MANILA, OCTOBER 2, 2008 (STAR) By Joy Angelica Subido - For Filipinos who love to eat, the mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack called merienda is an essential part of the day. However, although exposure to various cultural influences has widened our dietary preferences, there are times when an intense longing for traditional Filipino food grips us and leaves us salivating. Thus, we quickly made our way to Guava when we heard that the restaurant was serving our favorite old-fashioned merienda fare.

We were pleasantly surprised that the choices were not quite what we had expected. Homemade suman came to us as rice cake encasing a slice of sweet mango and fried in butter. This was made even more special by the addition of mango sauce jubilee. As one cut into the rice cake, the slices resembled wonderful bits of sushi. Homemade guava ice cream that was flavored just right — neither too sweet nor sour — accompanied the dish. This whetted our appetite for more.

The fragrant brown sugar turon served with pandan leche flan seemed like an attractive choice and we were immensely pleased with its appearance as the dish was placed on our table. Definitely not ordinary turon like sidewalk vendors make it, the brown sugar turned the finger-sized banana slices wrapped in lumpia wrapper caramelized and chewy and these tasty morsels complemented the creamy leche flan. The pandan flavoring of the latter was faint, not overpowering, and we could have demolished two servings if we had not committed to try the other items on the merienda menu. Like the suman, this dish was served with guava-flavored ice cream.

“What variety of guava fruit do you use for the ice cream?” we asked delightfully amiable restaurant co-owner Gari Palmani who regaled us with humorous anecdotes as we checked out other choices on the menu. He revealed that the native, yellow guava variety is the best choice for ice cream because of its soft, sweet and smooth flesh. We savored the mild-flavored ice cream and, indeed, we did not detect any trace of graininess, which is common with other varieties of guava.

Although we were so glad to have tried the sweet stuff first, we were equally pleased with Guava’s savory version of dinuguan or blood stew. Tender bits of pork belly or liempo were cooked in balsamic vinegar — and what a difference that made! It was seasoned just the way we liked it—strong and assertive. And although it was served with three varieties of rice cake including bibingka muffins, pandan puto and sugar puto, we thought that Guava’s dinuguan would be a perfect viand if served over steaming-hot white rice. The addition of crunchy chicharon to the stew added new dimensions of texture and flavor.

Seeing that pancit is usually part and parcel of merienda, we had to try the different types served at Guava. The item “Our very own pina-sosyal na canton” was exactly that, especially as it was served with slices of foie gras — creamy duck or goose liver. The meat slices in specially prepared pancit bijon with lechon kawali were substantial and crisp, and one could not help but think that the people who have that slightly strange habit of eating noodles with rice are better off with Guava’s protein-rich rendering.

Filipinos love their pasta and would surely enjoy an unusual adobo pasta served with cherry tomatoes and salted eggs. Likewise, the prawn with sun-dried tomato and aligue (or crab fat) cream sauce pasta would be difficult to resist even if the cholesterol levels had reached borderline high levels. Perhaps the equally tasty aglio olio (olive oil) with crisp milkfish belly strips pasta would be a more prudent choice.

Of the pasta offerings, however, our favorite was Pinoy lasagna with carabao’s milk Béchamel. It was rich, creamy and tasty, making us recall why carabao’s milk was a childhood favorite. The slices of kamias were a surprising, yet delightful garnish that cleansed the palate.

By this time, we were almost full to bursting. However, Cristy Castillo, another of Guava’s partners and cooking friends, baked the breads, so we just had to try the grilled mini wheat pan de sal selection with quesong puti, adobo, corned beef, sardines and home-made guava and mango jams. The bread was quite good and we tried to convince Cristy to make the bread available for sale. However, she just smiled and quipped that she had too much exercise kneading the dough for Guava’s breads already.

To wash all the delicious merienda down, Frank Pastrana, the restaurant partner who oversees day-to-day operations, sent us endless glasses of refreshing guava iced tea and guava shake. These made us appreciate even more that guava (the fruit) and Guava (the restaurant) are really quite special.

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Guava by Cooking Friends Corp. is at Serendra, Bonifacio High Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City, Metro Manila. Call 856-0489.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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