Last Sunday, I went back to Mercato Centrale. This time, with Francis in tow. We arrived before 10am and we have been munching ever since. We were just supposed to buy a couple of things, drop by to say HI to some concessionaire-friends I made over the past weekend, and have a simple lunch. Eventually, our Mercato visit turned into an unplanned binge session. But no one’s complaining. Unforseen or otherwise, we enjoyed our food trip A LOT. Besides, who wouldn’t take pleasure in eating, right?
Let me share the top ten things that made a mark during last Sunday’s food adventure. I would love to write about all the stuff we’ve seen and tried but I won’t right now. Maybe next time. Meanwhile, here are the ones that made our [Sun]day.
1. Bale Datung’s Pan de Bagnet [P150]
Chef Claude Tayag shares with everyone his take on the popular Italian Porcheta. Pan de Bagnet is a generous serving of crisp bagnet on toasted authentic Ciabatta bread with the Ilocano KBL [Kamatis, Bagoong, and Lasuna (a.k.a. garlic)]. If you want to have a taste of this heavenly treat [which, at the same time, is evil], make sure to come early as this crowd favorite is usually sold out by 11am.
Also available is the famous Bale Dutung Lechon Tortilla which comes at P100.
2. Bap Chi’s Chicken Que’dilla [P165]
Bap Chi offers classic comfort food with an Asian twist. Drop by to sample the delicious Que’dilla — fried, crispy quesadilla stuffed with your choice of meat and loads of cheese [Monterey Jack. :D], onions, red [& green] peppers, and cabbage slaw drizzled with their secret spicy sauce. Don’t forget to say hello to owner Pria Chiongbian Solon, who is sure to greet you with her infectious jolliness. You may also want to try Bap Chi’s equally yummy S’piggy [P175], an Asian version of Sloppy Joe and/or the Baprito [P150], a huge Asian burrito with a distinct Korean flavor. Don’t just drool there. Try it!
3. Stuffed Temptations by February Sweets and Savories [P75 each/P275 for 4/P525 for 8]
It doesn’t seem like it but a stuffed temptation is a stuffed tomato. I was quite surprised to learn what these are in the beginning. I was doubly surprised with how it tasted. The combination of spinach, Parmesan cheese and red, juicy tomato makes this the “Holy Trinity” of appetizers. Whether eaten as a side dish or on its own, anyone will surely be tempted. By the way, these goodies are always freshly made.
4. Eggs Benny by Flamed [got this for free for being their first client the previous weekend]
The newest addition to the roster of Flamed is their eggs benedict sandwich. It is basically ham, poached eggs, mustard, and Hollandaise sauce sandwiched between English muffins.
Flamed is all about bringing the family Sunday backyard barbecue experience to Mercato Centrale. The chefs behind Flamed aim to share good food, the love of family and friends and the joy of life to everyone they’ll meet. So don’t fail to drop a “Hello” when you visit them this weekend. Also try their signature Baby Back Ribs, Triple Beef Burger, Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Sausages, Chicken Boracay, Roasted Potatoes and other mouthwatering sides.
*In the middle of our pig-out, Francis and I bumped into John Ray, a former classmate of mine in college who happens to be a food-loving being like us. We persuaded him to join us and he agreed. And so the foodventure continues…
5. Lola Maria Restaurant’s Cocido and Tinapaté Pan de Sal [got both for P150 only <— sale price since there was only a little of it left.]
Cocido is a traditional Spanish stew of meat [Lola Maria Restaurant used beef], cabbage, and potatoes, which is a hearty and substantial fare. I was expecting its taste to be similar with that of Pochero but oddly, I was just like eating Menudo… a rich, filling Menudo. It came with an eggplant caviar and, when eaten together, produces an even better taste. We enjoyed it.
The Tinapaté Pan de Sal is a pairing of tinapa paté [spread] and mini pan de sal. It’s a uniquely interesting concept that actually works!
6. Dulcelin Gourmet’s US Angus Beef Short Ribs [P250]
Dulcelin has been a mainstay in the past Ultimate Taste Tests and a consistent winner. Having them as part of Mercato Centrale gives loyal patrons nothing but delight. We initially wanted their Wagyu Tri-Tip but it was sold out by the time we asked for it. We settled for this instead and boy was it a good move. Slow cooked for 2 days, this is an incredibly tender beef dish that is sure to please.
7. Balamban Liempo [P150 for dine-in serving / P220 for take-out serving (500 grams)]
Cebu’s original lechon liempo is now in Manila, thanks to Jojo Chua. He is the first franchiser of this chain carrying unforgettable roasted slabs of sin aptly described to be “tastier than lechon”. I say it really is, compared to all the non-Cebu lechon(s) out there. It was remarkably good that we had to buy some more for take-out. The green stuff you’ll see upon chopping are herbs and their “special filling” stuffed in the pork belly. Think Cebu lechon [having the same herbs & spices inside to make the pork a whole lot tastier], only Balamban offers liempo instead. They were sold out even before the market’s closing.
8. La Cuisine Francaise’s Fruit Tarte 
Famous for their quiches and pies, La Cuisine Francaise creates the perfect tart using sweet strawberries, kiwi, and peaches. It was not cloying; sweetness was subdued. Visit their booth, right beside Dulcelin, for more from their extensive array of offerings.
10. Mochiko [P70 each]
The latest dessert item from FIC [Fruits in Ice Cream], Mochiko is an ice-cream filled mochi ball. Yes, two glorious layers: a soft, dough-like outer mochi shell, and inner ice cream core. Mochi is a Japanese confection made of glutinous rice flour, which is usually filled with a sweet center such as anko or red bean paste and eaten as a snack. We tried the two bestselling flavors, Black Sesame and Azuki [red bean]. Yes, black sesame. Now that’s a flavor you won’t find everyday in the supermarket. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen it sold anywhere but here. Though pleasantly sweet and nutty, I think that the flavor is too mild for my taste. I would prefer a bolder flavor of toasted black sesame in my mochiko. Azuki, however, was hands-down a winner! The matcha junkie that I am intentionally ditched the green tea flavor for this one. [Well, I am familiar with FIC’s green tea and it’s not quite the matcha that I prefer. IMHO, it lacks that strong bitter aftertaste that is always present in Japanese brands of green tea ice cream.] The azuki ice cream was rich and creamy, plus, it was just like eating the real thing. Red bean na red bean talaga! I got instantly hooked. Now I am proud to announce that this azuki Mochiko is my current addiction.
John Ray, I, and Francis in our pre-parting picture
We left by 12pm and I was home 20 minutes later. That same day at 4pm, when I usually take a snack, I was still so full from my brunch that I only had a glass of water. Hehe. I say there’s nothing better than luxuriating in great food finds and sharing them with equally great friends/people. Now, I’m wondering what I’ll have in Mercato this weekend. What to eat, what to eat?
Note: Mercato Centrale is extending its market operations from 6am to 2pm starting this weekend, December 18 and 19, 2010. That’ll be the last weekend market for the year, though. Mercato Centrale will resume on January 8, 2011.