GIGA-BITE: One-Stop Shop for Barbecue and Kebab (OAP)

(This was published in and Mercato Centrale last June 25, 2013)

There’s something very primal about eating meat-on-a-stick and that’s what makes it fun. Apart from the taste, it’s also the eating experience that defines the food and that’s what I like about street food. In the Philippines, there are a lot of barbecue stalls that peddle all kinds of grilled meat. Other countries have different versions but the concept remains the same.

In the Mercato weekend markets, Giga-Bite has combined the best of the Philippines and Middle Eastern/Mediterranean street fare. This food stall offers barbecue, isaw (intestines), and kebab. The stall’s name gives a clue on the serving size of each order. What makes this a must-try is the secret blend of barbecue sauce that has all the flavors going on—sweet, salty, and tangy with a hint of spice. Probably the only other thing you’ll need is a cup of steamed rice to make it a complete meal.

For the more adventurous eater, there’d the chicken or pork isaw, which actually tastes more appetizing than it sounds. The chicken has a curvy, tube-like appearance while the pork is cut up into bite-size pieces, and both cost P35 each. I prefer the swine-on-a-stick but that’s just me. Better to sample both and taste for yourself.

Other items on the simple menu are the chicken or beef kebab, which comes in a more chunky version. Proprietor, Isa Cruz, confesses, “I love to eat Persian food.” Maybe that’s the reason why she didn’t scrimp on the flavors and portions. Each stick has hefty serving of meat chunks, veggies and corn—all the food groups are represented here. To add another layer of flavor, the kebab is served with some sour cream, and it only costs P100 per stick.

Isa has been in the business since 2005 but she used to be a practicing architect before she discovered the world of bazaars. She is now doing this full time and is happy with it. She feels satisfied whenever she prepares the food and gets to sell everything. Sometimes, her kids help her out in the weekend markets, an experience she enjoys.

Check out Giga-Bite and let it be your one-stop shop when you want to satisfy your hunger pangs for barbecue and kebab.




LU CHI: From Siomai to Shabu-Shabu (OAP)

(This was published in and Mercato Centrale last June 20, 2013)

It all began when Luchi Dimatulac’s brother requested her to make some homemade chicken feet. Since she used to work in a Chinese restaurant, she thought of asking the chef how to make it. What she got was a recipe for siomai, which was an easier option according to the chef.

At home, she experimented with the recipe using one kilo of pork and let her family and friends sample some. Her taste test actually garnered some orders from her friends and that is where her “accidental business” started.

“We didn’t plan for a Chinese food business,” shares Luchi, who is also a nutritionist. Although she was working in a restaurant and her parents were in the food industry as well, having her own food stall was not part of her master plan. But fate brought her to that path when she learned making siomai, chicken feet, and other types of dimsum.

Her first foray into the food business was as a supplier of a siomai stall. She and her partner, Mario Angeles, eventually thought of putting their own stall and joined bazaars to test out the market. Thus, the birth of Lu Chi, which roughly translates to “happy eating” in Chinese.

They offer their specialty siomai for only P50 per order of four pieces. Each piece is not your average small-sized siomai. It’s one big bite of pure pork goodness, which uses 100% natural meat, no extenders, no preservatives and no MSG. It’s a chunky kind of siomai where the meat is chopped and not ground.

“Our meat is fresh and of high quality. We use the round part of the pigue—choice cuts.” Those who have tasted Luchi’s siomai would know the difference. I have eaten different kinds from various restaurants and this is way better than some. Even my hubby, a self-proclaimed siomai connoisseur, enjoyed each meaty bite of his favorite dimsum.

Aside from dimsum, dumplings, and sushi, Luchi also serves a mean shabu-shabu, which includes imported balls from Taiwan. Each serving costs P160 and comes with six kinds of balls like lobster. In the Mercato markets, a lot of Koreans patronize this dish. Customers say that it is comparable to the shabu-shabu in other Asian countries.

Who would have thought that this “accidental” home-based business would grow into a full-blown food business? From a mere capital of P1000, Luchi now has kiosks in various supermarkets and weekend markets around the metro. Now you know where to chow down on affordable and delicious Chinese dimsum and dumplings.






