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Get a taste of hearty filler straight from Manila

ON a chilled autumn night after a tense day at work, treat yourself to some homemade specialties at the cozy Luneta, a restaurant serving authentic Filipino cuisine in Shanghai.

Luneta sits on Julu Road, near Fumin Road, a quiet street lined with thick plane trees. With no fancy decoration, it looks just like many other ordinary stores that you might walk past without noticing.

But when I pushed open the huge glass door, it appeared to be another world inside. Through the wooden arch doorway is a bar with wooden cabinets full of beer, wine and liquor against the brick wall. To the right is a dining room and a small stage.

Reached by the stairs at the back of the restaurant is another small balcony-like dining room. Moon-shaped lights hanging from the cream-colored ceiling add a touch of warmth and fragrance.

"I designed everything here, from the bar stools and the counter to the moon-shaped lights," says restaurant owner Leo Quicho, a Filipino who used to be an architect in the United States.

Quicho and his wife ran a coffee shop in Xintiandi in 2008 but soaring rents drove them to relocate to Julu Road a year later, where they decided to serve the cuisine of their hometown.

Luneta is a Spanish word, meaning the moon. The restaurant is actually named after the renowned Luneta Park in Manila, where the landmark monument in memory of Jose Rizal stands. "The name is like a code," says Quicho. "Filipinos and those who love Philippine culture and food would instantly know it is a Philippine restaurant once they see the name."

Luneta serves authentic traditional Philippine cuisine with special homemade recipes, attracting many Filipinos who have become regular customers and good friends of the Quichos.

Philippine cuisine is deeply influenced by the Spanish who ruled the islands for about 300 years from the late 1500s. You can find Spanish flavors in many of today's Philippine dishes, for instance, the chicken and pork adobo, one of Luneta's specialities.

The word adobo in Spanish means "seasoning and marinade." To cook the dish, chicken and pork have to be marinated in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, bay leaf and pepper separately before both being stewed together for about one and a half hours.

The appealing browned meat tastes very tender and the salty-sour sauce of adobo means you can't help but lick the spoon. The adobo costs 42 yuan (US$6.32). You can choose from chicken, pork, shrimp or a mix.

Learning from their neighboring Malays and the overseas Chinese on the islands, Filipinos also have an affection for pork dishes. The 68-yuan crispy pata is another specialty at Luneta. Just as the name suggests, the deep-fried pork knuckle has crispy skin yet juicy meat.

When savoring crispy pata, forget table manners, order a glass of beer and enjoy the sense of touch. Speaking of meat, don't miss out on lechon, the roasted pig. The dish Filipinos usually eat on special occasions and gatherings is also available in Luneta on weekends and holidays.

Tired of greasy meat? Try some kare-kare. Ox tails are stewed with eggplants and cowpeas in specially made peanut sauce for hours. The ox tails are so tender that they almost melt on the tip of the tongue. Unlike other peanut-based sauce, you can really feel the chopped nuts in it. The shrimp paste adds a savory flavor to this mild dish. Kare-kare costs 58 yuan.

Set lunch is served every day between 11am and 2pm. Coffees are recommended and Philippine rums and beers are worth a try.

Live performances by a regular band are staged from 9:30pm to midnight every Thursday to Saturday. Quicho named the showtime "Sing Along."

"We Filipinos love to sing and dance while eating," he says.

Since seats are limited, reservations are suggested, especially on weekends and holidays.

Open: Daily, 9am-12am

Address: 758-2 Julu Rd

Tel: 6289-2689


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