What's Cookin'?

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I first learned about the concept of meal kit services sometime last year, or the previous year. While food delivery services are all the rage in Metro Manila (from reduced calorie count meals, to Paleo, to Keto, etc.), we didn't have a meal kit delivery service just yet, which appealed to me so much more. I was praying that something like HelloFresh would eventually make its way to the Philippines; fresh ingredients, already portioned according to my chosen dish, that I could cook myself.

Lo and behold, I finally had the answer to my prayers (thanks to my boss, who first tried it out) in the form of u Cookin, the first meal kit provider in the Philippines.

After seeing posts made my those who had tried the service, including my boss', I decided to give it a go. I placed an order for their Balsamic Sirloin Steak, initially for 5 pax (PhP 650 for all ingredients, already portioned per serving). But I decided to bump it up into 7 pax so I could make our Sunday dinner (which usually includes my brother, sister-in-law, and 3-year-old nephew; soon, I will have to factor in my toddler nephew's growing appetite and his newborn brother who will be eating solids at some point). Thankfully, u Cookin was gracious enough to come up with a package for 7 (at PhP 850), which isn't included in any of their rates.

My box was delivered on a Friday as they don't do weekend deliveries. I placed it in the refrigerator first before thawing the steaks come Sunday afternoon. I started to prep a little before 5pm, in anticipation of dinner.

This was how the box looked. The sides were taped together, and fairly easy to open.

It came with a brochure that let you know which ingredients were already in the box, and what you would need from your own kitchen (the usuals like salt and pepper, olive oil, a pan, etc.).

The step-by-step, easy-to-follow recipe followed in the succeeding pages.

The box had all of the ingredients needed for this dish, except salt, pepper, olive oil, the pans, oven, and kitchen sink. LOL.

In the recipe, it doesn't specify if you needed to peel the potatoes (I ended up peeling them). But I followed the rest of the instructions, in terms of cut and cooking methods (cook in pan + place pan in oven to roast).

While the potatoes were roasting in the oven, I went to work on the balsamic sauce. For the sauce, the box came with a balsamic glaze in a small circular container, a whole garlic, and Knorr chicken cubes (coincidentally, Knorr happens to be one of the brands I've handled for the longest time). Basically, it was just a matter of putting them all together in a pan.

Back to the potatoes. After removing the pan from the oven, the recipe called for stirring them in butter (included in the box) until the butter melted. I ended up throwing in some chopped carrots (from our fridge) for variety.

As for the steaks, according to the recipe, I was supposed to have cooked them in a pan then finished them off in the oven. However, since I had multiple steaks to take care of, I decided to use our griller instead — so I could cook all the steaks at the same time. While I'm no steak master, I tried my best to watch out for and cook according to each family member's preferred temp.

Et voila! Balsamic Sirloin Steak with a side of roasted potatoes and carrots, a la u Cookin (with some modifications by yours truly).

Now here are my thoughts on this service:

- I've already liked the concept of a meal kit delivery service to begin with, so props to u Cookin for being the first one to provide this in the Philippines.
- Easy to place an order on their website and it's also easy to correspond with them (for coordinating delivery schedule, payment, etc.).
- Reasonably priced meals. I was so surprised that for the number of plates I came up with, I only paid PhP 850 for everything.
- The recipe was easy to follow. Even relatively new cooks can whip up a good meal.
- u Cookin is expanding their menu. As of today, they added five new meals, which you can already pre-order.

- Only one mode of payment (BDO). I hope they include an online payment service (i.e. PayPal or via credit card), or at least expand to other banks or via payment centers.
- Particular to this dish at least, the serving size could be bigger. The steak and veggies only occupied half of a standard size plate. I'm not sure if the serving sizes are bigger for their other menu items.
- No weekend deliveries. If you're planning to cook on a weekend, expect to refrigerate or even freeze the ingredients upon delivery on a weekday.

Minor cons aside, I'm quite happy that u Cookin is now here, and when I run out of recipe ideas, I'm most likely going to order again from them.

