The great thing about living in the Philippines is that people here love to eat. Servings are smaller, which means you get to eat many times throughout the day. (Added bonus: the heat here melts away extra calories!)
Enter Merienda…the meal you eat in between lunch and dinner.
Today, we had merienda at San Mig. Though mainly a pub, this place serves some of the best comfort food Filipino cuisine has to offer.
As soon as you enter, you are greeted by the smell of stale cigarette smoke and oily food. Though it sounds like a turn-off, I’ve grown used to the aroma and now it’s strangely inviting.
The wood is dark and the lighting is low. The furniture hasn’t been replaced since the restaurant’s opening decades ago, so the leather seats are cracking and tearing. During the day and most weeknights, you will find small groups of friends tucked away in the booths and a few people sitting at the bar. (It picks up nights and weekends.) All of this comes together for a warm atmosphere. Ten years from now I bet it will still look the same!
It’s not a trip to San Migs without an order of sizzling Gambas and garlic rice. This is a Spanish dish (Filipino food has LOTS of Spanish influence) made of shrimp and varying amounts of pepper and garlic. I’ve had spicy gambas and uber-garlicy gambas. San Migs has found the perfect balance of the two, so it’s our go-to spot when we’re craving this.
- Another popular dish is Arroz ala Cubana. Once again, this is Spanish. It consists of garlic rice, a fried egg, ground beef, fried banana, and a tomato dipping sauce. The key is to chop it all up an mix it together while it’s still hot and while the egg is still runny. The grapes and (possibly cloves?) add another dimension of flavor that I haven’t come across in other Filipino dishes.
The walls are full of antiques and photos that celebrate the Philippines’ Spanish heritage. In addition, there are about four or five of these cabinets, all with half-used bottles of liquor. I wasn’t sure what this was all about, so I took a closer look…
Each bottle has a name tag on it. Apparently, if you buy a bottle and don’t finish it, they put your name on it and they’ll save it for your next visit. For me, that sums up what San Migs is all about. You don’t come here for exciting nightlife or trendy cuisines. You come here to share a few drinks with good friends while filling up on some classic comfort food.
For friends and family back home that come and visit, this will probably be one of the first places I take you!