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Pugon de Manila Is Authentic Filipino Food for Those Looking to Try New Things

Pugon de Manila offers authentic Filipino food for adventurous diners unfazed by blood in their stew or innards in their stir-fry.

Pugon de Manila Is Authentic Filipino Food for Those Looking to Try New Things
Troy Fields
All the food — like this pancit, chicken adobo and pinakbet — is served in a styrofoam to-go box, even if you're dining in.

Initially, the waitress refused to serve me.

"This one?" she asked, pointing to a dark brown stew in a chafing dish behind the counter.

"That one," I said.

Everything, including all the baked goods and stews, is made fresh in the shop the day that it's served.
Troy Fields
Everything, including all the baked goods and stews, is made fresh in the shop the day that it's served.
The menu options change daily, and what you see in the chafing dishes behind the counter is what you get.
Troy Fields
The menu options change daily, and what you see in the chafing dishes behind the counter is what you get.

Details

Pugon de Manila

8017 South Main, #250, 713-664-7227. Hours: Monday through Thursday, 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Lunch or dinner combo (rice and two dishes): $7.99

Lunch or dinner combo (pancit and two dishes): $8.99

Dinuguan combo: $4.99

Pandesal: $3 per 12 pieces

Cinnamon bread: $3.50

Bibingka: $2.99

We went back and forth like this for a while. Are you sure? Yes, I'm sure. Really? Really. You want this? I want that.

Eventually she seemed to acquiesce, and she began spooning the thick, chunky stew into a styrofoam cup. Then she stopped. She put down the spoon. She looked at me again, up and down, as if assessing my culinary prowess.

"Why don't I just give you a taste first," she said. "Just to see if you like it."

After even more convincing, I eventually got my bowl of dinuguan, a Filipino blood stew littered with bite-size pieces of chewy, whitish offal. And just as I suspected, I liked it.

The broth — if you can call something that thick and luscious broth — was a deep brown, so brown it was almost black, thanks to the large quantity of pork blood that gives the dish its signature earthy flavor. It looks somewhat like a dark gumbo, but the taste is entirely different. It's gamey and sort of gritty, a product of the combination of chile powder and the barely congealed blood that gives the dish its sour flavor and unusual texture. The grittiness is preventable with some well-timed stirring, but it doesn't really take away from the rich, complex flavor of the gravy, enhanced with slimy bits of offal — an acquired taste, and one authentically Filipino.

Though it may sound shocking or unappetizing to foreigners, it's not unlike British black pudding or Spanish morcilla, both made with pig's blood. Filipino food is heavily influenced by Spanish food and by other cultures and cuisines, particularly those of nearby China, Indonesia and Malaysia, which are in turn influenced by their own colonizing countries. In this sense, Filipino food is sort of a melting pot of different culinary sensibilities, from French pastries to Indian stews.

It's the more unusual offerings that I'm after, though, and Pugon de Manila, which opened in the Medical Center area in March, delivers. Whether I'm craving the salty, pink, shrimp paste-coated vegetables of pinakbet or the earthy dinuguan, I'll find it here. This is a Filipino restaurant for Filipinos unfazed by blood in their stew or innards in their stir-fry. Thanks to the kind staff, it's also a place for people like me who want to expand their horizons and try new things.

Just be prepared to convince the servers that you are, indeed, ready for what they're about to give you.

Compared to the number of other ethnic food joints we have here in Houston, there aren't many Filipino restaurants. There are a few out near Alief, and there's the roaming food truck Flip 'n Patties, but that was about it for the past several years. Then, last September, the Filipino fast-food import Jollibee opened in a shopping center at Main and Kirby, paving the way for Pugon de Manila to open in the same center just a few months later. Could Houston be developing a "Little Manila" in the Medical Center?

Dining at Pugon de Manila is certainly enough to make you think so. On each occasion I ate there, I was the only non-Filipino in the joint. I overheard people speaking to each other in Tagalog, and the flat-screen TV in the dining room blared the odd sounds of a bizarre Filipino game show in which people wore giant grocery bags around their necks and attempted to catch produce being launched at them. I loved it.

For a first-timer, the menu at Pugon de Manila can be about as confusing as that game show. It lists nearly 100 items ranging from baked goods to various stews and veggie dishes, but not all of them are available at any given time. There are about ten chafing dishes set into the front counter, and those are the dishes of the day. Anything else you might want to order is available only for catering or perhaps if you call ahead. Otherwise, you just have to hope that your favorite is one of the daily specials.

Fortunately, adobo, the unofficial national dish of the Philippines, is always one of the selections. It will be either chicken or pork marinated in soy sauce, vinegar, oil, bay leaves, black peppercorns and garlic and simmered until juicy in a clay pot called a palayok. The word adobo is Spanish, but this cooking method is distinctly Filipino. At Pugon de Manila, the pork adobo is a little on the dry side — not in the sense that it's light on sauce, which is actually a different preparation of pork adobo — but the meat itself isn't incredibly juicy. It's like something in between carnitas and jerky. It has a wonderful salty and sour flavor with a bit of heat from the garlic and pepper, but the texture is a little off.

I imagine the fact that it sits in chafing dishes most of the day dries it out, and unfortunately, that's the case with some of the fish as well. A whole fried tilapia chopped into thirds and stewed with ginger, garlic and tomatoes isn't quite as juicy as I'd like, but again, the strong ginger flavor makes up for any textural issues.

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5 comments
Veronica Carr
Veronica Carr

Well if I'm already eating muscles, unfertilized chicken periods, and liquid secretions from mammary glands of cows, then no, I really have no standards.

del.martinis
del.martinis topcommenter

We encounter the same from wait staff in Chinatown, when they look at two white guys trying to order something they feel is either too stinky or too weird.  So we have to insist that we know what we want, LOL!  

crzycicada
crzycicada

Excellent!  Another Filipina restaurant to try!  Thanks for the recommendation and article.  Dinuguan is an amazing dish, my first exposure to it being at Qui in Austin (which I highly highly recommend!).  Intense flavor, deep rich sauce; amazing!  Does this place serve halo halo?

 
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