My father and my grandfather used to take us to Ma Mon Luk in Manila’s Chinatown often. The unique aroma that permeated the place is something deeply etched in my memory. Established by a Chinese immigrant named Ma Mon Luk who came to the Philippines in 1918, the popularization of the restaurant’s chicken mami (noodle soup) and siopao (steamed dumplings) is probably the reason why those two dishes have become part of the Philippines’ culinary language. The man’s life story and the restaurant’s history are quite riveting. I do not know if the iconic Ma Mon Luk restaurant in Chinatown is still there but the branch in Quezon Boulevard remains.
Speedy and I brought the girls to Ma Mon Luk for lunch today. It was the girls’ first time to eat there although they are familiar with Ma Mon Luk’s siopao because their father had brought home Ma Mon Luk siopao as pasalubong many times before. As I entered the place for the first time in years, I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted with the same aroma that I remember so distinctly from my childhood. It felt good — really good.
The girls were not exactly thrilled with the physical appearance of the restaurant. It is old. The marble tabletops were cracked and rough along the edges but I could forgive that because the mami and siopao are still as wonderful — the same milky broth with that incomparable aroma (I’m still guessing what aromatics they put in it), the same non-greasy siopao with the pork, chicken and salted egg filling, the same bottle of siopao sauce on each table that the customer can tip and squeeze over the siopao…
Because I don’t remember having eaten anything but mami and siopao at Ma Mon Luk in the past, there were a few surprises with the siomai that my daughter Alex ordered. No one was thrilled with the siomai — to be honest, the texture and taste screamed extenders!!
We also ordered pancit canton for take-out, another Ma Mon Luk dish that I have never tried in the past — probably a much later addition to the menu which originally consisted only of mami, siopao and siomai. I had some pancit canton for my mid-afternoon merienda at home and it was delectable. No ornamental ingredients like colored quail eggs that are so popular in many Chinese restaurants these days. No uber starch-thickened sauce either. The ingredients are simple and few — noodles, pork, carrots and cabbage. But, my, it was tasty! Very, very tasty.
Okay, so we wen’t be ordering any more siomai in the future but we are definitely going back for more Ma Mon Luk mami and siopao.