One can’t help but feel being transported back in time upon entering Ma Mon Luk, at least the one in Quezon City. The tables and chairs are obviously dated. Plastered on the wall beside the main door are photos of celebrity visitors, a lot of them now dead. You’ll be surprised to see that the place looked really ancient. It’s probably ancient.
Mr. Ma came to the Philippines, from China, in 1918 and set out to create this restaurant named after him. The old-looking menu handed to customers proudly declare that Ma Mon Luk was established in 1920.
It also proudly declares that it’s The House of the Original Mami Inventor. The “mi” in “mami” means “noodles” in Chinese. The “ma” in “mami” is derived from the name of the “Mami Inventor” — Mr. Ma Mon Luk. Some say it’s one of the best noodles around. I tried it once and I thought maybe there’s a right way of eating it. First two sips and the soup tasted bland. Stirring the spring onion well into the soup (and adding pepper) made it better. It tasted better and better with every mouthful of noodles, soup and meat. I cleaned the large bowl of mami.
Still, the mami is not the reason why I go back for more of Ma Mon Luk. There’s one item in the menu I order every chance I get.
Siopao. Siopao special asado (asado, chicken and salted egg). Here —
Siopao, a Chinese food, is steamed bun with fillings. It could be bola-bola (meat balls in a bun), but I always go for asado, which is diced pork/beef seasoned with, among others, soy sauce. Ingredients, blends or recipes greatly vary, so not all siopao are created the same.
No matter what is said about the Ma Mon Luk siapao, it’s still the best in my book. I don’t care what’s inside, it’s still delicious. The taste of the meat filling is just right, not overpowering (sorry, unless someone has a better translation of “hindi nakakaumay”). The bread or bun is just perfect, tender and not too dry, I could eat it by itself. Yummm.
How to go there? I understand that there’s Ma Mon Luk in Quiapo, but don’t ask me where because I don’t know. But I do know there’s a Ma Mun Luk along Quezon Avenue, near the Banawe Street intersection. If you’re in Dapitan Arcade, you’re just a few turns away from Ma Mon Luk. If you’re coming from Manila, through the Quezon City “Welcome Rotonda”, you’ll see this to your right side, after around a hundred meters. If you hit the Banawe St.-Quezon Avenue intersection, you’ve already missed the place so take the next u-turn slot. No worries, it’s really a low-profile restaurant and you’ll easily miss it — except for the sign (see photo to the right) and the vehicles double parked in front. If you’re still lost, ask for directions; it’s sort of a “landmark” so you’ll have no problem asking directions.
It’s fair to say that the interiors of the restaurant haven’t been upgraded to stay with the times. The wooden chairs show the wear and tear that time brings. A hand-written stylized sign hangs on a concrete column, exhorting us to try the Sang Yuk Pao (bola-bola siopao).
This, however, adds to the history, character and authenticity of the place. Or you could always have your siapao “to go” (or “take-out”) and spare yourself from looking at old photos, hanging on the wall, of Richard Gomez, the late Ike Lozada, Bong Alvarez and other personalities who’ve been here.