First impression of Manila? “Wow, it’s 5am and there’s a slight jam.” As our Tigerair flight from Singapore (SGD 244) landed in the city before the day broke, we arrived at Makati Riverside Inn (ironically no river view) hours ahead of the check in time. I already had a great feel about the accommodation because the staff replied very promptly to every query I presented to them, and it was great to meet them face to face that morning. They were all smiles even at 6am, and kindly showed Priya and I where to have breakfast nearby while they prepared our room.

Our first meal in Philippines, however, turned out to be the worst one of our entire 9-day trip. Haha… So when you’re in Makati, don’t go to Gabs Good Grub unless there’s no other choice. I had mac and cheese (USD 1.8) which turned out to be too salty. The place had a shabby appeal though. A friend of mine has been to Manila, and he warned me about how terrible Manila’s food is. So I wasn’t expecting much initially. But after 2 days here, I’m certain that my friend has been eating at all the wrong places!

We headed back to the hotel with the intention of washing up a bit, and was surprised with a ready room instead, hours ahead of schedule!

Makati Riverside Inn Manila

Very impressed with how efficiently the place is run. And the USD 30/night room is lovely! Mostly because it had an amazing king sized bed.

We did a quick search online for places around our neighbourhood to eat at, and Dutch Bread Hauz came up so we made our way over on foot.

It seems like we were staying in a wholesome local residential neighbourhood. The school day just ended, so we were caught in the hubbub of school kids either strolling or scampering on the streets as they made their leisurely way home.

We spotted a bunch of school kids crowded around a street vendor munching on some deep fried bites, and we just got to get in on the action. It turns out to be fried squid! Dipped in chili and vinegar, it was simple, fatty, oily, street food at its best. And this flavourful snack cost close to nothing. Stumbling upon dubious looking but utterly tasty street food is always a sign of a good South East Asian holiday.

But we were very turned off the moment we stepped into Dutch Bread Hauz because it was obviously made for white people. It looked like a cheap imitation of a Western cafe that served Western food that’s probably three times more expensive and a lot less tasty than what’s offered in the local stores a stone’s throw away.

So we gave our surroundings a quick glance, and soon found ourselves lured, like moths to a flame, towards the smoke that was emitting from a BBQ grill a few steps down the street.

Filipino street food in Manila
BBQ saves the day!
Filipino street food in Manila
We had 2 portions of the most beautifully fatty and sweet BBQ pork (I thought it was honey glazed at first by my Filipino friend said that it’s probably coke or sprite-marinated!) with rice and vinegar, and it cost us a mere USD 2.6 including a glass of Pepsi!

What made it more fun was that every one at the stall seem to be friends with the owners, and they were all taking turns to practice their English by mocking each other in English about their subpar command of the language. The convivial energy kept us amused as we quivered silently from the food orgasm. Loving the collective joy around the neighbourhood as people got into their TGIF mood.

After the excellent meal, we walked over to the Power Plant Mall which was just round the corner.

Manila cat street scene
One of the many pet kitties spotted in the neighbourhood.

It was an upmarket mall within a strangely manicured neighbourhood with high security. On the inside, it was just like the 101 malls we get in Singapore, so we weren’t very impressed. But we settled into what city people do… Which is to have a coffee break at a hipster joint.

My latte at Hatch 22 cost USD 2.6, the price of our entire meal. Look at the globally hipster-ish branding and decor! It’s scary how similar cities all over the world are.

Before things got too uncomfortably familiar abroad, Priya and I headed back out onto the streets and decided to check out the commotion we were hearing from across the river. Turns out to be one big amusing street performance party to welcome some politician to the ‘hood.

The traffic was peaking from the after work crowd, the tricycles refused to take us out of the vicinity, and there weren’t any free cabs available. Thank god for taxi apps! We tried a couple, but Uber emerged as the winner and we we got a cab within 10 minutes. The thing was, traffic came to a hair pulling crawl a few hundred metres away from our destination, so we decided to get off and walk the rest of the journey towards The Collective. The 40 min ride came up to USD 9. Pretty pricey for Manila, but it seems to be the only way around the impossible traffic. If this city can sort its traffic out, it’ll be so much more pleasant to explore.

