The dining scene in Metropolitan Manila has radically changed since the arrival of the 21st century. Gone are the days when dining was an experience to look forward to, and something to remember.
Back in the 1960s and the early 1970s, there were no shopping malls with basement food courts. Individual dining establishments existed and they had their own outdoor signage.
A restaurant was known for the distinct dishes it served. Families decided in advance where to dine, before embarking on its dinner adventure. Today, families just decide which shopping mall to visit, and they make up their minds on what food outlet to patronize once they get to the mall.
Back then, restaurant patrons did not line up for their food. They chose a table to their liking, sat down, and selected what food items they wanted from a menu handed to them by a waiter. The bill is paid only after the meal is finished. A tip was always welcome, since service charges were unthinkable back then.
Food was served on porcelain plates and not on plastic dishes or styrofoam containers. Beverages were imbibed from real glasses and not from the plastic, unsanitary, reusable tumblers used in many of today’s fast food joints, or the disposable wax containers in other establishments today.
The closest thing to a fast food outlet in the 1960s and the 1970s was the Makati Automat located at the old Makati Commercial Center. It used to stand on what is now the north side of the Glorietta Mall, the one nearest the Shangri-La hotel.
Patrons of the Makati Automat chose from four restaurants inside its premises—Spoon & Fork for American meals (although some Chinese dishes were also served); Bar-B-Quick for roasted pork and chicken; Chopsticks for Chinese cuisine; and Steak Express for steaks and salads. Except for Spoon & Fork which was a self-service style eatery, the restaurants inside the Makati Automat featured a la carte dining. The Makati Automat was open from late morning to early evening.
Fast food at a commercial scale was introduced to Filipinos in 1973 when the Fast Food Center opened in Makati, at a site facing Edsa, adjacent to the SM department store and the old Hotel Inter-Continental Manila. It was the first purposeful food-court type of dining center in the country, and it had about 40 different self-service counters, each providing a distinct menu, and each with a frontage of approximately three meters. Food and drinks were served in styrofoam containers or plastic plates, and diners used plastic utensils.
Soon thereafter, fast food centers began sprouting all over the metropolis. The first SM shopping malls, particularly the ones at the Araneta Center in Cubao, and at the Makati Commercial Center, had food courts at their basements. For a number of years, a big fast food building called the Midland Fast Food and Inihaw Center operated along Buendia Avenue across the Makati Medical Center.
The fast food burger chains came next. Local brand Jollibee was first, with its pioneering outlet along Aurora Boulevard in Cubao, underneath the old Diamond Theatre. McDonalds opened its first outlet at Morayta at Manila’s university belt in 1981. Wendy’s, Carl’s Jr., Cindy’s, and Burger King followed suit. Tropical Hut Hamburger started as a supermarket coffee shop before it became a fast food outlet.
They were followed by the buffet restaurants— Dad’s, Saisaki, Vikings and Buffet 101. The wide assortment of dishes they offered made them high-end fast food centers, but where payment is made after the meal’s end. One will readily notice the plastic plates and beverage containers these buffet restaurants use.
In time, the operations of fast food outlets, shopping mall food courts, and buffet destinations spelled the end of the classic restaurants and great dining experiences associated with the 1960s and the 1970s.
A few of those classic restaurants ought to be mentioned even for posterity.
Manila used to host great Chinese restaurants like Panciteria Carvajal, Panciteria Rice Bowl, Panciteria San Jacinto, and the Peony Restaurant. Carvajal, which was located at a tall building along Carvajal Street parallel to Ongpin Street in Chinatown, was known for its quekiam (spelled that way back then), while the dainty San Jacinto and Rice Bowl were frequented for their fried rice and meats. San Jacinto briefly transferred to Quezon City, near the old Delta Theatre along Quezon Avenue, and opened a few franchised outlets elsewhere.
The Peony was a quaint restaurant situated on the second floor of a building located at the corner of Padre Faura and M. H. del Pilar Streets in Ermita. Its dining room was decorated in typical 19th century Shanghai setting. Patrons loved it for its pork and vegetable dishes.
Makati hosted The Plaza and The Marquina, both located at the commercial center near Pasay Road. Chicken a la King made The Plaza famous. Marquina had specialized buffets, mostly French or Chinese, depending on the day of the week.
Buendia Mami King located along Buendia Avenue near the Makati-Pasay border specialized in noodle soups, with various types to choose from. Although the place was not air-conditioned, it was cool enough even for diners used to cooler dining establishments.
Quezon City had Hong Ning at the Araneta Center, known for its cold cuts, and Golden Peking along Edsa near P. Tuason Avenue was popular for its’ ginger-free dishes. There was the al fresco Ongpin’s Delights near the Timog-Quezon Avenue intersection, which served freshly-cooked Chinese dishes at affordable prices.
Mandaluyong hosted two high-end Chinese restaurants which served sumptuous food—Moon Palace and Marco Polo, both located along Shaw Boulevard near Edsa. Last, but not the least, was Madrid Restaurant along Edsa near the Polymedic General Hospital, which served continental cuisine. It featured ballroom dancing every weekend, and it was known as the most elegant restaurant in Asia.