Ah, Harrison Plaza. It is not a place you will likely go out of your way for just to satisfy a craving, at least not when you don’t work around the area, and at least not in 2019. But just in case you find yourself dropped for some reason by your ride near it or thereabouts, and you are too tired to venture somewhere more pleasant (the Pancake House at CCP Complex is a bit of a walk), it won’t be such a bad idea to get lost for maybe an hour or two among the mall’s choices of food stalls.
HP may look desolate on a weekday morning or afternoon but the food courts are surprisingly lively at lunchtime. We found ourselves there recently to pay our final respects before the mall’s reported closure—and discovered it has become totally different from the shopping complex of our youth. When before it looked like this dreamy place where we bought toys and clothes and such for the holidays—there was Rustan’s, there was Alemar’s, there was a Magnolia cafe, there was an indoor fountain!—it now looks like an LRT basement terminal that hasn’t tasted a scrubbing since the Marcoses left for Hawaii in ‘86 (curiously the the biggest song of that year, "Shake Body Dancer," was playing as we walked up the non-functioning escalator.).
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It’s not easy to work up an appetite against such a gloomy setting but it was lunch time and we soon found ourselves queuing at Melting Pot, a cluster of three stalls that serve Filipino, Turkish and Korean dishes. We joined nine-to-fivers in uniforms who sported that assured sitting stance that said they’ve eaten here a thousand times before—and they have yet to get it wrong.
Mangan Tayon is probably the most promising of the lot. Meals here start at P150. The stall serves Ulo-ulo ng Isda and Ilocano favorites using goat meat. The Papaitang Kambing is a hit with just the right amount of bitterness and soup thickness. The mix of innards used are not as suspicious and out-there as in other papaitan preparations—
Mert & Melissa
If you're up for some Middle Eastern cooking, just a condiment section away from Mangan Tayon is Mert and Melissa which serves comfort and Halal Turkish dishes familiar to the Filipino palate. They’ve been in this spot for only five months. Gaffe and Ahmet, a couple of Turkish guys, man the grill. You will find the usual shawarma and kebabs served with rice and roasted tomato, and they make the effort of putting a lace-patterned white placemat on your table before serving your orders (how sweet). The chicken kebabs are tender but are a little on the dry side. The soft and sweetish Pita bread, however, makes up for it as well as the native onions peppered with sour hints of sumac. The stall also serves chicken sisig, and grilled stuffed squid.
There is no samgyupsal here but there is a Korean corner that offers just enough dishes on their menu to temper a Kimchi craving. The stall has the usual bibimbap, japchae, seaweed soup, and bowls of ramen that interestingly comes with rice. Their Kimchi ramen is served in a big tin bowl that can be shared by two. The recipe is quite simple—kimchi and noodles submerged in a generous broth. The taste is as comforting as your everyday instant spicy noodle soup. If you’re craving for matcha, the closest you can get is their malunggay Bingsu made of finely shaved ice, sugar, and milk. The whole thing is covered in malunggay powder. It is simple, refreshing and satisfying.
In another food court just steps away from Melting Pot are stalls offering sisig and rice combinations, Vietnamese favorites, Thai staples, Chinese dishes and classic Filipino merienda (the ginataang bilo-bilo looked good). If you want to hit it right the first time, go for the more popular Sen Lek, which we found out is the same Thai food stall at Makati Cinema Square and Alphaland where we usually get our quick pad Thai fix. The pad Thai will meet your expectations with its sweet-salty sauce and indulgent amounts of finely ground peanut on top. They also serve beef, fishball, and wanton Thai noodles as well as rice meals, bagoong rice included.
Noel-Tom Food Cart
Noel-Tom Food Cart offers all the Vietnamese classics you’ll likely order in, well, Pho Hoa—Beef Pho, Banh Mi, Fried Noodles, and Fried and Fresh Spring Rolls. While their fresh spring roll dip could use a more pleasant peanut sauce ingredient (or they could just use a peanut butter with a less cloying sweetness), the pho is good and should go well with their Banh Mi—if you don’t mind that the bread looks more like an ordinary hotdog bun from the in-mall Shopwise, as the server confessed. But if you’re really hungry, their Bo Ne at just Php 120 is a filling deviation from the usual bistek. Bo Ne is a unique Vietnamese combination of beef steak cooked in butter, runny eggs, and pate served with Banh Mi or rice and greens. Offset this richness with their guyabano juice that has just the right amount of sweetness.
Beside Noel-Tom Food Cart is Kak’s which offers an array of Kiampong rice dishes and a refreshing cucumber-lime juice. Sisig Station, however, is where you’ll probably never get it wrong, what with its selection of squid, fish, and pork sisig varieties. In between wide, unoccupied stall spaces inside the mall, you can still find independent food stands selling kakanin, milk tea, and fruit shakes. If you’re a Gen Xer and want to relive those cafe days before Starbucks invaded your life, there’s a Figaro right across the Melting Pot food court serving coffee with a dollop of 90s nostalgia. If you want good old fast food, there’s Jollibee and Chowking which can address your hunger pangs in between making ukay or rummaging through one of the best Booksale branches in the city—it's on the second floor beside a sticky toilet door that refused to open.