Hong Kong means dim sum heaven. So first things first: Don’t miss the xiao long bao at New York Times fave Din Tai Fung (Shop 3-9, G/F, 68 Yee Wo Street, Causeway Bay; Shop 130, 3/F, Silvercord, 30 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. No reservations.) It’s umami heaven!
Then pack some patience and line up for pork buns at the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant, Tim Ho Wan (G/F 9-11 Fuk Wing Street, Sham Shui Po; Shop 12-A Level 1 HK Station; G/F Olympian City 2, Mong Kok). Think siopao but instead of the baozi, the bun is actually sweet and closer to the pandesal. The bun is light and sweet, while the pork filling is savory but also on the sweet side. Its savory-sweet perfection makes me want to claim it as being created by a Filipino.
Try the glutinous rice dumpling as well, which is really just machang, but again a perfect combination of savory and sweet. But beware the 30-minute wait at both restaurants and the language-gap at Tim Ho Wan, where only the front of house speaks English.
For those willing to splurge on a most exquisite dim sum experience, make a reservation at Mandarin’s Man Wah (5 Connaught Road Central +825 2825 4003). Experience your scallop siu mai or taro puff with abalone amidst the most intricately carved dividers, paintings on silk and a spectacular view of the city.
For seafood for the family before late night shopping, chow at Under Bridge Spicy Crab (405 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai +852 2573 7698). Also order the clams.
For goose, the “go to” is Yung Kee (32 Wellington St, Central +852 2522 1624). For duck, Pinoys like to visit Peking Garden (Shop B1, Basement 1, Alexandra House, Central).
For dinner amidst a hip and happening ambiance, head over to Kowloon’s Hutong (28/F, One Peking Road,Tsim ShaTsui +852 3428 8342 ) and order the crispy roasted lamb ribs. (But take it easy on the spicy orders because these will make smoke come out of your ears, seriously!)
If you are hitting Lang Kwai Fong in Hong Kong, dine instead at Shui Hu Ju (68 Peel Street, Central +852 2869-6927) and have the crispy mutton, among other fancy fare. Warning: There’s no English sign on the door so have the address handy. Attire: über chic.
Care not for Chinese cuisine? The Miele Guide’s Chef of Chefs, Italian Umberto Bombana holds court at 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana where your salad will be with burrata, and a simple serving of eggs would be topped with shaved white truffles. (I confess though that ingredients notwithstanding, I believe Margarita Fores can do this just as well).
For a more hip Italian experience, head over to Linguini Fini for homemade pastas, pizzas, sausages and farm-to-table pork. This is just off Lang Kwai Fong so you can carbo load before partying.
And for that splurge meal? For a splurge meal in jeans, make a reservation at Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Instagram that itty bitty foie gras burger. But for truly fine dining, the name to remember is Caprice. Located at the Four Seasons, this restaurant reeks of taste: The giant chandeliers, very high ceiling and commanding view of Victoria Harbour make you feel very opulent indeed. The servers miss no step, are present and alert just as you’re about to raise your hand, and ready to give a thorough explanation of Chef Vincent Thierry’s creations for a better appreciation of each dish. You leave with memories of a fantastic shellfish bisque; superb duck and gnocchi; delicate salmon cannelloni, and an eye-teasing snowball tiramisu. A splurge well worth it! Singapore
Any hawker can give a satisfactory representation of Singaporean food: laksa, Hainanese chicken rice, chili crabs. But for a taste of katong laksa from the hood where the laksa wars happened, make your way to #328 Katong Laksa (216 East Coast Road) in the Peranakan district. This is a Lonely Planet-recommended site and literally like a karinderya, so leave your fancy shoes but come with cash.
For Hainanese chicken, which is also all over the place, the favorite of our chef friends is Boon Tong Kee (www.boontongkee.com.sg for branches). As expected, the chicken is oh so soft, tender, juicy and flavorful, and the chicken rice very savory. Best of all, some branches are open until 4 a.m. so you can order for take-out and bring it home to Manila even if you are taking a red eye flight!
For a taste of cuisine by celebrity chefs, just walk around Marina Bay Sands and take your pick: Wolfgang Puck’s CUT for steaks; Mario Batali’s Osteria Mozza for Italian; Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne for bistro fare (yet another foie gras burger with bacon); Australian chef Tetsuya Wakuda’s Waku Ghin.
