Casa Manila: A taste of festive Filipino Cuisine in the heart of Toronto

Get to know Kultura 2012’s Adobo Masters Cook-Off competitor, Casa Manila and its owner Mila Nabor Cuachon.

By Christine Cervania

Casa Manila Filipino Restaurant in Toronto

Since its establishment as a “cooked to order” restaurant in 2010, Casa Manila has truly made a name for itself  as a restaurant with authentic Filipino cuisine. Casa Manila continues to attract guests by serving delicious and festive Filipino food with healthier alternatives—while always striving to provide pleasant hospitality that Filipinos are known for. Kapisanan was excited to learn more about Casa Manila and how it became one of the “must go to” restaurants  for Filipinos and non-Filipinos in the Greater Toronto Area.

When was Casa Manila established? How was the clientele when you first started? Casa Manila Inc. was established Dec 2010 with me [Mila] and my husband Rizalde as the sole shareholders and directors. The previous Casa Manila (trading name) was under different ownership when it opened in 2006 as a fast food “turo turo” restaurant. The hope was to move towards a “cooked to order” restaurant. When we first started, the clientele was primarily Filipino.

Today, we have phased out fast food and replaced it with freshly cooked menu items showcasing an unsurpassed selection of regional and colonial Filipino cuisine, served in a charming “Pinoy” ambiance. Nothing can rival freshly cooked and our readily available representation of Filipino cuisine—which captures our unique history and culture. My intention was to keep the authenticity of Filipino home cooking while modifying the dishes only to compliment the recipes. We start with the freshest meat, seafood and vegetables and not adding MSG or mixes, and lowering the sodium and oil. This honours the natural taste of each ingredient used in our recipes. Our menu offers many vegetarian options to further support a growing trend and our healthy food policy.

All this has attracted non-Filipinos and Filipinos who are looking for delicious, healthy, quality food in an exciting setting.

How do you think the popularity of Filipino food in Toronto has changed from when Casa Manila first started, compared to present day? When we first bought Casa Manila, Filipino food was relatively unknown in the mainstream market. Through our targeted internet marketing, a higher profile in Toronto summer festivals, a menu which offers a broad selection for any palate, and our unrelenting efforts to produce the highest standards in Filipino cuisine, we have attracted a wider audience of adventurous foodies of many nationalities.  More development is needed in building awareness and branding Filipino food as a distinct and delectable option in Asian cuisine. This can be a challenge especially since Filipino food is difficult to pinpoint because of its broad diversity.

Why do you think Adobo is considered to be one of the Philippines’ national dishes? Adobo is considered a national dish because adobo is a Spanish style of cooking well known in Latin American and Spanish colonies, especially the Philippines. Adobo is a technique in which the vinegar and paprika containing antibacterial properties are ideal for food preservation and flavors foods before cooking.  Marinating the meat or seafood not only enhances its flavour, but also preserves and conserves—since refrigeration was and is not always available in remote areas of the Philippines. For these reasons, and because adobo is simple to make (which is why many Filipinos cook adobo, resulting in many variations)—it can be considered as an authentic Filipino national dish.

Which Casa Manila dish would be the top dish to recommend to non-Filipinos? Why is this particular dish chosen? For beef lovers, I recommend Kare Kare with bagoong stemming from our Indo-Malay inspired beginnings. Or, our Spanish-inspired Kaldaretang Baka if peanut is an issue.

For seafood lovers, our national fish, Bangus—either daing or inihaw.

For vegetarians, Ginataang Sitaw Kalabassa in our rich coconut milk—indigenous to most regions in the Philippine Islands.

For the sweet tooth, of course, our famous Isang Dosena Halo Especial.

For drinks, Filipino bubble tea, Sago Gulaman.

Casa Manila’s goal is to provide pleasant hospitality that Filipinos are known for. If you could use one word to describe Filipino hospitality, what would it be? That’s easy, “GRACIOUS.

For the first time, this year’s Kultura has an Adobo cook-off, what is your “game plan” to win? Winning to me is achieving our personal best by keeping the integrity of the traditional adobo recipe. In addition, we’re using creative ingenuity to excite taste buds that are already familiar with the classic adobo dish. Another intentional “game plan” is to partner the adobo with complimentary sides, dessert and drink to produce a harmonious symphony of flavours. In summary, we’ll do what we always try to do at CASA Manila, “to do our best”. This way, no matter the outcome, we will always be winners.

Visit Casa Manila at: 879 York Mills Road (west of Don Mills Rd.) Toronto, Ontario M3B 1Y5 Tel: 416-443-9654 Casa Manila is on Facebook and Twitter.

Enter for your chance to win a $25 gift certificate to Casa Manila Restaurant!

Use your Twitter account and tell us what the Tagalog word “casa” means in English, to @kapisanan using the hashtag #casamanila. Or leave your answer in the comments section below. Or drop us a line on our Facebook page and add the hashtag #casamanila.

Good luck!

Note: Deadline to enter is Sunday, August 26 at 6 p.m. Winner will be chosen at random.