Remember Man VS Food, the TV show where food enthusiast Adam Richman travelled around the United States, challenging himself to the “big food” offerings of each city, in pursuit of experiencing some unique food culture? Four years ago, a group of staffers from The LaSallian attempted to become Adam Richman for a day to do their own food challenge at a pizzeria located just across the street from De La Salle University.
This time, we decided to take the food challenge to the next level! A team of four hungry yet rather shallow-pocketed staffers embarked on a mission of filling their breakfast-deprived stomachs, not with 14-inch pizzas or Charlie Chans, but food oozing with Filipino culture—in this case, the infamous street food around Taft Avenue.
The four staffers decided it was best to split the group into two in order to cover more ground. After doing some research, Abu and Loi ventured to P. Ocampo St., while Belle and Chin explored the streets of Estrada and Fidel Reyes. With one hour on the clock and the heat of the sun at full blast, they set off to find must-try, pocket-friendly food picks.
Estrada and Fidel Reyes streets
At 11 am, there weren’t too many food stalls along Estrada St. With the inescapable and blistering heat, Belle and Chin had a slow start.
Banana cue, turon, kamote fries
The first stall Belle and Chin found was operated by a young man who was selling banana cue. When the staffers approached, the young man was busy tending to a customer in her car, passing her a piece of turon through the window and taking payment the same way. By the time the staffers left, there was another car with its driver waiting patiently for him to take his order – showing the team that the concept of “drive-thru” certainly does not have to be exclusive for big restaurants and food chains. The two staffers leave with some banana cues, turon, and kamote cue fries, which set them back by just under 30 pesos in total.
Pancit Canton + siomai + buko shake
Just a few feet away, they then found a small stall selling all kinds of snacks: from buko shakes to buy-one-take-one hamburgers to siomai. Unable to resist the heat, the staffers bought a small bottle of buko shake and a serving of pancit-siomai, an interesting combination of a pack of pancit canton and two small pieces of fried siomai, at 30 and 23 pesos respectively. While waiting for their food, they were invited by a kind lady to sit on the metal chairs lined up in front of a travel agency and computer shop, where the lady manning the stall was preparing the food.
BBQ + isaw + tenga
Since there were no other food stalls to explore on Estrada St, the duo decided to go to places more familiar to thrifty Lasallians along Fidel Reyes St., but instead of heading straight to the rather clichéd comforts of Agno, they went straight to Noel’s, undoubtedly one of the most popular options for penny-pinching Lasallians. They decided to go for the bestsellers of Noel’s: pork barbecue and isaw. To add to that, they decided to try something new by ordering tenga ng baboy. With every stick costing less than 20 pesos, the duo were more than eager to splurge.
Cheeseburger + kwek-kwek + siomai
Before they went back inside the campus premises, Team Belle-Chin stopped by one last food stall: Eric’s, located along Castro St. Also known as one of the go-to lunch places for students on a budget, Eric’s offers an assortment of both snacks and meals. The team tried their buy-one-take-one cheeseburgers for 35 pesos, as well as some of their kwek-kwek and siomai. Contented with their loot, the duo headed back to school.
Stalls along Vito Cruz
Walking from DLSU’s South Gate, Abu and Loi traversed the streets along the corner of Jollibee, Vito Cruz. As they passed by an ukay-ukay, they came upon a fishball cart, but the team decided to skip it.
Going further, the sight of food stalls piled along the street in front of St. Scholastica’s College loomed over them.
First, they went over to the stall that sells Japanese Cakes. These were not the fancy, icing-topped cakes sold in bakeshops. Rather, these were the Pinoy version of Bebi Kasutera: small sponge cakes sold in Japanese streets.
The Japanese cakes come with different and exciting fillings for customers to choose from: cheese, Snickers, Kit-Kat, Cadburry, and Oreo cookies, each coming with a price range of 5 to 15 pesos. The team concluded that the Oreo-Cheese cake was the vendors’ best seller after trying each one.
Boom Piaya, Boom Panes!
Just beside the Japanese Cake stall, the staffers spotted a stall that sold flatbreads or, as we call them in the Philippines, piayas. Piayas are flavor-filled thin breads baked on a griddle. Customers can choose from up to four variants: mango, ube, chocolate, and caramel, at just 10 pesos each. Without much hesitation, the duo immediately asked for one of each flavor.
The vendors revealed that the piayas they sold weren’t the authentic muscovado-filled flatbreads that originated in Bacolod. Instead of muscovado, they use brown sugar for the mixture as an alternative. As Manong RJ put it, “Iba yung piaya talaga na galing Bacolod. Yung piaya dun pag kinain mo natutunaw talaga sa bibig mo yung sugar.”
Thinking that their street food escapade would not be complete without hitting on the most authentic Filipino dish sold in the area, the duo found themselves lining up in front of the Pares Stall just beside Boom Piaya. By this time, both staffers were already sweating bullets, and so was Mommy Maximilia, who was skillfully pouring the pares and mami into the plastic-wrapped bowls while receiving payments from her customers at the same time.
Pares, the Filipino term for “pair,” is a combination of beef stew and soup stock served usually with rice, while mami is a noodle soup made of chicken stock topped with onion chives. Amounting to 15 and 35 pesos respectively, the pares and mami dishes were supposed to complete the duo’s list, until they thought of venturing through the sidewalk just outside the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex.
Abu and Loi then made their way to the calamares stall near Rizal Memorial. Calamares are flour-coated squid rings sauced with vinegar mixed with chopped onions and capsicum. With only a few bucks left in their budget, the two still managed to buy six pieces of calamares that were sold for 3 pesos each.
After almost an hour of exploration and food hunting, the two groups were finally able to munch on the street food that they had bought. By this time, the food was no longer as appetizing as it had originally looked when the two teams bought it from the food stalls.
The pares, mami and kwek-kwek, which were supposed to be digested while still hot, no longer looked as appetizing. However, the calamares, barbecue and isaw still looked scrumptious, while the Japanese cakes and camote fries exceeded their expectations and served as delicious desserts. The group then realized that most of the food was best consumed while on the streets, hence the name ‘street food!’
In the end, it seemed that food had won the battle against the staffers. Surrendering with full stomachs, they realized that they really need not spend so much for a belly-busting meal that can be shared with friends.
If there is one thing that future contenders should know before going on a street food challenge is that quantity-wise, a hundred pesos can go a long way, but quality-wise, naturally, you can’t expect a gastronomic gourmet experience. These types of food may be able to satisfy your hunger and cravings, but they may not always live up to your expectations.