Chicken in soy sauce
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What: Kare-kare (“kah-re-kah-re”) is largely believed to be derived from kari-kari or curry-curry, possibly due to Indian immigrants who have settled in the Philippines. But it tastes nothing like Indian curry, as kare-kare is a peanut-based stew with eggplants, snake beans, chopped banana heart (the flower of the banana plant), and meat—usually ox tripe or oxtail. Its rich sauce comprises onions, garlic, ground peanuts (or peanut butter), toasted ground rice, and annatto, the seeds of the achuete (achiote) fruit that give kare-kare its signature saffron hue; typically the dish is served with bagoong, a fermented shrimp paste that adds a sharp, salty dimension. Thanks to the length of time it takes to make oxtail/tripe tender, homemade kare-kare tends to be reserved for special occasions such as birthdays and graduations. If you chance upon it in a restaurant, it’s a must.
Where: At least one branch of Cabalen (632-728-2930; multiple locations including McKinley Pkwy, ground floor of Market! Market!, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, map) includes kare-kare in its daily buffet, a gut-busting spread of 30 or so dishes from apps to mains to dessert, with at least two types of rice. The restaurant specializes in food from Pampanga province (where, it is said, everybody knows how to cook exceptionally well), and serves mainstream Filipino dishes everyone should try, such as roast chicken, pancit, lumpia, and halu-halo. It’s a great introduction to Filipino cuisine—and a delicious gateway to a food-induced coma.
When: Daily, 10am-11pm
Order: Kare-kare is just one of the main buffet dishes (Php 298, plus VAT) you should try here. It’s on the sweet side, but it doesn’t disappoint, as the sauce is rich and the tripe perfectly tender. The snake beans, okra, and eggplant balance the meaty sauce well, and the dab of bagoong cuts through the potentially cloying flavor. We also reached for a few unusual tidbits we spotted, like snails cooked in coconut milk and small clams sautéed in a black bean sauce.
Good to know: Cabalen has a “clean plate policy” and threatens to fine diners Php 100 per 100 grams of leftovers. It’s a good reminder to take only what you can eat!
Alternatively: At Miele-listed C2 Classic Cuisine (multiple locations including at the Shangri-la EDSA Plaza Mall, map), you can try crispy kare-kare, a modern take on traditional kare-kare that deconstructs the stew into boiled vegetables and crispy pata (deep-fried pork legs), with the peanut sauce and bagoong served on the side.
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