Get to know the city of Malabon in the truest way possible – through the stomach.
Words by Maricris Martin Photographed by Arvin Cruz Additional photos from mymalabon.com
IT PAYS TO START WITH THE BASICS. Yes, Malabon is a city and it’s still part of Metro Manila. Yes, phone numbers in the area start with a two (i.e. 282 5555), and no, it’s not long distance dialing. And most importantly—yes, contrary to the images of perpetually submerged homes and streets our television screens are frequently bombarded with, you will find dry land in this city any day of the week.
THE BEST WAY TO A TOWN ‘S HEART IS THROUGH ITS FOOD
If there’s anything that captures the most essential elements of a culture, it has to be food. The ingredients used
in a dish are usually telltale signs of its origin, and a dish’s taste varies depending on where it was cooked. Going on a hunt for fool-proof pasalubong in Malabon will tell you at least three things about Malabon denizens:
1. They have discovered all possible ways of cooking with glutinous rice;
2. Saltiness is the predominant taste on their palate; and
3. They truly are the only ones worthy to stake their claim on that popular pancit.
KNOW YOUR KAKANIN
Cooking with glutinous rice is quite popular in Asian cuisine, but Malabon folk have elevated it to practically an art form. Much has already been written about the widely popular Dolor’s Kakanin which started the whole kakanin rage back in the 1930s. Dolor’s puts six different kinds of kakanin (sapin-sapin, kalamay ube, mais, kutsinta, kamoteng kahoy, and biko) in one bilao, making it the perfect sampler as well as guaranteeing that everyone fi nds something he likes. Many people actually use kakanin and sapin-sapin interchangeably. Since sapin-sapin is just one kind of kakanin, you can see how this poses a problem at the store when you order sapinsapin and complain about getting only the purplewhite- yellow stuff, to the bafflement of the storekeeper. Know your kakanin, because Dolor’s certainly does.
In spite of its several branches in Metro Manila and its distribution in major malls, hordes of people still
make their way to its outlet along Governor Pascual Avenue in Malabon (its home branch where everything is prepared), especially during the Christmas season. Right across Dolor’s is Mommy’s Malabon Pride, sister enterprise and authorized dealer of Dolor’s Kakanin. Both stores offer more than kakanin ̶ they have oatmeal bars, uraro cookies, ensaymada, pastillas, cheese rolls, yema, breads, different kinds of dilis and yes, even patis—making them an ideal destination for pasalubong shopping.
Milflores Special Pitchy- Pitchy has banked on the humble cassava to sustain the business, and their choice is still paying off. The popular version of pitchy-pitchy makes use of grated coconut, but Milfl ores opts for cheese—lots of it. The pitchy-pitchy that you get is melt-in-your- mouth soft, sticky, and a bit grainy with umami flavor, thanks to the avalanche of grated cheese on top.
People’s palates can sometimes be as fi kle as their hearts, so it always pays to be innovative. Hazel’s Puto has found the middle ground between the lowly puto and the fancy cupcake—it has the good, native ingredients of puto and the light consistency (and delicate look!) of a cupcake. What started as a very small venture in the ’90s has grown into a respectable (although still largely mom-and- pop) business. Clients come knocking on the shop’s doors as early as 5 AM (although, you need to place your order a day in advance for very early pick-ups), and the kitchen is perpetually filled with the steam and smell of freshly cooked puto (P10 per piece). Their latest bestseller is another innovation—the puto pao (P12 per piece), which is puto stuffed with asado, making it a delightful cross between puto and siopao.
DROP BY THE VISITA
When locals say “visita,” they are referring to Barangay Concepcion, which is a couple of barangays away from the city center. The Concepcion Market thrives more in the afternoon than in the morning, is smaller and has goods that are priced slightly higher than those in the Malabon Central Market. But the convenience of its location, set-up, and the fact that there are less people there, makes it worth the extra charge.
Malabon folk have a preference for saltiness, which makes patis and bagoong indispensible at the table. Patis was one of the products that Malabon came to be known for early on, and you can get excellent quality patis from P15 to P30 per bottle.
Knowing how to cook bagoong runs in families. Unlike the bagoong in the northern regions of the country which is in liquid form and made of fermented tiny fish, the bagoong in Malabon (as well as in the rest of the Tagalog region) is a paste made of fermented baby shrimps. A small bottle of homemade bagoong costs P25. Aside from salty condiments, the people of Malabon are also fond of a particular garnish called atchara (pickled green papaya), which goes best with fried and grilled food. A bottle of atchara, depending on the size, costs between P25 to 60. Other than condiments and garnishes, the visita is also a good source of tinapa (smoked fish), which would go perfectly with your atchara.
A stone’s throw away from the market is the Concepcion Bakery—the oldest bakery in the area. The store’s sign now says “R. B. Gregorio Bread House,” but everyone still calls it by its original name. As in any other small bakery, you will find different kinds of breads and sweet treats here including ensaymada and loaf bread. But what sets it apart from other bakeries is the pianono—a chiffon roll with custard and cheese (P15-P50 each).
IT CAN ONLY BE PANCIT MALABON
Among the many places that offer “authentic” Pancit Malabon in town, only a few can stake their claim on longevity and time-honored traditions. Rosy’s Pancit has been around since the 1920s, when it started as a bangkito, (a small eatery where the table is but a window ledge and the chairs are just stools. It has since gained undeniable popularity (attested to by the media coverage it has had over the years), giving it the opportunity to expand. They have opened a branch at the Philippine Trade Training Center along Roxas Boulevard in Pasay while still maintaining operations at the home branch in Cuatro Cantos.
Everything is freshly prepared and cooked upon order, which is one of the reasons why the pancit doesn’t spoil easily even if Pancit Malabon is quite notorious for having a very short shelf life
They claim that they still use the secret sauce (passed on from generation to generation) in their cooking and they refuse to give a hint of what the secret ingredient is. But they did debunk one popular myth regarding Pancit Malabon: it turns out you can eat it on an empty stomach.
107 GENERAL LUNA ST., MALABON CITY
(2) 281 2298
MILFLORES SPECIAL PITCHY-PITCHY
149 GENERAL LUNA ST., MALABON CITY
(2) 281 4657
55 A. MABINI ST., FLORES, CUATRO CANTOS, MALABON CITY (2) 281 6249
PHILIPPINE TRADE TRAINING CENTER,
ROXAS BOULEVARD, PASAY CITY (2) 232 8211