Manila Eats: Bangus

WARNING:  For Bangus belly lovers only

Upon touching down in the Philippines, time seems to almost come to a standstill. Imagine a slo-mo video where everything is forced to a speed slower than real life.  Except this is real life.  Manila life.  The island life.  Maybe it’s the heat, maybe it’s the sticky humidity, whatever it is, it’s got Manila in a haze and everyone in a trance.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a fast forward button and after having been gone for a few years I’m adjusting to the new pace all over again.  Like trying to not flip out when people get up from their seats to grab their bags from the overhead bins while the plane is STILL MOVING.  Or not losing my cool while waiting 20 MINUTES for an espresso at Coffee Bean.  Or forcing a polite smile when the lady at the bookstore tells me their computers are down so she has to try to remember where all the books I’m looking for are located…  But in a place where I need to shower more times than I eat in a day, I need to learn to not sweat the small stuff.

I am also adjusting to the towers of concrete that have risen up everywhere.  The economy is booming and enclaves of residential complexes and malls seem to have multiplied exponentially, providing entertainment, some respite from the heat, and temporary sanity from the everyday struggles of life.  And within these enclaves it’s amazing how many restaurants have cropped up in almost every nook and cranny.  There is something sweet, salty, cold and hot to eat everywhere I look and I just want to eat it all!  But despite the dizzying array of options to try, old favourites never die.  And the old restaurant Bangus is the only Filipino restaurant I ever crave.  I can’t wait to try all the new places everyone’s been telling me about but I always have to get my Bangus fix first.

Bangus or milkfish is the national fish of the Philippines and it is also my most favourite Filipino dish.  Marinated in calamansi, soy sauce and garlic, fried until golden brown, and eaten with garlic rice and an egg is how I grew up eating it at home.  But Bangus cooks the fish a multitude of ways and what makes it so special to me is the fact that it has a section on its menu dedicated to dishes that only use the belly.  That soft, fatty, black sliver down the center of the fish and my absolute favourite part. Not everyone loves the belly, I might add.  Which always works out in my favour because then I don’t have to fight with anyone over it.  I can just take the entire belly off the fish and put it right on my plate.  But none of that is necessary at this restaurant, each piece IS a piece of belly.  And that is absolutely magic to my ears, or I should say tastebuds.

Bangus has been around for more than 30 years but most people I know have probably not bothered to try it. Nothing about the restaurant screams TRY ME other than the sign bearing its name which would only catch the attention of a bangus lover.  And that I am. Specifically, a bangus belly lover. So naturally, I only order from the bangus prime-cut list (aka belly) on the menu and it’s always been the same three dishes.  The sizzling bangus belly, the bangus belly a la pobre, and the bistek bangus belly.  And then I always order the garlic rice and the adobong kangkong to complete the meal.  If I could I would eat this almost every day.  But then again, I’m a self-professed bangus belly fiend.

Everything about this restaurant is basic so don’t expect much.  From the interiors to the presentation to the service. However, if you are a bangus belly lover like me then this place is GOLDEN.  Who cares if the server falters here and there?  I can overlook a lot of things if I can enjoy non-stop spoonfuls of that yummy, lovely, rich, fatty black gold.  After all, we’re in the Philippines! Relax, take it easy, and don’t sweat the small stuff (wink).



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