Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Grubs Greasy, Easy, Good: Outdoor Food Market Flavors Opens at the Araneta Center

Just outside the Smart Araneta Coliseum and Gateway Mall, a parking lot was transformed into a weekend food market called Flavors, open until three in the morning

 Recently, the food and dining landscape of Metro Manila has been changing, being enriched and diversified as people become increasingly aware of good eating and food. It is also adapting to the changing lifestyles of people. There are now dining places that cater to those who are on-the-go, to the budget-conscious and those who work at night or sleep late. Urban pockets dedicated to food and entertainment are springing up, particularly in areas of heavy activity, where shopping malls and business operations converge. An example is the Araneta Center, a 3.6-hectare commercial area at the northern part of Metro Manila, in Cubao, Quezon City.
Owned and managed by the prominent Araneta family, the Araneta Center was a popular destination especially during the 1970s and ‘80s with its Araneta Coliseum, a recognizable landmark that hosted many big events and concerts; the Fiesta Carnival, an indoor theme park; and shopping malls. However, it reached a point when it became close to become a decaying urban center.
But the Araneta Center is bouncing back and experiencing a renewal, poised to compete with other commercial centers in Metro Manila. The domed arena, now Smart Araneta Coliseum, is undergoing modernization that will include many amenities such as a food and entertainment strip, an art museum and a 1,500-car parking facility. The Gateway Mall was built to add to the existing malls. Condominiums and a hotel are beginning to rise. There are also new dining outlets, many of them open late at night or throughout the night to serve the new business process outsourcing offices.
A recent addition to the dining scene of the Araneta Center is the Festival of Flavors, or simply Flavors, an al-fresco, weekend food market that offers quick, no-frills, down-to-earth foods from upstart and emerging entrepreneurs and home cooks.
            The food market, open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from five in the afternoon to three in the morning, is located at the Gateway Park, just outside the Smart Araneta Coliseum and Gateway Mall.
According to Jasmin Abubakar, the Araneta Center operations manager who is in charge of Flavors, it started out as an experiment, a pet project of Araneta Group vice chair Judy Araneta-Roxas. Inspired by the weekend markets that have become popular in Makati City, whose attractions include the food, a similar venture but concentrating on food was put up during the Christmas season of 2012, opening with the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony of Araneta Center. The outdoor food court was popular that it extended operations until January the following year.
            It was decided that the food market will be a permanent feature of the area. A parking area¸ about 1,700 square kilometers, was developed and spruced up. Some trees were planted, festooned with lights. Steel benches and tables were set up. The tents of the tenants were made uniform. Flavors was opened on May 31. Additionally, a small stage was installed at a corner to provide entertainment, making the place suitable to socializing and unwinding. According to Zyra Zuniga, marketing officer of Flavors, they choose up-and-coming bands to perform. The featured musical performances are from seven to 10 in the evening. Secondary performances after that dish out easy listening music. Aside from that, there are other activities during the daytime such as food demos by student-chefs.

            Thus, Flavors is a venue to get-together, unwind and be entertained over food. It is like a mall food court but set outdoors and with entertainment, or Singapore’s food centers but the stalls here are makeshift. There are 26 to 30 tenant stalls in Flavors, about 50 percent are unique to the market, said Abubakar. And vendors, who pay a rental fee of about P25,000 a month, can vary monthly.
            Young professionals and occasionally expats and concert goers coming from Smart Araneta Coliseum can be seen at Flavors, but the regular patrons are the BPO employees, who work throughout the night in the area. The food items are kept affordable—from low to mid price.
            Noticeably, Flavors offers Filipino street food especially the grilled and fried items. Philippine street food can be limited compared to its Asian neighbours. Grilled foods are popular such as the pork barbecue, isaw (chicken intestines), pork intestines, chicken gizzard, adidas (chicken feet) and betamax (curdled chicken blood cut into squares and grilled with skewers). There are novel things to urbanites such as skewered and grilled cow’s eyes. Popular fried foods include the orange-colored tokneneng or kwek-kwek (battered quail eggs), found especially at the Eggchock and All About Eggs stalls. Also available are fried tawilis (freshwater sardine, which can only be caught in Taal Lake of Batangas) and soft-shell crablets. There are also balut, the popular Filipino night-time snack of cooked duck embryo still in its egg, and the unfertilized duck egg called balut penoy

