Editor’s Note: Footage and photos were taken before the enhanced community quarantine.
A highway is what separates Quiapo Church from the small Muslim community that’s directly across from it. Quiapo Muslim Town is home to a thriving community and a local market boasting Maranao food products and ingredients you won’t usually find in Metro Manila.
It was mid-week when we visited, pre-quarantine and pre-pandemic, led by Ann Marie Cunanan of Meaningful Travels who conducts food tours in the area on a regular basis. “Unlike the perception of people that Quiapo is magulo, the place is actually not as busy as the other side,” she shares over a late breakfast spread of roti with egg and qwahwa, ground coffee from Sulu which you dissolve in hot water.
We sipped on the mellow flavors of the coffee as we absorbed the crash course on the history of the community, which sadly, none in our group has ever been to even if we lived in Metro Manila all our lives. We walked to the palengke and saw so many ingredients: there were bundles of sakurab, an herb that looks similar to spring onions and the main ingredient of their popular condiment, palapa; bakas, bamboo-smoked tuna; and dodol, a tubular glutinous rice cake akin to the biko, and was sweet, sticky, and satisfying. It was a mini gateway to a province we often hear about but had little to zero knowledge of.
We sampled roti from the most popular roti-han in Muslim town, tried Teh Tarik, and feasted on a lunch spread at Junairah with beef rendang (it was spicier than most versions), a popular Maranao dish called chicken piaparan, fish balls, and their version of kinilaw, which is one of the most delicious I’ve tried. Everything had bold flavors and spice. The Maranaos usually did away with utensils when they ate and even if we shyly asked for utensils to use, they didn’t bat an eyelash and heartily answered our questions about the Maranao culture such as “Should we stop what we’re doing when the call to prayer is being broadcasted over the speakers?” (Visitors and non-Muslims don’t need to.)
“The way to really connect with people is to offer them the food. Food really binds people. When you eat someone’s cooking, it means that you also trust the person who cooked your food. So when you eat and share a meal with someone, it builds that connection with someone.”
Ann also shared that the easiest way to get people curious about a different culture is to offer them food, hence Meaningful Travel’s Muslim Town food tour. “The way to really connect with people is to offer them the food. Food really binds people. When you eat someone’s cooking, it means that you also trust the person who cooked your food. So when you eat and share a meal with someone, it builds that connection with someone,” she said and we couldn’t agree more.
The food tour, like most public activities, are not allowed because of the pandemic. It is likely that the community seldom gets visitors now that everyone is asked to stay indoors. What Meaningful Travels did to support the community is to buy the food from the traders, Ann shared. “We activated the Localgoodness.ph [website] during the ECQ. We’re starting with food products so that people like us in the cities could also enjoy them.”
On the website you can find products such as palapa, turmeric (which the Maranaos use a lot in the cuisine), turmeric tea, local coffee, and more.
She adds, “You don’t get to find these dishes, these ingredients anywhere. You can find these mostly in Mindanao, but at least here in Metro Manila, you have a small community where you can get a glimpse of the unique flavors of the Moro people.”
Food tours and trips may be on hold for now, but our curiosity and thirst for understanding different kinds of food and dishes—and ways of life—doesn’t need to stop.
For more information, check mylocalgoodness.ph to shop for local products and regional finds
Thinking about what to cook next? Join our Facebook group, Yummy Pinoy Cooking Club, to get more recipe ideas, share your own dishes, and find out what the rest of the community are making and eating!
Got your own version of the classic dishes? Pa-share naman! Get your recipe published on Yummy.ph by submitting your recipe here!