In the Philippines, merienda is an afternoon snack ritual that’s similar to British high tea but heartier. Much like the term’s origin in Spain, Filipino merienda is often eaten at around 4 or 5 p.m. — just a few hours before supper.
While locals typically enjoy merienda from their neighborhood vendors and street food carts, there’s a special charm to taking the time to sit down and savor a warm bowl of arroz caldo (chicken rice porridge), refreshing halo-halo (a shaved ice dessert) or the timeless banana cue (deep-fried bananas) or turon (fried bananas covered in molten sugar and wrapped in thin, crispy wrapper).
If you ever find yourself in Metro Manila between lunch and dinner, here are some of the best places to experience an authentic merienda.
The impeccable Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star service and sheer grandiosity of The Lobby of The Peninsula Manila make every meal feel like a treat. Usually a family affair, merienda here means trying its halo-halo Harana, topped with a scoop of ube (purple yam) ice cream, macapuno coconut, jackfruit, sweet palm fruit, coconut jelly, sweet beans, garbanzos, toasted pinipig (crisp popped rice) and leche flan, or the banana turon, bananas and ripe jackfruit deep fried in a crispy wrapper and served with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream on the side. You can even enjoy it with some live musical entertainment if you visit at the right time.
A former antique store has become one of the most iconic cafés in Manila. Once a humble eatery for taxi drivers to enjoy a meal between trips, in 1979, owner Larry Cruz turned it into a café that welcomed all. While people watching on one of the busiest streets in the capital, sample local favorites like pancit palabok, rice noodles in a bright orange seafood sauce; suman sa lihiya, slightly sweet glutinous rice cakes cooked in banana leaves and lye; and the much-beloved ensaymada, a pillowy brioche-like pastry smothered in butter, sugar and cheese served with tsokolate eh, or thick hot chocolate.
If you’d like a drink as you take in the picturesque sunset over Manila Bay, head to the C Lounge at Conrad Manila. To say that C Lounge’s beverage menu is extensive would be an understatement (and do not miss out on the locally brewed beers), but if you came for a bite to eat as well, order the trio chicharon, a popular local snack with three variations: pork rind, crispy chicken skin and oyster mushroom served with cilantro crema and locally made spiced Pinakurat vinegar; or the chicken dinakdakan sandwich, piccolo ciabatta filled with chicken cutlets, chilies, crispy fried onion, mushroom crackling, Tabasco, calamansi (a citrus) and mayonnaise.
Most locals have fond memories of The Aristocrat Restaurant, famous for its Filipino-style barbecue chicken. Opened in the 1930s as one of Manila’s first fine-dining venues, it became a treasure for many generations. You can still visit the original location in Malate for a serving of its best-selling merienda offers: adobo flying saucer, a circular toasted sandwich stuffed with pork adobo; lumpiang ubod sariwa, a fresh vegetable wrap with cooked heart of palm, which also comes deep fried if you prefer something more indulgent; puto at dinuguan, beef blood stew paired with glutinous rice cakes (don’t knock it until you try it); Aristocrat pancit canton, stir-fried noodles with vegetables and seafood; and its iteration of arroz con caldo with beef tripe.
You might have heard about Filipino holiday delicacies like bibingka and puto bumbong, but you don’t have to wait for December to enjoy them at Via Mare. Every merienda could taste like Christmas with its famous bibingka, rice cakes made with coconut milk, salted egg, butter and shredded coconut and cooked over coals; puto bumbong, steamed purple or black rice cakes accompanied by butter, sugar and cheese; palitaw, boiled glutinous rice cakes tossed in toasted coconut and sugar; and pancit luglog, thick rice noodles with shrimp sauce, boiled egg, squid rings and chicharon.
Tucked away from the noise and excitement of the casino, Solaire’s all-day restaurant specializes in Asian-inspired dishes. The menu includes Filipino merienda staples like ginataang halo-halo, glutinous rice balls stewed in coconut milk with sweet potatoes, ube and sago (tapioca); turon with langka, fried banana rolls with jackfruit and warm caramel sauce; or something savory like beef pares, egg noodles in beef stew, an elevated version of a streetside go-to; and its take on asado siopao, the beef asado sandwich, which has pulled beef brisket in malunggay (moringa) pandesal (a slightly sweet roll) with lettuce and kesong puti, a locally made white cheese from carabao’s milk.
In the middle of the longest COVID-induced lockdown, Half Saints, a humble bakery in Quezon City (QC), breathed new life into local flavors through its pastries and bread. It uses ingredients like coconut, pili nuts, ube and award-winning chocolate made from homegrown cacao. Do not miss Half Saints’ Merci Buko Cream Puff, choux au craquelin filled with coconut custard, young coconut meat and sprinkled with pili nuts; Ube Overload Babka, buttery brioche braided with housemade ube jam, cheese and white chocolate ube jam sauce; and 64 percent dark chocolate flower tartlets with Himalayan pink salt, made with single-origin dark chocolate by heralded local chocolatier Auro Chocolate.
In the 1960s, Milky Way Café began as an ice cream bar frequented by residents of the posh Makati neighborhood. Milky Way prides itself on its housemade ice cream that showcases local flavors like buko lechias (coconut and lychee), ube and avocado, perfect for Manila’s tropical heat. Over the years, the café has grown into a full-fledged restaurant serving Filipino and Asian dishes, but the ice cream continues to draw crowds. Its famous halo-halo, considered one of the city’s best, still features its very own ube ice cream.
For a refreshing treat that’s lighter, order the ginumis, a dessert made of shaved ice, jellies, sago, coconut cream, pinipig and topped with Milky Way’s unique panutsa (palm sugar) ice cream.
If you get tired of walking around the famous Walled City of Intramuros in the capital, find this café beside the epochal Manila Cathedral in the old belfry. Church bells hang from the café’s ceiling over coffee lovers as they partake in caffeine and pastries. For a taste of the country’s sweetest mangoes, try the mango de leche cake, especially in the summertime.
Going to one of the sprawling shopping malls in Metro Manila could be overwhelming, especially when hungry. Enjoy classic and modernized versions of Filipino dishes at Manam Comfort Filipino, a homegrown casual dining chain spotlighting Pinoy favorites. Here you can find the viral sensation pancit palabok, crispy noodles smothered with creamy seafood sauce; a tall refreshing glass of ube or mango pomelo sago, an ube- or mango-based chilled beverage with tapioca balls; turon (fried banana spring rolls) with mango, kesong puti and ice cream; or lumpiang Bicol Express (a traditional Bicolano dish stuffed in a crispy spring roll).