The Top 10 Food and Restaurant Trends in Manila for 2012

August 12, 2018

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that Manila’s food culture is magically growing and evolving. Almost all of us have a friend who wants to start a food business and almost every city has hundreds of new concepts opening every month. During this year’s growth, we want to bring you our observations of the most popular and exhausted food trends that defined Metro Manila in 2012.

1. Red Velvet

One surefire way to tell if a dish has gone completely mainstream is when food chains add them to their menu. This year, Red Ribbon and several other bakeries introduced Red Velvet to the horror of dessert hipsters.

This overhyped cake/cupcake has been the most favored dessert in 2012, especially for women undergoing their monthly cravings. Unfortunately, most people don’t know that without the red food coloring, you will be greeted by an unattractive shade of brown thanks to the Dutch cocoa powder and dark brown sugar.

History tells us that Red Velvet made its debut early in World War II, where beetroots were boiled and used to color cakes and interestingly, make them moister. The cream cheese frosting just followed suit during the cake’s modern metamorphosis.

Currently in Manila, Red Velvet proudly stars in most of the cupcake displays in bakeshops around town. My first memory of the Red Velvet Cupcake was at Cupcakes by Sonja in Serendra back in 2008. For a while, Sonja’s was the only place I knew that carried them, but as you know by now, bakers all over have jumped in the bandwagon.

As expected, there have been some brave bakers who’ve done Red Velvet “innovations” like cheesecake, cookies and ice cream, and it makes me wonder what kind of red velvet product are they gonna do next.

2. Salted Sweets

I remember this Modern Family episode back in 2010 where Manny Delgado added salt to his chocolate milk (I can’t find the clip, but here’s the err…the well-endowed Sofia Vergara doing it instead.). I’m not sure if that scene had any correlation with the trend, but salted desserts have surprisingly been added to everyone’s dessert menu.

Adding a pinch of salt to enhance desserts isn’t that uncommon, but I’m curious to know what made it explode all of a sudden. According to Reader’s Digest, our fondness of the salty-sweet combination started with Chocolate-Covered Pretzels and Goober PB&J. Based on their hypothesis in trends, it might have just become a natural phenomenon as people started dipping bacon in chocolate and salting mounds of caramel.

An article from the Inquirer suggests that this trend has been with us for a very, very long time. We’re talking about champoy and dikiam, initially sweet treats that stealthily pick-up a lip-puckering saltiness after a few seconds of frolicking with your saliva, a reversal on the salt-then-sweet sequence that’s popular now. If you think of it that way, then this is merely a rediscovery.

Another theory proposes that this salty-sweet trend has its roots ground on nostalgic flavors, which is why adults love the stuff. To reinforce this theory, Starbucks actually came out with their own salty-sweet concoction that took the form of a limited Salted Caramel Mocha this year.

3. Celebrity Chefs and Personalities

It’s kinda strange that the title, “chef” has somehow evolved to carry the same weight as lawyer, doctor or architect. While it’s hard to pin down a single reason why celebrity chefs suddenly went mainstream, we could name a few forces.

First, culinary schools have been birthing chefs left and right, which has significantly increased the chance that we have at least one friend who’s a trained chef. And because we’re starting to get to know chefs on a personal level, we’ve also learned to become aware of not just the names of the restaurants, but of the people behind them. Second, an increasing number of celebrities like Judy Ann Santos and Marvin Agustin have been persistently trying to reinvent themselves as chefs with their own culinary ventures. Third, local media has given extra attention to celebrity chefs through cooking shows like Junior Master Chef, advertising like Knorr’s, and even initiatives like Manila’s Best Kept Restaurants that put chefs under the spotlight.