I'm pretty sure that this service will be helpful to those who live in condos or have smaller kitchens, or couples and small families (since the ingredients are already portioned; there's no wastage whatsoever). Newbies in the kitchen won't be intimidated either (believe me; I used to be deathly afraid of stepping into the kitchen) because it's quite easy to follow their recipe/s.

And since they've expanded their menu, you can easily try to whip up different dishes — or get ideas and invent your own dishes.

To place an order, visit their Facebook page and follow the order link. And please don't forget to indicate that you learned about the service from me, Tina Araneta, if you decide to give them a shot!

Thanks, u Cookin, for this awesome service! And for those placing an order anytime soon, HAPPY COOKING!

No Star Price Meals in Baguio

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It's no secret that my family and I treat Baguio like our second home. For several generations now, it's been a routine for our families to spend summer vacations and weekends in Baguio. We still make it a point to head up north at least annually.

For many years, we would usually just eat in Baguio Country Club (since that's where we normally stay) and in nearby restaurants in Camp John Hay or along Session Road. Lately, however, we've been more adventurous in terms of discovering new restaurants. Just like most places in the Philippines, Baguio has been upping its game in terms of cuisine and variety options, as well as the quality of food, so my family and I have tried a number of new restaurants recommended by friends and featured in articles.

Over the weekend, my family and I escaped to the mountains once more to enjoy the cold (by our tropical standards) and nature (by our urban standards). And this time, we were able to try another restaurant we hadn't yet heard of until my sister-in-law brought it up, thanks to the recommendation of her relatives.

"Want to try some Indian food?" she asked, knowing I would definitely take her up on that offer. (I'm a sucker for pretty much any cuisine, and I enjoy those whose dishes are all about bold flavors.)

"When? Tonight?"

So we found ourselves, almost impulsively on a Saturday night, looking for Chef along Rimando Road in Baguio.

To the left of this inclined street, one will notice a red circular logo on the window of the restaurant, along with two outdoor tables. Inside, there are just about four to five tables. It's a small space that fills up very quickly, and their interiors are quite basic. It's your no-frills, typical hole-in-the-wall kind of setup.

"Five Star Menu at No Star Price" was what they claimed to offer. And sure enough, as the four of us (my brother, sister-in-law, and three-year-old nephew, and I) found a table inside, the owner's father talked to us about the restaurant, making this very claim.

Mr. Farooq was very welcoming and animated in the way he talked to us about their dishes and the chefs that he and his daughter hired from different international hotel chains. The one thing he promised is that the food wouldn't disappoint us in any way, but he asked for us to be patient as they were understaffed that evening. We assured him that we were looking forward to our meal, and about 20 minutes later, our dishes started to arrive one at a time.

My nephew's first time in this kind of a restaurant.

Chef, we discovered while perusing their menu, isn't just an Indian restaurant. They also offer Pakistani, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern dishes. Their prices are very reasonable, and for those who frequent restaurants serving the aforementioned kinds of dishes, you would likely see your go-to meals in their menu.

I was looking forward to chicken tikka masala, one of my favorite things to devour, but unfortunately, this was one of those familiar Indian dishes that wasn't on the menu. Since I wasn't entirely hungry (I had a snack just an hour earlier) and this happened to be one of the restaurant's recommended dishes, I chose their cheese sambosa. A plate of two medium-sized (comparable to that of our local Jamaican pattie) deep fried pastries arrived within a few minutes. The portions were just right to satisfy my appetite that evening. I also liked the garlic sauce that they served it with. 

Cheese Sambosa (PhP 89)

My brother, on the other hand, took a while before he placed his order. He doesn't frequent Indian/Pakistani restaurants as often as I do, but he likes Mediterranean dishes. He ended up going for their chicken shawarma. The pita bread had just the right texture (neither paper thin and soggy, nor tough and chewy), and the combination of flavors of the ingredients in the wrap was well-balanced. There wasn't a singular overpowering flavor. 

