Eating in Manila: Agimat + February Food Diary

If Christmas and New Year’s are big in Manila, Lunar New Year is the equivalent here in Singapore. My company was nice enough to give us a few days off, so, of course, I used that time to come back home to Manila and spend time with my best friends, family, and of course, Rocket! I also needed to do some “adulting” stuff such as get a new driver’s license and visit my dentist.

Anyways! My main intention for this post was to write about what I ate, but there were a lot of times when I just wanted to be in the moment and not have to think about shooting food. Though I enjoy it, I’ve been weaning myself from social media most days because, apart from my work being focused on digital marketing, I don’t want to get sucked in the black hole anymore (or as often as I could).

I landed on Sunday, 3rd of February, at 6am. I had a terrible flight—but of course, all that melted away upon seeing Rocket. I crashed when I got home and woke up at 11am to head out to a family lunch at Ooma. My cousin Anika was celebrating her 14th birthday.

1. Ooma

Tempura and an Aburi Maki Roll

Ooma is a far cry from authentic Japanese food, but it knows the Filipino palate well. I mean, how can you go wrong with crazy maki rolls filled with salmon, uni, and topped with a cream Kewpie sauce, right? Their Ebi Tempura does the job, and I am quite fond of their Salmon Tataki.

2. Tsuiteru

Central Square at the Fort has these food stalls every once in a while. I stumbled upon this kiosk that was selling Calamansi Crinkles—they were so good—just like zingy, citrusy half-baked cookie dough.

3. Mamou

Rocket’s birthday is always celebrated at Mamou, and for some strange reason, I’ve been craving Vongole on this trip. My mum is an absolute sucker for the Lorenzo’s Truffle Cream Pasta, and because Andre joined us, we had to have a Prime Rib.

Vongole
Lorenzo’s Truffle Cream Pasta

I find Mamou to be a safe choice for comfort food, and yet, I love their Key Lime Pie and Lamb Rice so much. My dad likes their Roast Chicken, which comes fall-off-the-bone tender and super juicy.

4. Sinangag Express

Bang-si-log

My comfort food in Manila is always a Filipino breakfast. After my trip to the LTO (Land Transportation Office) to get my driver’s license and waiting for two hours, I indulged myself in some Daing na Bangus or Fried Milkfish (marinated in vinegar, garlic, and pepper) for brunch from Sinangag Express.

5. Bad Bird

Torched Corn with Cream Cheese and Lemon Pepper Chicken Tenders

After a nice me-time mani-pedi session at Century City Mall, I met up with my best friends Isa and Crae while waiting for our other friends. They got me Coco! And then, we walked around the mall and had an afternoon snack at Hole in the Wall. We had some Bad Bird Lemon Pepper Chicken Tenders and this Torched Corn with Cream Cheese.

6. Agimat

Dinner was at Agimat, one of Poblacion’s newest restaurants. The chef behind this place is Nino Laus, of Ninyo along Katipunan. Agimat means “amulet”, and a step inside this restaurant is quite otherworldly. I loved how there was a tree right smack in the middle of the place, with a lot of tribal décor and a cozy vibe to boot. Agimat only recently opened, and they focus on a “foraged” menu, which is why the food here constantly changes. Here’s what we ate!

Lengua (Ox Tongue) – Locally grown mushrooms, Coconut aminos. (PHP 350)
Balut at Chicharon – Duck egg, Pork crackling. (PHP 300)
Pogita at Malasugi (Octopus and Blue Marlin Ceviche) – Pomelo, Calamansi nyebe, Espada, Katuray flowers. (PHP 385)
Alimasag (Blue Swimmer Crab) – Alavar sauce, Aligue, Cilantro and dalandan foam, Patani hummus. (PHP 350)
Pata (Pork Trotters) – Braised in Bugnay wine, Indigenous greens, Sampinit, Bagnet (PHP 350)

Overall, the food here was great but erred on the saltier side. My favorite among the dishes was the Pata, which I felt was the most balanced dish on the table. I usually stay away from pork dishes, but this one was really good. I appreciated how all the components were good individually, and together, it took a normal pata dish to the next level. I liked how the acidity of the bugnay (a cherry wine) cut through the fattiness of the pork, while maintaining a clean porcine flavor throughout the dish. I think this is the dish not to be missed when at Agimat.

Ritwal ng Agimat – Calamansi liquor, Lambanog, Tomato purée, Melon tomato mint shrub, Tamarind, Lime, Rose, Citrus aromatics (PHP 330)

The cocktails are also pretty good here. I am always so biased to the use of local ingredients, and the libations at Agimat did not disappoint. They use ingredients such as lambanog (Philippine Coconut Wine) and Sampaguita Liquor (Arabian Jasmine) to create such unique drinks that pack on quite a punch.

Gayuma ng Umaasa – Dalandan liquor, Lambanog, Cucumber, Rosemary, Basil (PHP 300)

Though portions a bit small and pricey, I believe Agimat is one restaurant to watch for.

7. KFC

Whenever I go to Manila, I make sure to never miss out on Pancake House’s Chicken, which is my childhood favorite fried chicken. But this trip, I decided to go rogue and indulge myself in KFC’s instead.

Apparently, KFC is not the same across the world. Here in Singapore, they do not serve KFC with gravy or rice, which to me is not KFC at all. My KFC experience has always been completed by the vat of gravy each lard-fried chicken meal comes with, and I made it a point to not miss this trip.

8. Amber’s

We also had Amber’s Palabok and siomai delivered to the house for dinner during one evening. Of course, nothing beats these noodles blanketed with shrimp gravy and studded with eggs, shrimps, pork cracklings, and calamansi.

As usual, I covered each siomai I ate with copious amounts of chili-garlic and calamansi.

9. Mary Grace

My friend Robee and I had lunch at Manam—we had Garlicky Chicken and Pork Adobo, Sisig, a Green Mango Salad (as an excuse for health), and something else (I forgot). And being the (young) Tito & Tita that we have now become, we had coffee at Mary Grace, which is a cozy nook to enjoy some thick, Spanish-style hot chocolate, ensaymada (a sugary spiral-shaped pastry with cheese) and Cheese Rolls. I had a Lemon Bar and my favorite Apple-Cinnamon iced tea. And of course, I mooched off Robee’s ensaymada and cheese roll.

*

I’ve been learning a lot about the value of time, and the lessons hit hardest when I am home; when I have a limited and finite amount of days and hours to spend with the people who matter most. I thought it would get easier, this whole routine of leaving and coming home. But it just keeps getting harder all the time.

Nothing beats a homecooked meal: my grandma’s grilled salmon steak and shrimps.

I was lucky to be raised around good food—great home-cooked meals, Chinese Lauriats laid upon a Lazy Susan, plates and plates of tender beef brisket, flavorful congees, and buttery bo lo baos along the gritty streets of Hong Kong, and of course, the myriad of punchy Filipino flavors that will always hit me with so much nostalgia in the gut. Whenever I am home, I love to eat.

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