MANILA -- Aside from the infamous balut, which is mostly eaten by adventurous backpackers purely for the novelty fear factor, Filipino street food hasn’t really hit it big with foreign tourists. Typically hawked by vendors in busy public markets and food carts, you wouldn’t expect to find humble street eats in fine dining establishments.
Manila Hotel, the oldest premiere hotel in the Philippines, aims to elevate the Filipino street food experience into something world-class. The hotel's Sun Deck overlooking Manila Bay offers a buffet of "bar bites," which they describe as “sexified and Frenchified Filipino street food.”
The menu draws from conscientiously sourced local ingredients expertly produced by a culinary team led by Swiss executive chef Konrad Walter.
For true-blue Pinoys who grew up eating fish balls and isaw in street corners, the menu offerings taste very familiar, even nostalgic. But considering the hotel’s five-star status and clientele, they aim to serve the best of our local street food in style.
Balut is notably absent from the menu which was was carefully chosen to provide a “beginner’s introduction to Filipino street food.” Considering Manila Hotel’s regular guests of foreigners, expats and dignitaries, diners can expect upscale treatment in a luxe setting without the potential dangers of food poisoning.
Dishes like fish balls or bola-bola, fresh vegetable rolls (lumpia) and fried meatloaf dumpling (kikiam) are served on plates reminiscent of artist’s palettes along with several vibrant choices of sawsawan or sauces. Much like their food cart counterparts, the fish balls are served with both a vinegar-based sauce and a brown gravy colored sweet and spicy sauce.
There’s also a Quail Egg Tempura, a classier take on kwek-kwek; Deep-fried Laguna Cheese Rolls that makes use of cheese sourced from a carabao farm in Pangasinan; and Vegetable and Shrimp Fritters (otherwise known as ukoy), which is crisp to the bite but tender on the inside. Aside from the traditional vinegar, soy or sweet and sour sauces, other dips include mayo-herb sauce and tomato, which you can mix and match with your food.
Inspired by a trip to Ilocos, Chef Walter also included Empanadang Ilokano on the menu, which comes with an Ilokano vinegar dip and a curry sauce which works surprisingly well.
Manila Hotel’s take on halo-halo transforms the colorful and icy dessert into a crunchy treat similar to turon. Typical toppings like boiled sweet beans, coconut and fruits are wrapped in a lightly sugared lumpia wrapper before being deep-fried.
This is served with three kinds of sauces: chocolate chili or tablea, vanilla, or coco jam.
The hotel also offers coolers and beverages inspired by childhood favorites. The ice skrambol topped with marshmallows, sprinkles and powdered milk is always a hit with the kids. There’s also Fresh Soft Tofu with Tapioca Pearls and Brown Sugar Syrup (taho) served in real glasses instead of disposable plastic cups. For a refreshing drink, try the classic Sago’t Gulaman served with crème fraîche.
Lambanog, a coconut-based liquor commonly associated as a drink of the masses, gets star treatment here in its signature drink. The Manila Hotel Daiquiri makes use of the hotel’s own brand of premium seven-times distilled lambanog instead of the usual rhum. With a hint of calamansi, the drink is a refreshing choice for warm summer nights.
Diners can relax amidst bright throw pillows, matching canopies and orbit Dedon chairs at the Sun Deck’s cozy, casual al fresco space.
With its view of the famous Manila Bay sunset, fresh ocean breeze and hip lounge music, Bar Bites offers a novel dining experience for city dwellers and in-house guests to sample the best of Pinoy street food.
The Sun Deck is open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. The food is served buffet style for approximately P395++ per person. Drinks are served separately.