Chicken Shawarma (PhP 89 for Standard; PhP 119 for Double Meat)

My sister-in-law had a serious craving for a rice meal that day (in case you didn't know, she's expecting her second child!) and was really looking forward to trying their lamb biryani. It was a big serving, good for two to three people (though you can opt to order a single serving plate). The lamb was cooked really well, and the blend of flavors was amazing. My nephew, who was both a lamb and a biryani first-timer, definitely enjoyed sharing this meal with his mom.

Lamb Biryani (PhP 239 for Single Serving; PhP 466 for 2-3 Persons)

Another item she was curious about was their prawn and scallop toast, which Mr. Farooq highly recommended. Initially, we were informed by the waiter that this dish wasn't available, but we were surprised to see, towards the end of our meal, a hot plate of this being served. The cooks were able to prepare it just in time, and were we glad that we got to try it. Loved the texture of the toast, the tenderness and flavor of the prawn and scallops, and the sauce that it came with. Well worth our wait and every bite!

Classic Prawn & Scallop Toast (PhP 139)

Unfortunately, we were too stuffed to order dessert, but I highly recommend their strawberry and yoghurt shake (PhP 69) as your drink of choice.

Needless to say, we enjoyed everything we ate (I'm sure they would've been able to cook up an amazing chicken tikka masala though; maybe something to consider if they expand their menu?). I'm happy to know that with the addition of restaurants like Chef, Baguio is quickly evolving into a foodie haven. We were also glad to have met the owners of the restaurant (Mr. Farooq's daughter eventually came over to say hi, as did her mom). 

I think I'll try one of their curry dishes the next time I find myself in Baguio.

(Huge thanks to my brother for lending me his camera and lens in order to take these photos; I had left mine in my hotel room that evening, haha!).

No. 3 Guevarra Street, Rimando Road, 
Aurora Hill, Baguio City
(+63927) 986 7938

Crying Fowl

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You had me at "truffle dirty rice".

I met Karen Caballero, owner of Fowl Mouth Lady, at one swim training session a few months ago. She and I have common triathlete friends, and I was surprised to learn that apart from her duties for the national Sepak Takraw team, she runs a food business based in Marikina. 

And just recently, one of her posts on social media mentioned my magic word — truffle, of course — so I told her that I was a truffle lover and food enthusiast.

The next thing I knew, over the ASEAN Summit break, I was sent two dishes for me to sample; in fact, Karen personally brought them to my house. 

The Foodie Q&A

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Here I go again with trying to be different. But I really did want to try something different — again!

Lately, I've been curious about the vlogging world (particularly, how others get millions of views and hits, and how others don't). And a lot of celebrities and vloggers have Q&A videos.

Hi, Gordon Ramsay!

Since I am not a vlogger (it's really not my thing; I'd much rather have my "voice" come out in my writing and social media posts), I decided to do a Q&A — particularly, one for foodies — here in my blog instead. I came across this page and thought of answering some of the questions listed there.

  1. What’s your favourite cooking/food show right now? What draws you to that show? 
    Easily, it would have to be MasterChef (the US edition). I watch most of the MasterChef series, actually (Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Canada, etc.), but I like the pace, the drama, and the challenges in the US one better. In fact, I would have to say that it's largely thanks to the show that I decided that I needed to finally learn how to cook around 3 years ago. If homecooks could create soufflés at home, so could I.

  2. If you could eat dinner anywhere in the world, where would it be? 
    At this very moment, somewhere in Italy. Give me a plate of my favorite pasta, please. Or the best kind of pizza in the world.

  3. What’s the most important tool/appliance/gadget in your kitchen? 
    Our food processor. It's a lifesaver in so many ways, from helping us make pasta dough or pie crust dough, etc., etc.

  4. What food trend do you absolutely hate? 
    I don't think I have any. I just don't subscribe to or follow all food trends.

  5. What’s one ingredient that you’ve seen in the grocery store, but have been too scared to purchase? 
    Anything live, like live crabs, lobsters, etc. I don't cook a lot of seafood, let alone live ones. And I wouldn't want to.

  6. What is your most memorable meal? 
    I don't know the answer to this. I have so many of them, honestly. It really depends on how good the food is, where the restaurant was/where the dining experience took place, and the company with me when that meal happened.

