Bigby’s is for big groups and bigger appetites

Bigbys Rack-a-bye-Ribs (Php 365)
Bigby's Rack-a-bye-Ribs (Php 365)

For the foodie with a bigger than average appetite, there is a constant battle waged against small portions. Should I place two orders instead of just one? Should I place an additional order after the first one comes? Such is the perennial dilemma of the hearty eater. Count us happyfoodies in that category.

Happily, there’s no such dilemma at Bigby’s Café and Restaurant. With roots in Cagayan de Oro City, Bigby’s makes its way to Manila, opening its newest branch at the atrium of SM Megamall recently. True to its name, the food we were served came in big, nay, humongous portions. But how does the food taste? Follow us as we navigate our way to the Bigby’s food trip menu.

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Seafood for the holidays at Hai San

Hai Sain Grilled Tiger Prawns on Lemon and Butter
Hai Sain Grilled Tiger Prawns on Lemon and Butter

Our flight schedule to Zamboanga City fell on Christmas day so it was imperative that happyfoodies should have a good Christmas dinner away from our respective homes.

But we want something else other than the usual hamon and other holiday foods so at the suggestion of our tricycle driver, we ended up in Hai San Seafood Market and Restaurant. Was the meal worthy of a holiday dinner? Was the food delicious as it was filling? Happyfoodies would soon find out.

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Enjoying Curacha and other treats at Alavar’s

Curacha with Alavars Sauce (large Ph 745)
Curacha with Alavar's Sauce (large Php 745)

Visit Zamboanga City and almost everyone tells you not to miss tasting the famous Curacha, a hybrid crustacean that bears resemblance to the sea crab and a spiny lobster. The name means “cockroach” in Chavacano, maybe because of its appearance. But don’t let that unappetizing translation dissuade you from sampling this tasty crustacean, which is caught only in the seas of Zamboanga and Sulu.

Short of buying a live one from the market and cooking it yourself, the best way to enjoy this treat is to eat at Alavar’s Seafood House, which is just a short tricycle ride from downtown. First item on the agenda is of course, Curacha. But happyfoodies got some welcome surprises from other items in the menu.

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Alfresco dining at the Rooftop

Rooftop Restaurant Wood Fired Pizza
Rooftop Restaurant Wood Fired Pizza

Heading to a tropical destination such as Camiguin, one almost automatically imagine being served seafood at every meal. But for visitors who long for something familiar, there’s a big surprise waiting in the capital, Mambajao.

The island has attracted its share of foreign investors and one of them, an American, has found his way to opening a spanking-new restaurant-cum-hotel-cum-bar. The place is Rooftop, located at the busy thoroughfare of Mambajao proper. The stocked bar and rather sleek-looking restaurant weren’t open yet at the time we dropped by but the brightly-lit restaurant was already serving very good pizzas and pastas.

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As Pinoy as Guapple Pie in El Ideal

El Ideals Guapple Pie
El Ideal's Famouse Guapple Pie

How does one turn something as iconic-American as apple pie into a very Pinoy fare? It’s either a big mistake or a big hit. In the case of El Ideal Bakery, it’s a big, big hit. So much so that all of the locals we met during a trip to Silay, Negros Occidental, recommend its Guapple Pie with near reverence. And it’s really no surprise as the pie has been a consistent bestseller ever since it was introduced by this institution in Silay. Made from the guapple fruit (oversized variety of guava), it is a favorite among the locals and a must-taste for all visitors. No wonder it constantly makes the lists of yummy desserts across the Philippines.

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Blue Lagoon dining in Camiguin

Chilli Crab
Chilli Crab

One of the highlights of visiting the island of Camiguin apart from the sceneries that fill the eyes is the food that fills the tummy. This island, which lies northeast of Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao, boasts of the sweetest buahan (lansones) and creamy pastel (soft buns with milky or fruity fillings). Boarding off the ferry at the town of Benoni also puts one within walking distance of the Tanguines Lagoon, a sort of causeway that connects a travel lodge-cum-floating restaurant to the sea – the J&A Fishpen/Travel Lodge.

It’s virtually impossible to miss this establishment. Ask any of the locals to recommend a place to have good food and a relaxing time and they’ll most likely point you to this place. And they have very good reasons to do so.

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Rediscovering Filipino flavors at 1521

Potchero ni Tankeko (Php 265)
Potchero ni Tankeko (Php 265)

With the globalization of the Filipino palate, is it still viable to set up a Pinoy restaurant nowadays? Ponder this: on one hand, you have to market to a younger generation of diners reared on a steady diet of pizzas, burgers and pastas. On the other hand, you have to appeal to an older generation who may have grown tired of the old favorites and are gravitating to international fare. Following the suggestion of a friend, we ventured to Mandaluyong to look for 1521 in the hope of finding a more definitive answer to our question. We’re happy to say that we walked in hungry for food and answers and walked out with a positive outlook and contented tummies.

1521 has an interesting story to go along with the great food. The name stands for the year in Philippine history when the Spaniards landed in the Philippines, marking the start of the Spanish colonial period. The restaurant’s mission is very noble: to rediscover Filipino cuisine. Simply put, 1521 is all about Filipino food with interesting twists and turns; fusion cuisine that pays homage to our roots but given fresh tweaks to provide both the young and older diners something interesting to discover. We’ve seen our fair share of Filipino fusion cuisine that strays far off the mark and happily, this isn’t the case with 1521. As its owner, advertising maven, Tanke Tankeko points out, it is food that’s faithful to the fare she (and us from the older generation) grew up on.

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Ramen overload at Shinjuku

Shinjuku Gekikara Ramen (Php 345)
Gekikara Ramen (Reg - Php 250, Large - Php 345)

Being named after one of the special wards of Tokyo, Shinjuku Ramen House has some big shoes to fill. But this virtual institution in the restaurant front is more than capable of meeting big expectations and big appetites. I remembered eating at their rather non-descript branch in Makati Avenue years back and know from memory how good the food was.

Their other Makati branch was also rather old and non-descript until it got a major renovation some months back. As part of the Little Tokyo complex, it gets immediate attention from passersby since it is located along the busy thoroughfare of Pasong Tamo, at the much-coveted corner where one turns before heading off to Makati Cinema Square. At certain times of the day, the parking lot is full and the restaurant plays host to a mixed clientele eager to taste their authentic ramen and other Japanese fare.

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