MANILA, Philippines – Blink, and you might just miss it.
Hidden along a side street at the corner of C.P. Garcia Avenue and just a stroll away from the University of the Philippines Diliman campus is Gubat QC, a literal hole-in-the-gubat eatery tucked behind sprawling greenery and beautiful bonsai, standing small but strong in the middle of the Diliman Bonsai Society.
Amid the green is a small sign – an inconspicuous “Gubat” hanging on a bamboo swinging door.
Upon entry, a stark contrast from the outside world greets you – from drab concrete, cars, and stuffy, polluted air, to verdant green landscaping, rural, wooden interiors, and a laid-back atmosphere – making for an easy, breezy, and beautiful respite from the city.
It was love at first sight, quite literally, when co-founder Biboy Cruz stumbled upon the then-empty grassland of Diliman’s Bonsai Society in 2017.
“Wala pa ngang daan dito eh. Puro lang halaman na maraming marami,” Biboy said. (There wasn’t even a road here then. Just lots and lots of plants.)
“So, nag-isip kami ng pangalan.’Tas narinig ko kinakausap ng business partner ko na si Cereb ‘yung nanay niya na may-ari ng area nito. Tinatawag nilang ”yung gubat.’ ‘Nandiyan ka ba sa gubat?’ ‘Nasa gubat ako.’ Na-excite ako bigla, so ‘yun, naging Gubat.”
(So, I started thinking of names. Then I heard my business partner Cereb talking to her mother, who owns this area. They would call it “‘yung gubat. (the forest).” “Are you there at the forest?” “I’m at the forest.” I suddenly got excited, so it was named Gubat.)
Gubat isn’t Biboy’s first food venture. The Baler local started off in Aurora with the self-owned Kusina Luntian, a humble hut serving classic inihaw dishes that generated buzz among locals and tourists alike.
Years later, in 2017, Biboy brought Kusina Luntian’s simplistic charm to Manila – including their longganisa and tapa best sellers – through Gubat and its recrafted menu, reinvented to suit the spot’s “no ihawan, prito only (no grilling, frying only)” kitchen setup.
All in the recycled details
Look around and you’ll see plastic tarps for ceilings, galvanized steel, random glass bottles, old pots, secondhand books, and even collanders and cooking pots as bulb shades.
“Lahat niyan ay gawa ng aming caretaker at gardener. Nagbra-brainstorm kami with whatever materials we find and have, kasi ‘yun na gagamitin namin,” Biboy shared. (It’s all made by our caretaker and gardener. We brainstorm together with whatever materials we find and have, because that’s what we’ll use.)
According to Biboy, the “temporary” structure of Gubat makes adjusting to unexpected changes easier. If the number of customers increases over time, all that’s needed is a simple takedown and put-up of one area. Find something recyclable and cute? Add to store.
“Extend here, extend there – ‘yun ‘yung maganda sa recycled materials, madali lang mag-adjust (That’s the beauty of recycled materials, it’s easy to adjust.),” he said.
Rules of the jungle: No plastic, no plates, just hands
The idea of banana leaves as dining ware started in Kusina Luntian, when Biboy, who was also its manager, started to go, well, bananas.
“Mag-isa talaga ako noon. Ako ang taga-luto, taga-hugas, taga-serve ng customers. ‘Di ko na talaga kaya, so ginawa kong banana leaf nalang, to save time, energy, and efficiency,” he said. (I was the only one there. I was the cook, the dishwasher, the waiter. I couldn’t take it, so I used banana leaves instead, to save time, energy, and efficiency.)
Banana leaves are cleaned every morning after buying them from different sources – one day, they’re from the market, another day, they’re from neighbors, or from colleagues whose nieces and nephews sell in bulk.
“Sa Baler palang, kamayan na at banana leaf. Naisip ko, parang bagay din naman dito,” Biboy shared. (In Baler, we were already doing kamayan-style dining and using banana leaves. I thought that could work here, too.)
“Solid din ang pagkatipid namin sa panghugas, sa effort, at sa waste namin,” Biboy added. “Lalo na sa pagkakamay.” (We save a lot from not washing, not exerting as much effort, and not producing as much waste. Especially because customers eat with their hands.)
Mostly biodegradable waste comes out of Gubat and into the segregation facility next door – and sorry, no plastics here.
“Kapag may takeout, walang plastic, walang utensils. Box carton lang (If the food is for takeout, we don’t give out plastic, not even for utensils. Just a box carton),” Biboy shared.
Aside from the logistical perks, Gubat’s unique dining style adds to the overall “non-Manila” charm of Gubat, as well as the gusto of hungry customers – because sometimes eating with your hands just makes food taste better, doesn’t it?
The pride and joy of Gubat
With just 8 dishes on the menu, less is more when it comes to Gubat’s expertise: the food.
Each meal is served with a cup of adobo rice, pako (seaweed) salad, red egg, and kamatis, with a price tag that doesn’t hurt.
Ready to pig out? Try Gubat’s Lechon Kawali (P180), a cardiac delight of tender, juicy pork meat and crunchy, golden pork skin.
Gubat’s Piniritong Manok (P170) is also a crowd favorite, with chicken parts that prove value for money – the thigh-leg is juicy and moist inside, with golden-brown skin fried to a beautiful crisp.
Pescetarians need not fear: Gubat’s Piniritong Isda (P175) is here! Expect a well-cooked, moist, and tender blue marlin steak, marinated so well that gone is the need to reach for the suka.
No frills, no fancy additions – just simple, well-cooked meals reminiscent of home, as Biboy put it. “Sa bahay, puro ganun ang mga naaalala kong pagkain. So, ganun ‘yung panlasa ko – simple lang.” (In my home, these are the dishes I remember eating. So that became my taste – just simple.)
Biboy shared that their ingredients are always the leads of the show – just salt and pepper. Biboy keeps it basic, and basic, it seems, is best.
A rising star from the menu is Gubat’s Burong Kanin (P35), an ode to the Pampanga classic of fermented and salted rice, usually made with fish or shrimp.
Gubat’s salty-sour version of “pinapanis na kanin” (literally, rice that’s gone bad – not exactly the best way to describe it, but I promise, it’s delicious) features salted rice toasted to a brown, tutong crisp before serving.
If the thirst is real, so is Gubat’s selection of refreshing coolers, made with only fresh fruits and natural ingredients.
Gubat’s Turmeric Iced Tea (P65) is a mildly-sweet iced tea with a kick of ginger, while the Fresh Calamansi Juice (P65) won’t disappoint fans of the tangy citrus fruit.
Everything on the menu, from the meat cuts to the fresh produce, is sourced from the nearby palengke (wet market) every morning.
Staple condiments are also available on every table – Mang Tomas, homemade spiced suka, and spicy chili oil, each housed by bottles found, recycled, and reused by Gubat.
Gubat is located at Diliman Bonsai Society, C.P. Garcia Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City and is open every day from 11 am to 9 pm. For more information, you can visit Gubat’s Facebook account. – Rappler.com
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