A List of Southeast Asian Eats and Where to Get Some of Them in Metro ManilaApril 15, 2015
- Andre OrandainWords
Southeast Asian cuisine is confusing. It is a prepubescent child in the midst of hormonal imbalance, temperamental and pent up with too much emotion. And much like a prepubescent child, our cuisine explodes in such a majestic mixture of angst and soy sauce that even we are too shocked to react. Here we break down all those angst ridden cuisines that make up this wonderful prepubescent child.
Unfortunately due to other cuisines not having presence in restaurant scene in Manila, we shall not be enumerating them here.
Five, five words to encapsulate this cuisine: salty, sour, spicy, sweet, bitter, the fundamental flavors of the earth, the foundation of the philosophy of Vietnamese cuisine. Put simply, Vietnamese cuisine is a foray with harmony. Constantly contrasting flavors to find the perfect depth in each, concluding in a state of simple serenity—a harmonious melding of flavors, this is Vietnamese cuisine. Lending itself to the influences of France, China and Cambodia, Vietnamese cuisine is one of the least intervened in the Southeast. The cuisine boasts of defiant flavors such as basil coriander, lime, cinnamon, fish sauce and hoisin melding into melodious dishes of balance and clarity.
Fully encapsulating this philosophy would be the humble bowl of pho. The staple boasts of the savory tones of the beef, the sweetness of the bean sprouts, the tang of lemons, the bitter earthiness of the anise and cloves and the heat from pepper, all balance in a bowl which exudes clarity of flavor.
On the other hand, the Bahn Mi is representative of the Vietnamese cuisine fused with the influence of its colonizers. Beginning with a loaf of baguette, the sandwich is constructed with pate, mayonnaise, various Vietnamese cold cuts, cilantro, cucumber, carrots and the like. The Bahn Mi is a balancing act not only of Vietnamese flavors, but of the flavors of France.
You can try Bahn Mi at Bon Bahn Mi in its newest branch in Makati, and Pho at Pho Bac in Glorietta 1.
Indonesia has two flavor profiles, spicy and spicier. This is the basics of any Indonesian cuisine, food built on the power of spices. Having influences not only from their Dutch colonizers, but from their trade partners throughout history. The Indonesian cuisine is a hodgepodge of influences, from the Indians, the Chinese, the Europeans and the Middle East. This powerful assembly of different methods and flavor profiles have molded and reified the Indonesian palate constructing one of the most complex cuisines in the world. Alive with the conundrum of cloves and anise, Indonesian food boasts earthy flavors combined with the brightness from peppers and other spices.
Food synonymous with the complexities of the flavors of Indonesia would be the Nasi Goreng or fried rice, which is no simple yang chow. The Nasi Goreng is a bolder, louder flavor with the addition of spices and chili, making the rice dish very much distinct from the normal sinangag.
Although mostly associated with Malay food, satay actually originated from Java, Indonesia, and spread across the archipelago. Influenced by the Middle Eastern kebab, the satay is an interpretation of the meat skewer with an Indonesian flare. Turmeric is the soul of the dish, the meat being heavily drenched in the spice, giving it its yellow hue. The dish is often accompanied by a peanut sauce melding the earthy tones of the meat with the nuttiness and creaminess of the sauce.
You can get these from Indonyaki in Maginhawa and Warung Indio in Salcedo Village.
The most important part of any self-respecting Malaysian cook would be chili peppers. That is to say that chili is as indispensable to the Malaysian cuisine as much as patis is to ours. Implying that, like Indonesia, its dishes are strong, with loud flavors that excite the palate. Being influenced by the array of cultures in the country, the Malaysian cuisine is rooted on Malay, Indian and Chinese methods and influenced by Thai, and some European cuisines. Popping with color and flashing with a vibrant red Malay dishes are complex, pulsating and alive with flavors.
The national dish of Malaysia, the Nasi Lemak, is simply rice soaked in coconut cream and steamed in pandan leaves to lend flavor to the grain. What makes the dish is the sides that accompany the rice. From the fierce sambal (chili paste) to cucumbers, roast peanuts and egg, and sometimes the occasional chicken or rendang. The beauty of the national dish is its capability to answer anyone’s discerning tongue.
Unlike the openness of the Nasi Lemak, the rendang lends itself with its strong and layered flavors. Bathed in coconut milk and spices like ginger, galangal, turmeric and the like, the meat is boiled, then fried in a large pot for a prolonged amount of time to soak up all the flavors of the spices and the milk, ending the cooking process with a dish of complexity and spice.
You can get these dishes in Old Penang in Newport, Kaffir restaurant and Deli in the Collective and Me Love You Long Time in Maginhawa.
Lacking the deep history of its other brothers and sisters in the area, Singapore has not built a cuisine that is one can describe as inherently Singaporean. But it does not mean that Singaporean food is any less vibrant as the surrounding, more so that the food of Singapore is equally as vibrant. Singapore is home of a cacophony of cultures, namely the Chinese, Malay, Indonesian and Indian. The cuisine of Singapore is much like the bustling architecture of the city, a product of globalization. The national cuisine is a progressive cuisine that pulses with the mixing of others.
The laksa, a spicy noodle soup, is beautiful creature. A representative of the Singaporean culture in its varied forms and ways of cooking, the laksa is a dish that until now is evolving in flavor. Enriched in either a curry broth or a sour fish based broth, the spicy noodles brims with layers of flavor and spices.
Originating from China, the Bak Ku Teh has found its home in the hawker stalls of Singapore. Poised with complex flavors from the likes of anise and fennel seed, the “meat bone tea” exudes earthiness and savory tones of the beef. The soup is an example of the diverse areas of Singaporean cooking and how it has made its influences its own.
You can find Singaporean finds here, 101 Hawker Food House in San Lorenzo Village or Boon Tong Kee in the Power Plant, Rockwell.
Thai cuisine not only is a layering of flavor, but of color and texture as well. The philosophy of Thai cooking is its attention to not only the complexity of its flavors, but also the details which make for a gastronomical feast. Much like the Vietnamese philosophy the Thai food is about balancing different, contrasting flavors to make a harmonious meal. Mainly influenced by the foundation of Southeast Asian cuisine, China, and influenced by Portugal. Thai cuisine has developed a masterful understanding of flavors and textures very much apparent in their meals.
The pad thai has brought Thai cuisine into the forefront of the world flavor. Structured by an immense balancing act of varying flavors and textures, Pad Thai is a demonstration of harmony. Built with the pungent tamarind paste, crunchy peanuts, silky egg, fresh shrimp, and other ingredients, the Pad Thai makes for a dish so complex, and so good, that one cannot deny its brilliance.
Once again brimming with layers of flavor, the tom yum soup is a hot and sour soup made from a variety of herbs and spices. Contrasting the flavors of kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal and lime, the soup is powerful and multi-layered, an example, once again, of the attention to detail reminiscent in Thai cooking.
Great Thai finds can be found in Krung Thai in Marikina Market, Songkran in BF Homes and Azuthai in San Lorenzo Village.