Last month, an invitation to a Filipino restaurant in Oud Metha got me quite excited, because, even though I have been in Dubai for over three years, I have yet to set foot in a Filipino restaurant. According to Wiki, there are between 280,000 and 450,000 Filipinos living in the UAE – so there are quite a few Filipino restaurants here in Dubai.
On a Thursday afternoon, Wee Scotch and I headed to the Lamcy Plaza branch of Barrio Fiesta. This cozy restaurant, located on the 3rd floor alongside Daiso, opened its doors earlier this year and is the second Barrio Fiesta in Dubai (the first being in Burjuman and there is also one in Abu Dhabi). Established in 1952 in the Philippines, there are now over 50 branches in the Philippines, US, and UAE.
Sadly, my knowledge of Filipino food is limited to Adobo (chicken or pork simmered in a vinegar-soy-garlic marinade), Sinigang (a tamarind-based stew), and Kare Kare. I have made both Adobo and Sinigang at home with great success. But Kare Kare, an oxtail stew thickened with peanut butter, was something I never got around to making. Abigail from Nappytales enlightened me on the use of peanut butter and I couldn’t be more surprised as I hadn’t tasted it in the Kare Kares I’ve previously had.
Back when I was still working in Dubai, I used to queue up early at the work cafeteria every Tuesday for lunch, when Kare Kare was served, to make sure I got first dibs because if I got there too late, the pinkish, briny, and perfect accompaniment to the Kare Kare would be all gone. This briny sauce is called bagoong alamang and is made of salted and fermented shrimp – it has a very strong shrimpy flavor so is not for everyone but I love it on my Kare Kare and would probably had poured more than my fair share but I didn’t want to be too greedy. Braised oxtail is high on my list of comfort foods so I looked forward to Kare Kare Tuesdays ever week.
Upon arriving at Lamcy, Wee Scotch and I were presented with some snacky items, which were a nice gesture by the restaurant, but didn’t quite deliver in taste as some items were a bit dry. However, I really enjoyed the taro leaves in coconut milk (below: top right image).
The first dish I tried was the Tinolang Manok, a Chicken Ginger Stew. It was the perfect starter for me: a light broth with spicy ginger, cooling lemongrass, cubes of unripe papaya, and bits of chicken. I’m sure I could make a Ginger and Scotch version 😉 !
Unfortunately, the Kare Kare which I had been looking forward to all week did not live up to my imaginary hype. I found it lacking in seasoning and even the bagoong alamang couldn’t save it. But I would be willing to order it again to see if perhaps the restaurant was having an off day.
Of all the dishes I tasted, the most notable and memorable was the Sugpo Sa Aligue (stir-fried shrimp in crab fat) which helped me move on from the Kare Kare disappointment and redeemed the restaurant for me. I’m a huge seafood lover and dishes involving head-on shrimp is one of my all-time favorites because as mentioned in Ginger and Scotch Chili Prawns, leaving the heads on during cooking adds so much flavor to a dish – and I’m sure the crab fat plays a role as well. The shrimps were perfectly cooked plus the tomalley-filled heads seem to be a magnet for sauce and I had no compunction sucking the juices out of them in public.
The colorful desserts were eye-catching and even though I’m not that keen on sweets, I did sample the Buco Pandan (a coconutty dessert with green gelatin strips and cream) with a Turon (deep fried banana spring roll) and found myself actually enjoying the sweetness of it all.
The next time I am back in Lamcy Plaza with a hankering for food, I would revisit Barrio Fiesta to try out more Filipino dishes – and I certainly won’t be forgetting the Sugpo Sa Aligue anytime soon.
DISCLOSURE: I enjoyed this complimentary dining experience as a guest of Barrio Fiesta.