B. WINGS: The Home of the Black Mamba (OAP)

(This was published in and Mercato Centrale last June 12, 2013)

Not long ago, the chicken wings craze hit the metro and many fell for it, as seen in various food stalls and restaurants. This tasty part of the poultry is, in fact, one of the favorite foods of the creators of B.Wings.

It was one year ago when Marc Castro put up this food business with his partners from the same office where he used to work. He left the corporate world already to pursue his passion for food. He is no stranger to this industry as his family is into catering. At an early age, he learned how to help out in the kitchen by doing simple tasks such as washing rice or mixing pancit. When he reached college-age, he would take up culinary classes during summer. Now, he and his partners serve eight varieties of chicken wings in the different Mercato weekend markets.

What sets it apart from other brands is their creative flavors and names. Want a taste of P-NOY? This wing variant has no sauce and acts like an appetizer to open your palate for the more flavorful variants. Or go for B-NAY for its Filipino barbecue taste. Better yet, let your taste buds sample Barack o pakpak, which is the hottest wing on the menu that features African chili as one of its main ingredients.

Aside from these “presidential flavors”, the must-try is the Black Mamba, Mexican-inspired wings with a spicy mole sauce that has cocoa undertones. I love chocolate and I love chicken separately, but together it sounds like an unusual combination. I must say, though, B.Wings made it work. It definitely deserves a two-thumbs up. No wonder it is the bestseller.

Other variants are the Caramelized Wings (with peanut butter), Morimoto (New York-style wing with wasabi and leeks), Garlic Cheddar, Original Mild and Original Medium Buffalo Wings. All the chicken in B.Wings is chilled and not frozen, ensuring that it retains moisture for that delightful eating experience. It is also competitively priced at P110 for an order of five wings, and P200 for 10 pieces.

Among the eight choices, there would surely be one to cater to your chicken wing cravings. Maybe next time they’ll find a way to incorporate another food trend in their menu. Would we see some cookie butter wings, perhaps?

TACLINGS: Bite-Sized Tacos Hit (OAP)

(This was published in and Mercato Centrale last June 12, 2013)

Tacos are tasty treats but I veer away from eating it because of the likely mess it would make. There’s a high probability that the hard tortilla shell would crumble with each bite. Luckily, Michelle Turabin thought of creating custom-made bite-sized taco shells. Thus, the birth of Taclings.

Her frustration with this messy Mexican street fare and her love for experimentation inspired this tiny treat. She tried to make smaller servings of tacos in her own kitchen and brought them to her office as sort of a taste test, which produced positive feedback. That was three years ago. Now, she and her husband, Frederick, have gone full-time with this food business.

The husband and wife team joined various bazaars and night markets to peddle their products. Taclings only has two variants—Taco Beef and Tuna Mushroom. The first is the original flavor that is made with 100% homemade ground beef, which is served with fresh salsa and special garlic sauce. While the tuna variant has a hint of curry, which gives it some kick. Don’t worry, it’s not at all spicy. The interesting thing about it is that it comes in a green taco shell that is flavored with malunggay (moringa). I like how this is more guilt-free because of the addition of the healthy ingredient.

A single serving consists of six pieces and costs only P70, while a double serving has 12 pieces and is just P120. Although best eaten when freshly made, foodies may bring home these treats by ordering a party pack that contains beef, salsa, garlic sauce, shells and tray, which you can assemble yourself at home. The pack has a total of six order and costs P350. It’s a nice treat to bring in parties and get-togethers.

Even if Taclings only has two variants, it has become a hit already, as the brand is about to go into franchising.

Thanks to Taclings, I can now satisfy my taco cravings minus the mess and fuss.



JUANA BOWL: U.S. Rib-Eye Steak and Norwegian Pink Salmon (OAP)

(This was published in and Mercato Centrale last June 5, 2013)

“You want a bowl?”

Juana Bowl is actually a playful take on that phrase, which proprietor, Monch Bernabe, conceptualized around eight years ago. The name is apt for the brand that highlights Spanish food.

In the Mercato markets though, Juana Bowl is famous for its U.S. Rib-Eye Steak, which comes in a 220-gram serving and is reasonably priced at P190. Monch shares that her family really likes steak that even her little boy can finish a hefty serving of it.

