Food trucks invade Manila

They have arrived. Make way for those sleek, colorful kitchens on wheels similar to those that have invaded the food scene all over Washington, New York, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

At Cucina Andare, Mercato Centrale’s newly-launched weekend dining destination at Glorietta park just across the Makati Shangri-la Hotel, are Manila’s version of gourmet food trucks that carry loads of good food including mouthwatering shawarmas, healthy wraps and tacos, sumptuous burgers, and yes, even homemade gelato and authentic Japanese ramen.

Shawarma Bros truck The food truck trend

Food trucks have actually been around as early as the 1900s with the “chuckwagons” feeding herders during cattle drives as their earliest predecessors. In Manila, we’ve also had our own version of these mobile food vans that serve hot meals on wheels.

There are the stainless steel “jollijeeps” stationed at almost every street around the Makati business district where you can catch white collar employees queuing up for an order of guisadong monggo, menudo, dinuguan, or whatever Filipino dish they want with a cup of steamed rice at lunchtime. And then who can forget those “burger machines” that mushroomed all over town in the 80s?

In the US, food trucks have become a recent trend thanks to social media where people get their kick tracking these mobile restos using high-tech apps. Chasing street food was not just fun but a hip, chic thing to do.

But what really made these food trucks click was that they were at first run by fine dining cooks who got laid off and were looking for ways to make a living doing what they knew best. Today, these food trucks are now entrenched, an institution of sorts in the ever-changing dining scape. They serve everything from waffles to souvlakis, Korean barbecue, cupcakes, vegan fare, simply everything and anything that is good, edible and can be eaten on-the-go. In New York, they are even reviewed and rated by Zagat.

A taste of the exotic at Cheryl’s Cuisine The Pinoy version

Indeed, the time is ripe for a food truck invasion of our own. And at Cucina Andare in Makati, they are gathered each weekend, aiming to please discriminating diners.

At Shawarma Bros, the young, good-looking guys slaving at the counter look as hot as the shawarmas they are serving. And then there’s Mio Gelati where you can get a scoop of their best-selling chocolate Ferrero gelato or liquor-infused flavors like Bailey’s or Tequila Rose.

At Guactruck, you can grab a soft taco or some nachos and a healthy smoothie to go with it. And at Chef Broosy, one can have a bowl of hot Japanese ramen and a kani salad on the side.

But there’s more to Cucina Andare than the food trucks. Rounding up the dining experience for Makati’s late night foodies are more food stalls, some of which have made their names with Mercato Centrale. There are a few newbies in the food bazaar that are trying out their concepts here, notably Chicken and Waffle Haus, run by young Chinese-American Donn Yu and his friends. Their specialty is a crispy delicious battered chicken fillet sandwiched between slices of a waffle pancake. A slice of waffle is drizzled with a bit of maple syrup and topped with coleslaw. Then the fried chicken fillet goes on top of that. And finally, another slice of waffle to complete this one-of-a-kind sandwich.

Another must-stop is B.Wings for their Black Mamba Chicken Wings. These wings are slightly bittersweet but once after a couple of bites, you note a hint of hotness. Chef/owner Marc Castro shares that this dish is inspired by the Mexican mole but he coats his wings with a dark cocoa mix, and jalapeños and habaneros for that spicy kick. At P200 for 10 pieces, it sounds like a good deal.

Casa Gonis’ Wagyu Paella Let the food wars begin

While there used to be a battle of the burgers at these food markets, now the battle is in the hotdogs arena. At Cucina Andare, two new stalls fight it out for supremacy in your hearts for hotdogs—Top Dog and Schmidt’s.

In one corner, five young college students from Ateneo de Manila University run Top Dog where you choose any one of their homemade hotdogs and your topping. Pauline Pastor formulated her own recipes and her fellow seniors, Bianca San Juan, Andrea Ang, Francine Supetran, and Miguel Escobar have launched this hotdog stand as a school project. At Top Dog, you can satisfy your sausage craving with an order of their best-selling Spicy Italian dog with the Italian Job topping of mozzarella and marinara sauce.

Over at another corner is Schmidt’s Gourmet Hotdogs claiming they have “the best hotdogs in the world.” For a wow experience here, order their popular Coney Island Chili Dog topped with homemade chili and cheese or their Aucklander with aioli, mint jelly, and tomato relish. Equally-young entrepreneurs Kim Lee and Lawrence See are on hand to give you the best hotdog sandwich you can find in town these days.

Of course, the choices at Cucina Andare go beyond burgers, hotdogs and trendy wraps and tacos. There are paellas of various persuasions at Casa Goni’s, the most enticing of which is their wagyu paella; hot roast beef sandwiches at the popular Chef Resty’s; and exotic roasted Peking duck and fried pigeon at Cheryl’s Cuisine. And the bagnet war still rages between two familiar players, Carlo’s Kitchen’s Crunchy Belly with their thin chicharon-like bagnet versus Manila Q’s Bagwang or what the vendor said was simply “bagnet na may maraming bawang” (deep-fried pork belly slices with lots of garlic).

Cucina Andare, with the food trucks and the seductive smell of smoky barbecues, grilled burgers, cool mojitos and cocktails, and the promise of a wide selection of great food you can’t find elsewhere, and a lively acoustic band playing in the background makes eating out under the stars and in this cool December weather a one-of-a-kind experience in Makati. —KG, GMA News

Cucina Andare is at Glorietta Park (across Makati Shangri-la Hotel) every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m.

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