Why I Will Miss La Cocina de Tita Moning

A private sala shared to the curious public. La Cocina de Tita Moning is housed in the former home of Dr. Alejandro Roces Legarda and Doña Ramona Hernandez who was also known as Tita Moning. Diners get to experience the Legarda household's own lifestyle with the restaurant featuring some family memorabilia for guests to use, touch or see.

A private sala shared to the curious public. La Cocina de Tita Moning is housed in the former home of Dr. Alejandro Roces Legarda and Doña Ramona Hernandez who was also known as Tita Moning. Diners get to experience the Legarda household’s own lifestyle with the restaurant featuring some family memorabilia for guests to use, touch or see.

In a week, La Cocina de Tita Moning, the bespoke restaurant experience in old Manila, will be closing her doors to guests and diners after a 15-year run. Located within the former home of Dr. Don Alejandro Roces Legarda and Doña Ramona Hernández (aka Tita Moning to relatives and the then tightly-knit Manileño community) in one of the earliest Art Deco residences in the city (the house was built in 1937), La Cocina de Tita Moning was opened by one of the couple’s grandchildren, Suzette L. Montinola, who is also a faculty member at Enderun Colleges, not solely to run a business but likewise, to share to the greater public Tita Moning’s recipes, which were already quite popular among her friends and family.

The biggest group I've toured at La Cocina de Tita Moning, members and friends of the Heritage Conservation Society - Youth.

The biggest group I’ve toured at La Cocina de Tita Moning, members and friends of the Heritage Conservation Society – Youth.

A member of the staff serving leche flan for one of the groups I brought for merienda cena.

A member of the staff serving leche flan for one of the groups I brought for merienda cena.

Members of the staff putting paella valenciana on the plates of students I brought to La Cocina on one occasion

Members of the staff putting paella valenciana on the plates of students I brought to La Cocina on one occasion

The restaurant was a big hit. It was a novel experience in a Manila that was still beginning to jumpstart what is currently a booming restaurant scene. What set La Cocina de Tita Moning apart was the fact that diners (who had to call at least 24 hours in advance to reserve a table) were given an experiential meal, which made them feel they were being transported to a bygone Manila – a Manila of gentility, sophistication, class and affection. Specializing in Fil-Hispanic menus, La Cocina de Tita Moning provided the total dining experience –

The patio is where guests begin their La Cocina de Tita Moning experience. It gives you a very homey vibe and it is a perfect spot to enjoy your pandan iced tea.

The patio is where guests begin their La Cocina de Tita Moning experience. It gives you a very homey vibe and it is a perfect spot to enjoy your pandan iced tea.

from the ambience,

Exquisite Vajillas La Cartuja from Sevilla. These are expensive china and by the sheer number of pieces in La Cocina, you get an idea of the old wealth of the family. It's a joy to be eating on these.

Exquisite Vajillas La Cartuja from Sevilla. These are expensive china and by the sheer number of pieces in La Cocina, you get an idea of the old wealth of the family. It’s a joy to be eating on these.

Roast pork with crispy cracklings served on La Cartuja Sevillana.

Roast pork with crispy cracklings served on La Cartuja Sevillana.

to the exquisite La Cartuja china,

The Murano pieces were bought by Mrs. Legarda from previous trips to Italy.

The Murano pieces were bought by Mrs. Legarda from previous trips to Italy.

the Murano table centerpieces, the silver,

The household staff are always ready to assist you.

the staff’s attention – all those made it a wonderful place to mark special occasions.

The Spanish Pop Culture class I brought to La Cocina. Their professor was my own profesora, la Señora Heide Aquino.

The Spanish Pop Culture class I brought to La Cocina. Their professor was my own profesora, la Señora Heide Aquino.

And the beautiful part is, visitors come to a realization that there was indeed that kind of Manila in recent history. It was a chance to dine how our grandparents dined, and for those who are not from the same social background as the Roces-Legarda family, an opportunity to eat how the alta de sociedad wined and dined.

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Claudia, Nicole and I. Claudia, who had been a vegetarian for years, suddenly ate chicken relleno and savored every bit of it without feeling guilty!

European guests at the sala

A small walking tour group

 

However, for this author, La Cocina de TIta Moning wasn’t only a restaurant; it was an important asset or feature of my tours.

Welcoming guests at the foyer of the Legarda house, which smells like butter. Yummy!

Welcoming guests at the foyer of the Legarda house, which smells like butter. Yummy!

As some of you know, I give tours around Manila and in all the groups who asked me to guide them around Manila, I never failed to recommend La Cocina de Tita Moning as a must-visit stop. Usually, my tours would end there or would have a merienda stop in the patio. Ms. Suzette actually customized a merienda menu for my tour groups. For a modest fee of P500, my guests got to tour the house and have their fill of toast bread with their signature queso de bola spread, sotanghon guisado, really good chicken relleno, leche flan and pandan iced tea.

