My first taste of Filipino food that week was lunch at Cafe Via Mare in Rockwell. No trip back home would ever be complete without a visit to Via Mare for Filipino classic dishes done simply. It's a good place to start to have a taste of local cuisine. Since it's a favorite of many, it is often packed for lunch and merienda (afternoon snack) but because they are open all day long, it's easy to drop in anytime to have a meal. We arrived at lunchtime and as the restaurant was packed, we were kindly accommodated next door at the Via Mare Oyster bar for a larger table in more quiet surroundings.
I already knew what I was going to have plus owner Glenda Barretto had asked the chef to prepare a few special dishes for us to try - the chicken tinola flan and pinais. We all started with a bowl of the flan which is a modern version of the classic dish - tinola. Instead of the usual ginger-flavored chicken soup, we were given a small bowl of flan infused with the rich flavor of the chicken soup - a very interesting and delicious take on the original. Along with that, we shared half a dozen local baked oysters which the Via Mare oyster bar is known for.
Next came, all the main courses - there were three orders of the typical Filipino breakfast of sinangag - garlic-fried rice and an egg - usually scrambled or fried served with a choice of tapa (dry-cured beef strips), tocino (marinated pork) or longaniza (local pork sausage). I had the binagoongan, crispy pork belly served with bagoong - the local fermented shrimp paste and a few slices of sour green mango. On the same plate is a small portion of pinakbet - a local ratatouille of okra, bitter melon, squash and eggplant and steamed rice. We all shared the other dish that Glenda had sent out to us - the Pinais which is shredded crab meat and ubod (palm hearts) in coconut milk that are stuffed into the crab shell and steamed wrapped in a banana leaf - another Filipino delicacy that is not available in most restaurants.
For dessert, we shared three: two of which have made Via Mare famous - bibingka, a sweet rice cake flavored with salted duck egg and topped with shredded coconut and the puto bumbong - an ube (purple yam) rice cake served with crushed palm sugar and shredded coconut as well. Both are cooked in classic terra-cotta pots over charcoal and are usually only found at special places or outside churches in December as an early breakfast after the misa de gallo (pre-dawn masses held during the twelve days of Christmas). The third was a sampler of three cold Filipino dessert classics served with crushed ice - ginumis - tapioca in palm sugar syrup, maiz con hielo - sweet creamed corn with milk and my favorite, halo-halo, meaning mix-mix, which is a what it is, a many-colored and flavored mix of different boiled sweets, from beans (mung, chickpeas, red beans), coconut, sago (tapioca) to fruit, kaong (sugar-palm fruit) and caramelized bananas served with milk. As always, biting into the bibingka and puto bumbong really brought me back home and all the local flavors I have missed while living abroad. It was good to be back.
Ground Floor, Rockwell Center
Telephone: +63 2 898 1305
Telephone: +63 2 898 1305
Open daily, all-day for lunch, merienda and dinner
*other branches in Metro Manila