The Collective Manila
Guess we arrived a little too late… All the cool cafes and shops that we read about online were closed.

The entire warehouse is filled with cafes, bars, art galleries, and urban retail and bike shops… and it looks like an awesome music venue! Too bad there wasn’t anything happening the Friday night that we were there. So we just popped into Padre, the only busy bar that was opened, to have beers and bar grub.

Really love the apple flavoured San Miguel beer (USD 1/bottle) because it’s just so easy to drink. The staff also recommended chicken neck (USD 1.7), which came with a mash potato gravy-like dip. The neck snack was basically deep fried skin with just a little meat clinging on to the bone. I liked it though! Especially with the salty creamy sauce. It was delicious but a little too rich for just the 2 of us. Had some massive onion rings (USD 1.8) too. Felt pretty sick from all the fried food after that.

After our traumatising experience with trying to get a cab and getting stuck in traffic, we decided to brave the streets and walk to a bar that Priya’s colleague recommended. Google maps said it was only 20 mins away on foot. Sounds pretty OK right? Little did we know that Google maps was to lead us across train tracks, right into the middle of busy junctions, roads without traffic lights, streets without street lamps, and dodgy back alleys. It was quite an adventure.

Makati Manila traffic
One of the many ways we survived road crossings was by shadowing brave locals.

We arrived an hour before Finders Keepers opened, so we waited at the food stall in front of it like real dorks. It’s a laidback bar with good drinks! I had the Tanqueray basil, while Priya took the Caipirinha (the alky gave her drink 2 thumbs up). This hipster bar had hipster prices too. Our 2 drinks cost us USD 12 in total. Still cheap by Singaporean standards! Thankful for our strong SGD.

If we didn’t have to wake at 1am for the trip to Mt Pinatubo that night, we’d have stayed to party at Black Market, this grungy, open air, Berlin-like club behind Finders Keepers. We only had a few more hours to get some shut eye, so we Ubered our asses back home.

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[stag_dropcap font_size=”88px” style=”squared”]J[/stag_dropcap]ames is my ex-colleague who’s Filipino, and as the Editorial Director of Coconuts media, I trusted his recommendations. He said that I should try Señor Pollo, and so we did! The best part is that it’s around the Makati Avenue area, which is also just a short walk from where we stay. The food was great, and so was the vibe. Plenty of well dressed, well behaved locals. The service here, and at every place that we’ve visited in Manila so far, was excellent. It’s nothing but genuine smiles and just the right amount of enthusiasm from all the service staff. Singapore definitely has a long way to go.

Priya’s all sportied up because we were at Mt Pinatubo the entire day (that’s another story for another time). We shared their signature half chicken with garlic rice and coleslaw as the side dishes (USD 7) and a massive plate of nachos (USD 7.9) that I was disappointed in because it didn’t have guacamole.

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[stag_dropcap font_size=”88px” style=”squared”]J[/stag_dropcap]ust before our flight to El Nido, we had a hearty local-style breakfast in a Western-style cafe called Early Bird Breakfast Club located in the snazzy Century City Mall just off Makati Avenue. Walking amidst the staggering amount of skyscrapers, it was hard to believe that we’re actually here for a beach holiday.

Our colourful neighbourhood is in fact very pleasant to walk around in the day, when it’s bright and the traffic is not insane.

We had to go around the back of the mall to get into this cute little cafe. Love the quaint, girly decor! I went for the staff’s recommendation, which was the Adobo Sunrise (USD 7.3) that consists of dry chicken flakes with soy sauce. The first few mouthfuls were amazing as it’s bursting with flavours, but it got kinda dry as I worked my way into the meal. Priya had the Lemon Butter Bangus (USD 7.3), and the fish tasted a tad, well, fishy.

Aside from the crazy traffic, spending a couple of days here proved to me that there’s indeed quite a lot to love about the flavours of Makati!

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