Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — It seems the world has gotten smaller in the year 2018, as far as food in Manila is concerned. More cuisines have become more accessible to diners, foreign brands have entered the scene, and meals are available with a few taps on the phone. It has been the year that local flavors and produce have been given due credit, with sustainable dining locally seen as a possibility on the horizon.
At the same time, more international brands have become players in the food scene, like the arrival of the likes of Kam’s Roast, Hawker Chan, and M Bakery; as well as announcements on the arrival of establishments like Popeye’s, Panda Express, and the hotly anticipated Shake Shack. This year, diners have embraced the future with the boom of food deliveries, yet they have also managed to stay true to former favorites like milk tea.
Here are a few bites of the food trends that shaped it.
Samgyupsalamat: The new eat-all-you-can champ
The steady rise of Korean BBQ was once limited to small village locations like Malate, the far end of Poblacion, QC’s Scout area, and BF in Parañaque. Then, more K-BBQ shops opened up in more central locations, but none more than Samgyupsalamat has made this eat-all-you-can bbq so accessible, and has branches located on practically every major road in the city. For less than ₱1,000, diners are guaranteed as much pork or beef as they can take. The only inevitable downside is having to wait hours at a time for a table. Given how aggressive Samgyupsalamat has been in the last few months alone however, more shops are likely to be expected, which means alleviating those long lines — or just making new ones.
The Grid: The place to be
Food halls are arguably the next phase in the evolution of casual restaurants. In Manila, the Tasteless Group seems to have this concept ironed out by means of The Grid. Tasteless initially introduced the premium food hall concept locally through Hole in the Wall in Century City Mall; the space popped of color and decor, with stalls that were individually and heavily branded, with food concepts that bordered excessive. The introduction of The Grid in Rockwell this year saw them take a different approach to their existing idea. Here, a muted space was filled up with similarly dressed stalls, with just numbers above each to separate one from the other, in order to highlight food offerings instead of brand creativity.
A smart move made in creating this concept was rounding up some big names in the local restaurant scene, and offering them spaces of their own in the hall. At The Grid, Mecha Uma’s Bruce Ricketts has a taco stand, while Helm’s Josh Boutwood has a burger stall. Bun Appetit is also present serving up their signature lobster rolls and garlic noodles, Bucky’s has found a new spot to serve their baked ziti and soft serve ice cream, and the Bistronomia group (formerly La Lola group) has put up an area for their pintxos. EDSA BDG is right at the center, pulling near-perfect shots of coffee from the time the mall opens, up until closing time. Apart from the great offerings, The Grid’s sameness in look, with the least possible distractions, is likely what welcomes in the steady crowd of people that often end up staying longer than they intended to.
Mo’ Cookies: The trend that became its own brand
When The Moment Group planted their roots at what is now the Moplex (their official headquarters), they opened up The Mess Hall, a lunch place tucked into a little corner of Makati’s outskirts. The menu board read mostly Manam dishes, which was enough to draw in a lunch crowd — but it’s a small acrylic box kept by the register that really had the place buzzing. Inside it? Cookies. The minds behind TMG wanted to create a sweet end to every meal which was simple enough to sire a smile from diners, and the classic chocolate chip cookie was it. To be specific, a chocolate chip cookie that weighed in heavy on the hand, and practically as big as one, too.
The Mess Hall started off baking a small batch of cookies each day, only for them to be wiped out before lunch could even end. Batches baked grew, but so did the demand for this classic confection. Two years since its creation, what was meant to be just an after-meal bite has become bigger than the sum of its parts through Mo’ Cookies. The pop-up cookie stand deals out six different flavored cookies in the same Mess Hall style; crisp outer shell with a gooey inner core, in a size big enough to share (or feast on alone sans guilt). Small versions called Crumbs are also available, though a Mo’ Cookie’s full glory is best experienced in their original Palm size.
Restaurant Collaborations and Bar Guest Shifts: The trend that shines a light on Philippine talent and the local F&B scene
It comes as no surprise that in this day and age, there is a bigger curiosity that exists towards the food and beverage scene in the Philippines. Those that travel to eat and drink now have an option that is, quite literally, closer to home. A trove of established foreign chefs and bartenders have continuously been flocking to the Philippines in the last three years, and 2018 has proven to be the year this trend has been most visible. In the last couple of months, Toyo Eatery worked alongside the likes of Florilège, Bali’s Locavore, and Sühring, Mume, JL Studio, and Le Du; Gallery by Chele welcomed in Richard Ekkebus from Amber, Bali’s Bikini, and most recently Gaggan Anand from the top-billed restaurant on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Gaggan.
