Taste Of Manila, A Tale of an Epic Fail

The first Taste of Manila in Toronto opened today to a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of mostly Filipinos seeking to reminisce laid back life “back home” with samplings of Filipino food. The unfortunate part is, although the use of the word “taste” hints food, Taste of Manila offered little for the foodie at heart.


There were about ten food stalls, if not less, all serving Filipino cuisine. Taking up about two blocks worth, limiting Bathurst Street to one lane for each direction of traffic, Taste of Manila is a hodge-podge of real estate vendors, insurance agencies, discount clothing, satellite TV offerings and the like. There was also an entertainment stage setup on one end where performers took turns strutting their stuff whether it be dancing, singing or a fashion show. The two day event even promised a visit from a celebrity from the Philippines.


Going back to the food, we strategized a divide and conquer seeing how the lines are really long for the food vendors. One by one, upon reaching, or at least close to the ordering, two food stalls we lined up for has ran out of food. We lucked out in one but can only order fish balls (pictured above) and shumai (pictured below). Other than these two, we couldn’t be bothered to try anything else. People at the lines were getting aggressive in that they jump the lines by pretending to be looking at what’s available. Even the Colonial mindset (in this day in age) from food vendors was practiced in the event; white man gets served first. It was utter chaos and a total turn off.


As much as we like Filipino food, this event was an epic fail as a food event. It failed in that it didn’t showcase savoury, and often considered delicacy, that is Filipino streetfood. Instead it was a collection of existing local Filipino restaurants in the area bringing their menu to a tent. We felt it was a missed opportunity here to highlight what Philippine street food is all about. The food vendors offered combos (often rice with 1 or 2 side dishes) like the ones they offer in their restaurants instead of a sampling of authentic dishes that is more conducive to these types of events. There was no opportunity for legit food event goer to get a sampling of dishes. Instead, the food vendors banked on monopolizing the business by offering a slew of dishes in a combo. One to note is the Kabalen Restaurant’s food tent, which offered a buffet table style service. You get a serving of rice and 2 sides of your choice for $9. In fact, Kabalen was such a turn off for us with just overall bad servers (one decided to be mute to patrons but not to fellow staff) and food running out, that we left the queue. Another one to note was Bella’s Lechon, who wasted an opportunity to advertise their lechon (roast pork) by not serving any at all. Just as bad was Grill Heaven, which has ran out of their own specialty (Filipino style skewered pork and chicken) just as the crowd was gathering. We just don’t think the food vendors and organizers get what a “taste” festival means. If this is the Filipino community’s translation of the word, it is an epic fail.

Overall, Taste of Manila was a big disappointment. Even though attendance was in droves, it just wasn’t up to par with other cultural events in the city. We think the organization missed the boat here on possibly highlighting food from the Philippines. Our hope is, should this continue next year, is a thought out plan that will satisfy the foodie in all of us.

TD Night It Up 2014

The annual TD Night It Up at the Markham Civic Centre was another success this year. Sticking to the traditional night markets in Asia, food vendors offered a wide range of street food that some may consider delicacy. But if you are Torontonian, this is normal grub. Below are the ones we got to try before calling it “we’re full!”

What: Oolong Tea Creama
Where: Sharetea
– Sharetea added a twist to the bubble tea movement with their Oolong Tea Creama. It’s basically iced oolong tea but with a heavy sweet milk cream on top. It has a fluffy cream cheese like texture that you can either eat by itself of try to mix it in with the oolong tea at the bottom. It was interesting alone but it made the oolong tea bland if you ate the cream first. Eventually, I mixed mine in. That resulted in a refreshingly sweet drink. Check out Sharetea at Northtown Way in North York!

What: Spicy Chicken (left) and Rice Squares (right)
Where: Roy’s BBQ
– I think Roy’s BBQ is a pop-up food tent for now. They served us up spicy but mild chicken skin and tendon balls (they were more like chicken popcorn than BBQ) and a cooling rice squares. Both were very nice.

What: One Up, Porkzilla and Angry Birds
Where: Me.n.u
– Me.n.u started as food tent vendors in events like the TD Night Market. I think we first saw them at TO Food Fest about two years ago. Now they have a food truck added to their roster but continue to do food tents. We were able to try all three. We liked the Angry Bird the most interestingly enough since we are fans of pork. But for some reason, the One Up and Porkzilla wasn’t as savoury as we remembered them. They also used to have more meat in it and moist, but they were a little dry today and maybe a little over fried. Overall, it was still good eats. Just need to be mindful of the texture next time.

What: Pork, Beef and Chicken Satay Skewers
Where: Mamak Satay
– If you go to any night market this season and you see these guys, go! You can’t go wrong between the three satay skewers they serve up. Each has an explosion of flavours that is just wonderful. We liked all three with or without the sauce. Check them out if you see their pop-up food tent.