For a spectacular view of Singapore, go up to Justin Quek’s Sky on 57 for classic Singaporean dishes made sosyal. Don’t be intimidated—the servers at all these restaurants are mostly Pinoy. And if you want that signature Mario Batali pizza—oh so good!—hit Pizzeria Mozza where proudly Pinay Chef Karla Mendoza is the boss.
For truly fine dining, visit Jaan at the elegant Swissotel. It has a signature Murano chandelier and offers a view of the city that is perfect for the F1 races. The menu presents elaborately ornamented dishes with delights such as almonds, barratina cheese and chanterelles. Or travel to Sentosa and experience Robuchon at his finest: not at the Atelier, which is just like the one in Hong Kong but at the adjacent Joel Robuchon Restaurant. Here you must click your fancy heels and be ready to dine with champagne.
The Vietnamese must be saluted for being strong enough to resist the Starbucks invasion. Make sure you get a taste of Vietnamese coffee, their most popular brand being Highlands Coffee, available at most grocery stores and malls. Try the Ca Phe Culi.
For a spring roll invasion, overload at the fast-food chain Wrap and Roll. For real home cooking, check out Co Tam Kitchen. Here you will find Vietnam’s version of adobo, afritada and fried rice. It will remind you of your grandma’s cooking.
For the hip scene during the day, there’s L’Usine, the chicest cafe ever. A lot of expats here, too, and you can do some clothes shopping on the side in the adjacent store. Order the red velvet cupcake which is oh-so-moist. Then for a night out, there’s the restaurant of celebrity chef Bobby Chinn where you may just spot some of Vietnam’s superstars.
Macau is another blend of European and Asian cuisine, where you can have the best of Chinese and Portuguese dishes. Since you can take a ferry to Hong Kong for dim sum, you might as well take the opportunity to focus on the Portuguese fare of Macau. For the best pata negra and creamy baccalau, go to Antonio (3 Rue dos Negociantes, Old Taipa Village +853 2899 9998). I recommended this to former President Joseph Estrada after Mario Miranda of Miele recommended it to me, and I’m told Erap hasn’t had a family trip to Macau without paying tribute to this place since—to the joy of the Pinoys in the kitchen.
What I didn’t mention to the pata negra connoisseur are other hip Portuguese places: A Lorcha (289A Rua do Almirante Sergio, Macau +853 2831 3193) where the owner is a groovy half-Portuguese whose mother is Chinese. Here, both cultures are fused beautifully, with such offerings as baccalau rice. And Fernando’s, recommended by a Mr. Wilson, a friend of the Sexy Seductress (my travel buddy), where you can enjoy Portuguese fare the classic way.
Finally, don’t forget to pay your respects at the Ruins for the best egg tarts in the world. Come in the morning so they’re freshly baked!
I don’t think I need to expound on Thailand because I’ve been here less times than most Filipinos but I’ll just name a few interesting restaurants. First is where pro-RH folk would probably hang out: Cabbages and Condoms. Enjoy the usual in a condom-themed restaurant. (The advocacy of the creators of the place is to raise awareness on, and therefore prevent, AIDS.)
For a calming afternoon escape, have tea by the Riverside at the Mandarin Oriental. This is literally by the river—and I wish we could do the same for a restaurant off Manila Bay.
And for your splurge meal, make a reservation at Le Normandie, hailed by some critics as one of the best restaurants in Asia. The ambience is a little old school, a bit Falcon Crest if you remember that series, but the food is close-your-eyes good. I must have been high because after that meal, I wrote: “This appetizer of duck liver was just divine. That bacon slice on the right is almost paper thin but pouncing with pork flavor. It sits on a concoction whose body is duck liver and whose top is beet root jelly. Obviously a contrast of deep sweet versus deep salty but beyond that, the flavors were compact, the texture silky-perfection!”
Then when you come home, head straight to the 24-hour Aristocrat from the airport (our family ritual) for chicken barbecue and java rice. And later a balut with ice-cold San Miguel beer.
Happy travels this May! Enjoy the summer, everyone! •