Metro Manila: Secrets of the Cities

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For those who pass it without entering, the city is one thing; it is another for those who are trapped by it and never leave. There is the city where you arrive for the first time; and there is another city which you leave never to return. Each deserves a different name…

– Italo Calvino in “Le città invisibili” (Invisible Cities)

Behind sky-high properties and narrow alleyways, Metropolitan Manila hides some of the best and rarest in food, history, relaxation and entertainment, some being remnants of the past while others a reminder of the constantly evolving nature of the capital. In this issue, asianTraveler sets out to uncover the shrouded gems found in the sight of verdant spaces and stone walls, the smell of fusion fare and the warmth of unique Filipino hospitality–the Secrets of the Cities.

1 Makati

Cucina Andare Glorietta Open Park Ayala Center, Makati City

Cucina Andare by Mercato Centrale is the first food truck market in the Philippines. Following the culture of food trucks in the United States, the organizers opened Cucina Andare in December of 2012 to attract a budding circle of foodies around the city. With 11 trucks and around double that number in food stalls, the menu ranges from delicate fried meats and vegetables to sumptuous cakes and desserts.

Try the fried breaded oyster mushrooms from Ping Gu Mushroom Fries, dipped in sweet chili, tomato ketchup, garlic mayo or gravy dips. Chef Bab’s Sisig and More, meanwhile, brings eight variants of sisig to the table – crispy pork, pork dinakdakan, chicken, beef, squid, bangus, tofu and veggie meat. Slice as well into the famous crepe cakes, cheesecakes and chocolate cakes of Cakes by K.

Food truck options include Truck Bun International, which serves buns and wraps inspired by flavors from all around the world, and The Cheese Steak Shop of Philadelphia fame. Must-eats are Truck Bun’s Crispy Sisig Wrap, Satay Chicken Wrap and Truck Bun Japadog, as well as The Cheese Steak Shop’s Classic Philly Cheese Steak with Bacon and their Garlic Fries.

Secrecy: Accessible, especially to the workforce familiar with the area.

Value: Affordable, especially if you know what to buy.

Schedule: Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 4 PM to 3 AM

Attire: Light casual clothing, as the market is in an open space.

2 Manila

Baluarte de San Diego Santa Lucia corner Muralla Streets, Intramuros, Manila

One of the oldest stone fortifications in Intramuros, the Baluarte de San Diego was built in 1586 as the Fort Nuestra Señora de Guia, and resembles an ace of spades rather than the traditional circular structure of the day. It housed a foundry during the 18th century and, though separated at first, is now connected to the walls of Intramuros. It is now a tourist destination which may be rented for private functions.

Secrecy: Accessible, marked as a tourist destination along the walls of Intramuros.

Value: Inexpensive, except when rented as a reception venue.

Schedule: Daily park schedules, but closed for private functions on occasion.

Attire: Light clothing and comfortable shoes for walking around.

Paco Park and Cemetery General Luna Street Paco, Manila The Paco Park and Cemetery was built as a municipal cemetery for Manila’s Spanish elite, but was used in 1822 to inter the victims of a cholera epidemic that swept the city. It is the burial site of the martyred priests Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos and Jacinto Zamora, and is where Jose Rizal was interred in an unmarked grave right after his execution.

Secrecy: Accessible, through a little walk from major roads.

Value: Inexpensive, mainly for the park’s upkeep.

Schedule: Regular days, morning to afternoon.

Attire: Light clothing and comfortable shoes for walking around.

Puerta del Parian Muralla Street Intramuros, Manila Built in 1593, the Puerta del Parian is one of the earliest entrances to the walled city and was named after the “Parian de Arroceros” just across Intramuros, where the Chinese merchants lived. Atop the entrance, canons were placed toward the Chinese ghettos for fear of any uprising from the growing minority, which numbered at the tens of thousands at the time. Damaged in 1945, the Puerta has been fully restored since 1982.

