The four month long Christmas season in the Philippines may finally (and sadly) be over but the dry and chilly season is definitely just coming to a middle. The rain-free but cool atmosphere tend to begin around November and lasts all the way to February – and sometimes well into the first week or so of March.

With all the parties – and the food that come with it – during the holidays, keeping warm and satisfied is not a problem at all. But now that the Christmas decors are put away and all merriments saved for the next set of “ber” months, staying toasty will be more of a task (unless you have your sweetie pie / honey bun to get a loving embrace from – but that’s a different matter entirely).

And so comes to the rescue our favorite hot and comfy foods to chase the chills away. And while there are of course way easier and faster methods to prepare meals from the comfort of home, one can only eat so much instant noodles bought from nearby convenience stores before wishing for better fare.

And so, here we present the top five hot and comfy foods in the Subic Bay – Olongapo area to keep you warm during the rest of the dry cool season:

  1. Mami (Chinese Noodle Soup)

    Bowl of mami
    Traditional mami with pechay, dahon ng sibuyas, garlic, and slices of beef

    A staple soup all throughout the country, the mami is a testament to the centuries-long close relationship between the Philippines and China. The mami is made with wheat flour noodles mixed with a special broth and then topped with meat (beef, chicken, or pork). The creation of the dish is attributed to a Chinese immigrant named Ma Mon Luk and coincidentally, its name “mami” translates to “Ma’s noodles”.

    Silver Star
    Silver Star Mami House used to be located beside the Ulo ng Apo monument at the heart of the city. The building has since been torn down and rebuilt as a bus terminal.

    During the 1980s and the 1990s, one of the best places to get mami in Olongapo City was in a restaurant called Silver Star Mami House. Located in front of the city’s namesake monument, Silver Star was frequented by movie-goers who would come from the nearby cinemas and by club-goers after an evening out.

    Unfortunately, the business closed not too long ago and its building demolished to make way for a bus terminal. Nevertheless, an equally special mami place is still open to this day: Mang Peping’s Mami.

    Mang Peping's Mami
    Mang Peping’s house-front store in West Bajac Bajac

    Opened in 1967, the early Mang Peping’s mami was a rolling store and had no permanent location. It was after Mang Peping (Epifanio Magundayao) made enough income that he built the now iconic housefront mami House in West Bajac Bajac.

    And although Mang Peping himself, now at 70, no longer handles the operation of his business, his children have now taken over and continues his legacy. Happily, the special recipe and distinct taste of Mang Peping’s Mami has hardly changed over the course of its long lifetime.

  2. Lugaw, Arroz Caldo, Goto, and Champorado (Rice congee / Porridge)
    Plain lugaw
    A bowl of regular lugaw with leeks, toasted garlic, and half a boiled egg

    Often though of as food for babies, the humble lugaw often ranks high among many Filipinos’ personal list of comfort foods. Made from simple ingredients, the humble lugaw is basically just rice cooked in a large amount of water until it softens considerably. It can then be topped with dahon ng sibuyas (scallions) and toasted garlic bits and served with patis (fish sauce), toyo (soy sauce), paminta (ground pepper), and calamansi.

    Arroz Caldo
    Arroz caldo dish with the usual toppings

    The more elaborate siblings of this simple dish are the Arroz Caldo and the Goto. Arroz Caldo is similar with lugaw but is usually cooked with strips of ginger and chicken meat while goto is rice porridge mixed in with boiled cow tripe or pig intestine.

    Goto with chicharon
    A serving of goto topped with tuwalya (cow tripe) and chicharon (pork rind). Yummy!

    For the sweet-toothed, there is a variation of lugaw made just for their taste. Champorado is a sweet chocolate rice porridge which is prepared the same way as lugaw except with cocoa added in during the boiling process.

    Champorado with tuyo
    Champorado, drizzled with condensed milk, is often eaten with tuyo (salted and dried fish)

    The most convenient and least hassle way to enjoy ahot bowl of lugaw, arroz caldo or goto in the Freeport is by heading to the Harbor Point Mall third floor to grab a seat at the always-full Lugaw Republic Diner. Along with their variations of rice porridge dishes are classic Filipino street food: tokwa’t baboy (fried tofu & pork), kwek-kwek (breaded quail eggs), turon (sweet banana spring rolls), lumpiang togue (bean sprout spring rolls), puto (steamed rice cake), and buko (sweet coconut juice).

    Harbor Point Lugaw Republic Diner
    The Lugaw Republic diner at the third floor of Harbor Point often overflows with customers (especially so, with the cold weather outside)

    As for champorado, the easiest way to satisfy your craving is by heading to the People’s Champ-o-Rado stall at the ground floor of SM Olongapo. Their healthy variation of the classic champorado dish is made from an organic mixture of white, brown, and black rice. And despite the fact that their recipe does not include the traditional cocoa, their champorado does not taste any different than the real deal.

