Remember that time when I first ventured into Filipino food and vowed to start exploring it with a vengeance? Well, as is evident from my blog – a blog has grown from a healthy fire-breathing dragon to a wheezing donkey with its bony legs doing a shaky quadruple split as it hauls a human load lazily draped over its back from step 385 to 386 of the 800 ancient steps in Petra – I failed.
I failed so miserably that I actually forgot I had even been to Delmon over a year ago with the lovely Didi Paterno, and ended up going back this week thinking I’d never been there. Didi has sadly moved on from Dubai to the US and left the coveted post of being my Filipina foodie mentor vacant.
Delmon is a bare-bones restaurant that dishes out Filipino fare in Karama. The last time I was here with Didi, I ironically had a tummy upset and settled on a soothing bowl of soupy chicken mami swirled with noodles and garnished with a quartered boiled egg.
But this time around I could be more adventurous and give the place a real gluttonous shot. With my fingers racing over my phone keyboard to translate the menu, this is what we ended up ordering…
Tokwat Baka. Fried strips of marinated beef tapa interspersed with crisp-chewy cubes of tofu, both of which were relatively unspectacular until dunked in a soy concoction with garlic and raw onion. This is a good ‘waiting mode’ appetizer – not half as addictively good and worthy of killing your appetite as a basket of warm freshly baked bread, not half as disappointing as cold limp white bread that deserves neither a pat of butter nor a spot in your cavernous tummy. It’s just one of those dishes that you mindlessly chew on as you wait for your main course to arrive. I’ll skip it the next time for the lumpia (spring rolls).
The Pinakbet was a tumble of sautéed mixed vegetables: bitter gourd, okra, pumpkin, tomatoes and Asian eggplants sautéed in bagoong alamang (fermented shrimp paste) and peppered with pink shrimp. The veggies had been cooked to that perfect point where they lent their flavour to the dish, yet kept their shape and colour close to their veggie cores. Had the chef left out the tongue-pinchingly bitter bitter gourd (maybe they don’t soak the gourd in salt water before cooking for pinkabet?) and the shrimp paste which I personally cannot stomach with vegetables, I might have ventured for a second serving.
The Adobong Manok kept me occupied for most of the meal. Hefty chunks of bone-in chicken were submerged in a soy sauce gravy spiked with vinegar, garlic, pungent purple onions and bay leaves. It was sweet, savoury, astringent and salty all at once, a versatile and aromatic gravy that I polished off with ease.
The runner up on the table was the Lomi Special, a hearty bowl of thick slippery egg noodles cooked with veggies, shrimp and chicken and garnished with fried garlic and scallions. The soup had a simple and hearty translucent broth thickened with eggs, and reminded me of the fulfilling chicken Mami I had on my first trip (though that one has different noodles and a clearer broth).
When I saw Kare Kare on the menu, I was COMPLETELY confident that I knew what this dish was because I had tried the same dish at Sari Nusa (remember that time?) Turns out, I was almost completely wrong. I stupidly fused the excellent peanut-covered Gado Gado and the superb oxtail stew from my Sari Nusa experience and concocted a new hallucinatory memory in the foggy depths of my mind. That memory told me that Kare Kare was a peanutty-oxtail stew.
Crazily enough, that foggy memory was not far from the present truth. Kare Kare is a rich peanut-infused oxtail stew that I begged my oxtail-wary friend to taste, just once. Sadly, the plan back-fired because the Kare Kare at Delmon turned out to be tough chewy bits of oxtail screaming to be rescued from the oil spill the chef had drowned them in. I didn’t have the heart to save them.
We closed out our lunch binge with halo halo, even though the appropriate thing to do would have been to clutch our over-stuffed tummies and tumble out as respectably as possible. Crushed ice drenched in evaporated milk and topped with beans, nata de cacao, bananas, macapuno, ube, creamed corn and my all-time favourite mix-in, a thick creamy blob of sweet leche flan. And Selecta ice cream, of course, sprinkled with pounded rice flakes.
I prefer picking out every separate element of the multi-textured halo halo and enjoying it in isolation, savouring a different flavour and texture in every bite rather than mixing it up into one gloopy puddle as is the tradition.
The Adobong Manok was not my favourite dish in the whole foodie universe, just my favourite pick at Delmon, with the Lomi a close second. The Halo Halo with its childish creativity always makes me happy happy, but I’m no judge of authenticity and taste when it comes to Filipino food. Take the wiser words of a Filipina blogger and read both of Didi’s reviews on Delmon (here and here) to get the real verdict. On both counts, she held off giving a stellar review of authenticity to the place but admitted that it could nevertheless satiate a homesick Pinoy soul.
The next place on my list is Bulwagang, also in Karama. Let’s hope it doesn’t take me yet another year to haul myself there to explore Filipino food again.
Near Karachi Darbar, Karama. I’ve pinned the location on my Google hideout map.