‘Simply no place like Manila…’
When someone asks me what Manila is like, I find it hard to find the words to describe it because I feel like there are no words to describe this incredible city I love so much. I was born in Manila and I lived there until I was 14 years old.
When I hear other Filipinos talk about Manila, they tend to describe it in negative ways.
‘Oh, the air is so polluted and the noise is unbearable…’
‘Manila smells bad.’
‘People are rude and the city is overcrowded!’
‘The traffic is horrendous!’
‘Too hot and humid…’
It’s sad that Filipinos describe their own country’s capital city in this way and although some of those descriptions may be true, I still love every part of Manila despite all the flaws. Why? Because Manila can offer any traveller so much. The negative things that people say about Manila can actually be turned into positives. I miss so many things about Manila and in this post, I’ll list some of them in the hopes that you appreciate and see the beautiful things I love about Manila too.
Who doesn’t love the good old classic ‘Jeepney’ in Manila. Everyone knows that Jeeps are the kings of Philippine roads. I used to ride Jeeps and taxi cabs to school but when the classic Tamaraw FX got introduced, I preferred those… only because they were air conditioned and less crowded (but of course they cost more). Jeepneys, no matter how crowded and stuffy they get offer a nice travel experience for so many people and especially for someone like me who has moved to the West. I will list some of the reasons why I miss Jeepneys.
- ‘Bayad Po’- You get to exchange a few words or if you’re lucky, talk with other passengers. The people sitting at the back of the Jeep will always need to ask other passengers to kindly pass their cash and change to the driver. Jeeps are long and so an average of 2-3 people will need to do this favour for at least one passenger. In the West, some people don’t even make eye contact with strangers. When people ride trains, they either have a prepaid pass which they just tap on machines or tickets are purchased from ticket booths and checked by the train conductor. Inside Manila’s Jeeps, you get to interact with people (even if you don’t want to) and that makes riding Jeepneys more fun! We often take for granted and forget the fact that at some point in the beginning of your day, on your way to work or school, you get to do a small favour for someone and that’s always nice.
- Jeepney naps- Yes, Manila’s always hot and humid so travelling in Jeeps can make anyone feel drowsy and sometimes, riding jeeps can be an unpleasant experience but if you ask me, there’s nothing better than getting stuck in typical heavy Manila traffic jams and taking naps. Lots of people do this too and we all know yawning is contagious. When I see someone sleeping, all of a sudden, I struggle to keep my eyes open too. I suggest taking naps only when you’re with someone you know so you can lean on them. When I was little, my mother told me I had a habit of falling asleep on other people’s shoulders! My mother always had to apologise for me. I’ve had people accidentally lean on me too and to be honest, I don’t mind. I just think they’re funny moments I can laugh about. See, Jeeps definitely help bring people closer together!
- Jeepney Music- When I went to visit Manila in 2012, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to ride a Jeep to a mall we were planning on visiting. Of course I said yes, but…she asked me one question which confused me. ‘Gusto mo ba sumakay ng patok na Jeep o hinde?’ (Do you want to ride a patok Jeep or not?) When I told her I didn’t know what a ‘patok jeepney’ is, she made me ride one. A patok jeep is something I would describe as a ‘nightclub’ jeep minus the alcohol. The speakers underneath the two long seats are so loud and the bass so rich that it will seem like the ride comes with a free body massage. There are disco and multicolored LED lights inside and outside so you will feel like you need some glow sticks to fit in. They’re easy to spot because the exterior would be a bunch of cool spray painted pictures and graffiti. The drivers tend to drive erratically though which is obviously a dangerous thing to do and riding these jeeps is something I don’t recommend for anyone else to try. As fun as it is to ride these jeeps, it is a risky thing to do and I don’t recommend for anyone else to ride these. Sorry, Patok. What I really love and miss are the low-key old Jeepney’s which are old and have seen better days. They play classic Filipino ballads and chilled music you can easily relax to. The drivers tend to be better and careful drivers too. I remember my morning Jeepney or Tamarraw FX rides to school… they offered me a space to relax and daydream. I loved looking out of the window and I felt like those travel moments allowed me to relax and enjoy the fresh morning air before school.