  7. What’s the first dish that you cooked on your own? Was it good? 
    It must have been my first-ever take on a truffle pasta dish. It was pretty good, but I couldn't capture that truffle taste very well.

  8. Are there any ingredients or products that you refuse to spend money on? 
    At the moment, no. Since I'm still in the exploratory stage of finding my cooking style and learning new recipes, I would spend even if the ingredient is expensive, or even if it's to buy an ingredient I wouldn't normally use otherwise.

  9. How do you feel about the word “foodie”? 
    I don't know anymore what constitutes the word "foodie". Lots of people claim to be foodies, because food is such an integral part of everyone's life these days. Even people who don't cook but love to eat out and try new dishes consider themselves to be foodies; I was one of those people up until three years ago. I don't know when a person can actually merit the honor of being called a foodie, and when it's pretentious to claim that one is a foodie.

    At the moment, I'll let anyone who wants to call themselves a foodie be a foodie, because food is both a personal and a shared experience anyway, and everyone is entitled to love and be obsessed about food.

  10. Write down any vegetables or fruits that you absolutely hate. 
    Sad to say, I'm not obsessed with fruits or veggies. I mean, I can and do eat them, but I don't actively crave them. If they're integrated into or part of a certain dish, then I'll have them. But I won't go out of my way to say, for example, I need to eat at Go! Salads. Plus, with my hyperthyroidism condition, apparently, there are vegetables I should be avoiding; which I find strange, because I thought all veggies were healthy! Haha!

    That being said, I don't like bitter vegetables, i.e. ampalaya ("bitter gourd" in English) and okra. I also don't like fruits with too many seeds that I have to remove and spit out. I'm really such a safe fruit eater; my favorites are mango and banana.

  11. If the Internet disappeared tomorrow, how would you continue to share your love of food?
    I would hate for this to happen (THE INTERNET IS LIFE!), but I would find a way. I'd probably start knocking on publishers' doors, begging for a column, or I'd ask restaurants if I could write reviews for them, which I would print out and leave behind on their counters, for a certain fee.

  12. Write about your food philosophy. Do you follow a certain diet? Do you limit any foods in your diet? 
    I have yet to really craft and define my food philosophy. At the moment, I don't have one that is well thought out. Being a child who didn't really enjoy food (I just ate to live, and not the other way around; I preferred to spend all my time playing, reading, drawing, or training for swimming), I was surprised to discover that years later, eating became such a rewarding and thrilling experience. Nowadays, I can say that I really love food, especially when an experience is shared with other people dear to me. I believe that food is meant to be enjoyed, and when your body looks for certain dishes, you mustn't deprive it. But of course, eat in moderation, and always couple diet with exercise.

    As an athlete and someone dealing with hyperthyroidism (I'm always hungry), I'm learning to control my portions and figuring out when to satisfy or control my hunger. I have food limitations because of hyperthyroidism, but on my own, I'm trying my hardest to remove certain fatty foods and rich, dairy-based ones, especially on the days leading up to race day (if I'm signed up for one). If one wants to look as strong as Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, one must eat and exercise like Wonder Woman. Haha!

  13. Write about your favourite/strongest food memory. 
    I really enjoy food experiences abroad, and I still remember my first sip of pho in Ho Chi Minh, my first sip of ramen in Osaka, and my first bite of succulent duck in a hawker joint in Singapore. All were transcendental, to wax poetic about them. Hahaha!

  14. If you could only keep one cookbook, which one would it be? 
    I'm not into cookbooks (my digital self is more than happy to look at Buzzfeed and YouTube for food inspiration). But definitely, I would keep this wooden chest of recipes my mom created through the years; some of them were recipes of my great grandmother and my Araneta clan's secret recipes, some of them are the recipes of the dishes my mom created or modified herself.

  15. Cupcakes. Yay or nay?
    Yay, especially if it's a chocolate-based one. I'm not much of a sweet tooth, but biting into a cupcake with a chocolate base and a chocolate ganache frosting will always be a happy experience for me.
This was interesting to do, and it did get me thinking. For food enthusiasts out there, maybe the questions here can get your minds working, and you might want to answer them yourself.

