Go on a unique culinary tour of Malabon’s Best Restaurants and Carinderias
Written by Janelle Año
Photographed by Mark Jacob
Special thanks to Malabon Tourism Council
The best way to get to know a place is to spend time with its locals, and to live like a local. Of course, that includes eating like a local too! You get to do all of these with Malabon’s Tricycle Food Tour.
The Tricycle Food Tour was launched last March, following the success of Malabon’s Tricycle Cultural and Heritage Tour which takes visitors to places of interest like museums, old colonial-style houses, and churches. The food tour was created by Chef Melissa Sison-Oreta (wife of Malabon City mayor Antolin Oreta) as a way to boost the city’s tourism. As of press time, there are 52 accredited tricycle drivers who are also trained as tour guides.
The tour takes visitors around six local food destinations deemed by the tourism office to be the “best of the best.” Some of them are humble carinderias while others are big air-conditioned restaurants. All of them serve unforgettable food and prove that Malabon has so much more to offer than just its famous pancit. (We learned that Malabon has the best crispy pata too!) In the metro, it’s common for restaurants to open and close in the blink of an eye. Here, all of the places we visited were decades old, using heirloom recipes that were passed down from generation to generation. One patron we talked to at Lugaw Xperience recalls eating at the carinderia as a teenager—he’s now in his forties!
Our first stop was Lugaw Xperience, a small hole-in-the-wall that has been open since 1984. When we say small, we mean that the carinderia can only seat about eleven people. You will likely have to share your table with strangers—if you’re lucky enough to get a table! But don’t let its appearances fool you—our group unanimously agreed that theirs was, hands down, the best lugaw we’ve ever tasted. The queue that snakes around the block every morning to order their lugaw for takeout seems to think so too.
“Sabi nila ang lugaw ay para sa may sakit,” our tour guide Michael said. “Pero dito, hindi.” Indeed, their lugaw is something one can happily eat everyday, sick or not. The lugaw is flavorful on its own, with a strong kick of ginger, even without the fried garlic bits, calamansi, sili, paminta, and patis that accompanies each bowl. A plain bowl is a steal at P10, but for an extra P30, you can have your lugaw served with your choice of chicken breast, wings, thigh, leg, or balun-balunan.
Lugaw Xperience may just be Malabon’s best kept secret. The restaurant is so popular among locals that the carinderia is only open for two hours, from 9AM to 11AM every day, although the stall usually runs out of lugaw well before 11AM.
One of the newer establishments that we visited, Hazel’s started in 2002. The shop is famous for their unusual but no less delicious puto. Unlike traditional puto, which is made with galapong (ground rice), Hazel’s uses white flour and egg whites to achieve a milky white color. This might turn off purists—until they taste the puto. The texture is light and fluffy, almost like mamon, while the mild and slightly milky taste of the puto serves as the perfect backdrop for the shop’s two flavors: puto and puto pao. The basic puto is topped with salted egg and cheese while the puto pao has pork asado filling. Also available is the puto pie, a giant puto topped with a generous serving of salted eggs and cheese! The pie should be ordered at least a day in advance. The friendly owner, Hazel Faustino, is often at the shop to talk to customers.
This restaurant, more popularly known by its former name Judy Ann’s Crispy Pata, has humble beginnings as a small carinderia. Opened in 1972 by Remegio Antonio (at that time a jeepney driver with a love for cooking and crispy pata) with his wife Estrella, Jamico’s is now a two-storey restaurant that has been featured in various print and digital media, as well as morning shows.
Their famous crispy pata is unlike any other—the meat is richly flavored, incredibly juicy with a mild sweetness, and crunchy and crackly skin. Their secret technique? The pata is cooked in sweet pickle juice! It took Remigio years to develop the recipe; after countless tries, he finally sold it in his carinderia. It was an instant hit. Today, the restaurant receives orders of over 70 crispy pata a day, with the number going up to the hundreds on fiestas and holidays. Susan, the daughter of Remegio, divulges a secret: the kuko is thebest and the most flavorful part of the pata, and the part that serious crispy pata lovers go for first. Susan, together with her sister Judy Ann, runs the family business.
Aside from crispy pata, the restaurant is also known for their fried rice, chicken pandan, embutidong shrimp, and tortang alimasag.
The last word in kakanin, Dolor’s Kakanin was founded by Dolores Santos (known as Aling Dolor to many) in the 1930s. Aling Dolor learned the recipe from her Aunt Irene Molina-Javier. More than 80 years later, Aling Dolor’s niece Elena Jacinto runs the business using the same recipe that her aunt started with.
Dolor’s offers six types of kakanin: the sapin-sapin that they popularized, kalamay ube, two-layered kutsinta, kamoteng kahoy, and biko. The tricycle tour took us to the place where it all started: the first Dolor’s Kakanin store in Concepcion, which also houses the kitchen where all their kakanin is made. Each batch is made by hand. During the holidays, Aling Elena (who keeps the recipes a closely guarded secret) and the shop’s workers barely sleep to finish orders. Even on less busy days, the shop actually goes through two jeepneys of niyog a day just for the uppermost layer of their sapin-sapin, which is made of pure gata.
NANAY’S PANCIT MALABON
Another Malabon institution, Nanay’s Pancit Malabon was founded in 1984 by Nanay Remedios Cruz, who began selling pancit to her officemates from as early as 1977. Today, Remedios’ niece Bernardita Cruz runs the family business, even though it was not what she originally saw herself doing. Yet her family believed that she was the best person to continue her aunt’s legacy. Even as a child, she would accompany her Auntie Remedios to the Concepcion market to buy the freshest catch that would go into the day’s pancit. She would help her aunt complete orders. “Bagong graduate ako noon, syempre gusto kong gawin ang karera ko. Pero tinulungan ko ang Auntie ko kasi meron tayong sense of gratitude. But after three years, I learned to love it. Siguro ito ang calling ko.”
Lucky for us that she didn’t give up. Under her leadership, the restaurant flourished. Nanay’s Pancit Malabon has been featured in Umagang Kay Ganda, and has won the ultimate pancit Malabon taste test in Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho. The secret to Nanay’s pancit is strict quality control, and using only the best and the freshest ingredients. Their pancit Malabon is perfectly seasoned, needing no squeeze of calamansi or drizzle of patis. Aling Bernardita explains that this is because they mix the sauce themselves, to make sure that the noodles are coated evenly. The noodles are soaked overnight until they’re al dente; those that are too mushy are removed. The restaurant doesn’t skimp on the toppings—peeled shrimp, sliced pork, Baguio pechay, and generous slices of hard boiled duck eggs make Nanay’s pancit a filling meal.
BETSY’S CAKE CENTER
Betsy’s is the oldest cake shop in Malabon. It was opened in 1960 by Bellaflor Serna. The shop is named after Bellaflor’s daughter Betsy, who now helps manage the store. It remains the go-to place for locals who want to get custom cakes to celebrate special occasions.
What makes Betsy’s a must-visit is their soft broas, which tastes like the ladyfingers we’re familiar with, but with an entirely different texture and a rich buttercream filling. Betsy’s broas are airy and crumbly, and practically melt in your mouth. An ube variant is also available. Aside from the broas, the shop also offers interesting confections like tocino del cielo, ube and cheese pimiento flavored sponge cakes, and chocolate and coffee yema.
A word of advice: if you wish to come back to Betsy’s (we’re sure we will), ask the tricycle driver to take you to “Betchees,” which is how the locals pronounce the name of the place.