I love barbecued chicken, pork and ADIDAS. I’m not talking about the sports brand. I’m talking about barbecued chicken feet and no, it’s not a typo…I love barbecued chicken feet. Don’t worry, they don’t come with chicken nails because they cut those off. I can imagine that some of you reading this are most likely feeling nauseous by now after reading that but I’m telling you that if you haven’t tried it yet, please don’t judge. I can describe ‘Adidas’ as tasty and soft (almost like jelly) and it is so delicious…honestly. All these are great when dipped in hot and spicy vinegar too and these street foods are so cheap!
I also love Mami- Mami is basically the the local Filipino ramen. I love the beef broth and the noodles are always cooked just right. The local Mami man who used to visit our town rode a bike all day and on the side of his bike was a cart where he carried the huge stainless steel pot which contained the broth. Using the LPG gas canister attached, he kept the broth hot and would serve us freshly cooked meat, vegetables and noodles. I will always treasure the memories I have of eating Mami with my two brothers. Ah, if only I could turn back time…
Of course, I think Bananacues need to be mentioned too because they taste amazing and my dog Lance loved them so much too! Bananacues are cooking bananas covered in brown sugar then deep fried. It’s a classic Filipino dessert. There’s also another favorite of mine which is a slightly different version of Bananacue and it’s called Turon. It’s still made of cooking bananas wrapped in Chinese spring roll paper with strips of jack fruit. They look like giant banana spring rolls covered in brown sugar then deep fried. It’s so crispy and delicious!
There are so many other street foods I haven’t mentioned here. I feel like I need to write a separate blog post just for that topic alone.
My mother gets slightly upset with me when I eat street foods (with the exception of Bananacues and Turons because she loves those as well). She worries I’ll get food poisoning but fortunately for me, I’ve never experienced food poisoning from street foods. I can see where she’s coming from though. Street foods are cooked out in the open and are exposed to all the dirty smoke and dust from vehicles but not all street vendors offer dirty food. Many street food vendors practice good hygiene too so it’s only fair to give them a chance. Just keep in mind to always be careful when choosing where to purchase your street foods from. I always trust my instincts and I guess, hope for the best! One thing I never do is drink street foods juices. I always make sure I buy bottled drinks to be safe.
From what I can remember, Fiestas ( parties/street parties) are organised to celebrate many things like the local patron saint of the community or town, Christmases, New Years and many other events. To be honest, I think it’s just a part of our Filipino culture to just throw Fiestas whenever we want to because Filipinos love to party and Filipinos love food! What I love the most about Fiestas is the great community spirit and fun shared by everyone. Lots of food are shared with each other, there are sports and music events, beauty pageants, games, comedy shows, fireworks which are all organised by the local community officers. This gives people a chance to work together and connect with each other.
I didn’t really take part in many of the Fiesta events because I was young back then and would always be busy with school but it was still great to see so many people get together to celebrate.When we see people are happy, it’s human nature to feel happy too. My mother used to cook lots of food during Fiesta weeks because my brothers would have their school friends for lunch or dinner. They hold annual Barrio Fiesta events here in the UK too but of course, Fiesta’s in the Philippines are always so much better.
Jollibee for me is a national treasure. It is definitely my favorite fast food chain to go to. Ever. Sadly, we don’t have any Jollibee franchises here in the UK yet but I heard that they are planning on opening some branches in London soon!
Even award winning chefs rated Jollibee’s fried chicken as excellent. I mean, Anthony Bourdain, the legendary chef who travelled the world to try out different cuisines loved Jollibee too so that pretty much says it all. I love Jollibee’s spaghetti especially because the sauce tastes sweet and spicy (‘Filipino style’). I also love Jollibee’s cheeseburger, apple pie, chocolate sundae and well, pretty much the whole menu apart from the fries… I don’t like Jollibee’s fries much. McDonald’s take the spot without a doubt, followed by Five Guys.
