Believe it or not, this is my first visit to the Philippines. Being first generation Filipino-American, thoughts of my visiting the country where my parents and their ancestors lived for generations was far from being a reality so I’m still pinching myself, asking if I’m really here. I’ve been spoiled living in a “country of opportunity”, which is why my parents emigrated to the U.S. in the first place…to seek opportunity and to help their respective families financially who were not fortunate enough to be able to come to the U.S. on their own.
When we touched down at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, I was expecting to feel something. Not sure what, but this was, after all, the land of my parent’s birth and where my roots were firmly planted. Although a sprig of that root has taken hold in the U.S. and is growing with with the next generation, the Philippines is still the heart of of my family’s legacy. I wish now that my two sons were with us to experience this journey.
After 24 hours of airplane food, I was ready for some real food. We were being picked up by one of my hubby’s friends and after going through customs and picking up our bags (which went smoothly by the way), we stepped outside and were greeted by a touch of humidity before entering the sanctuary of an air-conditioned car. As we headed into the city, hubby’s friend suggested lunch at a Filipino fusion restaurant which sounded good to me. It would be fitting that our first meal in the Philippines be that–Filipino. I noticed while we were driving in to Makati that the city loves its fast food restaurants, particularly KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken).
Fely J’s Kitchen is located in Greenbelt 5 at the Ayala Center in Makati (Metro Manila). Greenbelt is actually five large shopping areas under one large “roof”. Each shopping area is different. Greenbelt 5 happens to be a bit more upscale (Louis Vuitton and Marks & Spencer are in Greenbelt 5). The entire complex is very modern and well-heeled Filipinos can be seen shopping and having lunch in this grand space. As much as I wanted to look around, we were there to have lunch and we were pretty hungry.
Fely J’s Kitchen was pretty busy for a late afternoon lunch. We were able to get a corner table, perfect for a party of three. Fely J’s serves up a wide variety of Filipino and other Asian-inspired dishes. I found out that the restaurant itself is named after Felicidad de Jesus-Cruz, the mother of the late restaurateur Larry J. Cruz (LJC) which features recipes which she picked up in her travels. LJC owns a group of successful restaurants throughout Manila and I hope to try out at least two or three more before we leave the country.
The restaurant is open and modern with a full bar, black and white photographs of Fely J graces its pink walls (yes, pink–and one of my favorite colors!) and detailed scroll “tiles” in white adds a bit of feminine whimsy to one wall.
We ordered drinks while we studied the menu. Hubby ordered Ising’s Iced Tea (95P) which had a pleasing, yet subtly sweet taste; hubby’s friend ordered Buko (coconut) Juice (105P) which also included young fresh coconut “meat” and I had the Calamansi Juice (75P), which is a Filipino lime. All drinks were served in tall pilsner glasses and I noticed that while all the drinks were chilled, the juices were not served with ice.
After perusing the menu which graces a photo of Fely J herself, we decided to try a number of dishes:
The Chicharon Bulaklak (255P) is unlike any chicharon I’ve ever had–crispy fried pork intestines served with chili vinegar for dipping. This pork delicacy was flavorful and crispy, and paired nicely with the vinegar. Eating this was addicting. I’d rather have this than potato chips, french fries or even the bagged pork chicharons any day.
The Pansit Canton Guisado is a noodle dish sauteed with meat, shrimp and vegetables with Canton-style noodles. The noodles itself is the star in this dish and prepared till tender and to the bite. The taste is different from pansit I’ve had in the past and I’d love to get my hands on this recipe (or go back for a second round and ask)! LOL!
A group of gourmets came together in the ’80’s to form the “KKK” or Kare-Kare Klab as it is known and this dish, aptly called KKK (550P) was their star dish: tripe, oxtail and vegetables stewed in peanut sauce and served with sauteed bagoong (freshly made). I have to admit, I did not like Kare-Kare when I tried it as a kid but I did take a taste of the sauce and was pleasantly surprised. The peanut sauce itself was light and velvety in texture with a very subtle peanut taste. Definitely not for those of you who have peanut allergies! The oxtails were generous portions with plenty of tripe alongside it. This is one of my husband’s favorite Filipino dishes and he and his friend gave it two thumbs up!
This was my pick–the crispy Patang Bawang (555P). A Filipino favorite, this dish is a deep fried pork leg topped with plenty of crispy, sweet garlic and crowned with a single chili, served alongside a soy-based sauce. I love Lechon (a traditional Filipino roasted pork) and this is probably the closest thing to it. The best part of course, is the skin and there was plenty of it in this dish. The meat was so tender and practically falling off of the bone, the skin perfect and crispy…yes, I was in heaven!
Fely J’s offers up four types of Sinigang, a savory, sour soup with your choice of meat or fish, with plenty of vegetables: Bangus Bell (330P), Pork Rib (330P), Salmon Head (465P) or Prawns (525P). We decided to go with the Prawns. The broth was perfect; not too sour, hearty and the prawns were large with heads intact.
Overall, my first meal in the Philippines left quite an impression. With a full belly, my American palate was quite happy that my introduction with local Filipino cuisine prepared with fresh ingredients and produce indigenous to the area was a truly memorable and soul satisfying experience. If you’re ever in Manila, I urge you to visit Fely J’s. You won’t be disappointed. In fact, I may want to do one more return visit before going home!
FELY J’S KITCHEN
2/F Greebelt 5, Legaspi St., Legaspi Village, Ayala Center
Makati City, Philippines
02 728 8858