It is not your usual weekend market fare, and thus, it has attracted all kinds of meat lovers—not just growing boys. Where else can you get a nice piece of steak for that price? The secret is getting it from a direct supplier.

Just like in high-end restaurants, Juana Bowl asks its customers how they want their steak done before cooking it on the spot. The cook simply seasons it with salt and pepper and serves it with some house-blend gravy. It sounds plain but it is a nice way to showcase the quality of the meat. Aside from being tasty, what makes this an easy eat is that it gives a tender bite with each delicious mouthful.

Another must-try in the menu is the Norwegian Pink Salmon, which is a good option for those who want to go meatless. The serving size of the fish is enough to satisfy a big appetite and it is affordably priced at P190 as well. Once cooked, just squeeze a wedge of lemon to add some tang to it. I like that it is a very filling meal and healthy, too.

With this food business, Monch is able to showcase her love for cooking. She has always been into food since she is a nutritionist. She is also married to a guy who likes to cook, Boybie, who comes from a family that has a catering business. It seems like love for food is really in their blood.

Other notable dishes are the Grilled Tanigue and Malted Pork Ribs (a recipe created by Monch herself). Aside from these regular meals, Juana Bowl also offers value meals that come in smaller servings of around 100 grams per viand and practically priced at P110 only.

Next time hunger strikes, grab a bowl of one of these meals to satisfy your cravings.

Chef Bab’s Sisig (OAP)

(This feature was published in OAP and Mercato Centrale last May 24, 2013)

The SISIG. A Filipino favorite that is traditionally made with pig’s ears and served on a sizzling plate. This humble dish is said to originate from Pampanga but is now known outside the country, thanks to the feature of renowned chef and television host, Anthony Bourdain, who raved about it in his show No Reservations.

A lot of restaurants and bars serve sisig but only Chef Bab of Mercato Centrale can offer eight variants at one time. Even during the former Distrito Market, he has been dishing up this specialty, but now, he is offering foodies a chance to customize their sisig. Want it hot? Request for more chili. Want it as a meal? Order it with rice! Want a vegetarian version? Go for fish or tofu sisig. All orders are cooked on the spot, too, ensuring its freshness and deliciousness.

Diners may select from the following sisig variants: crispy pork, chicken, beef, squid, dinakdakan, tofu, bangus and veggie meat. Not surprisingly, the Crispy Pork Sisig is the bestseller. Imagine minced pork ears or cheeks that is cooked with onion, ginger, bell pepper and seasoned with soy sauce, vinegar and calamansi. Although it might not paint a pretty picture fit for a five-star resto, the taste is definitely up there. It is best served hot and with a raw egg on top. I prefer the spicy version because it has more zing. I like this sisig variant the best because of the texture of the crispy pork and the dominant onion flavor. It’s a dish fit for pork paradise! (Just eat in moderation.)

Another must-try is the Dinakdakan,  sisig the Ilokano way. It uses the various parts of the pig’s head, including the brain, and it is prepared similar to pork kinilaw. It has some pork liver and is served with mayonnaise as well. The technique to enjoying this rich and tasty dish is not to think about the individual ingredients and simply enjoy every yummy bite. Try it and you’ll like it. Really.

Chef Bab’s (Francis Basa in real life) hails from Nueva Ecija and his passion for food and skill in cooking is reflective in his creative sisig creations. He honed his cooking skills in Magsaysay Center for Hospitality and Culinary Arts and he has been in the food business for years now. He recently added sisig turnover (omelet sisig) in his menu and is planning to introduce sisig sandwich in the weekend markets soon. With the undying love of Filipinos for sisig, looks like Chef Bab is here to stay.



BUMBLE TEA: The Milk Tea Buzz (OAP)

(This feature was published in and Mercato Centrale last April 26, 2013)

The milk tea trend has been around for quite some time now and it looks like it is here to stay, especially with the summer season at its peak. This hot weather calls for refreshing beverages to cool you down and milk tea is a good choice. It is really my preferred drink, as I am more of a tea person rather than coffee.

