Hidden behind the building fronting V Mall in the Greenhills shopping center is Southern Deli, a modest cafeteria frequented by the area's Muslim community.
Small and clean, the restaurant specializes in Maranao cuisine. The restaurant may look humble, ut the dishes – all Maranao home cooking – are anything but.
Diners get a free bowl of soup. Made from carabao (water buffalo) ribs, this translucent broth is warm, its beefy base enhanced by a coconutty taste. It warms the stomach and prepares it for the dishes yet to come.
Dining is no frills, no nonsense. You pick your dishes from a cafeteria lineup, sit at one of the plastic tables and eat. All the dishes cost Php50 for a small saucerfull, the rice, Php15 a bowl.
The Rendang Beef tastes like a cross between adobo and beef stew. It's pretty tasty, but has a slightly overpowering saltiness that is masked once it is paired with rice. This saltiness occurs in a lot of the canteen's dishes, and when asked about it, the owners explained that it is actually a hallmark of good Maranao cooking.
My favorite dish was the Fresh Tuna Kinilaw (what they call kilawin in the South), which was very, very spicy. Since my companion and I had gotten there early, the tuna had not yet “cooked” in its vinegar marinade. What makes this cerviche-like dish stand out is the addition of coconut milk, which lends the dish a sweet edge. The kinilaw also contains chopped cucumber, onion, chili and ginger. This, I have to say, is one of the best I've had in the city.
We also had Bakas, which, unlike its name implies, is not a beef dish but is actually tuna grilled with tumeric and grated coconut. It was dry and a bit tough but with a mild taste, quite the opposite of the Beef Rendang!
The Chicken Curry was more salty than curry-shy, but also very very spicy. Another dish that has to be eaten with rice.
Another favorite of mine was the Badak, a vegetable dish made from leaves not found in Manila. The dish also contains langka (Jackfruit) and daing (smoked fish) and tasted like laing with the texture of labong. Could a dish be even more perfect?
I wouldn't mind going back there again, especially if I'm in the mood for kinilaw. I have to wonder about what the mainly Muslim clientele will think of a non-believer being there though, as we got a few strange looks during out trip there. Still, I'm glad we got to try it.
Greenhills Shopping Center
10.30am – 9pm daily except holidays