I used to wake up to the sound of the ‘Taho’ man screaming ‘TAHOOOO!’ and I used to get so excited and shout ‘TAHOOO!!!’ back to let him know I wanted to buy some. Taho is made of softened silky tofu, arnibal sauce (I think this is sweet sugar sauce) and tapioca pearls. This is the nicer and more traditional Filipino version of bubble tea I guess. It’s a morning snack and it’s so delicious. I feel like it’s an unhealthy way to start the day though because it’s loaded with sugar but I still think a treat now and then won’t hurt anyone. I definitely recommend Taho to everyone! It’s another classic Filipino treat!
The Classic Filipino Longanisa with pickled vegetables
I will never forget being judged by my English friends and called ‘weird’ for craving rice for breakfast. Rice is an essential part of Asian meals and we ate rice for breakfast ALL the time. We have TAPSILOG, LONGSILOG and TOCILOG. You’re probably wondering why they all end with the ‘seee-log’ sound. Here’s why…
TAPSILOG– Tapa (beef strips), Sinangag (fried rice), Itlog (Egg)
LONGSILOG– Longannisa (sweet chorizo sausage), Singangag (fried rice), Itlog (egg)
TOCILOG– Tocino (sweet cured pork), Sinangag (fried rice), Itlog (egg)
Tapa isn’t as sweet as the other two meat options. I can describe it as salted and peppered beef strips. Longanisa is a sweet and spicy type of meat and if you want something sweeter, Tocino is the best choice. Unlike English breakfast, it’s not as heavy to eat (although they’re still fried). Tapsilog, Longsilog and Tocilog are best served with some pickled vegetables and some people also like to dip the meats in white wine vinegar.
FILIPINO ‘KAKANIN’ -Delicacies/Cakes
There are so many Philippine delicacies, each recipe originating from different regions of the country. Below is a list of the most popular Filipino cakes/desserts and of course I love and miss them all.
- Puto – My mother would always get me some from the local vendor or Goldilocks. Puto is made from flour mixed with coconut milk and sugar. They sometimes come in different colours depending on their flavors, I have tried light green ‘Pandan’ flavoured puto before but yellow ones are usually ‘Cheese’ flavoured and I love those ones especially when they’re topped with cheese.
- Suman– Suman is made of sticky glutinous rice. It’s actually plain in taste and these are usually wrapped in banana leaves. I love dipping Suman in sugar. Some people eat Suman with mangoes but I just love eating them warm and dipped in sugar.
- Kutsinta– This has to be eaten with grated coconut. This is made from flour, annato powder, and lye water. It’s also plain in taste so this definitely needs to be eaten with grated coconut and sugar.
- Bibingka– This is best when it’s fresh and hot especially when bought just before or after a Christmas midnight mass. Bibingka is made of rice flour, milk, coconut milk, softened butter and baking powder. This is served with hot butter or cheese on top.
- Puto Bumbong- This is also mainly sold during the Christmas season outside churches. It is steamed rice cake cooked in tube steamers. They are purple in color and served with butter, sugar and grated coconut.
- Maja Blanca– This is made from cornstarch, sweet corn kernels, sugar and coconut milk and either topped with cheese or latik.
- Cassava Cake- I can’t really describe this cake… it’s made of grated cassava and mixed mostly with the ingredients used and mentioned above. I believe this is baked on coals back home. I know that this is quite hard to make but I really can’t explain the taste. It’s unusual but delicious for sure.
- Biko- My mother still makes Biko for me here in the UK. Biko is made of glutinous rice and brown sugar. My stepdad and I love Biko so much! It’s best served with coffee.