If you’re not too familiar, here are some popular ones and the respective restaurants they handle:

  1. Margarita Fores: Cibo, Lusso
  2. Robby Goco: Cyma, Charlie’s Grind & Grill, Achiote
  3. Gene Gonzalez: Cafe Ysabel
  4. Antonio Escalante: Antonio’s
  5. Roland Laudico: Laudico Group
  6. Sau del Rosario: Museum Cafe, Villa Cafe
  7. Cyrille Soenen: Brasserie Cicou, Impressions
  8. Sandy Daza: The Wooden Spoon
  9. Rob Pengson: The Goose Station
  10. Bruce Lim: Chef’s Table, Chef’s Lab

4. Truffles

While 99% of truffle dishes in Manila don’t actually serve real truffles, it’s still incredibly popular that we even gave some away. The powerful and one-dimensional kerosene-like flavor of truffle is a tricky one to handle so it’s not surprise that a big majority of restaurants screw it up. But since everyone likes it these days, restaurants still insist on adding it to their menus so they’ll seem updated and sophisticated.

5. Foie Gras

How can you care about the poor force-fed fowl when you have a beautiful slab of fatty goose liver that’s sitting on your plate?

Although foie is a recent topic of controversy being banned in several states in America and rallied against by animal activists worldwide, it’s become a prized item in most of Manila’s upscale restaurants, easily jacking up the price of a dish by a few hundreds.

Its popularity has been used as a major attraction by several hotels including Sofitel’s Spiral and Makati Shangri-la’s Circles as they occasionally (and strangely) serve this in endless amounts as part of their buffets to the delight of first-timers who scream, “Ay! May foy grass sa buffet, sulit!”

A possible theory that can explain this rise in quantity and dip in price here in Manila is that given its struggle with US law, some Foie Gras suppliers may have decided to find other markets in different parts of the world.

6. Bone Marrow

We’ve been eating bone marrow in the form of bulalo for most of our lives, but it’s not until recently in Manila that it’s commonly served roasted on a plate with some toast and herbs. (It would probably taste good with rice.) Because of it’s steep price tag, this ingredient hasn’t gone as mainstream as others, but it’s definitely gaining steam in the more progressive Fort Bonifacio where restaurants like ‘Cue or Wildflour have turned it into a conversation piece.

We’ve also been hearing that Antonio’s in Tagaytay serves one of the best bone marrow dishes in the country.

7. Bacon Steak

Bacon used to be treated just like spam, tocino or any other nitrate-soaked meat until Epic Meal Time turned it into a revered symbol of pigging-outery. And when most of us have just started to worship the classic, thin-sliced, commercial bacon, its next evolution happened in the form of bacon steak.

If you’ve never tried bacon steak, it tastes exactly like bacon except that you can bite, slice and poke it like steak. Bacon steak is usually around 1/2 to an inch thick and served with a carb like mashed potato or with a clean palate cleanser like sauerkraut.

Hand-in-hand with the rise of independent delis, bacon steaks are increasingly being served in upscale, meat-loving restaurants like Mamou, Poco Deli or ‘Cue. If you’d like to cook this stuff at home, which is idiot-level easy, you can get these vacuum-sealed from delis like Santi’s or Poco Deli. We did a recipe here.

8. Ramen

This trend is a proof that deep down in our hearts, we love assholes. Ukkokkei Ramen Ron, the undisputed king of Manila’s ramen scene, is famously run by the Ramen Nazi, a nameless prick who joyously screams at his customers. Apparently, combining a disrespectful chef and good ramen gets you a really viral restaurant.

But Ukkokei has been in existence for years, so why did the trend just happen now? We’re not really sure, but maybe we can blame American culture and David Chang? Or the mass-expansion of Japanese ramen chain, Ippudo? Or maybe it was just bound to happen organically at this point in time?

Like how Red Ribbon suddenly introduced red velvet, a proof that ramen is a full-fledged trend is that Teriyaki Boy, Sumo Sam and Rai Rai Ken, all commercialized japanese chains have added them to their menu. Of course, if you’d like to have some good ramen, you won’t get it from them.

If you’re still not convinced, take a look at this (incomplete) list of ramen shops that you can currently find in the market:

  1. Ukkokkei Ramen Ron
  2. Ramen Bar
  3. Kenji Tei
  4. Moshi Koshi
  5. Kitchitora of Tokyo
  6. Ramen Yushoken
  7. Ramen X
  8. Kokoro Ramenya
  9. Shinjuku Ramen
  10. Konbini

9. Milk Tea

While we’re more than happy for most of the food trends, this one has to end. Seriously. With more and more branches sprouting about and new brands being flown in, I wonder when the milk tea industry will plateau just like its predecessor, frozen yogurt. There are just too many choices, and too few good ones.

