Friday, June 20, 2014

Eating (Ta)Batchoy




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Just the other week, I discovered something new about one of the places I frequently visit, thanks to an article on Spot.ph about the best-kept secrets of Manila. I speak of the La Paz Batchoy de Manila, a small restaurant along Escoda street in Ermita. Or what I now call batchoy heaven (at least, until after I taste Deco’s batchoy in Magallanes).

Manila City-20140617-00189
This photo I took does not do the batchoy justice. Trust me.

But first, a background on the area of Escoda: I am extremely familiar with this street because of the fact that it is the end point of the Pandacan-Ermita jeep, one of the few ways out of my hometown. Back when I was in college, I would spend a lot of time hanging out to read at the Dunkin Donuts in front of the Philippine General Hospital’s main gate, and when I was in nursery, I was schooled at the nursery in what is now the National Federation of Women’s Clubs of the Philippines, at the corner of San Marcelino street and Escoda.

You’ll probably have a hard time finding the La Paz Batchoy de Manila restaurant, since the place has no signage whatsoever, and is hidden from view by the fact that it is inside the lobby of a building that has, among other things, a flower shop, a bakery, a pawnshop, a dentist’s office, and a salon—all on just one side. The entrance to the lobby is a small gate secured by a lone guard who more often than not keeps the gate closed.

Once you enter this gate, however, you will be greeted by a short hallway, at the end of which is the small batchoy eatery. Make no mistake; the La Paz Batchoy restaurant is, in fact, a relatively clean turo-turo, manned by a couple of guys from Makati and Tondo. If you are the queasy type who can’t eat in a roadside canteen, then this place isn’t for you. You will be seated on a monoblock table, right next to the counter. The restaurant is, thankfully, air conditioned, but this does nothing to allay the simplicity of the place; you went here to get your batchoy, pay for your meal, and leave.

The people running the restaurant, however, were extremely nice and accommodating. I stepped into their premises close to their closing time of 8:00 PM, but they let go in and order a bowl of their super batchoy. They even let me use their landline—a mobile landline, really—to make a phone call I’d forgotten to complete earlier that day. And they kept on telling me to drop by earlier in the day, since they really couldn’t stay open very late, since the building management were very strict with their rules.

The batchoy was, in a word, sulit. Spot.ph described the taste of the broth as somewhat sweet, and that’s exactly what it was. But it didn’t taste like it was sugar sweet, no; it tasted more like caramelized onion sweet, which is what I suspect it is. And they gave you a lot of the soup! I can’t tell if they used MSG, but there was a slight salty taste to the soup, so I’m not discounting the possibility. But that’s not such a bad thing, unless you’re like my mother who’s allergic to the stuff.

Then there’s the miki. If there’s something Pinoy artisans learned from the Chinese, it’s to keep the noodles separate from the soup up until you serve it, since this keeps the noodles fresh and al dente. La Paz Batchoy de Manila does this as well, and the noodles are nice enough. But I’m not really a big fan of miki, so this was not the highlight for me.

The highlight came in the form of the toppings. The bowl of batchoy—and it was a really big bowl—was full to the brim with all sorts of meat—pork liver, beef cutlets, and pork rinds. I was told that sometimes the pork rinds lacked the kind of crunch you’d expect from chicharon, but I didn’t have that problem during my visit. The toppings were well-cooked, and were a delight to chew on, and the spring onions added just a little bit of flavor to the whole thing.

The best part was the floating egg yolk. I always thought that the egg was fully cooked upon serving; it sure looked that way in the photo I took. I was pleasantly surprised that the egg was soft-boiled upon immersion, and was just kept intact by the viscosity of the broth. When I poked it with a spoon with the intention of gobbling the whole thing up, the yolk broke apart, thickening the soup instantly, and making the experience all the more special.

I can’t wait to try Deco’s batchoy in Magallanes—it’s been said that they have the best batchoy in the metro there—but the proximity of La Paz Batchoy de Manila to my house, and the surprisingly good flavor of the soup (for less than Php100!) will make this place hard to top, in my book.

 

La Paz Batchoy de Manila
G/F CLR Building
110 Escoda Street
Brg. 676, Ermita, Manila
Tel No.: (02) 524 8913

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