Dati, ’pag sinabing Malabon, sasabihin ng ibang tao, ‘Ayoko dun, binabaha doon.’ Pero ngayon, ang Malabon ay binabaha ng masasarap na pagkain,” said Egay Ramos, tour operation officer for the city of Malabon.
And that’s exactly why we were there on a beautiful Friday morning—a group that included Lifestyle columnist Angelo Comsti, chefs Don Baldosano of Linamnam MNL, John Kevin Navoa and Thirdy Dolatre of Hapag, Francis Lim of Tipple & Slaw, Jorge Mendez of Byrd Tubs and Ohayo Maki and Ramen Bar, and foodie Pepper Teehankee. We were going to eat our way through Malabon.
Guiding us on our adventure were Jonah Kriza Aglupus, officer in charge of Malabon’s City Tourism and Cultural Affairs Office, and her team, along with Jaison Yang.
Yang is general manager of the travel agency Travel Warehouse Inc., but because he grew up in Malabon, he has made it his advocacy to bring people to his hometown so they can enjoy the many different things it has to offer. “This is my way of giving back to my hometown,” he said.
But there was no eating at our first stop: San Bartolome Church, built in 1614 by the Augustinian friars. The historic church, which has gone through world wars and multiple restorations, remains standing and is the city’s oldest parish.
Our history lesson continued at Malabon Heritage and Library Museum, which was built in 2019. It’s a project that is the result of painstaking labor and research that involved digging through documents from Spain. Today, when you visit the museum, you’ll meet community tour guides—retired teachers who now spend their days telling visitors about the history of their beloved city.
At the museum, you’ll learn about the evolution of Malabon through the centuries, and its heritage and culture. You’ll see images of popular personalities who hail from the city and get a chance to view dioramas of important structures like churches and ancestral homes. There’s also a copy of the 1734 Murillo Velarde map, which is considered the first detailed and scientific map of the Philippines. It was Nicolas de la Cruz Bagay, a local artist, who engraved the original map on copper in 1734.
And because there’s no shortage of talent here, there’s an art exhibit running at the museum, featuring the work of the young artists of Sining Batambobong.
Popular Malabon snacks
It was at the museum that we started to eat. They had prepared a spread of popular Malabon snacks.
Hazel’s Puto (facebook.com/hazelsspecialputo) is topped with cheese and a generous dose of salted egg. Break open one of Hazel’s Puto Paos to find asado filling inside.
Another favorite: soft broas from Betsy’s Cake Center (facebook.com/Betsys-Cake-Center-132808853462746)—two pieces of light and fluffy broas sandwiching a buttery, sugary, creamy center.
Then there’s Valencia Triangulo by Aling Tessie Punzalan (tel. 0947-1347558). Ramos told us that in Malabon, when you say turon, what you’ll get isn’t the banana-stuffed treat we all love—they make their turon with a mashed monggo filling. In Malabon, what we know as turon is called Valencia. But Aling Tessie’s Valencia is unlike the others—and not just in shape. Bite into the crispy caramelized sugar-coated wrapper to reveal a delicious mix of saging na saba, langka and pinipig cooked like biko. It’s a winner.
From the museum we boarded e-trikes. E-trikes are a great way to get around the city—they can maneuver through narrow streets with ease and the drivers are more than just drivers; they can also act as tour guides. “The tricycle drivers know all the best places. Alam nila ’yung masasarap na kainan. And they can wait for you,” said Yang. Plus, you’ll get to help people whose livelihoods have been affected by COVID.
Six years ago, Melissa Sison Oreta, chef and wife of Malabon Mayor Lenlen Oreta, introduced tricycle food tours in the city. It was a big hit. Even foreigners came to join the tours. The pandemic put a stop to that. The food tours, this time on e-trikes, will be making a comeback soon (hopefully in March)—but, in the meantime, people can also go on DIY tours to support the e-trike drivers and local establishments. Yang says people can ask the tourism office for suggested itineraries (or you can use this article as your guide).
The e-trikes took us to another historic church, Sto. Rosario Parish in Dampalit, which was built over a hundred years ago.
Our next stop was La Bamboo Fishing Cottage (facebook.com/La-Bamboo-Fishing-Cottage-103674695486271), also in Dampalit, which just opened in December. There, people can rent cottages, go fishing and boating or just have a meal (they have an extensive food menu—the sinuglaw, tuna panga and crispy pata have been popular) or enjoy happy hour which starts at 6 p.m.
If you catch any bangus or tilapia, you can ask the restaurant to cook it for you. It would be a great place for families to visit. Kids are welcome, said Brian Manapat, the barangay captain who owns the place. He said, “It’s open air so it’s safe. People enjoy the boat rides. They say ‘hashtag feels like Baguio’ daw.” A wedding has already been held there, he added.
Yang then introduced us to his own family’s food business: Mommy Dolor’s Kitchen (facebook.com/mommydolor; @mommydolorskitchen on Instagram), which features their heirloom recipes, like his grandma’s bagoong. They used to give this bagoong as gifts to their family doctors, lawyers and other VIPs. It’s always requested as pasalubong by friends who live abroad. This bagoong is delicious and salty (none of that sweet, spicy nonsense) and has heapings of fried pork chunks. Ugh, so good.
Yang said, “My grandma used to say, ‘Don’t worry about the fat, ang buhay hindi pahabaan, pasarapan ’yan.’ So the more fat, the better.”
We enjoyed Mommy Dolor’s Kitchen’s bagoong with singkamas and green mangoes. We also dug into the tortang alimasag which we think is another must-try—we loved that no extenders were used, it was pure crab goodness. The chefs raved over both the bagoong and the tortang alimasag.
