To discover the heady charms of the sultry Philippine capital, you'll need to navigate the chaos of mototaxi rides and a relentless nightlife scene—and eat a lot of garlic rice
Author Jacqueline Detwiler Photography Francisco Guerrero
DAY TWO | You greet another bright morning with only two thoughts: “ouch” and “food.” Thankfully, Filipinos are fond of fortifying breakfasts. Fried egg and garlic rice is popularly called –silog, with the prefix being the type of meat served with it. At Spiral, the Sofitel’s buffet-style restaurant, you find the fixings for tosilog, longsilog and tapsilog (sweet cured pork, Filipino sausage and cured beef, respectively) and load up your plate with a little of each. With every comforting bite, you are restored further toward humanity. You think maybe you will pitch garlic rice as the missing ingredient in American morning-after cures.
Soon, you’re in a taxi speeding along the sunbaked freeway to Las Piñas. This skyscraper-free enclave—open to glittering Manila Bay—is the home of Sarao Motors, the foremost producer of jeepneys, the WWII-era military jeeps cum buses. Bleached and oil-stained by turns and given to occasional waterfalls of sparks, the facility is less factory than open-air auto-body shop—littered with hulking vehicles decorated in horoscope signs and Looney Tunes characters and lying in repose like so many brightly colored dinosaurs.
Traffic can be daunting in this city, so by the time you make it to the Greenbelt mall complex in Makati, it’s high noon. You saunter through white-tiled hallways frosty with air conditioning to a sleek eatery called Mesa. Having settled in at one of the outdoor tables, you order a local San Miguel beer, a tray of garlic buttered clams on the half shell and sisig, a sizzling, fajita-style platter of chopped meat from a pig’s head and liver served with a fried egg. It’s a lot better than it sounds.
There are scores of malls in metro Manila, but the Greenbelt complex—with an entire floor dedicated to local stores and a massive tropical atrium replete with koi ponds and a full-size chapel—is one of the most interesting. So you spend the afternoon as any self-respecting Filipino might: searching for deals on sunglasses, jewelry and heels. Eventually, one of your concentric circles leads you past the glass-fronted Ayala Museum, where exhibits of ancient jewels, wooden boats and sundry other cultural artifacts hold your attention until dinnertime.
Emerging near a tiny park known as Glorietta 3, you stumble upon a convoy of food trucks. This is Cucina Andare, a mobile food festival that convenes every weekend. After a bit of prospecting, you find a card table under a string of lightbulbs and carry to it the following: a carton of paella negra with mussels and squid ink; a plate of bagwang, a local barbecue house’s version of the crispy pork belly known as inihaw na liempo; and a cup of marshmallow-Pop Rocks ice cream.
Having somehow consumed all this, you walk the few blocks back to M Café, an all-purpose museum lounge that offers a killer lemongrass martini and mellow DJ music on weekends. As the crowd on the patio begins to liven up, you find yourself slowing down. So you cab it back to the hotel, carry a chair to the porch and watch the moonlit bay for the shadows of freighters.