Photos of The Aristocrat, Manila
[This photo of The Aristocrat is courtesy of TripAdvisor]

MANILA, DECEMBER 17, 2012 (MANILA BULLETIN) BY SOL JOSE VANZI - For the past 40 years, I have lived next door to a genuine Philippine legend and success story, the Aristocrat Restaurant. Without doubt the country’s most popular restaurant, the Aristocrat has been witness to the most eventful and colorful period of our history, from its humble roots as a kiosk 75 years ago to its present location at a premier site along Roxas Boulevard, a few meters from Malate Church.

BALIKBAYANS’ FIRST STOP -- Family reunions are a common sight at the Aristocrat, even at sunrise when homecoming Fil-Am balikbayans insist on making the restaurant their first stop straight from their early morning flights from the United States.

They order Filipino dishes that are difficult or nearly impossible to prepare in foreign countries: Paksiw na Bangus, Pinakbet, Dinuguan, Kare-Kare, Crispy Pata and Pancit Palabok. For dessert, it’s always Bibingkang Galapong freshly made the traditional way in a nipa hut kiosk right on the sidewalk.

HOMEY AND COMFY – There is something about Aristocrat’s interiors that warm the heart and make one feel at ease. Perhaps it is the lack of snobbish and pretentious décor, or the straightforward but polite manners of the staff. It could be the right temperature of every room in the restaurant; there are enough air conditioners to cool the premises without unwanted sniffle-causing drafts.

 Photos of The Aristocrat, Manila
[PHOTO - so so Hipon sa gata (akimotoyumi, Mar 2012)This photo of The Aristocrat is courtesy of TripAdvisor]

Meticulously clean floors, roomy and sanitary bathrooms, attentive staff, good food, no loud music. What else would anyone want?

KARE-KARE WITH LOVE – My neighbors, theater artists Dodo Lim and Bart Guingona, are both foodies who can whip up an international gourmet feast without outside help. Although they can both cook everything from scratch, they phone the Aristocrat once a month for a delivery of Kare-Kare.

“Their Kare-Kare is thickened by real ground peanuts, not bottled peanut butter; that’s why the sauce has no trace of sweetness, “Dodo explained. “And their bagoong is to die for: simmered until all the moisture evaporates, leaving pure salted alamang in oil. Well cooked, or what Tagalogs would call igang-iga.”

Also adding flavor and texture is the rice that’s toasted to golden brown, ground fine and stirred in to enrich the taste and color.

“Every bite makes you feel like the dish was cooked with much love and care by your mom or an aunt,” Dodo concludes.

THE BEST CHICKEN BBQ – More than half the people I talked to for this column chose chicken barbecue with Java rice and Atsarang Papaya as their favorite Aristocrat dish. Bonjin Bolinao swears it is her ultimate comfort food. “Whenever I come home at night feeling pressured by office work, I call for a delivery of Chicken BBQ and Java Rice. It never fails to soothe my nerves and assure a good night’s sleep,” she confesses. “The thick Java sauce and turmeric-colored rice go perfectly well with the grilled chicken.”

DINUGUAN TRIVIA – I once read that the secret to Aristocrat’s Dinuguan (blood stew with pork innards) was a cook who did not eat the dish because of religious restrictions; instead of seasoning to taste, he followed a very detailed and concise recipe, resulting in Dinuguan that tasted uniformly excellent year after year.

At the Aristocrat, Dinuguan is always available with Putong Puti (white rice steamed cake) and one whole green chili pepper to be crushed into the stew for diners who like spice.

MECHADO’S RICH GRAVY – Veteran editor Fred de la Rosa makes special trips to Aristocrat, sometimes at odd hours, for chicken barbecue and Mechado. Decades of experience shows in the selection of meat cuts for the Mechado: fleshy but with the right amount of fat to prevent dryness; there are no bothersome sinews, either.

“I like the whole, substantial meat cubes that are moist and tender without being mushy or stringy. The Mechado gravy is rich, thick and perfect over steamed rice. Reminds me of American Beef Stew and Pot Roast,” Fred relishes.

IMELDIFIC’S FLYING SAUCERS – I became addicted to Aristocrat’s Adobo Flying Saucer Sandwiches during the 1992 presidential campaign of then candidate Imelda Marcos. Her campaign bus was always stocked with Aristocrat’s exclusive Flying Saucers before we set off for provincial trips.

“The Flying Saucers are inexpensive, costing less than P100 each. They are substantial and filling, bursting with shredded adobo moistened with gravy. They are practical and easy to eat while on the road. And they keep well without refrigeration,” narrated the former First Lady as she revealed her favorite Aristocrat fare.

Shredded adobo sandwiches using untoasted buns were the first mega-hit of Aling Asiang Reyes, founder of Aristocrat, who sold 8,000 adobo sandwiches in the 1940s during a Fourth of July celebration at the Luneta. Toasting her invention between red-hot metal disks was a later improvement.

 Pictures of The Aristocrat, Manila
[Delicious Pancit! (wonderwoman, Jan 2009) This photo of The Aristocrat is courtesy of TripAdvisor]

RELAUNCHING A CLASSIC – The newly-renovated Aristocrat was relaunched yesterday, in time for the commemoration of the 100th wedding anniversary of Aling Asiang and Justice Alex Reyes.

Renovating the original structure took a lot of time, but an ingenious scheme kept Aristocrat open throughout the months of non-stop work.

Aristocrat was in full operation and we hardly felt the closure of portions of the eatery.

We’re spoiled by the knowledge that the Aristocrat is always there, always open, always reliably serving good food, excellent Filipino food, prepared with care. As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, we know: we will always have Aristocrat.

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Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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