Photos by Karlo Cadang
There really is something exciting about working your way in small streets in search for a carinderia that serves your usual homey fares slash Pinoy favorites. To some extent, these small eateries have become an important part of Pinoy food culture, and to pay homage, Chef Rob Pengson just recently came up with a modern carinderia aptly called Esqinita.
As the name implies, this eatery is located inside a small alley hidden along Poblacion. The modern carinderia takes cues from traditional Filipino designs. On the walls is a huge mural of plants and a lifelike portrait of a morena that automatically give you a distinctly tropical Pinoy vibe, while on the tables are handpainted decorations that give out homey feels, elevating the dining experience we’re all too familiar with.
A peek at their menu will give you the impression that while a lot of fares are familiar, their dishes have noteworthy creative twists to it. When asked if the menu is a fusion of different cuisines, Chef Rob was quick to answer that the menu resembles that of the history of the Philippines – highly influenced by different countries like Spain yet still considered Filipino all the same. According to him, he would call it “Filipino food inspired by different cultures”, rather than a fusion of different cuisines.
If the Americans have the turkey, us Pinoys drool over the roasted suckling pig called the lechon. With that given, it’s fair to assume that the lechon is one of the highlights of Pinoy cuisine and a staple in every carinderia – including Esqinita! Their thickly-cut slabs of Esqi Lechon are equal parts meaty and juicy, more than enough to satisfy your cravings.
We are geographically close to the land of the rising sun and although the Japanese have only little influence to our own cuisine, a big number of Pinoys have come to love their food. One dish that stays true to its Pinoy roots is Chef Rob’s Oyster Aburi. Once the server puts the plate on your table, you’ll notice the minimalist plating – a very Japanese trait. But wait until you taste it because you will be met with the taste of the flavorful oyster. We might have even caught a feisty kick of wasabi with that.
Pinoys don’t need the fountain of youth because they already discovered the secret to long life – the Pancit. Esqinita’s generous serving of noodles will remind you of all the Pinoy birthday parties you attended as a kid, now reimagined in adult form.
Pampanga, the culinary goldmine of Luzon, has produced a number of classic Pinoy dishes and one of them is the Sisig. But what happens when you combine it with another delicious cuisine? Find out the answer by digging in to the Sisig Gambas Curry. This one-of-a-kind dish is served in two bowls. One bowl contains rice topped with sisig, while the other includes succulent shrimp doused in addicting curry sauce. It might sound like an unlikely pair but believe us when we say the magic happens when you eat the two together.
The Inasal and Kare Kare are two local favorites that give pride to our cuisine. Combine the two and you’ll get the Chicken Inasal Kare Kare. This gem includes chicken cooked Inasal style, which is then drizzled with Kare Kare sauce that gives you the familiar peanut taste. On the side, you’ll find a Mango Singkamas salad to accompany the dish.
Chef Rob still has a lot of tricks up his sleeve and his own version of the Tuna Kilawin is proof. What’s special about this recipe is that it contains Avocado ice cream – yes, you read that right. Surprising the skeptic in us, the avocado flavor blended well with the creaminess of the coconut milk and tuna bits. It even has a crispy ube tostada on the side.
A carinderia’s arsenal also consists of dessert and one of those is the Buko Pandan. The combination of the buko pandan gelatin and creaminess of the milk will be the answer to your sweet tooth.
Chef Rob Pengson still has a lot of plans for his brainchild. Esqinita is only one of the three concepts that he is planning on growing. The other two, which are set to open soon, are a tapas bar and an izakaya. The trio will be located in the same complex and we definitely can’t wait to see more of Chef Rob’s creations.
Esqinita is located at 4988 Guanzon St. Poblacion, Makati City. Follow them @esqinitaph on Instagram for more details.