MANILA,  September 7
, 2004 (STAR) By Ching M. Alano - When was the last time you saw (or ate) the biggest and most succulent lobster or king crab you’ve ever set your eyes (or laid your hands) on? What about some of the biggest prawns this side of the Pacific?

The original Kamayan on Pasay Road brings back its good old dishes which have been hands-down favorites through the decades. Think lobsters, king crabs, hinubarang sugpo sa aligue, sugpo sa gata, asadong alimango, maliputo. Just thinking about all this is enough to make your mouth water.

"Had we integrated these high-ticket items in the Kamayan buffet, we would have jacked up the buffet price," says Tootsie Eduque-Marco. "So we opted instead to give the best buffet, minus these expensive dishes, at the most reasonable price. But two months ago, we took away our buffet and decided to go back to our good old dishes that Kamayan’s loyal patrons, who have been with us since we opened our first restaurant on Pasay Road in 1977, have grown to love."

So where were you when Kamayan was the talk and toast of the town? You could see the handwriting, er, handprints, on the wall – make that Wall of Fame – belonging to the assorted celebrities who have dined and wined at Kamayan.

The walls and halls of Kamayan Pasay Road are alive with memories of the past. "Yes, we’re still here," says Tootsie as her guests gulp down a tall, refreshing glass of green mango juice which, she reminds us, is an original Kamayan concoction.

We’re handed a new menu list containing Kamayan’s old favorites and we let our hands do the choosing. Shall we sift through the Tampok na Pagkain Kamayan?

Under Banagan, lobster lovers have the following hot choices: Kamayan banagan (sauteed in lemony, sharp, sweet, spicy ginger flavor of the original Kamayan sauce), chili banagan (sauteed in tomato-rich sweetness heavily spiked with chili), halabos na banagan (steaming bare!) and inihaw na banagan (sizzling from burning coals).

But if you prefer those crustaceans with grasping pincers, there are lots of crab dishes on the Kamayan menu. Like Kamayan king crabs (giant mangrove crab sauteed in sesame oil, Kamayan style), asadong alimango (female mangrove crab sauteed in its own golden rich fat), alimanghang (hot and spicy male mangrove crab), halabos alimango.

"Our smallest king crab weighs from 800 grams to a kilo," Tootsie points out.

At Kamayan Pasay Road, you can have your favorite seafoods cooked in a thousand-and-one delightful ways. Take sugpo – there’s rellenong sugpo, stuffed heartily with its own meat enhanced with red and green pepper; sugpo sa aligue, sauteed in crab fat; sugpo sa gata, simmered in thick heavy coco milk; chili-chili sugpo; sugpo mantecado, sauteed in smothering buttered garlic sauce; sugpo ginapos sa pandan, lassoed with the sweetness of pandan leaves; inihaw na sugpo, broiled over charcoal; halabos na sugpo, steamed; sinigang na sugpo.

And if you want to add a little sizzle to your food, Kamayan’s chefs have come up with the following sizzling ideas: Kamayan sisig (spicy dish of chopped pork chunks, meat, liver), tuna sisig (fried chopped tuna meat with citron), adobong balut, mangingisda (seafood choices bejeweled with red and green bell pepper), halaanghang (sauteed clams in oyster sauce fired up by finger pepper), bangus belly (full-bodied steak flavor on a hot plate), gambas, pusit sagitsit, spicy kangkong (stir-fried spicy swamp cabbage with sambal sauce), kabute (sauteed mushroom emboldened with garlic and finger pepper), and tokwa (garlic-happy fried beancurd).

Likewise, Kamayan has a soup-er good selection of soups. A hot fave through the years is the chicken binakol (chicken with shreds of coconut meat swimming in a real tasty soup).

One can also pick from Kamayan’s kilawen and pulutan offerings. Among the pulutan is Kamayan’s famous sitsaron Visaya. Tootsie adds this foodnote, "It’s one of the dishes that made Kamayan. My cardiologist was here last night and he finished a plateful of it."

And then there’s Kamayan’s lechon de leche, which Kamayan claims to have been the first to introduce 20 years ago. It also comes in a convenient take-out box, which can be ordered only a day in advance.

Keeping itself abreast of the health trends, Kamayan has, well, beefed up its vegetable fare to include regional favorites like laing sa gata, Mayon Express, pinakbet and adobong kangkong. Otherwise, vegetarians can try the ensalada/lumpia dishes.

"Our cooks, some of whom have been with us from the beginning, are Bicolano, Kapampangan and Ilocano," says Tootsie. "Vicvic Villavicencio and I grew up with Visayan cooking, which is rich and festive. But the Villavicencios are from Batangas so Vicvic brought in Batangas food like maliputo. We’re one of very few restaurants that serve this Batangueńo delicacy."

And as a sweet ending to your meal, take your pick from the following panghimagas (that is, if you didn’t forget to leave some room in your tummy for dessert): Buko pandan, buko with ice cream, leche flan, leche flan with ice cream, sorbetes sa mangga, halayang ube, minatamis na saging, ginumis, sago at gulaman.

"For this kind of fine dining, a diner will only spend from P600 to P800," says Maridel Villavicencio. "We get quite a good crowd of families and tourists on weekends – maybe they see buffets everywhere and they want to try fine dining for a change."

There’s something new as well at Kamayan Pasay Road. "We’ve renovated to make our interiors brighter," says Tootsie. "Our table tops are now made of Romblon marble with carvings from Cagayan. It’s Vicvic’s vision to show the best of Philippine cuisine and craftsmanship."

Adding color to the place is a mural from Galerie Joaquin depicting a Filipino festive occasion during the time of the datus.

"We’re going back to where we started," Tootsie notes. "We were the first to introduce the eat-all-you-can buffet and everybody else followed. Then other restos started offering pulutan, bar-type items. We’re just trying to fill in the vacuum. But for those who want buffet, there are still our other Triple-V outlets in Glorietta, Alabang, Megamall, West Avenue and Padre Faura."

Kamayan Pasay Road is open for lunch starting at 11 a.m. and for dinner starting at 6 p.m.. It is also open for merienda.

"Yes, we want to tell the world we’re still open," Tootsie couldn’t stress enough. "Before the skyway was built, we were just down the road from everywhere else. But after the skyway, we’re a little harder to go to, a little harder to find, but we’re still here. If you’re coming from EDSA and you’re going towards Magallanes, just go below the flyover, follow where Mantrade used to be, make a right on Pasong Tamo, keep going straight until you hit this other flyover and then make a left and you’re right here."

Surely, for Kamayan, skyway’s no limit. Just follow Tootsie’s directions and, yes, the aroma of good homecooked food wafting in the air.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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