September 11, 2011

Stop Over 1 - Manila

The first stop in a journey that promises to bring back memories of late ’08 and early ’09 was in Metro Manila. Well, at least that’s how everyone in Manila calls it. A city made up of multiple cities, Manila is just as throbbing and chaotic and stuck in traffic as it should be. My new boss gets reminded of Mexico, I remember the traffic snarls at Peddar Road, the world refuses to move around us and we watch the Jeepneys pass by. (So the Jeepney is an elongated jeep, much like the elongated autos you see in the hinterlands of North India. For 8 pesos, they will take you from point to point, much like the Tollygunj to Garia autos in Calcutta)

The Filipinos are extremely helpful and typically you’ll not have trouble finding your way around. The taxis can be a bit of a hassle but where in the world are they not? After all, everything can’t be as picture perfect as Singapore. But if you don’t mind hopping on and off jeepenys and have done your homework, you’ll be able to get around Manila easily.

Everyone in South East Asia is always eating. At least the shops seem to suggest that. And the Filipinos, perhaps the most carefree and “bindaas” of all of them are probably eating and drinking with a song and dance thrown in for good measure. From J Pop to K Pop, they are experimenting, learning, re-learning and yes, uploading probably everything on Facebook.

The food is full of surprises. Starting from the Sinigang, the tamarind soup to the Nilagas, the Tinolas and the Adobos, the names are good enough for you to want to try. But that’s where you will figure out if you are a global foodie or just a fraud butter chicken eater from India. The Filipino food is single minded in their flavour profile, each dish has its own dominant taste direction; something which is very difficult for us to understand having grown up in an explosion of spices. For example, to understand sinigang, I had it for dinner 3 nights in a row till I could finally appreciate the sourness. Well, you will be in a little bit of a mess if you are a strict vegetarian as fish sauce becomes an important part of the cooking process. Spices are surprisingly absent in most parts of South East Asia, but even herbs are used in moderation in most places outside Thailand.

If you are in Manila, you must go to Chow King and Jollybee. Though fast food outlets, they have a character of their own and often can give the KFCs of the world a run for their money. In Manila I also found Bubba Gump. I never knew it existed beyond the movie and it felt so nice to see the restaurant of Forrest actually stand up in front of you. You’ll find your standard Indian restaurants here as well, but you may suddenly find Belly Dancing going on while you have your dinner. Greenbelt is an upmarket shopping district and while you might not want to shop there, there’s nothing stopping you from dining there.

Manila – it gives one a relief and a sense of an emerging economy different from the picture perfect Singapore and you heave a sigh of relief.

And if a country names it's laundry services as Mr. Quickie and Let's talk Dirty, you know this is a nation that knows a good laugh. 

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