True Filipino food made well enough to be shared and be proud of is among the things easiest to miss these days, with what newfangled mix-n-match and fusion cuisines becoming more a la mode. Hearty soups with savory meats, paired with rice and eaten with a spoon and a fork–sometimes even hands, to end with a sinfully sweet dessert, are sweeping hallmarks of the Filipino cuisine.
I entered the glass doors of True Deli and was met with a classic Filipino ambiance: wooden columns, polished banisters, carved spines that crawl along the walls going from ceiling to floor, leading to the moldings. There are colored panes accenting the walls, wooden pineapples hanging from the ceiling, and at the middle, a raised floor half-encircled by a wooden ledge. There was a lot to see yet no confusion: True Deli is well-lit, both with electric lights and bright smiles, ready to greet anyone who comes in.
Not even on my second step, I was treated with a serving of hospitality, the foremost Pinoy trait. They stood in a line, in crisp linen, looking over the patrons, who all seemed nonchalant. The chorus greeted me, almost too willing to serve.
Joy seated me and I apologized for having arrived alone: my plus one had to back out. With a smile, she dispelled my loneliness, which left me with nothing else to worry about but my stomach having to deal with a table spread set for two.
I am not a light eater; a healthy appetite is what I am best known for. I eat an average of three meals a day, each with no less than three cups of rice. My brain is always set to hungry, causing my eyes to shift constantly from dish to dish, but my heart always goes to pork.
A typical Pinoy meal setting is divided into a main course and a dessert, unlike American tables that come with appetizers, salads, the main course, et cetera, in a specific order and a whole lot of utensils.
She started me off with a pot of Kare-Kare. The Filipino masterpiece of a dish gleamed and bubbled and smelled boldly of peanuts and faintly of fresh vegetable pieces. As soon as the servers turned their backs, I dug into the clay pot using the ladle and painted my rice with the brown-orange sauce, staining the mound and letting it cascade.
The sauce served as a creamy cushion for the swirl of soft beef and firm vegetables. A pinch of shrimp paste (bagoong) set off the peanut-y taste and cut through the oil, engulfing the mouth in a refreshing salty-sweetness.
At the other end of the table a plate of Dinakdakan had been set. It is a dish I have not tried before, but considering how good the Kare-Kare was, it would probably be a win for this other one as well.
It was a pork dish tossed in a little bit of mayonnaise, cooked until soft but not very. It rolled along the tongue quite well. A dash of calamansi and a hint of red pepper made it better, and as did the shrimp paste to the kare-kare. They cut through the meat taste and opened a new dimension in my mouth.
I had to take a short breather. A cold tumbler of water followed by sweet gulaman did the trick and once again I was ready for another spoonful. By this time, my rice is already gone and Joy is about to send another dish.
The third dish is one whole chicken called Bonggang Manok. Its skin is roasted to a sweet crisp, which removed the fattiness. I was surprised to find it deboned. Less effort for me, as I like chicken the least because of the bones. And most people cook chicken incorrectly, resulting in starchy fibers of white meat.
The Bonggang Manok came with a filling of cheese wrapped in strips of ham, which basically makes it a whole chicken cordon bleu that is not fried. It is juicy–really far from being dry and the cheese-and-ham pairing inside will surely make it popular among the kids. It worked on me, and I now have a reason to like chicken.
Bored by the usual spread? Be adventurous and try some boar meat! True Deli’s version is tastier than the ordinary pig and with less fat. And better order while it is available, because this dish is seasonal.
Earlier, I had been examining the menu and noticed that some of the dishes are labeled ‘seasonal’. Among these are the wild boar and goat meats. I have never tried boar before, and not even heard much about it. So it was a delight when Joy introduced me to my next dish, Lechong Baboy Ramo (Roasted Wild Boar), in thin chops, and drizzled with gravy. I had to ask how come the boar meat is seasonal, and Joy told me that the high demand for the dish (it is among the restaurant’s bestsellers) sometimes exhausts their poultry stock. Luckily, they had enough to serve me.
Boar meat tastes bolder than the regular pig meat, I found. The mushroom gravy moistened the strips, but even on their own, they’re tender. Each piece is not fatty around the edges, giving more meat to chew.
At this point, I have eaten half a pot of kare-kare, three or four spoonfuls of dinakdanan, two legs and half-a-breast of chicken, three strips of centimeter-thick boar meat, and a whole cup of rice. My sago’t-gulaman was sweating silently in the corner, already half-finished. I decided to ask for another glass of water for a cleansing sip.
Go for Gold with your Greens: True Deli’s Pinakbet is the best way to flush down a sinful dose of dining, with its mouthwatering green. Although I must say, it is pretty sinful itself! But greens can never really hurt, right? So go for it!
The server came back holding my water glass in one hand and a serving of Pinakbet in the other. Joy looked over to me and smiled–she must have seen my labored face. Who knew eating could cause so much sweating?
My favorite dish to pair with everything, pinakbet holds household familiarity. Vegetables are my friends and when they are fresh and crunchy, I enjoy them the most. I fought slightly against my fullness to taste even just a forkful or two of the pinakbet and succeeded. The bitter gourd wasn’t very bitter, a hallmark of a skillfully prepared pinakbet, to my ken. The thick sauce tasted sweet and savory, thanks to the huge chunks of sautéed meat.
With half a plate of pinakbet left, I decided to call it a successful finish. I leaned for a bit, thankful for the first time to not be having dessert. I sipped what’s left of my sago’t gulaman and finished everything off with a gulp of water. Though there was no counting the many spoonfuls of food I shoveled into my mouth, tasting and testing consistency in between, I concluded the meal with a satisfied face. The Rubicon I crossed and managed to stay afloat amidst the boats of food.
I must have eaten, in just one sitting, enough to gain three kilograms. Sturdy wooden chair, I supposed. My sweat kept on coming, and it vividly reminded me of that one Friends episode where Joey had to eat one whole turkey. Belts off to accommodate the food, of course, and but it felt like any one of my buttons would have popped any minute then. I decided to take a short walk around the block to aid my tummy and brew a cup of tea once I get home.
With that, I bade the staff farewell, shook Joy’s hand, and picked up my black notebook and pencil and turned to leave. Bobbing into the busyness of EDSA, I navigated my way home, assured by my sizeable waist gain that I shall be an easy target for cars to avoid.
Upper Ground Floor, Victoria Station 1, GMA-Kamuning, EDSA, Quezon City, Metro Manila
Mondays through Fridays: 10 AM to 10 PM
Saturdays: 11 AM to 8 PM
Does NOT serve alcohol.
Private conference room for 10 to 12 people.