  3. People's Champ-o-Rado
    Champ-o-Rado’s stall at the ground floor of SM Olongapo
  4. Ramyeon / Ramyun (Korean Noodles)
    Popular K-Pop act BTS (short for Bangtan Sonyeondan, literally “bulletproof boy scouts”)

    Song Joong-Ki, Song Hye-Kyo, Sandara Park, BTS, EXO; these are foreign celebrities that have become household names in the Philippines. In recent years, South Korean media (K-Pop music, television shows, and movies) have become so widespread that it was only a matter of time before their dishes became part of the Filipino popular subconscious as well.

    While most would point to Kimchi as the most iconic Korean food that’s available in the market, it would seem that the ramyeon (ramyun) more readily suited our collective taste bud.

    Although, it is quite similar to the Japanese ramen (in both spelling and appearance), the Korean ramyeon tend to have a thicker soup base and usually have a spicier and stronger flavor. Even the noodles used are quite different, ramen uses raw noodles while ramyeon uses fried noodles which makes its taste quite distinct.

    A bowl of spicy hot ramyeon, topped with a variety of veggies

    With the abundance of Korean eateries in the Freeport area, there is hardly any lack of restaurants where you can get yourself of a hot bowl of ramyeon, but in our opinion, some of the best ramyeon places include:

    • Seoul Korean Restaurant: Its recently renovated front and interior makes it one of the most remarkable Korean establishments in the area. It is located along Labitan St. in the Central Business District, near the SBMA Regulatory Office which is in front of the Harbor Point Mall.
    • Seoul Korean Restaurant
    • Dongane Korean Restaurant: One of the newest Korean food places in the Freeport. It is within the Greenwoods Complex, beside the Park ‘n Shop area and across the road from Remy Field.
    • Dongane Korean Restaurant
  5. Lomi (Egg Noodle Soup)
    Lomi with pork liver, chicken, fish ball, and shallot toppings

    While it isn’t as common as mami, another go-to food during the cool season is the lomi. With its extremely thick noodles and syrupy sauce, it has a distinct texture and a unique aroma that evokes gray cloudy skies and rainy days.

    The dish is made from thinly sliced pieces of meat and liver which are sautéed in garlic, shallots and seasonings. It is then mixed with a special broth upon which the thick egg noodles and various vegetables are cooked in. Upon serving individually, a beaten egg is added to the bowl which is then stirred heavily in order to thicken the soup. The dish is then topped off with a squeeze of calamansi, which adds a tangy taste to the concoction.

    As a staple Filipino dish, it is not difficult at all to find a food place that serves lomi, but among the best locations are:

    • Wimpy’s Restaurant: One of the oldest (if not, the oldest) diners in the Freeport. It is in the Park ‘n Shop area, just by the Main Gate entrance.
    • Wimpy’s Restaurant
    • Nathaniel’s Bakeshop: The local branch of the popular bakeshop in the country (esteemed for their special buko pandan desert). This bakeshop / restaurant is situated along Dewey Avenue, across the street from the Subic Bay Arts Center (SuBAC).
    • Nathaniel’s Bakeshop
  6. Bulalo (Beef Marrow Stew)
    A hearty serving of bulalo

    Unlike the rest of the entries in this list, the Bulalo is the only dish that is best eaten with a cup of rice (or maybe even two).

    A dish that has spread from the southern regions of the country, the bulalo is a light colored soup made by stewing beef shanks and marrow bones for hours until the collagen and fat has melted completely into the clear broth. The mixture is then complemented by a variety of vegetables (cabbages, potatoes, corn, pechay, lemongrass, etc.).

    bulalo variant
    A tomato sauce-infused variation of the bulalo recipe

    Among the places where this deceptively light dish can be enjoyed are the following:

    • Coco Lime Specialty Asian Cuisine: Along Rizal Highway, beside the Harbor Point Mall.
    • Coco Lime Specialty Asian Cuisine
    • Gerry’s Grill: Located along Waterfront Road, in front of Court Meridian Hotel, within easy access to a majority of the accommodations in the Central Business District
    • Gerry’s Grill
    • Rico’s Restaurant: One of the harder to locate food places in this list, but oh boy, is this place worth it! It is along 4th Street, West Tapinac, Olongpao City. In addition to their tasty version of bulalo, they also have an extensive menu of Filipino dishes, all at a budget-friendly price.
    Rico’s Restaurant

So there goes our list. Hopefully, with all these choices, it won’t be so hard to keep your bellies full and satisfied. After all, nothing satisfies like a warm soupy meal after a day walking out in the open being blasted with cold, wintry winds.

Bon Appetit

In any case, and before we realize it, summer will be here. And for sure it will be another long and scorching affair, so for now, let’s enjoy the cool weather and indulge ourselves with any combination of these hot and comfy foods.

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