Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think I have grown tired of Chinese restaurants in Manila, particularly those specializing in Cantonese-style cooking which is prevalent among local joints. Of course, my gastronomic sentiments have nothing to do with skirmishes between China and Philippines in Scarborough Shoal. But having fatty, mostly half-cooked, and soy-sauce laden (albeit flavorful) Chinese meals every week since Christmas can be torture.
So, I resolved to avoid Chinese cuisine for the remainder of the year. If I’m lucky, I can keep this up till the next Lunar New Year celebrations and prove to myself that abstinence is the key to a life full of vim and vigor. The only problem is my wife had other plans. Before I can even picture myself living the life of a rosy-cheeked kung-fu master (thanks supposedly to abstaining from Chinese food), she drags me to Lugang Café in SM Mall of Asia. I suspected her client meeting was just an excuse. It’s a weekend after all. But Eve sweetened the deal by allowing me unlimited hours and budget inside Book Sale. Of course, I agreed and have what could be the shortest span of self-restraint in history.
A Novel Chinese Resto
I was half-expecting to get that greasy, humid air typical among mid-range Chinese restaurants in Manila, but I’m glad to be disappointed. Apart from modern glittery fixtures that can surely make Paris Hilton feel at home, Lugang Café also boasts clean and spacious interiors. Take that Hap Chan Restaurant! Even the menu is impressive, with very colorful pictures and mandatory Chinese/English translations that one can actually read without a magnifying glass. Indeed, holding off on one’s appetite while inside the café can be a losing proposition.
We end up with Golden Fried Rice, Crispy Chicken, Steamed Shrimp and Pork Shiao Mai, Spicy Fish in Hotpot, and Taiwanese Stewed Minced Pork. To say that our lunch is sumptuous is a gross underestimation. We’re having a feast! But we don’t have to be gluttons since the serving sizes at Lugang Café are not that big. For instance, their fried rice is supposed to be good for 2 to 3 persons but it looked about half of what you get at North Park or Big Buddha. But who needs rice when you get seven medium-sized steamed dumplings?
The spotlight goes to the Crispy Chicken. I have never tasted anything like it. It was really crispy with just the right hint of sweetness. The gravy is also bursting with flavors (five spice, I presume). Second on our list is the Taiwanese Stewed Minced Pork. It’s like pata tim, only they used minced pork instead of one big pork leg. I’m sure this dish would have gone perfectly with plain steamed rice. While the serving size may be small at first glance, the stewed pork can serve 2 to 3 persons because the sauce itself is so tasty. We’re washing our palates with freshly brewed iced tea which, being served in mid-sized carafes rather than glasses, is the only item that came too big for us if you ask me.
Indeed, I’m having a good deal this weekend. Sure, I had to prematurely stop my abstaining from Chinese food, but in return I get to experience a fresh take on Chinese food. Plus, I’m buying new books and I have my eye on a worn out copy of Quick and Easy Chinese: 70 Everyday Recipes.