Historically, the Malate area of Manila is known for it’s bohemian come-as-you-are ambiance. It is the location of several theme bars/cafes, dive bars, restaurants of different international cuisines, as well as a slew of backpackers inns and hotels/motels. Because of this, many travelers make Malate their home while in the city.
Recently however, Malate has undergone structural changes. In the past, only mid-level buildings were allowed. This gave the area a great view of Manila Bay. Manila Bay during sunset is breathtaking, and this had been one of the draws of the Malate district. Highrises are sprouting up in several key areas, these days. Malate habitants are waiting to see how their beloved district will be affected.
But then again, the bohemian spirit is still alive and well in Malate, Manila.
Aristocrat’s Malate Branch (432 San Andres Street, Malate, Manila) is a beloved establishment by foodies and historians, alike. This is their first branch, which started as a mobile snack bar by Engracia Cruz Reyes in 1936.
In time, it gained enough regular customers and enough funds to put up its own building. This building underwent several changes through the years, especially during World War 2, when Manila was bombarded by both Japanese and American forces.
Today, it is one of the most successful branches of Aristocrat and operates 24/7.
When in Manila, have breakfast like a true-blue Manileno. Try Aristocrat’s Daing na Bangus (fried milkfish) plate, or the classic Aling Asiang’s Chicken and Pork Adobo plate. This comes with two eggs, garlic rice, and your choice of tea, coffee or hot native chocolate.
The hot native chocolate drink is amazing. It is made of Tablea Tsokolate, turned into a hot chocolate drink the local way – through a batirol or a cast-iron pitcher, and a batidor or the wooden utensil used to whisk hot water and Tablea Tsokolate into a thick foamy chocolatey piece of heaven.
Manila is a great place to go to for art. A simple walk along the streets of Mabini and MH Del Pilar can lead you to several spaces occupied by local artists and their works. Some would even walk around the street carrying their art to sell to passersby. You would see good selections on commonplace topics, such as landscapes, women, and rural life.
For more formal art venues, walk a little further to UN Avenue. There, you will see the Philam Life Building, which plays host to a variety of exhibits regularly. Right next to it is Hiraya Gallery (530 U.N. Avenue), which has exhibits by up-and-coming local artists.
Shawarma Snack Center
For lunch, head to the Shawarma Snack Center, along Salas street. Salas is one of the side streets along MH Del Pilar. This place receives a steady traffic of guests from all walks of life: locals, travelers, party-goers, and even some Filipino celebrities have been spotted here. They are reputed to serve the best authentic shawarma in the whole of Metro Manila.
Don’t expect anything fancy. The place is spartan; there is no ambiance whatsoever. You just get a table, utensils and potable water. But the food is amazing and affordable. Try their beef shawarma, hummus, motabal and falafel.
Spend the afternoon with more walks. Or, take a calesa (horse-drawn carriage) this time around. Yes, this is a very touristy activity. It is fun, nonetheless. Head towards the Manila Bay area. You will pass the Malate church along the way, which is a rustic beauty dating back before World War 2.
Manila Bay once hosted several seaside beer joints and comedy clubs. Thankfully, this has been cleared up. Nowadays, it is frequented by promenaders, runners, and locals who fish from the bay’s wall.
Walk towards its southern end and you will get to the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), which is the home of the local performing arts. The afternoon is a good time to check out its exhibits, as its schedule of events. Then, stroll towards the sea again towards Harbor Square, which is the cafe and bar center right next to the CCP. This is a great place for coffee or to just walk around.
Cafe Adriatico is a Malate landmark. It is well-loved by local gourmands, as well as the old Malate community; and is the flagship restaurant of the LJC Restaurant Group, which used to monopolize the Remedios Circle area of Malate. Now, only Cafe Adriatico (Adriatico corner Remedios Street, Malate) remains standing.
The cafe specializes in Filipino-Spanish cuisines. Callos and Lengua are great dinner choices. This is comfort food for many Filipinos. Accompany the meal with the favorite local beer, San Miguel Pale Pilsen.
Head to The Bar @1951 after dinner. This is also along Adriatico Street, going towards San Andres Street.
The Bar @1951 used to be called Penguin Cafe and Gallery. Penguin is one of Malate’s iconic bohemian hangouts, where you can listen to music, view art, eat, drink and mingle with the locals. It has been around since the mid 70s.
The Bar @1951 usually feature local world music, ska, and punk music artists from Thursdays to Saturdays. Its gallery displays and sells works by up-and-coming young visual artists.
*All images are credited to Roda Novenario*