This Out-of-the-Way Eatery Has Chinese-Style Churros You Won't Find Anywhere Else in the Metro
Ready to have your fill of dumplings and Chinese-style breads?
Mai Wei Fang
G/F Adriatico Wing, Robinson's Place Manila, Ermita, Manila City
Open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Sunday to Thursday) and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Friday and Saturday)
(SPOT.ph) Through the glass separating the kitchen and dining area of Mai Wei Fang, one can see artistry at work—gentle hands lift the edges of dough to wrap up the meat filling, while fingers delicately sealing the top with a pinch. It’s satisfying to see row upon row of small buns fill a tray, looking as innocent as rose buds waiting to bloom.
It would be easy to confuse Mai Wei Fang's signature dish with the more popular xiao long bao. The preparation is almost the same but the difference begins with the cooking process—the buns are assembled into a pan, fried for a couple of minutes, then steamed for a couple more. Once the lid is opened, the buns shine a golden brown, the skin hinting at a chewier texture than the famous Taiwanese soup dumplings.
Pan-Fried Soup Dumpling
The Pan-Fried Soup Dumpling (P165/six pieces) is just one of the unique recipes offered at Mai Wei Fang. The menu is a celebration of Northern Chinese cuisine, which mostly consists of different breads. "Filipinos' idea of Chinese cuisine is mostly from the southern regions where there are a lot of rice, a lot of noodles," says co-founder and managing partner David Lim. "What we wanted was to focus on flour-based recipes and say hey, these are the other cuisines in China that you don't see here."
Mai Wei Fang translates to "wheat mill room," an homage to the process of harvesting wheat and grinding it into flour. Lim was meticulous in developing the restaurant's menu and brand—he even hired researchers to educate him on the history and cultural significance of wheat to the Chinese, and he went on a months-long tour of Northeast China to personally experience their diverse cuisine. Developing the menu took more than six months, with Lim pooling recipes from chefs all over China to provide an authentic Chinese experience to Filipino diners.
The process, though arduous, is ultimately rewarding, as the Mai Wei Fang menu boasts dishes you won't find anywhere else in the Philippines. Though the pan-fried soup dumpling is eaten the same way as the xiao long bao—scoop it with a spoon, nibble at the skin, slurp the soup inside, then eat the rest—the surprise comes from the crispness of the skin, with the leftover soup moistening your mouth with a porky flavor on your first munch. "It's like a xiao long bao married a gyoza," says Lim. With six pieces for every order, customers can delight in this unique dish six times over.
The way the food is prepared reflects Lim's thorough approach in developing the restaurant. Because everything is made-to-order, the process behind preparing the dough for each item is labor-intensive.
The Shao Bing (P80/piece), Chinese-style flat bread, is shaped by rolling and folding homemade dough to create as many layers as possible. The dough will be griddled for the layers to rise, then baked to further cook and soften the inside. There is an audible crunch once your teeth bite into the shao bing's crust; flakes crack from the surface and stick to your fingertips, begging to be licked off.
Shao Bing Chicken and Egg Sandwich
Meanwhile, the sandwich versions of this traditional Chinese street food double down on the crunchiness factor. Diners can order the Shao Bing Egg Sandwich (P155) version, or the Shao Bing Chicken and Egg Sandwich (P185). The latter is packed with other Mai Wei Fang specialties such as the Chinese Fried Chicken (P165/regular, P320/extra large), which you can order separately and is brined and seasoned with secret herbs and spices, and a piece of you tiao or Chinese doughnut breadsticks, drizzled with a rich umami sauce. You’ll get the crunchiness of the crust of the you tiao, the juiciness of the chicken meat, and the soft-fluffy cushion of the egg all in one bite.
You Tiao is a usual breakfast favorite in China
Making the You Tiao (P80/piece), otherwise known as Chinese-style churros, demands as much care and diligence as the other bread items on the menu. "This is the hardest one to make because [preparing the dough] takes anywhere from 50 minutes to an hour," says Lim. The dough is folded and rolled repeatedly, cut into thin, layered strips, then deep fried to a golden brown. The bread has the texture and lightness of crullers, its skin coated with an oily sheen that teases a tinge of saltiness.
You Tiao Dessert
Wintermelon Chilled Tea
A dessert version of the you tiao is available as well. The You Tiao Dessert (P100) is drizzled with sweet milk and sprinkled with crushed peanuts, providing a pronounced nutty flavor. Diners can also choose from a selection of drinks such as the Soy Chilled Milk, Chinese Ice Lemon Tea, and Wintermelon Chilled Tea (P75/12 ounces, P90/16 ounces), to wash down the rich flavors served up by the main courses.
The interiors, though small, are fresh and inviting enough to enhance the dining experience. There is joy in seeing the cooks at work through the open kitchen, crafting and baking Chinese breads that will surely surprise Filipino palates. "We want people to come away feeling that the service was good, the food unique and affordable," says Lim. There are plans to open more branches in the future (a flagship store is slated to open later this year), so expect more people to rave about pan-fried soup dumplings as the best thing since sliced bread.
Photos by Hans Fausto