“Flood—that’s what people think of when you mention Malabon,” says Egay dela Fuente Ramos, our guide from the Malabon City Tourism Office and Cultural Affairs.
Aboard a tricycle, our day was to be spent exploring the hectic, strait-like alleys of the flood-prone city in search of its heritage and culinary wonders.
Spearheaded by city mayor Antolin “Lenlen” Oreta and his wife Melissa in 2014, the Malabon Tricycle Tours is an antithesis to the myth that there is nothing to experience in Malabon but flood. Tourists can choose from a heritage tour consisting of 10 sites, a culinary tour to seven dining facilities, or a mixture of both (15 sites in total).
“We did this to help out tricycle drivers. The drivers’ boundary (a fixed amount drivers have to pay vehicle owners) is P200 a day, and they barely make that because there are 5000 of them in the city,” shares Mayor Lenlen. With the tricycle tour, drivers can now earn up to P400 for a few hours, then make more money with regular pasada (rides) after.”
Not your typical tour
As Malabon’s primary mode of transportation, tricycles became the practical choice for tours. “The streets of Malabon are small, so we can’t use jeepneys,” adds Melissa, who is also a professional chef. “We also didn’t want to use buses, because it wouldn’t make a difference for Western tourists who are used to bus tours. We veered away from the typical to stand out.”
And it is this rawness that proves to be the tour’s charm. Being on a tricycle, exposed to the elements and the city’s sights and sounds, yields an unfiltered tourist experience. Guests can also freely interact with the owners of the ancestral homes, restaurants, and galleries they visit, affording them unparalleled insider insight.
It wasn’t always easy though, according to the mayor. The idea was initially met with resistance, from tourism groups to partner establishments. Out of 50 tricycle drivers who attended the orientation, only half returned to sign up. “Everybody thought it was ningas-kugon (beginning a task enthusiastically but losing the enthusiasm quickly too), that it will only last a couple of months, then it will stop,” he said.
Now, four years later, the mayor’s group finds its hands full with double the drivers and nearly 1000 annual visitors—Malabonians not counted—who come mostly through word of mouth.
We dug in to see why and ended up awed beyond imagination.
Rice Like No Other
Boasting well-preserved culinary traditions, Malabon is teeming with second to third-generation restaurants specializing in heirloom recipes. One of them is Betsy’s Cake Center, a 1960s joint popular for its soft broas (two layers of airy chiffon with a rich leche filling). Like everything else on the menu, the cushion-soft broas is a secret recipe of the owner, Betsy, a Center for Culinary Arts alumnus who also established the first local bakery in Los Angeles.
Although you can get delicious cua pao (steamed buns with filling) at Betsy’s, the ones from Hazel’s Puto are a must-try too. Using cake flour as its base, Hazel’s version is light and pillowy. It comes in two variants: the traditional puto topped with salted egg and cheese, and puto pao which is filled with shredded chicken. Both variants can be bought by piece or as a puto pie.
A kakanin (traditional rice cake) binge is best capped at Dolor’s Kakanin, a gastronomic institution tucked in an alley in Concepcion. It’s easy to spot this sapin-sapin facility during the Christmas season, when foodies from as far as Baguio would queue for hours just to bring home a box or two for the noche buena or Christmas Eve feast.
This eight-inch heaven consists of six different types of kakanin (glutinous rice cakes) marked by various colors: sapin-sapin, kamoteng kahoy, mais (corn), ube (purple yam), kutsinta, and biko. What separates Dolor’s kakanin is the texture. It’s incredibly soft and chewy—a result of a secret ingredient since the 1930s, according to its artisans. Be sure to get the round red box which is the one that contains the kakanin using the original Dolor’s Kakanin recipe.
Within a short walk from Dolor’s is Concepcion Public Market, which home and restaurant cooks often flock to for local delicacies, most notably Malabon kikiam (ground pork wrapped in bean curd) and tapang kabayo (cured horse meat). Next door is a plaza that used to house camper vans for Sampaguita films. Back in the day, celebrities would scour the market for fresh seafoods and fruits.
From Brunch to Dusk: Notable Eats
The food tour also takes you to revered full-service and hole-in-the-wall establishments. First on the list is Lugaw Experience, a modest roadside eatery whose famous lugaw (rice porridge) has been a breakfast and brunch staple for Malabonians since 1984. What makes this rice porridge unique is that it is only available from 9 AM to 11:30 AM daily, and as always, there is none left by the end of that two-hour window.
