Over the past 18 years, Montreal Filipino restaurant Cuisine de Manille has undergone a number of transformations, from its name (once Perle de Manille) to its location (now on to its third). But the food its chef-owner-brothers Dado and Ricky Contaoe have dished out, including crisp lechon (fried pork belly) and pork ear sisig cooked in calamansi juice, haven’t deviated one bit.
Regulars of the Côte-des-Neiges haunt, nestled in a discrete storefront on Victoria Avenue since 2012, needn’t worry: That isn’t about to change now. But Cuisine de Manille’s classic dishes are being joined by a new menu of street food, befitting the capital city after which it is named.
“We were one of the first Filipino restaurants around the area and we’re still serving the same foods we were serving since 2003,” says Peter Contaoe, Dado’s son, who works at the restaurant when he isn’t studying marketing at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business. “That hasn’t changed, and we don’t intend it to. We just want to incorporate some new things.”
Among the dishes being added to the menu is one called kwek-kwek, featuring 10 hard-boiled-then-deep-fried quail eggs, coated in an aromatic orange batter and served with an accompanying sweet dipping sauce. Okoy, a classic Manila street food, a crunchy fritter traditionally made with shrimp, is reimagined here with veggies for a take that Peter says is “just as good.” It’s served with a traditional spiced vinegar.
Peter got the idea of integrating street food into the menu on a recent trip to Manila, from which he returned a few months before the pandemic took root. He hadn’t been there for at least 10 years, and was inspired by the capital’s buoyant street food scene. Street food has the added benefit of corresponding to the takeout times, and Peter hops it will also “appeal to the next generation of Filipinos.”
Peter is, after all, himself part of the “next generation” involved in this family affair, where he’s worked in varying capacities since childhood. The same is true for his sister and two cousins, who together form the second generation of Contaoes running Cuisine de Manille, under the tutelage of their fathers/uncles.
“It has always been a goal of mine to help my parents. I think it’s the same for a lot of children of immigrant families,” Peter says. Alongside the new menu, he’s spearheading the restaurant’s brand overhaul, drawing from his studies in marketing in hopes of bolstering the family business for years to come.
So, in addition to the street food component, Cuisine de Manille is also getting a new look — online and indoors. Once modelled on the traditional Turo Turo-style of dining, where food is displayed, buffet style, in a steamed table, the restaurant is now being renovated to embody a more fast-casual, grab-and-go aesthetic. Inspired once more by the streets of Manila, the space will feature corrugated steel detailing on an elongated bar counter meant to conjure the city’s roofs and a photo gallery wall incorporating depictions of some of its sites.
The makeover, Peter says, shouldn’t change much for customers, largely members of the city’s Filipino community, who turn to Cuisine de Manille for homestyle meals that they can, aptly, take home.
That same community, Peter says, has been crucial to the restaurant’s survival throughout the pandemic, with many stopping by every week, like clockwork, to pick up Dado and Ricky’s creations. As for the brothers, Peter says they’ve been busy perfecting the new recipes, while continuing to take pride in those that have been passed down through generations. “For them, it’s always been — and still is — all about the food.”
Cuisine de Manille is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 5781 Victoria Avenue.