The Visa Collector

A blog about travelling with a Filipino passport, and life overseas

Archives for Filipino Food

Ling Nam Noodle House (South San Francisco)


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You can find good and bad restaurants in any city or country. At times its not so much about how to avoid them, but rather about how you manage expectations. For Bay Area residents thinking of going to the Philippines, and who want to prepare themselves for how bad some of our restaurants can get, then you’re in luck. You can experience authentic Pinoy bad service without getting on a plane. Introducing Ling Nam Noodle House in South San Francisco.

I’ve only been to this place twice. Both have been disasters.

My first visit happened the week after Thanksgiving last year, with a large group of friends. There were five families in our group, so we occupied three sets of tables. Our table was closest to the register so the waitress got to us first — which set off the first sign that the evening was not going to go well. She started by asking if we were together, to which we said yes. She then told us that we would pay have to pay together.

Come again? Who was she to tell us how to pay? Her “instruction” actually ran contrary to what we had in mind which was to pay per family. That way we didn’t have to worry about keeping track of who owed what.

Happily one of us was a regular, and charmed his way into letting us have our way. But we still got an “admonition” that we shouldn’t do this next time. Hmmm . . . interesting. Things went downhill from there.

My wife ordered a fish dish called “bangus”, she ended up with another fish that wasn’t even on the menu. By then I had gotten sufficiently pissed with this place that I picked up my wife’s dish and took it to the cashier to ask for an explanation. Apparently, they had run out of the Bangus and simply saw fit to substitute another fish dish without telling us. To make things worse, they initially insisted that what they served was what we ordered. My wife protested, which forced them to admit that they had run out. My wife eventually ordered a completely different dish.

On my end, I order a deep fried crispy pork dish called Lechon Kawali. They got the order right, but it smelled and tasted so rancid I couldn’t help but wonder if they cooked it in the same oil that they had already used for fish.

By the end of the meal, I had pretty much decided never to return to this place. But it was not to be.

In of May this year, friends who picked us up from the San Francisco airport whisked us here for dinner. We arrived late in the evening, and one of our friends had a Pinoy-food craving. This was pretty much the only place for that around. I wasn’t thrilled, but I figured that I’d give the place another try.

This time, my wife and I were careful to avoid the food we ordered before. I ordered grilled pork. To be fair, it was pretty good.

But the staff were . . . as interesting as ever.

Apparently live entertainment was made available that night, in the form of the one member of the kitchen staff challenging another to fist fight. Nothing like a good dose of shouting and commotion to spice up one’s dinner. Interesting insight into the mindset of the people preparing the food.

Arguably, the main thing going for this place is its hours of operation. If you have a craving for Filipino food at odd hours, and you are either disinclined, or don’t have enough time, to cook yourself, then Ling Nam is indeed the place for you. But take the time-element out of the equation, and there are plenty of other BETTER places within 10 minutes of this place.

Perhaps with better management, this particular branch (I’ve never been to others), could become decent. I’m not in any particular hurry to follow up on their progress.

Sep 25, 2010

Rene Rose Island Cuisine


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This is Clarita’s Filipino Cuisine . . . with better ambiance.

The must haves are all there: Inihaw na (grilled) Pork, Pork Adobo, Beef steak, Lechon Kawali (deep fried pork) and Bangus. From a pure flavor standpoint the average Pinoy palette would be happy with either restaurant. Their hits and misses are complimentary. Personally I like Clarita’s Adobo and Beef steak better. However, this place’s Inihaw and Lechon Kawali balance things out.

But one area where this place definitely has Clarita beat is the dining area. Its brighter, clearly given more thought, and lacks the annoying TV with cheezy noon-time shows. If you were to introduce a non-Filipino to common-Pinoy food, you’d probably make a better impression with Rene Rose. In the summer, the air-conditioning at Rene Rose definitely helps.

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Filed under Filipino Food
Sep 3, 2010

Clarita’s Filipino Cuisine


Part of this post can also be found on

Clarita’s is a Filipino’s Filipino restaurant. A place that Filipinos themselves frequent.

It’s not much to look at. But for a first-generation Filipino immigrant, it’s just what you look for because it’s reminiscent of the kinds of restaurants that you frequented when you were still back home — albeit nicer. No frills, spartan, let’s it’s dishes speak for themselves. When my older brother, by then a 12-year New Jersey resident, visited the other year, I first took him to my other favorite restaurants to include Patio Filipino up north in San Mateo. But when I took him to Clarita’s, he said “This is more like it!!! Everyday food”.

The restaurant offers a pre-defined selection of Filipino favorites. It also shows why a fair number of us have cholesterol issues. But heck, we expire happy.

The food is laid out in serving trays for ease of selection. Even a stranger to Filipino cuisine can assemble his/her lunch tray by simply pointing to what looks good. Although quite a few patrons are non-Filipinos, the bulk are still from the restaurant’s country of origin.

