South American cuisine has a resounding…err…absence…from the mainstream in the Philippines. One would have thought that with the historical ties we have with the fellow Spanish colonies on the other side of the pacific, we would have had a better appreciation of their cuisine. But nope…just as we never really learned to talk the way the rest of the “Spanish colonial world” did, we never learned to eat like they did either. Not even the Manila-Acapulco trade route could break that barrier. Maybe that’s because we are “Ultramar” (“at the ends of the earth”), as the travel guide Carlos Celdran said the Spanish called us. We were too far away from the rest of the Spanish world…on the other end of earth…to be bothered with what they were doing, or eating.
Some of what we now call “traditional” Filipino food does have some influence from the other side of the ocean. The “Champorado” for example, is one (chocolate came from there). However, apart from derivations and adaptations, I don’t think we really have an appreciation of Latin American food as it is. Whatever we know now of Latin American food was probably brought to us by the Americans already – the taco, the burrito, and whatever else that Friday’s, Chili’s and Taco Bell says is Latin American.
I myself can’t readily recall any mainstream Latin American restaurant in Manila. You can get tacos and burritos from a lot of places of course, but saying that tacos and burritos represent Latin American cuisine is like saying Mang Inasal represents Filipino cuisine. It just doesn’t, full stop. And if you had asked me where you could find good Latin American food in a mall, or in any popular spot in Manila, I would just have scratched my head…but not anymore.
We were looking for lunch while going around The Podium in Ortigas, and found this new restaurant named Brasas at 5th level. I didn’t really have anything in mind at that time, but the phrase “Latin American Street Food” caught my eye, and I was drawn to it like Sauron to his ring. The place was quite small, with a narrow facade that’s easily overshadowed by the large Sumo Sam and Yakimix nearby. A small counter at the front greets the customer, where you look at the large overhead menu and place your orders, fastfood style. The dining area itself is a bit small and only holds 6 or 7 tables, if I remember correctly, though there are a few more tables outside, in the mall’s open area. The interior though is “art-fully” decorated, and would have looked more “in place” in the side streets of Quezon City, than in the middle of a bustling business district. In fact, it doesn’t feel like you’re in an upscale mall once you are seated inside.
I had the “puerco asado” (barbequed pork), while my wife had the “pork platter”, and I added a glass of “guarapo” (sugarcane juice). The puerco asado was an incredibly tender slab of grilled pork, over a bed of rice mixed with beans, and a siding of vegetables. The pork was so tender, you would think it falls apart voluntarily by itself the moment a knife comes into contact. The beans on the rice was also exactly how I remembered beans to taste like in the Latin American restos in Arizona, the closest to southern America I have ever been to so far, though the texture might be a bit “unusual” to most Pinoys – but that would also mean it’s an exciting try. The pork platter on the other hand was made of strips of tender, flavor-infused pork, over a bed of yellow rice. I think the dish was more “atuned” to the Filipino tase bud, and would be a sure hit to anyone who tries it. The guarapo meanwhile might be an aquired taste, but anglaagan loved it to the last sip. Price-wise, it’s one of the cheaper dining options when inside The Podium. “Cheaper” may be a relative term here, but I can asure that it won’t burn a gaping hole in a wage earner’s pocket.
Overall, Brasas is a very welcome addition to the local food scene – which I was certainly very happy to discover, and would be very happy to see more of. Muchas Gracias, Brasas!
* We were at Brasas last October 2012. Photos taken with Panasonic Lumix LX5.