According to a Philippine Embassy website, a ‘balikbayan’ refers to a “Filipino citizen who has been continuously out of the Philippines for a period of at least one (1) year, a Filipino overseas worker, or a former Filipino citizen and his or her family who had been naturalized in a foreign country and comes or returns to the Philippines.” Technically, any Filipino who left the country for an extended period and returns. In 2013, that would be about around 10,283,614 Filipinos scattered all over the world. Majority of Filipinos overseas can be in the United States, Canada, the Gulf States of Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar as well as Italy, UK, Malaysia and Australia.
Coming back home is an exciting event, for both the expatriate Filipino and their families and friends back home and no homecoming is complete without feasts upon feasts of delicious Filipino (and fusion) food which cannot be found in most of the countries worldwide. Normally, when I come home, I schedule meetings with my friends and family over food, basically meeting different friends and family for Breakfast, Snacks, Lunch, Merienda/Afternoon Tea, Dinner, and Nightcap. After 5 days, my pants began to feel a bit tighter around the waist!
With Manila becoming a very vibrant food capital in the Southeast Asia in recent years with the explosion of hip, trendy and international and local restaurants: there is so much to choose from, that it is pretty much easy to stay within the same area and never run out of restaurants to try.
Well, here are our favourite restaurants to meet up friends and family back home!
1. XO 46 Bistro Filipino
Dishing out delicious centuries to decades old Filipino heirloom recipes in full Filipino traditional garb at XO 46 Bistro Filipino gives everyone literally a taste of history as each dish which was carefully researched from all over the islands and presented as faithfully as possible. This is perhaps one of the best places to take a balikbayan or a foreign friend or colleague to initiate them into the diverse gastronomical world of Filipino cooking. It was very interesting to hear the backstory from each of the dish: did you know that the ceviche’s great, great, great granddaddy is the Filipino’s kinilaw? Of course, my Latino friends would protest this but the art of cooking seafood over acid like citrus and vinegar has been practiced in the islands for thousands of years! It is helpful to note that majority of the ingredients of a ceviche or kinilaw originated from Asia, so it does make sense!
2. La Cocina de Tita Moning
La Cocina de Tita Moning is another Filipino restaurant specializing in the turn of the century heirloom recipes. This elegant, reservations-only restaurant is run in an ancestral house within the Presidential Palace (Malacanang) complex in Manila. The experience starts with a free tour of the house which also doubles as a family museum before starting your multi-course meal perhaps a little pricey by Manila standards but a great deal if you are coming from abroad.
UPDATE: La Cocina de Tita Moning on their March 9 Facebook post announced that they will be closing down their doors on 31st of May 2016. So if you ever make it to Manila before then, make sure you book a table in this restaurant before they close their doors for the last time.
3. Hole in the Wall
Hole in the Wall is literally a 500 seater food court housing hip and local and international cuisines from Umami fried chicken to Filipino Mexican tacos to artisanal cookies and limited edition Filipino craft beers. It can get pretty busy during weekday lunches as Makati office workers descend, and if you are looking for tasty, quirky, global instagrammable meals - this is the place to be!
4. Salcedo and Legazpi Weekend Market Food Stalls
Organised in the car parks of Salcedo Village (every Saturday) and Legazpi Village (every Sunday) in Makati, these weekend markets offer a gazillion variety of organic and artisanal food and arts and crafts shopping from all over the country as well as all over the world. Easy to find regional sausages and lechon (the world’s best roast pork) side by side vegetarian quiche! A favourite haunt by Filipino residents, expatriates and even tourists, the vibe in the markets are casual, relax, friendly. If you love food and this case random cultural performances, this is a must go to destination at least once.
5. Rufos Famous Tapa
Rufos came a long way from just an after-hours small eatery tucked in the corner of Kalayaan, where rave bunnies, clubbers, bikers come and drop by after a hard night of partying. The sweet and savoury flavours of its succulent beef tapas (to our non-Filipino readers, tapas in the Philippines refer to beef strips marinated in soy, garlic, calamansi and other spices) matches with the aromatic, garlic rice, sunny side up and atchara (traditional Filipino pickled vegetables) is the perfect meal to line your tummy after an alcohol binge. In the Philippines, we love our garlic, so make sure you have a mouthwash ready after this meal!
6. Early Bird Breakfast Club
Who could resist Yin-Yang chocolate and milk rice porridge (champorado) made out of Belgian chocolates, or godzilla size scotch eggs with caramelised bacon and pineapples or during Christmas season - their signature, fluffy Puto Bumbong Pancakes, a take on a traditional Christmas cake made out of rice, coconuts and yam? Early Bird Breakfast Club seems to have everything from the elevated Filipino dishes to their own interpretation of Harry Potter’s butterbeer, one is definitely spoilt for choices!
Another great place to catch up local gossip and exchange travel tales with friends is Wildflour. Our favourite? Homemade carabao (local water buffalo) ricotta cheese drizzled with Palawan honey, kimchi fried rice (served with braised beef brisket) and delectable Southern Fried Chicken (served with gravy and cornbread). While not exactly Pinoy, it’s perfect pause from all the adobo, sinigang and lechon you would have been sinking those chompers on during your Philippine trip. And besides with nearly a million Koreans living, visiting, and working in the Philippines, kimchi fried rice would be the perfect fusion food any day!
We feel you. It's not easy to have a sudden craving when you are thousands of miles away from the nearest Jollibee store. This generation has pretty much grown up on Jollibee: the de facto national fastfood chain of the Philippines. Love it or hate it, but nearly every Filipino kid made at least a pilgrimage once to this national food chain to try its crispylicious fried chicken. While we are not big fans of its blood red sweet spaghetti but the fried chicken was so awesome enough, that I actually took back a bucketful of it on my way out of the country. Jollibee can be found now in the US, Vietnam, Brunei, Hong Kong and Singapore! The rest of us not living in these countries...well we will just have to wait.
Last but not least, Dampa Seafood Market on Macapagal is mecca for seafood dining in Manila. One can choose fresh seafood from any of the stalls and then have that cooked straight away in any of the restaurants attached to the seafood market cooked however you like it. One of my memories of Dampa was when my Dad took me there when I was still living in Manila, and we had the most unforgettable prawn tempuras ever that it actually was even better than tempuras in Japan. This has been so popular that they eventually opened up a similar setup in Dubai.
Any other suggestions, recommendations? Write it down in the comments section and we'll try them out when we are back home!