Milk tea was popularized in the Philippines circa 2008 by Serenitea, which wasn’t even famous for milk tea back then. Seeing their massive success, an unreasonable army of competitors joined the fray. ChaTime. Moonleaf. Gong Cha. Share Tea. Happy Lemon (which you can try at home). If that’s not enough, there are a hundred other obscure milk tea joints, a lot of othem cheesily suffixed with “-tea,” who’re trying to win your loyal-tea.

So, why did this Milk Tea epidemic happen?

Unlike most of the food trends mentioned above that occurred organically, Milk Tea grew for one reason and for one reason alone—it makes money. Again. Milk Tea makes tons, and truckloads, and teragrams of cash. Think about it. What do they put in there? Exotic tea leaves from the forests of Mesopotamia? Dairy from the breasts of sacred cows in Hokkaido? Oh, no-no-no. Save for a few exceptions, it’s all just factory-made powder, supermarket milk, high-fructose syrup, nondescript tea, and plainer than plain water.

 10. Foodstagram

With smartphones hitting more Filipino hands this year, foodstagramming has fully matured into a national plague. According to this chart, the top reason why Asians foodstagram is to remember the food before it disappears. But honestly, we can’t help but think that this is also the perfect way to brag about the places you eat in a socially acceptable form.

Foodstagramming your photos before meals has become a vicious trend that has caused a lot of irks and annoyances around the dining table. Check out this open letter to people who take lots of photos with Instagram, surely you can relate with clenched fists.

But who is there to blame but the advent and accessibility of smartphones and social networks? Even in the US, Instagram’s daily user figure rose during Thanksgiving season, which is mostly about food. Surprising? Not really.

I’m not exactly against this, but I’d definitely like to see more things flooding my Instagram feed other than food. On top of that, it doesn’t help that seeing food photos always gives me that compelling urge to stuff myself with fried chicken at 1 am, which is never a good idea.

This year’s greatest pinoy meme, Dona Santibanez shares her thoughts too.

If you have anything to add to the list, go ahead and fire away!

[photos via gettyimages]

Mikka Wee Mikka Wee

Mikka Wee is former editor of and was part of the team until she got whisked away to Singapore in 2016 where she worked in advertising and eventually found herself back in the food industry. She currently does marketing work for two popular Singaporean dessert brands and is a weekly columnist for The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s lifestyle brand, She has always been crazy about travel, food, and her dog Rocket.

28 comments in this post SHOW

28 responses to “The Top 10 Food and Restaurant Trends in Manila for 2012”

  1. If I may also add, the foodcart business also exploded this year. I think this is consistent with the continued growth of the economy, which have helped broaden the local entrepreneurial class even at the SME level. Hence, be it a train station, bus station, school crossing, jeepney terminal, etc–siomai and Hong Kong Style Noodles galore!

    Also, 2012 saw the continued growth of gourmet burgers and gourmet bread.

  2. frank ngan says:

    excellent realistic pictures & fabuluous articles cheers !

  3. Prince Xyrohne John Verzola says:

    love the milk tea…since high school I already love making my own milk tea,,,but now, i enjoy my milk tea much more because of the trending tea houses around the metro 🙂

  4. Vinnie says:

    I love Red Velvet… I fell in love with Red Velvet the moment I had my first bite of it from a limited edition Starbucks serving (sadly, they never made a re-run of it ). And from then on, I kept a constant yearning with a particular food-lust (but not overly perverse) towards the delectably sinful and satisfying dessert.

  5. You forgot to add the mochi and the macaron! They’re everywhere. @_@

  6. Burgers, too! Though they’ve been around since forever, 2012 was distinctly loaded with them! Burger invasion!

    Babe for Food – your BFF in Cebu dining! 🙂

  7. Random Comments:
    – The first time I had a red velvet cake was at Cookbook Kitchen. I’m sure they beat Sonja’s Kitchen to it, but both are really good anyway.

