Adarna Food and Culture: Unabashedly Old World

The location of Adarna is a bit strange.  Instead of situating itself nearer the more conspicuous and more frequented areas of QC, the restaurant seems to sit by its lonesome along Kalayaan in Diliman.   The wonderful thing is that curious guests and repeat diners do come all the way here — maybe some, for the enigmatic ambience, some, for the different vibe, but all come for the delicious eats.  Hmmm, but I’m getting ahead of the story.

I wasn’t around when my co-Happyfoodie, Ferdz Decena, came here years ago for an assignment.  I was curious about the place hearing stories about how delicious the food and how textured the ambiance were from him as well as my other friends but never came around to actually hie off all the way to Diliman from Makati just to sample the fare.  My loss, actually. But things have a way of presenting opportunities as my turn to shoot the place for a magazine assignment came up recently.

The facade is non-descript, giving away little of what’s inside.  Going in is like entering a time warp.  Curios and mementos from many generations ago greet the eyes — an old kudkuran ng yelo (hand-cranked ice grinder/crusher) here, a batya (cast iron laundry basin) there, pre-war/post-war softdrink bottles lining the overhead shelves.

Adarna Morcon Close Up
Adarna Morcon

The main dining area is a feast to the eyes.  An old piano on one side.  Wood tables and benches.  Crocheted table mats cushion the clinking of heirloom plates on the glass tops.  The air conditioning, soft music and LED twinkling lights that simulate candles seem to be the only concession to modernity.  Touring the inner rooms, old pictures from a bygone era line the walls.

If it’s true that one dine with the eyes, Adarna Food and Culture does have a lot of things to feast on.  Still, ambience alone will not explain its relative longevity in an age of what I call “revolving-door establishments” when fickle diners, heated competition, and a changing food landscape all conspire to keep a restaurant viable only for a few months, nay years, supplanted by other, more “trendy” eateries.

Adarna Pancit Tondo with White Wine
Adarna Pancit Tondo goes well with White Wine

The food offerings are mostly heirloom recipes and Chef Giney Villar does not deny the tricky path she chose to tread — offer the exotic and gamble on your luck if the diners would either be brave to try it or quickly ignore it; on the other hand, water down the recipe to hopefully appeal to a new generation of eaters and risk alienating a niche who knows what their grandmother’s morcon should taste like.  I can also recall one point of our chit-chat where Chef Giney said it was actually tempting to offer fastfood-style fried chicken to keep the kids of dining families happy.  She eventually held on to her convictions and kept the menu as is.

Adarna Chicken Relleno Top Shot
Adarna Chicken Relleno

The food, happily, does not disappoint.  Far from it.  The Chicken Relleno (Stuffed Chicken) brings back dollops of happy memories with every flavorful morsel (for wasn’t it a treat reserved for Christmas and really special occasions way back then?).  (Reading Ferdz’s earlier post, I learned it was a recipe from a 1940’s cookbook which calls for two days of preparing and cooking. Goes to show that the recipe may be vintage but the taste, timeless).  The Pancit Tondo (Noodles, done Tondo-style with egg on top) may sound novel in name but strangely very familiar to the palate, tasty and textured,  tempting me to slurp each strand of bijon.   The Morcon (Meat Roll) was prepared differently from how I remembered my Nanay used to make it but all the zesty, meaty flavors are all there.   It’s easy to tell each dish was prepared unhurriedly, with a lot of care, just like in the old days when ingredients were slow-cooked and simmered, not pressure-cooked or heaven forbid, microwaved.

Adarna Dining Hall Diners
Adarna Dining Hall — old world but not outdated

I would like to think that at a time of uber-modern and chef-driven restaurants, Adarna points us to another direction, to the transformative power of food.   It links us back to the past and the treasure trove of flavors we had, to a time when our food landscape was, in my opinion, no less richer than at present.  To turn our backs to these recipes is our loss.

Adarna Food and Culture
119 Kalayaan Avenue, Quezon City
Tel. 926-8712, 0917-9618113
Open from 11am-2pm, 6-10:30pm

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