I’m so delighted to welcome Deepa of Currystrumpet to notabilia to share her Manila with you!
Deepa is a 30 year-old freelance writer from the Philippines living in Amsterdam (by way of Singapore). She blogs about her life in Amsterdam, her travels around Europe, and her home. She also posts creative projects that she’s working on—mostly in watercolor and calligraphy.
And now, to Deepa…
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What the world knows as Manila is actually a cluster of 13 cities and municipalities that make up “Metro Manila.” So you could say you’re flying to Manila, but actually end up, say, staying in Makati, shopping in Taguig, and brunching in Quezon City—and crossing several other cities in between. I used to work in Makati and Quezon City so most of my go-to places are in those cities.
Play grown-up at Sala Bistro, which does a beautiful weekend brunch with all the bubbly you could want. However, the little girl in me has a weakness for the chocolate chip pancakes (slathered with whipped butter, peanut butter, and maple syrup) at cheap and cheerful Pancake House, a chain with branches in virtually every mall in the metro.
A visit to Manila is not complete without dinner at Sentro 1771 for modern Filipino cuisine. I love their corned beef sinigang, fall-apart beef ribs and shanks in a sour tamarind broth. Also try Abe, for hearty traditional dishes from one of the country’s major foodie regions, and Chef Laudico’s Bistro Filipino, for a modern/fusion approach to classic Filipino fare (his Adobo Overload is a must and the desserts are divine). These restaurants are always packed, so book ahead.
Lusso pairs a luxe environment with a killer foie gras burger (and some very pretty desserts and tea) for a post-shopping girly catch-up. If you’re feeling adventurous, head away from the malls to Makati’s red-light district for Chinese comfort food at North Park. (Across the street, its offshoot Next Door serves dimsum till the wee hours of the morning.) Also nearby is Ziggurat, a relaxed, cozy, hole-in-the wall that offers Mediterranean, African, and Middle Eastern cuisine. If you find yourself in Quezon City, hit unpretentious roadside stop JT’s Manukan for a quick, satisfying meal of chicken inasal, marinated in a generations-old recipe of seasonings and spices and grilled over hot coals. Don’t forget the garlic fried rice and spicy vinegar!
Café Mary Grace is famous for melt-in-your-mouth baked goods, such as the soft, cheese-topped Filipino favorite, ensaymada. Seved best with a cup of thick, hot chocolate.
For his-and-hers shopping, my husband and I love Bleach Catastrophe for its flattering shapes, muted palette, and unique prints. Myth is a one-stop shop that offers chic clothing for men and women plus fashion and home accessories from some of the leading names in Filipino design. For the ultimate cheap thrill, root around Landmark for dirt-cheap, trendy buys. I don’t think I’ll use my neon yellow ballet flats for more than one season, but at the price of just Php600, I won’t be heartbroken.
Arnel Papa creates bold statement accessories with ethnic glamour. Bags from Aranaz combine modern design with quality Filipino workmanship. For souvenirs, Team Manila is my go-to stop for hip design goods with a touch of local humor. SM Kultura is where I load up on accessories made of brightly woven banig and iridescent, pearly capiz shells. The tiangge (market) at the Greenhills Shopping Center is the place to buy affordable cultured pearls. Pearl stud earrings here are inexpensive, which is great because I keep losing them!
As a bookworm, I can’t leave without a haul of English-language books from National Bookstore. The selection here is better and cheaper than in most Asian countries. Browse the Filipiniana section for books by talented local authors. If you have kids, you can find beautiful children’s books illustrated by Ang INK, a local children’s illustration collective.
The pace of life in the city is frenetic, so people often drive out of town to relax. I grew up with Tagaytay as the weekend driving destination of choice, for its cooler temperature and the stunning view over a lake within a volcano within a lake that was a volcano. (No, that was not a typo.) I love to start with a late brunch of fresh-baked cinnamon rolls and locally grown coffee at Bag of Beans followed by a soothing massage in the quiet green enclave of Nurture Spa. By far, my favorite place in Tagaytay is Antonio’s, a stunning residence-turned-restaurant with a consistent presence in the Miele Guide’s Asian Top 20.
I love Saturday mornings at the open-air Salcedo market for great foodie finds, people-watching, and a lively atmosphere. For a fascinating, entertaining and, at times, polarizing introduction to Filipino history and culture, Carlos Celdran’s walking tour of Old Manila is a must-do.
I’m not much of an outdoor person, but running is very popular around Bonifacio Global City. Aim for very early morning or close to sunset to escape the oppressive heat.
Services are quite cheap in Manila, so I always get a full salon workup when I’m in town: cut, color, mani-pedi, threading, waxing, the works! My salon shortlist includes Azta Urban Salon in Quezon City and Hairworks, Basement, or Propaganda (all on this great roundup of salons) in Makati.
The Collective is a warren of auto repair shops that have been converted into an alternative retail space. At night, bar B-side plays alternative music and combines reggae, ska, and dancehall with local street food on Sundays. For your art fix, nearby Silver Lens Galleryhas a finely curatedselection of fine art and photography.
West Gallery in Quezon City has a great selection of contemporary Filipino art. Many works by talented local artists are available at reasonable prices.
Filipinos are naturally gifted musicians and the local indie scene truly rocks. Catch a gig at Saguijo in Makati or Conspiracy Bar in Quezon City (a true local gem that’s well worth the trek on a weekend) and be blown away by the creativity and talent that is Manila’s music scene.
If you don’t want to stray too far, see what’s on the playbill at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium in RCBC Plaza or at Onstage Greenbelt, home of English-language theater company Repertory Philippines. Filipinos love musicals and theater, particularly local productions of Broadway hits; our theater artists and productions are of a high caliber.
The Makati commercial and business district is probably the most walkable area of the city. Greenbelt, Legaspi, and Salcedo Villages are all within walking distance. Elsewhere, taxis are your best bet. If you’re heading out of town to Tagaytay or one of the nearby beaches, rent a car.
(Additional credits: Photographs by Deepa; photo layout via Pugly Pixel.)