Happy long weekend (to us here in the Philippines), and I do hope you cook up something delicious or eat something memorable! Happy Friday as well!

#Trending in Food


We've nearly approached the halfway mark of 2017, and I realized that I hadn't blogged here in almost six months. For those who may have thought that I simply lost interest in cooking, eating out, or reviewing anything food-related, fret not; my Instagram still sees a lot of foodie action, and recently, I co-wrote an article on spot.ph with my brother.

Anyway, since almost half the year is over, I decided to do something different. Instead of your typical restaurant/dish review or cooking how-to, I decided to compile a list of Metro Manila food trends from late 2016 to early 2017. This list is purely based on my own personal observation and experiences, so it may or may not be relatable to all.

With this said, let's get started. (Why do I sound like a vlogger?)

1) Cheese Overload

From pasta cooked in cheese, to cheese scraping, to restaurants devoted to the pure love of cheese, and the invasion of Japanese cheese tarts, cheeseaholics — like yours truly! — can satisfy their cheese cravings pretty much anywhere.

Melt Grilled Cheesery, located in Uptown Mall, BGC, is a restaurant hopelessly devoted to cheese.

From Lava, to Kumori, to Pablo's Cheese Tarts, Manila is experiencing quite the invasion.

What's better than pasta with cheese? Pasta cooked in cheese!
Parmigiano in Molito, Alabang, is one of those restaurants that offers this.

2) More Health-Conscious Eating

On the flip side, there are more restaurants that offer healthier alternatives to their dishes, and more people have generally shifted to a healthier way of eating. From diet meal plans, to vegan versions of dishes, to DIY breakfasts, to farm-to-table organic fare, there are more options nowadays for the health junkie.

DIY your own healthy breakfast with mixed fruits and chia seeds.

Earth Kitchen, with branches along White Plains and in BGC, serves only farm-to-table organic dishes. Most of their menu items can also be translated into vegetarian and vegan counterparts.

3) The Rise of Food Parks

Almost everywhere you turn, you will see a food park; if it hasn't been operational for several weeks now, then there's a new one under construction. Despite the erratic weather we have (it's either unbearably hot or raining), people mysteriously flock over to these food parks for the social experience that it is, for the social media mileage they may get out of their posts, and, of course, for the variety of food that they can choose from.

A recent food park that I went to is called The Truck Park, located along Mayor Gil Fernando Avenue in Marikina. From grilled dishes, to Mexican favorites, to American comfort food, to sausage sandwiches, this food park (like many others) caters to a wide range of diners and foodies.

4) For Brunching #TitasOfManila

Brunch has become a trend in itself the last few years, and many restaurants have adapted to this. Offering hearty meals for that brunching window, titas-at-heart now have many Instagram-worthy restaurants and dishes to choose from.

Meeting your fellow titas at 9am? You don't need to go out of town to do so. Restaurants like Rustic Mornings in Marikina have that ambiance any tita would love, with brunch fare to satisfy your palate as you and your beshies chitchat for hours.

5) The Poke that outlasted Pokémon

That interactive game may have lasted for only a few months, but thanks to Hawaiians, poke bowls have found their place in Manileños' hearts these past few months. And of course they would. Combining sushi, which many of us love, with a heaping bowl of sticky rice, resulting in an explosion of textures and flavor? It's perfection.

Salmon or tuna is usually the star of each bowl. Sushi Nori is one such restaurant that serves a variety of poke bowls.

If I were to add a few more (though I don't have pictures for them), they would be:
  • Artisanal coffee shops
  • Salted egg potato chips (and permutations of it, i.e. salted egg fried chicken)
  • Ube as an emerging global flavor (move over, green tea!)

Any other food trends that you may have noticed? Feel free to leave a comment!

Happy Friday, everyone!

All Aboard the Sushi Train

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About a year and a half ago, I was able to eat at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant when I was in Osaka. Months after that trip, I learned that Manila would be bringing in its own version of the conveyor belt experience in the form of Genki Sushi. However, I hadn't been able to drop by since I don't get to frequent Bonifacio Global City, where its first branch is located, all that much.

