Esquire's Best of Food 2016
Ube and Salted Egg
Need we elaborate? Gone are the days when everyone's favorite ube anything was either ice cream or jam from Good Shepherd. As the new green tea, this purple flavor is now everywhere around the globe, inadvertently becoming a representative of sorts to Filipino food, which, in turn, is slowly emerging in the international scene. With international affirmation, ube's stronghold as a local favorite was reinforced, and it has taken over everything, from lattes to waffles.
As ube unleashed its magical nutty flavor on the world, salted egg made its way in. Thanks to Singapore's salted egg chips sensation, we've welcomed a barrage of salted egg chips, salted egg croissants, and even salted egg chicharon.
Two in one: MNL Creamery's Ube Salted Egg Gelato
This year welcomed the return of some very well-loved stars in the restaurant world. After a year of review and renovation, Parañaque favorite The Girl + The Bull reopened with a fresher, more mature disposition in Legazpi Village. Though Gab Bustos and Thea de Rivera revived many of their bestsellers, longtime fans would notice a cleaner, more restrained approach to presentation as well more nuanced flavors. They even consulted with bread ace Richie Manapat to improve their many bread-oriented dishes.
After a surprise shut down last year, comfort food haven 2nd's also returned in the middle of 2016, this time with a new Bonifacio Global City address. Owners Indy Villalon and Luis Tabuena bid most of their original menu good-bye and streamlined their dishes to develop more sophisticated flavors. They also welcomed a new bar on the second floor, Bitters, with Lee Watson.
Black Sheep closed their W location last year, but they reopened in an unassuming spot on Chino Roces Extension. The revived brand stripped down to the essentials and focused on curious interpretations of Chinese and Filipino favorites done to great effect. A few meters away is another returning favorite: Chef Tippi Tambunting also headed back to the reopened M Dining (it closed in February due to the building's demolition).
But the award for this year's biggest comeback goes to Ariel Manuel. Apparently the legendary chef kept busy after Lolo Dad's shut down in late 2013. He and his wife, Mia, started three restaurants this year: Bistro Manuel, The Sippery, and Taperia in Poblacion.
The return of the Bacon Chicharon from 2nd's
The gastronomy magnate has long been giving recognition to the Philippines, but early this year, the already esteemed Margarita Fóres was given a huge honor when she was selected as Asia's Best Female Chef for 2016. The humble CIBO owner continues to do the country proud, proclaiming our flavors in culinary congresses across the globe.
After ube and salted egg, it seems that nostalgia was yet another preferred flavor for the season. Just as we've been seeing Jurassic Park, Star Wars, and various Hollywood reboots on the big screen, old favorites have been taking over our plates, with chefs turning to their childhood for inspiration. Raintree's Chef Kalel Chan looked back on his youthful days in Greenhills when came up with a comprehensive menu for Providore. With old cafes as his peg, he even garnishes his dishes the old-fashioned way—withparsley.
The carnival theme in Carnivale harkens to days of Glico's and arcades. Even Chef Kel Zaguirre's extensive menu is a high-end, chef-driven throwback of his personal favorite restaurant—that's McDonald's, by the way. Think spicy chicken burges, Quarter Pounders, and chicken and waffles done in the usual over-the-top Zaguirre fashion. In the same way, Chef Patrick Go's Black Sheep translates grade-school lunches into fiery molecular bites.
Fresh flavors ruled in 2016, thanks to the invasion of poke. Considering our love for kinilaw and sinuglaw as well as our appreciation for Japanese food and last year's ceviche-centered Peruvian persuasion, it was only a matter of time before this Hawaiian staple would make it on our shores. That time is now. Poke has been sneaking into many a restaurant menu, like Green Pastures, Sushi Ninja, Sushi Nori, Papa Loa, Sunnies Cafe, and Grind, but this year, it was given deeper relevance with restaurants dedicated solely to raw fish salads. There's Poke Poke, which started strong opening two branches in less than a month, Ahi Hawaii in Quezon City, and D.I.Y. Poke in the South.
This quiet tech entrepreneur solidified his position in the food industry this year, with strong offerings, like Fowl Bread, Freezer Burn, and Hey Handsome on top of revitalizing one of his earlier forays, Wrong Ramen, opening more branches of Le Petit Souffle, working on a standalone restaurant for Bad Bird as well as a second Hole in the Wall, and launching Ping Pong Diplomacy (next year). We heard he has more up his sleeve in 2017. Paw keeps an extremely low profile, but his restaurants are all over the place.
Elevated Food Halls
When Hole in the Wall opened in 2014, it changed the way we saw food courts and cafeterias forever. This 2016 only reinforced that elevated experience. Singapore's Makansutra opened in SM Megamall, bringing with it the confirmation that a marriage between affordability and quality is romance that lasts. Makansutra Philippines puts together acclaimed hawker stalls from Singapore, with one exception: Gooba Hia, which is proudly Pinoy. Backed by culinary curator JJ Yulo and chef Him Uy de Baron, this local concept plays on the beloved pares. The highlight is various short-order presentations of beef with either rice or noodles.
Meanwhile, at the Moplex, headquarters of The Moment Group (PHAT Pho, 8 Cuts, Din Tai Fung, Manam, et cetera), is The Mess Hall. The Mess Hall was their office cafeteria which was so good it felt wrong not to open it to the public. Spacious and minimalist, it certainly is cozier than your average office pantry. Currently, the food-court-styled, self-service space offers mostly food from Manam but served in individual portions.
We'd hate to pull a Miranda Priestly, but it's true. One way to track success is by how it has trickled-down to every kind of consumer. We can't count the number of food parks that opened in 2016, especially since more are opening next year, but that immeasurability only validates how much the food park culture has grown. What's great about these parks isn't just the affordability and variety it gives to their hungry consumers. It also serves as a platform for small businesses.
The International Recognition
We stand by what we said that Filipino food need not try so hard to capture the world's attention, but it's also good that they're taking notice, thanks to the loud Filipino food movement abroad. Bon Appetit magazine even awarded modern Filipino restaurant Bad Saint in Washington as the second-best restaurant in America this year. When award-winning food critics Pete Wells (New York Times) and Jonathan Gold (Los Angeles Times) have started taking notice (Gold even included Max's in his list of best Asian fried chicken), we can't help but feel butterflies inside.