Could a cafeteria really be that good? And how did a well-respected institution that studied the country’s staple ingredient serve its food?
Unless you find yourself in the UP Los Baños campus or in the Calamba area, you probably won’t end up at the IRRI. The IRRI is on the other end of the campus, isolated from the rest of the college buildings, and requires a bus or a long walk to get to the gate. But I didn’t mind getting lost while finding the correct path to the IRRI. The sky was the clearest blue I’d ever seen, mountains embraced the tree-lined paths that led me away or straight into my actual destination, and the wind was strong, cool, and crisp. By the time I got to the IRRI, I got an even better view of Makiling at the horizon and vast rice fields that indicated I was finally in the right place.
The cafeteria itself is located in the building that’s marked by several flags. You can’t miss the large tables and groups dining in a spacious room in the building’s first floor. Unlike regular school or office cafeterias, IRRI’s appears sanitary and spotless even at first glance. All the empty tables have no left over food or plates; the counter for ordering is separate from the tables themselves.
For a cafeteria, the IRRI has a wide variety of international and Filipino options. I arrived late at 1pm, so most of the popular orders were finished. I did overhear a few students saying that the pusit was worth the order; but even that order was gone when it was their turn behind the counter. Some of the listed items on that day’s menu included Filipino favorites such as Pusit Adobo sa Tinta, Upo Guisado with Spring Onion, Shrimp Okoy, and Grilled Liempo. Being an international institution, their foreign items were just as diverse: from no-fail options like Blue Marlin with Vegetable Stir Fry and Lengua with Mushroom, to specific foreign dishes such as Egg Curry and Garden Vegetable Tabbouleh Stew. Unfortunately all these appetizing items were also out of stock.
For my visit, I ordered the chicken barbecue and a plate of bulanglang. Don’t let the tiny plate of bulanglang fool you: for what was probably less than PHP 50, I got more than enough green beans. The broth was also flavorful and the vegetables acted as a second viand to my rice. The chicken barbecue was also a level up from both cafeteria fare and fast food barbecue food. The leg piece wasn’t skinny and had enough meat to partner with the rice. The sauce was also thick, not too salty, and just had enough spice and that smoke flavor. I ended up only spending PHP 100 that day, and could probably spend PHP 300 had the other items been available.
Another commendable feature of the IRRI cafeteria is their self-bussing rule. All diners must clean out their trays before leaving the table, assuring incoming guests a decent place to eat on their next meal. It would be nice to see this kind of discipline and practice in more self-service restaurants in Manila.
The IRRI cafeteria may be way down south for many Metro Manila residents, but the relatively quick drive and commute, fresh air and greenery, and short respite from the city’s madness could make that quick visit worth your while.