With friends Patty and Bianca Rodriguez

With friends Patty and Bianca Rodriguez

Friends from France and Spain on a December 30 tour

My friends from Globe posing in the sala

My friends from Globe posing in the sala

With Mathilde, Seb, Chiara and Nico. This particular tour was quite a memorable one. I enjoyed their group very much!

With Mathilde, Seb, Chiara and Nico. This particular tour was quite a memorable one. I enjoyed their group very much!

I can’t count the number of groups I’ve brought to La Cocina de Tita Moning. However, I can say that in all those visits to the house, the staff have always given us the warmest welcome that only a Filipino family could. Service was always top-notch and the food never faltered in consistency of taste.

The Aguinaldo siblings listening as they started their tour at the foyer

The Aguinaldo siblings listening as they started their tour at the foyer

When La Cocina de Tita Moning accepts its last order on 31 May (which happens to be my birthday!), I will miss it terribly. My tours always ended or started on a high point precisely because of the unique and genuine Filipino hospitality and heritage my guests experience when we stop at La Cocina de Tita Moning. For reasons we can only guess – and for things that are purely private in nature – the Legardas’ (a family whose members form part of the Philippines’ historic cultural and intellectual elite) decision to close to the public their private property is another loss for Philippine cultural heritage. Why? Not only is the house a heritage site but its recent mission and purpose of introducing Filipinos and foreigners to a real, tasteful aspect of our culture will be lost, and will be replaced by other restaurants in Manila which do not measure to the authenticity it offers.

Tita Moning's classic bread and butter pudding. Decadent!

Tita Moning’s classic bread and butter pudding. Decadent!

With Suzette Montinola at Madrid Fusion Manila 2016

With Suzette Montinola at Madrid Fusion Manila 2016

Christmastime was a good time bringing guests to La Cocina because the house would be spruced up with Christmas decor and lights.

Christmastime was a good time bringing guests to La Cocina because the house would be spruced up with Christmas decor and lights.

Speakers with KF Seetoh of Makansutra and Domingo Ramon Enerio, Chief Operating Officer of the Tourism Promotions Board at the sala of La Cocina de Tita Moning after the TPB's hosted reception for World Street Food Congress speakers and international media.

Speakers with KF Seetoh of Makansutra and Domingo Ramon Enerio, Chief Operating Officer of the Tourism Promotions Board at the sala of La Cocina de Tita Moning after the TPB’s hosted reception for World Street Food Congress speakers and international media.

And finally, on a more intimate and personal level, one of the reasons why I love La Cocina de Tita Moning so much is because it is the only restaurant in Metro Manila that reminds me of the cooking of a person I miss so much: my own lola (grandmother), my Lola Entel.

My Lola and her family. She's the girl at the far right.

My Lola and her family. She’s the girl at the far right.

Born to a middle-class Manila family in 1922, Lola was known to her family, friends, in-laws and children in law (and then, to their own families), as a marvelous cook. Like any Filipina woman born to a Manila from that era, she had a strong Fil-Hispanic and Americanized orientation. What I miss from her own kitchen – morcon, lengua estofada or con champiñon, galantina, relleno, meat loaf, potato salad, pancit palabok, waffles and pancakes, doughnuts laced with generous amounts of sugar, kare-kare – a long list of things I dearly miss. All of those labors of love tasted of her own character – loving, passionate, patient, of good taste.

Lola carrying Papa in our family compound in Cubao with my uncles and aunts in their younger years.

Lola carrying Papa in our family compound in Cubao with my uncles and aunts in their younger years.

That is the great, almost divine, aspect of food – it evokes memories. Food (taste, scent, texture, presentation, etc.) take you back to stories from the past, and by savoring meals, you are reminded of so many things that actually, make you as a person. Food nourishes the body, the spirit, the mind and also, the heart.

Chinie Diaz, Suzette Montinola and myself at the World Street Food Congress

Chinie Diaz, Suzette Montinola and myself at the World Street Food Congress

To Ms. Suzette, Manang Tining, the entire staff of La Cocina de Tita Moning: muchísimas gracias por todo. Thank you very much for everything. Maraming, maraming salamat sa lahat!

READ ON THE FOOD I LOVED MOST FROM LA COCINA DE TITA MONING HERE:

About hechoayer

Things made yesterday still influence us until today. Things made today will influence us tomorrow. Things of the essence such as faith, culture, food, music and values should never disappear nor eroded by the times. Instead, these must be recorded, lived and shared. Something made yesterday - hecho ayer - can be tomorrow's saving grace. Never ignore the past.
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