Manila Thrilla

Things began calmly enough with a surprisingly delicate and mild chicken curry ($6.95) that differed from Indian or Japanese versions by the presence of red bell peppers and carrots swimming in a coconut milk broth. Then, Grace began to unload the other main dishes.

Lechon kuwali ($6.95) presented the first challenge. The chunks of deep-fried pork belly were heavily lined with fat, which caused an involuntary heave. But patience and good sense reigned. A blend of vinegar, sugar, and liver paste went with the dish. We dipped, we tasted, we were conquered. The chunks were suddenly irresistible.

The next Everest was kalderetang baka ($7.50), a beef stew with coconut milk, onions, bell peppers, green peas, and olives. This dish can be eaten either mild or spicy. I chose the spicy variation and, after the first burning taste, knew the meaning of regret. Another San Miguel seemed suddenly reasonable, and between sips, the stew seemed to grow milder and the unique combination of olives and coconut milk became a why-didn't-someone-think-of-this-before? sort of given.

We also tried a Filipino classic, pancit guisado ($6.95), wheat noodles sautéed with shrimp, garnished with julienned carrots, celery, cabbage, and green beans, with onions and black pepper for seasoning. This dish can be prepared with rice noodles (bihonin Tagalog), flour noodles (Canton), soybean noodles (sotanghon), or fresh egg noodles (mike). The flexibility of the recipe makes it one of the most popular basics of Filipino fare, and Pegasus does it admirably.

Before taking another adventure in good eating, we took a breath -- and saw that the restaurant had filled up. Generations of families, drivers of white vans, cruise-ship workers, and groups of women had taken over the tables, eating by using their spoons as a knife with the left hand and forks with the right hand. The arrival of many of these patrons was, for Americans, quite late, starting around 9 p.m. This underscored the fact that Filipinos are not fans of the early-bird special.

Then it was back to the third dinner challenge, the seafood selection, daing na bangus (priced by size), milkfish marinated in vinegar, garlic, pepper, and salt, and then grilled. Since the first bite didn't make us long for a life in Luzon, we decided to get into the real spirit of Filipino food and began dipping pieces of the fish in liver sauce for the fried pork bellies. The vinegar worked well with the taste of liver, and the fish went smoothly with garlic. Double kismet.

At this point, after so many mystery tastes and textures, dessert might have seemed demasiado. But we nevertheless steamed ahead, looking at the short menu, which includes such items as leche flan ($1.99), sago at bulaman($1.95), an edible palm starch cooked in jello, and any flavor of Magnolia ice cream ($2.50). We took a gamble with that Filipino favorite, halo-halo ($3.50). Soon, Grace reappeared bearing a parfait dish and long-handled sharing spoons.

Initially disconcerting and ultimately satisfying, halo-halo turned out to be the most appropriate way to end a meal at Pegasus. At the top, a clump of whipped cream covered a scoop of vanilla ice cream. As the ice cream melted, it blended with pieces of jackfruit, sweet yam, pounded dried rice, and cubes of colored gelatin below. At the bottom were a few sweet, preserved red beans. Shaved ice and coconut milk surrounded these tastes in a cold cocoon. The strangeness of the combination turned out to be a cunning way to neutralize all the strong spices and marinades of the meal. Spoons flew, and the dessert disappeared in minutes.

By this time, the San Miguel was working its intended effect. In one of those silly epiphanies food writers sometimes have, I was suddenly struck by the fact that halo-halo said a lot about Filipino culture: You can't enjoy only the ice cream (the West) or you'll miss the mysteries of the East (those Asian tropical fruits).

In other words? Everything goes in Filipino food and, after you get used to it, everything goes down quite well.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
All
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...