I’ve seen quite a bit in my life, and for me to be stumped and not know where to start narrating my tale is a rare occurrence.
This is one of those moments when what I’ve experienced was too rich, too visually exhilarating that I fear words will fall short.
I hold a soft spot for Makan-Makan, Hotel H2O’s restaurant at Manila Ocean Park. Even before the park and hotel could open, one of its directors, lawyer Gene Go, invited me for coffee, to ask my opinion about a hawker-style outlet in the hotel.
It’s the first of its kind in the country, where the most popular hawker dishes from all over Asia are prepared in their stations right before your eyes.
Unfortunately, it took me three years before I could sample the real offerings of Makan.
I opted for roti prata (flat bread with curry dipping sauce), mixed satay, nasi goreng and char kway teow (stir fried rice noodles). I never thought in my wildest dreams I would taste food like this in Manila.
The roti was perfectly done, and the curry thick and rich. The satay was aromatic, perfectly seasoned and spiced, the peanut sauce chunky and delicious. With diced cucumber and onions plus achar and krupuk, I could have sworn I was in Indonesia.
The kway teow was a solid mouthful, with nice burnt wok taste. Whoever was behind the preparation of these dishes is a genius.
I thought the cook was Malay, Singaporean or Indonesian. He turned out to be Chef John Orit, a Filipino.
Trained by the Singaporean team that came to Manila before Makan’s opening, Orit prepares food that could be above par than that of hawker cooks. Everyone can be taught, but to cook these dishes as he does is a gift from the Divine.
After lunch, I proceeded to the oceanarium to check out venues for my son Diego’s 7th birthday. I was panicking because my son requested for a laser tag party, only to look me in the eye a week before to say I want my party at Ocean Park, Mama!
Since it’s his 7th, I had to try to give him the party he wanted. Luckily, the venue was available and the staff I met was highly efficient, making the party preparation so easy for me.
I opted for the Lo-ok function room, where you could view part of the 257,938-gallon tank (filled with 1,483 pieces of fish from 92 species of marine life) and hawker-style buffet—roti prata, mixed satay, nasi goreng, Noodles: char kway teow and cha hae mee. For dessert, we had iced kachang. For the kids—spaghetti and chicken.
On the day of the event, I was pleasantly surprised to see they went the extra mile. On one side of the buffet spread stood Chef John, flipping roti dough on the spot, cooking it fresh, to the amazement of the guests.
His demo area was decked with hawker implements—kariton filled with snippets of information about hawker food; sorbetes cart, and old-time taho and arnibal pail, which the mamang magtataho carried around.
The food, aside from being excellent, turned out to be a feast for the senses and an interactive learning experience. At 1:30, the oceanarium Journey began. The tour of the park included koi (the fish fed from baby bottles—what a treat!) and stingray feeding, plus a tour of the jelly tanks.
After the tour, the guests headed back to Lo-ok for a live 15-minute mermaid show. My son was so thrilled to see four pretty mermaids holding out a banner that read “Happy Birthday Diego!”
This was immediately followed by the all-new bird show, which is in the process of being perfected. The other parrot didn’t want to shoot the ball! Then the kids were taught the value of conservation and were asked to make a pledge to Mother Earth by stamping their hand-print on a “Serve the Earth” banner.
From Lo-ok, we also witnessed divers literally hand-feed the fish, and even caught a glimpse of park guests garbed as aquanauts! The last activity was the sea lion show at 4:30 p.m.
Everything was perfect last Sunday. When it was all over, I asked Diego: How happy are you, from 1-100?
He said: Five thousand, mom!
Indeed, what kid wouldn’t be happy with a party like that?
Call 5677777, look for Lesley Cabal, MOP’s guest services manager, or Marichu Liwanag, Hotel H2O’s banquet sales and events officer.
These are the ladies I begged, literally, to give the best rates possible. They can package everything for you (food, shows, activities) and can even work on a budget. According to them, what’s most important is that people get to see and enjoy the park.
Check out Hotel H2O, too, for some of the best-designed bay view rooms I’ve ever seen. It’s like you’re floating on water! The hotel is also a perfect venue if you wish to have the world-famous Manila Bay sunset as backdrop to your memorable occasion.
For my new cooking class schedules, call 0917-5543700, 0908-2372346, 4008496, 9289296
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