It can pass as a scene depicting a typical morning in Kowloon.
The lady staff, wearing plain apron on top of her red shirt and pants, is hastily arranging skewered fish balls, pig intestines, snow shrimp, and tofu into their respective piles. She fumbles as the apex of her pig's ear pyramid erodes. By her is a deep cauldron filled with murky greenish brown liquid. Tiny bubbles are fastly forming on its surface; in less than a minute, she is supposed to adjust the stove's knob and lower the heat. A few steps away, another lady is restless, crossing the narrow kitchen repetitively. She seems to be counting, keeping some sort of a last minute inventory check just before clock strikes eleven. Eleven is when the lunch crowd from the neighborhood arrives.
Listen to Laoren Clarin as he talks about Eat Fresh, a casual restaurant that serves Hong Kong street food.
If not for the roaring of the jeepneys outside and the last-minute kitchen peps in Tagalog, I would've thought that I was in Mong Kok and not in Eat Fresh Famous Hong Kong Street Food-- an easy-to-miss hidey-hole in Little Baguio, San Juan.
Eat Fresh-- a fairly new addition to San Juan's Chinese restaurants-- eliminates the need for passports and plane tickets to Hong Kong; captures the essence and smells of a dai pai dong; and produces close to authentic Cantonese street food.
Eat Fresh along Masangkay Street
Eat Fresh first opened on Masangkay St., near St. Stephen—a Chinese high school in Manila, but it hasn’t always been a dai pai dong (licensed outdoor food stall). “We initially sold fresh gourmet sandwiches and juices to students, hence the name,” explained part-owner Laoren Clarin. The change of concept happened in 2004 when his partner thought of offering Cantonese street food in the Chinese-populated area. After getting favorable response from the market, they decided to open a bigger place near Banawe—another Chinese-centric district in Quezon City. Their third branch in Little Baguio was opened recently to cater to the Greenhills market.
Not exactly a dai pai dong as they have a dining area behind the street-side counter
Cuisine here at Eat Fresh is mainly Cantonese. “We brought into the country items you’ll usually find in Hong Kong’s street stalls,” Laoren explained.
Skewers come in all sorts and colors, priced at around P25 to P35 a stick. Highly-recommended are the Curry Balls (P25)—fish balls boiled in a thick, brown, and slightly spicy curry soup. Laoren says that “Hong Kong smells like Hong Kong because of this curry sauce. We import the ingredients to get the authentic flavor.”
Laoren also recommends the Fried Stuffed Tofu (two pieces for P50) and Yakitori (P100 per stick) for those looking for more-filling appetizers.
Fried Stuffed Tofu
You may mix and match sauces according to preference
Adventurous eaters, on the other hand, are advised to try pig ears, pig stomach, and pig intestines on sticks. “Guests need not worry because we are very particular in hygiene,” Laoren assured.
For main entrée, get one from their Claypot Rice selection (price ranges from P135 to P150). Also a staple item in the side streets of Hong Kong, these quick-to-eat rice toppers are steamed inside a clay pot so the juices remain inside.
Chicken and Chinese Sausage Claypot
Beef Tendon Claypot
More interesting (and flavorful) than their claypot rice is Eat Fresh’s Laksa (P180). Strictly speaking, this fiery coconut-based curry soup belongs to a Singaporean hawker and not a dai pai dong. No one is complaining though as Eat Fresh serves a mean version—rich and strongly spiced, with enough toppings to fill two.
Save for their extensive sweet drinks selection, Eat Fresh didn’t bother with concocting desserts. If you really want to end your meal on a sweet note, get their Egg Waffles (P60). Ubiquitous in Hong Kong, these egg waffles are incredible: slightly crispy at the edges but dense and chewy inside.
Milk tea and juices are available
Eat Fresh succeeds by offering hard-to-find street fare at affordable prices. Plus points are given for successfully recreating the fuss-free Hong Kong ambiance filled with curry-balls aroma.
It's no wonder that Eat Fresh’s loyal clientele is largely Chinese. Because at Eat Fresh guests get to pretend they are in their hometown, at least for an hour or so.