The secret? A clean, light taste that suits one’s comfort food cravings. Diners have the option of plain lugaw (P10) or lugaw with chicken (P45 with your choice of thigh, breast, wing, or liver). I recommend the atay-balunan (chicken liver and gizzard). The doneness is perfect, soft but cooked just right.
The tour’s lunch is served at Jamico’s Restaurant (formerly Judy Ann’s), best known for its crispy pata. Crunchy and a bit sweet on the outside and tender inside, Jamico’s deep-fried pork leg has been a go-to item for many meat lovers since the restaurant’s founding in 1972. Pair it with Jamico’s fried rice and chicken pandan for a truly indulgent feast.
Of course, a tour of Malabon wouldn’t be complete without sampling the city’s signature Pancit Malabon. Malabon’s version is drizzled with a thin, oil-based sauce and topped with a plethora of meat and seafood hauled fresh daily from nearby fisheries. During our tour, we tasted two kinds: Betsy’s, which uses pancit bihon noodles, and Nanay’s Pancit Malabon, whose version consists of the traditional thick noodles. The latter is deemed Malabon’s best, and inside the eatery, a bilao (circular woven tray) award from the TV show, Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho serves as proof.
Well-preserved ancestral homes
Several colonial homes remain standing in the city today—a testament to its history as a getaway for Spanish friars and a residence for Ilustrados during the colonial era. Among them is the Sy Juco Mansion, a former tobacco factory completed in 1869. Spared from war due to its former residents’ nationality (a Swiss couple), the entire home—save for the flood-ravaged bunker—remains in dainty condition. Inside, you’ll find centuries-old wooden furniture with capiz and intricate carvings, many of them sourced from mainland China.
Tourists are also brought to the Nepomuceno House, a two-story 1935 wooden edifice a few minutes from Concepcion Market. The house was owned by renowned physician Arcadio Nepomuceno, who pioneered Mariz Patis (fish sauce) and provided pro bono home-based care until his death in 2003. It rests next to Ninong Ading’s Veranda Restaurant, a resto-bar known for its boiled tapang kabayo.
Malabon’s sole remaining patis factory that still utilizes the handmade method of patis-making to this day is also one of the stops during the tour. Fashioned in the 1940s, the Ibaviosa Ancestral House and Patis Factory’s most prominent feature is its living room, whose pre-war elements include French windows and marble finish.
The oldest house, Raymundo Ancestral House, is found in C. Arellano Street. Built in 1861, it is the only one in Malabon that showcases a concrete arch reminiscent of Intramuros walls. On it is a carving of a Hapsburg Eagle, said to be an emblem of royal stature.
Home of great artists
Heritage and gustatory offerings aside, one of the best things about Malabon’s Tricycle Tour is the opportunity to get to know the city’s homegrown painters. Visitors can personally converse with esteemed artists like Angel Cacnio at his art gallery. A pillar of Malabon’s thriving art scene, Cacnio is a Gintong Parangal awardee known for his Central Bank-commissioned artwork in Philippine coins during the 1980s, as well as the old 20 and 100-peso bills. To this day, the prolific 87-year old artist still paints. His favorite subject is the local’s way of life.
For a glimpse of other artists’ work, there’s Artes de Paseo Art Gallery along the Catmon riverbank. Doubling as a food hub at night, the gallery features an extensive collection of paintings and sculptures from both established resident artists and up-and-coming ones from Malabon. Workshops and other events are regularly held here too, all with the aim of raising awareness about local artistry.
As our tour comes to an end, I’m reminded of how easy it is to judge a destination based on what we hear, not on what we have yet to see. And how, sometimes, only when we are brave enough to go against conventional perception can we find ourselves in pleasant, waist-deep surprises—just like we did in Malabon.
(SIDEBAR) ABOUT THE MALABON TRICYLE TOURS
The tour lasts two to four hours for a Heritage or a Food Tour, and four to six hours for the Food and Heritage Tour. All tours require a minimum of six persons and a maximum of 30 persons per group, and usually start at 9 AM.
P250 per person for the Heritage Tour
P750 per person for the Food Trip Special
P900 per person for the Food and Heritage Tour
(SHIRTTAIL) For bookings and reservations, as well as more information, phone (+63 2) 281 4999 local 1003, (+63 2) 667 7910, (+63 921) 513 2409 (+63 926) 045 4562, or email < HYPERLINK “mailto:email@example.com”firstname.lastname@example.org>. Tour reservation is required two to three days in advance.