Filipino food is an interesting mix of influences from fellow Asian nations and colonisers like the Spanish, Americans and Japanese.
This, combined with the fact that the dishes are regional in nature, means that you have a cuisine that is too diverse for its own good, making it hard to categorise, especially when compared to neighbouring nations.
Despite this, the cuisine has gained traction on the world stage in recent years, thanks to online food channels and celebrity chefs like Anthony Bourdain, who boldly labelled the street food sisig as the next big thing globally.
Here in the UAE, one restaurant that brings Philippine flavours and ambiance to life is Little Manila, which after finding success in Dubai has finally opened its doors in Abu Dhabi.
Little Manila’s concept resembles that of a food court, with rows of popular Philippine food brands selling their specialities, giving curious customers a rich number of food options to choose from.
Aesthetically, the restaurant favours a minimalist approach, but touches of Filipino culture courtesy of wooden windows, Filipino music blaring in the background, pop culture posters and local films playing throughout the day all spice up the plain interiors.
As a nod to the Filipinos’ innate love for singing, two videoke rooms are available for large groups and soon, a mini stage with a standby acoustic guitar where diners can casually walk up and put on an impromptu singing performance.
But I’m here for the food: I start off with the street mix combo from Kwekie Bites. The meal is composed of popular street fare including kikiam (Chinese sausage), fish ball, kwek kwek (deep fried battered quail eggs), chicken dumpling and spring rolls. The savoury concoction of all these small items is a palate pleaser.
More street food comes our way, this time courtesy of House of Lechon Manok. So what’s on the plate? A mixed selection of grilled street food staples: isaw (chicken intestines), chicken feet (playfully named adidas), chicken liver and chicken wings.
With a perfect balance of salty and spicy tastes, this is the closest you can get to authenticity when it comes to these beloved grilled specialities. We recommend this to those who are adventurous enough to try something out of the ordinary.
For mains, we try Jay-J’s chicken inasal, which is grilled chicken marinated in lime and spices.
Cooked to perfection, the tender meat is brimming with zest – perfectly capturing its trademark taste popular in the middle region of the country.
We conclude our meal with the beef tapa, marinated beef strips wrapped in banana leaves. Best paired with hot rice, this beef speciality from Binalot is packed with flavour that’s best described as garlicky, spicy and savoury – and it’s absolutely delicious.
So while the verdict remains uncertain on how far Filipino food will go in the international arena, Little Manila stands out as a reminder of the rich traditions that permeate every dish from the tropical island nation.
Need to know:
Location: Little Manila, building 642, opposite Burjeel Hospital, Fatima Bint Mubarak Street
We say: A diversity of genuine Filipino options under one roof
Cost: AED 142 for two
Opening times: Sat-Wed 10am-midnight, Thu-Fri 7am-1am
Contact: 02 583 3670, littlemanila.com
WORDS Ferdinand Godinez