MANILA -- Gubat Restaurant is known by everyone yet also by no one, depending on who you ask.
For kids from the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, as well as from the nearby Ateneo de Manila University and Miriam College, the quaint eatery is one of their go-to places for affordable and yummy food.
But for most Katipunan outsiders, Gubat is virtually unheard of.
It might not be the case for long though. Word can surely travel fast about places as charming as this.
When I ventured out to find this small café right next to the Diliman Bonsai Society, I almost missed it. Its entry – a bamboo door amongst the greens – was reminiscent of those doors described in the Harry Potter books. It was a secret spot that was hiding in plain sight, just off the very busy C.P. Garcia Avenue.
And like in J.K. Rowling’s novels, a step inside the restaurant was just as magical. Imagine the unforgiving sun giving off scorching heat at two in the afternoon. But inside the Gubat property, it was as cool as the middle of a forest -- a surprise considering the place was al fresco and only had coverings made with light materials.
There are not too many chows to choose from at Gubat. There were two kinds of pasta and a few choices of rice meals. But I must say that the three offerings I ordered as well as the two drinks were remarkable.
For one, there are not too many places anywhere that offer paco (fiddlehead fern) salad. And Gubat has that consistently on its menu and is always serving it up fresh.
As for the two main course items that arrived, they were so simple yet comforting: rice topped with a Filipino viand with tomatoes and salted eggs on the side. They were so straightforward and basic. And that’s the beauty of it. They were like meals cooked by your mom and made with the extra ingredient of love. The food (at least for me) felt -- and tasted -- like home.
One thing that caught my eye when I was ordering my meal was a sign that hung by the bar. “Hands Only” it read – meaning diners will have to use only their hands when eating. No spoons, forks or chopsticks will be provided. For many Filipinos, it’s a welcome return to a tradition we grew up with, while for many foreigners, it’s a novelty.
And as part of the growing trend for zero waste, there are also no straws or table napkins here. In fact, the place does not even have actual plates either. Food instead is served on clean banana leaves in a fashion that is commonplace in many Philippine provinces.
The concept was both familiar yet fresh. It’s not exactly a new idea to use leaves and your hands to eat in the Philippines. But bringing those behaviors into a restaurant setting was genius. And that’s what made me realize, zero-waste dinners are possible indeed. It was just a matter of choice.
And Filipinos had been doing it before. We just need to make a decision to go back to basics.