Two weeks ago, though, they opened another branch close to my home. So I was finally able to check it out together with some members of my family.

Located on the ground floor of UP Town Center (tip: it's near the mall entrance closest to H&M), it's best to head over to the restaurant before its peak hours. There are a number of chairs outside the restaurant for diners on the waiting list; and yes, midway into your meal, you really will see a line of people waiting to be seated inside the restaurant.

When you enter, you will see two "columns", if you will, of tables arranged by booths. 

On one side of each table, you will see a menu, an LCD screen, and two different levels of the "train tracks".

There's also a hot water faucet for each table, along with plastic cups, for hot water. You will also notice a small container on the table with green tea powder, should you want to make green tea for yourself (waiter's tip: two teaspoons of green tea powder, plus hot water, equals green tea!). 

Here's a closer look of the "train track". There are two levels that serve your orders on these tracks. The upper track runs along the level where the LCD screen is bolted on. 

And here's a glimpse of their menu. To find out the prices of their dishes (which are grouped by category as well as prices), you can also check out this link.

To place your orders, you will have to go through the different selections on the LCD screen; just swipe left and right as you would any tablet or smartphone. As soon as you've decided on your order/s, tap on the dish and press "Go!" If you want to consolidate more orders, just keep tapping until you reach your fourth dish, then press "Go!" 

(Pardon the slight blur in this photo; this was taken from a video. Stupidly, I forgot to take an actual photo of any of our orders as they arrived.)

Your orders will arrive on either level (the upper or lower track), on a blue train or a red train. Once you've taken your plate from the train, there's a yellow button found near the hot water faucet that you press to send the train back. This was the Fried Salmon Cheese Roll — and it's now one of my favorite rolls to eat.

From left to right: California Roll (PhP 160), Seared Salmon Skin Nigiri (PhP 120), and the Fried Salmon Cheese Roll (PhP 160). We ordered other dishes after we wiped these ones out, but I failed to take a picture of each of them. Just imagine several other plates of various dishes.

Some notes:

  • Once you are seated, the waiters will orient you on the ordering process. It's easy to use their LCD screen ordering system, especially since most of us are familiar with tablets and smartphones.
  • Their ingredients are very fresh, and unlike a lot of family-friendly Japanese restaurants with limited sushi/sashimi offerings, Genki Sushi has a very extensive range; even featuring dishes like eel and octopus.
  • Their service is fairly quick. At most, it would take 10 minutes for your order/s to arrive. But generally, each of our dishes arrived in under 5 minutes.
  • For non-sushi/sashimi lovers, there's a very limited menu featuring rice meals and the like.
  • Not all of the dishes will arrive via the trains. For things like beverages, you will have to ask the waiters to bring them to you.
  • Perhaps this is specific to the UP Town Center branch, but there's not much noise control inside the restaurant. You'll really be able to hear the music, the chatter from nearby tables, and the clanging of spoons, forks, and chopsticks. Thankfully, however, the trains that carry your food are quite silent as they make their way towards and away from your table.
  • The dishes are quite pricey (i.e. P90 to P200+ for four to sometimes even just one piece per dish). Choose wisely and if you're under a strict budget, make sure to hit "View Bill" on the LCD screen every now and then to see your running balance.
  • For the quality of the food and the childlike thrill of seeing it arrive on a little train, it's a worthwhile experience.

"Oh! Wed twain!!! Hi, wed twain!!!"  ("Oh! Red train!!! Hi, red train!!!")

Needless to say, my two-year-old nephew had the best time EVER seeing the orders arrive by our table and leave. He was also fond of pressing the yellow button to send the train/s back.

Japan and technology are quite synonymous with one another, and I wonder if, in the not-too-distant future, a world without human service will really be the way to go. It's not too hard to imagine with restaurants like Genki Sushi (and other similar restaurants in Japan) allowing for self-service. Kudos, however, to Genki Sushi's staff for being helpful in explaining the system and for being really accommodating by doing things like providing a high chair for my nephew (without us asking them to); I don't think technology is anywhere close to being that hospitable as of now — at least, not yet.

