Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Ihaw Ihaw Filipino Makes Good Food in Cairns

To a discerning eater, Cairns can seem like a desert -- a mud flat of shit food sprawling across the town's CBD. Cairns is basically a country town turned big by its outstanding natural features, namely its easy access to the Great Barrier Reef. It's luring to travelers and simultaneously weird. At any time the streets of Cairns visibly boast sunburnt tourists, drunk and broke backpackers, relaxed retirees, inebriated and barefoot Aboriginals and other hard looking locals.

This is a place where hostels give vouchers to backpackers for $5 meals at bars where drunken dancing is the only thing that happens on tables past 9:30pm. I get that, because backpacking in Australia is freakin' expensive. But Charlie and I be semi-real people now. Our vouchers remained unused, and our first night found us at Ihaw Ihaw for Filipino food. 

We sat outside and were greeted by an eccentric Italian/Filipino waiter. You can see him in the first photo, jumping into frame. That silly behavior basically characterized our entire meal -- he literally moved dishes around on our table for me to take photos and even sat down with us for a bit. Very friendly, and maybe a bit bored.
Neither Charlie nor I have ever tried Filipino, so we kind of just dove into the menu with no expectations. We started with lumpiang sariwa, above, which are Filipino style spring rolls served in a peanut sauce. The fresh, crisp lettuce inside each one was really nice and the peanut sauce was delicious, although funny looking. The julienned veg inside was a bit non-descript. It was hard to eat these, though. They're one of those food where you just don't know if you should go in by hand or use fork and knife. A bit awkward.
Charlie chose the adobo squid as his main. We both thought it was the BBQ squid dish we saw on the restaurant's FB, but it wasn't. It was better.  The mixed pieces of squid rings and tentacles were all so obviously fresh and snappy. Nothing chewy or rubbery here. I'm not a huge squid lover (unless it's fried,) but this was the best squid I've ever had. 

We were impressed with the dish's presentation right away -- for just $23 we were served a plate of food that looked and tasted like it could pass in an upscale restaurant. The squid pieces were expertly marinaded in soy sauce, garlic, vinegar and black peppercorns, grilled to perfection, and served with a ton of that delicious sauce and spring onions. There were herbs throughout the dish like basil and bay leaves and we just couldn't get enough. It was just such clean, fresh and flavorful food.
I ordered pansit palabok -- a traditional dish of rice noodles tossed with crab sauce, soft boiled eggs, shrimp, squid and garlic. I explained my garlic issue and this turned up void of any offenders. Just couldn't risk ruining my day on the reef the next morning, ya know. The crab sauce was like nothing I've ever really had. It had a faintly smokey and strongly crabby flavor and was generously applied to the noodles.  

The shrimp on top were served head on and cooked really well, and the eggs were impressively silky and smooth; eating them was a delight. (I'm an egg person.) You can't see the squid here but it wasn't of the same variety in Charlie's dish. It looked more like weird Asian frozen squid and I skipped it. I think that other renditions of this dish come with additional toppings like chicharron and fish flakes, and I'm eager to try it somewhere else to see what's up.

So, our first impressions of Filipino cuisine were great. Our comrade and server gave us an idea of some dishes that we should try next time (sisig and crispy pata,) and I can definitely see myself becoming a loyal fan. Ihaw Ihaw serves quality food in Cairns at decent prices and is BYO. If you're a food person finding yourself in Cairns, don't skip it.

Ihaw Ihaw: Shop 7, 35 Lake St., Cairns, Queensland, Australia. (07) 4041 3559 Ihaw Ihaw Filipino Cuisine BBQ/GRILL on Urbanspoon

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