Too much coconut

While working as a line cook at a large hotel in San Jose, I had the pleasure of working with Ronnie, a wonderful Filipino cook. Even though we were busy cooking food for the restaurant, he often found time to make us something to eat. If we were lucky, he would put a fragrant pot of adobo on the back burner all morning, and we would eat it for lunch. The steaming, hot braised chicken would fall off the bone, and the sauce was redolent with garlic and fresh ginger. It was delicious.

The Philippines, a gathering of islands southeast of Borneo, has a richly mixed cultural heritage. Four hundred years of Spanish occupation, trade with the Chinese and a period under American control have all made their mark on the people and the richly varied cuisine.

Manila Fiesta, located on South Virginia Street across from the Antique Mall, attempts to bring these colorful traditions to life here in Reno. My husband, Tony, and I dropped in for dinner one evening and were greeted by an enticing mix of aromas. There is a cafeteria-like setup, so we grabbed a couple of trays and started looking over the arrangements on the steam table.

Sensing our inexperience in identifying the unlabeled contents of the pans, the woman at the counter tried to help us out. I told her that I knew I liked adobo, so she served me some in a bowl, set next to two huge scoops of rice.

At that point, I guess she decided we were unqualified to choose what to have next, and she just started picking things for us. That would have been fine, except that when I asked for the name of an orangish stew with big chunks of potatoes and meat, I was told, “Just eat it, then I’ll tell you.” She never did tell me. A little research later led me to believe it was kari-karing, but I can’t be sure. It tasted pretty good, but it was not quite as warm as I would like to see from an item that has been sitting on a steam table.

Tony got rice as well, along with a beef and onion stir-fry of some kind and a couple of red, mildly sweet sausages. I tried the sausage with caution; they were so red in color I was certain that they would be screaming hot. Instead, they had a curious but pleasing mix of Asian spices. The stir-fry was tasty too, with thin strips of meat and a pronounced onion flavor.

We were discouraged from having an “ordinary drink” and coaxed into getting canned coconut juice. With pulp. Lots of pulp. I didn’t particularly care for it, but I am willing to write that off as a cultural thing.

Dessert was a rice pudding with coconut. It was tasty, but there was so much of it that, combined with the coconut drink, I quickly overdosed. However, we felt that the proprietress, who had made so many of these decisions for us, was watching to see if we cleaned our plates. We tried, but don’t offer me any coconut for a while.

One weird thing is that when we went to pay, we weren’t given specific prices, and we were asked to use cash, even though the Visa/MasterCard logo was prominently displayed on the cash register. We eventually used the card anyway and tipped with cash, but it did present some awkwardness. We felt like gauche American tourists by the time it was all done.

Overall, the food was pretty good, but the hoops you have to jump through to get it proved to be too daunting.