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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lechon, Jollibee and sizzling sisig - Manila, Philippines

I'm back!

Those of you following me on Twitter or Facebook will know that I was in the Philippines for the past week for a wedding.

Recycling bins at Singapore Changi airport

It was a whirlwind trip of six days, and two of those days were chewed up by travelling. We flew to Manila via Singapore, a brief layover preventing us from checking out the giant slides at Changi Airport.

The giant slide at Changi Airport, Terminal 3 [more info]

Lechon suckling pig

There was no time for disappointment - we had a little piggy to see! A feast by our kind and gracious hosts in Manila offered up lechon, a whole suckling pig.

The pig was released from his paper blanket and carved into bite-sized chunks of tender juicy pork, covered in a thin brittle layer of crackling. It was a family feast in epic proportions, with traditional dishes like kare kare beef and peanut stew, pata tim stewed pork knuckle, pancit palabok noodles and puto mamon sweet steamed rice cakes.

Grilla Bar & Grill

Manila was hot and humid, just as we had anticipated. The city is vast and chaotic - the roads choked with beeping traffic, fast food chains everywhere and a glaring disparity between the spectacular high rises towering above a cobble of ramshackle slums.

On our first full day in Manila we sought cool respite within the air-conditioned confines of Grilla Bar & Grill at the Greenhills Shopping Complex. I'd been skeptical of the restaurant, put off by the jungle theme and colourful kiddie-like menus, but the local Filipino dishes were surprisingly good.

Nilagang bulalo beef and tamarind soup 325 pesos $7.70

Nilagang bulalo is a steaming soup of beef bones and vegetables, refreshingly sour with tamarind and tomato. One bowl is enough for at least six servings.

Grilla Feast 590 pesos / AU$14.00
Garlic kangkong water spinach, garlic rice, chicken ala pobre chicken of the poor,
green mango salad, inihaw na baboy grilled marinated pork,
and pan-grilled cream dory with teriyaki sauce

We order two types of platters: the Grilla feast and the Barbecue Feast, picking our way through a multitude of offerings. I found myself returning repeatedly to the chicken barbecue, sweet and caramelised from the grill, and the cones of Java rice wrapped in cones of banana leaf were decidedly cute.

Barbecue feast 655 pesos / AU$15.60
Chicken barbecue, inihaw na pla-pla barbecue tilapia, pickled eggplant,
grilled begukan spareribs with tomato shrimp paste and java rice

Inihaw na pla-pla barbecue tilapia

Chicken barbecue

Grilled begukan spareribs with tomato shrimp paste

Pork sisig 165 pesos / AU$3.90

Pork sisig is the only dish I'm really after, a sizzling platter that arrives engulfed with steam.

A kalamansi lime is squeezed over the top and the entire mixture is stirred around. It's a mixture of pigs head - ears, snout, cheek and brain - chopped and marinated with garlic, vinegar, onions, pepper and kalamansi juice. The best parts are the crunchy bits of crackling you encounter in every mouthful.

Inihaw na pusit grilled squid 290 pesos / AU$6.90

We finish things off with inihaw na pusit grilled squid, a triumph of tender seafood seared to a smoky char.



Can I make a confession? The most exciting thing I was looking forward to in the Philippines was the chance to finally try Jollibee. The friendly bee is everywhere, and the menu is an interesting mash-up of hamburgers, fried chicken and spaghetti, all served with optional sides of rice.

Bright orange melamine plates are used to serve eat-in meals. Jollibee also delivers - practically any restaurant will deliver to your home for free or only a nominal fee, a local explains to us later.

Shanghai rolls with rice and iced tea 64 pesos / AU$1.50

The humble spring roll is re-badged here as a Shanghai roll, and when five rolls are paired with a mound of rice, it makes a surprisingly adequate meal.

Chicken joy with rice, gravy and small drink 85 pesos / AU$2.00

I can't go past the classic chicken joy, a piece of fried chicken served with gravy, rice and a small drink for only AU$2. The batter is cause enough for celebration alone - a bumpy rubble of crunchy goodness. If I'd been hungrier, I would have ordered the bucket 352 pesos / AU$8.40 for six pieces).

Ice craze

And then there is the Filipino obsession with ube. With cheese.

Ice craze ube cheesy magic 33 pesos / AU$0.79

Ube is purple taro, but it's not until I hit the Philippines that I realise how often this vegetable is garnished with grated cheese. For dessert.

I try the ube cheesy magic ice craze, and watch with interest as the sales assistant layers my plastic cup with ube ice cream, buko young coconut fibres, a mountain of ice, condensed milk, more ube ice cream and a generous sprinkle of cheese.

Guess what. It works! The cheese adds a richness, tempered by the sweetness of ube which gives it more of a cream cheese quality overall.

I know what I'm making this summer. Ube ice cream!

Grilla Bar & Grill
Greenhills Promenade, Greenhills Shopping Complex
Ortigas Ave, Greenhills
San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines
Tel: +63 (02) 726-6200

Opening hours:
Sunday to Thursday 11am - 1am
Friday and Saturday 11am - 3am


If you're a Sydney food blogger, you should have received an email about the second annual Sydney Food Bloggers Christmas Picnic. Chocolatesuze and I are again hosting this event and we're keen to have as many Sydney food bloggers attend as possible.

The best part about food blogging is meeting other people as equally food-obsessed and trigger-happy as you are. We may be hungry, but we don't bite!

Need more info? Click here.

