It was in this precise moment that the chorus of Chris Daughtry's song "Home" blared in air, as tears welled up in the eyes of my wind blown face..
My first "out of town" post!! Of course it had to fittingly be, perhaps one of my all time favorite restaurants, Habor City in the beautiful island of Cebu! Backing up a bit, Cebu is the city where i grew up.. or as I like to say, "Didn't" grow up. I lived there for almost ten years, and I have a lot of great memories there with some pretty amazing people. The funny thing is, whenever I go back, i forget to contact my friends, but I never fail to make a trip to Harbor City.
It is simply that awesome.
My love affair with Harbor City began way back in 1988, when it was still called "Ding How Dimsum". They had a branch at the back end of Manros plaza (I think that's the name) in Mango Avenue and my dad took me there when i was just 11 years old. I still remember how i was in awe of it. It was a different experience, because all the food are served on carts that are sped around table to table, then you choose what dishes you want. The dimsum selection was quite wide, with a vast array of siomai's in the steamed cart, and a whole bunch of artery busting goodies in the fried cart. Here I am, 22 years later, and the memory is still clear in my mind like it happened yesterday. Either it was a life changing experience for me, or I seriously need to get a life (It's actually a combination of both).
I was tempted to hijack the cart and take it straight home
Ding How eventually became "Ding Qua Qua" at Mango Plaza, while keeping their main branch in the historic Colon st of Cebu. "Ding Qua Qua" was what i would frequent most during my teen years. I still remember when their small plate of sweet and sour pork was P28 bucks! It was usually my default choice whenever someone would ask me "where do you want to eat?". Eating at Ding Qua Qua though was a test of patience. Because of it's popularity, you were never assured of a table despite its large dining area, and when were fortunate enough to get a table, by the time the food cart got to your table, they were most likely out of the main goodies, or you'd get it quite cold already. Yet no one really seemed to care. Ding Qua Qua kept packing it in.
I'm assuming it's the same owners, as they've expanded their business into a fast food business, opening smaller branches called "Dimsum Break" all over Cebu, including, a branch at Banilad Town Center with a drive thru window! That sucks because Banilad is the road where my school used to be, meaning if that branch was open when i was in high school, i would have passed it every day. Of course the area was just grassland back then, but still..
Now, their flagship restaurants are called Harbor City. It's still pretty much the same menu and prices, but a little bit classier dining experience. Its sort of like Cebu's version of "Luk Yuen". Though they started off with the same "cart service" as their predecessors, the waiters now just take your orders, and get the food out of the kitchen, freshly cooked. What a novel idea! Of course, they still have a few carts moving around, to keep the tradition alive, but i do like getting my food hot, so it's a welcome move.
Behold! The Bacon Siomai! What all Siomais want to be when they grow up.
Whoever invented this Bacon Siomai (P50) deserves a medal. Screw it, give him the Nobel Prize for Astrophysics. Even if he doesn't know anything about Astrophysics, give it to him anyway. He's a fricking genius who deserves it. Anything, when wrapped in bacon, will always result in awesomeness. Hell, wrap a it around a lead pipe, and it suddenly gives you something to think about when you're hungry. What more when you add a nice juicy siomai to the mix? As expected, it's great!
Happy with her new discovery
One of the few shrimp dishes i eat..
Another must-try dish at Harbor City is their Shrimp Toast (P48). You see, I don't eat shrimp at all, so when I actually do suggest a shrimp dish to try, you know i'm speaking the truth. It's ground up shrimp,laid down on a bread crust, then breaded and deep fried into soft deliciousness. Douse it with the sweet and sour sauce and you're golden!
"Steamed" Fried Rice.. It ain't pretty to look at, but damn is it good..
One of the reasons why Harbor City portions look so small (apart from the fact that it actually is) , is because of the presence of one of their trademark dishes - the Steamed Fried Rice (P52). It's fried rice bathed in a steamed beef sauce, that makes the dish a meal in itself. I've searched high and low for something remotely close to this, and I found two places around the country (one in Davao and one in Makati) that offer something close to this, but not as good. This is one of my all time favorite rice dishes.
The star of the Noche Buena feast, Sweet & Sour Pork!
There's really something so addictive about Harbor City's Sweet & Sour Pork (P50) that makes me keep going back for more. I seriously could eat this every day if needed. When it's freshly cooked and crispy on the outside, one bite from this will make you forget about all the troubles in the world outside. Great flavor, especially when you bite into the fatty part hehe. When it's not so hot, it has the tendency of getting a bit hard, so I advise you to eat it right away.
That's actually something I wanted to mention. As good as all the dishes in Harbor City are, the biggest problem is, it doesn't keep very well. The Steamed Rice gets spoiled within a day (within hours if not refrigerated), and the sweet and sour tastes pretty gross after being refrigerated. The spring rolls, (pictured below) are also very tasty, but the moment you get it for take out, the next time you re-heat it, you'll find it in a puddle of oil.
The Battle of Harbor City(2009) rages on. Those three sweet and sours, two steamed rice bowls (Left table) and the fried wantons (Right table) are all mine. I wasn't going to go down without a fight.
Soulmates Ted & Karen are introduced to the wonder that is the "Bacon Siomai"
(Ted ended up drooling into the bowl so that was his share)
Don and Chaikka, Ready to attack!
Other menu items worth mentioning:
I have always had a thing for Crispy Wanton (P48), even when I was a kid. I still remember my mom taking us to this restaurant in L.A. called "Ho-Ho's", and i would order this, but i'd call it "Crunchy-Crunchy". There's a lot of fried wrapper in this, but the meat inside is rather chunky as well.
Spring Rolls (P50)
Fried meaty goodness wrapped up for your eating pleasure. Dip in sweet and sour sauce and enjoy.
Yang Chow and Spare Ribs with Tausi
If you find the Steamed Rice too heavy, you can always go for the "lighter" Yang Chow (P50), which is pretty good as well. But to say it's "lighter" than the steamed rice is like saying Rosie O' Donnell is "lighter" than Rosanne Arnold. The Spare Ribs with Tausi (P48) is also definitely worth trying.
Oh my god i'm so full.. I don't think I have any more room for dessert..
Yeah I do!
The dessert cart has a nice selection of basic Chinese style desserts. More on gelatins, and fruits, than cakes and pastries. The Chocolate Sambo was delicious (I dunno why i love those suckers so much), and the Mango Custard also was pretty good. (I couldn't really eat the mango)
Sniff.. I'm so happy..(I'm sun burnt btw, i'm not usually that red and shiny)
Rina finds it hilarious when we go there, because, despite saying I don't know how to speak Visaya anymore, as soon as I step in and order from the waiter, It's like i'm a pro. Again, I reiterate, when going to Cebu, you MUST go to Harbor city, or risk humiliation from your friends. (I'll tell them to tease you)