Monday, July 11, 2011

Filipino Dining at the Aristocrat Restaurant


It’s amazing how familiar tastes and smells remind you of a particular time and place in your past. Just like your own personal time machine. Just like restaurants you used to go to when you were a child. One of the most popular and beloved local restaurants in the Philippines is none other than Aristocrat Restaurant. Growing up, whenever there was a birthday or celebration of some sort, Aristocrat Restaurant would be one of the familiar places we would go to celebrate an occasion. Or when my dad would come home late from work, he would bring us their barbecued chicken with java rice and atchara with the special sauce that made their barbecued specialties taste even better.

Aristocrat is owned by Reyes family. It started in 1936 by Aling Asiang Reyes who had an ingenious idea of having readily prepared Filipino dishes. The restaurant still stands where it originally began along Roxas Boulevard in the historic district of Malate in the city of Manila. Malate is an old district, its name is believed to have been derived from the Tagalog word ‘maalat’, meaning salty. This was before the lands by Manila Bay were reclaimed to make room for more commercial and residential places. The salt water from the ocean would reach the wells in the area making the drinking water taste salty. Malate is now known for its cultural landmark, the Malate Church.

The restaurant specializes in serving favorite Filipino dishes. The atmosphere is friendly and familiar. Over the years the restaurant has added a bakeshop and a convenience store that’s open 24 hours. The structure of the restaurant has undergone several renovations but the food always stays the same.

I remember my personal favorite, barbecued chicken, usually the thigh part, with java rice and atchara. Java rice is prepared in several ways. The easy way we used to do it at home is just garlic fried rice with ketchup. However, this is one way of cooking java rice that I would not recommend. Other variations are garlic fried rice with atsuete oil (annatto seeds), or garlic fried rice with tomato sauce and some ground beef or pork. Either way, rice that has a reddish tinge is almost always called java rice in the Philippines. Atchara is pickled unripe papaya. It’s always pickled with vinegar and sugar. I mix carrots, red bell peppers and raisins with mine. Filipino food has a tendency to be too salty and it’s always balanced with something sweet or pickled.

Aristocrat used to wrap their take-out food in a paper plate with the chicken barbecue still skewered on a stick. The java rice would be wrapped in wax paper and the atchara in a small plastic container. These were wrapped in a plastic bag and then over that was a paper bag. It was like unwrapping a present trying to get to all the food. But the one thing that adds that special zest to the barbecued dishes of Aristocrat is the sauce. It’s called barbecue peanut sauce. It’s thick, dark and heavy. You can’t even tell from looking at it that it has peanuts but you get a hint of the nutty flavor when you taste it. Luckily the sauce can be bought at any Aristocrat restaurant and it’s always great served with your own homemade barbecue. It’s always a trip down memory lane and it makes me feel like a kid again.

1 Response to Filipino Dining at the Aristocrat Restaurant

July 25, 2011 at 2:45 AM

thank's for all staff aristor=crat

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