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Manila 2010 - Food courts and pork rinds
Manila 2010 - Supermarkets, ensaymada and cheese ice cream
Manila 2010 - Turtle stew, black chicken soup and a wedding
23 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 11/18/2010 02:38:00 am


  • At 11/18/2010 8:37 am, Anonymous Trissa said…

    This post is making me think twice about staying in Australia for Christmas. I miss home so much after
    reading this. The bulalo, chicken joy (love the name!), and sisig are making me homesick. Thanks for
    sharing your pics.

  • At 11/18/2010 9:29 am, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    I was in Manila about 18 years ago and only vaguely remember eating a cold tripe salad at some Taiwanese restaurant. Changi airport now has slides! Looks like you had some great food!

  • At 11/18/2010 9:31 am, Anonymous Sara @ Belly Rumbles said…

    I wanna go on the slide!! I really am still quite a kid at heart :)

    I know you said it all goes, but I am still getting my head around cheese and ice cream.

    Welcome home.

  • At 11/18/2010 9:54 am, Anonymous shawn@StreetFood said…

    You've just moved the Philippines up a few notches on my travel agenda, I'm all excited now :-)

  • At 11/18/2010 10:11 am, Anonymous Minh said…

    That mascot made me laugh as soon as the page loaded! WB Heren~

  • At 11/18/2010 11:20 am, Blogger Angie Lives to Eat (and Cook)! said…

    Oh those giant life sized bottle recycling bins made me laugh. I am dating a filipino but yet I am missing out on all this great food that I've never known about - will have to do some interogating.

  • At 11/18/2010 11:20 am, Blogger nh said…

    We are heading to the Phillipines in June next year. Thank for the heads up on where to eat.

  • At 11/18/2010 12:08 pm, Blogger A cupcake or two said…

    I must say Helen you took me back home. I havent been back since 1996. I think a trip is in order. My mum makes sisig out of Pigs Heads. She is uber traditional. I think I need to organise a food bloggers Filipino gathering soon.

  • At 11/18/2010 12:11 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wb!! Omg you should had posed with the Jollibee!! haha and damn that chicken looks so good mmmm. And cheese on ice cream oh wow!

  • At 11/18/2010 12:43 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    wb! mmm chicken. please tell me you went on the slides!

  • At 11/18/2010 1:17 pm, Anonymous Helen said…

    Gotta love a good old Jollibee! Will be having one this Christmas on my way through Manila :)

  • At 11/18/2010 1:39 pm, Blogger Hannah said…

    I am 100% behind putting cheese on dessert :) I've seen recipes for cheddar pastry apple pies, and have heard of goats cheese chocolate truffles... so I want this dessert. Actually, you know me: I desperately want to try any ice-based Asian dessert!

    Preferably while going down that slide.

  • At 11/18/2010 1:56 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh, Jollibee. Love Jollibee. We should have one in Australia, seriously. Chicken Joy <3.

  • At 11/18/2010 4:01 pm, Anonymous Forager @ The Gourmet Forager said…

    Bizarre - cheese on icecream! But i'd give it a shot too. Haven't been to the Philippines yet - still on the list and have heard so much about their delicious suckling pig!

  • At 11/19/2010 12:14 am, Anonymous Susan: My Food Obsession said…

    I've been to Jollibee when I went to PI as a teen and I love Lechon!

  • At 11/19/2010 9:35 am, Anonymous Gianna@TheEmptyFridge said…

    Helen you made my morning! That lechon not only looks super crispy and delicious - piggy looks happy too!

    You have made another flipino homesick after reading this post... mmm chicken joy!! haha and good on you for trying the ube and queso dessert..we are a weird bunch arent we?

  • At 11/19/2010 11:19 am, Anonymous Arwen from Hoglet K said…

    Those slippery dips look like a lot of fun! The taro and cheese dessert sounds so weird, I'd love to try it.

  • At 11/19/2010 3:43 pm, Blogger susan said…

    how cute is that bee, if only I wasn't totally terrified of them! Do they wrap the rice like hamburgers?

  • At 11/22/2010 8:51 am, Anonymous pigflyin said…

    I want to go on the slides too! but well, won't want to get into trouble in Sing do we.

    Jollibee's fried chicken is really something special. I still remember the crunchy skin and the rice in hamburger wrapping still one of the signature of Manila for me.

    oh, and the Lechon! 2 suckling piggie in 2 countries, nom nom nom!!

  • At 11/26/2010 6:26 pm, Blogger Ramen Raff said…

    Again, love your blog on filipino food. The photos look amazing and is making me miss manila so much.
    Jollibee's Chicken joy is a must when one visits the Philippines! The batter is always crunchy and so tasty. The actual chicken undernearth stays moist. It is cooked just right. I will try the ice craze on my next visit. Next time you visit the Philippines, try the Sisig at Gerry's Grill and Razon's. Cebu Lechon from Jun and Jun's Cebu lechon plaza is the best suckling pig I've had. It is so full of flavour that a gravy or side sauce is not needed. For Adobo lovers, try Gerry's Grill's Adobo rice.

  • At 12/02/2010 4:28 pm, Blogger Olive You said…

    This kills me moarrr!

    Haha! Thanks Helen for sharing this foodie adventure. It brings back personal fond memories - and being Filipino, it's only natural that its tied with food!

    Much ♥

  • At 5/19/2011 12:38 am, Blogger Diariesofabeautifullady said…

    Thank you Helen for featuring Filipino food...

  • At 6/18/2011 3:24 am, Anonymous Jan said…

    Wow! I can say that lechon can never be absent at any occasion here in the Philippines. We love lechon a lot.And you are right about Filipinos loving cheese. I for one craves for a lot of cheese. You can also go to Cebu. It is one place for great food tripping. :D

    P.S I love Jollibee too! But the funny enough to say that the firendly bee scares me a lot when it shows itself to customers. ;)


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