Secrecy: Accessible, marked as a tourist destination along the walls of Intramuros.

Value: Free, as it is still used as an entrance and garden to this day.

Schedule: Open daily for pedestrian use.

Attire: Light clothing and comfortable shoes for walking around.

My Kitchen by Chef Chris The Oasis Paco Park Hotel 1032-34 Belen Street Paco, Manila My Kitchen by Chef Chris Locher is one of Manila’s most famous Italian restaurants. Chef Chris is the creator of The Original, a fine crisp dough layered with a blend of 5 different cheeses and herbs rolled with alfalfa sprouts and arugula. Other must-tries include the Oasis Salad, slow roasted Lamb Ribs and the Risotto Tinlou.

Secrecy: Secluded behind the Paco Park and Cemetery.

Value: Slightly expensive.

Schedule: Daily for lunch and dinner.

Attire: Casual to smart casual.

The Oasis Paco Park Hotel 1032-34 Belen St., Paco, Manila Previously known as the Park Hotel, the Oasis Paco Park Hotel prides itself in being the original boutique hotel in Manila offering dining and accommodations at affordable prices. It houses four Italian bistros and is a short walk away from the historical Paco Park and Cemetery.

Secrecy: Secluded behind the Paco Park and Cemetery.

Value: Affordable to slightly expensive.

Schedule: Daily as hotel service.

Attire: Anything from light clothing to smart casual, as it is a venue for both tourists and businessmen

University of Santo Tomas España Boulevard Sampaloc, Manila Declared a National Historical Landmark in 2011, the University of Santo Tomas is the oldest existing university in Asia, and is under the patronage of both the King of Spain and the Pope. It houses the Museum of Arts and Sciences, the Miguel de Benavides Library which contains rare books as old as 1492; the Esquinita de Quijano de Manila, the personal collections of the late National Artist Nick Joaquin; and the UST Archives.

Secrecy: Open to students and guests, with the exception of the Antonio V. del Rosario UST Heritage Library and the UST Archives

Value: Free, except for certain research fees in the Library, and inexpensive rates for the Museum.

Schedule: The grounds are open daily, but the Library operates from Monday to Saturday, and the Museum from Tuesday to Saturday.

Attire: Smart casual.

Maestranza Wall Andres Soriano Jr. Avenue Intramuros, Manila The Maestranza Wall, or Almacenes Curtain Wall, was built in the 1500s to contain soldiers’ quarters and storehouses for galleon products that go in from the Pasig River. Stretching for about 270 meters, the Wall and its 45 chambers are made of adobe, bricks and tiles. After reconstruction, the chambers will be a venue for art galleries and coffee shops.

Secrecy: Accessible, marked as a tourist destination along the walls of Intramuros.

Value: Free, but parking spaces inside are available for an inexpensive rate.

Schedule: Open daily, and at night when special events are held.

Attire: Light clothing and comfortable shoes for walking around.

3 Mandaluyong

Club Mwah! 3rd Level, The Venue Tower 652 Boni Avenue Mandaluyong City

The only accredited establishment of such nature, Club Mwah has been staging Vegas-style shows for its guests for almost ten years. The repertoire ranges from musicals and lip-synch segments to traditional and modern dances, performed by an all-Filipino cast, many of whom are proudly gay. At the helm of each production is Pocholo Mallilin and Cris Nicolas, both of whom are driven to create something so spectacular for the Manila audience, with Nicolas doing the multi-man job of directing, writing, designing and choreographing every show.

Secrecy: Accessible, especially at night when the building’s lights go up.

Value: Slightly expensive, but all in exchange for a 2-hour show.

Schedule: Friday and weekend evenings; shows start between 9 and 10 PM.

Attire: Casual to semi-formal. The place is air-conditioned so thicker clothing is recommended.

