Monday, October 21, 2013

Red Onion Cafe - Best Taiwanese Cuisine in Manila

Red Onion Café: Bringing the Best of Taiwanese Cuisine to Manila


Taiwanese food is not as popular in the Philippines as its fellow Asians: Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, and so on. The simple reason for this is that there aren’t many places here that offer food from Taiwan. More often than not, they are just a little addition here and there to Chinese menus. Red Onion Café is here to change that. This recently opened restaurant is situated in what promises to be a hub of good places to eat, the U.P. Town Center. The brainchild of Mark Endaya and Wen-Szu Lin, Red Onion Café brings us the best of Taiwanese and Chinese fare in one menu.

The main theme of our meal at Red Onion was “wow, I’ve never had anything quite like that before”. The flavors were somehow familiar but different. The dishes were conventional yet executed differently. The appetizers are a good example. We were served three kinds of dumplings: Taiwanese Crispy Dumplings (P168 for 5pcs), Pork Handmade Dumplings (P138 for 8 pcs), and Vegetable Handmade Dumplings (P138 for 8 pcs). The Crispy Dumplings are thin and long, filled with pork and held together by a thin and crispy base. For those of you, like me, who have never had this dish before, the proper way to portion it is to flip it dumpling-side-down on the plate and then cut along the lines at the back. It is best eaten with Red Onion’s house sauce.

Taiwanese Crispy Dumplings
The Pork Handmade Dumplings and Vegetable Handmade Dumplings are made fresh every day. These dumplings are boiled rather than steamed and I prefer them that way. They are nice and chewy and generously filled.
Vegetable Handmade Dumplings
You’ll notice that Red Onion Café’s menu is small. The owners made it that way because, in keeping with Taiwanese tradition, whatever they do they want to do well. This practice is manifested in their well thought out dishes and their precise execution of each and every one. A must try main is the Sichuan Mala Chicken (P198 - single, P378 - family). This juicy chicken thigh filet swimming in a delicious and mildly spicy sauce is my personal favorite. The Sichuan pepper is a popular spice that causes a strangely addictive numbing sensation in the mouth. I did not experience that feeling with this dish but that doesn’t make it any less good. I can’t wait to go back to Red Onion just so I can have this again. 
Sichuan Mala Chicken
Another must-try main dish is the Double Fried Sweet and Sour Pork (P228). I am so accustomed to orange-hued sweet and sour anything that I did not immediately recognize this dish. I was assured, however, that this was how it was intended when it was invented in Canton. This dish is all about balance. The sweet, sour, and salty should be harmonious. It should be crunchy on the outside and tender in the inside. New chefs in Southern China are actually tested based on this dish because the balance is difficult to achieve. I am happy to report that Red Onion Café does it justice.
Double Fried Sweet and Sour Pork
Red Onion Café is named after a staple ingredient in Taiwanese cooking. Nowhere in the menu is this more evident than in their Red Onion House Fried Rice (P188). The fried onion bits in the rice make it a flavorful companion to the main dishes.
Red Onion House Fried Rice
The star of the show in Red Onion Café are the Gourmet Beef Noodles. Try their 39 Spices Beef Noodle (P228 all meat; P258 ½ beef, ½ tendon). The rich broth is a mix of several flavor profiles: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. The beef is nice and tender. It makes for a nice and filling meal which is why a lot of Taiwanese eat it for breakfast. It goes really well with their hand-shaved noodles. These, by the way, are a spectacle in themselves. It’s fascinating to watch the chefs shave an oblong slab of dough into broad, thin strips of noodles. The hand shaved noodles are slightly chewy when cooked. If you can’t get enough, just keep asking for more because the noodles are all you can eat.
39 Spices Beef Noodle
All you can eat hand shaved noodles!
The Winter Melon Tea (P78) is a nice accompaniment to all the savory dishes. It’s refreshing and not too sweet. Refills are 50% off.
Winter Melon Tea
I was told that food stalls in Taiwan typically have one specialty. Part of the Taiwanese food experience is to go from one shop to another, eating good food to your heart’s content. Enter Red Onion. Now you don’t have to hop from stall to stall, or go to Taiwan for that matter, to experience their cuisine. Red Onion has brought Taiwan to you.

Additional images courtesy of Red Onion Café.
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