manila: merienda.

fresh lumpia

much like siesta is considered an integral part of spanish culture, merienda--a mid-day snack--is integral to filipino culture. yes! how i heart a land where food is so important that 3 meals are not enough. traditionally, merienda is taken as a mid-afternoon repast, but a mid-morning snack is equally as acceptable (or as bowb or saffron might put it 'the second breakfast.') merienda can be anything from a small item to a full-fledged meal; there is nothing unacceptable as a merienda item, although some foods are traditionally considered so, like freshly baked bibingka or a hot pandesal bun--literally "bread of salt," (but really, much, much more than that)--straight from a pugon, a wood-fired clay oven, along with a cup of hot coffee or tsokolate. also, to some people, if there isn't a pile of steamed rice involved, then it's just not a meal, it's merienda. on this last jaunt, i definitely had my share of merienda, which ranged from the traditional to the not-quite-so, the snack-sized to um, a full fourth meal. shhhh.

one of the 'second breakfasts' i had was from an omnipresent coffee house chain, seattle's best (i have more or less abandoned the 'bucks because they no longer carry coffee jelly--although, fabulously, wendy's offers it as an add-in to their frosties). this SB has coffee toddy--cold-brewed coffee--which imo, is the best kind of iced coffee. if made correctly, it is smooth, rich, without the usually bitterness and not as acidic (as i mostly drink stupendous amounts of coffee black, this has saved my stomach from eating itself alive). this was accompanied by a somewhat filipino-ized coconut macaroon, which was more like a cupcake made from dessicated coconut, condensed milk, and the barest minimum of flour. the cake was quite moist and achingly sweet, but very coconutty and also surprisingly light in texture. its sweet milkiness complemented the strong black coffee nicely.

as i was out and about for most of the weekend, i ended up having afternoon merienda instead of full luncheons; one of my favourite things is fresh lumpia ubod (pictured above), made with grated and sautéed fresh hearts of palm, wrapped in an eggy rice flour crêpe, and served with chopped peanuts, a generous amount of minced raw garlic, and a sweet soy-based sauce. the flavour of the lumpia itself is delicate, and is more or less a spectacular vehicle for the raw garlic and sauce, but the crêpe and palm heart filling more than substantial for a light meal. try eating one of these, then shopping at a beauty counter. the saleswoman you breathe on will never forget you.

far more filling is a chinese-inspired staple, lugaw, or rice porridge. i went to a rather old-school café, via mare, which served up this behemoth bowl of rice porridge topped with fried tofu, fried wontons, pig's ears, tripe, salted egg, adobo flakes, green onion, and served with patis (fermented fish sauce) and fresh calamansi lemon. mix everything together, and be prepared to spend the rest of your afternoon wondering what might be in the next bite.


along the way, i'd pick up a couple of smaller items, like polvoron, which are a little crumbly biscuit made from toasted flour, dried milk, sugar, and a variety of different flavourings--anything from butter, toasted rice, to coffee and cookies and cream. these are odd little things that are not unlike that cosmetic powder that turns into cream; they crumble like dust on your tongue, but are smooth and moist all the same. freakishly addictive.

also freakishly addictive is baye-baye, a regional specialty made with coconut water, coconut, and sugar. and um, something. these are both grainy and chewy at the same time, and neither particularly sweet nor coconutty. i cannot figure them out. i'm not sure i like them, but i ate more than one of them, and not just for curiosity's sake. i picked these up from the salcedo market, along with some chicken-filled empanaditas that were so tasty i ate them before i had a chance to take a photo. the little turnovers (you can just see a peek of them on top in the cardboard box) were the thinnest, flakiest pastry surrounding a fine paste of chicken, carrot and raisin, a sweet and savoury combination often found in the philippines. some people (like myself) get to hate it after awhile, but then sometimes begin to miss it when the whole raisin issue no longer becomes one. the empanaditas were very, very good and worth seeking out.

little turnovers seemed to be a theme as we picked up more empanaditas at the blue kitchen later in the day. although i have passed by this food shop many times, i had never stopped until i read marketman's profile. true to their idea of using native products in western culinary traditions, there were quite a few old-fashioned baked goods with tropical fruit incorporated. we tried a mango shortbread bar and mango-filled empanaditas, both of which used a buttery short crust and lots of dried mango (for a more intense flavour). a little too sweet and rich for me, but that's why they are little :)

chef tony caramel corn

i am not a big fan of the whole kettle corn thing (or popcorn overall, actually), but let me tell you, chef tony's popcorns are seriously. THE. SH*T. so good it's profane--always crispy and light, not too sweet, not too salty, not covered in gloopiness nor oiliness. all the flavours seem to be based on the kettle corn sweet and salty concept, even the pesto popcorn. yes. sweet pesto. sweet jeebus, you are saying, is this one of those girl things? yeah maybe. so what. is it really a merienda item? when you eat a whole bucket of it, it is.

