The exotic taste of Manila

MANILA– Metro Manila, the center for trade and commerce of the Philippines is home for 11 million people who are always crisscrossing its congested roads and trains. Always on the go, life in the city follows a regular fast phased path of hungry individuals. While restaurants and other large establishments sprout like beans to cater the demand, Filipinos’ love for ready to go street-foods are evident in every corners.

From the puffy mashed fish called fishball to congealed chicken blood, the cheap merienda comes in various kind of deep-fried or grilled internal organs of chicken, pork or beef. These are usually sold in makeshift food carts in busy streets while some already find its home in malls and transport terminals.

Growing up in the city, the young Gillian was a great fan of SOME of these delicacies which are tolerable to the palette. One fateful night, I had the chance to binge again with my favorites and even took it in a higher level by trying the not-so-appealing and challeging version of this food *gulp.*

Revisiting the taste of street foods through R. Papa Street, Manila

It was a lazy gloomy sunday afternoon when my friend, Gian, called me to visit Jerome, who lives in Obrero. After chit-chatting and slouching at Jerome’s, he took us in the busy evening street of R. Papa for some filling snack.

Lined up perfectly per category on a banana leaf, each delicacies are sold for only Php10 to Php20 or half a dollar.
Lined up perfectly per category on a banana leaf, each delicacies are sold for only Php10 to Php20 or half a dollar.

I was feeling a bit under the weather that night but when I saw the line of street food carts, a jolt awakens my physical body. Yes, sudden cravings for fishballs and fried chicken skin.

Gian and Jerome while enjoying the unlimited cheese powder at this fried potato stand
Gian and Jerome while enjoying the unlimited cheese powder at this fried potato stand

However, my goal is to try the other kinds which I avoided for many years.

First stop, sizzling bopis— a cubed and deep-fried beef’s lungs seasoned with vinegar, diced onions and chilis. I only had a bite and it wasn’t really that bad. Each cup cost Php10.00 each, roughly a quarter-dollar.

It began drizzling when we decided to have something grilled, so we went across the street to have Betamax, the solidified blood which I didn’t had for a long time. Just like bopis, betamax has a plain and ‘rubbery’ taste and texture. While my two friends had isaw– chicken intestines. Chicken feet, pork ears and skins are also something to braved on while regular barbecues and hotdogs are also available. Cooking time takes three to five minutes and most of the delicacies are dipped in vinegar mixture which everyone shares.

To freshen up our tastebuds, other common snacks like ice cream and french fries are also available along with the street food stands.

The kind sales lady who joyfully strike for a pose with a stick of twirled potato.
The local vendor who joyfully strike a pose with me while holding a stick of twirled potato.

Hardcore level: Eye popping specialty of Tondo district

Located on the west side of Manila city, Tondo is just 15 to 30 minutes away from R. Papa via LRT 1/Yellow lane and jeepney rides.

Aside from a large cluster of shopping centers in downtown Divisoria, which it’s famed for. Tondo is also known for its unique dining spots that offer exotic cuisines. On a separate night, I was accompanied by a friend who took me to San Pedro in Tondo to visit one of the restaurant that offer such cuisines.

The menu simply translates to... Eyeball (Php90/$2), Cheek (Php55/$1.5), Intestine and heart (Php35/ roughly half a dollar), etc.
The menu simply translates to… Eyeball (Php90/$2), Cheek (Php55/$1.5), Intestine and heart (Php35/ roughly half a dollar), etc.

Eye for an eye

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, does the same rule applies when eating an eye?

After contemplating and beefed up my guts, I finally asked the waiter for an order of Adobong Mata ng Baka or marinated cow’s eye. It was raining that night and my friend was giggling at me as I couldn’t hide my mix emotion of fear and thrill while waiting for my order.

Adobong Mata ng Baka or marinated cow's eyeball
Adobong Mata ng Baka or marinated cow’s eyeball

Like the regular Filipino Adobo, the sliced eyeballs are cooked in sautéed garlic and onions then seasoned with pepper and oyster and soy sauce. The dish has a salty and mild spicy taste, while the eye has a jelly texture. The most challenging part was chewing the eyeball as it releases juices that may be very distinct to that ‘meat.’ It was served with chilli mixture and fried rice.

While my friend had Mata ng Baka sa Lugaw or cow’s eyeball paired in congee/rice porridge where the chopped eyeball was plainly served along. He said I wasn’t that trained enough for such version of the dish, kind and thoughtful after all.

Thinking it was all over, he demanded for more.

You better have balls

Feeling already full, he then hailed the waiter for another order. He asked for Soup #5, a kind of stew served with balls and ‘wiener’ of the cow. In total discomfort (I had eyeballs for dinner, so please!), I jokingly questioned our friendship. This will be the most unchartered and unthinkable path my tastebuds would be, although I must stick to my goal– eat exotic foods.

I didn't mind asking the waiter wether if this is the chopped balls or wiener
I didn’t mind asking the waiter wether if this is the chopped balls or wiener

Which is which, I ate the two differently looking meat that floats in the soup bowl. Whether it’s the balls or the penis, I had them both! *Insert bragging rights here* Both taste like the usual beef, however the other has a texture similar to hardboiled egg yolk. I suspect it was the cow’s balls. The salty warm stew over powers whatever the taste it might have been, which make it less challenging to eat than the eyeballs.

In the end, I wasn’t able to cover up all the street foods or dish that I have avoided. However I promise that there will be another street food adventure that I’ll be conquering in the next few months.

Filipinos are born resourceful and creative in many levels and aspects, which reflects on my recent food trip. Street foods are very popular to the masses because its filling, ready to go and cheap. Although there are fancy restaurants or indoor establishments started including these on their menus, nothing will beat the experience of eating a fishball or betamax in a crowded setting who joyfully enjoy its taste.

Eyeballs paired with rice porridge.
Eyeballs paired with rice porridge.

*$1=Php46.16 (August 14, 2015)



Price rating: ₱ (Relatively Cheap) 

Taste rating: ★★★ (Not for the faint hearted)


One Comment Add yours

  1. inubelle says:

    Ugh.. i miss eating those! I havent tried the adobo eyeball though haha only had it in porridge and same goes to that soup #5 haha i havent tried it 😐

    Liked by 1 person

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