There are lots of milk tea brands out there but not all are created equal. What I like about Bumble Tea Place in is that it offers a wide range of beverage choices, and it also customizes sugar levels, which I really appreciate because I’m not too fond of overly sweet drinks. Customers may choose if they want 100% sugar content in their drinks, or none at all. Although it takes an extra step before you can get a hold of your drink, it is worth your time so you can alter the tea according to your taste.

The Bumble Tea Place is actually an offshoot of one of Mia Espiritu’s subjects during her grad school days. “I left the corporate world so I can focus on my studies, but I wanted to still have a source of income.” Mia conceptualized different food concepts and tried it out in various bazaars all over the metro, but it was the milk tea that turned out to be the most successful. In 2011, she decided to focus solely on milk tea and pitched the idea to Mercato Centrale. Since March 2011, she has been in the milk tea business, in which she offers around 30 flavors.

Although the milk tea is a Taiwanese concept, Mia tweaked it a bit to make it more appealing to the Filipino palate. The Winter Melon Milk Tea with 100% sugar, for instance, would appeal to the sweet Pinoy taste. Add some pearls to it and it becomes a bestseller. I also like the coffee jelly add-ons, which gives more flavor and texture to the drink. Aside from the milk teas, I also like the juice blends. I sampled the Peppermint Lemon Green Tea that had a floral taste. It was light and it definitely quenched my thirst. Other must-tries are the Sweet Black Milk Tea and Dark Chocolate Rock Salt and Cheese.

Milk teas are made more fun with add-ons like pearls, coffee jelly, and flavored nata, which The Bumble Tea Place offers as well.

I could use some milk tea now, in fact, as the hot summer sun continues to intensify.

MACHEESEMO: Cheese Stuffed Burger Goodness! (OAP)

(This feature was published in and Mercato Centrale last April 23, 2013)

What product first comes to mind when you hear fast-food joint? For me, it’s the burger. I noticed though that this fast-food favorite has gone gourmet now. I’ve been seeing more creative burger concoctions in high-end establishments that elevate the ordinary meat sandwich—and its price as well.

But I recently discovered an affordable gourmet burger stall in Cucina Andare—Macheesemo Burgers. The name itself sounds like a guy brand but it’s the “cheese” that got to me. Apparently, my favorite dairy product is incorporated in all the variants of Macheesemo Burgers, which specializes in cheese-stuffed burgers that have no extenders and fillers.

Patrick Santos is the brain behind Macheesemo Burgers. It is his love for food that motivated him to venture into his first food business. He has been passionate about food ever since he was in high school. Although he doesn’t have any culinary background, he watches a lot of food shows and reads a lot of related magazines, which are his sources of inspiration. He also has plenty of friends in the culinary industry who encourage him and his passion.

Patrick’s burger business started in Mezza Norte last July 2012, and it has hardly been a year when he expanded to the other Mercato weekend market locations. Macheesemo Burgers offers its homemade pure beef cheese-stuffed burgers in Cucina Andare now, and the Classic variant, which comes with lettuce, tomato and onions, is reasonably priced at P130.

Other variants are the Melt (with bacon, mushroom and additional cheese), Philly (with cheesesteak inspired flavors, grilled onion and bell peppers), Blue (with blue cheese stuffing), and Hell (with jalapeños, habanero sauce and additional cheese). The Hell burger is the most expensive thing on the menu at P195, but it’s still affordable compared to other gourmet burgers. Faith Santos, who helps with the business, says that the Hell burger is, “Spicy. It stings but it doesn’t last.”

The burger brand attracts those with manly appetites—whether guy or girl. I think it’s the secret seasoning—aside from the cheese—that makes these burgers stand out.

As of now, I’m still trying to get the courage to try the Hell burger, but until then, I’m happy with the yummy blue cheese burger.




RICE POTS: The Real Fried Rice Stuff! (OAP)

(This feature was published in and Mercato Centrale last April 19, 2013)

If there’s one thing that Filipinos can’t live without, it’s rice. It is a staple food in all our meals—be it for breakfast in the morning or as a midnight snack. It comes as no surprise that Peter Garcia and Joy Kim created Rice Pots, which offers Asian-inspired freshly cooked fried rice.

