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Filipino cuisine is the food world’s rising star

Manila Grill offers a melting pot that takes elements from Malaysian, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian cuisine and mixes in a huge amount of Spanish influence
  • Halu-halo (which literally translated means mix-mix in Filipino, is a cold dessert that is a refreshing and elegant snack/beverage) and sago at gulaman (a sweet, thirst-quenching and popular drink during the summer months). The mixture has to be thoroughly stirred and mixed before consumed.

  • Salted egg (a traditional delicacy usually made from duck eggs which are buried in salt for several weeks to make them salty) with tomato and onion.

  • Lumpia Shanghai (spring rolls made up of veggies and sometimes meet) with sweet and sour sauce.

  • Stirring the sizzling sisig after the lime has been squeezed.

  • Dr. Librada Capuli squeezes lime over the sizzling sisig as she shows how to prepare the dish to be eaten.

  • Sizzling sisig as it’s placed before you at Manila Grill on Elizabeth Avenue. A popular meat dish, considered a specialty food because its long and arduous preparation is really a “labor of love”, the aroma alone can make anyone hungry. PHOTOS: SHAVAUGHN MOSS

SHAVAUGHN MOSS
Guardian Lifestyles Editor
shavaughn@nasguard.com

Published: Jul 15, 2017

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Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese foods are famous — but Filipino cuisine is said to be a rising star. Referred to as the original fusion cuisine, dishes are a melting pot that take elements from Malaysian, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian cuisine and mix in a huge amount of Spanish influence. It’s one of the most unique flavor profiles that bridges the gap between the world’s favorite flavors. You’ll find the typically sweet, salty and sour ingredients to be accommodating for nearly every palate.

And you don’t have to travel far to enjoy this rising cuisine in the food world. It can be found right at home, yours to be had at Manila Grill, a quaint 50-seat restaurant on Elizabeth Avenue that you may want to overlook, but trust me you shouldn’t, as you are definitely missing out.

The first taste of Filipino offerings at the restaurant owned by Benjamin Capuli and his wife Dr. Librada Capuli will leave you wondering why you’ve bypassed the joint so many times in the past year that it’s been open. Believe me, I had passed Manila Grill so many times over the course of the past year that it’s been open and always wondered, but never really ventured in until recently. Trust me, that first taste of Filipino cuisine was like a flavor explosion that left me craving more, so much so that I was back the next day, and believe me, I’m looking forward to many repeat visits.

At Manila Grill you won’t be left floundering, wondering what to order, the owners as well as their staff are happy to guide you through the menu, which for the most part is written in Filipino. When I visited, the Capulis were on hand to make recommendation and suggestions. And thank goodness I had friends with me, because the food that’s served up family style came out of the kitchen faster than I could take a bite out of one dish — and the portions were hearty.

Here’s what ended up on my table — lumpia Shanghai (spring rolls made up of veggies and sometimes meet) with sweet and sour sauce; salted egg (a traditional delicacy, usually made from duck eggs which are buried in salt for several weeks to make them salty) with tomato and onion; daing nab angus (daing is term used in Filipino cuisine where a fish is prepared by applying generous amount of salt and sun-drying or simply marinated in a vinegar marinade with lots of garlic); pansit noodles (the Filipino version of Pad Thai); sizzling sisig (a popular meat dish, considered a specialty food because its long and arduous preparation is really a “labor of love”, the aroma alone can make anyone hungry); bulalo (a beef soup that is ranked as one of the top boiled dishes in the Philippines due to its rich taste and very satisfying broth); cassava cake (a classic Filipino dessert made from grated cassava); halu-halo (which literally translated means mix-mix in Filipino; it’s a cold dessert that is refreshing and elegant snack/beverage) and sago at gulaman (a sweet, thirst-quenching and popular drink during the summer months.)

To the newbie like myself at the time, Dr. Capuli most often recommends the adobo (chicken, pork, or seafood simmered in a marinade of vinegar and soy sauce), the unofficial national food of the Philippines; and the Filipino BBQ on a stick which you will likely find at street vendor stalls around Manila; as well as the pancit noodles which she said are always present at Filipino barbecues; as well as the spring rolls.

But I wanted to go outside the box, and did just that, and was not disappointed.

The adventurous eater would be dared to have the dinuguan (a savory stew of pork offal, typically lungs, kidneys, intestines, ears, heart and snout, and or meat simmered in a rich, spicy dark gravy of pig blood, garlic, chili and vinegar); and can be had when the ingredients which are imported are available.

“We’ve dared customers to try it, and when they taste it —it has a vinegar, salty taste — and when you eat it with white rice it gives a different kind of experience,” said Dr. Capuli.

Manila Grill, which opened in April 2016 was the dream of Benjamin Capuli, but the husband and wife team also has a full-time Filipino cook whipping up the world’s rising cuisine in their kitchen.

Entering Manila Grill restaurant is akin to being in the Philippines — from the tablecloth to the placemat to the wall décor you get the Filipino touch. Customers are greeted in Filipino fashion, mabuhay, which means a warm welcome.

And the prices for the hearty, filling, tasty meals, are affordable, nothing is over $15.95, and, you can get an order of rice for as little as $1.50.

“From the time we started the restaurant, our main thought was to make it reasonable and affordable to everyone who comes in. Just bring $10 and you can enjoy a taste of the Philippines,” said Dr. Capuli.

“My husband and I put so much time and effort into this restaurant and we’re not only after what we’re going to get at the end of the day, but it’s a passion of my husband and my very critical personality that I want to give the best to the community. And this is not just a one-stop restaurant where you say I ate Filipino food, it’s an experience that I want people to have so they can tell others to come and see what we’re talking about. I want everyone who comes here to remember they had a nice experience with us and enjoyed Filipino food.”

An important lesson Dr. Capuli taught me on my first dining experience at Manila Grill, it’s that Filipino food is eaten with a spoon in a person’s dominant hand. Unlike the western world, the fork is used as a knife. It took me a minute to remember that, as I kept picking up my fork with my right hand, but I eventually got it.

Manila Grill is open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturdays; and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Mondays; and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. Parking is across the street from the restaurant and is free for restaurant patrons after 3 p.m.

 


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