Experiencing restaurants like Mateo’s make it hard for me to appreciate fancy-looking and commercialized establishments.
I just love seeing a homey, comfortable place where I can dine to my heart’s content. The crowd is pretty much made up of families and friends– the kind that would love to discover new dishes and explore their palette with various tastes and textures candidly in the presence of each other.
I went here with my friends from wheninmanila.com, Mariel and Mina, to try Spanish food straight from their family’s own kitchen while learning the craft of crocheting. Back then, they were situated in Pinyahan, Quezon City but have now relocated to Horseshoe Village, New Manila (also in Quezon City) for a bigger space and a new menu.
Introductions commenced and I met one of the owners, Ms. Lala Tuazon, and our teacher for our crochet session, Ms. Rosey Demigilio of craftedbysari . Joining us with the session was Tita Grace del Castillo Valerio and Ms. Rosey’s niece.
I later found out that Ms. Rosey was a teacher by day and a crafter by night. She showed us photos of her past work– a product of her passion that started way back when she was in high school. I also found out that she was the big sister of one of my classmates back in Miriam College High School. We took a short trip back to memory lane and I confessed that my crochet project back in our H.E.L.E class back then was not done by me, but by my mom.
Instead of dismay and a short sermon from a teacher and crochet enthusiast, I saw her lips part and heard a hearty laugh. I guess it’s a given fact that our mom does the hard work for us, even in school. With that said Ms. Rosey explained that learning crafts like crocheting is one of the things that we should have in our list. Keep away from all the gadgets and start doing something that requires skill and effort to produce art.
To be honest, crafting isn’t my thing anymore. It used to be when I was 12 years old. I went to craft workshops, made topiaries , picture plates, and did a few oil paintings here and there. It wasn’t until fifth grade that I fell in love with another kind of art–dance. And from then on I was hooked.
I found the ball of threads , crochet guide book, and hook in front of me very intimidating. I even heard one say “grabe hirap na hirap talaga siya oh” when my hands couldn’t get a few loops properly done. The first few minutes were frustrating so it was a good thing Ms. Lala got these Creamy Spinach and Mushroom Quesadillas served for us. A few bites and dips got me going slowly but surely. After finishing my strings of single and double loops I indulged in their soft, and freshly baked Spanish bread. The most exquisite combination of coconut and bread that surpases all spanish breads made by your local bakeries put together.
Then we went ahead and started our actual project. Even after mastering the loops, the thought of knitting threads together to complete something was still scary for me. Good thing Mariel, who was actually learned at the craft, helped me all throughout the process. Indeed, it was amazing to see a few loops and knots complete through the making of my hands.
That, and the dishes that came our way were amazing. Meat and pasta dishes–all wonderfully cooked and seasoned with love from the family’s recipe handed down from generation to generation. My all-time favorite for that round of plates was the Creamy Binagoongang Bagnet. A rich version of your shrimp-based sauce with vegetables and a generous serving of bagnet meat. The tastes and textures all in one go is a delightful moment you wouldn’t want to miss out on.
As our first crochet session was about to conclude, with me lagging behind Mina and Mariel’s projects almost done, Ms. Lala served the star of the show, Mateo’s Spanish Seafood Paella. A mixture of classic Spanish rice, shrimps, clams, mussels, chicken, squid, and chorizo. It was a recipe straight from Mateo del Castillo himself, Tita Grace del Castillo Valerio grandfather and the founder of the HUKBALAHAP, passed on to generations as a family recipe that eventually turned into a restaurant.
After spoonfuls of Mateo’s Paella we can say that the HUK wasn’t his only great contribution to the Philippines–his dish of mixed seafood, rice, and meat belonged to that list as well. With that I realize that food is not just something you eat on a plate. It’s a cultural identity–a result of passions and history cooked and served in one plate, transferred to your mouth as a glimpse to thousands of memories.
We ended our visit with our unfinished projects and a dome of this lovely and moist chocolate cake dusted with silver coloring. I haven’t seen and tasted a dessert like it anywhere and everytime I see it in my album of food photos, I crave. That includes the other dishes I’ve included here.
Mateo’s new location is at 54 N. Domingo Street, Horseshoe Village, New Manila, Quezon City.
Let me know what you think about the place and their food. I personally can’t wait to visit them again at their new location and get a taste of their new menu.