- Pichi Pichi- I think that these are similar to Kutsinta but they are more colourful and again served with grated coconuts.
- Sapin Sapin- This features two combined flavours of jackfruit and ube. This is made of glutinous rice and coconut milk.
As you have probably noticed, these desserts are mainly made of glutinous rice, rice flour, coconuts and sugar. These desserts are also mainly served in banana leaves. I recommend that you try all of these out when you are in the Philippines.
FRESH COCONUTS, PINEAPPLES and MANGOES
Here in the West, we can get fruits and vegetables in local markets and grocery stores. The same goes in the Philippines but… Filipino fruit vendors can offer something much better. Most Filipinos are able to buy fresh fruits and vegetables right outside their homes. These fruit and vegetable vendors use big carts which hold huge amounts of coconuts, pineapples, mangoes and many other fruits which they can cut right in front of you.
Vendors cutting fruits in front of their buyers require a lot of skill and honestly, they’re amazing to watch. They cut the fruits with great speed and precision! I love watching them peel and cut pineapples!
Philippine green mangoes are also one of the things I crave and eat straight away when visiting. When I arrive at the airport, they are the first thing I look out for. Sour green mangoes are served with spicy anchovy paste back home and I’m suddenly craving it right this moment as I write this. My mouth starts to water just thinking about it! It’s a typical thing pregnant Filipino ladies ask for when they begin to crave foods. I love my green mangoes served with ‘spicy anchovy sauce’. My taste buds get confused with the combination of sour mangoes and spicy/salty anchovy sauce…honestly…it’s super delicious!
I miss fresh coconuts too. Nothing compares to freshly cut coconuts… not even Vita Coco coconut water can compare to the ones Filipino vendors sell. What’s even better are the prices because everything is so much cheaper.
Sari-Sari stores are small community stores which are found all around the Philippines and not just in Manila. They are an essential part of the community. They are like your local convenience stores but better and I’ll tell you why.
Sari-Sari stores offer that relief when you forget to buy something from the market or grocery store. If you run out of salt, pepper, plasters, Coca Cola, Sprite, coffee, sugar and many other essentials all you need to do is walk a few blocks to one of these stores. These community stores are also owned and run by local residents. Sari-Sari stores are also needed by the local residents who can’t afford to shop in many grocery stores. Some Sari-Sari stores offer credit for those people who don’t have the funds and can’t afford to buy things in bulk so they help a lot of people within the community.
The main reason why I miss these stores is because of the ‘old school’ snacks they offer. We all know about Lays potato chips, Pringles and all the other Western brands but…
I personally love, Pritos Rings, Chippy, Oishi, Piatos, and other shrimp crackers… oh and Chicharon! I love Chicharon! Chicharon are pork scratchings (cracklings) and of course… let’s not forget about Choc-Nut. Choc-Nut is just…well, the best peanut chocolate in the world.
The Philippines is an Americanised country. We have adapted so much of the American lifestyle and culture which is why we have Basketball courts everywhere. In any part of the Philippines, especially in Manila, every community, town, or I guess I should say, every corner has a Basketball court somewhere. Some people turn their parking garages into Basketball courts too and you will often be annoyed by the sound of bouncing balls all day (and sometimes night).
But I miss Basketball courts even though I don’t play the sport because again, it gives people, a chance to bond and be part of the community. Often, many people in the Philippines, especially those who are unemployed get bored and can’t afford to take up a new hobby. Basketball courts are the spaces that allow people to meet and hang out for free. They also become the spaces where people hold events for Fiestas which I mentioned above. If there’s ever a local show, most of the time, they are held in Basketball courts.
SM AND OTHER SUPER MALLS
The Philippines, like many countries in Asia offer some of the best shopping malls. We even have the Mall of Asia and as the name suggests, it is one of the biggest shopping malls in Asia. I heard that it’s three to four times the size of an average Philippine shopping mall and believe me, shopping malls back home are huge!
