I have always had a love affair with food. The aroma of sizzling garlic, the creamy texture of salted egg, the taste of crispy chicharon from Bulacan – it seemed to me that there was always something wonderful to eat, except for ampalaya, which I never developed a taste for.
I have, however, never written about food. I spent the past 13 years writing about politics, foreign affairs, and national security threats, all the while munching through a wide array of comfort food. Until today – or last week, to be precise, when the idea of dabbling into food writing came up.
Maginhawa Street, a strong contender for the title of Quezon City’s main food hub, has a place of pride in my go-to haunts for delicious dishes. It is a three-kilometer wonderland stretch for foodies who want to taste local and international cuisine, street-style.
Pakibalot Panciteria, a small, unpretentious stall with carinderia-style tables and chairs, pays homage to the humble pancit. Pakibalot serves bihon guisado, lomi, canton guisado and miki bihon, along with other Filipino and Chinese dishes. Next to rice, pancit is almost always present in dining tables in the country. The word is, in fact, derived from the Hokkien “pian i sit” which means something cooked conveniently fast. According to celebrity chef Nancy Lumen, pancit is the “veritable Pinoy comfort food,” and Pakibalot certainly does not disappoint.
A few steps away from Pakibalot is one of many food compounds in the area – the One Fifty Food Place. The compound opens at 4 p.m., but any foodie worth his or her salt knows that the best time to go there is when the sun has set. The 600-square meter place that houses several food carts transforms at night – with colorful lights setting the ambience for a truly satisfying gastronomic experience.
Streets of Saigon is a straightforward food cart that promises authentic Vietnamese cuisine characterized by bright colors and clean flavors. Its goi kuon or fresh spring roll does not scrimp on prawns, pork, and the staple vermicelli. The peanut sauce that is generously served with the spring rolls is the perfect foil to the taste of cilantro and mint. It also offers four kinds of pho – or traditional rice noodle soup – served with either chicken, pork, beef or seafood.
From Vietnam, diners at One Fifty food park will find themselves transported to Mexico, where street food traces its origin to the pre-Hispanic custom of not using utensils. The Molcajete Mexican Cantina serves nachos (which can compete with any of the more expensive Mexican restaurants in the metro), tacos, chili poppers, and spicy pork carnitas. The word molcajete, in particular, refers to the Mexican version of a mortar and pestle used to crush spices to make guacamole and salsas.
To me, however, there is one restaurant on Maginhawa that offers, literally, street food. Indonyaki started as a small stall serving ayam goreng or Indonesian chicken. It was so small that all of its four tables were lined up along the sidewalk. It may not leave a good first impression if one is looking for fine dining comforts. But the long line of vehicles parked in the area and the long queue of customers willing to wait for a table or opting to take home their chicken instead are testaments to the delicious food that Indonyaki offers. The meat is tender and flavorful, and the deep fried rice flour topping makes the wait worth it. Indonyaki has since expanded, adding a few more tables, still along the sidewalk, but it has remained true to its street cred.
Indeed, Maginhawa is a special place for me. It continues to offer diners something new, with stalls popping up alongside the original ones. And after a long day at work, after braving the horrible EDSA traffic, Maginhawa offers gastronomic comfort – a happy stretch of choices that call to you like old, dependable friends.