This stall in Mercato Centrale is actually an offshoot of an existing food business, which the two foodies created because of their want for something different. Peter shares, “Filipinos love rice. Why not make different kinds of Asian fried rice?” And Rice Pots was born in 2011.

Its first branch is a full-blown restaurant located in the southern part of the metro, and it was around six months into it when they joined the Mercato group. Rice Pots is the pioneer in real fried rice—not those instant ones that are just flavored with seasonings.

Their Adobo Fried Rice, for instance, involves cooking the actual adobo viand and incorporating it in the rice. It’s like a meal in itself. But since Filipinos love rice toppings, Rice Pots also offers add-ons like small dimsum, hainanese chicken, and lechon macau that is pugon-roasted, woody and smoked (a bestseller).

Peter and Joy were classmates in UP Hotel and Restaurant Administration and have common interests as well. “We love dining out, we love food, and we love to cook.” According to Peter, “Joy is the innovator. She’s a very good cook. She’s more into cooking and more creative.”

The duo dishes up a number of rice variants inspired by the different regions of Asia, and the specialties are the Adobo Fried Rice, BBQ Fried Rice, and Yang Chow Fried Rice. Each serving is good for approximately two to three persons. I especially like the adobo, which had bits and pieces of the pork and lots of garlic. Its garlicky aroma adds more to the appeal as well.

From time to time, the duo comes up with different inventions. “Since everyone is into Korean, we will be having our own take on omu rice (omelet rice) with a twist.” Instead of the egg being incorporated in the fried rice, the rice will be wrapped in the egg.

I’ll definitely look forward to that since I’m a fan of Korean food, too.




AUNTIE MAY’S: U.S Beef Tapa, Angus Beef Salpicao and Home Cooked Meals (OAP)

(This feature was published in and Mercato Centrale last April 16, 2013)

Living a fast-paced lifestyle can burn you out and you need all the help you can get to keep up. Though convenient, eating fast-food would be an easy option but not necessarily a healthy one. A good alternative is to look for other “instant” food that would satisfy your hunger for filling and healthy meals. Mercato Centrale’s Auntie May’s definitely fits the bill.

Its specialty is U.S. Beef Tapa, thinly sliced imported beef in a special marinade. It is served with a cup of garlic rice and sunny side up egg—a classic Filipino dish. The best thing about it is that you can bring home a pack and cook it yourself. Auntie May’s offers pre-packed tapa that comes in a microwavable container with six servings inside it. Since the beef slices are thin, there is no need to thaw before cooking. You can get it from the freezer and put it straight in a hot pan. Tapa couldn’t be more instant than that! Auntie May’s also has a guide on how to cook the tapa to get a good eating experience.

Tapsilog is actually one of my favorite breakfast meals and Auntie May’s version doesn’t disappoint.

I like how the tapa is very flavorful and easy-to-eat. The basic recipe came from her mother-in-law, which she modified a bit to make it more accepted by the general public.

Another bestseller is the Angus Beef Salpicao, certified Angus Beef that is cubed and cooked with lots of minced garlic and their secret seasoning, which is served on top of garlic fried rice. The salpicao was a pleasure to eat as well because the meat was tender and juicy. I was surprised to find out that this was Auntie May’s first foray into the food industry. “To be honest, I cook a lot but this is my very first [business] venture in food. We are kitchen people—my family and siblings. We are very fortunate because my mom really trained us. Sinanay niya kami sa kusina.”

All the raw meat they use are also being sold in their home-based deli where they offer a myriad of marinated meat and other products, including their original specialty, gourmet bagoong. “The name Auntie May’s stemmed about when we started selling bagoong because we had to identify it. We started it because of the demand of our friends.” The husband-and-wife team would make their own bagoong from scratch and give it to their friends as gifts. The business evolved from there— 20 years ago.

It was during the third Ultimate Taste Test when they let the public sample their cooking that they decided to go into the food business. “We do not scrimp on the ingredients just to be able to make it affordable to everyone. We choose the dish first then buy quality ingredients, do food tasting, do our costings and if we feel it will be reasonable and attractive to the consumers, we introduce the product and sell.”

Get a taste of Auntie May’s cooking in Mercato Centrale or head to her little deli and grab some of her specialty products.