In Philippine shopping malls, you will find hundreds of restaurants and food options. You will also find big department stores, water displays, large make up counters, funny mascots to entertain kids, live music or fashion shows attended by celebrities, and many other events to provide a unique shopping experience for everyone. Food courts in these shopping malls offer such a huge variety of food options and you will feel like you don’t need to travel the world to taste different cuisines. There’s Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, Singaporean, French, Italian, American and many other types of food available for everyone.
Nothing beats Philippine customer service too. The retail staff are always so polite, cheerful and kind. They go above and beyond when serving their customers and that makes all the difference.
OPEN MIC NIGHTS and LIVE MUSIC
Filipinos love to sing and make music. In fact, globally there are so many great Filipino singers (you only have to watch global franchises of TV shows like ‘The Voice or ‘The X Factor’ and you will see Filipino singers making it to the grand finals.
I’m not really a big fan of those TV shows but what I do love and miss are the open mic nights in Manila. As a singer myself, I used to love going to bars where people gather to celebrate unknown and unsigned bands and artists. I love music but what I love even more is ‘LIVE’ music. For me, there’s nothing better than seeing musicians perform live. I love the rawness of live shows. Live music bars provide a great platform for lots of people to showcase their talent. There are also live competitions of course like ‘Battle of the Bands’ but they’re not as cheesy as the talent shows we see on television.
I remember a time when my friends and I went to an Italian restaurant in Makati for dinner. We didn’t plan on choosing this particular restaurant but we thought that it looked nice from the outside and it didn’t look too busy. When the waitress lead us to our table, I sat down only to find a well-known A-list Filipino celebrity called Pilita Corales singing classic Filipino songs on stage. She was also on stage with Herman Moreno, another great and well-known Filipino celebrity and they were having fun singing together with a pianist and a guitarist. I felt so sad that my mother wasn’t with me because she loved them both. I couldn’t believe that I was only a few tables away from them and as I ate my pizza and pasta, these two amazing artists were singing for a few people including me and my friends.
HAPPY FILIPINOS and FILIPINO SMILES
We all know that sadly, there is so much poverty in the Philippines. When I’m in the Philippines, I am mostly humbled by the strength many of my fellow Filipinos have because despite the adversities that come their way, they are still able to smile and move forward. I am also touched by their unwavering faith in God. Filipinos are very spiritual people and are mostly Catholic Christians. Most Filipinos, rich or poor go to the same churches and share the same faith. Perhaps their resilience comes from their faith. Filipinos are known for being happy, bubbly and for being friendly. Filipinos are also known for their hospitality and generosity. We love it when foreigners travel to explore our country.
I was stuck in traffic once and looking out of the car window, I noticed street kids playing with some marbles on the pavement and laughing with each other. They had so much energy and I could see that they were having so much fun playing with each other. Without me realising, I started smiling and laughing too.
I remember thinking about the worries I had in my life at that time. When I watched those street kids playing, I realised that I hadn’t smiled or laughed like them for a long time and I felt ashamed of myself because I was being so ungrateful. I learned that all of us have our challenges and it is up to us to handle them in the best way we can. I realised that if those street kids, despite having so little and no home can still smile, then I can too.
Looking back now, I miss those moments. I miss laughing with strangers and spending time with my friends. I loved those times when we just joked and laughed about different things. What I love the most about Filipinos is their wit and their incredible sense of humour. A lot of my friends will often turn my woes into something funny so I don’t end up wallowing in my sorrows for too long.
I find that even in their darkest moments, Filipinos are always able to look the bright side of life. I love their positive outlook on everything.
I also know that deep down, there really is no place like home. Manila will always be my home no matter what and I will always have a special place in my heart for this beautiful city.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post. These are actually only some of the things I miss about living in Manila. There are so many other things I miss but I wanted to share with you all the ones I miss the most. I wanted to also share this with you all so that if you are thinking of visiting Manila, you get an idea of the things you must try and explore.
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