The pariah of Southeast Asian cuisines, Filipino, is not as bad as you’ve heard as long as it’s properly prepared and cooked. JB Jance samples the tastes of home with the best Ho Chi Minh City can offer.

 

With over 7,600 islands to choose from, Filipino cuisine cannot be defined with just one dish; the islands of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao all have their own specialities. Add colonial influences from Spain, America and Japan, and the heavy influence of Chinese merchants, and you have a mixed dish indeed.

 

Halo-Halo There!

 

Lechon, sisig, halo-halo and adobo are just a few of the many Filipino dishes missed by Filipinos and even known outside the country. They are served in various ways — traditional, fused with _avours from other countries, and even the hipster-deconstructed way, both in the Philippines and abroad. No matter how it comes, Filipinos crave it, especially when working abroad.

 

With a rise in the number of Filipinos coming to Vietnam either for travel, work or business, Filipino restaurants are also popping up.

 

Casa Manila in District 1, Loriekot’s Lutong Bahay in District 3, and Casba in Thao Dien are reflective of the different eating cultures of the Philippines.

Casa Manila

 

Formerly known as Little Manila, this is the longest-running Filipino eatery in Vietnam. In staying true to its name, Casa Manila, in Parkson Paragon’s food court, serves as a home to many hungry Filipinos seven days a week.

 

“I want the customers of Casa Manila to feel as if they are in the Philippines,” says owner Maria Anabel Torres Blanco.

 

On Sundays, most seats are occupied by Filipinos enjoying their big serving of bulalo (VND148,000), a soup dish made by boiling beef shanks and bone marrow for hours that is served with cabbage, corn and potatoes. A Filipino meal isn’t complete without rice, and a good match for it is chicken inasal (VND50,000). Inasal is a grilled chicken dish that originated in the Visayan region and is marinated in a mixture of vinegar, lime, pepper, and atsuete — an orange-red condiment often used for colouring.

 

The meal comes with a cold glass of sago’t gulaman, a sweet Filipino drink made with tapioca and jellies; it costs VND18,000 if ordered separate from the set lunch. Another thirst-quencher and dessert in one is halo-halo (VND58,000). Halo-halo is shaved ice with a mix of fruits, jellies, and sweet beans topped with ube, or purple yam, and leche flan, a milk-based custard.

For an afternoon snack, otherwise known as merrienda in the Philippines, something that is enough to keep you full until dinner is a plate of pansit palabok (VND58,000), a rice noodle dish topped with shrimp, dried _sh, boiled eggs, and chicharon (deep-fried pork skin). Another option is a bowl of dinuguan with puto (VND78,000), a dark-coloured savoury stew made with pig’s blood and innards paired with steamed rice cake that comes in many different colours. All this sounds horri_c, but if it’s cooked properly, it’s a tasty experience.

Then there is adobo, a staple in any Filipino household, made by marinating meat in vinegar, soy sauce and garlic, and then simmering. There are different varieties — pork, chicken or squid — and they are equally delicious. The pork and chicken adobo are both priced at VND78,000, while an order of squid adobo will set you back VND98,000. Any adobo is best finished off with desserts made from glutinous rice, like suman, biko, and ginataang bilo-bilo which cost VND28,000 each, and are all sweet and filling.

 

Casa Manila set lunches are great value. The business lunch deal (VND48,000) includes rice, a main dish that’s usually meat, a vegetable dish, and comes with a free soup. The set lunch menu is available for two hours beginning at 11am, from Monday to Friday.

 

Casa Manila is in the food court on the 3rd Level of the Parkson Centre, 35-45 Le Thanh Ton, Q1, HCMC. For more info, visit facebook.com/Casa-Manila-796372767158136/

Loriekot’s Lutong Bahay

 

Owner Marian Malit makes sure customers from any country feel as if they are part of the family, the Filipino community. Filipino cuisine isn’t just about eating it; it’s a whole experience, from the preparation to finish, and the stories in between.

This place takes you back to the local carinderias or street-side eateries in the Philippines. Fulfilling the restaurant’s slogan — Every Day is Fiesta Day — Loriekot’s prepares numerous dishes each day depicting the fun and food-filled fiestas of the Philippines, a legacy from Spanish rule. Their menu includes pancit habhab, a specialty from Quezon Province, which is a noodle dish much like Vietnam’s mi hai san, but is traditionally eaten with your hands from a banana leaf, and can be shared for VND60,000 at Loriekot’s.

Sinigang is another favourite. It’s a sour soup that can be made from fish, pork, or shrimp. Enjoy a bowl of this rich soup for VND70,000. A favourite with Filipinos is lechon kawali (VND70,000), which is boiled and deep-fried pork belly. It has crispy, crunchy skin on the outside with soft, tender meat on the inside. They also have bulalo in pork (VND80,000) and beef (VND90,000).

For those who want to try lighter yet still satisfying meals, Loriekot’s also has lomi, a Chinese-influenced noodle dish with chicken, liver, vegetables and egg; chicken sopas (chicken soup with elbow macaroni), chicken mami (noodles with wonton dumplings), arroz caldo (chicken rice porridge) all costing VND60,000 each.

To complete the meal, sweet drinks and desserts are also available and are made fresh every day. They sell shaved ice concoctions like mais con yelo (VND30,000), halo-halo (VND60,000), which literally translates to mix-mix, and sago’t gulaman (VND25,000); turon (VND15,000), fried banana wrapped like a spring roll, dusted or coated with brown sugar, and the colourful sapin-sapin (VND60,000) made from glutinous rice and coconut.

 

Loriekot’s Lutong Bahay is at 193 Dien Bien, Q3, HCMC. For more info, visit facebook.com/loriekotslutongbahay

Casba

 

Owners Bastian Blumenröther and a friend opened Casba to recreate their go-to foosball bar in Germany, which they considered as their second home. They added new features and turned a villa in Thao Dien into a restaurant, bar, and events place in one. Located where most expats inhabit, Casba caters to all nationalities. On their working menu, they serve French, German, Vietnamese, and — newly added — Filipino cuisine.

The ambiance at Casba has the feel of a countryside townhouse by beaches or farms in the Philippines. It has indoor seating, and a wide open-space area with a pool at the back. This area of the restaurant is ideal for events like the fiestas in the Philippines where a variety of food is served.

These include dishes like bulalo (VND180,000), a native dish to the southern part of Luzon and best enjoyed when the weather gets cold or for curing hangovers; the spicy Bicol Express (VND160,000), pork cooked in coconut milk and chilli, and a staple food in the Bicol region, the southern part of Luzon; and kare-kare priced at VND190,000, which is a thick stew cooked with peanut butter and peanuts.

The main ingredients include oxtail, ox tripe, pork hocks, beef, vegetables and the dish is seasoned with shrimp paste. At Casba, servings can either be for one or for sharing with family and friends.

Other notable Filipino meals they serve are the silogs, which is a portmanteau of sinigang (fried rice) and itlog (fried egg). It can be served with tocino (sweet cured pork), longganisa (Filipino-style sweet sausage), daing (air and sun-dried fish), embutido (meatloaf), and corned beef. This meal sells best to Filipinos and Vietnamese as it resembles their com tam. A plate of this breakfast, lunch, or midnight meal begins at VND55,000.

 

Casba is at 37 Xuan Thuy, Thao Dien, Q2, HCMC. For more info, visit facebook.com/CasbaSaigon


Photos By Bao Zoan 

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