Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Rich and Joyful

The Chinese often give names of characteristics or ideals, perhaps in the hope (that's another good Chinese name) that the characteristics spelled out in it will be reflected by the person or place so named.  So, immediately upon learning that the restaurant we were in is named Rich Joy, we knew, with absolute certainty what its cultural origins are.  Well, maybe the Lomi was a dead give-away, but one can never be sure in this age of globalization. 

Rich Joy is a third generation restaurant. Its name has changed several times and so has its proprietors but it has thus far stayed in the same family. The current owner, a lovely Chinese woman in a pixie cut, declined to be named and said that her mother advised her two major things. First, that a restaurant doesn’t need publicity and second, she may cook anything, so long as she uses Chinese ingredients.

On the first matter, while she declined to be named and photographed, her natural instinct for people who appreciate her food was at work that day.  When she saw us taking pictures of the dishes, she immediately came over and made menu suggestions, all the while happily chattering about the history of the place, such as, that it was first put up in the ruins of war, in 1946 and has since been providing inexpensive and delicious food for students and the church going public patronizing the nearby Quiapo cathedral. She used to run the cashier in the corner, but now mainly chats up the regulars and entertains the newbies while armchair directing equally friendly kitchen staff.

The restaurant itself is located on Quezon Boulevard, squeezed between the uniform (ROTC, pilots, law enforcers) makers and vendors of cheap China electronics, one block or so away from Quiapo church, walking distance from Isetann, and does brisk business even as one of the staff regularly conducts publicity calls from the open sidewalk side. “Sir, kain kayo! Lomi, bihon, club sandwich.”

The menu is pretty varied but reasonably priced and its best sellers are the Pata Bihon and the Lomi. What a surprise to discover the mild use of five spice powder (very subtle here, unlike cheap restaurants which tend to overdo it) and the generous ingredients – real Chinese black mushrooms, chicken liver, Chinese cabbage, juicy slices of fish balls (I didn’t quite make them out as fish balls, but there they were), egg mix an
d fat lomi noodles. I was perfectly happy with the dish and began to regret ordering the sandwiches. But, no worries, they were great, for their price – forty two pesos for a clubhouse sandwich (burger, ham and egg) and twenty-two fifty for a small burger – and they kept well for when we were stuck in traffic later that afternoon.

Pata Bihon is a mongrel. Pancit bihon married pata tim and resulted in a large slice of pata tim (chopped) resting on a bed of bihon doused in the pata sauce mixed in with Chinese cabbage, fish ball slices and Chinese black mushrooms (do you see a pattern here?). The hoisin sauce and brown sugar blend well with pancit ingredients resulting an a sweet-salty dish that will have you discarding that no-carb diet.

An even bigger surprise is the cleanliness of the establishment evident in both the taste of the dishes (no detergent in the mix, no slimy dishes or utensils) and the smell of the place. While one may long for airconditioning, the open-ness of the resto allows air circulation, preventing trapped food smells from turning rancid. Remember that famous Chinese restaurant in Cubao that was supposed to be using cat meat? Its awful exhaust smells were equally famous and could be detected at least half a block from its location.

The sandwiches at Rich Joy are clearly student fare, and provide more than simple survival for the financially strapped – though cheap, they’re actually good for the price. They weren’t swimming in mayonnaise (pet peeve!) In fact, the entire place could have just become another cheap hole in the wall for the hungry transients of Quiapo, but because of the current owner’s wise, wise mother, the generous Chinese ingredients and savory taste make this place a classic.

Kain tayo dun?

Rich Joy is located at the corner of Gonzalo Puyat (Raon) and Quezon Boulevard Cathedral side. 

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