Though COVID-19 has stalled many travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your current—and future—adventures.
One of the world’s great food cities, Manila serves as a culinary playground for the adventurous, curious, and just plain hungry. And there’s no mystery why: Influenced by years of Spanish and American colonization, as well as neighboring countries such as China, Taiwan, and Japan, contemporary Filipino food boasts a rich, flavorful heritage that fuses the best ingredients and techniques together. Behind each plate of grilled short rib with ginger and hot bean paste and shrimp empanada there are neighborhoods, traditions, and stories that illustrate why this vibrant, diverse city is what it is today. By exploring important historical sites like Intramuros and Binondo—and gathering around the table with new and old friends—you’ll gain a deeper understanding of how Manila turned into one of the 21st-century’s most influential and international food scenes.
Discover a taste for modern Manila
Begin your adventure by checking into the elegant Sheraton Manila Bay, a convenient, luxury hotel that offers a welcome escape from the bustle and tropical heat. When you need a break from sightseeing, simply take a refreshing dip in the outdoor pool or pop up to the rooftop bar to soak in panoramic views of the sprawling skyline and blushing pink sunsets over the water. Located minutes from must-see landmarks and museums, staying in the center of Manila will allow you to experience the eclectic mix of cultures that define the city.
Once you get your bearings, hop a car to Binondo, the world’s first Chinatown. Founded in 1594, the neighborhood has become famous for showcasing Manila’s cultural (and culinary) diversity through its many restaurants and food stalls. Around the corner, you’ll also find the Quinta Market and Fishport, the largest market in the Philippines. If navigating on your own sounds overwhelming, consider going with a skillful guide like Old Manila Walks.
Wander over to the Grand Cafe 1919, a welcoming lunch spot in a majestic neoclassical building with a broad menu of Chinese-Filipino mains and dumplings, and a stunning example of adaptive reuse. For a post-lunch snack or drink, The Den features locally roasted beans from Kalsada Coffee in a part of Binondo that’s become a booming artistic and cultural district.
When you can’t eat another bite, stroll across the river to the most historic part of Manila, the old walled city of Intramuros. There, you’ll meet up with Bambike Ecotours for a fast-paced tour on lightweight, bamboo bicycles. Stop at some of the area’s can’t-miss sites, including Manila Cathedral and Fort Santiago, which the Spanish started building in 1571 after establishing Manila as the capital of their new colony.
For dinner, treat yourself to a feast at one of Manila’s top restaurants: Gallery by Chele. Helmed by Spanish chef José Luis “Chele” González, formerly of elBulli, the menu weaves together González’s Spanish-European background with his adopted nation’s heritage. Enjoy globetrotting recipes like cebu lechon tacos and grilled baby squid with bell pepper emulsion.
Step inside the family home of one Manila’s most inventive chefs
Today you’ll venture out of Manila for a day trip to Parañaque City, a suburb in the southern part of Metro Manila. Your destination? Linamnam, one of the hottest new tables in the Philippines. But rather than serving guests in a formal restaurant, chef Don Patrick Baldosano hosts private dinners at his family’s home.
There, the inventive tasting menu changes multiple times in a week depending on what the culinary innovator brings back from the market earlier in the day. Dishes might include scallops paired with sweet strawberries or a playful take on kinilaw (ceviche) where he uses coconut wine instead of vinegar to “cook” the fish meat.
On the way back to Manila, stop at Cibo di Marghi where ensaymadas (a Filipino staple that’s said to be a variation on Spain’s Mallorcan sweet bread) get an Italian twist. The buttery buns come in three varieties: parmesan, prosciutto, and truffle.
That evening, check out Buendia Food by the Court, an international food park that marries the country’s love for eating with its basketball obsession, one of the enduring cultural influences from the era of U.S. colonialism. The Philippines was second only to The States to establish a professional basketball league. Watch a few pick-up games and grab whatever you’re craving—gyoza, shawarma, beef rendang, coconut-soursop ice cream—and bring it up to the roof deck for a view of the cityscape.
Mall culture like you’ve never seen and more
Kick off the morning with breakfast at Wildflour, a buzzing cafe and bakery that serves Filipino as well as pan Asian comfort food,like kimchi fried rice mushroom bowls with sambal and sweet soy, alongside international choices including croque madame, chorizo fundido, and fried chicken and waffles. For a special treat, try their take on the Cronut with Filipino fillings such as guava, calamansi, and ube cheese. Then head over to the National Museum of the Philippines, a massive complex containing a planetarium, fine art, and artifacts that date back to the Stone Age.
Nearby you’ll find Rizal Park, an iconic gathering place named after Dr. Jose Rizal, a national hero who gave his life for independence from the Spanish. Hike along the manicured gardens, drop by the musical dancing fountain, and locate a shady spot to watch locals play at the Chess Plaza. If you’re able to return in the evening, the amphitheater hosts Filipino rock concerts every Saturday night.
You’ll see plenty of pop culture in Manila, along with cavernous shopping malls that are another result of U.S. colonialism and a major part of the Filipino economy—and nowhere is this more evident than Manila where 15 malls dot the metro area. Catch a cab or rideshare to SM Mall of Asia (MOA), currently the fourth largest mall in the country. With more than 700 stores, you could easily spend a day or two shopping at MOA, but don’t skip the adjacent Entertainment Mall with an Olympic-sized ice-skating rink, an arena, science center, movie theater, and small theme park.
End the day with a relaxing dinner at Blackbird. Housed in the control station of the country’s first airport, the chef juxtaposes Asian and European flavors for a global menu loaded with exciting dishes like tempura eggplant and prawn fritters and grilled short rib with ginger and hot bean paste. Found in the Makati district—one of Manila’s cultural and entertainment hubs—Blackbird is just one example of the area’s burgeoning dining scene. You’ll be returning tomorrow for another taste.
Dig in at the market and international hub of Makati
Every Saturday morning at Salcedo Community Market in Makati, close to 140 vendors set up their stalls to take you on a gastronomic tour of not only the Philippines, but around the world. With the highest concentration of multinational and local corporations in the country, Makati has become an international culinary destination too. At Salcedo, you can swoop up anything from jackfruit and roasted cashews to prepared foods like Swedish meatballs and paella.
Whatever you decide to buy, save room for lunch at Holy Smokes BBQ, a “new-school” BBQ joint that also ventures beyond the typical empanada iterations with funky flavors each paired with a unique sauce to match. Choose between their chorizo and goat cheese empanada with a truffle honey sauce, their smoked beef empanada with a mango habanero sauce, and their ebi empanada, stuffed with shrimp, Japanese mayonnaise, cream cheese, tobiko (fish roe), and nori with a mango wasabi sauce.
Next, stop by the Ayala Museum which houses an impressive collection of contemporary Filipino art, as well as crafts, such as gold, textiles, and ceramics, that document the country’s history. The permanent exhibit A Millennium of Contact offers insight into continental influences through Asian trade ceramics from the 9th-16th century, while others focus on homegrown contributions such as indigenous textiles and pre-colonial gold artifacts.
Close out your vacation with an over-the-top feast at Mecha Uma, a privately run chef’s table and the passion project of Manila’s rising star chef Bruce Ricketts. Indulge in the eight-course menu of bold, Japanese-inspired dishes like wagyu with charred eggplant puree, tuna with roasted pineapple, and tamago tart. More than dinner, it’s a multicultural interactive experience that you won’t soon forget—like this trip to The Philippines itself.
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