My personal artery-clogging favorites in the restaurant are: Pork Adobo, Grilled Pork, and Beef steak. A meat-lover can’t go wrong with these dishes.

Pork Adobo is a slow-cooked stew that takes a few hours to prepare. Typically the pork is marinated in a mix of soy sauce and vinegar, but practically every region in the Philippines has its own way of preparing this dish. Clarita’s is arguably a Central Luzon variant with additional ingredients that are characteristic of the region — as evidenced by its appetizing color.

Grilled pork (Inihaw na Baboy) is another popular Filipino dish. But sadly, this is not available every day. If you visit on a day that doesn’t have it, ask for the month’s schedule so that you can time your next visit better.

Beef steak is another soy sauce heavy stew. Thin cuts of beef immersed in a chocolate-brown colored sauce. Don’t forget to mix the sauce with your rice to transform it into a mouth watering congee.

The above three are my mainstays that form at least one of the two dishes that I usually get when I’m there. The second is reserved for periodic specials . . . that I will leave for you to discover on your own.

How to get here

You can find the restaurant at the Fair Oaks Mall along E Duane Ave.

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Filed under Filipino Food
Jul 8, 2010

A Taiwanese question about Jollibee in the US


Late last year, a friend from our Taipei office emailed me a question about Jollibee. He was working on his MBA and for some reason, he was working on a case study that involved this Filipino food chain. He asked about its popularity on the US west coast, if their target market was more Filipino that American, and whether or not the chain made changes to adapt to the local market.

His questions were interesting for a number of reasons. First, I’m still getting over Jollibee-deprivation. It’s easy to take Jollibee for granted when your in the Philippines, where practically every mall has one. But spend three and a half years in Taiwan, where it doesn’t exist despite the legions of OFWs on the island, and you learn to appreciate it really fast. I’d already been in the US 5 years by then, and I visit a Jollibee at least once a month . . . but I’m still getting over the prolonged separation from the crispy greaseless chicken and palabok.

Second, was the timing of the email. As I started writing my reply, I realized that it had been a while since I wrote just for fun. After weeks of poring over debug logs and flowcharts, it was time for a break.

That email, and the resulting response, planted the seeds for this blog.

My response is shown below (tweeked slightly to eliminate typos and improve the flow). Happy reading.

Here in Northern California, Jollibee is definitely popular. In the past two years alone, they opened two new branches. One in the largest mall in the region, the “Great Mall of the Bay Area” in Milpitas, and another in San Francisco. I have not been to a Jollibee in Southern California, but given that the concentration of Filipinos there is actually greater than up here, I would imagine that it is a big hit there as well.

It has the exact same look, feel, and offerings as a regular Jollibee that you would find anywhere in the Philippines – perhaps with the exception of the following:

• Accepts credit cards for payment (I called this an American adaptation in the original email. Only to find that this had become true in the Philippines as well, thanks to Banco De Oro and their card machines)
• Self-service for drinks (another common practice in American fast food chains)
• Clean-as-you-go for the tables instead of having a server clean up tables for you

It is definitely targeted at Filipinos, and arguably capitalizes on the fact that food is a well established cure for homesickness (heck, my wife ended up learning to cook while we were in Taiwan because of it). Close your eyes and the sounds and smells in a Jollibee restaurant will transport you back to the Philippines.

Unlike other minority-inspired chains like Baja Fresh, El Polo Loco (Mexican), and Panda Express (Chinese), which deliberately cater to what Westerners think are Mexican and Chinese food, Jollibee remained true to the food that generations of my countrymen grew up with and have come to love. The menu remains unchanged, and has not been adjusted to suit the local palette. There is, however, a caveat to that fidelity to the chain’s Filipino roots.

One important Filipino quality that Jollibee captures is the Filipino’s underlying aspiration to be anything else other than Filipino. Its default look and feel in the Philippines has always been Western. The founders of Jollibee reportedly sought to emulate McDonald’s in their restaurants. When the first Jollibee opened in my hometown in the late 80s, the line to the restaurant went around a reasonably sized city block. People lined up for almost an hour just to experience my hometown’s first western-inspired fastfood restaurant: organized, hygienic, very well lit, and colorful.

Most of us think of Jollibee as McDonalds with better tasting food. We like strong flavors. Jollibee delivers; McDonald’s doesn’t in most of our minds. But we appreciated that it had a McDonald’s-like ambiance.

Although Jollibee is a Filipino icon, it’s really a restaurant that pre-embraced a Western — particularly American — way of doing things. So it’s a chain that really doesn’t need to adapt to America, because it was already designed to bring America to the common Filipino from the start.

Filed under Filipino Food
Jun 24, 2010