There is a profusion of Philippines street food including isaw, tokeneneng and adidas.
             There is a profusion of these that they inundate what variety there is in the small food market, but Araneta Center officials said they are trying to keep the offerings diverse. Yes, there are other foods at Flavors such as barbecued items at Amang’s Grill and Del Barro’s Grill; sisig at Chef Babs Sisig and More; the once popular shawarma at Mister Bahba’s Shawarma; buffalo wings and other bar chows at B. Wings; and even Chicago deep dish pizza.
Although there is Lyn Bibingka and Puto Bumbong, which serves the rice cakes and tubular sticky rice snack popular during Christmas season, there is a dearth of kakanin, Filipino sweets usually made from rice, whose color and variety can be very vibrant arrayed on a table.
            If you’re tired of the isaw and the adidas, they have Empanada Especiale and Siomai House, a relatively recognizable and established brand. There are Siomai House stalls at many MRT stations, whose dim sums are not particularly special but cheap and readily available. The empanadas are more satisfying, which was formerly branded as Empanada Royale with stalls in several malls. Now rebranded as Empanada Especiale, the freshly-fried empanadas, which sell at P20 a piece, have four fillings—pork, tuna, chicken and ham and cheese. The last two are the bestselling varieties.

An array of grilled street food at Isaw Juan Ko stall, tended by a hunky vendor
             For those wanting a full meal, there are several stalls that sell rice with wide selections of ulam. The popular Filipino breakfast combo, the tapsilog and its varieties, is offered at Audea’s Tapa Pa!, operated by two very young and handsome entrepreneurs—Greg Yu, a 19-year-old legal management student, and Aaron Audea, 21-year-old management student, from the Ateneo de Manila University.
Audea has a small restaurant in Caloocan City called Junior Frog, which features live musical performances. Their specialty is their version of the silogs, the Filipino combination plate of fried rice, fried eggs sunny-side-up and tapa, tocino or longganisa, and other ulams. Most of them are from the recipes Audea’s grandmother and mother.
“I had them since I was a child, and they were so good,” Audea claimed.
This gave him the idea of putting up a restaurant. Aside from the classic tapsilog, Audea’s Tapa Pa! also offers bistek Tagalog, pork tapa, binagoongang baboy (pork with fermented shrimp paste) and fish tausi. Most of the items are priced at P70, a complete Filipino meal, served with rice and eggs. They also have tapa sandwich and tapa salad.
            For more ulam, the nearby All About Fried has about 20 ulam dishes cooked by Maria Lourdes Oquendo, who prepares about five kilos of each ulam each Flavors night. The most popular are pork hamonado, pork kinilaw, beef kaldereta, fried chicken skin and Bicol Express. Yes, not really for the health-conscious, but they have rich home-cooked flavors.
            On the other hand, Crispy Seafood Republic serves seafood dishes such as chili crab, prawns in oyster sauce and stuffed squid as well as other ulams. Owner Rizalde Dignadice hails from Roxas City, Capiz, which is known as the seafood capital of the country, and swears by the freshness of the seafood. An order is about P70 to P100 with rice, not bad for a taste of the sea.
The Araneta people promised there will a Fish Moko stall, where people can choose the live seafood to be cooked their preferred way, just like the paluto system of the dampa restaurants around Metro Manila, which Araneta Center already has at the Farmers’ Market.
            For desserts, a nice lady sells cakes. Chie Mejia has a small bake shop in Concepcion, Marikina, called M Cakes and Pastries, which accepts orders of cakes and other pastries. Although owning a travel agency, she expanded her horizons and studied baking under popular chef Heny Sison. She started selling her items in 2005. With MChie Cakes and Pastries, it is her first time to join a food market or bazaar. Popular items in her little table are the Red Velvet Cake, the Decadent Chocolate Cake, the mocha cake and the Banofee (banana-coffee) Cake. It also offers cupcakes and brownies. Each slice of most of the cakes costs about P65.
            At the other side, Coco Vida sells coconut desserts and drinks. Owned by husband-and-wife Rene and Ellen Alejo, Coco Vida actually has four branches in Metro Manila, and one in Malvar, Batangas, Ellen’s hometown, where the couple has a coconut farm. They started with farming coconuts in the 1980s then ventured into food in March 2012 using their own coconuts as well as those from other coconut farms in Batangas. Their own version of halo-halo is called Coconut Mix, placed inside a young coconut shell. They also have buko pandan, sweet and creamy. Popular are their shakes with flavors such as buko (young coconut), avocado, watermelon, buko coffee, buko lychee, guyabano (sour sop), watermelon, mango, strawberry and melon. These provide an alternative to the milk teas, which originated from Taiwan and had become popular in the country. 

The Coco Vida stall has halo-halo and shakes.
 As the stalls can change very month, there are more room for improvements. Hopefully, the food park will feature more regional as well as international dishes; upgrade the stalls; and install more facilities such as comfort rooms and water fountains.
            Flavors can be crowded in the early evening and noisy, the market that it is. As the numerous restaurants in the area close down in the late evening, it becomes a beacon for the hungry and an oasis to gather in.

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