On the bar front, Bank Bar played host to Agung Prabowo of The Old Man, Alex Pun of The Woods, and Attaboy’s Otis Florence; The Curator in the meantime had Aki Eguchi, Native Singapore’s Vijay Mudaliar, and Proof & Co’s Chris Lowder; at Oto, The Pontiac’s Ana Souza, as well as Manhattan Singapore’s Philipp Bischoff and Cedric Mendoza. Actively shining a light on Philippine flavors and produce, Margarita Forés in the meantime has been a constant presence in foreign conferences. Now, more than ever, the capabilities of locally bred creatives in the field of food — and their approach to local flavors — are given due recognition. Here’s hoping this is only the beginning of a flourishing new generation in the food industry.
Cold Brew Coffee: Best perk-up
In a country as warm as the Philippines, cold ways to stay caffeinated in the past have (more often than not) come in the form of energy drinks and sickly sweet coffee frappés. In the last two years, however, cold brew coffee has finally gained more traction amongst coffee drinkers locally, seen in places like Yardstick, Habitual, Caravan Black, La Union’s El Union, and cold brew-centric coffee stand Type A.
The drink’s popularity has even gotten Starbucks to release their own line of cold brew. To be clear, cold brew is not synonymous to iced coffee. In the former, coffee is brewed cold for hours at a time and never exposed to heat, whereas the latter is brewed the traditional way then poured over ice. Given the long amount of time coffee is left to sit, more caffeine is rendered, yet it is less acidic than a normal cup of brewed coffee.
Milk Tea: Best revival
Roughly ten years ago, somewhere between 2007 and 2008, Manila erupted with milk tea shops. Practically every street corner had a milk tea store stocked with at least 20 different things to choose from, and just as many sinkers to boot. It was the drink of the times. Years later, the drink’s popularity wavered as talks of its high sugar content grew. Milk tea hit a plateau then silenced into a slow hum, as things like bottled juices became the healthier alternative for thirst quenchers.
Amid the numerous buko juice stands and stalls making freshly squeezed lemonade (with more syrup than actual juice), milk tea stands remained present albeit quietly. Something about diners in 2018, however, has given milk tea its second wind, much like how pop songs from the 90’s seem to come back in cycles to young listeners. Veterans like Cha Time, Gong Cha, Happy Lemon, and Serenitea are still around. This time, they’re joined by the likes of Macao Imperial Tea, and the infamous CoCo that is rarely without a line. Will milk tea possibly relive its past decline? With the way things are going, that may be highly unlikely.
Zero Waste: Best social initiative
An aggressively growing problem worldwide is plastic pollution; one felt in the Philippines especially, as the country has been called out as the third largest contributor to ocean plastic. In 2016 alone, plastic production was at 335 million metric tons, with a large number of these plastics being single-use materials for food and drinks: straws, glasses, containers, cutlery, plastic-packaged food items. A few people have taken this alarming issue as a wakeup call to rethink their habits as a consumer, and so zero-waste initiatives have come into view. To minimize their carbon footprint, cautious diners have started bringing around mess kits (in them: metal straws, reusable cutlery, a tumbler, and a washable container) to use for meals purchased.
It is an initiative that has not gone unnoticed, though it remains to be a slow-moving drive amongst apathetic consumers. In response to this issue, WWF-Philippines recently introduced the #AyokoNgPlastik movement, with the main intent of raising a bigger awareness of plastic pollution to the public. Their bigger efforts are seen through transformative partnerships, as different establishments have opted out of using certain single-use plastics. The aspiration that comes attached to this is hoping diners become more conscious about the items they consume. Where to start? Skip the straw, refuse single-use. Easy.
Tin Can Cakes: Most copied food item
Le Sucré Lab may have started off with a number of praline offerings, but their Dreamcake is what put their name on the radar of dessert fiends all over town. A thin layer of chocolate cake is topped up with a layer of chocolate ganache, covered in thin chocolate shards, then dusted with cocoa powder — all within a little copper-sized tin. Celebrities went crazy for it, as seen and heard in short video clips of them using dessert spoons to crack into the cake’s hard top shell, and scoop up a chocolatey spoonful. Other bakers went crazy for the idea of this as well, in turn creating their own versions of this cake. To date, there are close to a hundred versions of this cake, some even branching off and offering other cake flavors in a tin. Truth be told, it stands to be just any normal chocolate cake, assembled in pretty new packaging.
Food Deliveries: Best enabler
In this age of advanced technology, as if fast food wasn’t fast enough, mobile delivery services have allowed food to move even speedier. Sure, certain establishments have had in-house delivery systems in place for a while now, but tapping on an app and having numerous meals to choose from at your fingertips is another thing altogether. Delivery systems like Foodpanda, GrabFood, and Honestbee list several cuisines to choose from (as well as groceries in the case of Honestbee) with options of selecting where and what time to have those orders delivered. App users don’t even have to punch in a registered address to make an order; drop a pin anywhere on the map and deliveries can likely get to you, whether it’s in a parking lot, or at a random street corner. With this kind of access, it has become hard to say no to appetites that need sating, because all that has to be done is click a few buttons and wait.