I consider myself an experienced eater of Filipino food. My friend is half Filipino himself and has eaten this type of cuisine his entire life. So for both of us to look at each other while at Flavours of Manila in East Brunswick and say this may be the best of such food we’ve ever had, that means something. Sure, I love Phil-Am in Colonia and Fiesta Grill in Jersey City as much as the next guy, but this was just better. Also unique, this is an actual sit-down restaurant, not a cafeteria like the other two. It’s also nicer inside as well. You are going to pay a little bit more and the portions might be smaller, but the quality is worth it.
The Diniguan was calling my name. I always end up with something bloody when at a Filipino restaurant. However, I was persuaded to try something different. I went with the sizzling pork Sisig, which was crispy pork and liver diced finely and mixed with onions and scallions, served sizzling in a skillet. This was right up my alley. You could tell that a lot of care went into this dish. First the pork had to be fried to a crisp and then diced. The liver chopped up as well, and then seared to perfection on that skillet and brought out while it was still smoking. Between the crispness of the pork and the delicate softness of the liver, there was such a wide range of textures and flavors. The onion and scallion added more flavor, but there was something else there. A light hint of lemon or lime—a much-needed acid. If I had to find something to compare it to, it would be a hash. All it was missing was an egg on top and it would have felt like breakfast.
We also split two others dishes: the long-si-log (or longanissa sausage) and the miki-bihon guisado, a noodle dish. The former is a favorite of mine from many tastings at Phil-Am, but this too was better. It wasn’t greasy or soaked in a sweet sauce. It was on the drier side, no need for any sauce to smother it. This one did come with two fried eggs and garlic fried rice, which he proceeded to cut and mash up “the Filipino way”. I loved it. As for the noodles, well, we thought we were going to have leftovers but we ended up demolishing it all. The rice and egg noodles were gentle and savory, mixed with chicken, pork, and what looked like fishcake.
This place has an interesting mix of authentic and exotic, and dishes that anyone would eat. Filipino food is a very underrepresented and underrated food in this country, where we literally have everything. I think part of that is people are scared. Restaurants need to cater to American demands to stay in business and thus lose their authenticity. Just look at the majority of Chinese restaurants. They don’t eat that “stuff” in China. This restaurant seems to be walking the line between both worlds, and I respect that. Their culture is a blend as it is, and the food should reflect that. When the manager (I think it was) came over to ask us if that was our first time there, he told us the menu changes frequently because people come in and recommend dishes they don’t see and other cultural influences not present, and they want to match that.
I am going to give Flavours of Manila a 4 out of 5 stars. Again, the only complaint I had was I thought the prices were on the higher side. But even at that, my friend compared this to yet another sit-down Filipino restaurant he had been to (Max’s in Jersey City) and said these prices were similar to theirs. Either way, I would love to come back. I will be back.
Flavours of Manila is located at 206 Route 18, East Brunswick, New Jersey.