What: Mango Ice Cream
Where: Ice Volcano
– One of our favourite stops in these food events is Ice Volcano’s 100% Canadian milk liquid nitrogen ice cream. It’s always a blast watching these guys create their ice cream right in front of you. It’s an edible science experiment! They added dry ice to the presentation so your ice cream cup is not only fancy to look at but also keeps the ice cream stay frozen a little longer. Check these guys out when you see then at food events!

What: Assorted stuffed chicken wings
Where: Stuffed and Co.
– Stuffed and Co. is a catering company that is serving up stuffed chicken wings. Yes, they stuff the chicken wings with things like Mac’n’Cheese (Cheesy Mac), dumpling (Wonton Bomb), and jambalaya (Yaya Wing)! We liked all three, but our fave was the Yaya Wing. It had an Asian yet Southern comfort zing with jambalaya in sriaracha aioli and creole seasoning stuffed in a chicken wing then fried. It had an explosion of flavours that is unique to Stuffed and Co. Very good indeed!

What: Oyster Omelets
Where: Oyster Omelet
– The Toronto Star raved about this food stand as a must check out in this season’s food events so we decided to check it out. Sad to say we were not impressed by the dish at all and decided to throw most of it away after a bite or two. It just wasn’t good and we actually blame it for perhaps causing stomach upsets later on. Just not a fan of oysters that way. Give fresh oysters with a bit of lemon and garlic butter and I’m good. Cooked this way? Not so much. We say, skip this one unless you are heading home soon to be near a bathroom.

Overall, another successful TD Night It Up event at the Markham Civic Centre. We love getting invited to this event every year and look forward to it. See you next year TD Night It Up!

Hawkers Market – Vancouver

Second foodie event of the summer! Hawkers market is a cool event that aims to bring local food businesses together for foodies like us to experience new and innovative food creations. This year, the event was held in East Vancouver, near Kingsway with the majority of vendors inside but also a few food trucks lined up outside.


Our first stop was the table selling Chicken Waffles. The sandwich was made of free range chicken (really nicely fried), organic kale slaw (which they ran out of), chipotle maple aioli (super creamy), and watermelon gastrique (we had no idea where this component was). Overall, not bad for $9 and it was really filling!

We then tried some blueberry lavender marshmallows toasted with a blow torch, followed by a blackcurrant, raspberry and cream popsicle which was my favorite dessert of the night :)


The beautifully designed bottles of Taiwanese cold tea were from Oolloo Tea, the founder has a long family history of growing tea leaves and I love the simplicity and chicness of her designs and packaging! The chocolates were made by a lady who infused lavender and roses into the cocoa and cream, which makes the chocolate very rich and flavorful without being sweet at all. Probably the healthiest chocolate I’ve ever had. Another drink stand was called Kombucha, which is a different way of brewing tea with sugar. I got to try the pumpkin flavored one, which reminded me a bit like gingerale. Definitely a new foodie creation and seems very interesting!


Overall, it was a fun event although I wish there were more food vendors! A lot of the vendors didn’t prepare enough portions so my advice would be to arrive early next time! Thanks for inviting us Hawkers Market – hope to see you at the next event!

Ellen’s Restaurant


What: Garlic Fried Rice, Kare-Kare (Ox tail stew), and Lechon Kawali (Deep Fried Pork Belly)
Where: Ellen’s Restaurant (Mississauga)
Cuisine: Filipino
Affordability: $10 – $15 per dish

– Located amongst the see of warehouses and small offices on Kamato Road, Ellen’s resembles a seedy bar/restaurant you’d often find in Manila. The decor is tired and old but it’s part of the charm. It brings to Toronto that tacky Manila restaurants where the blue collars often meet for beer and grub. And just so it is really up there, twinkling Christmas lights are hung all year above the dance floor with the disco lights…yes…I said a dance floor. Ellen’s often hosts Filipino bands on the weekends and charges an entrance fee of $5 per person and you can dance as well.

- As for the food, Ellen’s is known for their savoury offerings. Their food always has that “Mama used to make” taste that reminds expats of the simple life in the Philippines.

- We ordered the deep fried pork belly, since that’s when you really go to these kinds of places, garlic rice and ox tail stew. Since everything is made to order it takes longer but the pork belly had a crispy skin right out of the deep fryer, yet soft and moist on the inside. It was also well seasoned that I find good enough to eat by itself. But a dipping sauce made from liver, vinegar and other spices is served with it as well. It’s common practice to serve pork belly with it as it brings out the flavours. We also ordered the garlic rice, which is staple, and it was seasoned just right. Some garlic rice tends to be too garlicky and often too salty, but we liked this one. And just so we were not eating very dry food, we also ordered the ox tail stew. I make good ox tail stew and so I’m a bit torn on how I liked this one. It was good, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that I can also make it at home and better.