    – While I’ve tried half the ramen places detailed here, a perennial guilty pleasure would have to be the hole-in-the-wall Yamazaki, the closest thing you’ll get to a Japanese karinderya here in Manila. Unpretentious, no-frills, yet comforting and cheap. One of the perks living besides Little Tokyo
    – Bacon Steak is proof God loves and hates me at the same time.
    – Foie Gras and Truffles were trends?!? God, I’m poorer than I thought.
    – As with most things, Instagraming food got irritating when everybody started doing it. But I hate instagram in the first place, so this may have been a default.

  8. lauren says:

    matcha craze!! 🙂 and macarons too!

  9. fried chicken in various style was also a hit this year ,
    surprised that bone marrow, foie gras and truffles was included maybe because I’m “jologs”

  10. Joseph says:

    I know the Mogu Mogu drinks have been around since 2010(or 11) but their popularity escalated significantly last year.
    The Buko water/shake was the “Gangnam style” of drinks last year.

  11. Nice little round up you have here. It reiterates the fact that Filipinos are food lovers! When I was living in the Philippines – before the word “foodie” was even coined – my family and I were always on the hunt for good restaurants! Come Friday, Saturday, Sunday, we’re never home for meals! Ahhh…the memories.

  12. Nasa Top 10 trends na pala yung Foy Grass? 😀

  13. Janis Robles says:

    I was wondering about this for a while, too and thought that maybe I just didn’t pay too much attention to the food listed above and then some before. it’s pretty much the same here in the US. with the addition of the sudden spotilight on avocados, kale and salted caramel everything. Oh, and Dunkin Donuts have Red Velvet donut as well.

  14. TIMES says:

    Foie gras and truffles were trends?! Waw… I’m so far behind.

    Macarons, Donuts (KK and J.Co. And J.CO. What is up?!) and Mochi… Oh, there was a sudden hype with Fruit Shakes too, especially when Jamba Juice came to town.

    The milk tea craze is insane! even Zagu released their own Milk Tea line (and they sucked. It’s like tasting gritty, powdered sand with a hint of flavor).

  15. babsicatn says:

    the entry about foodstagram made me laugh (still laughing… hahahaha) so hard. i thought i’m the only one who thinks that way. cheers!

  16. […] about how an animal was slaughtered for our eating pleasure (let’s not even think about how foie gras is made, shall we?). Foer also points out that we humans, along with the animals, pay the price for […]

  17. bi says:


  18. Cent says:

    I personally think that the milk tea trend started with Chowking’s NaiCha. It remains to be my favorite and super cheap too.

  19. Marj says:

    The open letter was way too harsh. Ouch. :p

    • eater says:

      Maybe she envies what she sees on her instagram. She bothers so much about it. every person has a right in posting anything they want unless its harassing.

    • eater says:

      Maybe she envies what she sees on her instagram. She bothers so much about it. every person has a right in posting anything they want unless its harassing.

    • eater says:

      Maybe she envies what she sees on her instagram. She bothers so much about it. every person has a right in posting anything they want unless its harassing.

    • eater says:

      Maybe she envies what she sees on her instagram. She bothers so much about it. every person has a right in posting anything they want unless its harassing.

  20. […] year, we presented The Top 10 Food and Restaurant Trends in Manila for 2012 (whew, that was a mouthful). One of the mentioned trends was the everlasting Red Velvet. Come […]

  21. […] all the while brimming with unnecessary calories (and ice cubes that leave you short-changed). As we”ve expressed in the past, this food trend has got to go, preferably taking its despicable “Baratheon” counterpart with […]

  22. […] Food trends come and go. Here at, we like to stay ahead of the game. A big part of that involves bringing your tastebuds to places they’ve never gone before. The thing is, while the other side of the world is fan-girling over the ‘exotic’ durian, mangosteen, and jackfruit, those are all old news to us. What we’d like to bring to your attention are ingredients that we might consider exotic here. Whether or not they’re already available on Philippine shores, it’d be smart to keep a lookout for the ingredients and flavors listed in this fearless forecast. […]

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