There are three things I did a lot of in 2019: travel, eat, and shoot (eh di ako na). I credit most of my travels to my family who visits the Philippines every three or four years. Because we seldom see each other, their visits become a vacation extravaganza. We then live in this alien, privileged Kardashian life of travel and beach holidays. I always feel incredibly lucky and incredibly grateful for these rare moments. Second, I deliberately sought new restaurants and new things to eat this year. I stopped shopping for clothes and spent most of my money on these goddamn restaurants. While at it, I took photos of almost ALL my food using just my iPhone. I used to be embarrassed about this, thinking people must be looking at me, judging me for taking a photo of my rice and fried chicken. I pushed on until it bothered me less and less, until only Jed was bothered because he cannot eat until I’m done shooting the damn food.
I posted most of my food experiences on my Instagram, trying not to be embarrassed as I pretend to be this hotshot food expert. Sometimes I couldn’t believe the audacity and unoriginality of it all, but what remains true was that I enjoyed every minute of it (minus the weight gain). If there’s one thing that has impacted my happiness this year it was getting over my self-consciousness (still working on it every day though). I swallowed my fear of embarrassment and just shot a million angles of my spaghetti.
With that let me share some of the “best” things I ate this year. Obviously, this is all me and my taste buds. I wanted to share, in no particular order, the food that made me cum, or made me look at old dishes with new-found, bewildered joy, or made me not regret gaining one more pound with each bite. Without cringing, I urge you to try them. I think they will make you cum too.
1. Mediterranean Pasta by High Grounds Cafe (Tomas Morato)
Talk about trying new food, huh? Pasta. This complex carbohydrate is my kryptonite, my comfort food, and the one thing I can cook no problem. That’s why I was so impressed by this particular pasta dish from High Grounds in Tomas Morato. They made it taste new by adding a dash of sweetness into their white sauce. It was almost milky, milky sweet. Combined with all the other Mediterranean ingredients — black olives, feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, arugula and grilled chicken — it makes for one rich and hearty pasta.
2. Barbecue Fries from The Giving Cafe (Mandaluyong)
Excuse me, Potato Corner! You’ve got competition. This barbecue fries has a killer sauce combo that would ignite your high blood pressure. As far as I can remember, one’s a garlic mayo concoction and the other one was a spicy, paprika-ish, mayo dip. Both tasted like gourmet dips (they tasted luxurious) and both were addictive, like my hands were on autopilot popping these fries in my mouth.
3. Salmon Aburi Maki from Nomiya Izakaya (Tomas Morato)
This little Japanese restaurant is one of Tomas Morato’s best-kept secrets. If you’re looking for no-fuss Japanese izakaya fare, Nomiya is more than dependable, and this salmon aburi maki is a must. Just looking at this photo reminds me of how creamy this roll tasted. I eat a lot of maki, and, in my opinion, this one and Ebi 10‘s maki in Makati were slightly better, slightly more soaked with tender loving care. Not sure what it is exactly, to be honest. I just get the feeling most maki cream cheese or dragon rolls taste the same. They taste good until you stumble on a few that make you go wow, and that’s exactly what I had here in Nomiya Izakaya.
4. Pork Gyoza by Kureji (Vertis North)
Another “OMG wtf is in this sh*t?” I’ve never been a big gyoza eater. I feel like they are throwaways in the ramen menu, like a side dish nobody cares about. But not this gyoza from Kureji. I think they put something illegal inside these pork buns. It’s sooo tasty. And the texture — a little bit of crunch on one side and silky dough all over — adds another level of umami I can’t even begin to describe. Just try it I beg you. Sometimes Jed and I go to Kureji just to order THIS gyoza alone.
5. Palak Paneer from Ricksha Streetside Tandoor (Kapitolyo)
This dish was brand new to me. Judging by how it looks, I didn’t think much of it until I tasted the paneer cheese. I couldn’t get enough of it. For those who are as clueless as I am, paneer is a fresh Indian cheese made from curdling milk with either a fruit-derived or vegetable-derived acid like lemon juice (thanks, Wiki). It looks like squares of tofu — soft and chewy like how you’d imagine cheese would be in those pizza TV commercials. I never thought spinach with fresh cheese would be so delicious and comforting as this was. I wrote my blow-by-blow love affair with this dish here. Also, I recommend Ricksha Streetside Tandoor wholeheartedly to anyone looking for delicious, affordable Indian food in Metro Manila.
6. Cauliflower with Caesar Dressing by Noor (BGC)
Oh this cauliflower! It’s cauliflower with vetsin (MSG) methinks! The caesar dressing is unbelievably tasty. If you close your eyes and eat these florets, I bet you’d never guess you were eating vegetables. Jed and I ate at Noor in BGC for my birthday. I have yet to post my dining experience in this Mediterranean restaurant, but this appetizer sure stood out and left a mark on us. First taste, “Hmmmm that’s quite delicious.” Second pop and it’s on like, “What is in this it’s sooo good!” By third and fourth bite, we were dancing around who gets to eat more of these addictive cauliflowers. I remember Jed saying he could eat a whole bowl of this at the cinema like it was buttered popcorn.
7. Lechon Habanero from Habanero Kitchen Bar (Cubao)
Hi there sinful plate of pork skin and fat! Jed could not stop talking about this lechon and for good reason. It does melt in your mouth. The thin slices of crispy pork skin in each bite were just enough to tease your tastebuds, urging you to shove more in your mouth. It’s lechon seduction punctuated by the overlooked sawsawan right beside it. I think the concoction of soy sauce, calamansi, vinegar, onion, and some herbs (I’m not sure of) is what elevates this dish even further. I wanted to go for a jog after eating this. Worth every calorie (…and god I’m actually salivating just thinking about it).
8. Chorizo Pasta from Cafe Sabel (Baguio)
It was a rainy afternoon when we visited Ben Cab museum. There was a cafe downstairs. It looked like the usual cafe, but slightly better because it’s in Baguio. There’s drizzle outside and the weather was chilly. To make our cozy dreams come true, we ordered tomato soup, hot choco, and this chorizo pasta. We didn’t think much of the tomato soup and hot choco, but the pasta was a pleasant surprise to us. It was a red sauce chorizo pasta but the sauce had a complex array of flavors. I think they call it umami, noh? Every little good thing was in this pasta – salty, sweet, creamy, cheesy. I licked the empty plate dry. Not metaphorically. I licked the plate with my tongue (and asked Jed to take a video of it for the ‘gram of course). It was good.
9. Joseph and Jo’s Buttered Chicken (Pasig at Jo’s home)
And for this installment, I had to include a dish cooked by one of our friends, Jo and Joseph (yes, they have the same first name and they’re together). They hosted our Christmas dinner party and cooked this delicious buttered chicken with baby potatoes and carrots. What made this dish sing was a sinful gravy of butter and chicken fat drippings. I know that sounds disgusting and delicious and guilt-inducing. Paired with Ces and Milley’s “best lasagna” (a party tray of true enough “best” lasagna), we slathered this rich gravy on the roasted chicken and devoured each bite like it was already Christmas eve. We even had the nerve to ask for takeout for both the chicken and the pasta. I mean we’ve already sinned this much might as well go all in.
And that’s it! Up next, I’ll include the best meals and the best desserts I’ve had this year. Let’s pretend that I’ve tasted the whole nation and the whole world for this to be truly credible (hahaha).