It’s interesting how a street like Maginhawa—simple and homely in many ways—has evolved from a residential area into a bustling food destination. Being situated near two universities doesn’t hurt either; in between classes and after schoolwork, Maginhawa is bustling with mindful young folk looking to fill their bellies. Things have gotten even more exciting when the StrEAT food park opened its gates, inviting even more of Manila’s hungry hordes to chow down in this part of town.
From ice-cold beers and corn dogs to green tea eclairs in a shabby chic cafe, there’s certainly something for everyone. In a bid to get to know our neighbors a little better, B/Blog visits a few places and faces in this epicurean hotspot and discovers why a visit to Maginhawa is indeed a way to #lovelocal.
Van Gogh is Bipolar has been one of the first destination eats in this area. What led you to open this?
I didn’t plan it, it happened spontaneously. Van Gogh Is Bipolar is an accidental restaurant. Primarily, it’s my safe haven. It’s my healing sanctuary. Through the diet that I created for myself, I serve the mood healing diet, it serves as my natural homeopathic medicine. When I started cooking and serving it to my friends, it became a restaurant.
What were you doing before this accident of a restaurant?
I used to work as an art director for McCann. Then I resigned. It didn’t work for me.
Tea here is a highlight. What makes it so special?
It’s a mood healing tea. It’s only in Van Gogh Is Bipolar where you can experience this one of a kind tea. They are all organically grown from our farm in Isabela. It’s a very, very special tea flavor. For now, I have six flavors. There’s berry, it’s an extra upper. There’s guava, another upper. The mango to be happy and chill. The banana, a light kind of chill. The avocado, soothing. The guyabano, extra calming. And then there’s the house tea. I call it Buddha’s Holy Water. It’s made of gumamela.
The name of your café is apt considering the rainy weather lately. What’s the story behind it?
We figured that if city dwellers can’t go to the beach on a normal day, maybe we can bring the beach to the city. We just aim to promote love for Philippine weather and to embrace tropical food and the lifestyle.
Summer has passed—what do you picture when you think about it?
Clan outing somewhere the kids can swim while the titas cook food and the titos consume alcohol.
It’s my first time at Endless Summer. What should I order?
The Combi Sisig + Strawberry Mango smoothie. Definitely our flagship summer smoothies.
Maginhawa institution ang Bookay-Ukay—you’ve been here since 2008. Have you noticed a change in people’s taste in books?
Pa-diverse na ng pa-diverse ang mga nagbabasa eh. Wala nang surprising na hinahanap. Minsan, may maghahanap sayo ng Twilight kahit ayaw mo (laughs). Minsan, may maghahanap naman ng sobrang deep shit na philosophy. Extremes din eh.
Any rare books na dumaan dito?
Yung mga rare, tinatabi ko. Meron akong collection na nakuha din sa isang collector—speeches ni Ferdinand Marcos.
Bakit pwedeng mabuhay ang ganitong store sa Maginhawa?
Organic ang pagka-transform ng lugar, from a neighborhood na hindi naman ganun kilala. Phenomenon siya eh. Hindi sinadya ng mga stores na ‘Tabi tayo.’ Tulad ng 55 Maginhawa, dapat isulat ng story yan eh. Sobrang diverse ng lugar, dahil meron kang bar and resto, meron kang bookshop, meron kang tattoo shop, meron kang band rehearsal studio, meron kang skate shop,tapos may flower shop ‘saka may salon. Ang galing. Hanggang ngayon, nakaka-miss yung lugar na yun. Ganun din in a sense ang nangyari dito sa Maginhawa. Ang mga stores, hindi siya natatagpuan sa mall. Yung makikita mo lang sa Maginhawa, dito mo lang makikita.
Do you miss anything about the old Maginhawa?
Diyan dati, may sari-sari store. Tawag namin rehas. Ngayon, wala nang sari-sari store dito eh.
You used to be in Cubao Expo. Why the move?
Avic: Yung group namin, puro filmmakers lahat from Mowelfund. We wanted to form a group so that we could protect ourselves from contracts with projects na hindi kami binabayaran. We wanted to be SEC-registered so we can have a legal name. Eventually, lumipat kami sa Cubao—Cubao Expo is a crucial thing for us kasi nag-evolve into an art space.
Ricky: Yung office namin, two floors yun. Yung sa taas, ginawa namin parang production office. May maliit na corner dun, it’s a nook, ginawa naming kitchenette. Since Avic has time to manage, siya yung nag-handle ng Blacksoup and Art Space. Kami yung mga nauna dun na nag-form ng Cubao Ex.
Avic: Kaya kami lumipat dito from Cubao Expo, because the time that we were scouting for a place, hindi pa ganito ka-thickly populated. Andito yung mga intelligentsia kasi it’s very near UP, Miriam, Ateneo. Feeling namin it’s a good place to start a neighborhood thing na hindi magiging commercialized—a laidback, artist community. We’ll open when we want to open, when we have time. If you establish a neighborhood business, it’s not totally a business.
Can you talk about the characters who’ve come through this space?
Avic: Second, third year namin, laging nag-mi-meeting dito ang mga stations. Pwede silang mag–ingay. Minsan, a group of Ateneo teachers talking about showbiz. Meron ding this one time,grupo ng atheists, dito sila umiinom. They talk about “Anong unang sex mo?” “Kailan ka nag-drugs dati?” It’s so casual na niri-reveal nila ang very intimate details that you only share with good friends. So very varied. Gusto ko nga gumawa ng pelikula about yung mga naging customers namin dito. Kahit short film, gagawa ako.
You had a good summer. Why was Maginhawa the ideal place to put something like this up?
There are so many small businesses in Maginhawa now. What do you predict the future of this area will be?
Before we even started our food truck business, yung Maginhawa, fan na kami niyan eh. Nung nag-start palang siya na konti palang yung restaurants, sabi namin promising siya kasi siya na yung magiging highlight ng Manila na parang gourmet food street.
Yung surprising para sa amin, yung mga fusion ng mga unexpected. Like yung milkshake na biglang may cotton candy sa ibabaw. Parang nagugulat nalang kami na yung mga tao, nagigingcreative na. Na hindi lang siya like before na ulam and rice lang. So nagiging challenge din siya kasi yung tao, masyado na silang openminded.
We’re loving the local candy inspiration behind your cakes. What led you to put up this concept?
Well actually, the candy cakes weren’t around yet when we first put this up. First, we wanted to sell our breads. During our first week, I thought of offering some cakes and then I was in the grocery, I found myself dun sa candy section and then I just realized maybe I can use some of these for cakes. First one we tried was Flat Tops and then it turned out pretty good. My wife, she bought a whole bunch of candies and she said, “Okay, maybe you can make all these other candies into cakes.” It’s basically trial and error. We try it and if they like it, we make more.
What can you say about the food community here in Maginhawa?
If you notice, most of the food establishments here in Maginhawa are very unique.
You can really see the owners put themselves in their products. Same with us, most of these candies are candies that I pretty much grew up with.
Patty: The Lost Bread is actually a direct translation of “pain perdu,” which is French for French toast. We actually love French toast and we saw na walang French toast restaurant saPhilippines. We opened this to serve different varieties of French toast. Kunyari, you go to breakfast places, you’ll see different flavors of pancakes but then there’s just one French toast item. We decided we can make a restaurant with several French toast flavors na savory and sweet.
If you could create a Pinoystyle French toast, what would you put on it?
Patty: We were thinking of having sisig French toast with egg, something like that. I think we lessened the menu offerings since we’re still starting but eventually we’ll do that naman.