While in Manila, we enjoyed a grand breakfast at the Hotel Intercontinental Manila ‘Jeepney Coffee Shop’ in Makati. They had a fabulous breakfast buffet. But we gravitated to a Filipino breakfast . We were visiting the Philippines, so Filipino food was all we wanted to eat all day.
“What do you want to eat?” was always asked of us, when family and friends invited us to eat out in Manila. We begged for local food–Filipino food. We wanted to taste the real flavors, the more ethnic, the better.
This platter is what I had at the Hotel Intercontinental in Makati. I did not want any of the western offerings at the brunch buffet. I just wanted my good old Filipino flavors of garlic rice, pork longaniza, salted eggs and locally-grown sweet tomatoes.
A Filipino breakfast traditionally starts with rice. Often, garlic fried rice, heaps of it is paired with salted fish, with eggs on the side. Rice for breakfast is as Filipino as one can get. The origins of this customary breakfast staple goes back centuries to when our forefathers living in agricultural hometowns needed heavy sustenance to start the day. Today, it is a treat for my sons when I cook garlic rice for breakfast with all the trimmings, here in my USA kitchen.
But let me tell you what modern day Manila is like. Here are some travel tips for first time Manila visitors:
Manila, WHY you should come : Manila is cheaper than any city in Asia. If you live abroad and earn in dollars, your money goes a long way here. Manila is a shopping, food and travel paradise, in many different ways, at a fraction of the cost compared to other Asian cities. Foodies will love the eclectic choices of Filipino, Asian, European and American restaurants from the upscale to mid-priced to street food in abundance. English is spoken everywhere, so language is no problem. Tourist destinations are as varied as you can afford.
Getting there: Flights from the USA are cheapest off-season. Travel after the holidays, in January to February or the fall, from mid-September to early November. We flew United Airlines from the east coast, 13 hours straight to Tokyo, then took a 3 hour flight to Manila. I use the long flight time to catch up on movies, reading, sleep, and my writing. You will land at the NAIA International airport, an hour away from most Manila cities and suburbs.
Where to stay in Manila: During off season, you can get good hotel deals from the internet. Choices range from upscale hotels to mid-priced condotels. We prefer to stay in the Makati area for best value. We’ve stayed at Dusit Thani Hotel and Hotel Intercontinental. Both had comfortable amenities, excellent WiFi, access to major destinations.
What to bring & wear: Manila has a tropical climate year round averaging in the 80s to high 90s Fahrenheit in their summer season (March to May). Check the weather and pack accordingly. Most business establishments have air conditioning, a welcome respite if the heat gets to you. Foreign currency is the Philippine peso. Check the foreign exchange markets for rates before travelling.
What to do in Manila & the Philippines : Makati is my favorite city. It is the business center and has an array of affluent shops, hotels, spas, restaurants and attractions. It is the hub of the financial district. The airport is an hour away. From Makati, we drive to neighboring cities like Greenhills, Quezon City, Malate, Pasay to see friends, family or more shopping. Manila has a vibrant night life, too. My grown son made sure to go to “Republiq”, a hip club within the Resort World Casino. He took the Dusit Hotel’s limo for a very minimal fee and had a terrific night with friends.
Check with your hotel concierge for day trips around the city if you’re in search of historical tours. Makati is at the heart of Manila, so by car you can take day trips for provincial sight-seeing and exploring. Towards the south, take a day or 2 to visit Tagaytay city for a cooler climate or beach and golf trips to Cavite and Batangas. To the north, take a few days to visit culinary capital Pampanga, beaches in La Union, old towns in Ilocos or the chilly mountain resort, Baguio city. The airport can also take you to further beach destinations around the country like Boracay, Palawan, Bohol, Bacolod and more. Of course, the more sights you explore, the longer you should plan a stay.
Travel tips in Manila to remember: Like any large metropolis, Manila traffic gets heavy everyday. Give yourself enough time if you have appointments. I schedule my social calendar around the city I plan to be in. For example,all events in Makati on Monday, Greenhills on Tuesday, Quezon City on Wed. and so on. As far as safety, like any city, exercise caution and be street smart. Do not stand out by looking touristy with cameras hanging from your neck, open maps in hand. I manage to blend in with the locals by dressing like everyone else. It has its advantages and I get a kick out of locals not knowing I’m a tourist in my own home country.
As we got ready to leave Manila for our flight back, I vowed to recreate my version of buttered garlic rice for breakfast upon returning home to the States. I paired it with the salty fish called “dulong”, the tiniest anchovies cooked in olive oil, garlic and ginger, shown in a bottle here, which my sister gave me. The salty fish was a good contrast to the sweet-garlicky flavors of the buttered rice and the hearty eggs on the side.
Buttered Garlic Rice with Cilantro and Sultanas
- 3 to 4 cups cooked white rice at least a day old, previously refrigerated
- 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 cloves garlic peeled, minced
- 1 whole medium-sized onion finely chopped
- 1 cup sultanas or giant raisins
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 to 4 whole cooked fried eggs sunny side
- 2 to 4 pieces bottled salted sardines from Filipino or Asian markets
- Make sure cooked rice is at least a day old and has been refrigerated.
- In a large skillet, over medium high heat, add vegetable oil and butter. In a minute, the butter will melt. Add the minced garlic, chopped onions and quickly mash it all over skillet.
- Add the sultanas or raisins. Blend well in the butter for 1 minute.
- Add the rice and mix all over. Blend it well with the sultanas, garlic, onions and butter. Add the chopped cilantro and blend. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve hot with eggs, salted fish or cured pork sausages, the Filipino longaniza.
- Cook's Comments: Garlic fried rice is best done when you use cooked rice that's a day old. Be sure to keep in the refrigerator the cooked rice you plan to use for this recipe. Cooked rice spoils quickly if not refrigerated.
- DISCLOSURE : I'd like to give a big THANKS to the Hotel Intercontinental Manila in Makati, for giving us a complimentary stay and breakfast, as part of my prize from the "Doreen G. Fernandez Food Writing Awards 2012". I was not paid by any brands or stores to mention or show photos of their sites or products. These destinations were my own personal choices and not influenced by any business entity.
- Photography credits: Many thanks to Constante G. Quirino and Tim Quirino for their Philippine photos.