4 Las Pinas

Las Pinas Bamboo Organ St. Joseph Parish Church P. Diego Cera Avenue Poblacion, Las Piñas City

Completed in 1824 by Father Diego Cera, the Las Piñas Bamboo Organ took eight years to build, during which selected bamboo stalks were preserved under soil and body fluids for years at a time, making up 90 percent of the Organ’s reeds. After falling into disrepair, the Organ was sent to Bonn, Germany for restoration in 1973. Its return as a fully-functional instrument in 1975 is celebrated annually in February’s International Bamboo Organ Festival.

Secrecy: Open. St. Joseph Parish Church is part of the Las Piñas Historical Corridor on Diego Cera Avenue, which is a major route of many of the city’s public transportation services.

Value: Free, but donations are recommended for the upkeep of the museum and its services.

Schedule: Daily through the church floor and balcony, but best heard on special occasions like high masses and the International Bamboo Organ Festival.

Attire: Casual to semi-formal church wear, depending on reason of visit.

Fernbrook Gardens Portofino South, Daang Reyna Las Piñas City Fernbrook Gardens is a church, events place and architectural marvel rolled into one, featuring the Baroque-inspired Notre Dame de Vie chapel and Victorian and Byzantine era chambers. It is a favorite wedding and reception venue for couples south of Manila, who are enticed by the arrival options that include a Venetian gondola ride, a gilded horse-drawn carriage, a vintage Rolls Royce and a Bentley.

Secrecy: Secluded. Accessible through private transportation.

Value: Free if coming in for the Sunday masses or as a reception guest, but upscale for the paying bride and groom.

Schedule: Sunday morning masses, or the occasional wedding or event.

Attire: Semi-formal to formal.

5 Taguig

Fort Bonifacio Tunnel Bonifacio Global City Taguig City An underground passageway located in the eastern portion of Bonifacio Global City, the Fort Bonifacio Tunnel was built during the American colonial period to serve as headquarters of the military and for the storage of war supplies. Originally 2.24 kilometers long with 32 chambers and two passable exits, the Tunnel lies unaffected amid the development projects of the old military base, with 730 meters of it directly under one of Manila’s busiest highways.

Secrecy: Special access needed until the Tunnel is turned into a heritage destination.

Value: None as of the moment.

Schedule: Not recommended during the rainy season.

Attire: Safety gear and equipment like hard hats, boots and flashlights.

Kitchen’s Best McKinley Park Residences 3rd Avenue corner 31st Street Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City Conceived by three sisters with a passion for baking and selling, Kitchen’s Best Home Patisserie boasts of having the country’s best Mango Sansrival, along with other award-winning cakes like Chocolate Obsession and White Chocolate Macadamia Brittle Cheesecake. With a market that includes bloggers, designers and entrepreneurs, the shop doesn’t restrict itself to pastries and also serves savory dishes like Forty-cloves Chicken in Olive Oil and their Mushroom and Chorizo dips.

Secrecy: Accessible, and near a major stop in the City.

Value: Affordable to slightly expensive

Schedule: Monday to Saturday, 10 AM to 9 PM

Attire: Casual to smart casual

6 Marikina

Pan de Amerikana 92 Gen. Ordoñez Avenue Concepcion II, Marikina City A large windmill marks the entrance to the Marikina branch of Pan de Amerikana, a bakery-turned-restaurant that sells authentic 1950’s Pan de sal and Pan de Amerikano baked daily in their wood-fi re clay oven. It also serves Ilocano dishes like Dinakdakan and Sarabasab, Bicolano dishes like Laing and Tinomok, as well as dishes from Marikina like Everlasting and Waknatoy, all in a setting that fuses nature and the heyday of Philippine cinema. The restaurant also features a tree house, a hanging bridge and a giant chess set, and lends chess sets to customers while they wait for their food.

Secrecy: Accessible, and known to most Marikeños.

Value: Inexpensive to affordable, with most dishes plated for sharing.