There are many other items on Mommy Dolor’s Kitchen’s menu like cheese pimiento, adobong pusit, fiesta hamonado, tapang kabayo. And here’s an awesome thing: they also offer “pasabuy” of other Malabon favorites. “I want to support the other businesses in Malabon,” said Yang. “There’s a market for everyone.”
That’s how it is in Malabon, Ramos said. It’s friendly competition.
Our next stop was Aling Mely’s Carinderia at 10 A. Bonifacio St., Barangay Flores (tel. 82816316), a Malabon landmark which has been around since 1965. There, we had lunch with Malabon City Councilor Enzo Oreta and Aling Mely Tuazon herself.
Lunch was an abundant spread of some of her greatest hits: tapang kabayo, lechon kawali, tochong bangus, stuffed squid, tortang dilis, lumpiang sariwa which, interestingly, includes scrambled eggs.
Bestselling beef ‘mechado’
But of course, the star was her bestselling beef mechado, which is made the traditional way with tomatoes and not tomato sauce. Her kare-kare is another bestseller which is only served on weekends. “Dinadayo ’yun. Apat na kaldero ubos sa dalawang oras,” she said.
The secret to her food, according to Aling Mely? “Pag-ibig. Hindi masarap ang pagkain kapag walang pagmamahal.”
She started telling the chefs how she makes her mechado, step by step. Aling Mely doesn’t believe in keeping her recipes to herself. “Hindi ’yan mga sikreto. ’Pag tayo marunong magluto, ’wag mo ipagkakait sa iba,” she said. “Kung matutunan ng iba, e ’di mabuti. I-share mo sa ibang tao para dumami ang nakakaalam para hindi mamatay ang lahi ng Tagalog, para mabubuhay ang legacy.”
Oreta is a fan of Aling Mely’s food, he said. He loves the tapang kabayo, pusit and mechado. He shared another food secret of the people of Malabon. “’Pag kumakain kami, laging may patis,” he said.
Next door to Aling Mely’s is Lugawan Experience, another popular joint. They serve two big pots of lugaw every day and when it sells out, they close the store. By the time we got to Aling Mely’s for lunch, the lugaw was gone. Yang said that the owners of Lugawan Experience were able to send their kids to De La Salle University from their earnings from selling lugaw. “Kaya masasabi mo talagang lugaw is essential,” said Yang.
As if lunch wasn’t filling enough, next we tried the yummy Tessie’s Quekiam which you can find at 38 A. Bonifacio St., Barangay Flores (tel. 82816248, 0977-1214562, 0961-8334986) and Judy Ann Crispy Pata by Jamico’s Restaurant (facebook.com/jamicosrestaurant).
There’s a lovely rags-to-riches story behind Jamico’s. Jeepney driver Remeyno Antonio, who loved crispy pata, wanted to create his own version of his favorite. His take—crispy and tangy with a touch of sweetness on the outside, moist and tender on the inside, and topped with homemade pickles—was so popular it became the cornerstone of the decadesold restaurant he has built.
You would think we’d be stuffed by now, but there was more eating to do—that’s just what happens when you’re in Malabon. At Mama Belen’s Kitchenette (facebook.com/BelensKitchenette; @belens_kitchen on Instagram), the charming Carlo Agustin showed us how he makes his grandmother Rosy’s famous Pancit Malabon.
Using six bamboo chopsticks passed down in their family for generations now, he mixed a fresh batch of noodles. “Kailangan nakakapit lahat ng sauce sa noodles.”
Aling Rosy’s version, now Carlo’s, is topped not just with shrimp and hard-boiled eggs but also lengua and oysters (which you can enjoy upon request).
In their version, you can taste the Chinese and Spanish influences on Malabon’s beloved pancit, as Ramos shared with us: Pancit Malabon is basically noodles combined with paella toppings.
Traditionally, Pancit Malabon is enjoyed with camachile cookies, which Mama Belen’s Kitchenette also serves.
Mama Belen’s Kitchenette’s Pancit Malabon became an instant favorite for all of us—we ordered bilaos of it to bring home. Comsti had also written about Mama Belen’s Pancit Malabon in a previous Lifestyle column, and Agustin talked about how that led to them getting a lot of orders even from people in posh villages in Manila.
At Tambobong’s Pasalubong, we bought more goodies to bring home: taba ng talangka, chicharong baga, sweet and spicy dilis and pusit and El¬let’s Halo-Halo.
The red box
Our last stop was Original Dolor’s (tel. 82812739; facebook.com/original¬dolors; @originaldolors on Instagram), home of Aling Dolor’s famous kakanin. It’s a long story that even ended up in court but basically, if you want to en¬joy kakanin the way Aling Dolor made it, get it from Original Dolor’s (just look for the red box, that’s what the locals say).
And here’s a tip: If you have a fa¬vorite part of the kakanin (mine’s the sapin-sapin), you can order an entire bilao of just that.
It’s only been days since our visit to Malabon but we’re already missing it. We’ve tried to relive the experience at home by ordering tortang alimasag from Mommy Dolor’s Kitchen (and getting Valencia Triangulo from their pasabuy service) and more kakanin from Original Dolor’s. We even ate half a jar of Mommy Dolor’s Kitchen’s bagoong with singkamas in one sitting, but we still can’t wait to go back.
There’s something different about eating Malabon food while also get¬ting the chance to meet the people behind them and talking to the locals who are excited to share their culture with you—maybe it’s the pride in their heritage, maybe it’s their warmth, it’s probably both. Plus there are so many other things we still need to try.
Oreta said, “Please come to Mal¬abon. We are known as a culture of taste and heritage so don’t miss it. Here in Malabon, we strongly support our local businesses so please invite your friends, your family. We’re sure you will have a good time.”