I read somewhere that “a journey is best measured in friends rather than miles” (Tim Cahill), and it’s so true for me. I’ve traveled quite a lot since high school, for various reasons, but mostly as a cultural ambassador of music. As such, I had the opportunity of meeting people from all over the world at competitions, festivals, and concert tours; there is absolutely no greater souvenir from those trips than all the people that I’ve met and kept in touch with. Somehow, it has made the world feel both bigger and smaller. Among the many things that excite me is playing host when friends come to visit the country. I love to offer a bed to low-budget travellers, share tried and tested itineraries to our islands, or take them out to try my favorite local food. In a way, it’s me trying to repay those who have shown kindness and hospitality while I was away from home myself, but I have to admit I really just enjoy doing it as well.
A couple of friends came to Manila a few weeks ago: Mel, a Filipina from Australia with her Aussie boyfriend, and the other Jad, whom I met on my recent junket to London. I saw both parties at the tail ends of their respective trips, with Mel having had her fill of local delicacies, and Jad whom I assumed could benefit from my choices of Filipino cuisine.
So I took Mel and Luke to Soru Izakaya, a modern Japanese gastropub in Quezon City, upon the suggestion of a friend whose taste I trust. I hadn’t tried nor heard of it before, so I didn’t know what to expect; it turned out to be the perfect choice! Minimalist but fun, from ambience to food and cocktails — everything from the menu appealed to me and I wanted to try them all. I got the kani and ebi popcorn, served with a sauce that I wanted to lick clean off the dipping bowl, and the Oh Umi Maki, a playful combination of shrimp tempura and salmon with spicy soru, teriyaki, and truffle mayo.
Mel got ramen, and Luke tried one of the donburis, both of which they seemed to enjoy as much as I enjoyed my sushi roll. Must. Go. Back. To. Try. More. I can never get enough Japanese food. Their cocktails were interesting, too: not only inventive blends but beautifully presented. I tried the Hentosen, a mix of tequila, amaretto, sweet almond, and lemon, and it was a sweet ending to a fantastic night.
The following evening, my co-host picked Filipino for Moroccan-born-British-schooled Jad, and chose a restaurant we’d both been wanting to try. For the record, my favorite Filipino food is sisig, which is a fried preparation of pig’s face and aromatics like onions, chili peppers, and garlic — and I heard that this place is a contender for the best. My standard for this dish is quite high, having grown up on a really good home recipe for it: crunchy, tangy, and just comfort on a bed of rice.
Manam‘s did not disappoint, though I would’ve preferred it slightly spicier, and with more crispy bits. We were served a slightly chewier version that night, was the norm or a fluke? Regardless, I wouldn’t mind having it again. The other dishes we ordered included the Sinigang na Beef Short Rib and Watermelon (a twist on the traditional pork sinigang in tamarind, this one slightly red from the watermelon, and with a sweetish blend), Gising-Gising (winged beans in coconut milk), and the Laksa-style Halaan Soup with Crispy Sili Leaves and Mais (really hearty clam soup). For dessert, we opted for the Frozen Brazo de Mercedes, after we were told that our original order was phased out. *sniff* I always wonder why the items that catch my attention are usually the ones that are not available.
The funny part of it all? Jad had apparently been to that restaurant, but he didn’t mind because he liked all the food. So that was strike one for us as hosts ?
We asked him if he’d seen the lights show at the Ayala Triangle, and he wasn’t sure, so we decided to take him across the street. I don’t get the chance to walk around Makati much, so I was pleasantly surprised to see art in the underground tunnels. Jad, having lived in the area during his stay, had seen it, whereas I trailed behind them taking pictures of the colorful murals. They teased that it seemed I was the tourist instead of the tour guide. Oops, strike two for me!
The ending? When we were walking up to the Triangle, Jad realized he had seen the lights show before — and it was my first time to watch it that night! ? Who was touring who, exactly? But that’s how it is with travel, isn’t it? Things don’t always go according to plan, but what matters is you enjoy where it takes you.