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The Theoretical Cook


Friday, March 03, 2006

Cubao - Nena's Bibingka - Serving Since 1950

Busog Budget Buffet
All you can eat merienda
3:00 to 6:00 PM
PhP 140 (50% PhP 69.95 with no left over plate)
Children less than 7 are free
No sharing
Drinks not included

Behind the old Rustan's, near the old COD (now Puregold), there's a restaurant with a very unassuming name that you just might skip if you haven't tried their Merienda Buffet. It's called Nena's Bibingka, and according to the logo, they've been serving since 1950. In the late 90s, I remember enjoying merienda at Nenas on certain afternoons. It provided a peaceful respite in the commercial decay and chaos that was pre-Gateway Cubao. Eversince I moved out of Cubao, I have not had the chance to eat there until today. The place has changed and I have to say that I like it much better now.
Three years ago or so, according to their waiter Luis, they redesigned the restaurant. It's now half its original size, they've changed the wall paint and the lighting, but its the same familiar chairs and tables. You know how certain chairs look like they were made at a certain time - in this age of monobloc chairs - its really quaint to see these well-crafted wooden chairs, the armrests polished by so many hands. The theme of the restaurant is still Filipino in caps: the festive bibingka stall outside, the rattan chairs, and now, the single plastic banana leaves in the clear glass vases. And then there's a lantern that blinks and a Christmas tree that they have yet to pack up.
The goto is really sublime at Nena's. Its just simmering in the clay pot and when you open the lid you smell this distinctive goto aroma - that hearty beefy goodness in simmering rice broth and the smells of ginger, onion, and garlic wafting with the steam. I had two helpfuls of the simmering goto. I liked the subtle taste of the slices of beef tripe, just a hint of beef, in the blandness of the sticky rice. The Brat said it reminded him of the taste of street goto. I must have missed the goto in those meriendas years back.
What I remember about my afternoon trips was the wide selection of the Filipino desserts. I liked lining up and then choosing leisurely the tiny bite-sized pieces of desserts. And the desserts are still there: sapinsapin, tikoy rolls, ube cake, ube balls, biko nilupak, suman sa cassava, and fried suman. I couldnt choose which ones to put in my plate, I wanted to try them all. Other savory dishes, apart from the goto, were hot sopas, okoy, bijon guisado, and fresh lumpia. The fresh lumpia is notable: julienned jicama, ubod, and carrots wrapped in a crepe-like roll. The sauce, tasting faintly of vinegar and garlic was a good accompaniment. I had two fresh lumpia. I ordered a glass of mango juice to wash it all down.
For the merienda buffet, I paid P70.00. I paid P35 for my juice. The beverages are cheap: regular house tea at P20 and kapeng barako at P30.
If you happen to drop by the AliMall area one of these days, treat yourself to a merienda buffet at Nena's. It's Filipino comfort food where you least expect it. And bring all those school kids below seven, they can eat to their hearts content without paying.