dang, this is a long post.


it was only when i started to listen to a lot of older ska and rocksteady records when i realized how many chinese immigrants had settled in jamaica. chinese workers began pouring in during the 19th century, and many of the esconced families have been in jamaica for generations (hey, naomi campbell's dad is chinese-jamaican. i had no idea.) a decade or so ago, a prominent chinese-jamaican family, the chan/chin fees, brought to manila their version of the empanada, the patty/pattie, a savoury turnover of flaky crust surrounding a spicy beef filling. there are several shops that sell these, but i think the best are from the original, quite aptly named de original jamaican pattie shop. they are easily portable, and actually perfect for the 'foodwalk'--although the spicy filling is quite juicy, it is thick enough not to drip out, and as you walk, the tender flaky crumbs fall to the ground.

speaking of portability, mcdonald's is encroaching onto mos burger territory and offering rice burgers--beef patties or fried chicken fillets sandwiched in between two grilled rounds of pressed and formed rice, and brushed with a soy sauce and sprinkled with black sesame seeds. do you know i'd never been in a mcdonald's in the philippines until that week? there are so many food options, that scottish restaurant (as man that cooks sneers) was never really a priority (speaking of local options, does that hamburger place, tropical hut, still exist?). however, i am a fan of the mos rice burger, so i wanted to check it out. this one doesn't quite compete, but it's decent enough. the chicken version is much better than the beef burger, and is the only product on the menu that uses whole pieces of chicken instead of processed extruded chicken, or whatever it is that they normally use. the rice is a bit mushy but holds together well--perhaps it could benefit from some extra whole grainy-ness or even brown rice. however, there is a nice little bundle of lettuce and red cabbage thrown in there for texture and colour.

wow. i am getting sort of hungry now. and, hm, it's right about merienda time here, i wonder what i can scrounge up this time....

update 24 october: hey, hobbits and bavarians know of the second breakfast!


I ended up going to the cooking class, it was fun. Too bad you couldn't go, although, it looks like you are having more fun. I am beginning to really get island fever. My husband left twice last month and it has been over a year for me. Oh well. Maybe next time they have a class you could weasle your way out of work. I highly recommend it!

Leave it to you to take a picture of a meal at McDonald's and make it look terribly good. (But what are those purple bits?)

And I think a second breakfast sounds very civilized - I don't think I'd be nearly as interested in a second lunch or dinner, but breakfast... I'm there!

hey carla, don't think i can weasel my way out as i'm the only employee--the clients will be really p*ssed off! sounds like fun though.

cathy, the purple bits are red cabbage, and you'd be surprised at how good your photos can turn out under heavy fluorescent lighting!

second breakfasts are good. i think in england it's called elevenses, as in that little snack around eleven...a little old-fashioned but quite appealing, really.

sounds so interresting and love the idea of a second breakfast as good as this

hello garance! i like the idea of second breakfasts as i cannot digest that much too early in the day; this way i can take my time with my morning meal.

just ate lunch pero nakakagutom...

Loved your merienda post. Just so you know, Tropical Hut's still alive and kicking. Their kiosk along EDSA (it's within their corporate compound) currently offers six - count 'em! six! - kinds of burger and they're all better than the ones from Mickey D.'s

ana, i know, it always happens to me when i look at blogs, no matter what meal i've just had!

midge, yay! i haven't been to a tropical hut in ages, i'm glad they are still around. i also noticed there are still a few burger machines hanging in there too!

Your pictures make me proud of our food.

It's bibingka and puto bumbong season again, btw.

The ubiquitous second breakfasts in most offices: skyflakes! with or without palaman. Dipped into a cup of freshly (?) made instant coffee.

With a bit more money, add something to the pandesal, some cheese, cheese pimiento spread, butter, or what makes me gag just a bit, plain mayo or the sandwich spread kind that's really just mayo with pickle relish.

hello sky! that's an awfully nice thing to say, thank you. but you know the food is the star!

mila, i'm more of a sunflower cracker person myself. but yes! skyflakes! good choice.

NiCe One... Sawaap!!!

i'm addicted to chef tony's popcorn too!! also holy kettle corn & kettle korn.. love the original (sweet & salty) and bbq flavors!