Manila is a chaotic maelstrom of Spanish, American and Asian influences and top-flight gourmet, artistic and design offerings
Narrow, winding streets, a constant flurry of pedestrians and a cacophony of commuting noise – for the uninitiated, Manila can be a baffling city. But that very chaos also engenders a wellspring of creativity. The second most devastated city during the Second World War (Warsaw being the first), Manila – once called the “Paris of Asia” – now seems to be a phoenix rising from the ashes, thanks to three years of robust economic growth and an influx of Filipino citizens returning to its shores. The result is an increasingly sophisticated metropolis that remixes its more than three centuries of Spanish colonial rule, almost half a century of American occupation and constant inflow of Asian influences.
Amid mom-and-pop shops offering a quick meal and humble surroundings, a new crop of outlets is taking root offering a holistic experience elevated by design. “Owners and customers are slowly seeing the value of good design and they invest in it,” says Dan Matutina, a graphic designer who cultivates an international career working with companies halfway around the world, such as Fast Company, Wired and Wall Street Journal. He also co-founded design company Plus 63. He’s discovered that young startups are just as willing to invest in their brand identities and interiors as much as their product. Encouragingly, these shops aren’t foreign imports, but local businesses that have found inspiration in the city’s zeitgeist. They’re all over the city. “There’s a lot of new and independent shops that are opening up in different places in the Metro,” says Matutina. “It’s quite cool because everything is decentralised.”
Camouflaged between a Shell gas station and a Kamayan eatery along the Greenhills section of the EDSA major thoroughfare is EDSA Beverage Design Group (EDSA BDG). No gleaming sign greets guests upon entrance. Instead, like a speakeasy only open to those in the know, a simple cement stamping discreetly informs you you’ve arrived. The space has a lofty, masculine feel with tall ceilings and aged furniture. Part laboratory, part coffee shop, EDSA BDG transforms into a bar as the sun sets. Baristas talk like sommeliers about the latest coffee brew, booze or concoction formulated right on the premises.
Owners and customers are slowly seeing the value of good design and they want to invest in it
EDSA BDG is part of a growing legion of well-designed, third-wave coffee shops, weaning residents from their daily Nescafé or Starbucks habit. Others have made a home in Legaspi Village in Makati, the city’s central business district, just around the corner from Raffles Makati. Young professionals make their way at all hours to the Curator, hidden behind wine store Cyrano. This hole-in-the-wall harbours a similar Jekyll-and-Hyde persona as EDSA BDG, dealing caffeine by day and cocktails by night. Just a stone’s throw away, in an anonymous concrete building in front of a boxing gym, Yardstick boasts a more upbeat appearance. Splashes of colour intersperse with a light wood interior and large windows infuse this café, known for its 12-hour brews and tasting sessions, with a Scandinavian feel.
In a city that delights in its secrets, Yardstick has a rather large one. A hulking steel door at the back of the café leads visitors to Your Local, which has become the neighborhood’s go-to bistro, serving delightful twists to Southeast Asian favourites such as ox tongue curry buns served with Japanese curry and its stellar torched salmon donburi, a buttery concoction that slides pleasantly down one’s throat.
Your Local’s brand of cuisine, which straddles East and West, marks the ease with which Filipinos navigate global culture. Nowhere is this more evident than its food courts and food markets, which offer the taste of all corners of the world within a few square feet. At Century City Mall, its Hole in the Wall food court evokes a cosmopolitan air with interiors that run the gamut from antler- chandeliered rustic to metallic steampunk. Its stalls offer velvety Japanese cheescake (Green Cheese), American DIY cookie creations with milk pairings (Scout’s Honor), San Francisco Mission Street-inspired Chinese food (Kwong’s Provisions) and fried chicken plates with prepared with umami spices (Bad Bird), among many.
Your Local’s brand of cuisine, which straddles East and West, marks the ease with which Filipinos navigate global culture
Behind grungy steel gates, Z Compound on Malingap Street along Magingawa Street in Quezon City offers a down-home, street-style version of this foodie experience. Its stalls showcase Lebanese fare (Meshwe), barbecue dishes with beer on the side (BBQ Zone) and a regional deep-fried pork belly specialty (Bagneto), among many. At nearby Cubao X, a hub of novelty shops, galleries and bars gives visitors a taste of a truly Bohemian lifestyle. Dreamcatchers at Reading Room, ukelele lessons from The Four Strings and surfer implements courtesy of Coast Thru Life express the compound’s freewheeling philosophy.
The feast doesn’t confine itself to the gastronomic. Pinto Art Museum, situated atop the hills of Antipolo, offers a serene sanctuary and one of the best collections of Filipino contemporary art within reach of the city. The Spanish-style compound seems like an enchanting maze filled with Filipino artistic treasures from lauded artists such as Daniel de la Cruz, Leeroy New and Pam Yan Santos. World-class contemporary work can also be found at in Makati’s Silverlens Gallery and Drawing Gallery (both of which have outposts in Singapore’s Gillman Barracks), Quezon City’s Blanc and West Gallery.
Only two years old, 1335Mabini in Old Manila has proven itself to be the epicentre of contemporary art in the neighborhood, says Celdran. Equipped with two gallery spaces and an antique store on the second floor, the space regularly entices artists and celebrities to its exhibitions featuring local and foreign artists. Not to be left behind, the country’s local gustatory offerings have also found a second life. La Cocina de Tita Moning, the Legarda ancestral home, offers a taste of life as landed gentry at the turn of the 19th century. Their heirloom menu consists of signature dishes such as oxtail stew, baked fish and bread pudding.
Not to be left behind, the country’s gustatory offerings have also found a second life
A more modern take on the Filipino palate comes by way of Purple Yam, an outpost of the Brooklyn-based establishment run by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan. Named after the sweet tuber prevalent in Filipino food, Purple Yam, which only seats about 20, re-invigorates the cuisine by culling techniques from all regions of the country.
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