- If we had more room in our stomach, we would probably have also ordered “halo-halo”, a Filipino dessert made with different fruits and young coconut topped with shaved ice and milk. We’ve had it here before and it was good. So definitely try that if you can. As for me, I had to pass.

- Overall, we liked Ellen’s and we’ve actually been here a few times. Just a few tips:
– they are closed on Sundays and Mondays
– they charge entrance when there is a live band playing
– gratuity is automatically added on your bill, so don’t leave an extra tip.

Ellen's Place Restaurant on Urbanspoon

CraveTO 2014 – Hits a high note for Music


Back at Honest Ed’s alley, this year’s CraveTO (Night) food, music and drink event fell on one of the busiest weekends of the summer. Competing with a number of festivals around the city including the much awaited World Pride and a Canada Day Long weekend, CraveTO had to celebrate on a weeknight. Last year’s event consisted of day and night ticketed events, but this year, offered only an evening one. Similar to last year, it promised food, beverage and music. Food booths were smaller in numbers this year, which made the selection fairly limited. We still managed to try 80% of the food from the vendors. They are as follows:

What: Pork BBQ and Chicken Parm Meatballs with Kettle Chips
Where: We Got Balls Food Truck
Pointer: Actually a little disappointed with both portion and taste of the meatballs. For one, we couldn’t distinguish the difference between the two as both texture and flavour was the same. We couldn’t taste any barbeque flavour on either meatball. It was swimming in marinara sauce and we concluded perhaps they gave us the wrong order. The Kettle Chips were good and crispy. I mean it’s Kettle Chips. We would have preferred a slightly larger sized meatball like what other food trucks and food pop-ups offer in these events.

What: Po’Boy Hot Dog and Katsu Hot Dog
Where: Let’s Be Frank Food Truck
Pointers: This is probably the one worthwhile stop we tried at the event. The tiny Silverstein’s buns sandwiched a tiny Nathan’s Famous beef hot dog and loaded with toppings. A little salty but you are not eating a dozen of them so live a little. Definitely check out Let’s Be Frank food truck when you see it.

What: Chicken Roti
Where: Randy’s Roti Food Truck
Pointers: A little disappointed with this one. Maybe our expectation was to be wowed since we know a little bit about roti. Or at least we think so since we’ve had our share of home made authentic roti. We’re not looking for perfection here, but at least something with flavour other than the tongue-burning Tobasco sauce. It had a bitter after taste also, which is often reminiscent of store bought roti mix. We expected spicy, but on a good heat. Not spicy for the sake of being spicy and call it roti.

What: Beef Cheek Pastrami
Where: Brick and Mortar Pop-up Catering
Pointers: This is also one of the best in the lot that day. The beef cheeks were marbled and had lots of flavour. The fresh mustard and pickles (which I am not often a fan of) offered a nice tangy balance to the sandwich. We had no complaints here. Awesome, friendly and chatty staff and a tasty sandwich to boot!

What: Cheddar and Potato Pierogies
Where: The Saucy Pierogies
Pointers: These were okay, we thought. Not as good as, perhaps, European Delight at the St. Lawrence Market, but it’ll do. We just wished there was more filling inside and the cheddar wasn’t as runny and melted like water. It made it appear to be cheap cheese.

What: Deep Fried Chicken Skewers
Where: Gushi
Pointers: Gotta say, we were a little disappointed with Gushi this time around. We raved about it from previous posts as their Deep Fried Chicken Skewers were really good. At this event, they were not cooked all the way thru and it seems to be lacking the flavour it once had. It just wasn’t good any more. I hope their chicken at Market 707, their actual location, is serving up better chicken.

What: Bubble Cake
Where: Penny Lou Lou Sweets
Pointers: If you’ve been to Asian night markets in and around the GTA, you’ve had your share of bubble cakes. It is basically a waffle batter and cooked like a waffle on a bubble-like mould then topped with whatever topping your heart desires. We had the one with everything on it – fresh fruits, Nutella, caramel, chocolate syrup, sugar icing and ice cream. There is no denying that it will satisfy your sweet tooth. This was the perfect way to top off our salty pickings from the other vendors so check them out.

There were two other food vendors that we didn’t try for a number of reasons: 1. Poutini’s has their own location and we’ve been there before, and 2. We’re not fans of oysters that had been exposed to the summer heat. We’ll visit Oyster Boy at your location instead. Invite us!

Well, that’s it. One summer food event down. Certainly looking forward to the others that we can get to. Thanks to the organizers of CraveTO. Looking forward to the next ones. Cheers!