Genki Sushi
G/F Phase 2, UP Town Center, 
Katipunan Ave, Diliman, Quezon City
(+632) 958 5010

A Cheesy Night with Cheese Cartel

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If you mention anything to do with cheese, I'm SO there. Cheese is probably my greatest food obsession, and almost everyone who knows me knows this.

So when I came across a post on Facebook announcing this new kiosk that opened up in a food park in Marikina, I decided to check it out. And I invited my triathlon teammates who live within the area to join me in this cheese indulgence.

Along a relatively quiet road with restaurants sprouting up left and right, one will see a truck-like establishment aptly named The Truck Park.

Once you enter any of its wide doorways, you will see different kiosks serving different kinds of food: from Mediterranean, to Filipino, to Mexican, to American comfort food.

I headed over to the extreme left corner of the park, where Cheese Cartel was located.

Their menu is limited, which is expected for food truck establishments, since they need to be able to prep and serve all their dishes at near-lightning speeds. To get an idea of what they serve, check out their menu in their Facebook page.

Two of my teammates were able to show up, and we tried a range of their dishes.

We began with their Spanish Croquettas (PhP 129) and Cheesy Penne con Violy (PhP 179).

Personally, I felt that the penne was your typical tomato-based dish (which, I think, one can pretty much recreate at home); just with more cheese than usual.

But I loved, loved, loved the croquettas! I'm not sure what was in it, but the combination of what I think was chorizo (?), cheese, and the texture of the panko was an instant hit with me. I would go back to order several of these babies, seriously.

What arrived next was the Shepherd's Pie (PhP 225). Again, its flavor was just okay to me, probably because we have Shepherd's Pie at home almost every week. I liked its level of cheesiness, though; definitely much gooeyer than what we serve at home.

Since we were/are hungry multisport athletes on off-season, we had two (!) servings of the Four-Cheese Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup (PhP 179), with Emmental, Cheddar, Mozzarella, and a cheese sauce. The portions were just right for me and I liked the combination of cheeses in the sandwich. However, I felt that the tomato soup could be creamier and sweeter to counter the saltiness of the sandwich.

Note that if you want more cheese scrapings in any of your dishes, you can opt for a Half Scrape (PhP 99) and a Full Scrape (PhP 160). Obviously, you would (and should!) go for the Full Scrape, because why add more cheese without going all-out, right?

Overall, it was a pretty good experience eating the dishes from Cheese Cartel. I'm quite happy with what they offer, as well as the quality of their food, and I'm likely to go back for more sometime soon.

Some notes on eating in The Truck Park, though:

  • There's limited parking, as the first picture would show. You might end up parking across the street, or in other nearby establishments if you're not one of its earlier diners.

  • Their payment scheme involves a reloadable white card. In one of the kiosks, you determine the amount you think your card should hold, then place your orders in the stall/s of your choice. If you run out of "load" or "credit", you'll have to go back to the kiosk to "reload" (a.k.a. pay more).

  • The ventilation was — well, not great — at least when I was there. The entire place was smokey, and after staying there for an hour, my eyes started to water. I'd recommend that The Truck Park explore better a better exhaust and ventilation system.

  • The lighting was slightly dim, but it added to a cozy ambiance.

  • Considering that we were in an enclosed area and that there were lots of people when we were there, I was fairly surprised to note that it wasn't noisy (there was some kind of soundproofing, whether intended or not). My friends and I were able to hear each other well, without any of us having to shout or talk louder than usual.

I'm glad that Metro Manila seems to be offering more and more different types of dining experiences. We may be late to the food truck party compared to other countries, but I don't mind. I actually enjoy seeing what's out there, and the lightning fast rate in which restaurants and food establishments seem to pop up.

I'll be back for more!

P.S. Please excuse the quality of photos. I decided to blog about this after I had eaten what I ate; I only brought my phone with me. I should remember to bring my digicam the next time I think of reviewing another restaurant.

Cheese Cartel,
The Truck Park,
Gil Fernando Avenue,
Marikina City
(+63918) 864 8845