Episode 58: A Meal In Memory of Dolphy at Za’s Cafe

Filipinos marked the first death anniversary of the Comedy King, Rodolfo Vera Quizon AKA Dolphy, last July 10. The day he died – and the days that followed up ’till then – was a short but solemn time for everyone to remember the life of this legendary icon as a comedian, artist, and father to a nation entertained by his antics and driven by his simple wisdom.

What better way to remember this great man but by looking back at his movies, his performances, his impressions on others and Filipino culture in general, and of course, his favorites.

One of the most resounding slice of life stories about Dolphy involved a small restaurant called Za’s Cafe, along with its neighbor, Hizon’s Cakes and Pastries, neatly tucked at J. Bocobo corner Arquiza Streets in Ermita, Manila.

It’s said to be Dolphy’s favorite (and probably secret) hideout where he enjoyed his favorite ensaymada and chocolate cake, as well as some of its main courses.

After Dolphy’s death, this 65-year old establishment became something like a pilgrimage site for foodies who wanted to walk in Dolphy’s footsteps, so to speak. It’s a bit hard to spot, but once you find the place, the long walk or ride will feel worth it.

One weekend, I made sure I’d make time to visit and dine in Za’s Cafe, especially since it has been my target for a while now. Over an hour of driving from work later, I found what I was after.

Za’s and Hizon’s is a simple establishment from the outside, but once you come inside, you’d feel very relaxed with its refined yet homely ambiance. The scent of freshly baked bread is invigorating, and seeing all those cakes, breads, and pastries lined up on its shelves is food for the senses. The place was old, but what dear memories it surely held!

As I mentioned, Dolphy had a bunch of favorites from both Za’s and Hizon’s, so I took the opportunity to try out some of them.

Before entering the cafe, I bought a slice of chocolate cake and a cheese ensaymada from the bakeshop. It’s said Dolphy liked his ensaymada grilled, but this is for take-out, you know, and starting with the basics is a must for me.

In the cafe, I had hoped to order the baked turkey with glazed camote, a specialty that I heard was also made in honor the comedy king’s honor, but sadly it was only available every Thursday. The braised ox tongue wasn’t available too, so I had to make do with what’s left of his favorites: the hamburger steak.

The hamburger steak was as simple as it gets: a thick Salisbury burger patty with a few spoonfuls of mashed potatoes, a few slices of sauteed sayote and carrots, butter on top of the patty, and gravy. This came with a small cup of rice (a separate order), and mushroom soup, their Soup of the Day.

Finesse and nostalgia-borne civility flew out the window as I dumped the rice and potatoes over the hamburger steak, poured the gravy on top of everything, and ate the mush like it was a kid’s meal.

The meal was capped with dessert: Chocolate Cake a la Mode, a slice of Dolphy’s favorite cake with vanilla ice cream, and a cup of brewed coffee to wash it down.

The whole course was quite expensive but pretty much worth it. The hamburger steak was juicy and filling, and the cake-and-ice cream combo was delicious though not too sweet. I felt like a revived being after that sumptuous meal.

As I ended my meal, I could feel nostalgia pouring over me. I could imagine Dolphy quietly sipping his drink while munching on a toasted ensaymada, chatting with his family or other companions over cake, or just staring at the window and his surroundings in peace while savoring his dinner.

There are so many things to try out in both Za’s and Hizon’s, but it will take a while to try their bestsellers, even the ones that aren’t in Dolphy’s menu. Still, I’m glad that for once I’m able to relive Dolphy’s gustatory memories, and know why the comedy king loved this place – and its food – so much.

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