Schedule: Monday to Saturday: 6 AM to 7 PM; Sunday: 7 AM to 3 PM

Attire: Casual

7 Quezon City

Quezon Memorial Circle Elliptical Road, Quezon City A national park and shrine dedicated to Philippine President Manuel Quezon, the Quezon Memorial Circle is a favorite activity venue for the residents of Quezon City. Aside from the President’s mausoleum and the recently-added dancing fountain, the park now contains a landscaped Tropical Garden and Flower Garden located just near the mausoleum’s entrance.

Secrecy: Open, and is a major stop for buses traversing the road.

Value: Free, but donations encouraged for the upkeep of the mausoleum.

Schedule: Open day and night

Attire: Light clothing and comfortable shoes for walking around, or sports wear if you intend to jog around.

Boho Sarapsody Bistro 272 Ermin Garcia Street Cubao, Quezon City Boho Sarapsody Bistro was the idea of four friends who wanted to capture the Bohemian spirit and share their love for fun and music with their friends. Situated in an old house in one of Cubao’s residential areas, the bar is frequented by musicians, entertainers and music-lovers who enjoy sharing stories over finger food, with nightly music playing and personalized drinks flowing through until morning.

Secrecy: Hidden behind bamboo fences and marked only by the bar’s address.

Value: Affordable

Schedule: 6 PM onwards each night

Attire: Casual

Coconut House Quezon Memorial Circle, Elliptical Road Quezon City Coconut House is a restaurant that specializes in dishes that feature the coconut fruit, and sells jams, wine, vinegar, sauces and body products made from the other parts of the tree. Bestsellers include Pancit Buko, Cocoglazed Fried Chicken and Sparkling Buko Juice. The store also sells tubs of non-dairy ice cream made using only coconut milk.

Secrecy: Accessible by entry into the Quezon Memorial Circle

Value: Affordable

Schedule: Daily from 9 AM to 7 PM

Attire: Casual

8 Pasig

Las Farolas Frontera Verde Drive, Frontera Verde Barangay ugong, Pasig City The first and only one of its kind in the world, Las Farolas was established in 2012 to showcase the rich freshwater biodiversity of the globe, with fishes coming from the waters of the Philippines to the Amazon River in South America. The living museum intends to introduce thousands of freshwater fish species to tourists, students and researchers in an environment that reflects the cultural heritage of Philippine churches, ethnic groups and the famous lighthouses. Included in the display are rare cichlids, rays, carps and catfish, which the exhibitors are trying to propagate through an out-of-town breeding facility south of Manila.

Secrecy: Accessible.

Value: Affordable to slightly expensive, but a great learning experience for both kids and adults.

Schedule: Daily from 9 AM to 7 PM.

Attire: Casual

9 Pasay

Manila Bay Cruise Sun Cruises CCP Terminal, Paseo Palisoc cor. F. Ma. Guerrero St., Pasay City Three times each night, the M/V Spirit of Manila takes locals and tourists across the waters to marvel at the famous Manila Bay sunset, a getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. The nightly cruise features a splendid view of the Manila skyline, the city’s cultural complex, and a range of hotels and shopping malls which light up as the sun slowly goes down. Featuring a sumptuous set dinner and a romantic serenade, the ride is a favorite not just of couples but of families as well.

Secrecy: Accessible by entering the CCP Complex.

Value: Slightly expensive.

Schedule: Daily at 4:30 PM, 6:15 PM and 8:00 PM.

Attire: Casual, but very slim chance of getting wet.

My Mother’s Garden 2650 Zamora Street Pasay City The home of National Artist for Architecture Pablo Antonio Sr. seems like a respite in urban Pasay as one enters a sprawling garden and a bungalow filled with tropical flowers and dripping fountains, meant to relax diners as they enjoy home-style Filipino fare. Garden salads and leaf rolls are made with ingredients from the garden’s yard, while pork and chicken adobo cooked in olive oil and served with local alamang goes well with organic rice.

Secrecy: Hidden, as the place has no marker, except for the address.

Value: Slightly expensive.

Schedule: Lunch and dinner, by reservation only.

Attire: Smart casual.

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